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How Does Zipcar Work? A Comprehensive Guide to Your First Rental

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With each passing year, more and more Americans are choosing to live a car-free lifestyle.

It could be due to high cost of car ownership in some cities (where parking alone can cost hundreds of dollars a month) or simply due to an increased desire for mobility and freedom.

Whatever the reasons, living without a car is now easier than ever, thanks to a range of new rideshare and car sharing services.

In this article, we’re going to look at one of the most prevalent car sharing services: Zipcar.

We’ll explore what the service is, where it’s available and how you can get started using it today.

What Is Zipcar?

Zipcar is a car sharing service that Antje Danielson and Robin Chase founded in 2000 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Members of the service can rent cars by the hour or day, accessing the vehicles using a special card (called a “Zipcard”) or the company’s mobile app.

The service has also partnered with a variety of colleges and universities across the U.S. to allow short-term car access to students who would normally be ineligible for traditional car rental services.

How Does Zipcar Work?

Where Is Zipcar Available?

Zipcar is currently available in 400+ cities in the United States, as well as select cities in Canada, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Taiwan and Turkey.

Here are some of the major cities in the U.S. where you can count on Zipcar to get you around (note: this list is far from exhaustive!):

  • Baltimore, MD
  • Boston, MA
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Detroit, MI
  • Houston, TX
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Nashville, TN
  • New York City, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Providence, RI
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • San Francisco Bay Area, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, D.C.

Here are a few notable cities with Zipcar:

Zipcar in Boston

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Boston

One of America’s most historic cities is also a place where you can make personal transportation history.

With the robust BART system in place, it’s already easy to get around Boston without a car.

Zipcar can help you go car-free and save money.

Zipcar is available all throughout the Greater Boston Area, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, and even at the Boston Logan International Airport.

Rentals start as low as $11 per hour or $78 per day.

Boston is also notable for being the only city in which Zipcar allows one-way trips.

Normally, Zipcar trips are round trip; you have to pick up and drop off your Zipcar in the same location.

In Boston, however, select Zipcars can be picked up in one location and dropped off in another.

Zipcar in Chicago

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Chicago

Chicago is known for its rich history, spectacular restaurant scene, and serious sports fans.

Unfortunately, it’s also known for its terrible traffic.

Since it has excellent public transit, however, it’s a city where foregoing car ownership is quite feasible.

For the few times that you do need a car, you’ll find Zipcars throughout the Chicago area, available everywhere from the Loop to Wicker Park.

What’s even better is that all Zipcars come with a parking spot, saving you from having to pay the exorbitant parking fees common in the city.

Zipcars in Chicago start at $11 per hour or $78 per day.

Zipcar in Washington, D.C.

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Washington DC

As the nation’s capital and a center of international politics and business, D.C. is an exciting place to live.

Driving in the city, however, can be more exciting than most people would like to deal with on a regular basis.

With a robust subway and bus system, plus a high level of walkability, it’s easy to live in D.C. without a car.

Still, sometimes you do want access to a car in order to escape the city for the weekend.

In this case, a car sharing service like Zipcar can provide the flexibility you need.

Zipcars are available throughout the D.C. metro area.

So whether you’re on Capitol Hill, in Georgetown, or over in Penn Quarter, you’ll be able to find a vehicle.

Zipcars start at $10 per hour or $76 per day in D.C.

Zipcar in San Francisco

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay Area is known as a center of technology and innovation.

It’s also a great place to go car-free, something that Zipcar can help you do.

With a bus and train network, plus lots of innovative transportation options like electric scooters, you can live in the city without a car.

For when you do need a car, however, Zipcar is available everywhere from Oakland to Berkeley.

Zipcars in San Francisco start at $11 per hour or $79 per day.

Zipcar in Seattle

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Seattle

Known for its rainy, temperate climate, influential music scene, and superb coffee, Seattle is another city where you can live without a car.

Transit is available via bus, train, and even ferry, meaning you may not even need a car most of the time.

When you do need one, though, you can count on Zipcar.

There are Zipcars available all throughout the Seattle area.

If the spirit moves you, you can even take one all the way up into Canada (perhaps to visit Vancouver, another city where Zipcar has a presence?).

Or, drive south to Tacoma for the day.

Zipcars in Seattle start at $11 per hour or $73 per day.

Zipcar in Denver

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Denver

Denver isn’t known as a city where you can live without a car, but it’s quite possible to do so.

The RTD provides bus and light rail service throughout the city, and the network of bike paths makes it easy to get around using just the power in your legs.

Sometimes, however, you might want to take a road trip to enjoy all that Colorado has to offer.

Perhaps you want to visit Colorado Springs for the weekend or take a day trip to Red Rocks to get a break from the big city.

Zipcar can help you in these cases, with rentals starting at $9 per hour or $74 per day.

