“I’d love advice on all of my options for car sharing/rentals.”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Lauren Parnell Marino

“Dear PoPville,

I was recently involved in a car accident. I am, fortunately, okay but my car was, unfortunately, declared totaled. Insurance is giving me a decent amount of money for it, but I’m trying to figure out if it’s actually worth throwing that money back into another car. I don’t need the car at all for work (I bike or bus) and was averaging using the car for grocery runs or random trips in the DMV area about 4-6 times per month. I’d love advice on all of my options for car sharing/rentals. I have car2go (I used even when I had a car because of the parking perks) but am interested on better services for when I need to make short trips just outside of the city or runs to home depot, costco, etc.”

43 Comment

  • I like zipcar. always cars available when i need it and you get free driving the more you drive.

    • I have been a long time zipcar member and have always paid! How do you get free driving??? What plan is that under? I like free.

  • Sorry to hear about the accident but I’m glad you’re all right. My advice: If you live in the District within 10 minutes of a Metro, don’t buy a car. I too bike to work most of the month and take the Metro in bad weather. The rest of the time my wife and I take Car2Go, cabs, ZipCar or Enterprise CarShare. If we want to get out of town for a weekend, we rent (be careful about choosing insurance on the rental policy though).

    Compare those costs to the expense of keeping a car that sits idle most of the month, and you’ll probably see it makes financial sense to rent or car-share when you need one.

    A car would be nice and would enable us to get out of town more frequently — and would make errands easier — the cost isn’t worth it at this point in our lives.

    • RE: insurance on rental cars…find out if you have a credit card that offers benefits. Many of the points cards do. I know my CDW is completely covered by my card (note: you must pay for the entire reservation on the card to get the benefits). AAA offers additional liability insurance on rentals (I’m not sure of the specifics on this one as I’m not a AAA member myself, but a coworker (also car-free) has told me about this on several occasions).
      Zipcar is what I use. I’ve tried a couple of the others and didn’t have great experiences with them (note: I have *not* tried Enterprise). If you need a car for longer than a few hours, a daily rental *might* be a better option. I often get daily rentals on winter weekends, as they can be cheap, cheap, cheap out of National. Like, $15 or less cheap (use Hotwire unless you have some reason to choose a specific rental company). You can do a whole 24 hours’ worth of running around for the cost of a few hours in a Zipcar.

    • “My advice: If you live in the District within 10 minutes of a Metro, don’t buy a car.”
      My wife and I live 10 minutes from a metro, but without a car we’d be unable to get to our jobs in VA. My wife would be unable to provide support for her widowed elderly mother in Fairfax County. Nor would she be able to get to her specialized doctors’ appointments, which require her to travel to Frederick and Baltimore counties several times a week. The carless lifestyle only works if you have a very simple life.

      • To be fair, OP only makes “4-6 trips in the DMV area per month”; in that instance, saying that you don’t need a car isn’t so far out of the realm of possibility, given that the OP doesn’t seem to need it for the types of circumstances you describe.

        • Yes, the OP is fortunate in that way, and so is Daniel. But I bristle at these blanket statements about not needing a car in DC. You absolutely do, unless the places you regularly need to go are close by or accessible by public transit.

          • Ashy Oldlady

            Thank you. For many of us, a car is not simply a luxury. I suppose that if you’re completely free of physical ailments, rarely ever leave the area and live a very routine life, it’s easy to live without a car. But this is not the case for everybody. Be careful not to stereotype all car owners.

          • In fairness, OP did indicate that they were considering NOT buying a car, so it’s fair to assume that they can get by without one. You don’t ask “hey, do you think I could just do without one?” and then turn around and be all “except that I have all these life circumstances that mean I really need one.”
            In addition, physical ailments sometimes make cars *less* useful. When my particular physical ailment crops up, I can’t trust myself to be able to use foot pedals in a safe manner. I’ve also been so sick that driving myself would have been a terrible idea. Uber is my savior when that happens and I need to get to the doc, stat.

          • Yeah, I was responding to that comment as a general comment, not in regards to the OP’s unique situation.
            My wife has trouble driving too, but each trip to the doctor would be like a $100 Uber ride (probably more for the one up near the MD/PA border) so we have a network of friends and family that are willing to do the driving for her. I guess your doctors are a lot closer, or you don’t have to see them very often.

