Looking for experiences with Zipcar or similar services in NYC.
July 24, 2008 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Renting a Zipcar in NYC: Good idea, bad idea? Looking for experiences, anecdotes and suggestions. More inside.

My wife and I just moved into a new apartment with a couple of folks from Europe. As a result, they're bed-less. What's more, in a few weeks we'll have to move our own Queen sized mattress as well as a couch and some other large-sized furniture items.

This usually wouldn't be an issue except we're car-less and in New York. Now, I'm not against trying to get a mattress home on the subway, but 3 mattresses and a couch? No way.

We're considering Zipcar because it's relatively inexpensive, they carry large vehicles and we don't have to manically schedule everything into one trip ala UHaul. A lot of our furniture is becoming available at different times, so being able to do a trip this week and then two months from now would be a huge benefit.

I snooped around a bit and got a lot of different opinions. Some people adored Zipcar, others made it sound like a DIY Chinatown Bus. More, a lot of the opinions seemed to come from 3 or more years ago.

What I'm looking for are recent experiences with Zipcar or alternate suggestions for getting large pieces of furniture to-and-fro in NYC on mutliple dates without breaking the bank.
posted by GilloD to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Someone a few weeks ago suggested transporting furniture like this with a cab. It sounded like an excellent idea.
posted by phunniemee at 11:40 AM on July 24, 2008

Ah, it was dobbs.
posted by phunniemee at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2008

I'd agree except that some of this stuff is really quite large- A large chest of drawers, queen mattress and boxspring, a big couch and chairs- and I'm not sure that'd work.
posted by GilloD at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2008

I don't know about New York specifically, but in D.C. at least I found that the big cars/pickup trucks were very often spoken for by the time I tried to reserve one.
posted by Airhen at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2008

I'm a Zipcar member (and a PhillyCarShare member when I travel to Philly for business). It's helpful, especially since you can get a small car for one occasion and a truck for IKEA runs. There are levels of membership, but you can go with the cheapest (no monthly fee but higher hourly rates). Send me a message via MeFi Mail if you want some driving credits. As a member I email you a referral that will give you some money off your rental when you join.

I don't get the Chinatown bus analogy. It's car sharing, so you drive it yourself. It's license and insured.

It's fine if you're driving will only take a few hours. If you want a car for a day or two, go with a regular car rental company; it's much cheaper.
posted by cherie72 at 11:51 AM on July 24, 2008

I've been a Zipcar member in the Boston metro area for something like seven years. I can only say good things about them -- the cars are new, clean, in good repair, and I haven't had many problems with availability. If I try to find a car at the last minute on a Saturday evening I might be out of luck (or in for a long bike ride to find one), but (a) during the week and (b) if I reserve more than a day in advance for the weekend I've never had a problem.

I have no idea what people meant when they referred to Zipcar as a "DIY Chinatown Bus". You're not ferrying passengers, the cars are recent model vehicles in good repair, and they're generally clean (and if a car *is* a mess, you can have it cleaned at Zipcar's expense).

My wife and I (and many of our friends!) are huge fans. If you have any more questions let me know.
posted by larsks at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2008

Zipcar in NY has been not worth it for me. All cars (not just big ones) are booked many weeks in advance, in my experience. Check their availability and book now if what you want is open.
posted by rmless at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2008

Alternate: go on Craigslist and get a Man with a Van
posted by rmless at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2008

I don't know about New York specifically, but in D.C. at least I found that the big cars/pickup trucks were very often spoken for by the time I tried to reserve one.

I used to use ZipCar quite frequently but stopped for this very reason. They are very popular in the NYC area and it was difficult to get cars if you didn't plan several days in advance. They say they have been getting better, though, so a lot of it depends on where you live and when you need the car. Obviously weekends are most popular.

Otherwise, another option is the "man with a truck" folks on Craigslist. I got my old couch to my friend's apartment that way, and it was relatively painless.
posted by kathryn at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2008

I am a HUGE zipcar fan - using one this weekend to go out of town, in fact.

