Comparing Zipcar to a standard car rental

I zipped my first Zipcar!

Some time ago I signed up for Groupon – a Group Coupon site. Groupon is worth a look, check out the site, I’m not going to talk about it here.
Anyway, there was a Groupon offer for a discounted yearly Zipcar Membership. I’ve seen Zipcars around Pittsburgh, looked into a membership some time ago but the discounted membership prompted me to sign up. Instead of costing me $50 for a year it cost me $35 and they they in a $50 credit too – a pretty god deal if you ask me.

The basic idea behind Zipcar is that you sign up, pay a yearly membership fee (varies) and, when you need a vehicle, you book one on your computer or mobile device, pick it up, drive it (pay hourly or daily) and then drop it back where you found it when you’re done.


Before I go on…. I have a car, I have a driveway and I live in something of a suburban area.

My thinking was, and to a point still is, that if I need something bigger, or a little more special than my little old Saturn I can get a Zip Car.
On Saturday, it worked.  It happened that I needed to get some large stuff out of the apartment and needed a truck for the job. Rather than ask my truck-owning friends I booked a Toyota Tacoma through Zipcar.

I drove to Oakland, parked my car in a garage, took a walk to my  Tacoma, swiped my Zipcar membership card at the window, got in a grove off. Pretty simple and straight forward really. Because of the credit the rental for 3 hours didn’t cost me a penny. :) It would have cost abut $47.

The truck was nice, the bed was a little beat up, as I’d expect a truck bed to be. The key is on a little retractable cord so that no-one takes it out and loses it.

While Zipcar is a great idea and I’m sure it works for many, I’m really torn on the cost vs. leading name car rental though.

I did a quick comparison (se below) between a ZipCar daily rate (left) and the daily rate for Enterprise Rent-A-Car (right).

Zipcar cost breakdown Enterprise cost breakdown

On a similar standard of vehicle there is a vast price difference with Enterprise coming out the least expensive at just less than $60/day compared to Zip at just over $90/day.

You can reduce the amount you pay for a Zipcar per hour or per day by paying more per year and signing up for a monthly commitment.

Know however, that while driving a Zipcar, you don’t pay for Gas, you have a certain level of insurance and you get 180 miles free with your plan (additional miles at $0.45 per mile). The default insurance included with the membership is the “no waiver” insurance where you pay nothing but have a $500 damage fee per incident. $75/year will waive the damage fee.

As far as I remember, with Enterprise you can use your own insurance or for about $20/day be fully covered (I’ve always opted for their coverage) and naturally with Enterprise you have to pay for fuel but you have unlimited mileage.

Can you see where I’m torn? I tend to think that if I’m going to rent a car, I’m going to really use it and I really don’t want to worry too much about the whole thing.
I found myself worrying about returning the Zipcar on time. I did allow myself enough time to get done what I wanted to do and ended up getting the truck back to its spot early but if I had taken the additional leg of the trip that I was considering I would have had to hope that the truck was available to me for additional time, use the app on my phone or call Zipcar to arrange additional time or face a late fee (starting at $50).

With Enterprise I’ve never been given a late fee and have never had any trouble using the car for additional days “hi, this is Andy Quayle. I’m going to need the Cobalt for another day, the garage isn’t done with mine yet.” “ok Mr. Quayle” comes the reply “we’ll add that to your card.” – no problems.

Don’t get me wrong – I can see that Zipcar is an excellent idea – I wouldn’t have signed up if I didn’t think so. It is one of those deals where you have to look very carefully at what you need to do and what you need to use.

For example, if you lived in the city and worked in the city and needed a car for occasional use it would be ideal. For me however, living just out of town, with my own car and I drive it regularly, daily, it might not be such a focus.

The technology is very cool though – I like being able to unlock the vehicle with a swipe of a card, I’d like to be able to do that with my own. Also, being able to find a vehicle and reserve it on my iPhone is vry handy.

What do you think? would you be a Zipster? are you a Zipster? tell me about your experiences.

See more about Groupon here

See more about Zipcar here

See more about Enterprise Rent-A-Car here

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  • gobobbo

    I've had a Zipcar membership for almost a year now (late August is my one-year anniversary) and I've used Zipcar twice.

    Like you, I compared Zipcar to a rental car company and found that renting a car probably would be cheaper.

    I've been a proponent of Zipcar, though. And here's why: I like the flexibility of being able to pick up the car when I want and not have to go through a paperwork process before. If I need it for a few hours, I can do that. At a car rental company, I have it for a day period and if I only need it for Friday and Saturday, I'm typically forced to pay a weekend rate that includes Sunday.

    I also like having the ability to truly choose my own car. At a car rental place, you select a type of car (sedan, truck, economy) and then pay based on what you've selected (yes, some Zipcars are a bit more).

    Like you, I have found myself checking the time often under my Zipcar reservations.

    I have friends who use Zipcar to get to the grocery store or Ikea. They live in the city and don't want to take public transportation. Who wants to carry their Poang chair boxes on a PAT bus??

    Concerns I have include price. It is expensive if you need it for extended periods of time, And you only can use 180 miles per day (if it's more than one day). So it's a very local car loan plan. You can't take Zipcar to State College for a football game or something similar.

    But I want to end with what I think is the biggest plus to Zipcar — I don't need a credit card to rent a car. Unlike car rental companies, I can use a debit card to reserve a vehicle. And that, by far, is the best advantage for someone like me who has one credit card and has dealt with several issues with car rental companies in the past (overcharging, etc).

    Oh wait, there's an even better thing with Zipcar — use of the iPhone app! You can lock/unlock the car with the app. It's the best thing ever!

  • Car Hire UK

    Hey, good article. Zip car is a membership-based car sharing company providing automobile reservations to its members, billable by the hour or daywear use the Groupon. Groupon negotiates huge discounts usually 50-90% off with popular businesses

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