The Zipcar service provides a viable alternative to traditional car ownership for city dwellers. The company operates hundreds of hubs worldwide, making it one of the largest car-sharing companies in the world. Once you have a membership, you can use the company’s vehicles anywhere in the world, including Europe. The Zipcar service is an excellent option for those who do not drive frequently, similar to the locally based nonprofits with which it competes. Additionally, it is helpful for those who wish to have the convenience of having access to a personal vehicle on demand without having to pay for – and park – a rental car.
Zipcar is similar to renting a car. Membership cards allow you to reserve a vehicle for a predetermined period, then return it to its original location. This is different from Uber and Lyft, which are other ridesharing services. In these services, you use a mobile app to call nearby drivers, who pick you up in their cars and take you to your destination. Zipcar Review: Is It Worth It? Find Out Here!
How Zipcar Stacks Up
There is not much competition for Zipcar in the carsharing business, at least not at the national level. However, it is not the only option available to most car-free individuals who occasionally require personal transportation.
Let’s compare Zipcar to its two primary competitors: traditional rental car companies and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
- Where You Get Cars: A designated spot or lot
- Drive Yourself?: Yes
- Membership Fee?: Yes
- Approximate Cost: $11/hr plus mileage fees over 180 miles
- Best For: Running errands
- Where You Get Cars: Near airports, usually centralized facilities
- Drive Yourself?: Yes
- Membership Fee?: No
- Approximate Cost: $20/day, but varies widely; usually unlimited mileage
- Best For: Road trips
Uber and Lyft
- Where You Get Cars: Anywhere
- Drive Yourself?: No
- Membership Fee?: No
- Approximate Cost: Typically $5 to $10 per mile
- Best For Point-to-point trips in town
Here’s how Zipcar works
You can find, reserve, and drive Zipcar vehicles through a membership plan. Each Zipcar is located at a dedicated home location where it can be picked up and returned after use. Most of these parking lots are located near central business districts, hospitals, and universities. Zipcar operates in about five dozen global cities and has established partnerships with over 100 North American universities.
To qualify for a membership, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be 21 years old or 18 if you’re a student at a partner university
- Have held a valid, unrestricted driver’s license for at least 12 months
- Within the past three years, you have not had more than two combined moving violations and accidents
- Within the past 18 months, you have not committed a moving violation or accident
- Within the past three years, you have not committed any major violations, such as reckless driving, speeding over 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, leaving the scene of an accident, driving with a suspended license, or speeding in a school zone.
- During the past seven years, you have not been convicted of an alcohol- or drug-related driving offense
Your country-specific Zipcar site can confirm your eligibility since these rules may differ in Europe. Even if you meet these eligibility requirements, Zipcar reserves the right to deny or approve your application.
To apply for a Zipcar membership, you must provide basic contact information, have a valid driver’s license and a credit card, and pay a modest application fee (usually $25).
The process usually takes a few hours if you’re a U.S. or Canadian driver. With a foreign driver’s license, you’ll need to use your passport, and the process will be a bit more complicated. Many major universities have existing accounts you can piggyback on before applying for an individual account.
Upon approval, you will receive your membership card (Zipcard) within a week and can begin driving immediately. Co-drivers, such as family members, can be added at any time. In addition, they must pass a driver background check and pay an application fee and an ongoing membership fee.
Reservations and Use
You can rent hourly or daily: for one-way trips, round-trip rentals, and one-way and round-trip rentals for up to seven days. Reservations can be made through the company’s website or mobile app. You can start your trip early if the car is not in use by another driver. It’s possible to reserve a car up to a year in advance – even 30 minutes before you want to start.
Reservations less than eight hours in advance can be shortened or canceled up to three hours before departure. In the case of longer trips, you must give 24 hours notice. If you do not comply with this requirement, you will be charged the full amount of the original reservation. Providing your reservation does not overlap with anyone else’s, you may extend your reservation at any time without penalty.
You can unlock your vehicle by tapping your Zipcard on the windshield reader. When you unlock your car or your reservation starts, your trip’s meter starts running. Depending on the model, you can start the car with a regular key (usually hanging from the steering column) or a push-button starter. No matter how many stops you make on your trip, you will be charged until the end of your reservation, even if you return the vehicle early.
The company automatically charges your stored credit card at the end of your trip. Each additional mile you drive in a trip over 180 is charged 45 cents. Zipcar covers fuel and insurance, but you may be charged if you get a ticket, have an accident, fail to refill a low tank or pass through a toll road. Depending on how late you return the vehicle, you’ll be fined $50 to $150.
The Zipcar rental rate is automatically adjusted to give you the best possible deal. When renting for a longer time, this factor comes into play. A 10-hour rental usually has a higher hourly rate than a daily rental.
Consumers can join on a monthly or annual basis. Both plans offer the same basic features, but the annual plan is a bit cheaper – you get two months free. Either way, there is a $25 application fee.