They can be hard to get on weekends sometimes - but if you plan ahead enough it's okay. I've used them for Ikea trips, grocery store trips, weekends away and have been a member for over 2 years now (in 3 different neighborhoods in Brooklyn). Gas and insurance are included - there is a gas card in the car - every time you rent. Prices are per hour or per day and are more expensive on weekends and range based on car type as well. I've found that with gas included (particularly now) they are often cheaper than rental cars in NY. I think you get 180 miles a day when you rent.

Some of the locations to pick up are more annoying than others - for instance, I will never get one from Montague in Brooklyn again - too much of a hassle if there is even a small line of people.

Anecdotes about why I like them:

Once got to a car and there was a flat tire on a Saturday - the only other car was 6 miles away and was a nicer (read: more expensive) car - they gave me the option of waiting for the flat to get fixed (1/2 hour or so) or take a cab (they reimbursed the cab) to the other location and get the "nicer" car for the same price. We went with the latter and it was great.

Just today, actually, I had to go to their corporate office in Manhattan (on 32nd and Broadway) because I lost my wallet last night with my Zipcard in it and need it for tomorrow - I literally, walked in, dealt with a wonderfully friendly woman and walked out with a new card in about 3 minutes. Which, in NYC means a lot!

It's a great company and really convenient.

Oh - and once you are a member, you can reserve them in from any location in ANY city where they have cars (many at this point) which is great if you are somewhere where you don't want to rent a car for the entire time.
posted by jasbet07 at 12:03 PM on July 24, 2008

Thirding the "man with a van" route. I've done that several times in the past and you can usually get very reasonable rates, with the added bonus that they do all the heavy lifting for you.
posted by JaredSeth at 12:35 PM on July 24, 2008

I can only speak from my experience using Zipcar in California (and Baltimore, shortly), but Id agree it's been nothing but positive. If you can find a car that can accommodate the furniture, go for it.
posted by Asherah at 12:37 PM on July 24, 2008

Lifehacker just did a post on this... lots of comments there.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2008

I use Zipcar in New York and enjoy it immensely. The batteries-included factor is what does it for me, gas card, practically unlimited mileage, EZ-pass, etc etc.

I'm not a Zipcar employee, but I wouldn't sign up for the service if:
  • need to take long trips
  • don't live within walking distance of a garage
  • you expecting to get large vehicle on short notice

posted by godisdad at 1:02 PM on July 24, 2008

Zipcar in NY has been not worth it for me. All cars (not just big ones) are booked many weeks in advance, in my experience.

I'm not sure which New York you're living in, but there are nine cars within half a mile of me that are available at 5:00. Only one of them is a Scion xB, but there's another one of those outside that half-mile radius, but two subway stops away.
posted by oaf at 1:07 PM on July 24, 2008

If Zipcar doesn't have a big vehicle, maybe a home store could help?
Here the Home Depot rents pickups by the hour - maybe somewhere near you does the same? Sometimes they make you buy something that needs transporting since they may rent to customers only. When a friend did this, he picked up a couple of very cheap bales of straw and got the truck. Greatful neighbors got some free straw. More expensive than a Zip, but big and it came pre-battered so no worries about gleaming paint jobs.
posted by pointystick at 1:10 PM on July 24, 2008

I joined Zip Car in February when I was moving from one part of Manhattan to another. Overall, it's been pretty good. The one time I got burned was when I made a major trip to Ikea, and didn't plan my trip very well. I kept having to extend my reservation, and ended up paying more than 24 hr rental would have cost. But it's been great for shorter trips, and especially for hauling furniture. I never had a problem getting the type of car I wanted, but I always planned about 2-3 days in advance. I notice that now that its summer, cars seem harder to come by (but certainly not impossible). But in February and March when I using them most, there were scads of cars available (I'm in Chelsea).
posted by kimdog at 1:16 PM on July 24, 2008

I've always had a great experience with Zipcar. And the fact that they pay for gas is awesome. I live in Brooklyn & have 2 garages near me, so I've never had a problem with getting a large car/truck except for day of. But I tend to do this stuff in the evenings as opposed to on the weekend. We've used them for overnight trips to Boston, etc. They have an EZpass for the tolls (you'll get charged on your credit card a couple of weeks later, but you don't have to stop and root around for money) and gas--at $4/gallon--is great perk.
posted by witchstone at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2008

A friend of mine uses ZipCar every so often, usually from either the NYC or Jersey City locations. (She's also used it from the Morristown train station to visit her parents, when she doesn't want to bring her bike on NJ Transit.)

