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Car subscriptions while you wait for a new car

Need a set of wheels to fill the gap while you wait for your new car to arrive? We discuss how a subscription service could fit the bill

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It’s become a familiar story; you’ve ordered a new car but been told it won’t arrive for up to a year.

If your new car purchase isn’t dependent on your part exchanging your old one, why not sell it via a car buying service and try a car subscription while you wait for delivery? Or, as many subscriptions include insurance you could subscribe from the renewal date.

What is a car subscription?

A car subscription is halfway between a lease and long-term car rental. You can have a car from as little as a month to as long as three years, with the ability to get exactly the car you want, change it when you like – subject to conditions – and can have insurance included. Unlike a lease there is no major charge (such as nine months’ advance payment) to start but the monthly charges are higher than a fixed-term lease. There are short-term leases offered – between three and 12 months – but the choice of car may be limited.

Some rental companies offer long-term rental but if you choose a subscription for a specific car, that’s the one you’ll get, not one of the same size which happens to be available on the day because it suits the renter. Subscriptions promise freedom of choice, no commitment, and no unexpected bills at less than the overall cost of a PCP payment as there’s usually only a small deposit (one month or less). While you wait for your new car you could even have a bit of fun, with a convertible for the summer or a short spell in a prestige car.

Subscription car checklist

Here are a few pointers to work out what subscription might be right for you, whether you are waiting for a new car or in general. Before you need to speak to someone, look at the FAQ sections of the providers’ websites.

What’s the availability?

Some providers boast of being able to supply a car the same day. This will be from stock and could be a used car – which shouldn’t deter you – but if you want a specific car, new at the start of your subscription, it could be held up in the semiconductor crisis in the same way as buying one. A look at Care by Volvo in March 2022 showed four weeks for a petrol Volvo, but up to seven months for a new electric model. However, as all other subscription providers do, Volvo allows you to filter by delivery times or see what’s in stock for fast delivery (four weeks in this case).

New or used?

How flexible are you on brand or size? Could you make do with smaller or used? Keep on browsing.

Generally speaking, most subscription cars are described as new even though they have been registered (perhaps with the last recent registration number) but will have covered minimal mileage. There are often a lot of the same type of car with minimal miles. Why? Because manufacturers use companies to pre-register sales, and the cars are then returned to them for sale as approved used cars.

If offered, having a used subscription car can be a way of getting something sportier for the same amount of money as a new car. For example (March 2022) our partner Cazoo was offering a 2018 Mini Cooper S with 28,000 miles for £459 for 12 months, the same price as a new Hyundai Kona SUV. There’s little risk involved in settling for a used car. They might have the odd paint chip but will have undergone the same checks as new cars and will get the same subscription support package.

If you like the idea of an electric car one day, or an electric second car and want to see if you could live with one, there are specialist firms offering electric-only subscriptions.

How long do you want it for?

Depending on the provider, a car subscription can be as little as 28 days before you can give it back or swap for another car. However, that’s the most expensive way of doing things. The monthly price gets lower the longer you sign up for, so do a search for your maximum delivery date for your new car. Check if it’s a true calendar month or 28 days, which can add cost over a year.

While a short contract is always the most expensive, it is the most flexible if you are waiting on a new car to arrive. As new car delivery dates can move at the last minute, you may want to start with a minimal (one or three months) contract. They then automatically become monthly rolling contracts after the initial term has passed. You may not get a refund of a part-used month and watch out for early termination fees.

Minimum age and who is insured

The headline website monthly figure is unlikely to be the one you’ll pay because if it’s included the insurance will be tailored to you. All car subscribers are subject to a minimum age band, driving record and credit checks (although there are some short-term leases available for a poor credit rating). Over 18 is logical but moving into high value/prestige names Jaguar Land Rover’s Pivotal is open to all drivers who are 28 years of age or above and can prove no insurance claims for a minimum of two years. Most subscriptions include more than one driver but do check. Generally, taking the car abroad is possible, but again check before signing up if this will be important.

Get your mileage right

Most monthly subscriptions include a monthly mileage allowance, such as 1,000 miles a month. If you’re likely to regularly go over this, it’s better to pay more for a higher mileage upfront. Electric car mileage allowances can be lower, as generally users do not cover large distances.

Ending a contract

Once an agreed subscription period ends, the contract rolls on monthly until you cancel. Some providers apply an early cancellation charge if you leave before the minimum term is up. There may be a charge for collection and you need to treat it the same way as returning a rental or lease car as there will be charges for damage beyond wear and tear. Make sure it’s clean and you have taken photos of any minor damage such as parking scuffs on the bumper or scraped wheels in case this becomes an issue later.

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Russell Hayes
Russell Hayeshttps://amzn.to/3dga7y8
Russell Hayes’ early career was 14 years of motoring journalism in print, television and online. He worked for What Car? and Complete Car magazines, the BBC's original Top Gear programme and Channel 4's Driven. Since 2007 he has written motoring history books on subjects including Lotus, TVR, the Earls Court Motor Show, the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Beetle and Bus and the original Aston Martin V8. Now a full-time author, two more books are in the pipeline for 2023 and 2024.