The rise of ridesharing and car sharing has greatly expanded the options available to urbanites who find car ownership to be costly and cumbersome.
Ridesharing and car sharing are like two sides of the same coin, as both make it possible for you to use your car less – or even ditch it altogether. Ridesharing is similar to using a taxi but more flexible. You log into an app and hail a nearby driver, who picks you up in his or her own vehicle and drives you to your destination. Carsharing is more like renting a car: You reserve (or, in Car2Go’s case, find) a vehicle and drive it yourself, paying for the time you use.
Car2Go, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz’s parent company Daimler AG, is one such company. It got its start in Ulm, Germany, in the late 2000s, and made its way to North America in 2011, first appearing in Austin, Texas. Its blue and white Smart fortwo vehicles – two-seater cars that carry one driver, one passenger, and a small amount of cargo – now ply the streets of more than two dozen American, European, and Canadian cities, with fleets ranging in size from 150 in Los Angeles to 1,200 in Berlin. Once you’re a member, you can drive any vehicle in your home country. Just search for nearby cars2go in the app, unlock the nearest vehicle you find, start your trip on the handy touchscreen, and off you go.
If you don’t own a car, Car2Go is great for zipping across town in a hurry, shopping for groceries without dragging them home on the bus, and easily reaching parts of your city that aren’t well-served by public transportation. It competes mainly with local car-sharing nonprofits, Massachusetts-based car-sharing firm Zipcar, traditional rental car companies, and ridesharing services. But its business model is unique, focusing on fast, often one-way trips that don’t require lots of hauling.
Cost of Membership & Driving
Car2Go’s membership structure is relatively straightforward. There are no membership tiers: You simply pay by the minute, hour, or day, depending on how long you drive. In the U.S., per-minute fees range from about 35 cents to 45 cents, hourly fees from $12 to $15, and daily fees from $60 to $90, depending on the city. The first 150 miles are free, with each subsequent mile charged at 45 cents in all U.S. locations. Since Car2Gos come in only one flavor – the tiny Smart fortwo, which gets at least 40 mpg in normal driving conditions – you can’t pay more to get a fancier or larger car.
Car2Go carries insurance on all of its vehicles at no charge to you. car2g0 carries bodily injury liability insurance of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident, as well as $50,000 in physical damage per accident. The policy’s deductible is $1,000, so you’re responsible for damages up to that amount.
You don’t have to pay for fuel – every Car2Go has a prepaid fuel card inside – or parking between trips. But if you temporarily park in a metered space while on an active trip, it’s your responsibility to pay for it.
How It Works
When you sign up for Car2Go, you need to provide a valid driver’s license for a motor vehicle record check, which can take a week or two. You can’t have any serious driving offenses (such as DUIs and reckless driving charges) within the past 36 months. You also can’t have any convictions for motor vehicle theft, operating a stolen vehicle, or using a vehicle to commit a crime within the past 36 months. Accumulated minor offenses (such as speeding) might disqualify you as well. If approved, you get a member card that can unlock any vehicle in any city with Car2Go in your home country. Before your first ride, you need to provide a valid credit card for Car2Go’s files.
To use the service, just walk up to any parked Car2Go and swipe your membership card in front of the reader on its windshield. This unlocks the car and starts the meter running on your trip. To get on the road, enter your personal PIN on the touchscreen, answer the questions about the car’s condition, and start the engine using the keys you find in the special holder between the driver and passenger seat. During your trip, you can stop and get out of the car without officially ending the session – just lock the vehicle and take your keys. (If you don’t lock the car, you could be charged a $100 unlocked car fee.)
You can drive the car anywhere, but you must end your trip within its home zone. In each city served by Car2Go, the home zone is typically the municipal boundary of the city itself, though you should check your local Car2Go website to be sure. Within the home zone, you must park in an approved space, which is typically any street parking space that isn’t limited to 2 hours or less or marked for deliveries, handicapped parking, and other special uses. However, you need to check your city’s parking rules on Car2Go’s website to make sure. (In some cities, Car2Go rents designated parking spaces that can only be used by cars2go. These are located either on the street or in parking lots. The touchscreen navigation feature can help you locate them.)
