How Does Zipcar Work?

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 ridesharing 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?

How Does Zipcar Work?

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.

Where Is Zipcar Available?

Zipcar is currently available in dozens of 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.

Visit the Zipcar site for a list of every city, in the U.S. and abroad, where Zipcar is available.

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 $7 to $8 per hour. For daily rentals, rates start at $60 to $70 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. In many cities, you can get a free 30-day trial which will waive the application fee.

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 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 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:

Zipcar FAQ

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. 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).

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.

Check out this video for a demonstration of how to refuel a Zipcar:

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. To see available cars for your city, visit the Find Cars page (or check your Zipcar app).How Does Zipcar Work? A Comprehensive Guide

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).

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. Visit the University Affiliates page to learn more.

Conclusion

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.