The greater the number of rental car locations, the more likely one will be convenient to where you need to pick up and drop off the vehicle. Consumers rent vehicles at airport locations for vacation travel and at non-airport locations for non-airline leisure travel, to temporarily take the place of one’s primary vehicle when it’s in the shop for maintenance and repairs or to fix insured collision damage, and periodic personal travel needs by non car owners. Hassle-free pickup and drop-off also make for smooth renting.
Hertz won hands down with 790 U.S. airport locations, compared with just 32 for Zipcar. It also has 2,785 non-airport locations, compared with Zipcar's 1,237, which is our estimate, by our count of Zipcar neighborhoods on their online maps. Zipcar locations are different than traditional Hertz locations. There are no buildings, counter agents, or parking lots with Zipcar; rather, Zipcars are parked in designated two-car parking spaces that the company calls “pods,” which may be scattered over several locations in the same neighborhood. The Zipcar that we rented, for example, was based at a public parking lot of the Bay Area Rapid Transit in Berkeley, Calif. We count multiple pods in a neighborhood as one location.
Both services were equally convenient to the home of our San Francisco-area expert reviewer when he rented vehicles from each. When it came to the pickup process, Zipcar had a slight edge, with its clever use of a transponder membership card which, when placed over an electronic reader behind the upper driver’s side windshield, unlocks the car so you can get the keys, which are inside the vehicle. (See photo above.) Very easy. That also eliminates the need for a counter agent to hand you keys or register your pickup; you book the rental online. But the car had to be thoroughly examined and photographed inside out and all around with a cell phone camera, and when I found a scratch, I had to email a photo of it to Zipcar. Drop-off involved photographing the car all around again, leaving the keys inside, locking the vehicle with the Zipcard transponder, and walking away.
Hertz is slightly less convenient, because you must present your driver’s license and credit card, sign forms, be pestered to buy the costly loss-damage waiver, and maybe wait in line to be served. The car also had to be thoroughly examined and photographed inside out and all around, but when numerous scratches and dents were found, the agent marked them on a paper form. The keys were handed to me and I drove off. Drop-off involved photographing the car all around, returning the keys, and walking away.