Next, you put the keys in the in-cabin holder, answer a couple exit questions on the touchscreen, and swipe your membership card on the windshield reader again to officially end the trip. Car2Go automatically bills your stored credit card for the trip’s time and mileage, if applicable.
If something goes wrong on your trip, you may have to pay additional fees. Examples include $400 for lost keys, $100 for causing a dead battery (for instance, if you leave the car’s flashers on after ending your trip), and $150 plus towing charges if the car is towed away due to your negligence.
- Membership Card. Without your membership card, you can’t access Car2Go vehicles. The card unlocks every Car2Go in your home country and controls the meter on your trips. If you lose it, you need to deactivate it immediately on Car2Go’s website.
- Car-Finding App. You don’t need to use the Car2Go app to drive company vehicles, but it makes finding them easier. When you find a Car2Go through the app, you can reserve it up to 30 minutes in advance of your trip. Download the program for free at Car2Go’s website. (You can also find city-specific parking restrictions on the app.)
- Touchscreen. You use the in-cabin touchscreen to answer the pre- and post-trip questions about cleanliness, take advantage of the car’s built-in navigation system, and find designated parking spaces.
- Fuel Card. Every Car2Go has a prepaid fuel card in the cabin. If the tank drops below 25% full during your trip, use it to fuel up. You get 20 minutes of free driving time for the inconvenience.
- Co-drivers. You can add co-drivers to your Car2Go account, using your credit card to pay for their trips at the same price as a regular driver. This is a good option for parents with driving-age kids. Co-drivers still need to pass the motor vehicle record check and get their own member card.
- Service Center. Car2Go operates 24-hour service centers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The employees there can put you in touch with towing companies, auto repair shops, emergency services, and Car2Go’s insurance provider. To get in touch, push the SOS button in your car’s cabin, or call the appropriate country-specific phone number.
- Business Memberships. Car2Go offers multi-user memberships for businesses. In addition to an unlimited number of participating drivers, each business account has three roles: Company Administrator (account owner), Driving Manager, and Accountant. The Driving Manager can create or delete members from the account, while the Accountant handles all billing and payment. The Administrator can veto decisions and flag inappropriate trips. This feature is useful for companies whose employees don’t drive frequently enough to warrant buying, leasing, or renting company cars.
1. You Don’t Have to Rely on Another Driver
Car2Go gives you the freedom to get in a car and drive. You don’t have to wait for another driver (as you would with a taxi or rideshare service) to arrive at your location. And if the idea of getting a ride from someone you don’t know makes you uncomfortable, Car2Go makes it so you don’t have to. Even with their driver background checks and rating system, ridesharing services have come under fire for putting passengers in compromising, even dangerous situations. In 2014, a New York-based Daily Beast reporter wrote about being stalked by an Uber driver, and an Uber driver in L.A. was arrested for kidnapping a woman for several hours.
2. You Can Park Anywhere Within the Home Zone
As long as you follow your city-specific parking restrictions, you can park your Car2Go in any legal spot within your home zone. You don’t have to return to a specific parking space, as you do with Zipcar and many neighborhood-based, nonprofit car-sharing options.
3. Cheaper Than a Car Rental for Urban Vacations/Business Trips
If you’re traveling to a city that has Car2Go and a solid public transportation system, Car2Go may make it unnecessary to use a traditional rental car. If you can take public transit from the airport to your hotel, walk or ride transit for nearby trips, and use Car2Go for any longer or out-of-the-way trips, you could significantly cut your transportation expenses, particularly in a congested city where you could burn lots of fuel and pay for overnight parking.
4. Car2Go Doesn’t Operate in Conflict With Local Codes
If Car2Go advertises its presence in a city, you can be confident that it’s allowed to be there. There has been little controversy over the legality of Car2Go’s business model or the sufficiency of the regulations that it’s subject to, so you won’t be arrested or ticketed for using the service.
