Personal Finance

How Expensive Is Zipcar

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 11 minute read

City dwellers have a viable alternative to traditional automobile ownership in the form of Zipcars. A subscription to this global car sharing network, which has hundreds of hubs throughout the world, allows you to utilize the network’s automobiles anywhere — even in Europe.

People who don’t drive very much would like Zipcar, as will those local NGOs with which it competes. The convenience of having a personal vehicle at their disposal at any time is appealing to tourists who don’t want to pay for – or worry about parking – a rental automobile.

When you use Zipcar, you’re essentially renting a car. You can reserve a vehicle, drive it for a certain length of time, and return it to its original place using your membership card. 

Different from other ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, this one caters to specific needs. These are similar to taxis in that you use a smartphone app to summon local drivers, who then pick you up in their own cars and transport you to your destination.

How Does It Work?

It is possible to search, reserve, and drive a Zipcar vehicle as a member. The home address of each Zipcar is where you may pick it up and return it when you’re done. Large business areas, hospitals, and universities are common locations for these.

Zipcar has partnered with more than 100 North American institutions in a variety of ways and operates in more than 50 countries.


If you want to join Zipcar, you need to meet the following requirements:

  • You must be at least 21 years old, or 18 if you are a student at a partner institution.
  • An unrestricted driving license for at least a year is required
  • In the last three years, have had no more than two combined driving offenses and accidents.
  • Have not been involved in an accident or a traffic offense in the last 18 months.
  • Driving without a valid license, reckless driving, speeding more than 20 miles over the limit, or fleeing the scene of an accident are examples of serious infractions within the last three years, as is speeding in a school zone.
  • The last seven years have seen no alcohol or drug-related driving crimes.

According to these restrictions, you should verify your eligibility on your country-specific Zipcar site. Zipcar maintains the right to deny or reject your application even if you fulfill these eligibility standards, and Zipcar reserves the right to make individual judgments.

To Apply

An application for Zipcar membership requires a driver’s license and a credit card as well as the payment of a small application fee. A few hours is all it takes whether you’re an American or Canadian driver. 

Having a foreign driver’s license necessitates the usage of a passport and a longer process. Make sure your university or other institution already has an account so you may use it as a stepping stone to your own.

Within a week, you will receive your membership card (Zipcard) and be able to begin driving immediately. At any moment, you can add a co-driver to your account, such as a family member.

A driver’s background check must be completed, as well as an initial application cost, and recurring membership fees.

Car Reservation and Use

For one-way and round-trip excursions, you may borrow a Zipcar for as little as 30 minutes or as long as seven days, depending on your needs. You may make a reservation online or via a mobile app by specifying a start and finish time. If the automobile isn’t being used by another driver, you can start your trip early.

It is possible to reserve a car up to a year in advance if there is a car available within 30 minutes of your specified start time.

Shorten or cancel up to three hours before the journey begins for reservations of less than eight hours. You must offer at least 24 hours notice for lengthier journeys. A full refund will be issued if you do not meet this requirement. If your reservation doesn’t overlap with anyone else’s, you can extend it at any time without incurring any fees.

Tap your Zipcard on the windshield reader to unlock the vehicle. When you unlock the car, or when your reservation begins, whichever is earlier, your trip’s meter begins to run. 

Depending on the model, you may either use a standard key or a push-button starter to start the vehicle. However, you will still be charged for the duration of your reservation even if you return the car early, regardless of how many stops you make on your journey.

The firm immediately charges your payment card after your vacation is over. For every additional mile driven above 180 miles in a single trip, you’ll be charged 45 cents. 

Car insurance and gasoline are covered by Zipcar; you may be charged a price if you have an accident, fail to replenish a low tank or pass through an interstate or bridge toll in a Zipcar vehicle. If you return the car more than 15 minutes late, you’ll be hit with a $50 to $150 fee.

When you choose Zipcar, you can rest assured that you are getting the greatest deal possible.

Membership Plans

Zipcar has a variety of membership options, including a free plan and a monthly subscription. If you drive a lot and are either a person, corporation or student, you’ll pay a different price for the same basic amenities.

The price of a plan may also differ depending on where you live; be sure to verify your local rates before signing up. 

