My 2002 Prius can't be beat for everyday driving. I regularly get 40-45 mpg, saving me hundreds of dollars every year on gas. It's got a lot of pep, so highway driving is a snap. And its terrific turning radius and compact size make it a dream to park, whether at the mall or on a city street.
But given its compact size (it seats four comfortably, five only if the person in the middle back seat has short legs), it's not the vehicle you'd willingly use to pick up your daughter — and all her stuff — from college, the challenge I faced recently.
Fortunately, I'm a member of ZipCar, the car company that lets you rent vehicles by the hour or the day. ZipCar, whose motto is "Wheels When You Want Them," is gaining in popularity because it makes using a car so cheap compared to owning one. According to the company's calculations, owning a car like a Ford Fusion can cost you almost $800 a month, once you figure in parking, insurance, vehicle registration, gas, maintenance, new tires, and other related expenses. Even if you drive a lot (though not every single day), you could be paying as little as $322 a month using a Zip Car. You can join for $50 a year
Using my zippy membership, I was able to rent a Honda Element for the 7 hours I needed to retrieve my daughter from school. I simply reserved my car a day in advance, walked two blocks in my neighborhood, and found the car clean and ready to go. I swiped my membership card over a scanner embedded into the windshield. The car doors unlocked, and I found the key in the ignition. Off I went, easy as pie, for a little more than $11/hr.
I chose the Honda Element over a wide range of other options because it offered the most room for the greatest amount of gas mileage. I drove 242 miles on about a tank of gas, for an average fuel economy of around 22 mpg – not quite as good as the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV (which wasn't an option, either at ZipCar or at any of the conventional car rental companies I checked), but better than most conventional SUVs. I filled the gas tank up using the gas card in the glove compartment, so it didn't cost me anything.
Interested? If you live here or go to school here, you can rent a ZipCar. If your city's not on the list, send the company an e-mail and let them know you'd like to Zip. They're opening new locations all the time – maybe you can get them to consider your neighborhood. You can also search "car share" on the Internet to see similar options other companies may be offering in your community.