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Updated on Thursday, December 20, 2018
Car subscriptions allow drivers to pay a single monthly bill that covers the entire cost of car ownership with less commitment but a greater price than buying or leasing. However, the exact price and exact amount of commitment depend on which subscription service you select. We’ll describe several of the top manufacturer offerings, pros and cons, and when a car subscription might make the most sense for you.
What is a car subscription service?
A typical car subscription service is when you pay a monthly fee to use a car without the hassles of upkeep. Car subscription services aim to be the next best thing to having your own chauffeur. Subscription services are often described as a cross between renting a car and leasing a car, so what are the differences?
Car subscription vs. car rental
- Car subscriptions are usually longer term than car rentals
- A monthlong car subscription might be cheaper than a monthlong car rental
- Car subscription services focus on new cars
Car subscription vs. car lease
- A car subscription could allow you to change out your car monthly. Car lease contracts are typically one to four years — on the same vehicle.
- You may not have to perform maintenance on car subscription vehicles like you would a leased vehicle.
- Car subscriptions are usually more expensive than car leases.
Who offers car subscription services?
Some car brands offer subscription services directly to customers. Ford, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo all offer direct subscription services in the U.S. If you’re interested in a different brand, however, you’re not out of luck. There are third-party companies that offer subscription services to multiple brands. Clutch, Drive Flow, Flex Drive, Yoyo and Carma are third-party businesses that partner with dealerships.
If you sign up for a subscription service from a car brand, then you have to stick with that brand for the duration of the service though you may be able to choose multiple models from that brand. A third-party subscription service, however, allows you the option of having multiple brands from which to choose.
Ford’s car subscription service, Canvas, allows drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to change vehicles every month. You can choose between sedans, SUVs, sports cars and luxury cars. You pay the subscription price for that vehicle as long as you use that vehicle, for one to 12 months, after which you can get a different car, keep the same model or cancel the service. Compare that with a $265 monthly payment for seven years on one car.
Cost: Canvas car prices start at $329 a month for 500 miles with subscription prices starting at $50 a month for a 12-month package. This comes to a minimum of $379/month. Want to drive more than 500 miles a month? Most people drive between 1,000 to 13,000 a month. More miles is more money.
Porsche’s subscription program, available through its Passport app, is only available in Atlanta. Members may switch out or “flip” cars as often as they’d like with the help of a concierge who delivers the new vehicle and picks up the old one. Prices include insurance and all maintenance and repairs.
Cost: Monthly membership packages are broken into two tiers: $2,000 and $3,000, depending on which car you select. Only a one-month commitment is required.
Available in Nashville and Philadelphia, every subscription includes concierge service, insurance and unlimited car “flips” and mileage. Though the company says a variety of vehicles are available, it does not list exact models until you enter your ZIP code.
Cost: Pricing is revealed after entering your ZIP code. Plans are less expensive than Porsche, but start around $1,000 a month. Using a Nashville ZIP code, the Signature plan is $1,095 a month with the Reserve plan at $1,595. Using a Philadelphia ZIP code, the Reserve plan is offered, along with a $2,995 Premier plan. The minimum commitment for Tennessee users is 32 days and 31 days for Pennsylvania.
Access by BMW
Available for now in Nashville, membership plans start at $1,000 and include maintenance and insurance and unlimited flips, but mileage is capped. Exact vehicles are revealed once you select one of three membership tiers. The minimum commitment is 30 days.
Cost: Depends on which model you select. Choose from one of three membership tiers:
Icon — $1,099/month
Legend — $1,399/month
BMW M — $2,699
Care by Volvo
This two-year program includes maintenance and insurance, but there are some caveats. You can only switch out cars after one year and mileage is capped at 15,000 per year. Upsides are wide availability, but the downside is the program is currently limited to two vehicles.
Cost: There are two plans for the Volvo S60 sedan: the Momentum subscription starts at $750/month; the Design subscription starts at $850/month. There are two plans for the Volvo XC40 SUV: the Momentum subscription starts at $700/month; the Design subscription starts at $800/month. Some plans may not be available until 2019.
Car subscription service pros
You can get a new car often
How often you can get a new car varies greatly, depending on your exact subscription service. If you sign up for Porsche’s subscription, you can get a different vehicle as often as you’d like. Some car subscription services like Canvas by Ford allow you to choose ahead of time what car you want and for how long (length of term affects the price). Other services like Care by Volvo are two-year contracts that allow you to get a new car after a year.
It can be cheaper than renting a car for a month
Compared with getting a car from a rental car service like Enterprise for a whole month, signing up for a car subscription service can be cheaper. If your current car lease is ending and you need a short-term vehicle to hold you over until your Tesla is delivered, this could be a good option.
It also might be a good option if you don’t want to drive to a vacation or work spot where you’ll stay for a couple of months, and you don’t want to either be car-less or pay a premium to rent or use Uber every time you go out.
It can be cheaper than owning multiple car models at once
If you are interested in a car subscription service for the option of changing the model of car, say, from a daily-driver, gas-friendly sedan to an SUV for a family trip or a sports car for a wedding, one subscription service with access to all of these can be cheaper than leasing or owning multiple cars. You could still have all the models at your beck and call, but you only pay for them when you’re using them.
It’s convenient — you don’t have to take care of maintenance, insurance or repairs
Most car subscription services include maintenance, insurance and a bumper-to-bumper warranty. Car breaks down? Call for roadside assistance and get a new one. If you end up keeping a car for a considerable time, the company may ask for you to stop by so they can do maintenance on it.
It’s a good way to test out a car you want to buy
If you are in the market for a car, a five-mile loop with the car salesperson riding shotgun may not be the best way to get a feel for the car. To find out whether it can fit everything you need to transport or remains comfortable after sitting in it for hours at a time, a monthlong subscription service could help you figure out whether you really want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on that vehicle.
Car subscription service cons
It’s more expensive than a purchase or lease of a car
If you are looking for a long-term car subscription service on only one vehicle, it would probably make more sense to lease or buy. Leasing is the most likely to result in the lowest car payments and purchasing is the most likely to cost you the lowest amount overall in the long term.
Another option is that you could lease or buy a car to use daily and then rent a different car for special occasions as you need it.
Car subscription services are still experimental
The service might not last as long you would like it to as car subscription services are still a new thing and companies are playing with their viability. Cadillac’s subscription service called Book only lasted about a year and is no longer available to new customers.
Many services are limited to certain big cities. For example, if you wanted a Ford subscription for an SUV at the time this was written, you have to live either in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area. The Porsche subscription service, Porsche Passport, is only available in Atlanta. And third-party services are also limited by location, usually centered around large cities.
You have less control over the type of insurance (and the deductible)
Even though car subscription services typically include insurance, you might not have the option to tailor insurance coverage.
You must qualify for the subscription service
Based on credit factors and other considerations, such as income, you have to be approved to subscribe to a car service. You may also have to be approved by the insurance company.
The bottom line
Car subscription services aren’t cheap. But they can be a smart option over renting if you need a vehicle for a month or two. And if your lifestyle just demands that you be in a new, different car every few months, this could be a feasible option for you as well.