Car hire and car clubs How do car clubs work?

Car clubs like Zipcar, City Car Club and Greenwheels are an innovative way for drivers to cut motoring costs. And according to transport charity Carplus, the number of people in the UK with a membership to one of these car clubs is on the increase.

How do car clubs work?

Car club cars are usually parked in designated bays

Car club cars are usually parked in designated bays

Car clubs are a new way of using cars, which work like a more flexible kind of car hire. They let you use brand-new or recent models, parked in reserved spaces near where you work or live. 

Each car club offers a different choice of cars, but they usually vary from city cars to vans. Most car clubs let you book online or by phone seven days a week.

You access these shared car club cars by holding a smartcard near a sensor in the windscreen. The car’s on-board computer detects it and unlocks the doors. 

Keys are kept in the glove box and you enter a PIN to release the immobiliser and drive away.

Car club vehicles

Most car clubs' vehicles are tracked electronically to record accurate time and mileage data. This means your monthly bill from the car club is itemised like a phone bill, so you pay for only what you use.

Unlike regular car hire, you can book a car club car for as little as 30 minutes, or as long as a week or two, returning it to the same spot you picked it up from. 

In London, some car clubs use cars which are exempt from the congestion charge.

Fuel is usually included in the car club's hire costs

Fuel is usually included in the car club's hire costs

If fuel runs low, car clubs ask you to fill up using their charge card (kept in the glove box) or, for smaller clubs, keep receipts for reimbursement.

Many car clubs let you extend a booking by phone if you’re running late. However, drivers going Awol may face a fine (about £40) for late return, while the car club provides any member who’s been stood up with a taxi.

Car club insurance

The car clubs we looked at took members aged between 18 and 80 and asked for a current driver's licence that had been valid for at least a year. Prior convictions and car insurance claims could affect your eligibility for car club membership.

Many car clubs offer comprehensive insurance but you’ll still have to pay the excess (the first part of the claim – around £100) for damage if you have an accident. 

Third-party insurance should always be included. Ask about exclusions, such as theft of your possessions from the car or personal injury.

Remember you may already be covered for personal injury or theft by other policies held in your name – for example, your house insurance – so check with your insurer.

easyCar Club - a new kind of car club

The easyCar Club is an online community that lets you make money from your car by renting it out to other drivers when you are not using it. The idea is that car owners benefit from a little extra income, while those renting cars get lower rental rates than traditional car rental.

Some owners earn in excess of £3,500 per car per year, and the claimed average return for owners is around £1,800 per year. Car owners can register for free through the easyCar Club website and are covered with comprehensive insurance and a protected no claims discount. Free RAC roadside assistance and recovery is included,too.

The sign-up process for owners confirms the car’s roadworthiness, then owners can set out their car’s availability. Once bookings come in, owners can either meet the driver in person or drop off the keys in a secure safe for hirers to collect.

To be allowed to hire a car, drivers must have held a driving licence for at least a year and have no more than six points – or any non-motoring convictions. To ensure security for both parties, easyCar Club checks all hirers and inspects all rental cars.

More on this...

Other sections in this guide

  1. Overview
  2. How do car clubs work?
  3. City car clubs
  4. Car club prices
  5. Car club pros and cons