Electric Car Sharing: Drive Before You Buy or Drive Without Buying


Before purchasing an electric vehicle, it’s a good idea to get a few hours, or better yet a few days, behind the wheel. A quick test drive at a local dealership is really not enough time to make sure the electric car that catches your eye is also a good fit for your driving patterns and lifestyle. 

Some dealerships, notably BMW, will allow you to take an extended test drive of as long a couple of days. If you’re considering buying an EV from a dealer that doesn’t offer extended test drives, you can use a car sharing program to drive a variety of electric cars. With a car sharing program you can drive for a few hours or a few days - as long as you’d like - to determine what EV will work best for you. 

In addition to trying before you buy, car sharing programs can be used instead of owning or leasing if you don’t need a car every day. ZipCar, City Car Share, and BMW DriveNow provide an inexpensive way to get most of the benefits of owning a car without the expense of car ownership. 


ZipCar is the largest car-sharing program in the nation, with vehicles available in more than 50 cities in North America and Europe. You won’t find plug-in electric vehicles in all the locations, but the Chevrolet Volt and Honda Fit EV are available in several major cities in the US including New York, San Francisco, Davis CA (Sacramento area), Chicago and Portland. Non-plug-in hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Honda Accord Hybrid and Honda Insight hybrids are also offered.

ZipCar membership begins by submitting your application through their website, choosing your desired rate plan, and waiting for approval, which usually only takes a few minutes. Rate plans vary from city to city, but monthly charges range from $0-$50, plus a driving rate of $7-$10 per hour or $65-$75 per day. The higher the monthly charge, the lower the driving rate. Each rate plan allows for up to 180 miles of driving per day after which you’ll be charged 45 cents per mile. If your sole purpose is to test drive an electric vehicle, it might be best to opt for the plan without a monthly service fee and pay the daily flat rate for a few days to thoroughly test your compatibility with the car.

Once you choose your plan and your application is approved, you’ll need a ZipCard, a personalized key card that will open any vehicle you reserve. You can choose to wait 3-7 days to receive your official ZipCard in the mail or you can pick one up at any main ZipCar office. With your ZipCard in hand, you can now reserve your vehicle online or by using the ZipCar app. After reserving a car, you pick it up at the designated ZipCar parking spot, usually a managed parking space. Once your trip is complete, you return the vehicle to the same location and your credit card is automatically charged.


City Car Share is a non-profit organization providing services in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, Daly City, El Cerrito, and Pleasanton. Their aim is to make driving greener and more affordable. They offer four plug-in electric vehicles: Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Ford Focus Electric, Scion iQ EV, and the Nissan Leaf.

Like ZipCar, City Car Share charges monthly service fees as well as hourly and mileage rates every time you reserve a vehicle. You can start with monthly plans from $10 and $20 with driving rates set at $5.75 per hour and 35 cents per mile during the day and $1-$2 per hour and 35 cents per mile if you are driving between the hours of midnight to 8am. Flat rates for a 24-hour period are set at $48 and 10 cents per mile. There is another plan with an annual fee that is designed for clients who do not need to reserve cars often. The annual plan charges higher hourly and mileage rates. City Car Share memberships are obtained through an online application.


BMW DriveNow offers a fleet of 150 ActiveE electric vehicles spread throughout the Bay Area that are available for one way or round trips. Pickup and drop-off locations include neighborhoods in the city center of San Francisco, the San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, San Jose International Airport and the Google campus. DriveNow is evaluating expanding to Seattle once the regulations for free-floating car sharing programs (with parking allotments) are approved by the City Council. 

Becoming a member of the BMW DriveNow fleet takes a few minutes and can be started with an online registration form. An in-person appearance at the DriveNow office and a one-time $39 member fee complete the process. Once you’re a member, you can use the DriveNow mobile app or website to locate and reserve the nearest DriveNow vehicle. Vehicles must be picked up within 15 minutes of the reservation and members are charged a flat $12 fee for the first 30 minutes. After that, each additional minute of driving is 32 cents and parking drops the rate to 13 cents per minute. If a car is used for a 24-hour period, the daily rate is $60. Parking and charging your EV are complimentary at any DriveNow station. Once your ride is complete, just park the car at any of the DriveNow stations; it does not have to be the same place you picked the car up. 

Each of these car sharing programs offer a great way of determining if an electric vehicle suits your lifestyle, or ongoing periodic use. With car sharing, there are no large down payments, no long-term commitments, low monthly fees and very affordable daily driving rates. Car share is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to see how driving electric fits with your lifestyle.  

Comments on this article

Electric Car Guest Drive Ad