          • You’re right that my doctors are closer (the immediate, short-term fix that gets me basically functioning again can be done by my PCP, which is near Union Station) and, well, it’s a relatively common issue that I happen to have a semi-severe form of, so there are plenty of common specialists who can handle the more intensive, longer-term fixes, right here in DC or in nearby suburbs (mine are all at GW and downtown). In that sense, I’m lucky, because when it flares and I can barely get out of bed, I’m not that bad off since a short (but painful) car ride will do. I do wish that people didn’t dismiss invisible issues quite so easily, but that’s a topic for a different day (why, no, middle-age lady…I REALLY can’t give you my Metro seat today, unless you’d like to sit (HA!) and wait for an ambulance crew to pick me back up off the floor if the train jerks…I already waited for 3 trains to pass until one was empty enough that I *could* sit without asking).
            I also don’t want to sound insensitive, but you don’t ask about how others get by without a car if you have some special circumstances that make it nearly impossible, is all. People who can live car-free are beneficial to people who need to own cars. Parking is less cumbersome and traffic is reduced. Of course, there are people for whom car ownership is basically required. There are plenty of people for whom it is optional. And there are many more people in the middle who could put some thought into whether owning a car (or as many cars as they do, if more than one for the household) is really necessary.
            Another one for the OP…before I sold my car, I “practiced” not having one. I joined Zipcar and lived for 3 months like I didn’t have my car. It was easy and I found it to be LESS stressful. Now is a perfect opportunity for you to try it out. Put the money in a savings account and try it out. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work for you and you still have the money to buy a new car. Best case scenario, you love it and have a couple grand extra in your savings account! Just give it a fair shake (a few months)…there’s always a learning curve when doing something new, so don’t write it off the first time you can’t get a Zipcar or whatever at the exact time and place you want…it takes a few weeks to get the hang of the systems (my advice: book early…you can always cancel up until 3 hours before your reservation). For me, figuring out the BUS was the biggest revelation. I could get to within a few blocks of tons of stuff I wanted to do with less walking and less waiting (Metro *rail* on weekends can be hell, but the buses work pretty well).

        • It’s a good idea to consider whether you will get a new job or become sick and need the car for these things though. Of course if it’s a lot more expensive to have the car you might as well go without and be prepared to buy one on short notice if you had to.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Congratulations on your complex and sophisticated life. That’s great.
        Sorry, that was rude of me. But it appeared to me that your sole purpose was evidently to write off everybody without cars as beneath you, it was mostly off topic, and it was completely non-responsive to the purpose of the discussion, which was to provide concrete suggestions to somebody who decided that not owning a car would be feasible for him or her and is looking for specific suggestions regarding other options.

        • Not gonna lie, I bristled (as others have said they did) at “you lead a simple life.” Right…because I don’t need a car to get around on a daily basis, my life is simple and carefree. Yippee! So…when can I start living this simple and carefree life?

          • It is. You’ve managed to get a job and housing and everything else within a small geographical area. Not many people can pull that off.

          • HaileUnlikely

            If you know nothing about a person besides whether or not they own a car, you know basically nothing about the person or their life. You think my life must be simple and carefree because I don’t own a car, but you really don’t know anything about it besides that I don’t own a car. Similarly, when I’ve been standing there waiting for the bus for a half hour and then the bus bypasses me without stopping because it’s full and then I see you drive by in your car, it’s tempting for me to think of your life as simple and carefree – you just get in your car and go – but I honestly don’t know a whole lot about your life either. I have a good friend who has gone to great lengths to find a place to live where he can meet the vast majority of his needs without wheels – and has settled for work far beneath what should be his earning potential based on his intelligence and skills so that he can work near where he lives, because he cannot and will never be able to drive for medical reasons. How’s epilepsy for simple and carefree? Don’t be a judgmental @sshole for your whole life.

      • my girlfriend and I both live in DC, plus go to work and school. we have doctor’s appointments, run errands, and see family/friends using public transportation as much as possible, and call an uber only when all else isn’t feasible. not everyone can afford a car (payments, gas, insurance, permits, etc.), bud. lighten up and stop taking advice clearly NOT directed towards you as a personal affront to your life.

  • Zipcar is good for those trips out to the burbs or Costco or whatever. The only caveat is that sometimes you need to plan ahead. You can’t usually wake up Saturday and find a car available for the morning or day (at least in Columbia Heights). But I’ve found the cars to be pretty well maintained and clean.

  • Getaround is very useful for one-offs.

  • I use a combination of every time of car sharing imaginable, plus online shopping! I almost never go to the grocery store anymore, I use instacart (btw in DC you can use instacart for Costco). I have Amazon prime and there are so many things that you can buy on that, plus I also try and use local shops when I can. I use zipcar for big things like Ikea or an all day rental. Uber/lyft for short trips in town, and public transit or walking for everything else. I haven’t owned a car for years and it suits me fine.

