Monday, April 27, 2015
ZipCar: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
We had a car, once: it was a bright yellow Skoda that earned the nickname, "The Yellow Peril" from our downstairs neighbors in Maida Vale. Despite its luminescent glow, I have fond memories of taking it to the Asda in Park Royal, where I'd stock up on American foodstuffs and fill the trunk with PopTarts, and trips to Westfield White City for Forever 21 shopping sprees - after all, its color certainly helped us remember where we'd parked.
But we didn't drive it very much; the amount of money we spent on parking and insurance probably outweighed the benefits of having a car in London (we only used it to get out of the city, really) and one fateful day, it broke down on the side of the road at the entrance to a freeway. You've never racked up more cool credentials until you've stood by a bright yellow Skoda on an on-ramp with the hood up, while people stop to stare and gawk.
So we returned the car to its generous owner (who had allowed us to use it, free of charge) and got on just fine by bus, train, plane, and of course - on foot.
Until this weekend, when we needed to go to Winchester for a family reunion, and National Rail showed a train and a rail replacement bus service from Basingstoke. Not cool. John had been going on and on about getting a ZipCar subscription for a while now, and I knew that our friends Ruth and Peter has used it a lot when they lived in London, so he suggested that we try it out on Saturday.
I let John deal with all the administrative details (which was a little lazy of me, especially since he would be driving), but I think the way it works is that you pay an annual fee, and then you can rent the car for a few hours per day (or for the whole day).
One thing I love about ZipCar is that the cars are located practically everywhere. In our case, it was parked on a quiet little street about 30 seconds from our front door (great for me, since I was wearing heels - ha!). It takes the frustration out of waiting in long lines at a rental car shop (with the surliest customer service assistants you've ever met, believe me), showing them a bazillion forms of ID, signing forms, and rushing back to return the keys before having to find your own way back home again. Bleurgh. No thanks.
Also: you can unlock the car from your phone. Spooky, but utterly amazing. Fuel is paid for up to a certain capped limit, and a fuel card's provided in the glove compartment, so it was quick and easy when we needed to fill up before returning the car.
All was well, until we parked our car in Winchester and needed to grab something from the backseat after lunch ... suddenly, the alarm went off.
AND WOULDN'T STOP.
No matter what we did, we couldn't turn it off - which was hugely embarrassing in a parking lot full of people and passerbys (the parking ticket inspector was super nice, though, and showed actual concern and sympathy for us!). We called the helpline and they were able to disable the alarm remotely, but when we returned to our car a few hours later ... the same thing happened. And again, after that - this time, in a residential neighborhood. If you've used a ZipCar, has this happened to you before??? We couldn't figure it out - it left us flummoxed and annoyed.
But! When we weren't flummoxed and annoyed, we were totally impressed with the flexibility of the ZipCar system. We were having a great time at The River Cottage Canteen in Winchester with John's family - so much so, that when John's aunt asked if we'd like to go back to her house for a while, John was able to extend the length of our car rental with a simple swipe on his phone so we could stay for longer.
And when we got back at night after dropping John's mom off at St. Pancras so she could catch her train back to Leicester, we were back home watching Game of Thrones with cold drinks in hand in no time, since the car just needed to be parked one street away.
So slick. (Except for the faulty alarm system, which thankfully didn't cause us any problems when we dropped the car off.)
I think we'll definitely use ZipCar again, provided that we don't have another alarm-related fiasco. We'll probably think about buying a car when we move to a more permanent residence than our current flat situation, but for now, ZipCar would be totally convenient for short trips both in and out of London.
Have you used ZipCar before? What did you think?
p.s. this isn't a sponsored post - I honestly just thought it would be helpful to share our experience, in case you're thinking of buying/using/renting a car in London!
UPDATE: So, last night, John came home and told me that he'd received a call from ZipCar saying that they'd charged him £400 for 1,600 miles (keep in mind that we drove to Winchester!) and a £125 late fee (we returned the car nearly an hour early)! They obviously realized that this was their mistake and rectified it quickly over the phone, but - ouch! Can you imagine if you were charged (as in, the money came out of your account) £525 by mistake? Despite this gaffe, we still thought it was a good service overall, since I think our experience was completely out of the norm (friends of ours have used the service without any issues, ever), but ... just a little crazy.