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Having a car provides a sense of freedom, but not owning a car can be just as amazing.
Not owning a car means:
- No car payment
- No insurance payment
- No searching for parking
- No maintenance costs
Fortunately, not owning a car is easier than ever.
Even with the alternatives, there are times you simply need a car.
Thanks to services like ZipCar, owning a car is no longer essential. You can rent a ZipCar for a day or a short period and do whatever you need to do.
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).
- What is ZipCar?
- How Much Does ZipCar Cost?
- What About Gas?
- Car Insurance
- How Do I Sign Up?
- Finding a ZipCar
- ZipCar Restrictions
What is ZipCar?
Unlike rideshare services that drive you around (like Uber), ZipCar is a car-sharing service where you rent a car and drive yourself. Licensed drivers can rent a vehicle by the hour or by the day. Whether you need to visit a friend out of town or do a few hours of shopping in your own city, it’s a great short-term car rental option for anyone who doesn’t own a vehicle.
You pay a daily or hourly rental fee, drive where you need to go and return the vehicle when you’re done. It’s as simple as that.
- For more information about how the service works and available locations, visit our Complete Guide to Zipcar.
How Much Does ZipCar Cost?
It should come as no surprise that a service this convenient is going to cost you. But if you only need to rent a car once in a while, it’s still much cheaper than paying insurance and making car payments every month.
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.
Calculating Rates and Prices
As a ZipCar driver, the first fee you’ll incur is the $25 application fee. Once you sign up for the service, you’ll pay the $7 a month membership fee regardless of whether or not you rent a car. If you prefer to have a yearly subscription, the annual fee is $70, which saves yourself $14.
The most expensive cost is the price of the actual car rental. Zipcar rates vary from city to city, but most major cities start at about $9 per hour. Larger vehicles and SUVs usually start at about $10 per hour.
You can rent a car by the hour or by the day. A car that costs $9 per hour will have a day rate of $74. An SUV that costs $10 per hour will cost you $80 for the day. Larger vehicles that cost $11 per hour will cost you $87 for the day. If you only need the vehicle for a few hours, go with the hourly rate.
You can also using a money-saving coupon code and get $25 in free driving credit if you haven’t claimed a new user promotion already. That’ll make a good dent in your first trips, so make sure to claim that during the signup process.
If you think you’ll need the car for more than 7 hours, you can save yourself a few bucks by opting to pay the daily rate.
Regardless of how many hours you need the car for, ZipCar allows you to drive up to 180 miles at no additional charge. Should you need to drive a longer distance, you’ll need to pay 45 cents per additional mile you put on the car. In some cases, premium vehicles cost 55 cents for each mile over 180 miles.
So if you were to drive 200 miles in a given day, you would pay an extra 45 cents x 20 miles for an added fee of $9. The 180-mile cap is designated per each 24 hour period.
If you rent a car for more than one day, you are allowed to drive 180 miles per 24 hour period without incurring any extra mileage fees. With a 48-hour reservation rate, you can split the mileage any way you want. Of the 360 allowed miles, you can drive 250 on the first day and 110 on the second day if that’s what you prefer.
Whether you opt for the hourly rate or the daily rate, each rental fee covers limited liability insurance and the cost of gas. For more details on gas cards, keep reading.
How Zipcar Prices Vary by City: 5 Examples
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.
Zipcar has locations all over the globe, so 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.
What About Gas?
One thing that drivers love about ZipCar is that you never have to pay for gas. The price of gas is already built into the rental fees, so you’ll never have to dig into your pocket to fill up at the pump.
When you pay for your ZipCar rental and get into the driver’s seat, you’ll see that every vehicle comes with a gas card that you can use to pay for fuel. Use that card at any gas station and you’re good to go.
You can’t return the car on empty. ZipCar requires that you leave the tank at least 1/4 full when you’re done with the car.
