Ride sharing apps are having their big moment in the marketplace right now, but Zipcar was providing a unique transportation service before Uber or Lyft started making headlines. Remember Zipcar? It’s a car rental service that allows you to reserve a car for an hourly rate.
You might have seen the green Zipcar parking spaces on college campuses or in downtown areas and forgotten all about it after you started using Uber, but Zipcar is still around and it’s still a great transit option when you don’t have your own car. And if you’re under 25, it’s one of the only ways the you can rent a car.
Zipcar isn’t as simple as the one-button ridesharing services, so it’s worth taking a minute to fully explain how Zipcar works and when it’s a good idea to use it instead of Uber or Lyft.
How Zipcar works
- Zipcar offers short-term vehicle rentals
- Zipcars are parked in designated Zipcar parking spots in many major cities and on many college campuses
- Arrive at the Zipcar and use a special card to get inside
- You can rent a Zipcar anywhere from 30 minutes to seven days
- You reserve a Zipcar in advance and use a special Zipcard credit card to get inside the car
- You can drive your Zipcar 180 miles each day without incurring extra charges
- Most cities require round trips. You must return your Zipcar to the location you got it from
- Some cities allow one-way trips: Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, DC
- Gas and insurance are included at no extra charge
- Zipcar is available in the US, France, Canada, the UK, Spain, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Belgium
Not everyone can join Zipcar. Here are the basic requirements:
- You must be 21+ (18+ in certain markets affiliated with universities)
- You need a valid driver’s license. Non-US licenses are acceptable
- You need a clean driving record
How much does Zipcar cost?
Zipcar charges a membership fee, and rentals are priced by the hour.
Zipcar rental reservations generally cost around $10 an hour for reservations lasting 24 hours or fewer. 180 miles, gas and insurance are included. Daily rates are around $80/day. Additional miles over 180 cost $0.45/mile
Zipcar membership fees: Depending on the package you choose, Zipcar charges an ongoing membership fee of either $7 a month or an annual fee of $70. There’s also a one-time application fee of $25.
You can get a $25 credit toward your first ride if you create a Zipcar account with my referral link. That eliminates the one-time application fee if your first trip costs more than $25. I may receive a commission for referring you.
Find the Cheapest Insurance Quotes in Your Area
How far can you drive a Zipcar? Zipcar mileage rules
Reservations lasting 24 hours or shorter:
- 180 miles included
- $0.45 for each additional mile (up to $0.55 for premium vehicles and cargo vans)
- The cost is around $8 – $10/hour
Reservations exceeding 24 hours:
- 180 miles included for each 24-hour period
- 20 miles included for each additional hour of your reservation until you reach 180 miles
- $0.45 for each additional mile (up to $0.55 for premium vehicles and cargo vans)
- The cost is around $80/day
Reserving a Zipcar
Zipcar requires that you reserve the car, so you can’t just jump into your nearest Zipcar and be on your way without first making a reservation on the Zipcar app or website. You can reserve a Zipcar for as little as one hour or as long as seven days.
When you make your reservation, you’ll be asked to choose the time frame, the car, and the pickup location. You can make your reservation online or in the Zipcar app.
Most cities require round trips but a few allow one-way trips
For most trips, you’ll have to return your car to the same spot that you picked it up from. That might be a big restriction for a lot of users, and it’s something that is a big disadvantage compared to regular rental cars or Uber and Lyft.
A few cities allow one-way trips: Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, DC. When you book a one-way trip, you’ll be asked to select a drop off location.
Types of Zipcars you can reserve
All Zipcars come with an automatic transmission, and most models are compact economy cars like Honda Civic, Mazda3, or Toyota Corolla. There are also larger and more luxurious models available if you search around. You’ll know what cars are available when you book your reservation.
How to Use a Zipcar
After you’ve created an account, received your Zipcard, and booked a reservation, it’s time for you to find your Zipcar and go for a drive. Here’s how that’s done:
- Find your Zipcar using the information in your reservation and confirm its “name” in the back window sticker
- Unlock the doors by waving your Zipcard in front of the box stuck to the inside of the windshield
- Find the car keys inside a box on the side of the steering column
- Return the Zipcar to the location you got it from with the gas tank at least 1/4 filled
You need to fill your Zipcar with gas if the tank dips below 1/4 full
Zipcar asks that you leave a quarter tank of gas in the car when you drop it off. The price of gas is included in your rental fee, so Zipcar provides a gas card inside the glove box of each Zipcar for you to use; you don’t use your own money. Use that Zipcar credit card to buy gas and follow the special prompts on the screen.
Late Fee: Zipcar charges a $50 fee if you return your car late. Make sure to return it on time! Returning your car late could cut into someone else’s reservation.
How insurance works with Zipcar
Zipcar provides insurance and the cost is built into your reservation. The coverage levels are: $100,000 bodily injury per person, $300,000 bodily injury maximum, and $25,000 property damage. But if you are in an accident or cause any other damage to the car, there’s a pretty steep deductible of $1,000. You can buy an optional $5–$10/month damage waiver that excludes you from the $1,000 deductible, so decide what’s right for you.
Great things about Zipcar
Zipcar has a lot of good things going for it, especially if you’re a college student living near a Zipcar location or traveling to an airport that has Zipcar spots.
- You can rent a car if you’re under 25
- If you only need you Zipcar for an hour or two, it’s way cheaper than a normal rental
- If you live near a Zipcar parking location, it’s way more convenient than normal car rental services
Drawbacks of Zipcar
Zipcar isn’t perfect. There are a few not-so-great things that may make you want to choose an Uber or a regular rental service instead.
- There are start-up costs — a $25 setup fee — and either a monthly or annual fee depending on the plan you pick, so it’s not 100% free to try
- Many cities requires a round trip — you have to end where you start. Sometimes you’ll want to dump the car off at location B, but you’ve got to bring it all the way back to location A
- Daily rates are high, around $80/day. You can get traditional rentals for much less than that
- I was a little intimidated by some of the insurance/accident discussion in the setup process. It’s not totally easy to understand on the first read through
- A traditional rental service will usually be cheaper if you need the Zipcar for longer than a day
When is Zipcar better than Uber? When is Uber better than Zipcar?
Uber is becoming the go-to ride service for many, but sometimes Zipcar is actually the better way to go. Uber is on-demand and you don’t drive. Zipcar needs to be booked in advance and you drive the car yourself. If you can plan ahead and drive yourself, a Zipcar trip might only cost $10 when an Uber trip would be much more.
- Zipcar is better when you need to be on time — Think job interviews and meetings
- Zipcar is good when you’re taking a longer trip — Ubers get very expensive on long trips and Zipcar includes mileage in the hourly price
- Uber is better than Zipcar for one-way trips where it would be very inconvenient to return to the starting point
Try it! Create a Zipcar account to get a $25 Zipcar rental credit
Zipcar is a great option to throw into the mix of transportation services that don’t require you to own a car or use public transportation. It’s perfect for college students, business travelers, and people who need to take a short round trip.
Create a Zipcar account with my special referral link (it’s kinda like a promo code) and you’ll get $25 of rental credit in your first month of service. I’m affiliated with Zipcar, so I may receive a commission for referring you.