Dear PoP – Anyone Use Zip Car?

Zip Cars, originally uploaded by lea-anne.

“Dear PoP,

I have a car but can walk to work and have been thinking about getting rid of it. My husband (who also has a car) thinks I should keep my car because it’s paid for, has low miles and gives me no trouble.

We got a notice at work about our company getting a discounted rate for the ZipCar sign up fee. I’m thinking about joining. I figure that if I *needed* a car I could use one of those, but save on the auto ownership costs and the daily parking hassle.

Moving on to the point: Do you or any of your readers have any experience with zipcar and if so, how have they found it? Convenient? Easy to use? Cars available when they need them? Overly expensive?”

What do you guys recommend?  I recently sold my car and couldn’t be happier.  Though I haven’t signed up for Zip Car so I’m interested to hear what folks have to say as well.

52 Comment

  • I’ve been using Zipcar for a little over a year, and it’s great. There are generally cars well within walking distance in most neighborhoods, and the rates are solid – when I needed a car for a 3-day trip to Roanoke, Zipcar proved to be substantially cheaper than renting a car. The customer service has generally been good – when the car I reserved had a leaky tire, they upgraded me to a better car on the same lot for free.

  • I don’t use Zipcar, because despite years of an otherwise perfect driving record, I have two “incidents” in the past three years (one ticket for speeding, one accident a few weeks later that wasn’t my fault at all–other driver charged, etc.– but still counts as an incident) and am therefore not eligible until 2011.

    Not that I’m bitter.

  • I used to use Zipcar, then got a car. I once scheduled a car and when I went to pick it up it wasn’t there. The person on call (it was Sat at night) was of no help what so ever, and could only refer me to another car blocks away. When i said that I did not want it, he then said “I will cancel it at no cost to you”. I was like what???!!! the car isn’t here, why would I encur a cost? He was awful.

  • I love zipcar, though it’s really only cost-effective for short-term trips. Taking a car out for the day, it would probably be cheaper to use a car rental service.

  • I’ve used it for about a year and a half and I’m a big fan. There are a TON of zipcars available near where I live (Columbia Heights), and it is just much less hastle than owning a car (it takes about ten seconds to reserve one, you don’t have to worry about gas, maintenance, registration, insurance, parking, etc.). Very good customer service, and the cars are well-maintained. I am a happy customer.

  • I use Zipcar and find it very convenient. It’s expensive to just go to the grocery store (it can add another $20 or so to your grocery bill), but it’s probably much less expensive than owning a car.

    I had a flat tire once after I had already driven the car – I called and they were incredibly nice and helpful and someone was there to change it in 30 mins. I would definitely recommend it.

    One thing to know is that there’s an 80 mile limit – you can’t drive more than 80 miles in one day.

  • It really depends what neighborhood you’re in. if i was downtown, where i had to either deal with searching for street parking all the time, or paying a bunch of money for a garage, i would probably give up having a car. up in petworth with an abundance of parking, i couldn’t ever see myself giving up my car. it is just too convenient to have.

  • I think ZipCar is a great service albeit one that I don’t use since I have a car.

    That said, as someone who has driven regularly in and around DC for almost 18 years, when I see a ZipCar on the road, I steer WAY clear. I’ve found that people who are used to navigating the city on foot/bike/public transportation are less adept at navigating the city in a car, and some of the worst drivers I’ve seen in DC have been folks in ZipCars.

  • My husband and I have a car, but we are still members. It helps when we both need a car (infrequent) or when we need a different car configuration – like a pick-up to get home renovation stuff or pick up furniture.

    I love it. I have had a few issues with people being late or in one case someone decided to park the car about 2 miles away after they found someone parked in the zipcar space, but they are usually resolved quickly by Zipcar with a replacment car and a discount.

  • I have used Zipcar for the past 2 years and love it. We don’t have a car in the city, and Zipcar is perfect for runs to pick up a few things (hardware, furniture,large grocery shops) that might need more storage space. I also find that having to schedule and pay for my car trips makes me more thoughtful about whether I actually need to use a car for a particular trip. When I had a car, I found that I would often take it on short trips for no good reason, just because I could. When the short trip costs $10/hr, its easier to remember that walking, biking and metro are good options.

