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Buying a car vs. driving a Zipcar

Which option is best for you depends on where you live and how often you need to drive.

If you live in an urban area, Zipcar may seem appealing. But don’t write off car ownership just yet. Depending on your needs, you may find one fits your lifestyle better than the other.

How do they work?

While you’ll still have a car available, the flexibility and cost of each option varies widely:

Buying a car

Buying a car is the classic option, and one most people still turn to when they need a ride. But it’s a long-term commitment for most — car loans typically have terms between three and five years. And on top of the monthly car payment, you’ll be responsible for all the other costs that come with driving, including paying for gas, maintenance and insurance.

However, there’s one big upside: Owning a car means you can use it whenever and wherever, no scheduling required.

Driving a Zipcar

Zipcar allows you to rent a car as needed with a monthly membership fee starting at $7 and rental fees starting around $10 per hour or $89 per day — it varies depending on where you live. The membership and rental fees cover the cost of everything — you don’t need to pay for gas, maintenance or insurance. And 180 miles is included in the cost of the rental.

All you have to do is pick up the car from your local Zipcar location and drop it back off when you’re done. While you’ll need to make sure a car is available, Zipcar has hundreds of locations scattered around cities across the US.

Benefits and drawbacks of buying a car

While a car comes with some added convenience, the overall cost is a big downside.


  • Drive anywhere, any time. When you own a car, you can take it on long road trips without having to worry about booking a reservation. Spontaneous trips really do become spontaneous, and you aren’t held back by certain vehicles not being available.
  • No restrictions on vehicle. While it won’t be a different car every time you drive, you can pick a car that really suits your driving style. You won’t have to relearn where every button is when you’re going to pick up groceries.
  • Leasing is an option. If you’re not ready for the commitment of car ownership, you could always lease instead. It gives you plenty of flexibility — especially if you don’t drive frequently — and you’ll be able to switch cars every few years.


  • Regular maintenance, insurance and gas. If something breaks, you’ll have to pay out of pocket to have it fixed. If gas prices increase, you’ll be stuck footing the bill. If you plan to drive at all, you’ll need to have insurance just to get out on the road.
  • Depreciation costs. Depreciation is a fact of life if you buy a new car, but used cars also continue to depreciate by around 10% every year. If you took out a car loan, you’ll be paying interest on a car that’s no longer worth the same amount you originally paid.

Benefits and drawbacks of driving a Zipcar

Zipcar provides a simple service for city dwellers to avoid having to buy their own car, but it has its own drawbacks.


  • Gas included with reservation. Zipcar membership includes a gas card so you don’t have to pay for your trip. Just leave your tank at least a quarter full. Otherwise, you may be stuck with extra fees.
  • Travel up to 180 miles at no extra charge. If your quick jaunt around town takes a few twists, you’re covered. Every rental with Zipcar is good for up to 180 miles — but going over the mileage limit will cost $0.45 per mile.
  • Insured through Zipcar. You won’t have to have your own insurance policy when you have a membership with Zipcar. This eliminates one of the big monthly costs car owners face.


  • Fees can add up. Zipcar may be a less expensive option, but the fees can be draining if you aren’t careful. Between excess mileage fees, low gas fees and late return fees, you could pay a hefty price if you don’t drive your Zipcar by the book.
  • Only available in large metro areas. Zipcar may be available in a lot of places, but they’re all cities. Unless you live in a metro area, you probably won’t find a Zipcar location near you.

Which one is right for me?

It depends on your situation and driving needs.

Owning a car may be right for you if …

  • You need regular, daily access to a car
  • You have a long commute
  • You don’t have regular access to public transportation

A Zipcar membership may be right for you if …

  • You only need occasional access to a car.
  • You want flexibility in the car you drive.
  • You want to be free from worry about insurance and maintenance costs.

Are there any other alternatives to car ownership?

Yes, on top of Zipcar, there are a few other alternatives to owning a car:

  • Rentals. You can rent a car on a monthly basis or for just a few days. If you’re planning on taking a road trip, it’s likely worth comparing a rental company’s rates with Zipcar.
  • Carsharing. There are more car-sharing companies out there than just Zipcar. Explore the options in your city before you commit to a monthly membership.
  • Car subscriptions. Subscription services give you regular access to a car for a monthly fee that includes insurance, maintenance and registration.

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Bottom line

Owning a car is the obvious option for most people, but Zipcar makes it easy to have all the benefits of driving with a fraction of the costs. Which option is right for you depends on how often you plan on driving and where you live. If you choose to buy a car, compare your car loan options so you can be sure you’re getting a good deal.

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