    • +1 on this advice. Between instacart and postmates, many occasions to drive can be eliminated if you don’t own a car. If there’s a variable cost (delivery cost vs. car rental cost) involved anyway, vs. the fixed costs of car ownership (and maybe the minimal variable cost of gas, which barely factors in when you fill up so infrequently), driving to stores makes a lot less sense.
      Same goes for uber vs. parking. If you own a car, it might be cheaper to drive somewhere and pay to park. If you have to pay the car rental cost + parking, it might be more cost-effective to just Uber.
      Unfortunately, our policies still favor car ownership a lot of the time (because roads and gas are heavily subsidized and many places, especially in the burbs, have “free parking” that you’re paying for in the cost of goods whether you use it or not), so the above math doesn’t work out as well as it should for every person, especially anyone with a set car-dependent obligation or two.

      • That’s the catch-22 a lot of us have: we live in a city where car ownership is a burden, but work or have other obligations in a suburban jurisdiction that favors car ownership.

        • Yeah, it’s an unfortunate state of affairs, but the suburbs are becoming more urbanized, and companies are generally recognizing the importance of transit-accessibility for their offices, so the trends are in favor of city life. If you live in a car-dependent neighborhood in the suburbs, basically all forward progress is a growing burden on you right now.

  • Check out the map of cars on Getaround. Depending on where you live in the city it can be a great (and usually less expensive (no subscription fee) option. That said, you’re using other peoples’ personal cars, so quality can vary, though in my experience that is accounted for in the pricing.

  • If you hunt around for coupon codes, you can get good deals on regular car rentals. Unfortunately, Union Station deals are harder to come by (though I once found one for $20/day all in), but I’ve gotten quite a few in the $12-15 before fees (total, maybe $25). Plus, you can always cancel rental car reservations with no penalty. I track every rental with autoslash.com. They alert you when they find a better deal right up until your rental, and all you have to do is click through to rebook the new rate.

    • Yup, I’ve found rental cars through “traditional” rental agencies to be much cheaper than Zipcar, unless you only need a car for an hour or two. I’ve consistently been able to rent a car for $25-$30/day after taxes. Zipcar costs around $70 for a whole day. Plus you don’t have to pay a yearly fee to rent from rental agencies, unlike Zipcar. Downside: having to go to DCA to pick up the car.

  • I gave up my car about 18 months ago, and in that time I have found a formula that really works for me:

    – For Regular Commuting: Metro/Bus/Bikeshare as convenience dictates

    – For Short Errands – 1 hour or less: Zipcar: I try to use during non-peak hours for $7-$8 rates.

    – For Longer Errands and Day Trips – Getaround: Cars belong to my neighbors and I like that, plus the rates are better, but there is almost always a 2-hour rental minimum.

    – For When I’m Only Going One-Way and Metro/Bus is Inconvenient and/or I’ll Be Drinking: Uber

    – For Multi-Day Trips: I rent from Alamo at DCA, which in my experience is by far the most efficiently run and cost-effective traditional rental car company out there. I joined their “Alamo Insiders” program, which is free and gets you a pretty good discount on their regular rates. I also like that they have touch-screen kiosks so I don’t have to wait in line.

  • I agree with the comments above, but wanted to add a note about renting a car through Costco. If you are a member you can actually rent cars through the Costco website, and for the most part it’s cheaper renting directly through the car rental company and in my experience it’s been cheaper than going through sites like Priceline or Hotwire. It’s a great perk to being a Costco member and I wish I had known about it sooner!!

    • was just coming here to make this comment. CostcoTravel.com has gotten me great deals on cars, I made up for the membership price on my first rental.

  • Many good points above. Also remember when renting for weekend trips that many car rental places will pick you up!

  • emvee

    I’m sorry to hear about your car, but am so glad to hear you’re safe! I was in a similar situation about two years ago when my car was totaled and I gifted it to NPR. I realized that I drove my car so infrequently that it was probably the universe telling me I didn’t need one.

    I currently do a combination of zipcar, car2go, and your run-of-the-mill Enterprise for any longer adventures. Zipcar has different levels of membership that are good depending on how much you drive. I pay $75/mo and automatically get that in driving credit, and it can be rolled over for a month if I don’t use it. I find that tends to be perfect for either a couple errands or a nice day trip for a hike or whatever. The man caveat is it makes it hard to be spontaneous as everyone else without a car wants one on the weekends, so you do need to plan in advance. Car2go is great for getting around town when I really am just going one way. To echo what someone else said – online shopping! Instacart has been a lifesaver on days I know I’ll have bags and bags and bags of groceries, and I swear by Amazon prime. Have it come to you and you don’t have to drive to it! Say goodbye to parking tickets, surprise transmission deaths that cost you your next vacation budget, hunting for parking by your house, or having to remember what day is street-cleaning day. Be free!