  • @AMT, how did you drive to Roanoke in a zipcar? zipcar has a daily limit of 180 miles, and Roanoke clocks in at exactly 200.

    this is my main pet peeve with zipcar – the mileage restrictions. it’s good if you want to go to Fredericksburg or Baltimore, but not good for day trips. and it’s not a wise idea to break their rules (or you could find yourself blacklisted for a full year, as I was).

    I’ve used zipcar now for three years and while it’s alright, it’s just not the same as owning a car and having it there when you just want to pick up and go on a short road trip to god knows where. you won’t miss the insurance payments, but you’ll miss the freedom of having a car when you need it on a moments notice (despite the good advertising it’s impossible to get a convenient zipcar on a weekend without reserving well in advance).

  • If your car is already paid off and low miles, besides insurance and DC registration (which is pretty cheap compared to other places) and res parking tag at a whopping $15 every two years…what’s the cost? Just use it until it dies or you have a good reason to sell it. Also talk to your insurance agent and have them put it down as a “pleasure use” and put the lowest amount of miles allowed per year which will significantly lower your insurance rates.

    Zip car if I’m correct requires a monthly membership which isn’t cheap.

    If you didn’t already have a car I’d say go with Zip car for city living, but since you already have it, just hang onto it.

  • I’m with your husband and A Nonny Mouse … really depends on where you live, but if you own it outright, aren’t experiencing problems with your car, and can get reasonable street or alley parking where you live, why would you pay for the service + usage in lieu of insurance and other minimal costs associated with your infrequently used current car? Why not work out a Zipcar-ish arrangement with some trusted neighbor or friend instead? You could charge them $15/day or something, plus gas, to use your car when they needed wheels. (And yes, I know that never would happen, but I’m still with your husband.)

  • @A Nonny Mouse: There’s a yearly membership fee, not monthly, and it’s really not a lot.

    I’ve been using Zipcar since I moved into the city, usually to run errands (kitty litter is heavy) or take day trips outside the city. I don’t have a problem with the 180 mile daily limit, and since the cost includes gas and insurance, it works out to be about the same price as a regular car rental and more convenient since there are so many Zipcars in my neighborhood.

  • I use Zipcar weekly for trips to visit friends/family in the suburbs and the occasional trip to the hardward store of Fort Totten trash transfer station (just finished a home renovation). It is SOOOO much cheaper than owning a car and if you can acutally plan ahead by a few days, it is pretty simple to reserve the car at the end of your block (I’m just off 13th and U St.) or one of another 20 withing 4 blocks.

  • Flexcar/Zipcar are an excellent urban transportation concept and I’m sure it works for many people, but it’s like connecting flights. They are good and they work -so long as they connect.

    I’ve had bad luck and too many bad experiences with reliability -when the car I scheduled and reserved simply wasn’t there because the previous user was late at returning it despite the stiff penalties imposed for late return.

  • I’ve used Zipcar for several years, never having had a car of my own here in D.C. In general, I’m a huge fan… I’ve had the odd ish with cars being broken into and not being where they’re supposed to be, but on the whole, everything works smoothly. When it doesn’t, the staff have always been very pleasant and helpful.

    it’s 180 miles per day included in the hourly/daily rate. Extra miles are $0.45. You CAN drive as much as you want, you just pay a bit more. Also, there are several different plans, some of which commit you to a certain amount of driving a month, others don’t. I’m on a no-comittment plan, which means I pay only for when I drive, though the rate is slightly higher. In any case, it’s still certainly cheaper than having my own car (purchase, parking, insurance, gas, etc).

    And, while it can definitely be more expensive for a longer trip (weekend away, etc.), I’m usually happy to pay the premium for being able to pick up a car around the corner and not having to deal with getting to and from the airport or wherever and dealing with Budget etc.

  • I started as a Flexcar member and then when Zipcar came on the scene I joined it too until they consolidated and now I’m just a Zipcar member.

