Zipcar: a mostly good experience

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I recently joined Zipcar for easy access to a car whenever I need it, since Damir needs his car most days and sometimes I need to drive to a client or run some errands. Although I live in Toronto, I did my first Zipcar rental in San Francisco two weeks ago, and will do my second here at home tomorrow to get to a business meeting in Mississauga. My experience so far: pretty good.

The good:

  • Signup online was fast and easy. I was approved within two days, and dropped by the Zipcar office (which is close to where I live) to pick up my Zipcard, although they would have mailed it.
  • Renting online is a great experience. I pick my starting location and rental period, see the cars available nearby during that time, and pick one. That’s it.
  • Picking up and dropping off the car is so much faster than a regular rental, I may never use a regular rental again. No paperwork, no waiting, I just walk up to the car and hold my Zipcard against the reader on the windshield, and I’m in. Same to drop it off. The previous time that I rented a car in San Francisco, it took more than 30 minutes to wait in line, sign all the paperwork, then wait for them to bring the car around. This time, I was out of the garage in less than a minute.
  • Almost everything is included: there’s no extra insurance, you get 150km free per day, and they even pay the gas. Although their daily rate looks higher than a standard rental car, by the time that you factor in gas and insurance it’s about the same, and way more convenient.
  • There are more than 20 Zipcars available within a 10-minute walk of where I live, almost half of those within a 3-minute walk. Unless they get a lot more popular, I’m unlikely to have a problem finding a car when I need one.

The not-so-good:

  • I was given a $50 credit due to a special deal when I signed up, and it wasn’t applied to my first rental, which has resulted in a few back-and-forth emails. The latest email from them says that their billing department will be in touch with me with 3 days.
  • I tried to use the gas card that was in the car, and it was refused at two different gas stations. Although they, in theory, could take that card, the sale was declined in both cases. This meant that I had to pay for gas in $US on my $C credit card. I was going to leave the car with less than 1/4 tank (that’s the limit at which you’re supposed to refill) but decided that was rude, especially for my first rental. In talking with someone else who had used San Francisco Zipcars, they said that this was a regular occurrence.
  • I’ve been trying for almost two weeks to get reimbursement for the gas bill, which is supposed to take only two days. First, I faxed it to the number that they say to use on their website. A week later, I emailed; they claim not to have received the fax, but said I could scan it and attach to an email, which I’ve done. Nothing has shown up; next, I’ll just walk it in to their Toronto office and see if that works.
  • Although they claim that there are no extra fees, I was charged taxes on top of the bill in San Francisco: although the theoretical daily maximum was $65, I had another $5.52 in California sales tax (7.25%) and county tax (1.25%) added on. Here in Toronto, I’ll be hit with an extra 14% in GST and PST on top of the listed price.

A few reservation gotchas:

  • If you bring the car back early, you still pay for the full reserved time, so you need to be pretty good with your time planning.
  • When you make a reservation of less than 8 hours, you have to cancel it no less than 3 hours before it starts, or you’ll be charged for it. If your reservation is longer than 8 hours, then you have to cancel at least 24 hours ahead.
  • If you bring the car back late, you’ll be hit with a $35 late fee since you could, potentially, be inconveniencing someone who has the car reserved after you — remember, when you reserve, you reserve a specific vehicle, not one of a pool. You can, however, call in (or access via internet, although their site doesn’t support my Blackberry or other mobile browsers) and extend your reservation while it’s in progress as long as no one is waiting for the car after you.

Overall, the rental experience itself is great, but they still have a few glitches to work out in the billing department.

Also, although the XM radio was a nice-to-have, I would have preferred that they spent the money on a GPS instead.

10 Comments

  1. Steve B. says:

    A word of caution about Zipcar: their insurance can be disasterously low (ie the state minimum, which can leave you very open to large claims).

    full details of actual horror story here:

    http://www.felixsalmon.com/000612.html

  2. sandy says:

    Steve, thanks for your comment. I pay for my Zipcar with a gold credit card that includes car rental insurance, so I’m covered, but I imagine that others may not be.

  3. John says:

    Hey Sandy,

    Glad you had a good experience. I saw the previous comments and figured I would chime in and let you know I had an experience with them and my Gold card didn’t cover the insurance since with gold card you need to waive the insurance and with Zipcar they say the insurance is included. The credit card company gave me grief and I checked with Zicpar and they said they will not wiave the insurance.

    But hey, as long as you dont have a problem it isn’t a big deal just thought I would share my costly experience

  4. sandy says:

    I haven’t had any sort of insurance-related experience with Zipcar at all. I’ll be checking with my credit card company to see if I’m covered.

  5. Fran says:

    Their new slogan should be: “ZIPCAR let you rent defective car”

    I explain. After driving about an hour outside the city, my boyfriend – who is also a zipcar member (his name is Joseph DeFranco) – and I realized that the car had problem with the brakes. On our way back, we almost entered into a major collision with another car. Why? The defective brakes of our car. Because Joseph is an excellent driver, we avoid a terrible accident. Pretty traumatic, no? Well, hold on as the worse is to come…. As considerate, respectful zipcar members, we mentioned to the garage attendant the problem we experienced with the brakes of the car. Guess what he told us? “I can’t believe they [you, zipcar] let you rent this car! I reported the problem related to the brakes as the previous driver had mentioned it.” Do you have any idea how we felt? Let me try to express it to you. We felt betray. We put our trust and lives in your cars. And you, you let us rent cars with defect you have knowledge of. How irresponsible of you is this?! This is so unacceptable.

  6. JD says:

    Nothing but good experience with ZipCar thus far. However, if you’re going to try and bash them (^^^), do it with some proper language and grammar.

  7. Angelo says:

    @JD I am pretty sure that Fran’s english is much better than your second, or perhaps third, language. Although with that attitude, I doubt very much if you have one.

  8. dave says:

    Its good when it works but they have the worst customer service imaginable.
    I am sitting typing this as I have spent one hour forty minutes on hold trying to get through to cancel my card.

  9. Mark says:

    here’s some experience from London, UK. My membership was transferred to them from the UK Streetcar / Streetvan company, which by the way was excellent! What a disappointment has this become from the very first moment of becoming their customer: their iPhone app sucks, crashes all the time and not allows you to find available cars further than 5 miles from your location. There’s no customer service, no communication whatsoever. In fact even the cars don’t have the “call zipcar” option as all streetcars/vans had!

    Recently, I returned the car 5 mins late (because I drove past the bay first time and had to go around the block) there was no one waiting so I took my time to park up and tidy up the car to leave it in good order for the next user – well now I am 12 mins late!! £35 fine for that from a “do-not-reply” email address, and again you’ll be placed in a queue and made to wait 15 minutes to be told that’s how their system works! No way I just paid 3 (three)! times the cost of a normal daily car rental – and those rental companies normally give you 2hrs extra to return the car! – I canceled my Zipcar membership straight away.

    These days, when your very own car can be picked up on ebay as cheap as £50, in my mind there’s no place for a company that “implements” their system on you. Certainly not in the UK. Avoid these people at all costs! Another meanings for “zip” are “zero”, “nada”, “nothing” that exactly defines it. So, go to hell, Zipcar with your aggressive marketing, you’ve just screwed up a very good company (and system) which was the original Streetcar.

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