Owning a car can be expensive. You have to deal with gas, maintenance, insurance, registration, car payments, and finding a parking spot. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a more affordable way to have access to a car?
One company seeking to solve this problem is Zipcar. Members of the company’s service have on-demand access to cars only when they need them. It’s a great value proposition for those who live in cities and only need a car a couple hours each week to run errands or just want to get out of town on the weekend every once in a while. For some people, it could even be a viable alternative to car ownership.
But wait. How is this different from traditional car rental? Aside from allowing you to rent by the hour, Zipcar is also different in that they pay for gas. Your membership fees and the rental fees you pay cover all the costs, meaning all you have to do is pick up the car, drive it where you need to, and then drop it off in its original location.
Since Zipcar differs from a traditional rental car arrangement, however, its pricing structure can be a bit confusing for those new to the service. To help you understand, we’ve created this guide to Zipcar rates, which breaks down how Zipcar calculates prices (and how those prices vary by city).
- How Zipcar Calculates Prices
- Zipcar Membership and Other Fees
- How Zipcar Prices Vary by City: 5 Examples
Zipcar uses a simple formula to determine the price you’ll pay for a rental. To start, you can choose to pay either by the hour or by the day. If you pay by the hour, then you’ll pay whatever the standard hourly rate is for your city. In some markets, you can also choose one-way rentals in which you pick the car up at one location and drop it off at another. These are only available in Boston at the moment, however, so we won’t discuss them in much more detail.
The standard hourly rate is the starting price you’ll pay for a vehicle rental. We say “starting” price, because some types of vehicles cost more to rent. For instance, you’ll pay more to rent a cargo van than you will to rent a Toyota Corolla.
If you choose to rent by the day, then you’ll pay a flat rate for the day, which Zipcar will tell you in advance. Depending on the length of your rental, it may be cheaper to rent by the day than by the hour (even if you don’t plan to have the car for 24 hours). Zipcar will also tell you which plan is a better deal when you’re making your reservation.
When you make your reservation, Zipcar will charge you upfront for the rental cost. They do this because all reservations involve booking a vehicle for a specific period of time. This ensures that all Zipcar users can share cars easily (and that cars aren’t returned late).
With each rental, you’ll have a maximum mileage limit of 180 miles per day. This applies whether you’re renting by the day or hour. For each mile you drive beyond this, you’ll be charged an additional fee of $0.45 per mile.
This fee can go as high as $0.55 per mile for premium vehicle rentals. Driving additional miles won’t hurt your account standing; it’s just the price you pay for driving beyond the allotted mileage.
In addition to the rate you pay for each Zipcar rental, the service also has some other fees that all members pay. The first is the one-time application fee, which is a non-refundable payment of $25. You pay this when you apply to be a Zipcar member.
In order to join Zipcar, you’ll also have to pay a membership fee. You can pay this fee monthly or, if you want to get a discount, annually. The fee helps pay for Zipcar’s operating costs as well as gas cards and your Zipcard (the membership card you use to unlock Zipcars). It’s either a $7 monthly fee or a $70 annual fee (a savings of 20 percent).
Also, Zipcar offers an Extra Value Plan for those that use the service a lot. This membership plan starts at $50 per month. In return for using the plan, you get $50 back in driving credit each month as well as discounts on rental rates.
We know we’ve been vague so far about what it actually costs to rent Zipcars. There’s a reason for that. The costs depend on the city where you live. They don’t vary dramatically, but they do vary.
To show this, we’re going to compare the membership fees and standard hourly rates for the five largest cities in the United States: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. We’re sorry if your city didn’t make the list, but using the five largest cities seemed like the fairest way to make the comparison.
1. New York City
Zipcar costs $9.94 per hour or $89 per day in New York City, according to the Zipcar website.
The Big Apple is not known as a great place to drive. In fact, over half of NYC residents don’t even own a car. Therefore, a service like Zipcar would make a lot of sense, as there are still times when people without cars need access to one.
2. Los Angeles
The hourly cost to rent a Zipcar in Los Angeles is $9.50, while the daily rate is $66 (a good bit lower than NYC, even though the hourly rates for the two cities are similar).
Quite unlike New York City, Los Angeles is a place where it seems impossible to survive without a car. Angelenos love to drive, and they have a reputation for the gridlock traffic to match. So a service like Zipcar, which reduces the number of drivers overall, seems like it does a lot of good to reduce congestion and pollution in Los Angeles.
What will it cost you to get a Zipcar in the Windy City? Zipcars in Chicago start at $8.50 per hour or $78 per day.
Chicago isn’t known for having great traffic (are you noticing a pattern so far?). It could also benefit if more people shared cars instead of driving them all the time (especially in a city with such an excellent public transit system).
What will it cost you to rent a Zipcar in Houston? Rentals start at $10 per hour or $74 per day.
The stereotypes might say that everyone in Houston just rides a horse, but the reality is that Houston has some pretty serious traffic. Thankfully they also have Zipcar, which means there might yet be hope for solving the city’s congestion issues.
Our final stop is the City of Brotherly Love. Rentals in Philadelphia start at $7.50 per hour or $77 per day.
Philadelphia doesn’t have a reputation for bad traffic, but it is a large city. Therefore, car sharing makes sense there just as much as any of the other cities we’ve discussed so far.
Understand What You’re Paying for Zipcar
We hope you now understand why Zipcar costs what it does. As you can see, the costs can vary based on your city. If you live in a city with Zipcar locations, we encourage you to give it a try. The car-sharing service could change the way you look at transportation.