By contrast, ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft often clash with local taxi companies and municipal governments over whether they should be required to abide by local taxi regulations. This has led some taxi-friendly locales to severely restrict their activities or ban them altogether. Despite such restrictions, Uber and Lyft may continue to operate in these areas, exposing their drivers to the threat of arrest. It sounds like a remote possibility, but you really don’t want to be left standing on the side of the road as your Uber driver is booked and his or her car impounded.
5. No Monthly Commitment or Membership Plan
With Car2Go, you only pay for the time you spend in the car, and by the mile for very long trips. You don’t have to sign up for a monthly membership plan or commit to a certain amount of driving. If you only need to drive once or twice per month, you won’t be penalized. Other car-sharing companies aren’t so flexible: Zipcar requires a monthly commitment of anywhere from $50 to $250 in driving time, depending on your plan. Membership plans at Colorado’s eGo CarShare, a nonprofit, cost $12 or $35 per month plus driving costs.
1. All Vehicles Are the Same (and Small)
Car2Go’s entire fleet consists of one of the tiniest, most underpowered street-legal vehicles in the Western world: the Smart fortwo. That’s great news if you care about the environment, don’t need to transport multiple passengers, and don’t need to make a Home Depot run in your Car2Go. But it limits Car2Go’s versatility. If you need lots of cargo or passenger space, Zipcar’s vehicles are more varied, ranging from compact hybrids like the Prius C to crossover SUVs, such as the Ford Escape. And many car rental firms, such as Hertz and Avis, let you rent full-size SUVs and minivans.
2. Not a Good Designated Driver/Safe Ride Option
Car2Go isn’t an ideal transportation option when intoxicants are involved in any way. Obviously, drivers are subject to the same legal restrictions on intoxicated driving as anyone else. And since the Smart fortwo only has room for one driver and one passenger, it’s not possible for a designated driver to transport a group of revelers home safely in one. With ridesharing options such as Uber and Lyft, as well as with traditional taxis, you get the security of a sober driver and the capacity of four-, six-, or even eight-person vehicles.
3. More Expensive Than Other Car Sharing Options for Longer Trips
Car2Go’s hourly rate range of $12 to $15 is higher than that of some competitors, including Zipcar ($7 to $10 per hour). Its daily rates are a bit higher as as well. Since Zipcar doesn’t charge by the minute, the only way Car2Go is cheaper is on trips shorter than half an hour.
4. May Not Be Available When You Need It
Since Car2Go members don’t have to return to a specific spot after their trip, you’re not guaranteed to find a vehicle within walking distance of your location, particularly in residential neighborhoods that aren’t centrally located. Ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber don’t have this problem, as you can always hail a driver to any location within the coverage area.
5. Not as Much Coverage as Other Options
Car2Go is currently available in about a dozen U.S. cities, a dozen European cities, and a handful of Canadian cities. Since 2010, the company has been expanding at the rate of three or four cities per year – not exactly breakneck growth. And there are glaring omissions: Of the 10 largest cities in the U.S., only Los Angeles and San Diego have coverage, and coverage in L.A. is limited to a few dozen square miles in the South Bay area. So if you travel frequently, you’re almost certain to visit a city where it’s not available.
If you’re feeling the financial weight of your car loan, insurance premiums, and fuel costs, maybe it’s time to do something about it. In cities with other transportation options, such as the bus, subway, light rail, and bike lanes, Car2Go offers a viable alternative to traditional car ownership. Without any fees for responsible use, beyond the per minute charge and the mileage surcharge for long-distance trips, Car2Go can save a good deal of money for occasional drivers who ditch their cars for good. And if it’s not yet available in your city, don’t despair – Car2Go continues to grow.
Even by car-sharing standards, Car2Go is a flexible resource that facilitates on-demand, point-to-point vehicle travel. It works in any participating city in your home country, so it’s great for urban vacations too. But you need to drive yourself, so it’s not good if you don’t have a valid driver’s license, need to get home after an evening of revelry, or just don’t like driving.
3.9 out of 5 stars: Car2Go is a flexible, pay-as-you-go option that’s completely self-serve. It would rate even higher if not for availability in relatively few cities, potential lack of availability due to high demand, cost for short trips, and nonexistent vehicle variety.
Have you had any experiences with Car2Go? Would you recommend it to others?