Car subscription services are everywhere but are they a good alternative to leasing? Can car subscription services save you money?

In this day and age, people can subscribe to just about anything. Whether it be entertainment like Netflix and Hulu — or services that provide everything from dog food to meditation instruction, there’s something for just about everyone.

Car subscription services are no different from other subscription-based models, but they do come with some strings attached.

If you’re considering signing up with a car subscription service, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Questions you should ask, which we answer below, include:

Before you sign up for any lease or car subscription service, you need to do your own financial groundwork, such as:

  • You need to establish a realistic budget for yourself, since car subscription services usually cost more than a lease or purchase
  • Consider your income, outlay and savings
  • Set a cost limit for your car subscription service

Once your budget is set, work through the various car subscription services to find one that suits all your needs, including financial situation and locale. Also, be sure to read the fine print in any contract you sign; car subscription services often come with many rules and restrictions on how the vehicles can be used.

Want to learn more about the basics of car subscription services and how they can save you money?  Read on.

What are car subscription services?

Car dashboard and steering wheel

Car subscription services offer consumers access to a vehicle without having to lease or buy a car. Customers pay a recurring monthly fee for access to a variety of vehicles by an automaker, or access to a fleet of vehicles by a variety of auto manufacturers managed by a third-party vendor.

Car subscription services have evolved as an alternative to buying or leasing a car and have been around in earnest since 2014 but, in the last few years, they’ve begun to spring up everywhere.

Car subscription service fees often include things like:

  • Insurance
  • Roadside assistance
  • Maintenance

What do car subscription services cost?

Costs for car subscription services can vary widely, depending on the level of service you desire, as well as the kind of vehicles for which you have access. Car subscription services typically cost more as you gravitate toward more luxurious vehicles.

Monthly fees are non-negotiable and set in stone. There’s no haggling.

Some car subscription services have fees that vary, based on available vehicles.

Others charge a flat fee and offer access to all vehicles.

If you’re considering signing up with a car subscription service, be sure to do your homework before signing up. There’s usually an initiation or sign-up fee. And since you’re entering into a contract, there can be some penalty fees for ending the contract early.

With car subscriptions, you don’t actually own the car — just like you don’t own the car if you leased it.

With car subscription services, you aren’t bound to one specific vehicle for the life of the agreement. For example, you could drive a sedan all week and opt for an SUV for the weekend — all you’d have to cover (in addition to your monthly or per-use fee) would be the cost of fuel.

Prices for car subscription services can start from around $160 per month.

At the lower level, you’ll need to provide things like your own insurance. And, you’ll likely be partially responsible for covering any damage done while the car is in your possession.

Some of the most expensive car subscription services include Porsche’s Passport service, which can run as much as $3,000 per month.

How do car subscription services work?

Laptop with scientific diagrams

Car subscription services start working almost immediately.

Once you’ve chosen the service that’s right for you, just sign up with that particular company, put in your personal information, pay the initiation fees, and go through a driving record and credit check.

Once your credit and driving history are approved and you’ve paid your fees, you can start borrowing cars at your leisure using an app on your phone. Most companies will deliver.

Car subscription companies run your credit report to ensure that you’re able to pay for the service on a regular basis. Don’t worry about the credit check dinging your credit score, though. Most car subscription services (like CANVAS) use what is termed “soft credit checks.”

According to WalletHub, soft inquiries show:

  • Your open lines of credit
  • Your existing loans
  • Payment history
  • Outstanding balances or accounts that have been sent to collections

A creditor generally does a “soft pull” if they’re pre-screening you for an offer or if they’re doing regular account maintenance on a line of credit that you currently have open.

Soft inquiries will show up when you check your own credit report, but they don’t appear when you apply for a new line of credit or open a new account.

Car Subscription companies will also run your driving record. They’ll request a copy of your driver’s license and run it through the state DMV to verify information for various reasons, including:

  • License status and expiration date
  • Verify that your identification matches your credit card information
  • License classification and any endorsements
  • Violations and convictions, such as information on traffic tickets
  • Penalties like points, fines, suspensions and revocations
  • Collision history

If you want to learn more about what shows up on your driving record, check out this story over at DMV.org.

