Do something different

Toy car and keysNow no one would call me a natural driver – it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered fifth gear and even then I wasn’t sure what to do with it. But apart from the odd, and ALWAYS unjustified parking ticket, my licence is squeaky clean. So ever since our lovely Zafira started playing up I’ve been umming and ahhing about joining a car club. Our neighbours rave about it, but then they are the organised types who tend to know what they are doing from day to day, not panickers like us, for whom, for example, the need to drop Ella off in Manchester in two days’ time comes as a complete surprise.

So with several backpacks, a glass cakestand and a new chocolate fountain to transport 200 miles up the M1 and no car on the horizon, I bit the bullet and joined Zipcar. I half imagined I would have to pass an interview, or at least some kind of technical test before they let me behind the wheel, but no, their website promised that if I wanted to I could pick up a car three streets away and drive it away within the hour. Now there’s a word for that sort of malarkey and it didn’t sound like the kind of club I wanted to join, but I held my nerve and jumped in.

I picked up the phone and a lovely man called Adam talked me through it, explaining it would cost me x a year to join then x an hour to rent the car with 40 free miles then 25p a mile in petrol after that. That covered basic insurance, but he pointed out that if I did prang anything the excess could be as much as £1,000 so he advised me to take up the £14 a month extra insurance, which I thought was wise if a little sneaky (they keep that bit quiet on the blurb).

Once I’d agreed to sign up all I had to do was dig out my driving licence then Adam rang the DVLA and we had a three way conference call (my first) to establish that I was indeed licensed to drive and then I was free to collect my car. But how do I unlock it? I asked. Easy, said Adam you just download our app on to your phone and away you go. “Ri-ight” I said, summoning Katy to show me how to download an App.

So there I was at 8am on a rainy January morning standing outside what appeared to be a completely random blue VW Golf tapping a password into my phone then pointing it at the car like a TV remote and feeling akin to a cross between James Bond and a complete nana. “Click” the doors unlocked and I was in. Now I felt like a cross between James Bond and the world’s oldest joyrider.

I fumbled in the glove compartment and there was the key – it took me a while to realise I had to click it open until it fit the lock and then I had another panic when I realised the car didn’t have a handbrake. Luckily there was no one parked either in front or behind me because reversing took a few attempts…

Then there was the challenge of filling up with petrol, sorry diesel – again almost another expensive mistake –  but you pay by remote magic so I decided to get that over with straight away and popped into our local garage where I knew Andrew, the owner, would talk me through any glitches. Sure enough, I needed to borrow one of his mechanics to show me how to open the petrol tank.

Then suddenly, we were off! We had a full car, a full tank of diesel and were on our way to Manchester with a boot full of Christmas goodies. Apart from a few minor hiccups – like having to phone Zipcar to ask them how to lock it up at the end of our trip – all went smoothly.  It was straightforward, easy, and convenient – but how did it stack up economically?

Car clubs – how the costs stack up:

Initial outlay: £59.50 a year

Insurance: nothing or £14 a month if you don’t want to pay any excess

Running costs: £5 an hour or £49 a day

Petrol: First 40 miles free, 25p a mile thereafter

Cost of a trip to Manchester for two people

By train:

Single student £51.90 and return adult with rail card £78.90. Total = £130.80 plus approx. £4 in tube/bus fares (though we’d only be able to take what we could carry)

By Zipcar:

Proportion of initial outlay (assuming two trips a month): approx. £6

A full day’s hire: £49

Extra petrol: 400 miles round trip so after the initial free 40 miles I paid 25p a mile for 360 miles = £90 in petrol

Availability: London, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and Maidstone from

Conclusion? In financial terms there’s not much in it – but for freedom and lack of hassle I think I’ll stick with car club – watch this space.

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