Zipcar Update?
May 28, 2009 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Daytrip Dreamin': I've read the previous question about Zipcars in NYC, but it's about a year old and I have some specific questions.

I am considering joining, but have heard that the availability is not terrific. What's it like for a daytrips out of the city? Any big problems? Does it make sense if you're only planning to use it 2 or three times a year?
posted by The Whelk to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (14 answers total)
I joined last year in February. I would say that depending where you are, the only major availability problems are on the weekends. Unless you book early in the week, there are often none of the lower priced cars available (it seems you can always get a BMW). However, during the week, I've never had a problem.

I don't use it very often (probably 6 times since I've had it), but it is a million times easier than dealing with rental car companies. It's incredibly awesome for short hauls... last month, I got a car for $30 for three hours to pick my bf up from a late evening international flight (the whole trip there and back actually took less than two hours, and was less than half what a cab would have cost). But if you are taking a car for 8+ hours, the cost/benefit probably isn't as good.

My other gripe is that the cars are often dirty.

On the plus side, there are more and more locations (we now have 3 within 2 blocks), so maybe that will help with the weekends.
posted by kimdog at 1:53 PM on May 28, 2009

I use my zip car maybe twice a year, and as long as you can reserve it far enough in advance (longer than a few weeks if you want if for the whole day, or within a few days if you need it for a few hours) you should be okay. As for day trips, I was unaware that you can be charged for extra mileage AND if you're late returning it there's a crazy contraption that won't let you start it past the agreed return time. If this happens past midnight, good luck getting customer service on the phone.
posted by Unred at 1:55 PM on May 28, 2009

A friend has a Zipcar membership and her complaints about these same issues (cars not available on summer weekends unless you book waaaaay in advance, extra charges for mileage, problems with customer service if you return it late) dissuaded me from getting one. I'd rather take the train to White Plains and rent a car for longer trips, which I've done successfully and was cheaper than a Zipcar membership plus rental for the trip I took.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:01 PM on May 28, 2009

Can't speak for zipcar in NYC, but here in Chicago:

- It's cheap. Like $25 a year?
- Free gas.
- Free insurance.
- Rates here seem to run $11 to $13 an hour.
- Mileage is capped at 180 miles, after that there is a by the mile charge tacked on.
- If you show up early, and no one has your car, you can go ahead and take it. I try and reserve cars 30 minutes after the person before me is supposed to have it back, so I get a free half-hour sometimes.

I recently reserved a pickup truck for 16 hours and it set me back about $100 bucks. In that time I moved some furniture and took a road trip out to a micro-brewer in the 'burbs. The pickup is a premium, their small hatch backs are cheaper.

The way I see it, even if you only use it a few times a year, it's worth the annual fee to avoid dealing with "real" rental companies.
posted by wfrgms at 2:19 PM on May 28, 2009

A friend of mine in NYC uses Zipcar and says that his strategy for weekend reservations is to book a couple of weeks in advance, and, if he decides he doesn't want to use his reservation for a particular weekend, he will cancel the booking.

Of course this strategy doesn't work if you are more spontaneous than he.
posted by dfriedman at 2:28 PM on May 28, 2009

Well worth it to me.
Book early and use the overnight specials, I think 6:00pm to 8:30am is 39.99 or so.
posted by Studiogeek at 2:41 PM on May 28, 2009

The one and only time I've used Zipcar, it was on a weekend, and it was only for a couple hours. I didn't have any problem finding a car, but I had to settle for my second or third choice of location and price, and I had to tweak my pickup time by a half hour. This was in Brooklyn, by the way, so my "second choice for a location" meant only a short bus ride away rather than two blocks' walk away. I think it was only about $60-70 bucks all told.

I may use it again soon; I always have a hassle trying to get to visit my parents on Cape Cod -- no public transport goes there, so I always have to either take a train or bus to Providence and my parents drive an hour to pick me up. However, Zipcar has cars in Providence, so I may take the bus to Providence and then pick up my own Zipcar and drive myself. The moral of that little story being -- you can make reservations whereever there is a Zipcar, so if you plan on visiting another city and they have Zipcars, you can use their cars as well.

