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Is a car subscription service right for you?

Have access to different makes and models for one monthly fee

Created date

May 9th, 2018
If you’ve always dreamed of having a Porsche but can’t decide which one you like best, Porsche Passport may be the answer.

If you’ve always dreamed of having a Porsche but can’t decide which one you like best, Porsche Passport may be the answer.

Before you drive your new vehicle off the dealership lot, you have some decisions to make. First, you have to decide on the size, color, and model of your vehicle. Do you want a brand new car or a used car? And perhaps the biggest decision, will you purchase or lease the vehicle? 

Since the average American holds on to the same vehicle for about 6.5 years, these decisions matter.

For those who shudder at a long-term vehicle commitment, a new option is on the horizon. Automotive subscription services charge a set monthly fee and give consumers the option of changing the vehicle they’re driving.

Need a truck to haul some furniture? Want to drive up to your high school reunion in something flashy? With a car subscription service, you drive the vehicle that best suits your needs, whatever they happen to be on any particular day.

How it works

Having a car is an expensive endeavor. Obviously, there’s the vehicle itself, but people tend to overlook all the other expenses of having a car.

Consider the cost of maintenance and repairs. There are registration fees and taxes to be paid. There is the cost of insuring the vehicle, and what about roadside assistance?

With a subscription service, all of those costs are rolled into one monthly fee. At first glance, the fee may seem exorbitant, but when you consider all that’s included, a car subscription isn’t necessarily more expensive than buying or leasing a vehicle.

Volvo is one of many automakers offering a car subscription. Their program, called Care, costs between $600 and $700 a month. “Care by Volvo takes the guesswork out of car ownership, covering insurance, service, maintenance, and basically everything except gas,” says Anders Gustafsson, president and CEO of Volvo Car USA.

With a subscription service, you don’t actually own a vehicle. Rather, you have access to a number of different vehicles. Some of these services are offered by auto manufacturers so your choices are limited to that brand. Other services give subscribers a wide choice of auto brands.

The benefits

The most notable benefit of a car subscription is that it simplifies having a car. You don’t have to schedule maintenance, remember to pay taxes or registration fees, or purchase insurance.

You can also switch or “flip” the vehicle you drive by using a special smartphone app to manage your subscription.

“Our program is currently lifestyle based,” says Vince Iafano, director of business development for FlexWheels, a subscription service in south Florida. “We offer subscribers the ability to flip into different vehicles based on their needs for one convenient monthly payment. If they need a seven-passenger SUV for a certain occasion but then want to flip back into a sedan or sports car, then FlexWheels can provide that service.”

Like most subscription services, FlexWheels delivers the “new” car to your door and drives the “old” one back to their lot.

The drawbacks

Some car subscription services have rules of use. For example, Cadillac requires that pets be placed in carriers. Many services prohibit smoking in the vehicles, and some may charge an extra fee for additional drivers.

When you insure a vehicle you own, you can choose the deductible and the limits of coverage. With a subscription, the company has made those decisions in advance, so you may end up with more or less coverage than you are accustomed to.

There may be limits on the mileage included in the monthly fee.

It’s also worth noting that most of the vehicles in the subscription fleet are not brand new.

Some car subscription services require a long-term commitment and most charge a one-time access fee.

Car subscription services are being rolled out in test markets around the country. So far, it seems like a popular option, especially among younger drivers who have favored ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lyft instead of investing in their own vehicle.

“Since BOOK by Cadillac was first introduced, we’ve seen widespread enthusiasm and demand from consumers who are seeking ways to complement traditional methods of buying or leasing a vehicle,” says Melody Lee, BOOK by Cadillac’s global director. “BOOK by Cadillac has introduced entirely new customers to the brand and has been fully embraced by younger audiences as an innovative service that meets their ever-changing needs.”


Car subscription services

Book by Cadillac

Monthly fee: $1,800

Available in southern California, New York, and Dallas, Tex.

Care by Volvo

Monthly fee: $600–$700

Currently, Volvo offers only one model in its program but they plan to add more models soon.

Ford Canvas

Monthly fee: Starts at $429

Available in San Francisco, Calif.

Access by BMW

Monthly fee: $2,000–$3,700

Available in Nashville, Tenn.

Porsche Passport

Monthly fee: $2,000–$3,000

Available in Atlanta, Ga.

FlexWheels

Monthly fee: $1,100–$2,800

FlexWheels offers vehicles from BMW, Mercedes, Maserati, Porsche, and others.

Available in southern Florida.

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