A 30-day money-back guarantee is included in all plans free trial:

  1. A $25 application fee and a $70 yearly charge, which is prorated and returned if you cancel before the end of the year, are typical costs for the Occasional Driving Plan. In addition to the $25 application fee, each co-driver pays an extra $35 every year. For non-luxury sedans and hatchbacks, weekday hourly fees normally range from $8 to $12. There are weekend charges ranging from $7 and $11. Depending on the city and the time of the week, daily fees might range from $60 to $90. For example, in Phoenix, the standard charge is $10 for weekdays and $9 for weekends, compared to $79 for a full workday and $69 for a full weekend day.
  2. Driving Plan. Typically comes with a $7 monthly cost, which is nonrefundable if you cancel before your month is out. The monthly fee for each additional co-driver is $3.50. For a single driver, this equates to a yearly charge of $84 in today’s dollars. The rates are the same as those of the Occasional Driving Plan, too.
  3. Added-Value Programs (EVPs). In order to take advantage of Zipcar’s added value options, you must agree to drive a specified number of miles every month. After you’ve paid the first sum, you’ll be charged on a per-transaction basis for anything else.
  4. There is a 10% reduction in all driving compared to the normal rates in your area. EVPs are now available in denominations of $50, $75, $125, and $250. Any prepaid time that isn’t used at the end of the month is forfeited with the $50 plan. A single month’s worth of unused time can be carried over with the $75 plan. Using $50 in drive time one month entitles you to $100 in prepaid driving the next month; but, you forfeit the $25 that rolled over if you don’t utilize it by the end of that month. Unused time on the $125 and $250 plans can be carried over for a period of two months. It’s free to add a co-driver, and you’ll just have to pay the one-time application charge. One-time (per change) fees of $25 are often charged for switching from one EVP to another.
  5. A one-time application charge, a yearly fee, and a cost for each driver are all included in the business plan. These vary by area and organization but are often greater than personal plan rates. Hourly and daily fees are included in both personal and commercial programs. Weekdays are somewhat cheaper than weekends for hourly and daily prices (roughly 5 percent, depending on location).
  6. On the weekends, there is no discount at all on the rates. Additionally, there’s a special business pricing of 10% to 20% lower than the regular daily charge, depending on the city, from 7 am to 7 pm. Specialty vehicles, such as pickup trucks and vans, are available in select cities, although the hourly and daily rates tend to be more expensive in these areas. You have the option of billing each driver individually or using a single credit card to cover the whole account. If Zipcar has a large presence at your university, students and teachers may be eligible for special pricing, sign-up credits, and other benefits. In general, the charges for the Occasional and Monthly Driving Plan are lower than those for the Occasional Plan.

Important Features

  • Zipcard. Your Zipcard is required to unlock your reserved vehicle. If you misplace it, you are entitled to one free replacement each year. After that, replacements are $15.
  • Choosing a Vehicle. The automobiles available from Zipcar vary from subcompacts to SUVs. The MINI Cooper small, Toyota Prius hatchback, Nissan Frontier truck, and Ford Escape SUV are typical models, however, availability varies by region. When you reserve the automobile, you may specify the model. Keep in mind that premium vehicles and SUVs may be more expensive.
  • Hand-Controlled Vehicles. Zipcar provides cars with hand controls for handicapped members. These cars are not accessible everywhere, and reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance. Zipcar requires seven days’ notice in regions where hand-controlled vehicles are not generally available.
  • Zipcar Helpline. Zipcar supports country-specific hotlines for membership inquiries, accident and ticket reporting, and reservation inquiries.
  • App and Reservation System for Zipcar. The Zipcar app allows you to update your account’s billing details, identify your closest home location, and reserve a vehicle. You may also make a reservation by calling Zipcar’s hotline, but this will cost you $3.95 per use.
  • Home Address. Every Zipcar is assigned to a specific parking location, such as a parking garage, surface lot, or street with parallel parking spaces. Zipcar reserves parking spots using green signage or green paint on the curb or asphalt. You must return the car to the location where you picked it up to complete your round-trip reservation. You can park it in any of the Zipcar-marked spaces in your neighborhood if there is more than one. One-way Zipcars can be returned to any spot in your selected destination lot. If you do not return the automobile to its right location, you will be fined $150.
  • Insurance. Every Zipcar is protected by an insurance policy that covers bodily injury coverage up to $300,000 (maximum) per accident, property damage coverage up to $25,000 per incident, and personal injury protection (PIP) up to the minimum amount required by the car’s home jurisdiction. If you are in an accident, you will be charged a $1,000 damage cost, which serves as the policy’s deductible.
  • Card for fuel. Every Zipcar comes with its own prepaid gasoline card, which you must spend if the tank falls below 25 percent capacity throughout your trip. Zipcar credits your account if the card does not have enough money on it.
  • Fees for additional services. Zipcar may cost you fees unrelated to driving in some instances. You can be fined for not refueling ($30), losing the ignition key ($75), returning the car after your reservation expires ($50 to $150, depending on how late), and smoking or having a non-kenneled pet in the vehicle ($50, plus cleaning fees). If you cancel a reservation after the specified window has passed, you will be charged the entire amount of your reservation. Fees may change by jurisdiction and over time, so check with Zipcar ahead of time.
  • Other Vehicles. You can share driving responsibilities with another Zipcar member with no limits if you’re traveling with another Zipcar member. If the car is involved in an accident or a traffic infraction, the person driving at the time is responsible.
  • Hourly-Only. Vehicles Only a limited number of Zipcars are available for hourly rental (at the same hourly rate as other Zipcars). These are intended for short journeys, such as supermarket runs, and may only be rented for a whole day. The Zipcar app shows which vehicles are available for this reason.


