Zipcar – A Review

When not riding one of the dozen bicycles in the quiver, or being driven around by Mrs TTE in a Dodge Ram, your correspondent drives a Zipcar. Here’s how it works…

Arriving in California during the heady days of America’s economic collapse, Mr and Mrs TTE considered buying a car, because ‘they’re giving them away right?’ Whilst that was true, purchasing and registering a car necessitated a Californian driver’s license. And after TTTE’s experiences with these guys, I did not want to go through this.

Thankfully our friends at Zipcar are so keen to have new members they don’t mind if you join using a foreign license. Tip Top!

Becoming a member was super easy. (1) Choose a plan – there are a few different membership options. If you commit to a monthly plan of $50-$250 you get slightly cheaper hourly rates for the cars. (2) Provide some driver history information. (3) Give them your credit card number. A week later we had our Zipcard in the mail and we were ready to book a car.

There are quite a few Zipcars around our neighbourhood, mostly hatchbacks and Priuses but also a few bigger cars like utes (pickups for the uninitiated) and 4wds. When I log onto the Zipcar website I get list of the cars that are available during the time I have specified. Prices start at about $7 per hour, but most cars can be booked for the day for about $70-$80. With a few clicks, the car is booked.

When the time comes for me to pick up the car, I make the 10 minute trek to the Zipcar location, swipe my Zipcard over the sensor (in the top corner of the windscreen) and the doors unlock. The ignition key hangs next to the steering wheel.

Two weeks ago we made a trip to Yosemite National Park. We booked the car for three days and traveled about 430 miles in total. The Zipcar price (to use a Subaru Forrester) was about $280.  The daily rate is not particularly cheap, but fuel is included (up to 180miles/day after which a $0.25/mile is charged). On this trip we used about $50 worth of fuel.

A similar rental car can be had for about $60-$80 a day (once insurance is included) so depending on how much driving you to do, it works out about even. The real advantage is to cut out the faff you get when you deal with Hertz or Avis.

To compare the Zipcar to buying a car outright, we’d be looking at extra costs like $30 a month to park at home for two years ($720), about $200 for two years registration, insurance could be in the order of $1000-$2000 (why not say $1500) and possibly $2000 in depreciation and repairs – a total cost $4420. At $70-$80 per day (say $75) and assuming we spend about $20 per driving day on fuel, the Zipcar is a better choice as long as we make fewer than 80 day trips in two years. Any more often, you need to suck it up and buy something practical like this…

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