Zipcar Review: Is It a Good Car Alternative?

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zipcar review

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TL;DR: Zipcar is an interesting and easy-to-use way to get a car for short-term use. It’s a good option for people who do not drive very often, but there are a lot of small fees that can add up and make the app less cost-effective.

College students are always looking for ways to save money. Whether it’s finding roommates to split rent or going to campus events for free food, broke college kids are some of the most thrifty spenders in the economy.

Zipcar is a shared rental car platform that can help students save greatly on transportation costs. Zipcar allows people to rent cars in the short term so they can save money on public transportation and ridesharing apps.

4.0
4/5

DollarFlow rating

EASY TO USE

The app streamlines the whole process as reserving a car just takes a few clicks.

SELECTION OF CARS

The selection is not huge, but there are some popular models that have good safety features and mileage.

FLEXIBLE RENTING OPTIONS

You can choose to rent a car for just a few hours or for a couple of days

Zipcar: Overview

Zipcar is basically a short-term car rental service that lets you rent a car for just a few hours at a time. For a small membership of $7, you can reserve a vehicle for a few hours up to a few days. Zipcar is useful when you need a car for some short term errands, like going to the grocery store. You can pick up the car when you need it, use it for a few hours, then return it to the pickup location.

Zipcar will cover insurance, gas, and maintenance. All you have to pay for is using the car. You get the first 180 miles free of charge, and Zipcar charges 58 cents per mile afterward.

Zipcar is best for people who do not need to drive very often or people who are traveling and don’t want to worry about renting a car through a traditional service. Zipcar is different from rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft. Instead of hailing a driver and paying for each trip, you can rent the vehicle yourself and drive it for a designated period.

How Does Zipcar Work?

Zipcar offers memberships to users which allow you to find, reserve, and drive its vehicles. When you turn on the app, it will look for cars at a nearby pick-up spot. These pick-up spots tend to be around places that see a lot of traffic, such as business districts, college campuses, hospitals, and more. Zipcar currently operates in over 60 cities around the globe, including in North America and Europe.

When you find a car you like, you can reserve it for a specific amount of time. Simply head to the pick-up spot and get your car. You can return it right where you picked it up when you are done.

Zipcar streamlines the entire process of renting and using a vehicle. When you find your car, you can unlock it using the app or by placing your Zipcard up near the driver-side door. Zipcar will also pay for gas during your trip. Each car has a free gas card in the driver-side visit which you can use like a regular credit card.

When it’s time to end your trip simply bring the car back to where you got it. Zipcar requires drivers to refill the gas tank if it’s lower than one-quarter full.

And that is all there is to it! This method is a cheap and user-friendly way to rent a car for a few hours so you can take care of any business that you have. Keep in mind that insurance, maintenance, registration, and gas are all handled by Zipcar so you don’t have to pay for those.

How Do I Make a Zipcar Account?

Making a Zipcar account is uber-easy (pun intended). When you sign up, you will have to enter some basic information like your name, address, and other personal info. In order to be eligible to join Zipcar you must:

  • Be at least 21, or 18 if you are a student at a partner university
  • Have a valid driver’s license for at least 12 months
  • Have fewer than 2 moving violations or accidents in the past 3 years
  • Have no major violations (driving with a suspended license, causing an accident and leaving the scene, speeding in a school zone, etc.) in the past 3 years
  • Have no driving offenses related to drugs or alcohol

You will also have to pay a one time non refundable application fee of $25 when you apply for membership.

Keep in mind that these rules are for North American drivers specifically, The rules may be slightly different for European drivers. Also, Zipcar reserves the right to evaluate applications on a case-by-case basis, so even if you meet all the eligibility requirements, you can still get rejected.

Overall, the application process should take just a few hours. When you are approved, you will receive a “Zipcard” membership card in the mail. Any member can also add co-members to their account but they will also have to pass the background check.

How Much Does Zipcar Cost?

Zipcar has two main membership pricing options

  • Monthly – $7/month
  • Annual – $70/year

Each membership is more or less the same and includes secondary insurance, free gas, and 24/7 roadside assistance. If you take the monthly membership, you’ll end up paying $84 per year instead of $70, so depending on how often you drive, a yearly membership might be a better option.

Apart from the membership, you will also pay an hourly or daily fee whenever you rent a car. Hourly fees range from $9-$13 and daily fees range from about $75-$85, depending on the kind of car you rent.

Whenever you rent a car, you get the first 180 miles free. After that, you will get charged 58 cents for every additional mile.

Fines/Penalties

Zipcar also charges certain fines and penalties. Late returns will incur a $50 penalty per hour (up to $150) and you will get charged $30 if you return a car with less than ¼ a tank of gas. There are a bunch of other fees too, which you can read about here.

Zipcar Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Easy to use. It is very easy to make an account and rent cars to use. The app streamlines the whole process as reserving a car just takes a few clicks. Zipcar also covers things like gas, insurance, and maintenance fees on vehicles.
  • Good selection of cars. The selection is not huge, but there are some popular models that have good safety features and mileage.
  • Flexible renting options. You can choose to rent a car for just a few hours or for a couple of days. You do have to rent a vehicle for at least one hour though.

Cons

  • Hidden fees. The membership options are fairly cheap, but there are a lot of smaller fees that can add up pretty quickly.
  • Limited in some locations. In some places, it is either very difficult or flat out impossible to find any vehicles to rent. Those in larger cities will have the best bet of finding Zipcar vehicles.
  • Nonrefundable application fee. You have to pay a one-time $25 application fee and this fee is not returned even if you are rejected from the program.

Conclusions

So, is Zipcar worth it? We say yes. If you drive infrequently and only need a car for a few choice things, then Zipcar can be much cheaper and cost-effective than buying a car or renting from a traditional car rental service.

However if you drive frequently, then Zipcar will likely end up costing more than buying a car in the long run once you factor in membership costs, rental fees, and other additional fees. We would recommend Zipcar primarily for college students or people who live in denser, urban locales who do not have to drive very far per trip.

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