The Ups and Downs of Zipcars [edit: 5/8/11]

The hardest thing about college is being separated from everything that is familiar to me: my friends, family, bedroom and especially my car. I got my car the summer between my junior and senior year. My parents and I had a deal: if I got a job, I could have a car. It was a good motivational tool. For me, a car was more than just a way to get me from point A to point B. It was not a particularly fancy car, but it was just perfect for me.

My car meant that I could go where I wanted when I wanted (for the most part). My curfew was extended, and my parents no longer had to take me to my friends’ houses. Coming to college, I was presented with more freedom than I ever had before. I could choose my classes, when and what I ate and studied and when I slept. One freedom I missed was my car.

Without it, I could no longer go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I braved the OCTA bus system (overpriced as it is) once or twice to go somewhere particularly important. My only escape was on Saturdays when I went to the Spectrum for a break from campus life.

Due to my lack of mobility, I applied for a Zipcar, believing it would give me a bit more freedom. And while Zipcar is an admirable idea, especially for college students, whether or not it is financially worth it is still up for debate.

Zipcar is a company that puts different, rentable cars on college campuses. To rent a car from a normal car rental you have to be over 25, which most college kids are not. Zipcar allows students under 25 to rent their cars, for a price.

In order to rent a Zipcar you must first apply to be a member, which comes with an annual $35 fee. $25 application fee and a $50 annual fee (an increase from the annual $35 fee and no application fee that I originally paid in January). Luckily, you can attach your bank account to your Zipcar account to be billed automatically. You then have to wait for your Zipcard in the mail (typically no more than a week) and activate the card.

Renting a Zipcar is incredibly simple. All you have to do is go online, search for a Zipcar that is closest to you and select which car — and for how long — you want to rent. You then go to your selected car at the selected time, swipe your Zipcard at the windshield, get in and drive. The only problem with Zipcar is the hourly fee.

To rent a Zipcar, you must pay eight dollars an hour. This may not sound too bad at first, but if I were to go to a movie at Spectrum or a concert in Newport for let’s say four hours, I would have to shell out $32, not counting the cost of the movie ticket. Renting a Zipcar for a day (12 hours) costs $66.

To avoid the large cost, I would suggest going with a group and having everyone chip in to help cover the cost. With four people, a two-dollar an hour fee does not sound so bad, and your time will most likely be more enjoyable.

Adding time to stay out longer is easy. You simply have to call the number on the back of your Zipcard and select how much more time to add, and the money is automatically deducted from your account.

Using a Zipcar is easy, for the most part. The keys are attached to your dashboard to avoid theft. Insurance is prepaid, and the car information can be found in the glove compartment. To fill your gas tank, you only have to use the gas card provided in the car at any gas location. Luckily in this gas crisis, Zipcar has yet to raise their hourly fee. but the increased application/annual fee could be a sign that they are trying to find ways to deal with the gas as well.

In the end, Zipcar is a useful product if you anticipate having to make a lot of smaller trips. Extended day trips could end up costing you more than a few bus transfers are worth.

Sara Naor is a first-year film and media studies major. She can be reached at snaor@uci.edu.