With the gas card in hand, there’s no reason not to put some gas in at the end of your rental. In some cases, another driver might be renting your ZipCar as soon as your reservation ends. So make sure you put in enough gas before you return the vehicle and turn it over to the next driver.
Do You Need to Pay for Car Insurance?
Like gasoline, your ZipCar comes with an insurance policy. You do not need your own insurance. ZipCar pays for the minimum insurance coverage as required by state law. Every state is different, and the insurance coverage rates vary depending on the driver’s age and when they signed up for the service.
If you get into an accident in a ZipCar, you are covered to a certain point. Drivers under 21 years of age receive the minimum liability as required in the state where the accident or damage occurs. New drivers who signed up after August 1, 2018, receive the same coverage, regardless of age.
Drivers over 21 who joined before March 1, 2015, receive $300,000 of liability coverage per accident. Over 21 drivers who signed up before July 31, 2018, receive $100,000 per person for bodily injury and $25,000 for property damage.
How Do You Sign Up For ZipCar?
The first step in signing up to rent a ZipCar is to pay an application fee. The application alone costs $25. If you’re a student, you can sign up at age 18; otherwise, you need to be over 21 and have a valid driver’s license.
Visit the ZipCar website to complete your application. You’ll also need to provide account information for billing and select a membership plan that works for you. The membership plan you choose will depend on how much or how little you plan to drive.
They will process your application and verify your driver’s license. Once you’re approved, they will send you a Zipcard in the mail that you can use to unlock your reserved car. The Zipcard allows for keyless entry into the car so that you never have to remove the keys from the car. Taking the keys out of the vehicle is a big no-no.
Where Do I Pick Up My ZipCar?
ZipCar has pickup locations in hundreds of cities, small neighborhoods, airports, and college campuses. To find a pickup location near you, just enter your zip code on their website and decide where you want to pick up your car. You’ll find your vehicle in a designated ZipCar parking spot. Simply use your Zipcard to unlock the door, and you’ll see your keys and gas card inside.
When it’s time to drop off your vehicle, you need do so at the same location where you picked it up, unless you booked a one-way reservation. In some cities, you can schedule one-way reservations where you can pick your car up at one spot and return it in another.
What Can’t I Do With My ZipCar?
We mentioned earlier that you can’t use a ZipCar to drive for Uber or Lyft or any other taxi service. You also can’t use it for driving tests, towing other vehicles, or transporting hazardous or illegal materials. And if you’re thinking about driving from the U.S. to Mexico – forget it, that’s strictly forbidden.
Other than that, the rules are pretty simple. You’re expected to keep the car clean and smoke-free. You must inspect the vehicle before driving and report any damage that you see. You have to return the car with at least 1/4 tank of gas, and you have to return it on time.
If you plan to travel with a pet, your pet must be inside a carrier at all times. And if you’re a fan of valet parking, you might want to give that another thought; the Zipcard is the only way to gain entry into the vehicle, and you should never hand that over to another driver. If you do decide to valet a ZipCar and damage happens, you are responsible for the cost of any damage done.
Along with gas and insurance coverage, a rental also comes with 24 hours a day roadside assistance. Should you have an accident or need help while you’re on the road, all you have to do is call ZipCar and they’ll send someone to assist you.
Car ownership can be excellent, but it’s also costly. When you live in a major city or somewhere that has exceptional public transportation, having a vehicle can be more of a headache than a help.
That’s what makes ZipCar so great.
You’ll have to pay a one-time application fee, $7 a month for a Zipcar membership, plus the hourly or daily rental rate. If you drive more than the allotted 180 miles per reservation, you’ll also need to pay some extra mileage costs. But all in all, if you don’t need to drive that often, it can save you quite a bit of money.
To get started, visit the ZipCar website to complete your application, and submit your personal information. Once they verify your license and application, they’ll send you a Zipcard in the mail. With your membership card in hand, you can start booking reservations around your city or on your college campus. Drive safely, keep the car neat and clean, and follow the basic rules and you can rent a car as often or as occasionally as you like.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.