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.
- 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.
- 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.