Car sharing or car clubs have been around since the late 1990s and are thriving right now. Names come and go, but the common features are that by signing up to a car sharing club, users get access to a fleet of cars and vans parked in street locations across a city or town.
They can be booked by the hour or by the day. Insurance, fuel and city centre charges are generally included. Councils encourage car clubs as a green and economical option, taking cars off the road which sit parking idle for much of the week.
It could be right for you if you don’t want to own, lease or subscribe to a car or want to economise by selling a second car which rarely gets used. Car clubs also offer plans just for business users. With more electric cars on offer, it can be a real no-strings way to try out an electric car for the future.
Car clubs also carry advantages over traditional rentals. You don’t have to wait until an office is open to collect or return your car and you might be able to find a car club car just around the corner from your home.
Finding and joining a car club
Car clubs now divide into two types; fairly new cars/vans of the same type which are owned by the club and parked at fixed points, or the newer trend of peer-to-peer car sharing.
In short, these are privately owned cars whose owners can earn money (and some make it a mini-business) by listing their cars for rental through a car club, which fits them with remote tracking/locking technology, provides the admin, insurance and vetting and pays the owners a portion of each rental. You can find anything from an aged Vauxhall Corsa to an Aston Martin.
A good place to start looking for a car club is to find an accredited member of CoMoUK, the national charity for shared transport.
It runs an accreditation scheme (reviewed annually) for car and bike/e-bike share, to ensure, it says, ‘a collectively agreed set of standards is upheld across the sector to maintain the reputation that these shared transport schemes have gained as a valuable component of sustainable transport’. Accreditation deals with things like fair pricing, good availability and maximum times between full cleans and is policed by random checks. The list of accredited members is here.
Traditional car clubs
Zipcar is probably the best-known name in car sharing. It runs in London, Cambridge, Bristol and Oxford and claims to have 400,000+members in the UK alone. Via an app, users have access to over 3,000 cars and vans. Originally set up in the United States, it still operates there and in Canada, Costa Rica, Iceland, Taiwan and Turkey. You can also book a Zipcar in a foreign country.
The traditional model of car clubs used to be confined to the biggest cities, but availability is now wider. Starting as a small pilot operation in the North East with two cars in 2008, Co Wheels claims to be the UK’s largest community interest car club operator, running pay-as-you go car clubs, pool car fleet management and franchise operations in over 60 towns and cities across the UK. Remarkably, Co Wheels will rent you one of the handful of hydrogen cars in the UK. On a smaller scale, Co Cars runs over 50 electric and low emission cars in Exeter and across the Southwest.
Some big name rental companies now have car club spin-offs. The Enterprise Car Club offers cars and vans to rent from the street, and some are at Enterprise van and car branches. At the time of writing (November 2022) England, Wales and Scotland were covered stretching from St Ives in Cornwall to Thurso at the top of the Scottish mainland.
Ubqeeqo is wholly owned by the Europcar car rental company and has cars in the UK (London and Manchester), Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Like Enterprise, its cars are the latest models but from street locations only.
Hiyacar offers both car club cars (which it owns and runs) and peer-to-peer cars. In London, for any search you get a wide range of cars to choose from. It also works with RentYourParkingSpace, which offers bookable parking places from individual driveways hotels and supermarkets. It also is piloting car club cars. Only the car club part of Hiyacar is CoMoUK accredited.
To illustrate how this might work, I searched London for a petrol car for three hours the next day (Sunday, 9am-12pm). I had 50 results, from half a mile to 4.5 miles away. Of these, 29 were recent model cars with Hiyacar Car Club branding, two RentYourParkingSpace-branded car club cars and the rest were private rentals, the oldest of which was a 2011 Volkswagen Polo.
Turo was founded in the US and still operates there and in Canada. In the UK, it has hubs in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. It is not CoMoUK accredited. Turo makes a point of the variety of cars it has on its books, from city cars to sports cars. Using the same three-hour Sunday morning hire search across London brought over 200 results from a 2011 Hyundai i20 supermini to a 2019 electric Tesla Model X.
