Car(e)less in LA, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #9: Zipcrap

January 11th, 2009 → Leave a comment

Zipcar: wheels when you want them. Learn more.

Argh! How did Zipcar manage to ruin my Sunday?

I’ve had an hour and half to calm down (that’s how long it took me to WALK home from the Zipcar lot, when I should have been driving away from it– oh yes) but really, I managed to interact with the customer service automaton from hell.

I just got a two hour massage treatment at the Korean spa (aaahhhh….) Saturday and I managed to practically throw all the benefits of it in reverse in one really bad interaction with their customer service.

I really wanted to adore Zipcar, to love them. What a great concept. That people who didn’t drive all the time could share cars and not worry about gas, insurance, or repairs which are all included in the rental price. This could be the future of car ownership! In fact at one point I wanted to invest in some shares of Zipcar (but alas, they are not publicly traded).

What I have liked about my experience is that ZIPCAR, when their cars work it can be super convenient. I was able to make an interview at KPFK in North Hollywood last minute. I also have been able to rent their cars for a couple hours to do drop offs at a theater. It also has been a good “stand-by” option in my carless life (going on FIVE months now! Can you believe it?) so that I know if I really needed a car, I could just go grab one and not feel mentally constricted by carlessness.

But I have some beefs to share about their car-sharing service. And I hope they are reading. Because they won’t survive if they don’t improve. It’s tough love as Sharon Osbourne said to Courtenay during Rock of Love Charm School.


1. The customer accountability is often lousy. Their drivers treat their cars like shit. I often have to throw out trash left in the cars by other drivers. (Though once, another driver left .73 cents in change in the coin holder. I claimed it thank you very much.)

2. Sometimes the cars have hubcaps missing or expired tags. (Though, to their credit, if you report these kinds of things, you are not held liable.)

3. Zipcar makes sense for “driving days.” If you want to pick up your friend from Chino and bring her back to your place, with no stops in between, it’s a good value. But if you need to to go to Burbank to go watch a two hour play and then go home. It’s not worth renting the car for the two hours its parked at the theater.

4. In Los Angeles, most of the lots are around USC or UCLA. For me, this is still a 2.5 mile walk or bus ride. And if you don’t know either of those campuses to a T, I sure hope you don’t ever have to roam the bridge to nowhere (like I did today) to figure it out where your car is.

5. There aren’t enough cars available. Especially if you need to rent a car last minute or for a 24 hour period. This is especially the case on the weekends when if you want a car last minute, you may not get one. Or you may have to rent the slightly more expensive ones, which tend to be the only cars left for 24 hours on the weekend.

6. One Zipcar customer service people will humiliate, repeat unnecessary information, give erroneous directions, and effectively waste your morning.

I am on this plan where they charge me $50 in credit every month to use their service and for that I get 10% off my rentals. If I don’t use it, I lose it. I actually just cancelled that plan because I’m finding that I’m doing ok in this town without a car and the way I get about town, I can probably go without a car a couple months at a time. I also leave town so much that I won’t get a chance to use Zipcar EVERY month.

I decided to rent a car on Sunday because I had to use to the credit before it expired. But also, I wanted to do what I used to do when I had a car… have a wonderful Sunday where I go to Agape, then go to the Farmer’s market– two simple things that refresh my week. I haven’t been able to do that since my car exploded because it takes 3 hours to get to and from Agape by bus, meaning I have to choose between Agape or the Farmer’s Market.

Anyway, so the only cars left on Sunday morning to reserve were the Mini Coopers, which were more expensive. I was like, “ok, whatever, I’ll pay an extra $30 and take it, or I’ll lose this credit.” I reserve it around 5am, and because the buses run so infrequently to Westwood that early in the morning, I decide to take a morning walk (2.5 miles) to Westwood to pick up the car.