The cost of your plan may vary based on your location, so be sure to check your local rates before committing. The following pricing is for Philadelphia, a representative major metro market. Both plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
If there are a lot of Zipcars available at a university, students and faculty may be eligible for special pricing, sign-up credits, and other benefits. Rates vary depending on the location. Large corporations are also eligible for Zipcar’s business plans.
The monthly plan is $9 per month. The hourly rate starts at $11 per hour for the first 180 miles per day, then $0.58 per mile thereafter, depending on the vehicle. Depending on the vehicle you choose, your daily cost is capped at $83 if you stay under 180 miles per day.
The annual plan costs $90 per year, payable in advance. The hourly rate for the first 180 miles of each day is $11, then $0.58 per mile after that. You can cap your daily cost at $83 if you stay under 180 miles.
There is a one-time activation fee of $75 and an ongoing annual fee of $35 per driver for business plans. A typical hourly fee is $9, and a daily fee starts at $69, although this can vary by location. It is possible to charge each driver separately or use a single business credit card for the whole account.
In the past, Zipcar offered two additional plans that were considerably more complex than the current offerings. In case they return, here they are for posterity:
Occasional Driving Plan
There was usually a $25 application fee and a $70 annual fee, prorated and refunded if you canceled before the end of the year. The additional fee for each co-driver is $35 per year, in addition to the $25 application fee.
During the weekdays, basic cars (non-luxury sedans and hatchbacks) generally cost between $8 and $12 per hour, depending on the city. There was a range of seven to eleven dollars for weekend rates. Depending on the city and time of the week, daily rates ranged from $60 to $90.
In Phoenix, for instance, the regular rate was $10 per weekday hour and $9 per weekend hour, compared to $79 per full weekday and $69 per full weekend day.
Extra Value Plans (EVPs)
To qualify for Zipcar’s extra value plans, you had to commit to driving a certain number of miles each month. Upon prepaying that amount, any additional payments were made as they were incurred.
There was a 10% discount on all driving relative to the regular rates in your area. The EVPs were available in increments of $50, $75, $125, and $250. You lose any unused prepaid time at the end of the month with the $50 plan. It is possible to roll over unused time for a single month with the $75 plan.
As an example, if you used only $50 of drive time one month, you received $100 in prepaid driving the following month – however, if you did not use the $25 that rolled over, you forfeited it.
You can roll over unused time for two months with the $125 and $250 plans.
Co-drivers did not cost an additional fee (other than the one-time application fee), and you shared the monthly commitment with them. Switching from one EVP to another generally costs $25 per change.
Additional fees may apply
Zipcar users can incur additional fees depending on how they use the service and other factors. For example, young drivers are charged a premium for membership. One-time fees are also charged for tolls, late returns, and other actions. For more information, please refer to Zipcar’s fee schedule.
Several important features of Zipcar are worth mentioning. In some cases, these elements are integral to the experience, while in others, you may or may not encounter them depending on how you use the service.
- Zipcard. Your Zipcard is required to open your reserved vehicle. You get one free replacement per year if you lose it. After that, it’s $15 for replacements.
- Vehicle Selection. Among Zipcar’s vehicles are subcompacts and SUVs. MINI Cooper subcompacts, Toyota Prius hatchbacks, Nissan Frontier pickups, and Ford Escape SUVs are typical models, but selection may vary by region. When you reserve the car, you can select a particular model. Luxury models and SUVs may cost more.
- Vehicles With Hand Controls. Zipcar offers hand-controlled cars for disabled members. You must reserve these vehicles at least 24 hours in advance, and they are not available everywhere. Zipcar requires seven days’ notice in areas without hand-controlled vehicles.
- Hotline. Zipcar’s country-specific hotlines handle reservations, accident and ticket reporting, and membership questions.
- App and Reservation System. With the Zipcar app, you can manage your account’s billing information, find your nearest home location, and reserve a vehicle. Zipcar also offers a hotline that can be used for reservations, but it costs $3.95 per call.
- Home Location. Zipcars live in a specific parking area, such as a parking garage, surface lot, or street with parallel parking spaces. Green signs or paint on the curb or asphalt mark Zipcar’s reserved spaces. To complete your round-trip reservation, you must return your vehicle to the same location where you picked it up. You can park your Zipcar in any Zipcar-marked spot in your home area if there is more than one. One-way Zipcars can be returned to any space within your designated destination lot. There is a hefty fine (typically $150) if you do not return the car to the proper home area.
- Insurance. Zipcars are insured with a policy that includes bodily injury coverage of $300,000 (max) per accident, property damage coverage of $25,000 per incident, and personal injury protection (PIP) in the minimum amount required by the car’s home jurisdiction. A $1,000 damage fee is automatically charged if you’re involved in an accident, which functions as your policy’s deductible. There may be changes to all limits and deductibles.
