The demand for rental cars is crazy these days. This is compounded if you live in a metropolitan place like New York, where car ownership isn't really a thing.
Normally, I'd consider a $164.09 for a daily car rental insane, but that is the current starting rate in the broader New York City area, if not more. It means checking out less frequented car companies like Silvercar or Zipcar, though there are a few stark nuances to be aware of if you're going to go down the latter route for getting out of town.
(The Zipcar daily rate starts at $90,1 and increases during weekends. Car rentals are *almost* always cheaper, even considering gas. It's possible to get a rental car between $7-$50 per day when there is less demand. These aren't normal times, though.)
At least Zipcar includes gas and insurance, since that easily adds an additional $50 on top of everything?2 Than there's the convenience.
Here are the things we wish we had known, that separate it from a car rental.
Check for the gas card before leaving
Let's start with the one thing that we wish we did before leaving the parking lot: Check the car to make sure that gas card was present.
(It is underneath the visor on the driver's side. It is NOT the key card.)
Surprise? Ours was missing, though that wasn't apparent... six hours later. Of course, when we were nearly out of gas.
For what it's worth, Zipcar also requires its drivers return with more than a quarter tank of gas, or drivers will be charged a $30 fee.
If the gas card is missing, the easiest option is to report it in the app by selecting the DRIVE tab and then select REPORT. Fill up the gas per normal on a personal card, save the receipt, and submit a reimbursement request after the rental.
Zipcar will accept a photo of the receipt or a bank statement as proof. Cases DO need to be pre-approved by a Zipcar representative before drivers can submit a claim and everything needs to be submitted within 30 days of the initial charge.
On a Saturday night (peak driving time!), we sat at the gas station for over 20 minutes on the phone with no indication as to when we might reach someone (we gave up).
The following morning, it took us 30 minutes on hold before we were able to reach someone.
In reality, no one wants to deal with that. It cost us $34.50 to fill up the Subaru. It cost us about an hour in anxiety and sitting on the phone to get it done.
Feel free to go far, though not too far
Except for random cases few and far between, rental cars usually come with unlimited mileage. There's usually no need to think about the mileage being driven.
(In fact, some rental cars require a minimum mileage, or they will charge the renter a fee!)
Zipcar is the opposite: There’s a cap of 180 miles per day for each vehicle. If most rural and freeway speed limits are about 70 mph, that’s about 2.58 hours of daily driving, so you wouldn’t want to go TOO far away if the car is only booked for one day. (The car does have to be driven back.)
It is that particularly weird sweet spot of being perfect for a day trip and toeing the line by going a tad over the mileage limit.
In an excursion from New York City to Bucks County, PA, the car ended up clocking 207.54 miles, 27.54 miles above the minimum. Additional miles are charged at 58 cents per mile, so in practical terms, those extra 27.54 miles ended up costing $15.97 on top of the rental cost.
These stops included a visit to New Hope, a drive to the spot where George Washington Delaware River (Revolutionary War funsies!), a winery visit, a farm visit (to go fruit picking, of course), a winter village visit, and a quick drop-off for our travel companion before returning the car.
Basically, a packed itinerary! Including the prerequisite McDonald’s stop. 🍔
Here’s a quick overview of the route.
Anyone else curious why Google Maps seems to be reporting a difference in mileage compared to what Zipcar reported? Okay, just us then.
The toll pass is included, though toll fees aren't
Everyone who's ever rented a rental car knows what a monumental headache tolls can be.
No one enjoys coming home to a statement that not only includes a toll fee, but then a toll charge for each day of the rental, and maybe an additional overarching toll fee (for what?). Meaning, a $5 mistake such as accidentally using the E-ZPass can quickly turn into a $60 mistake.
Most Zipcars are equipped with a toll pass, and these are listed in the car amenities. This seems to be a standard, though, given what the phone rep told us, even if it wasn't listed on our reservation.
Here's an official statement from a PR rep:
In recent platform upgrades, the toll icon was temporarily turned off. We’ve verified that it will be back on shortly and once again visible when making a vehicle reservation. These platform upgrades are happening on an ongoing basis to continue to improve the Zipcar member experience.
Basically, customers only pay the toll fees. Though we still recommend figuring out how to avoid tolls, some tolls are just avoidable.