    Other than people who leave dog hair all over the car on occasion (if you call and report it they get fined) I’ve had no problems. Shoot, I think I’ve been carless for at least 5 years now. Someone else mentioned it above, but being carless really makes you consider your decisions and on many levels I waste less money by not having a car.

    And “Nichole” most of the people who now have Zipcar used to have their own cars here in the city so I would venture that they are just as good of a driver as you are (frankly Zipcar members have a bit more at stake when driving a Zipcar than most regular car owners do). It’s just that Zipcars are labeled so you know it’s a Zipcar. I’m sure you have as many problems with other drivers, they just don’t have signs on their cars.

  • There are basically two types of ZipCar plans. On both you pay the $25 application fee:

    1. You pay $50 a year, then you pay either the hourly or daily rate when you drive.

    2. You pre-pay a set amount every month (from $50-$250 depending on plan) and then you pay discounted driving rates. The pre-pay amount counts towards those, and there is no annual fee.

    Basically plan 1 is good for occasional short trips or occasional day trips, plan(s) 2 are good if you’re going to use more than $50+ every month.

    Honestly it all depends on how much you use your car. If you NEED your car more than once a week then it’s not more economical to get rid of it if you already have one.

  • Zipcar is awesome and getting better everyday. Not sure if someone who’s never owned a car here would feel the same way. But having driven my own car in DC for 3 years before selling it and going Zipcar, I can say that the reduction in stress alone is worth it. No more tickets, no more parking debacles, no more ga$, no more insurance.

    And yes, it’s a yearly rate and pretty damn cheap if you ask me. Plus you get referral rebates. I’ve also used it to do weekend trips and it often comes in cheaper than a rental, especially when you factor in additional drivers, which Zipcar doesn’t charge for. That’s probably one of the best features of Zipcar. If you’re a member, then you’re cleared to drive any Zipcar, no matter who booked it, as long as you have their Zipcard. My GF and I are both members, so we book one car and we can both drive it. An often overlooked yet very handy feature.

  • Get rid of your cars and take public transportation, bicycle or walk! Save yourselves and the environment!

  • I have nothing but great things to say about Zipcar. I agree with all of the possitive comments above and have had almost no negative experiences at all, whenever anything goes awry they are very quick to fix it.

    That being said, if I already owned a car or could easily afford to get one, I would never in a million years trade that for a Zipcar membership. It’s a great system but it doesn’t beat the convenience of your own car.

  • I just let my Zipcar annual membership lapse again. I rarely ever need a car, and when I do I usually need it for more than 1-2 hours. Zipcar is useful if you often need a car for less than 3 hours. Otherwise renting from DCA through is cheaper. And there you get unlimited miles.

  • i love ZipCar. Quit driving my car in Oct 08. Haven’t looked back.

  • I was a Flexcar, then Zipcar, member from whenever they got to DC up until 2009. It was pretty awesome when it first started. In its heyday about 5 years ago, Flexcar offered cars for $5/hr, or $45 for the whole day. I’d take the cars on holiday weekends out of town– way cheaper than a rental.

    Unfortunately, after the merger, it didn’t make sense for me anymore. Prices went up steadily– which was understandable, given rising gas prices. But, surprise, they sure didn’t go down when gas prices went down.

    Also, somewhat paradoxically, I found that after the Flex/Zip merger there were fewer cars available and the cost for renting went up lots more, not down (despite an email from Zipcar saying that more cars would be available at a cheaper price). Then they started getting even more restrictive: mileage limits, no rental credit for filling up the tank or cleaning the car, etc.

    Still, I can see how it would be beneficial for some folks. Honestly, DC parking tickets alone may be a good reason to go carless. But in terms of your expenses, you should just try doing the math. I was spending a good $200/month on Zipcar (that was for a random trip to the grocery store and two day-long trips to Maryland to see family). Now, we just use a car that has been paid off and deal with the DC parking hassle.