  • Zipcar has the best parking availability, best accident policy, and best customer service of all car-sharing services. Spend the extra $$ for year-round liability and you’ll never wish for the nightmare that is car ownership again!
    10 Years Car-Free

  • I’ve been using Relay Rides (recently renamed Turo) – it’s like AirBnB but for cars, you rent them directly from people. Check to see if there are many in your neighborhood. The daily rates are half, maybe 2/3’s, what the daily zipcar rates are, depending on the car.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Interesting, thanks, I’ll check this out. For a different reason, though – I haven’t had a car since 1999. I’m entertaining the possibility of getting one, even though I wouldn’t use it anywhere near enough to justify the expense of purchasing and maintaining it, but I realize there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t do when faced with paying per-trip and having to make a special effort to go get the car, and being able to offset some of my costs by renting it out definitely has some appeal.

  • If you plan ahead, as in a day or so, hotwire is fantastic. 24 hour rentals from DCA for 12, 18 all in. Really a great deal. Rates only apply to the weekends though, much higher during the week.

  • Zipcar is OK, but in our neighborhood we have some members who consistently trash the cars, including one girl with a large, shaggy dog who frequently fills the car with dog hair. Because of this, I no longer use the cars near me, and go out of my way to rent them from about a mile away. Also, Metro did serious hurt to Zipcar when they went with Enterprise and eliminated all Zipcar spaces from their parking lots. I’m so mad about them doing this that I refuse to sign up (their cars are seriously ugly, too). I gave up on owning a car a few years ago, and now regret it badly and am about to purchase again. The sharing economy leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, I tried Uber Pool this morning, and the guy never showed up and canceled the ride. Fortunately, I didn’t get billed, but was half an hour late to work thanks to this. To sum up: BS walks, and so will you if you don’t buy a car.

    • Ah, is THAT why Zipcar has moved near me??? F Metro on that one. Thankfully, Zipcar already had more of a presence off Metro property than on near me, and were able to find very good alternatives where they were on Metro property, so I’m not out anything. Again, I haven’t tried Enterprise car-share, but Zipcar has really stellar customer service and all, so I’ve stuck with them for years.
      Have you reported the shaggy dog owner? Zipcar requires that all dogs be crated in their cars. I know that won’t stop all hair, but it helps. It sounds like she’s not crating at all, from your description. Enough complaints, and she’ll get booted. I tend to use my wire crate in Zipcars (larger and less constraining than my airline carrier), so I’m sure there’s a touch of hair in the car (my dog is low-shed, so not much, but I’m sure a little), but not “filling the car with hair.”

    • emvee

      I feel you on the shaggy dog hair in the zipcar – that’s super common by me as well. It’s particularly frustrating as someone who is anal retentive about putting their dog in a crate every time I zipcar.

  • Costco partners with Enterprise which often has the lowest prices, esp. if you book well ahead of time; however, enterprise locations often seem super vigilant about finding body damage. AAA partners with Hertz but also will make reservations for other brands.

    On a weekend a daily rental is often the best deal, esp, if you have multiple errands. EnterpriseShare tends to be a better deal than Zip. OTOH, Zip has more cars at suburban metro stations which is a combo no one has mentioned here. This has helped me for errands in MoCo and outer suburban NoVa.

    Car ownership is not just about upkeep, repairs, and insurance. It’s a very expensive item that depreciates rather quickly. If you must have a car consider how a reliable used car might work better.

    Put your settlement money aside and use it when you really need a car. I’ve been car free for 8 years–I now use a car less than I did when I started. Hopefully things will work out like this for you.

