Is Zipcar Cheaper Than Renting a Car?

The car rental industry continues to shift during the pandemic. And one of the more recent solutions to consumers’ rental needs is Zipcar. This car-sharing subscription service existed long before COVID-19. But with a surging need for on-demand rental options, Zipcar is growing. In fact, it might even be in a city near you.

However, is renting through Zipcar more cost-effective than a traditional service like Enterprise or Hertz?

What is Zipcar?

Zipcar is a car-sharing subscription service you can use online or through a mobile app. Using the website or app, you can “join in minutes” with an approval process based on a valid driver’s license, Zipcar claims. After choosing and paying for your subscription preference, you can drive on-demand by using the app to book a trip and unlock a car parked near you. Drive the vehicle for as long as you need, and then park it where you picked it up.

On its surface, Zipcar’s solution sounds like a game-changer for Americans in need of occasional affordable transportation.

You can use Zipcar in these cities

Initially, a fleet of Zipcar vehicles was available only in a few larger cities, including Boston (where the company is headquartered), Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Baltimore.

But recently, Vice President Justin Holmestold told Automotive News the pandemic created a surge in need for on-demand transportation, “especially essential employees.”

The company has since expanded to Atlanta, Denver, San Diego, Detroit, Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Sacramento. Autoslash points out Zipcar operates in 54 California cities alone, and its footprint continues to grow.

How Zipcar subscriptions and rates work

The Zipcar car-sharing subscription offers various engagement methods. You can become a member month-by-month or yearly and take advantage of member-only benefits like free gas and 24/7 roadside assistance. Monthly memberships start at only $7. Then you pay $7.50-per-hour or $69-per-day driving rates depending upon the length of time you need the car. Subscribe annually for a flat $70 and pay the same driving rates.

Zipcar vehicles are available in various makes and models, including compact cars, luxury SUVs, and vans.

This car rental solution is incredibly convenient for many who essentially need to borrow a ride for a short period. Traditional rental car services can be more time-consuming and costlier. But is Zipcar always the better deal?

Is it a cheaper option?

If you need to run only a few errands around town for a few hours, Zipcar would be the better deal. But don’t overlook the service’s terms and conditions, including additional fees. For example, there’s a one-time $25 applicant fee. And there’s a business setup fee of $75 for business accounts. According to the rates and charges page on Zipcar’s site, rates vary depending upon your age. For instance, younger drivers pay more per hour and day than others. Also, you can drive a Zipcar vehicle as far as you want, but driving beyond your “trip limit” will incur additional charges, as much as 58 cents per mile.

The “other charges” section doesn’t end there. Violate any of Zipcar’s policies, and you’ll see a bigger invoice. A late return can cost you $50 to $150. Return your Zipcar with less than a quarter tank of gas, and you’ll pay $30. If you lose the key or parking pass found inside the vehicle, you’ll be responsible for replacing those too. And roadside assistance works only if you don’t run out of gas. If you need fuel delivered on the side of the road, you’ll pay Zipcar another $139. With these potential charges and others added in for vehicle retrieval, damages, and extra cleaning, it can easily become a costly rental experience.

But if you need an on-demand car for brief stints of an hour or two, Zipcar is cost-effective. But if you need a vehicle for longer periods or greater distances, you might find bigger savings with traditional car rental agencies.