  • @justbecarfree I don’t think anyone would disagree with you that going 100% car free is a worthy goal. But as someone who spends 95% of my time on my bike getting from A to B, I can attest that it’s not always practical. We use Zipcar for big grocery runs and trips out of town where there is no “public option”. ie…BFE Virginia.

    But I will say that I’m often perplexed by people that live near me in Dupont/AM/Mt. P who own cars and work in the District. I just can’t imagine there would be many reasons to own one. They always say “I couldn’t live without it!”. But I’m still skeptical. I think perhaps they just like the idea of owning a car and then they try to justify it. But I’m not going to pass judgment on them. I could be totally wrong. I can only draw on my own experience owning a car here, which was hell. But I suppose if I had off-street parking, I’d probably be singing a different tune.

  • I enjoy Zipcar. My husband and I shared a car for almost a year (generally he used it to get to/from work and I used it on the weekends). I signed up for Zipcar so I could hang out with friends after work, and for the occasional times we both needed the car. The cars were located conveniently, although not within walking distance for me, and I never had a problem with people being late returning the car or whatnot. Customer service was a pleasure (rare). I agree that in general, renting the car for more than a couple hours, it would probably be better off renting from DCA – although sometimes the time spent getting out to DCA is worth the difference in cost.

    We ended up buying a second car – cutting my commute from 2 hours each way via public transit to 40 minutes by car – although I still maintain the annual Zipcar membership for convenience (e.g. when we need a pickup).

  • @rob, it’s funny – I always wonder how people WITHOUT cars manage. Do they not have pets to transport? Heavy groceries? Do they not take weekend trips to visit family and/or friends, camp, hike, hit the beach etc? Buy wine by the case? Move furniture? Buy firewood? Transport stuff for groups they volunteer for? Go to Costco? Go to Baltimore or Annapolis on a whim on a Saturday afternoon? Take the dog, the cornhole boards and a (well-disguised) pitcher of margaritas to Rock Creek Park for the afternoon? I’m grateful for my car every day (and so are my non car having friends, whose numbers have certainly diminished as we’ve gotten older, but who often relied on the drivers among us for rides to the beach or other group activities); sometimes I use it when I know I could walk or take public transportation, but I feel like I’m always loading and unloading it or taking trips. I just wonder how people without cars manage all that stuff.

  • I’ve been close to signing up a number of times, but I just don’t think it’s terribly afforable for my needs. Generally if I need a car, it’s for a day trip or weekend getaway or something. Through Hotwire, I can generally get a rental car from DCA for $20/day. It’s a little bit of a hassle getting to the airport, but it still ends up being far cheaper than a whole day (or multiple day) rental of a ZipCar.

  • @Nichole No I totally see where you’re coming from. That sounds like a pretty similar rundown of the exact things we use Zipcar for (and the same things I used my SUV for) but I guess we’ve gotten to where we don’t do those things often enough to justify it. If that’s your lifestyle, then yeah, you definitely have reasons. It’s probably that I’m thinking of only my friends who have cars…and they’re all lazy.

    Maybe we’re just lame and spend too much time on the couch. Crap…now I need to re-examine my whole life. Damn you, Zipcar.

    But seriously, I think my frustration with owning a car in this area began to outweigh all the things I enjoyed about having it. And to some extent it probably changed my habits.

    And no, I don’t ever voice my skepticism to those car-owning friends who drive us around alot. Point taken there 🙂

  • I own a car and also have a Zipcar membership. I use it when I need a larger car, like a pickup truck or SUV to transport larger items. For those uses, it’s worth the yearly membership charge and hourly fee.

  • @Anon 11:30 – The mileage limit is per day, but if you have the car for more than a day, the mileage for the trip adds just aggregates. It was a 3-day trip, which gave us enough miles to get there and back 🙂 We may have gone over by a little bit, with driving around Roanoke, but the per mile overage charge still kept the total price under that for a rental car, especially considering the savings on gas and insurance.

  • major issue: where the heck are the cars hidden?

    many are easy to find, but some are like nearly impossible and there are pretty poor descriptions of how to get to them.

    I can think of cars in Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant and above Cardozo that are really hard to find, even for someone who runs a lot and knows alleys, etc. in these areas pretty well.