My only complaint was that the credit card they're supposed to have in the cars to pay for gas wasn't there, so I had to pay for it out of pocket. Technically, Zipcar does say that I could send them the receipt and get a reimbursement, so at least they have a means in place to take care of that. But I only put $10 in the tank anyway, and just said the hell with it. Still, I suspect that it may not be a problem unique to the car I had.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:43 PM on May 28, 2009

I'm in Manhattan, and I use zipcar at least three times a month. Overnights, long weekends, short day rentals - everything. I'm almost always completely happy. My few complaints can actually be mostly attributed to other users - people who don't return their cars on time, or let their dogs or cats out of the carrier in the car.

I have only noticed availability problems on long summer weekends - memorial day, july 4th, etc. Reserving a week or two weeks ahead solves the issue.

If you plan on using it for summer weekend trips, remember to think about mileage. You get 180 free miles for every 24 hours you rent, after that it's something like 24 cents a mile. If you're going way upstate, or all the way to Montauk, it's sometimes more economical to make your 2 days and 10 hour rental a 3 day rental just to get those extra miles.

Honestly, I love it. It cheaper, on a monthly and yearly basis, than owning my own car. It's also fun to drive different cars. And avoiding the rental car companies, which are especially onerous with the fees in Manhattan, is the worth it a million times over.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend joining.
posted by minervous at 5:04 PM on May 28, 2009

I live in NYC & I love ZipCar. I don't use it often, but having that flexibility is tremendous. The annual membership fee is not terribly steep, so I would definitely go for it. I personally have not had any issues with car cleanliness, fortunately (and it's something I'm sensitive to).

As others have said, to secure a car for a whole weekend, you'll need to book in advance (probably a week). However, I've had pretty good luck getting cars near me for a few hours here and there on weekend days with little advance warning.

One detail no one seems to have mentioned yet: In the NYC area, cars come equipped with EZ-Passes. That means no waiting in cash lines *and* you pay lower toll rates. (ZipCar will send you a bill later for the tolls.) Hertz has this in some cars now, but you pay an extra per-day privilege for using the EZ-Pass!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:31 PM on May 28, 2009

You may find that once you use it, you may use Zipcar for quick errands that you hadn't contemplated doing before. You can check availability for the same day and decide to drive out to Red Hook or NJ or wherever. For full weekends, you may need to plan substantially in advance to find a car near you that will be available, but for shorter jaunts, they may be easy to find. A large part of how convenient it is has to do with where you're located and how many cars are around.

I think that either Zipcar has added more cars in the last year, or members are using the cars less, because I've had fewer problems finding reservations than when I joined.

NYC now also has two Zipcar competitors offering similar plans/rates (also with EZ-Pass and gas cards), albeit with fewer cars/locations. Mint and Hertz Connect. Unlike Zipcar, they don't have many locations outside of Manhattan or in as many other cities.
posted by andrewraff at 7:43 AM on May 29, 2009

My buddy has a membership and I use it periodically. The one thing I would add to the above is that while sometimes, like for long weekend trips out of the city, the total cost can be a tad more than a rental, you should also weigh the beauty of walking to the car and just getting in and driving away, versus waiting (sometimes for up to an hour) at the rental counter while they futz with paperwork and take forever bringing the car around.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2009

To clarify: The Hertz EZ-Pass charge was for a normal rental. I don't know if their HertzConnect service slaps any extra EZ-Pass-related fees on you.

And I definitely want to second what CunningLinguist said. There is so much less hassle renting a ZipCar for a weekend (essentially none), compared to the often frustrating experience of going to a rental car company. The endless waits, the "Sorry, we're out of mid-sized cars" crap, and, above all, the gas. You don't pay for gas with a ZipCar, and you're only obliged to refill it if the tank falls below one quarter full. It's a huge convenience.

The only downside to getting a ZipCar for a weekend is that I don't believe any are equipped with GPS.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:02 PM on May 30, 2009

Another good point -- you don't pay for gas with Zipcar, but you also don't pay for insurance either. That's all automatically included.

That's the biggest problem I had with rental cars -- the rate they quoted sounded great, but it wasn't until you got into the rental place that you find out that oh, wait, there's the collision insurance, that's extra...oh, and the disability insurance, that's extra....oh, and the no-fault accident insurance, that's extra...and the extra passenger insurance, that's your choices are to suck it up and pay all this extra money, or drive on the edge of panic because oh no what if that guy in the next lane hits me....

With Zipcar, the insurance is included, at no extra charge. The rate you get is the rate you get, period.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on May 31, 2009

Response by poster: Got my Zipcard in the mail today! Thanks Mefites!
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on June 8, 2009

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