- Fuel Card. You’re required to fill up your Zipcar if it drops below 25% capacity during your trip using Zipcar’s prepaid fuel card. Your Zipcar account will be credited if the card doesn’t have enough money on it.
- Additional Fees. In certain circumstances, Zipcar may charge you for fees unrelated to driving. As well as fines for getting into an accident and parking in an unapproved area, you can also be charged $30 for failing to refuel ($30), $75 for losing your ignition key, $50 to $150 for returning the vehicle after the reservation ends, and $50 to $150 for smoking or having a non-kenneled pet in the vehicle. If you cancel a reservation after the designated cancellation window closes, you will be charged the full amount. Zipcar’s fees may vary depending on your location and over time, so you should check with them in advance.
- Other Drivers. You can share driving responsibilities with another Zipcar member without restrictions. The person driving at the time is responsible for an accident or moving violation involving the vehicle.
- Hourly-Only Vehicles. There are a limited number of Zipcars that can only be rented hourly (at the same rate as other Zipcars). The vehicles are designed for short trips, such as grocery runs, and cannot be reserved for more than a full day. This information is displayed in the Zipcar app.
There are many advantages to using Zipcar. Among its many benefits, it is flexible, affordable, and widely available. Here are some reasons why you may want to join.
- Many trips can be taken at an affordable price. The cost of Zipcar is often lower than that of its competitors. In general, weekday reservations cost between $7 and $10 per hour, or between $60 and $90 per day, depending on the location. With base fees, per-mile charges, and per-minute charges, Uber and Lyft are more expensive than Zipcar.
- Wide Variety of Available Vehicles. Most neighborhood car-sharing services do not offer SUVs and hatchbacks, but Zipcar does. Services like Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Hourcar, are often nonprofits that specialize in Prius hatchbacks and gas-powered subcompacts and thus does not offer larger vehicles.
- Some Zipcars Have Hand Controls. Members who are unable to drive a regular car can take advantage of Zipcar’s hand-operated vehicles. Carsharing doesn’t offer this accessibility feature elsewhere.
- The App Functions as an Extra Pair of Keys. Using Zipcar’s app is like having two sets of keys. Using the app, you can unlock the car from anywhere without returning to it – and you don’t have to worry about locking the keys in.
- More Widely Available Than Other Carsharing Options. Compared to many of its competitors, Zipcar is more widely available. Due to its university-centric network, the company can serve cities that might not otherwise support a carsharing service, such as Moscow, Idaho (University of Idaho), and Iowa City (University of Iowa). There are few nonprofit car-sharing options in small university towns, which have large populations of careless students.
- You Can Drive in Any Country Where Zipcar Operates. Travelers who are legally allowed to drive in another country can use Zipcar’s network.
- The Reservation System Reduces Uncertainty and Extra Costs. With Zipcar, you can reserve a vehicle for a set period so you can be sure that it will be available when you need it – before or during your trip. This privilege is free of charge – the car is just yours.
One of Zipcar’s biggest downsides is the requirement to park in designated parking areas, unavoidable membership fees, and restrictions on young drivers (which may affect college students).
- You Must Return to a Designated Parking Area. Zipcars have a home location, such as a surface lot or garage, that users cannot change. You don’t have to return your Zipcar to its home lot – one-way rentals offer greater flexibility – but you must return it to a Zipcar lot. If you leave your Zipcar on the street, you will receive hefty fines and possibly other penalties. This restriction prevents you from using a Zipcar on point-to-point trips that do not require a second Zipcar lot.
- Membership Isn’t Free. Regardless of which membership plan you choose, you must either pay a monthly or annual fee or commit to a certain amount of driving per month. Uber and Lyft, on the other hand, only charge you for the rides that you take.
- You Can’t Take Spontaneous Trips. At least half an hour before your trip, you must reserve a Zipcar and choose the start and end times for your reservation. Driving away spontaneously isn’t possible. Pre-planning is necessary for this.
- Membership Is More Restrictive for Young People. The minimum age to join Zipcar is 21 years old, or 18 if you are a student at an affiliated university, even if you have a spotless driving record. Young people who are not enrolled at the major universities Zipcar typically works with cannot join.
Is Zipcar Legit?
Zipcar is a legit company. Many cities in the United States (and beyond) have members. Many university students, corporate travelers, city governments, and other high-volume users use it.
Carsharing services such as Zipcar are a viable alternative to traditional car ownership if you don’t need to drive your car frequently or for long distances. Despite Zipcar’s affordability, availability, and user-friendliness, it can’t replace a fully owned vehicle. Zipcar memberships are best paired with other transportation options, such as cycling, walking, and public transportation, depending on where you live. However, the service offers one thing these other options do not: the freedom to hit the open road whenever you want.