Zipcar in Portland

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Portland

Portland, Oregon is a city known for its eclectic culture, vast number of breweries, and mild weather.

Cars are a common sight in PDX, but so are bicycles and light rail.

This means that you don’t have to have a car to get around the city.

If you need to escape the city, however, then Zipcar can offer you the vehicle you need.

Explore wine country or take a trip to the beach starting at just $11 per hour or $74 per day.

Zipcar in Los Angeles

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Los Angeles

Going without a car in Los Angeles, a city known for its car culture and freeways that back up for miles during rush hour, seems kind of crazy.

With Zipcar, however, it is possible if you live in the right area.

LA does have public transit, even if you don’t hear much about it, and bike lanes are available in certain neighborhoods.

For when you do need a car, however, Zipcar can get you around.

Whether you want to cruise down Hollywood Boulevard or visit the Santa Monica pier, you can do so starting at just $9 per hour or $66 per day.

Zipcar in Miami

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - Miami

Zipcar doesn’t have a huge presence in Miami, but it’s still significant enough to make the service useful for people without cars.

After all, Miami-Dade County has the 14th largest public transit system in the United States, as well as the largest in Florida.

If you need to use a car to drive to South Beach, the University of Miami, Miami Beach, or even all the way up to Fort Lauderdale, you’ll find a Zipcar for it in the city of Miami. Downtown Miami has a large concentration of Zipcars, but you’ll find them throughout the city.

Start exploring everything South Florida has to offer for as low as $10 per hour or $74 per day.

Zipcar in San Diego

The Top 10 Best Zipcar Locations in the United States - San Diego

One of the gems of California, San Diego is a city of rich history, award-winning breweries, and proximity to some of the greatest natural beauty on the Pacific Coast.

With a bus system and lots of well-planned, bikeable neighborhoods, you can get around San Diego without a car.

For the times when you want to drive out to La Jolla or up the Pacific Coast, however, Zipcar can be your transportation.

Do note that you cannot take Zipcars into Mexico, so you’ll need to find another method if you’re planning a trip down to Tijuana.

Zipcars in San Diego start at $10 per hour or $77 per day.

How Much Does Zipcar Cost?

How Does Zipcar Work

Zipcar bills itself as both an alternative to car ownership and to traditional car rental services.

But is it cost-effective enough to be practical for the average person?

The rates for Zipcar vary based on location and depend on the length of the rental.

Rates for personal rentals tend to start at $10 per hour.

For daily rentals, rates start at $76 per day, and monthly rentals range from $60 to $90 per month.

There are also annual plans available for more frequent users of the service.

You’ll also pay a membership fee of $7 per month (or $70 per year if you prefer) for access to the service (though a mileage cap of 180 miles per day generally applies).

There’s also a one-time application fee of $25.

Pro tip: Use our Zipcar promo code to earn $25 in free driving credit. You can also earn more credit when you share your own code with friends and family who haven’t yet signed up for the service!

Note that the Zipcar membership fees cover the cost of gas and insurance, so make sure to take those into account when figuring out if Zipcar is worth it.

Zipcar also offers a calculator on their website to help you estimate if using their service would be cheaper than owning a car.

How Do I Sign Up for Zipcar?

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To sign up for Zipcar, visit the official application page and select a pricing plan (monthly or yearly).

You’ll need to be at least 21 years of age to apply (18 if you’re a college student).

You’ll also need a valid driver’s license and a credit or debit card.

Note that while there are no specific additional eligibility requirements, “Zipcar reserves the right to decline membership based on driving history or credit issues.”

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary materials, you can begin the application process.

To create your account, you’ll need to enter a valid email address, a password, and a mobile phone number.

You’ll also need to agree to Zipcar’s membership terms.

Zipcar will then ask for your driver’s license and payment information.

Before Zipcar can approve your application, they’ll need to verify your driver’s license.

This typically takes one business day, though it can take longer in some cases.

Assuming Zipcar has verified your driver’s license, they’ll approve your application.

You’ll then need to wait for your Zipcard to arrive.

The Zipcard is what you use to lock and unlock Zipcars, and it typically arrives within three to seven business days.

Once your Zipcard arrives, you can activate it at the Zipcard activation page.

From there, you’ll be able to make your first Zipcar reservation online or using the Zipcar mobile app.

How Do I Reserve a Zipcar?

Reserving a Zipcar is as easy as a few taps.

Within the Zipcar app or website, choose the day you want to reserve the car.

Then, select a pickup and dropoff time.

Zipcar will automatically detect your location, but you can change it manually if you’d like.

You can also select the type of cars you want to see (by default, Zipcar will show you all available types of cars).

Once you’ve made those selections, tap or click “Find Cars!” to see a list of the available cars near you along with the rate for each one.

Select the car you want, and then tap or click “Yeah, Book It!”

From there, it’s just a matter of going to the pickup location and finding the car.