1. Many Trips Are Affordably Priced

In many cases, Zipcar is less expensive than the alternatives. A typical workday reservation costs between $7 and $10 per hour, or $60 to $90 per day, depending on the location. Uber and Lyft are more expensive than Zipcar for rides of any duration because of base fees, per-mile, and per-minute expenses.

4. Wide Variety of Available Vehicles

Most local car-sharing organizations don’t have SUVs or hatchbacks in their fleet, but Zipcar does. There are a number of local car-sharing programs, such as Hourcar in Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are nonprofits that have an emphasis on efficiency, such as focusing on Prius hatchbacks as well as gas-powered subcompacts.

3. Some Zipcars Have Hand Controls

Cars with hand controls are available for members who are unable to operate a conventional vehicle. This is a critical element for people with disabilities that is uncommon in the car-sharing industry.

4. The app serves as an extra set of keys.

The Zipcar app serves as a backup set of car keys. If you’re hooked into the app, you can unlock the vehicle from anywhere without having to return to it – and you can leave the keys in the car without having to worry about locking them in.

5. More widespread than other car-sharing options

In comparison to other car-sharing services, Zipcar is more accessible. Since its network is centered on universities, the firm is able to reach places like Moscow, Idaho home of the University of Idaho, and Iowa City (home of the University of Iowa) that could not otherwise have access to a carsharing service (University of Iowa).

Many tiny university towns, which have a large number of students who do not possess a car, lack even a non-profit car-sharing option.

6. You may use a Zipcar in any country.

In countries where driving is permitted, you can utilize the Zipcar network while you’re there.

7. The Reservation System Lowers Uncertainty and Additional Costs

You don’t have to worry about a vehicle being unavailable when you need it – either before or during your journey – since you may book your Zipcar for a certain amount of time. You do not pay an additional fee for this benefit; the automobile is just yours.


1. You are required to return to a designated parking area.

It’s impossible for customers to modify the Zipcar’s home location, which is usually a parking lot or garage. Although one-way rentals provide you more freedom, you must return your Zipcar to a Zipcar lot if you don’t want to incur additional fees.

As soon as you’ve completed the reservation process, you’ll be hit with substantial fines and additional penalties for leaving your Zipcar alone on the street.

Zipcars cannot be used for point-to-point excursions that do not include a stop at a second Zipcar lot because of this limitation. Uber and Lyft, on the other hand, specialize in point-to-point journeys.

2. Membership Fee

You must pay a monthly fee, regardless of the membership package you choose.

3. You Can’t Go on Random Trips

You must reserve a Zipcar at least 30 minutes in advance of your trip and specify the start and finish timings of your reservation. You can’t just get in a car and drive away without thinking about it first. This necessitates some forethought before departure.

4. For Young People, Membership Is More Restrictive

Even if you have a clean driving record, you must be at least 21 years old or a student at a connected university in order to join Zipcar. As a result, young individuals who aren’t enrolled in one of Zipcar’s normal partner institutions will be unable to join.

Bottom Line

Using a carsharing service like Zipcar instead of buying a car makes sense if you don’t use it often or for large distances. However, even if Zipcar is inexpensive, widely available, and user-friendly, it can’t do all of the functions of a fully-owned car.

The optimum use of a Zipcar membership may be in conjunction with other modes of transportation, such as cycling, walking, or taking public transportation, depending on where you reside. In spite of this, the service gives you the flexibility to go wherever you want, whenever you want.

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