  • I went car-free for 2 years and largely liked it, but a few things I didn’t anticipate before selling off my car made it a hassle and we recently purchased (a diesel VW, no less, so we’re stuck with it for a long time even if we wanted to reconsider). The biggest hassle was getting out to the burbs, which we only did once a month or so to visit in-laws. We had Zipcar and car2go, and you wind up paying a good chunk of cash to have one checked out for 5 or more hours. Sometimes you can do the all day rental and that’s more affordable but in Columbia Heights it was often difficult to book an all day Zipcar on a weekend even a week or more in advance. The other thing I didn’t like was not being able to do weekend getaways very much. There are a lot of fun places to visit within 3-4 hours of DC (wine tasting, Philly, B-more, Charlottesville, Annapolis, etc) that we basically skipped for much of those 2 years.
    However, I will say our expenses are probably $500 more per month now (car, insurance, parking lot, maintenance) and that’s a pain. We were trying to keep the auto budget lower, but our insurance company kind of screwed us, upping our rates after only a simple inquiry on driving uber (my teacher husband had considered doing so over the summer but ended up not because we couldn’t find anyone who offered insurance on it) to more than double. We’re still fighting and sorting that one out. Needless to say, it does make me miss the car-less lifestyle.
    Overall I’d recommend it if you can tag along with friends for suburban shopping and weekend getaways, and have no pets. Zipcar and car2go are a huge pain with pets (assuming you’d responsibly make sure to spend a few minutes cleaning up the inevitable hair at the end of your rental).
    The one other thing I’ll say is that I have not had the positive experience with Zipcar customer service that so many on here seem to have had… More than once we had issues that were hugely inconvenient: a flat tire that took more than 3 hours to get resolved, two other times my card stopped working and I couldn’t access the rental leaving me pretty stranded, and a handful of times with smaller issues like the car not being parked where it was supposed to be or not being returned by the previous renters on time. Customer service would credit back the fees, but was completely unhelpful in actually fixing the problem (once they even suggested we cab 3 miles to get to an available rental which was stupid and frustrating).

  • Check out Turo! I rent my car through the service, as do many other owners. It’s cheaper than zip car, and offers you more options than Car2Go. Plus you’re working directly with local, real owners (many of whom are willing to offer discounts), v.s. just some large corporation

  • Tangentially related to all of this–how does someone who doesn’t currently own a car (and thus doesn’t have insurance) rent a car?

    I can’t afford a car right now but would love to be able to rent a car for a day or maybe even do Car2Go for around the town things…but not having insurance seems to be a huge barrier to doing so!

    Any suggestions?

    • HaileUnlikely

      What is required by law is bodily injury liability insurance. All of the major car-sharing companies except ZipCar provide liability coverage to the minimum level required by the jurisdiction (not sure if it is the jurisdiction that a crash occurs in the event of a crash, or the jurisdiction in which the vehicle is registered, or what). It is legally sufficient insofar as you are not illegally driving an uninsured vehicle when you use one, but the coverage is so minimal that if you are involved in a crash in which other people are injured, their insurance will almost certainly be insufficient and you could be on the hook for a lot. ZipCar provides a higher level of liability coverage, I believe up to a maximum of $300,000 per crash for bodily injury liability (you should check but I’m pretty sure that number is right).
      ZipCar has a certain deductible (I do not recall what it is, I think it’s around $750) for damage to the vehicle if you are at fault in a crash, such that you would be responsible for the first $750 of costs if you damage the car, and their insurance would pick up the rest. You can buy something called a “collision damage waiver” from ZipCar that reduces or eliminates the deductible. I do not know how other carsharing companies handle damage to the vehicle, read the fine print before signing up.
      I do not know how ZipCar or any other carsharing companies handle personal injury protection, which is the type of insurance that covers injury to you or your passengers in the event that you are involved in a crash in which you are at fault or in which you are for whatever reason unable to collect damages from another party.
      Standard rental companies always provide the minimum amount of bodily injury liability coverage required under the law, such that somebody without their own insurance can rent and is not illegally driving uninsured. They will sell you additional liability coverage, usually up to $1M, for a small fee. Since you don’t have your own insurance policy, I would recommend paying the fee for the additional liability coverage. They’ll also sell you personal injury protection coverage and a collision damage waiver at your discretion. If you are ok with accepting the risk of incurring your own medical expenses in a crash and are not carrying passengers on your trip, don’t bother with personal injury protection. If you or any of your passengers do not have your own health insurance, absolutely buy the personal injury protection coverage. Most major credit card companies will provide collision coverage (i.e., cover expenses for damage to the rental vehicle itself) if you are involved in a crash and were in no way in violation of the rental agreement at the time of the crash (you and not an unauthorized friend were driving, you weren’t drinking, you weren’t racing, etc). The collision damage waiver is usually the most expensive and arguably the least important.
      I’m in the same boat. When I rent, I buy the supplemental liability coverage every time, buy personal injury protection if I’m going to have passengers who are not members of my family (otherwise I skip it), and I always charge the rental to a credit card that provides collision damage waiver and thus I do not pay for that.

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