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New Age Car Rentals

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1.What's different about Zipcar?
Photo credit: Andrew Currie / Flickr

Car renters now have far more options than an airport pickup. With many people no longer seeing cars as a status symbol, but instead as an unnecessary expense and hassle, car rental companies are now moving closer to renters. In addition, they now give renters the option of renting by the hour to accommodate short shopping trips or other one day excursions. One company, Zipcar, has led the way in hourly local rentals.

What’s different about Zipcar?

Unlike traditional car rental companies, Zipcar doesn’t operate out of airport lots or other offices scattered around a city. Instead, Zipcar leases a handful of parking spaces at apartment complexes, shopping centers, and other high-traffic areas throughout a city. Zipcar also eliminates counter check ins and almost all other human interaction.

To access a Zipcar, members simply make a reservation. At their allotted time, they gain access to the car by placing their membership card against a scanner located along the windshield or by using a smartphone app. The keys are already inside, and while they have to be turned to start the engine, it’s the swipe of the membership card that allows the engine to be turned on. When the member arrives at their destination, they leave the keys in the car and secure it by again scanning their card or using the app.

Zipcar has stricter mileage limits than most rental car companies, but these rarely come into play since it was designed primarily for short trips. Mileage is tracked by computer, and members are automatically billed at the end of their reservation for any overages. Fuel is included in the reservation price, and a fuel card is included in each card. The only restriction is that a member must make sure the car has at least a quarter of a tank when they return it to avoid leaving the next customer stranded.

A car sharing community

Zipcar doesn’t advertise itself as a rental car company. Instead, it considers it a car sharing community and relies on members to take care of its cars. Members are reimbursed for cleaning cars as well as basic maintenance. Members who leave a car dirty or low on gas risk being fined when the next driver reports them. Members are also responsible for any damage to the car unless they reported it at the start of their reservation.

Will it last?

Zipcar has gained traction in major cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. It has also partnered with a number of universities to bring cars to their campuses. These cars are mainly used by students without cars, but are available to any Zipcar member in the area. Other rental car companies appear to believe the model will be successful with major agencies such as Hertz and Enterprise starting their own hourly rental or car sharing programs.

Customer reception has been mixed. One of the largest complaints is the large fines that come with late returns due to the possibility of another renter having the car reserved immediately after the previous reservation ends. In addition, because cars are primarily maintained by members, they may not always be as clean as cars coming from a centralized rental lot. However, the convenient locations of the cars make them highly useful for a large number of members.

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