  • I’ve been a zipcar member for about five years now and I love it. I’ve never had a problem finding a car, although I have occasionally the location nearest to me isn’t available and I have to reserve a different vehicle. Once the car I reserved became unavailable for reason that was not explained to me, and zipcar called me the day before and told me they were giving me a different car–same model (good, because I was going to ikea)–and gave me directions and information on how to pick up the other car.

    The argument that zipcar owners are bad drivers because they don’t driver regularly is absurd and ignorant. Many zipcar members drive every day, or nearly every day. And zipcar members go through rigorous background checks–as someone else experienced, even a speeding ticket makes you in eligible. Not merely that you have to pay more for insurance like you would if you owned a car. You are completely ineligible to be a member. Thus, zipcar drivers are safer than the other cars on the road.

  • has anybody ever had an easy time finding the Columbia Heights west cars?

  • I guess it really depends on how much you expect to use Zipcar. Hubby and I have one car between us, and it’s paid for. Annual cost of ownership is between $1500-2000, and this includes insurance, maintenance, registration, etc. We put maybe 6000 miles a year on it. It’s a huge perk to have the convenience of our own car, and no restrictions on mileage. But if you drive considerably less and don’t do road trips, Zipcar may be a better option.

  • @Nichole I’ve never owned a car, nor do I drive, so I’m definitely not a zipcar person. But let’s’ see…

    1. I currently do not take care of any animals, but when I did there was always a taxi.

    2. If I have heavy groceries I take the bus, otherwise I just do multiple short grocery trips on the way home from work or yoga. But yeah, no Cost-co trips.

    3. I take the Bolt Bus up to NYC to visit friends, take the MARC train Friday nights to visit friends in Baltimore (and then usually get a lift to a green line station, I really wish there was weekend trains to Baltimore), and I fly to visit my family back in Chicago.

    4.Most of my friends also do not drive, but we’ll take public transit or bike to Rock Creek Park or outlying areas and go from there.

    Depending on the activity I might get a ride from friends with cars to do something. It’s a different type of lifestyle. It’s as unimaginable for me to have a car as it is for you to think of life with one!

  • Sell your car. The hardest decision you’ll make for a while but easily the most rewarding. Bike + ZipCar is all you need if you live in DC proper or the inner suburbs

  • My thoughts are similar to those of “Used to Love Zipcar.” FlexCar used to offer a great and affordable service in the area, but ZipCar bought it out and quickly doubled the prices. “Doubled the prices” is not even a slight exaggeration. Sadly, the price increase made it more sensible for me to buy a car. That said, there are many people in the city for whom ZipCar will make more sense than a car. If it might work for you, you should absolutely give it a try for a few months. Don’t forget to factor in the inevitable parking tickets when you are coming up with the cost of owning a car for comparison!

  • I am a zipcar member and I think it’s been pretty good for the handful of times I’ve used it. I agree with others who said that Flexcar was better (such as the $2 credit for filling up the tank – as it is right now, it’s just bad luck to find out that you have to spend 5 minutes of your 60 minute reservation filling the tank and you get nothing in return for it).

  • I own no car and love, love, love Zipcar. have used it for dr’s appointments, when a bunc hof us wanted to go out to a wine tasting in the country, and have used the pick up truck a ton of times for moving furiture and buying plants and garden stuff at Home Depot. It is a seriously great service.

  • I’ve used Zipcar on and off since 2004 and have really liked it. It’s great for large grocery runs, trips to IKEA, or other things that are impossible to do via public transit. It’s most cost-effective for short trips (up to 4 hours).

  • Some of you are nutty. I park in DC every day and never get a ticket. Just read the sign and follow the rules. I own my car out right and I only have to pay for the registration and parking permit once every two years. I would never trade my car in for a zipcar membership. I use my car for grocery shopping and it’s nice to have in the winter when I need those heated seats. And sometimes it’s just plain nice to drive when it’s raining outside.

  • Plus the insurance forgot that and that’s only $382 every six months. And probably only fill my tank up once or twice a month.