Costs to join and drive
Joining a car club demands minimal commitment and admin, but the joining cost is related to your age and driving record. Some companies will take on drivers with penalty points but they all display their conditions upfront.
There is sometimes a joining fee and then pre-paid or pay-as-you go plans. For example, Co Wheels members pay an upfront £25 joining fee or a basic Zipcar London plan has no monthly fee and rates from £8.50 an hour.
It’s hard to do a like-for-like comparison on costs but for the car clubs you can pay as little as £3.75 an hour to around £10 (depending on the size of car, time of day) or daily charges of £80 to over £100 a day. While a standard insurance excess is included, you can pay extra to bring this to zero, like traditional rentals.
A set amount of miles is included with each hire, but go over that and you pay for every extra mile travelled. For example, Ubeeqo includes 30 miles in every booking then £0.30 for every additional mile.
Enterprise Car Club electric cars are parked in electric vehicle bays with a dedicated charging post. Instead of a fuel card, they come with a charge card. You use this to unplug the charging cable from the post and in again at the end of the hire. On the move, the card works on the Chargemaster network or other operators and can be claimed back. Zipcar will charge its own cars overnight, so users don’t have to, but they don’t recommend taking them out of London.
Peer-to-peer car lending can be cheaper if you’re prepared to go for a much older or basic car. The price range for the Hiyacar three-hour search was from £15 to £29 but insurance was extra, calculated on the hirer’s record. The same search with Turo, across London, brought results as low as £20 a day (the 2011 Hyundai i20). Fuel is not included in the cost of a peer-to-peer rental.
Collecting a car club car – what’s the damage?
Some you unlock with a credit card, some with your phone and the keys are in the glovebox. A car club car or van comes with a fuel card which you can use to top up the tank if you need to. Users are encouraged to leave at least a quarter of a tank (or get fined), and you can now see on the Zipcar app whether you face having to start your time with a trip to the pumps.
Every car club vehicle will have a comments/logbook in the glovebox where users can note any damage when they arrive. You should always allow enough time to look your hire over for scrapes and dents before you start.
I joined a well-known car club mentioned here as far back as 2008. I own a car so am only a very occasional user or when I need a van to haul some furniture. From experience, I would always call up if I found a big scratch at the start of the hire (the vans often get biffed at the corners) to be sure it was on the record. The snag is, while car club cars are regularly checked over and repaired, you can’t always be sure that the damage you’re looking at wasn’t done several days ago and already logged.
Are they clean?
If you’re worried about a car where other people have been touching the inside it before you, car clubs are probably not for you. All the firms mentioned here advertise enhanced post-Covid cleaning regimes and at regular intervals, cars will be taken away and cleaned. However, that won’t be after every hire. The last user of your booked car may well have spilled crisps all over the seats and while you can report it (and the last user gets a fine) you will have to live with it for your journey, clean it yourself or forget the booking.
I briefly belonged to BMW’s now defunct DriveNow programme, where you could rent a BMW i3, 1 Series or Mini from the street. I enjoyed renting a Mini Clubman but I didn’t enjoy finding an unmentionable item in the rear footwell. I reported it, but never heard back and then the service ended completely.
Like Airbnb, people renting out their own cars have reputations built on reviews. Glancing at a couple of reviews in this search (some had no comments), the previous user leaving a mess seemed a frequent theme.
Timing: be early, not late
Allow enough time ahead of your booking to find the car and check it over. When you prepare your quote, you might find that if you put in more than a certain number of hours you switch from an hourly to a daily rate.
If that rate suits you, you can block out the car for the whole day around the time you actually want it then there are no worries about picking it up or returning it a little late, plus day rates are sometimes discounted.
It can also be wise to allow a little extra time at the end of your booking if you think you might be stuck in traffic. All car club hires carry fines for late returns. You usually have to return the car to the same dedicated parking bay you got it from, but some such as Zipcar have certain cars you can leave in different locations
Watch the mileage
For short journeys, most users will find the standard mileage allowance with a daily rate works well. However, a car club car may not be right for a long weekend away where you might end up racking up more miles if you fancy exploring or have to take a diversion. Some car clubs have a cost calculator based on mileage but a traditional rental comes with unlimited miles.
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