Zipcar customers fuel up using a gas card that's stored in each car. With a traditional rental, customers fill up as if it's their own car and are expected to return the car full or face a hefty per-gallon charge.
Car-sharers can extend their rental on the mobile app or by signing up for text alerts, as long as another member hasn't reserved the car already.
To return the car, bring it back to a marked parking space and swipe the Zipcard on the windshield. That stops your rental clock and tells the company that you returned the car on time.
WHAT IT COSTS
To join Zipcar, members pay a $25 application fee and $50 a year. Rates run from $7.50 an hour and include gas, insurance and any mileage racked up beyond 180 miles a day. By comparison, Hertz on Demand Standard car rental prices vary widely but generally range between $50 and $100 per day in big cities.
PROS AND CONS
— You're generally not charged for mileage if you're renting from Hertz or Avis. "Zipsters" have to pay for any trip longer than 180 miles. For a long weekend trip, a Zipcar might not be your best bet, especially if you're driving a great distance.
— You only have to be 21 to rent a Zipcar, or 18 if you're renting it from a university campus and have a clean driving record. Most renters have to be 25 to rent through a traditional rental car company. Sometimes, younger drivers can rent for an extra per-day fee.
— Once you go beyond 24 hours, car-sharing is generally more expensive than a standard rental.
— Zipcar is far larger than competitors Hertz and Enterprise, but you can link your rewards memberships through those companies and earn points for future rentals.
WHERE TO FIND IT
The car-sharing model makes the most sense in high-populated areas, which explains its popularity in major cities or on college campuses. But the number of Zipcar locations will grow once the Avis deal is complete. Zipcar now has more than 760,000 members, triple what it had in 2008. It has 10,000 vehicles across locations in the U.S., U.K., Spain and Austria.