After living in Manhattan for 10 years, I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is perfectly positioned for car owners. In Brooklyn, there’s more street parking, less traffic, and it’s easier to get onto expressways/highways to nearby destinations, like the Catskills, Long Island or Connecticut. Since I wasn’t ready to buy a car, I joined Zipcar, a car sharing rental that lets you rent a car by the hour or day. The service and convenience of booking was great. The driver before me? Not so much. Here’s my full Zipcar review.
In theory, Zipcar is convenient. The company has a fleet of 12,000 cars in over 500 cities and towns. What I love about Zipcar is that its cars are readily available in appointed parking spaces, so you never have to look around for one on the street. They have their very own parking space; you know where the car is parked at all times.
Once you sign up for Zipcar, the company will send you a member card in the mail, which you use to lock/unlock the door (the Zipcar app does the same thing).
Zipcars are not super cheap, depending on where you live. The cars near me start at $14 an hour, and go up to $160 for the day. Keep in mind, Zipcar sneakily charges you a monthly fee. I pay $7 a month, no matter if I use the car or not. So, because I joined Zipcar in November, I was charged $49 so far — and I didn’t actually rent a car until June.
When you need a car, you book one on the Zipcar website or on the app, then you’re ready to go. It’s that easy. You can unlock/lock the Zipcar with the app, and the keys are inside. Yes, it’s amazing. The app connects you to your booking and booked car. When you decide on a car, you can see the total cost. For NYC, there’s a NY Passenger Car rental tax for $7.32 and a NY City/State Sales Tax for $5.41.
In Williamsburg, there are two cars within a block from me. The day I booked a Zipcar, June 6, 2021, a Sunday, these cars were unavailable. They were already booked. It’s always good to book a car in advance, because they could be in use when you need them. While the two cars on my block were booked, the next available car, a Honda Civic, was about a ten minute walk away. This cut back on the ‘convenience’ factor of Zipcar, though the Civic was thankfully cheaper by the hour. You can see the screenshot below on how the booking system works.
The other inconvenient factor is that this Honda Civic was parked in a garage in a very undesirable spot. While I was thankful the app had a button to honk the horn of the Honda Civic so I didn’t have to search the garage trying to find it, it was not great that the car was squeezed into a tight spot where I could hardly get into the front seat.
Here’s a better shot of the dark garage and how the door wouldn’t fully open due to the column, and you could not get into the car through the passenger side either. Another inconvenience is that the garage did not get great cell service, which means you will not be able to use your app to lock/unlock the door, depending on where you’re standing. This is when the card comes in handy.
So, here comes the first unfortunately surprise. Zipcar is a car sharing service. You are sharing this car with your community. Those are facts. What you don’t know is who is using the car before you. The driver who rented the Honda Civic before me was definitely a huge pot smoker. The car *reeked* of marijuana. I don’t mind when people smoke marijuana, but the driver didn’t smoke with the windows down. At all. Not only did the driver hot box the car with pot, enough for me to get contact high, the driver did not clean the car. There was ash and tobacco EVERYWHERE.
As you can see, there are only 3 rules to Zipcar. The very first one is no-smoking and keeping the car clean. Now, I do not care if someone smokes cigarettes or pot. Honestly, not a big deal. This driver, however, didn’t give any thought or courtesy to the next driver. He/she hot boxed the car and left it a crazy mess.
The Zipcar rule says that if you don’t leave the car clean for the next driver, you’ll be charged a $50 fee. Interestingly, there is no way Zipcar will know if one of their members left the car clean or not unless the culprit is reported by the next driver. This seems to be a loophole in Zipcar’s platform. Unlike a car rental agency, when you drop off a car and it’s inspected, this does not happen with Zipcar. Anyway, here’s a closer look at the hot mess.
When I pulled out of the parking garage, and finally in better light, I could see ash all over the dashboard and at the bottom of the car seat.
Now, again, like I said, I don’t care if someone smokes, but they really should clean up their mess for the next driver. However, this situation was pretty bad in particular because the day I rented the car, it was 92 degrees in NYC. Because the car reeked and smelled terrible, I had to drive with all the windows down to Long Island. Let me repeat myself. On a day when it was hot as balls, I had to drive with the windows down! I’m not sure if you’ve driven from NYC to Long Island on a Sunday afternoon, but it is not a fast drive. It’s bumper to bumper on the highway. There was no cool breeze blowing in my hair. I was sitting in a stinky hot box driving 5 mph (in fact, the traffic was so bad that day, my drive to Glen Cove, normally 50 minutes, took 1 hour and 30 minutes).
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Another inconvenience? The car definitely needed maintenance. I’m not sure how frequently Zipcar sends mechanics to check out its cars, but this Honda Civic was definitely not in its best condition.
About 30 minutes into my drive, the gas light blinked on. Are you surprised? The driver before me was supposed to leave at least 1/4 tank of gas for the next driver (me), as per the Zipcar rules, but he/she did not. Zipcar literally leaves you a gas card in the visor above the driver’s seat, and it’s basically your only job to leave at least 1/4 tank full. Anyway, this was another inconvenience. It’s not great finding a gas station on a hot day in the middle of traffic to a destination where I was already running late — inside a car that smelled and felt like a humid weed factory in the fifth circle of hell.
I do want to reiterate that Zipcar does leave you a pre-paid gas card to use, so you never have to use your own money for gas. That’s a great perk to Zipcar.
The downside is that the driver before me clearly didn’t read the rules or make any attempt to fill the car. Or maybe he was too high to notice the card? Anyway, when I finally reached my destination in Long Island, I was glad to have arrived at a beach to calm my stress from the Zipcar experience.
In the end, I was glad to have had the Zipcar, but the entire experience showed me that I really do just need to buy a car of my own. When I returned home, I reached out to Zipcar via Twitter to explain the situation, and they credited me $20 for a future ride. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was a nice gesture. It won’t make up for the disastrous experience, but I have heard stories about Zipcar customer service, so perhaps they’ve turned a new leaf.
Zipcar is a great service. I love the app, I love the conveniences that come with a rental, and I love that cars are available near me. However, if you plan on booking, know that you could have a questionable driver who books before you. Also, note all the fees that come with Zipcar, especially the monthly membership fee that does add up, and you’ll want to book in advance if you want a car near you.
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