The car subscription service will also likely ask you to agree to allow them to regularly check your driving record and credit on an ongoing basis. They want to know that you are a safe and responsible driver and that you can continue to pay for the service before giving you a car.

Before you sign up, be sure to read all the fine print in the agreement. Each car subscription service has different rules for how you can use vehicles you borrow.

For example, many car subscription services prohibit the following:

  • Transporting pets without an approved pet carrier unless they are service animals: You’ll be responsible for any pet damage
  • Smoking in vehicles: You’ll be responsible for cleaning fees if you or a passenger smokes in your car
  • Leave smells behind: If you spill something stinky in a car, you’ll likely be responsible for a cleaning fee to get the smell out
  • Other drivers: In general, most car subscription services won’t allow other drivers to get behind the wheel of your borrowed car. Should something happen while someone else is driving, you will be held responsible.
  • Drinking or drugs: These are prohibited for obvious reasons
  • Leaving the U.S.: Most car subscription services prohibit crossing the U.S. border into Mexico or Canada

Each car subscription service is different, so be sure to read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

Additionally, you should be aware that most car-subscription services track the vehicles you are loaned. Car subscription companies obviously want to keep track of vehicles they lend out in case they are stolen, damaged, or if the consumer violates one of the rules of the contract.

Many of those rules also include mileage limitations. It’s important to know that most modern vehicles have various safety systems and navigation systems that can track location, speed, braking, acceleration, and evasive or erratic driving behaviors.

When you sign up with a car subscription service, read the fine print. Understand what sort of access you’re granting the car subscription service.

Finally, don’t expect the car insurance provided by the subscription service to be the same as your current personal insurance. The subscription fee may include a lower level of coverage. In any case, you should read the contract to understand your liability in the event of an accident.

Where are car subscription services available?

Map of US cities

Car subscription services are available in most major cities across the U.S., including:

  • Atlanta
  • Los Angeles
  • Philadelphia
  • Boston
  • Winston-Salem
  • Silicon Valley and San Francisco
  • New York City
  • Austin
  • Virginia
  • New Jersey
  • Detroit

If you live outside of a major city, you may be out of luck, so check with your chosen subscription service to see if your location is covered. It’s best to search for the name of your city and “car subscription services” to find out what services are offered in your area.

Are car subscriptions cheaper than leasing? Can car subscription services save you money?

In general, car subscription services are more expensive than leasing, and they don’t save you money. While there are a lot of things to take into consideration (credit scores, lease rates, residuals, etc.) and a lot of variation among subscription plans and leasing programs, it doesn’t make good financial sense to sign up for a car subscription service. It’s always more expensive to sign up for a car subscription service than it is to lease or buy a car.

According to Experian, the credit reporting agency, the average car lease payment for the second half of 2018 hit a record high of $431 per month. For those buying a car, the average monthly payment was $523, Experian reported.

In contrast, on average, most car subscription services cost around $1,000 or more per month. When you add in the initiation fees that run between $495 and $575, you’re looking at a pricey proposition.

While the monthly fee (in most cases) for car subscription services includes things like insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance, and access to new cars on a rotating basis, the cost is still significantly more expensive than it is to lease or buy a car.

In fact, you can get a lease on a new car for cheaper than the cost of joining a car subscription service.

Say you chose to go with the car subscription service, Access by BMW, for a cost of $1,099 per month. Cars like the BMW 330i and the X2 would be available to you. If you were to lease a BMW 330i with $4,000 down at signing, you’d pay around $400 per month.

If you wanted to lease a BMW X2, you’d pay $319 per month with $4,300 due at signing. You’d pay almost 63% and 71% more per month, respectively, for the car subscription service, than you would to lease either vehicle.

Even with insurance and maintenance coverage, you’d still save money by leasing or buying the vehicles and carrying your own insurance, rather than signing up for a car subscription service.

