Thinking of signing up with Zipcar? Not so fast….

Zipcar is all the rage these days, offering drivers an easier, quicker, and cheaper alternative to traditional car rentals.

But is it really better than companies like Avis, Enterprise, or Hertz? 

As a member of this service for almost 2 years, I want to say yes, but the truth is it’s a bit of a toss-up. 

There are a lot of great things about this company, which is a subsidiary of Avis, and all that it offers. But there are some drawback too.

So if you’re thinking of joining, read my in-depth review first before you do for the real scoop.

How it Works

For those new to the service, Zipcar is a ride-sharing company that allows drivers to rent a car by the minute, hour, or day. You sign up through their site and once your license is verified (usually within 24-hours) they will send you a Zipcard to access the cars, which are located in indoor and outdoor lots and garages around the city.  

It is a quick process and makes the idea of renting a car a lot less intimidating. You don’t need a credit card either; unlike Enterprise or Hertz, you can use a debit card to reserve a car, making this a great option for those with poor credit.

You can use the website or app to reserve a car for the date and time you need and then simply go to the lot and retrieve it. There is no human interaction as most garages have no attendant, so no one to tip or bother you; they are, however, secured and require a passcode to get in. 

There is a one-time $25 application fee and membership ranges from $6 a month to $60 a year depending on your needs and how frequently you plan to drive. The higher the membership the cheaper the hourly rate, although I will say in my experience the savings are negligible, especially for weekend rentals.

I have the $6 monthly package and sedans run from $11-$15 an hour and SUV’s and 7-passenger trucks run from $16-$18 an hour on the weekend; weekdays they are an average $2-$3 cheaper. A bit on the pricey side, but the overall convenience makes it worth it. 

Plus,  each rental comes with a gas card and an EZ-pass. The gas card is free but any EZ-pass charges must be paid at the end of the month. I must say they put the part about repaying the tolls in fine print- so fine I was surprised when the charges came in after our first trip. 

Zipcar: What Makes it So Good..

There are a lot of reasons why Zipcar is the way to go as opposed to other rental options. Let’s take a look:

  • Convenience: In my area, there are  Ziplots, as they call them, within walking distance and another 8 that are 10 minutes away or less. Which means I almost always have a car at my disposal when I need one. And in the rare instance that you need a specific car and it is a bit farther out and an inconvenience, Zipcar will pay for your cab to get to that lot. With places like Enterprise, there is one set spot and it’s not always near you.
  • Quick Reservations: You can reserve a car in seconds and for the most part you can rent a week, day, or even hour before with no hassle. Oh, and if you have a legitimate reason to cancel on short notice for a 24-hour rental they will refund you with no penalty. Plus, most lots can be accessed 24/7, so you can return the car when you need to. Some places, like Enterprise, don’t have Sunday drop-off or pick-up, so if you rent on a Saturday you have to do a 2-day rental, which means a bigger charge. They also have set office hours, so you can’t drop off at say, 5 am on your way to work, limiting your options. 
  • Accessibility: When you rent from Zipcar all you need is a debit card, and it doesn’t have to be in your name. For example, young adults can use their parents’ card or if you don’t have a card you can use your spouse’s. This is a nice change of pace for those with less than stellar credit and makes car renting possible as traditional companies, such as Hertz, either require a credit card or a deposit with your debit card. 
  • Solid Car Choices: They have a large assortment of cars, SUV’s and trucks from Nissan, Honda, Ford, and Chevy, for the most part. They do have rentals from BMW and other companies, but there are only a few in select locations. The cars are new in terms of make and model (2016-present) and there is usually a variety to choose from on any given reservation.

Zipcar: The Not So Good…

Now that you see why many drivers, myself included, use Zipcar, it’s time to look at the cons that come with such a company. Because as much as I wish it wasn’t so, there are a few downsides.

  • It Can Get Expensive: Convenience comes at a price. On average, I pay around $181 for a 24-hour rental on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday if I use a Honda CRV or Odyssey. That can be a bit steep for the average driver. For me, it’s okay because I only rent once or twice a month, but if you plan to use it more frequently it can add up quick. On the other hand, a 2-day rental for an SUV from Enterprise (a Hyundai Santa Fe) runs around $273 while a 2-day rental from Zipcar using the CRV will cost $340, making the price difference a bit more manageable. Plus, with Enterprise you have to do a 2-day rental on the weekend as many locations, like the one near me, are closed on Sunday, forcing you to pay the bigger price even if you don’t need the car that long.
  • Car Quality: For the most part the cars are in good condition, but since this a car share some drivers take advantage and bang the cars up. In my almost 2 years using Zipcar there have been 3 instances where the car was scratched or dented. But my biggest issue is the maintenance performed by the company. There have been a few instances, 6 to be exact, where I picked up the car and either the check engine light or the oil light was on and I had to switch cars. They need to be more vigilant as these instances caused me some inconvenience and lead to my next issue…
  • Limited Availability: In 2 of the instances where the check engine light was on I had rented a Honda Odyssey and there was no other Odyssey or comparable 7-passenger vehicle in that lot, or a nearby lot. They did extend my rental time and got me to another car, but I was a bit late for a party. The fact is if you rent a car and there is an issue you must call and they will switch you, but not having a live person then and there to help can be a real problem. I would suggest renting a bit earlier than you need just in case. And, on average, it is easier to rent a 5-passenger than the 7, as there are fewer in their fleet than a traditional rental company. Which leads to the last drawback….
  • Reservation Issue: In one instance, the car had a check engine light and they had no other 7-passenger to rent. I had family with me and could not switch to a 5-passenger, leaving me no choice but to cancel. They did refund me but I did have to cancel plans. Now, this only happened once in almost 2 years, but what if I was going to a wedding? A rare occurrence or not this is something to be aware of if you have a large family and need a larger vehicle. Hopefully, the company will be more on top of this in the future. 

The bottom line? Zipcar is an overall safe, easy alternative to using a traditional car rental company, but it is a bit more expensive. For those with bad credit, those rebuilding their credit, or anyone who has sworn off credit cards, it makes renting a car possible and virtually hassle-free. Just remember, you get what you pay for.

What do you think of Zipcar? Tell us about your experience with them below and be sure to share this article with your family and friends.