To see a visual demonstration of this process, check out our complete guide to renting a Zipcar, or watch the video below:

How Do I Use a Zipcar?

To use a Zipcar, simply walk up to the vehicle and hold your Zipcard up to the card reader in the corner of the windshield to unlock it (make sure the number on the Zipcar matches the number on your reservation).

Before getting in the vehicle, inspect it for damage.

If you find any dents or scratches larger than your Zipcard, call the number on the card to report them.

You’ll find the keys already in the vehicle (generally underneath the steering wheel).

You’ll also find a gas card, which you’ll use to refuel the vehicle after you’ve finished your trip.

Zipcar requires you to leave the gas tank at least one-fourth full.

Make sure to allow some time for refueling, as you could be charged a $50 late fee per hour (up to $150) for returning a car after your reservation ends.

Here’s a video illustration of how to open and use a Zipcar:

To return the car, park it in any open Zipcar space in the lot where you picked it up.

Once you’ve exited the vehicle, hold your Zipcard up to the car reader to lock the car and end your reservation.

Make sure to remove all trash and personal belongings from the car before you leave.

This video explains how to return your Zipcar:

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions new and prospective Zipcar users have:

1. Does Zipcar provide insurance?

Yes, Zipcar members receive liability coverage of $100,000 bodily injury per person, $300,000 bodily injury maximum and $25,000 for property damage for those that joined between March 1, 2015 and July 31st 2018.

There is a $1,000 damage fee per incident, though you can reduce or eliminate this fee with the purchase of an optional damage fee waiver (log in to your Zipcar account for details on the rates and eligibility requirements for the damage waiver).

For those that joined after July 31st 2018, there is a liability coverage up to the minimum financial responsibility limits required in the state/jurisdiction in which the accident occurs.

This is standard for the industry, and falls in line with the that of competing companies, like Getaround’s insurance program.

2. How do I pay for gas?

Zipcar membership includes the cost of gas.

To pay for gas, use the fuel card located in the pouch underneath your Zipcar’s driver’s side visor.

Swipe the card at any gas pump just like a credit card, and then enter your driver ID/PIN number (the first six digits on your Zipcard) and the car’s mileage.

If for some reason the gas card doesn’t work, just pay for the gas and keep the receipt — Zipcar will reimburse you later.

3. Can I extend my Zipcar reservation?

In some cases, yes.

As long as another member hasn’t reserved the car for the slot after you, you can extend your reservation within the app.

Tap on “Change Reservation” within the main “Drive” screen to see if you can extend.

If the car is available for extension, tap on the appropriate time slot to add time to your reservation.

To learn more about extending Zipcar reservations, check out the following video:

4. What cars are available through Zipcar?

Zipcar offers drivers a variety of vehicle types.

The specific vehicles available vary based on location, but in general you’ll have access to compacts like a Honda Fit, cargo vans to haul large amounts of stuff, luxury cars such as a BMW X3 or hybrids if you want to be eco-friendly.

5. Can I smoke in a Zipcar?

No, smoking is not allowed in any Zipcar, and Zipcar will charge you for the cost of cleaning the car if they find you doing so.

6. Can I bring my pet in a Zipcar?

Yes, as long as you keep the pet in a locked pet carrier and clean up any pet hair left in the vehicle.

Service animals are exempt from this requirement, though Zipcar requests that you contact them beforehand if you are going to bring a service animal into a vehicle (so that they can clean up any pet hair before the next reservation).

Related Article
Lyft Pet Policy: Can I bring my pet along during a Lyft ride?

7. Can I drive a Zipcar outside of the U.S.?

Zipcar allows trips between the U.S. and Canada but does not allow trips between the U.S. and Mexico.

Be sure to bring your passport if you’re going to be crossing the border.

8. Can I apply to drive a Zipcar with a foreign driver’s license?

Yes, you can.

All the application requirements are the same, except that you’ll need to submit a color copy of your driver’s license and a copy of a second form of identification (such as a passport).

Learn more about how to apply with a foreign license.

9. Can I create a Zipcar account for my business?

Sure, just visit the Zipcar for Business page to get rate estimates and apply.

10. How do I sign up for a university account?

If your university offers Zipcar membership to students, then head to the Zipcar application page and select “Create a new account” under the “Join with a university” tab.

Though not required, Zipcar suggests using your “.edu” email address when applying for a university account.

11. What vehicles does Zipcar offer?

Zipcar vehicles range from practical Honda sedans to Subaru SUVs to luxury vehicles and even truck rentals.

If you have a type of personal vehicle in mind, Zipcar probably has one in their fleet.

To find cars available in your city, check the Zipcar app.


We hope this article has given you a better understanding of how Zipcar works, as well as the benefits the service offers.

Zipcar is just one of the many new ways that exist for getting around.

For other alternatives to car ownership, check out our guides to Uber and Lyft.

And for other ways to get around without owning a car, click the links below:

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