The sharing economy has revolutionized personal transportation. It’s taken things that we would previously have owned privately (like cars) and transformed them into shared assets at a lower cost and greater convenience. You’re probably most familiar with sharing economy transportation through services like Uber and Lyft, but there are lots of other companies using the model.
One such company is Zipcar. It’s a car sharing service that’s disrupting the car rental market, putting up serious competition for traditional rental car companies like Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, and Budget. In the past, we’ve looked at how Zipcar works at a high level. In this post, we’re going to cover the specific process of renting a Zipcar, starting with registration and ending with returning the vehicle.
If you’ve never heard of Zipcar, you need to check it out. It works like car rental, but it’s far more flexible and sophisticated. Instead of having to fill out a bunch of paperwork to rent a car by the day or week, Zipcar lets you rent cars on-demand by the hour or day. You make the reservation through the Zipcar app or online, and you use a special card (called a Zipcard) to unlock and lock the vehicle.
Even if you think Zipcar sounds interesting, why would you want to use it for your transportation needs? How is it better than just owning your own car or renting through another company? There are a few reasons Zipcar could be worth it for you.
To start, Zipcar can save money compared to other car rental options. If you just need to rent a car for a couple hours, it doesn’t make sense to pay for an entire day. Zipcar recognizes this, and they let you rent cars for rates as low as $10 per hour (plus a low monthly or annual fee to cover your Zipcar membership). Your rental costs also include gas and insurance, which can often come at a steep cost with car rentals.
For some people, Zipcar can offer a viable alternative to car ownership. If you live in a city where you can mostly get around via walking, biking, or public transit, then owning a car doesn’t make sense. However, there are probably still instances in which it would be nice to have access to a car.
Such situations include carrying large or heavy objects, taking a weekend trip out of town, or going to an appointment in a distant part of the city. You could also use rideshare services for some of these needs, but it could be prohibitively expensive or inconvenient to do so (especially for trips out of town). Zipcar offers an affordable alternative.
Finally, Zipcar can give car access to people who might otherwise be unable to rent cars. The company has partnered with many colleges and universities across the United States to give access to students ages 18 and up (for all other members, the minimum age is 21). Zipcar also doesn’t charge extra fees for members under 25, something you can’t say about other car rental options (even innovative companies like Turo).
Convinced to try Zipcar? Then you’re ready to make your first rental. It’s an easy process that breaks down into the following steps:
1. Determine That You Meet Zipcar’s Requirements
The requirements to be a Zipcar member are simple:
- Be at least 21 years of age (at least 18 if joining through a college or university)
- Have a valid driver’s license
- Accept the Zipcar terms and conditions (including agreeing that your driving record matches Zipcar’s requirements)
Zipcar also “reserves the right to decline membership based on driving history or credit issues.” This shouldn’t be a big problem for most people, but it could be an issue if you have a history of serious traffic violations or really poor credit.
2. Apply for Zipcar Membership
To apply for Zipcar, you’ll need to fill out an application and pay a $25 one-time application fee. You’ll need to pay this fee with a credit card, and you’ll also need to use that same credit card to set up monthly or annual billing for your membership. Zipcar rates for membership are $7 per month or $70 per year, regardless of your city.
To do all of the above, go to the Zipcar.com application page. Scroll down and select the plan you want (yearly or monthly). Then, click “Select Plan.”
Next, enter an email address, password, and mobile phone number:
When you’ve done that, click “Create account.”
3. Enter Your Driver Information
Now, you’ll need to enter your driver’s license information. This includes your driver’s license number, expiration date, full name as it appears on your license, and date of birth.
4. Add Your Shipping and Payment Info
You’re almost done with the application process. All that’s left is to enter the address where you want the company to send your Zipcard. Then, you’ll need to choose your payment information (to pay for your application, membership fee, and any future rentals). Once you’ve entered that information, you’ll submit it and wait to hear if your application has been approved.
5. Make Your Reservation
Once your application has been approved and you’ve received your Zipcard in the mail, you’re ready to make your first reservation. You can’t just walk up to any Zipcar and hop in it. To make sure the platform works for everyone, you have to reserve your Zipcar in advance using either the Zipcar website or app.
Here’s how to make a reservation:
- Choose the day you want to reserve the car
- Select a pickup and drop off time
- Confirm your Zipcar location is correct (Zipcar gets this automatically using your phone’s location services, but it’s worth checking for accuracy)
- 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!”
You’re now ready to pick the car up.
6. Pick Up the Zipcar
Using the Zipcar app, navigate to the car’s location. To unlock the car, walk up to it and hold your Zipcard up to the card reader in the corner of the windshield (make sure the number on the Zipcar matches the number on your reservation). Be sure to inspect the vehicle for damage. If you find dents or scratches larger than your Zipcard, contact Zipcar support 24/7 to report it. Make sure to do this, or you could end up paying damage fees.
Assuming the car is damage-free, you can get in and find the keys. These are usually located under the steering wheel. Also make sure to find your gas card, located underneath the driver side visor. With all those items in place, you’re ready to start driving and take your first trip. Enjoy!
7. Return the Zipcar
Once you’ve finished your trip, you can return the car to any open Zipcar parking spot in the lot where you picked it up. Be sure to allow some time to refuel the car if necessary. While gas is included in your rental, you do need to leave the tank at least one-quarter full before returning the vehicle. Make sure also to return your car on time, as late returns will result in a $50 late fee.
To conclude this guide, let’s answer some common questions about renting a Zipcar.
1. What kind of Zipcar vehicles are available?
The specific vehicles depend on your city, but you can generally expect to find a mix of practical sedans like Toyota Corollas, compact SUVs like a Honda CRV, luxury vehicles like a Mercedes Benz GLC, and even larger vehicles for road trips such as a Jeep Renegade.
2. Can I make one-way Zipcar reservations?
Yes, but only in Boston for the moment. In a one-way reservation, you pick the car up in one location and drop it off in another. It’s very convenient, and we hope that Zipcar offers it in more cities in the future (though it does present certain logistical problems, so it could be some time before this is the case).
3. How does Zipcar pricing work?
Zipcar offers both hourly and daily rates. You get a discount for renting by the day, though you should always check using the Zipcar app to determine which option is cheaper. All rates include gas and insurance.
4. Can I get a Zipcar membership for my household or business?
Rent a Car When You Need It
We hope you now understand how to rent a Zipcar. The process is simple, particularly once you sign up for your Zipcar membership. To learn about other car rental options, check out our guides to Turo and Getaround.