Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Using Zipcar!

After my truck was donated, I went on-line to sign up with Zipcar. I was directed to a certain page for those who had donated their cars. I filled out the pertinent information needed and submitted my application. A few days later, my Zipcar membership card arrived in the mail. (I did have the option of going to pick up my card in person at the Zipcar office in D.C., but their office closes before I get off work). Besides, being that it was the middle of the week, I didn't really need a car yet.

Saturday morning came, and I was looking forward to going online to reserve and use a Zipcar! You can also reserve one by phone, but it was just as easy to do it online. You log on, state your location, and it finds the nearest Zipcars available. The closest possible Zipcars are located about 7 miles from my house. Not great, but not bad. Ideally, it'd be nice if one was located a mile or two from my house... Zipcar is merging with Flexcar in January, and it will add about 300-400 cars to their maybe they will have some cars closer to my house.

They have a lot of Zipcars located at the various Metro subway stations, which is very handy. Still, you need to GET to the Zipcar in the first place. My thought was that since I have bicycles, including a folding bicycle, I would bike to the nearest Zipcar, put my bike in the car, and take off. It adds some time to bike to the Zipcar, but, that's one of those things that would be planned ahead of time. If I get a Zipcar in D.C., they are within walking distance and easily accessible.

So, this first time that I went online to reserve a car, the closer cars were already reserved for the timeframe I was looking at (12-3 p.m.). I decided to reserve a car that was in Shirlington, that was parked on a street. My friend Melinda was going to come with me, driving us to Shirlington, where she would park her car in the garage, and we would walk across the street to the Zipcar. We had an errand to run to the stained glass store located in Kensington, Maryland, about 45 min. away. She was a bit curious to see how this whole Zipcar thing worked, as I was. I offered to treat her to lunch afterwards, for the ride to Shirlington. :)

The car shown was a Scion. The Zipcar website tells you exactly where it is parked, how far that is from your house, and how to get there. It doesn't tell you the color of the car, but it does show a picture of the car, so you know what you're looking for.

We arrived, and saw the Scion parked where it was supposed to be. The car has the green Zipcar logo on the side of the car, like pictured above. There's a parking sign next to the Zipcar, saying for Zipcar parking only - all others would be towed. So it's like a reserved parking spot, just for you. :) To get into the car, you hold your Zipcar card over a transponder that is on the inside of the windshield on the driver's side. Momentarily, it unlocks the car doors. :) Once inside, the car key, unbelievably, is hanging from a zip chain mounted next to the ignition. Right there in full view. What would stop a thief from smashing a window and taking the car?? Well, maybe the car has a security system, or requires the membership card to activate it to start the car, I don't know. I don't need to know that because I'm a "Zipster" - as I'm called on the Zipcar website. :)

The Scion was practically new. It had 3400 miles on it. It was clean and smoke-free. You're not allowed to smoke in the cars, which is nice, so you don't have to put up with that smell. The Scion had a CD player and even an iPod hook-up. :) Not that I have an iPod, but it's nice if you do. I could always bring CDs to listen to. Most of the time, the radio does just fine for me.

With Zipcar, you're given 180 free driving miles. After that, there is a mileage fee. But for my purposes, 180 miles is a good amount to cover what I need to get least for now. The Zipcar gas card is located in the driver's visor. There was a half tank of gas, and they only require you to put gas in the car if it gets to one-fourth. You can use the gas card at any gas station - after inserting your ID number, it authorizes you to pump gas. If the gas station doesn't accept the card, you just go ahead and put gas in and pay cash or credit, and then Zipcar will reimburse you after you fax in a receipt. So, either way, it's covered.

So, we ran our errand to Kensington. The Scion rode nicely - it reminded me of a VW Jetta inside. We could have had lunch near the store we went to, but I decided to head back to return the car -- I wasn't sure if I would run into a traffic jam on the way (which can happen at any time), and there were plenty places to eat in Shirlington. Though I had reserved the car for 3 hours, I knew at least 2 hours would be taken up with running the errand. So I had an hour to spare, if need be. I could have run some other errands along the way, but didn't really need anything else, and we needed to get back home sooner than later, to take care of things at home. So we went ahead and returned the Zipcar, parking it in its parking spot, and when you get out, you hold your card over the transponder, and it locks the car doors. You're done.

If it turns out that you need the car for a longer period of time, you can call Zipcar and they can extend your reservation time. However, you can't shorten a reservation time once you're on the clock, so you don't get credit for unused time. So, it's good if you can have a clear estimate of how long you'll need the car. So, I got charged for 3 hrs., even though I only used it 2. Not a problem, since I have the $500 in my account to cover usage. :) The next day, you can check your Zipcar online account, and it tells you what you've used so far.

So, my first Zipcar experience was a good one, and I can see that it will work out good for me. :)

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