Zip Car Hoboken: The Good, The Bad and The Fugly Review

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This weekend was my first one where I didn't own a car.

And I needed one.

I had to return my license plates to the DMV in Jersey City and had two options:

1. Take the PATH. This would take me 30 minutes each way.
2. Rent a car. This would take me 12 minutes each way.

The PATH train would only cost $3.50, whereas Zip Car costs $9 - $12 per hour.

Knowing this, I decided to use the Zip Car, and rent for two hours (read how Zip Car works here). I figured I could make a day of it, using the car to drop off the license plates, hit the driving range and shop at Trader Joe's in Edgewater.

I had registered for Zip Car a few weeks ago, with my corporate account. It only costs me $25 a year, with no registration fee. Is your company eligible? Might want to check here.

Zip Car has lots of different cars available, and each have varying price levels. It was a Friday when I rented and I could have been frugal and chose a Mazda 3 series for $9 an hour - but I figured I could splurge and rent a BMW 328i for $12 an hour. What I discovered when renting was something that Zip Car failed to mention: $5 charge every time you rent their car.

That sucks. If you rent for three days or three hours, you are hit with a $5 "New Jersey Domestic Security Fee (per day)". That's a fee that Trenton NJ imposed on us after 9/11, but there are some people trying to battle this bullshit tax.

I wanted to rent the car in the morning, but to my surprise, many of the cars i'd like to drive were rented from 9am to 12 noon. That was a bit disturbing. There were some economy cars available, but I really wanted at least a Mazda, and all eight of them were rented in Hoboken! There were others available in Jersey City or New York, but I wasn't about to take the PATH to the car. Instead I adjusted my hours and rented the car from 12pm to 2pm.

I used Zip Car's online reservation system about 48 hours in advance, and its very easy to rent a car. It gave me directions to where it was parked, and on Friday went to my car in the parking garage on 77 Park Avenue.

The first problem I encountered upon entering the parking garage was - where's my car?
I was in a multi-story parking garage, and had no idea where the car was located. My iPhone application from Zip Car was a big help here. It has the ability (when reserved) to honk your car horn that you are renting. I hit the "honk" button and sure enough my car chirped to attention only seconds later. I used my Zip Car key card to unlock the car (but you can actually use the iPhone app to do that, also).

Upon entering my BMW, I ran into my second problem - where's the key? I looked in the glove box. Under the visor. In the arm rest box. Under the seat. There was a good five minutes of searching for the key. Finally I located it under the steering wheel, attached to a thin metal retractable cable. It wasn't a standard key, either (this coming from a guy who's last car was a 1993 Volvo) - figuring out how to start the car took me another five minutes. The car had a push "Start/Stop" button, and I kept pushing it but it wouldn't start. I didn't realize that I had to put my foot on the brake to start it (even though this is common practice for cars with keys, but I wasn't even thinking about that because the push button threw me off).

OK, so ten minutes later - I was ready to leave. But then I ran into my third issue. The car was in a parking garage and the parking spots were very, very tight. The BMW is next to a concrete wall on the driver side and another Zip Car on the right. Backing out of the spot took a lot of work, since I never drove the car before and wasn't used to how much room I had. Plus, I was driving a $35,000 rental - and didn't want to ding it. After a bit of maneuvering, I got the car out of the parking spot and was on my way.

The valet let me out of the garage, but thought that if there wasn't a valet available (lets say I needed a car at midnight) - it would make things difficult to get the car out of the garage, since it had automated gates and I didn't see in the visor any kind of garage card to let me in or out.

After leaving the garage, I drove to Jersey City DMV. The ride was real quick and I was happy that I rented a car versus taking the PATH. I parked in a parking lot, and the next problem showed up. The valet at the parking lot wanted to park my car.

Like I described before - the key is attached to the car. When the valet parks the car, how can he lock it? I had to give the valet my Zip Car key card and show him how to lock the car. At first he wasn't even sure if he could let me park my car in the garage, he was very confused. After some initial issues, he relented and parked the car.

Also before he parked the car he pointed to the back of the car saying, "Hey man, do you know your car has scratches?"

I got out of the car, and saw the scratches along the wheel well. Now, I didn't inspect my car before I got into it. It was my first time renting a car with Zip Car and didn't even think to check that. I thought back to my tight parking spot, and thought "Did I do that?"

I'm 99% sure that it wasn't me. You know when you hit something with a car. It was a tight exit, but i'm sure it wasn't me. I used the Zip Car iPhone application to report the damage, and left a voice mail detailing the damage to the car. It has been three days later and no one has called me back about it. Insurance & gas with Zip Car is part of the package deal when you rent.

I dropped off my license plates and was out of the DMV in five minutes. I know everyone has nightmare stories at the DMV, but I have to say the Jersey City one isn't so bad. Everyone was very friendly and helpful.

I got back to the parking lot, paid $3.50 for parking, and drove to the driving range. It was 12:30, and still had 90 minutes on my reservation.

At the driving range, I rented a bucket of balls, and took my time. But there lies the next problem with car rental: The clock is ticking.

The great thing about owing a car is freedom. You can do what you want, where you want, when you want. If I decided on that Friday that I wanted to go see a movie in Edgewater or eat at P.F. Changs - that's no problem! Or if there was traffic or a big line at Trader Joes, it's not a big deal, you own that car.

Not so with renting a car. The beauty of Zip Car is that you can rent hourly. The downside is that other people make reservations hourly, and you must, must, must have the car back to the parking spot ON TIME. Zip Car stresses this over and over.

