/ Motoring

Are car clubs cost effective?

Putting money into car money box

Hiring cars from a car club can be handy for occasional drivers, but are they really a viable alternative to owning your own car? Depending on how much you drive, you could save money – or spend a lot more…

What with fuel, tax, insurance and servicing costs to contend with, owning a car is fast becoming a luxury many of us can’t afford – myself included.

According to the RAC Cost of Motoring Index, the annual cost of owning and running a car went up by 6.3% in 2010.

So, could car clubs hold the key to car savings? New research from Which? Money suggests they might. Our study found it would cost £3,550 a year to run a car driving 3,000 miles a year. However, if you signed up to Zipcar – the cheapest car club examined – the total cost would be £2,750 – a good £800 less.

Yet, for many of us, hanging up the family car keys forever is still a proposition too far. Having your own car outside, complete with all your maps, music, and other bits and pieces is just too convenient for words.

What’s a car club?

Streetcar, one of the leading clubs, describes itself as ‘all the convenience of your own car without the cost and hassle’.

Car club cars are parked in designated bays around major cities, so if you live in one of those, you’re likely to be near a club. Another huge advantage of ditching your own motor in favour of a car club is that, with no car sitting idle outside your house, you completely wipe out the issue of depreciation.

However, they do have their downsides. Having to book in advance means you lose the spontaneity that having your own car offers. And if you drive regularly, joining a club simply won’t be cost-effective.

Do the maths first

The findings showed that driving 4,200 miles a year with Connect by Hertz – the priciest club in our scenario – would cost you £5,468. That’s £1,739 more than owning a car.

One thing that seems clear-cut is the matter of the environment. Responsible car-use charity Carplus claims that one car-club car typically replaces almost 25 private vehicles on the road, as members often give up their own car upon joining clubs.

So, if you’re considering joining a car club, make sure you do the maths first. Work out how many miles you drive a year and how much time your wheels spend sitting still. While the research shows you could save money, you may also find that joining a car club just doesn’t add up in your circumstances.


I use a car club and overall it really works for me. Not only do I not have the hassle of having to deal separately with insurance, MOT’s, paying for petrol, maintenance and additional costs that come with owning a car, but I save money by not having to pay for a parking permit. Plus, you don’t have to worry about finding a parking space at the end of the hire time as it has it’s own space! Doing the maths, for my purposes I definitely save money. It would work out more costly if I used a car everyday, but luckily I don’t need to as I have good transport links and am within walking distance of shops etc.

I tried a car club and have given up … its less convenient than having your own car AND more expensive for the level of use that I was doing (and the prices shot up (without any warning) by almost 20% a couple of months into my membership). Then there are the additional forms of stress involved … having to check the vehicle for other people’s damage each time (or being responsible for what they’ve done – in fact – as I’ve found out, you’re held responsible for their damage even if its invisible) – and then the stream of ‘threatening emails’ accusing you of leaving the car dirty and threatening a fine (they keep the cars under trees full of pigeons – and expect us to clean them on our (extra) rental time), or complaining that you left the petrol too low (I didn’t I checked) and threatening a fine, or that you returned the car 2 minutes late (and threatening to fine you). On top of that, the customer service (I’ve been using Enterprise Car Club) is not a patch on the customer service I associate with Enterprise (and one of the reasons I even thought to try this system out) – unfortunately the Car Club has convinced me that the entire company should be avoided in the future. Really disappointing experience.