She and I went to a New Year's Eve party using a Zipcar (meeting up in Jersey City, driving into Queens, rather than deal with public transportation there), and the only issue we ran into was the gas card they gave didn't work correctly at the gas station. I paid for it (just so we could get going), and gave her the receipt. She then reimbursed me, and they reimbursed her.

Plus the cars are well-kept. We picked the car up near Exchange Place in New Jersey, and it was clean inside and out. She's never complained about it at all.
posted by mephron at 1:55 PM on July 24, 2008

I love Zipcar. I've never used it in NYC, but I was a heavy user in Boston and DC and have really only ever had good experiences. It's true that you have to plan ahead a bit, especially if you live in a neighborhood without a lot of them, but I was never not able to get one within at least a mile of my house. When I was in DC, there was one parked right in front of my building! It was like having my own car, but I didn't have to pay for parking or insurance or gas.

Zipcar is also really good with customer service, and the inevitable inconveniences that arise. for instance, once I reserved a car, only to find a non-zipcar in the designated spot. The previous renters hadn't been able to park the car in the spot, so I was given the option of picking it up where they had parked it, or getting the closest available car. I picked the latter option, and got to tool around in a mini cooper for the day. They also credited me for the first hour.

I kept having to extend my reservation, and ended up paying more than 24 hr rental would have cost.
If you rent a Zipcar for more than 8 hours, it should never cost more than the day rate, even if you keep extending the reservation within that 24 hours. You may want to call and ask them about this. This is the one tricky thing, though. You have to time your reservations carefully. Too short, and you run the risk of not being able to extend your reservation if someone made a reservation right after yours (and possibly getting hit with the $50 late fee). Too long and you might pay more than you needed.

This is why I always try to rent a Zipcar when I have a bunch of things to do (ie, IKEA AND Target run, grocery shopping, etc). Then I just reserve it for the whole 24 hours and I don't have to worry about it. It's still really cheap.
posted by lunasol at 2:31 PM on July 24, 2008

BTW, I've even used Zipcar for weekend trips. It often ends up being cheaper (no gas, no insurance hard-sell, you are not likely to get charged for minor dings) and easier (no need to go to the airport, don't need a credit card) than renting a car.
posted by lunasol at 2:33 PM on July 24, 2008

Could you rent a Uhaul? That might be cheaper if its a one or two time deal. Alternatively, most places that sell furniture (especially in a relatively car-free city such as New York) will have some sort of a delivery service.
posted by fermezporte at 3:28 PM on July 24, 2008

Zipcar is great, but if you are just doing a one-time move, go to Craig's list and get a man with a van...better yet, get someone's recommendations here for someone they used and trust.
posted by kenzi23 at 5:11 PM on July 24, 2008

On a weekend, you may have to schlep around the city to find an available car to use. If you plan ahead, though, it is very convenient. To pick up single pieces of furniture, I'd prefer to Zipcar than get a man with a van or a car service or taxi.

I love the fact that the cars have EZ-Pass. It's great gas is included, but I've had trouble using the gas cards on most of my Zipcar trips.
posted by andrewraff at 8:57 AM on July 25, 2008

I've been a ZipCar member since they first made 'em available in NYC, and they're a godsend for exactly this stuff. The only way you'll have trouble booking a car is if you want one for 36 hours or something. For moving some furniture (or a quick trip to Ikea), they're a godsend.

Man with a Van is a better one-off solution, but overall if you regularly need to do car stuff or get out of the city briefly, ZipCar is great.
posted by anildash at 8:36 AM on July 26, 2008

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