When I get to the car, I open it with my universal card, the car is filthy on the outside btw, and the key fob inside is missing. Someone had ripped it off from where it was supposed to be hanging (all the cars open with a universal key and the car keys to start the car are hanging under the steering column). Service at Agape was starting in a few minutes. I call customer service and I get this guy who initially is very accommodating. He thinks he’s doing my a favor initially to change my reservation down an hour, but I keep telling him, “I’m missing the engagement that I’m supposed to be at now, the whole reason I am renting this car… and this was the only day to use this credit.”

Unfortunately, the only other options are to get refunded for my rental, or be moved to another car. I have to push him to offer me a $25 credit for the inconvenience of having to switch cars and be late.

And he says what he says during the duration of the call, it was like he was robotically programmed in a conflict resolution class.

“And I apologize for that…”

“And I understand that…”

So basically, we resolve that he’ll move me to another car… but it’s .78 miles away (mind you, I’ve already walked 2.5 miles to Westwood) and he gives me the streets where this other car is, and I don’t recognize these streets because they are streets on the campus… or so I think… He does not offer any landmarks or street numbers, he just tells me to go SOUTH on Hilgard, when my instincts say North. But not wanting to walk .78 miles in the wrong direction, I follow his.

Anyway, long story short, we spend a good 20 minutes, if not more, with me going up and down the same four blocks. I easily walked the equivalent of a mile, with him on the phone giving me bad directions, harping on me to look for streets that don’t exist. It was so confusing, he’d tell me, “Walk towards Wilshire, and you should run into Westholme.” I’d tell him, “Look, you are giving me the wrong directions, I am pretty sure Lot 2 is somewhere on the campus, not in Westwood Village.” And he’d reply, “Go south on Hilgard to the fork in the road.”

Their customer service is in Oklahoma and they have no idea where things are. They can only read off what they see on a map. I keep insisting that it’s north, but he keeps telling me to go south (btw, my instincts were right, Lot 2 is on campus), and I’m tired, hungry, exhausted, and annoyed that I am missing Agape so that I can pick up an expensive rental that I don’t need because I am missing the event that I am supposed to go to with the car.

He puts me on hold, not to try to look up clearer directions, but to figure out how to cancel my car use and extend my credit for another time, not even telling me that this is what I’m doing and to stop walking in the wrong direction for a second. I had already explained that I was leaving town for a month from the 17th to the 17th and he gets back on the phone saying, “We can extend if for two weeks.” And I explain that I will be gone til Feb 17th, and he says, “You didn’t say that.” Then he puts me on hold, gets back on the phone and says, “I can extend it 30 days from now.” I explain, “I just told you I am going to be gone until Feb 17.” And he says, “You didn’t say that.”

At this point, I’m really tired, just want to go home and go back to bed. Its 7:30am on Sunday, and I’ve been looking for a non-existent campus parking lot SOUTH of Wilshire. I accept to take the credit extension to March 1. I did want it extended longer, since I am barely in town Feb. I tell him how upset I am that he had given me directions that were absolutely wrong insisting that they were right and how unsatisfied I was with this whole situation, that I missed the one event the car rental would have served, that I had Zipcar credit in Feb that I probably still had no use for, that I was walking up and down the same four block following bad directions, and that a lot of this was aggravated by the customer service person himself who was not listening to me.

Then he starts to repeat the bad directions he gave me, even though it wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t planning to rent the car anymore. And suddenly he has information that would have been helpful earlier. He names off nearby street number names, building landmarks… I asked, “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier? I was right, you were leading me in the wrong direction.” And he said, “I told you all this from the beginning”– in a tone that was “I told you so” and also an outright lie.

What was more aggravating is he kept repeating the lines he’d been taught to begin every sentence with…

“And I apologize for that…”

“And I understand that…”

I finally said, “You aren’t apologetic! You are trained to say that!”

Then he started to repeat the bad directions he gave me. I ended up hanging up on him. It was all so unnecessarily humiliating to be walking up and down the block like that looking for non-existent streets. I was so upset at that point I was tearing when I hung up from being talked down to. I walked home. 2.5 miles. I was able to stop at the Farmer’s Market to get a tamale.

And that’s my zipcrap story. I look forward to that not ever happening again.

Category: The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

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