One additional factor to consider is that car subscription services also upsell you on additional access. For example in some subscription services, in order get unlimited mileage or to gain access to the top tier of vehicles, you have to step up to the pricier plans. Most plans also only allow you to switch vehicles a limited number of times per year.

Are car subscription services a good alternative to leasing or buying?

Neon sign that reads "Change"

In general, no. Car subscription services are not a good alternative to leasing or buying.

Given the math, a car subscription service won’t save you money over leasing or buying.

These car subscription services are aimed at people who have disposable income and want the flexibility and convenience of subscribing; there’s quite a premium that comes with that.

Some estimate that you will pay as much as 102% more per month for these services than you would if you purchased or leased a car. That kind of math doesn’t add up.   

What are the benefits of car subscription services?

The benefits of car subscription services include:

  • Convenience of a car being delivered to you or picked up at your leisure
  • Most services offer a smartphone app to manage your vehicles
  • With so many cars on the market, you can swap them more frequently than you would if you bought or leased a car
  • While there are no down payments, there are initiation fees, which range from $495 to $575.
  • No finance charges, so you don’t have to worry about interest or a credit check
  • No negotiation; the prices are already set
  • New cars all the time. Most programs promise the newest vehicles in the fleet

What are the best car subscription services?

The best car subscription services are those that cost a bit less and offer more perks. Some of the more affordable and flexible car subscription services include:

  • Care by Volvo
  • The Mercedes-Benz Collection Service
  • Book by Cadillac
  • Access by BMW
  • Fair
  • FlexDrive

By far, Care by Volvo is the most affordable option at $650 per month. That locks you into an XC40 for 12 months. Once your 12 months are up, you can swap into another Volvo. You get 15,000 miles for the year.

Mercedes-Benz offers something called the Mercedes-Benz Collection Service for $1,095 per month with an initiation fee of $495. It’s currently only available in Nashville and Philadelphia. The lowest level of access at $1,095 is currently only available in Tennessee. At this level, you get access to C300s and GLC300s. The Reserve and Premiere tiers are available in both cities but cost $1595 and $2995 per month, respectively, and get you access to things like G-Wagens and some AMG models.

Book by Cadillac costs $1,800 per month with an initiation fee of $500. You get 2,000 miles per month and can swap cars up to 18 times in one year.

Access by BMW starts at $1,099 per month. At that level, it gives you access to cars like the BMW 330 and X2. If you want access to higher level cars like the 5 series and X5, you have to step up to the $1,399 per month car subscription service. BMW offers unlimited swaps.

Fair is one of the more affordable options for car subscription services. You can get into the service for as little as $160 per month. At that level, however, you need to carry your own car insurance. The fleet includes used cars that are less than six years old and come from a variety of manufacturers.

FlexDrive also is relatively affordable and offers services in locations like Florida, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Virginia. Depending on your location, and the age of the vehicle you choose, your costs will change. Like Fair, Flexdrive also offers used or off-lease cars.

There are plenty of other services out there that could meet your needs. Before you sign up, do your research to find the right one for you.

The bottom line on car subscription services

Image of car to represent how car subscription services are expensive

Car subscription services can be a great alternative to leasing or buying a car if they fit your budget, your needs, and your location. If you do decide that a car subscription service is the right fit for you, do your research. There are a lot of hidden hitches involved in car subscription services. In general, car subscription services will be far more expensive than buying or leasing a car.

 

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Car Subscription Services are an Alternative to Leasing
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Car Subscription Services are an Alternative to Leasing
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AutoGravity answers all the important questions you should be asking about car subscription services, including what the benefits are and if they can save you money.
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AutoGravity
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Contributing writer for Autoweek magazine, Forbes, Arstechnica.com, Motor Trend, TheDrive.com, and Fortune. Abigail Bassett is an Emmy winning journalist, video content producer, and manager who has covered a wide range of events including everything from breaking news and world events to premiere launches and unveilings over the last 15 years.  Abigail spent more than 10 years as a Senior Producer at CNN in New York and she currently lives and works as a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Her clips have appeared in Autoweek Magazine, Forbes, Arstechnica, Motor Trend, TheDrive, Fortune, and a number of other top-tier outlets.

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