Now, the upside is that you can call or text Zip Car to extend the reservation (or use the iPhone application, which I heart) - if no one else has reserved the car.

I was done at the driving range by 1:30, and figured I could quickly drive next door, shop at Trader Joe's in 15 minutes, and scoot back from Edgewater to Hoboken in 15 minutes.

Boy, was I wrong.

Getting to Trader Joe's, parking, shopping, checking out: 20 minutes - and I was at a breakneck pace, too. Bought about 12 items. Got in the car, looked at the clock in the car and it said 1:49pm.

I had 11 minutes to drive to Hoboken, which was about 7 miles away. Damn, damn, damn, damn.

I used the iPhone application to extend the reservation. I only needed 15 minutes more. Only issue is that you can't extend 15 minutes, you can extend in 30 minute blocks. I was fortunate, I extended it and no one else had a reservation for this particular car. In retrospect, my advice here is twofold:

1. You can't cut it close with these kind of rentals. Doing it over again, I wouldn't have gone to Trader Joe's.
2. If I did decide to go to Trader Joe's, I should have checked for the extension earlier.

I was lucky this time.

I drove back to Hoboken, parked the car in the crazy tight parking spot, locked the car and walked back to my apartment.

Total cost?

  • Hours: noon to 2:30pm / 2.5 hours / $12.00 an hour = $30.00
  • Miles Included With Reservation: 20 miles used out of 180 miles, no extra fee
  • New Jersey Domestic Security Fee (per day): $5.00
  • Sales tax for NJ: 7%: $2.10
  • Parking Garage at Jersey City DMV: $3.50
  • Total Charges $40.60 or 16.24 per hour
Remember, I could have saved some cash if I rented a $9 per hour Mazda, which would have cost me $22.50 for 2.5 hours. I figured for $7.50 extra - which is about the same price for a mixed drink around Hoboken, I could get a fun car to drive.

My overall impression is positive, even with my minor quirks I mentioned. If I were to rent this car again, I wouldn't go through the same delays I first experienced (like finding the car, finding the key, and starting the car). I also would be sure to inspect the car before I pull out of the teeny, tiny parking spot, which I didn't do.

Probably next time i'd rent the cheaper $9 per hours Mazda 3. The Beemer was fun, but wasn't THAT fun to drive. I had the A/C cranked up and the pleather seats still were uncomfortable against my skin on the hot summer day. The car was fun, but still found the acceleration to be "touchy" on the 3 series - seemed like there were two speeds, fast or overdrive.

But those still, to me, are minor quirks. When I do my math, like owning a parking spot ($185 monthly), insurance ($85 monthly), gas ($30 monthly) - owning a car costs me $300 monthly.

If, in the future I were to rent a Mazda 3 (which is a trillion times nicer than my 1993 Volvo) every Friday for three hours to run errands. It would cost me about $33.89 ($27 for three hours, plus $5 security fee, plus $1.89 tax) each Friday, or $135 a month.

I mean, just to equal the cost of owning my car, I could rent the Mazda eight times a month - twice a week - and still save $29 on what it cost me to own a car. ($33.89 x 8 = $271). Owning my car I never, ever used it eight times in a month. Ever. I was lucky if I used my car 4 times a month while living in Hoboken over the last 10 years.

I have already reserved my Mazda 3 for my Thanksgiving visit to Washington DC (Estimated Cost: $334.93, Thursday, Nov 25th, 6am to Saturday, Nov 27th, 3pm, two days, nine hours). Sure that seems like a lot, but when you do the math, it is 57 hours and costs me $5.88 an hour, excluding tolls).

I did look into Hertz to rent a car that day instead of Zip Car, and found a few issues:

  1. It is cheaper daily, but you pay for gas & insurance with Enterprise or Hertz.
  2. They are open Saturday from 9am to noon. Closed Sunday. So I HAVE to be back from DC by noon or I will pay for Sunday and Monday at $73 a day. I kinda hate that. Plus I have to rent the car and park it on the street on Wednesday night until I leave Thursday morning.
  3. If I rent from Hertz it will cost 3 days at $73.49 = 220.47 USD, plus taxes and fees jacks it to $253.74. Not including gas, which I estimate will be $30-40 for a trip to DC. So lets say $290.

I weighed my options and figured for $44 more I get insurance and don't have to go nuts rushing back to Hoboken by noon, I have until 3pm.

I figure by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, the money I will have saved for August, September and October ($300 per month x 3 months = $900) will offset that cost ($334.93) and most any other minor rentals between now and then. I expect that I will be renting a car once or twice a month in the foreseeable future, and when it gets cold seems like I use a car less and less.

I also plan to join Hertz Connect. Through June 2012, Connect by Hertz is offering 2 years of membership for free ($25 application fee applies) and is providing a $75 driving credit when using the code: HOBOKEN at time of enrollment.

2 Comments

You're detailing some of my own frustrations with the hourly car rental programs. I got rid of my overaged, underutilized car in May. I've used both Zipcar and WeCar (a campus-based program). I guess I was pretty happy with these programs until two failed rentals in the last two weeks.

The $5/day NJ security tax is a major sore point when renting by the hour. I don't understand why Zipcar and the others haven't mounted an all-out lobbying effort to have this changed.

You mentioned that there are some people fighting this tax. Can you please post more info on that? A link to a web site?

http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB121383390638486797.html

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on August 16, 2010 12:30 AM.

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