  • i LOVE zipcar!!!!! being a non car owner since 1990, i have used them many times over the past. they ARE cheaper than my other favorite rental car. i love being able to pick from so many different kinds of cars. i do watch to see WHERE they are parked, though. some locations are difficult after dark. (going into a parking garage, e.g.) i tend to pick locations that i won’t have to worry about SCRAPING another car. Some zipcar renters are slobs, but most of the time, ZIPCAR catches them and cleans up after them. on special occasions, i ADORE showing up in a BMW or a MINI!! when they start offering Smart Cars, I’ll never go back to anything else. LOVE zipcar! look at, see the talk by the WOMAN who founded it”

  • i LOVE zipcars. have been driving them for at least 10 years. MUCH cheaper than regular rental cars. MUCH more convenient.

  • hate the freaking word press….

  • hate the freaking word press….

  • Definitely keep it.

    The parking permit is pennies, and emissions & property tax aren’t too bad. You’ll match the combined cost of those by renting ZipCar on just a few occasions. What if you want to drive to Pittsburg, Va Beach, the Chesapeake Bay, etc (places too far to Zip, and not on the chinatown bus routes.)

    You can even make a little money to break even on costs by “renting” it to friends. I.e. – you ask $10 for the day to cover wear & registration, and the tiny cost keeps them from ‘abusing the privilege.’ I don’t know how old or native you are, but for the childless under 40 crowd, an easy “shared'” car can work out great w/ a group of friends. I’m in my mid/late 20s, from the area, and a group of five friends can get good use out of a car, saving everyone money.

    Plus, I heard on Kojo Nnandi today that DC is abolishing the car safety inspection (so don’t worry about having to replace a headlight, cracked window, worn tire, etc. or the cost of inspection.)

  • I did the Zipcar “Low-car Diet” in July to see if I could do without my car. I think I can. The transportation options here in Columbia Heights are pretty plentiful – bus, subway, taxi, bike, and my favorite – walk. Zipcar was a good addition to that for me. I rarely drive my own car anyway and I loved not having to pay for gas. 🙂

    I haven’t gotten rid of my car yet – but am inching closer. The $2K I spent on repairs to it today will be the last. I go to zipcar next time I have a problem with it.

  • YIKES! Before you sign up, please very closely investigate their very false claims about insurance in case you get hit or anything happens to your Zipcar.

    I was rear-ended in traffic, the other guy was found at fault by the cops and ticketed — and Zipcar charged my credit card $500 anyway, saying they just really couldn’t be sure it wasn’t my fault, after all.

    Same thing happened to a friend who came outside to find someone had sideswiped her Zipcar — the company jacked her credit card for $500. We both had to do charge-backs and spent months in ferocious disputes with the company, which claims you are covered — until something happens.

    Google “zipcar is evil” before you even consider signing up. Their insurance coverage is a huge problem.

  • My family has been with Flexcar, then Zipcar for about 4 years. We have a house on the Hill, both my husband and I work, have two kids, and parents out in the burbs. We used to each have a car, but when the 2nd car started the nickel and diming dance, we decided to donate it and not purchase another one. Instead, we signed up for Flexcar/Zipcar. It has met our needs for a second car and more! We’ve found it great for when we need a truck. I calculated the yearly savings for our family to have a zipcar over a second car, and it was significant. Just insurance and gas for a second car (insured for under 10K in miles per year – the lowest we could insure it for, and a 1x a month fill up) equalled $1800/year. We use zip car on average 2-3x a month. And so the yearly fee and the average usage comes out to about $1200. That doesn’t include the savings from not having to rent a truck (when we had our second car which couldn’t serve as such), parking tickets, and maintenance. It works for our family of four. I have to admit, it would be difficult to be totally car free with kids, home repair needs, etc…It is absolutely perfect to supplement our 1 vehicle. I am embarassed to say I came from a family of four that had FIVE cars in the driveway…you know, in case one of our cars broke down…I mean how would you get anywhere? Lucky to live, own, work, raise kids in this city!

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