How Do Car Subscription Services Work?

Learn More About This Alternative to Leasing

Portrait of two women with long blond and brown curly hair sitting in car, wearing sunglasses, smiling.
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Traditionally, if you want to drive a vehicle and do not want to borrow one from a friend, the only available options are to buy a new vehicle, buy a used vehicle, lease a vehicle, or rent a car. Buying a car is expensive, and you will need to shop for car insurance on top of that. Leasing is a more convenient option, but you will be committed to concrete terms: how long you will have use of the vehicle, how many miles you can drive it per year, and what sort of insurance you’ll have are all dictated by the lease without much room for flexibility.

Now, there is an alternative option on the market –– car subscription services. A car subscription fee is a monthly subscription that grants you access to a range of vehicles for a flat fee. Compared to a traditional lease, most car subscription services have much more flexibility. You have more choices as to the make and model of your vehicle and can often swap it out for a different one if you grow tired of it. You will also have more flexibility over how long you will need the vehicle, from a few days to a year.

Car subscription services are still pretty new, so most are still focused on a small regional area and are run by car manufacturers. Some car subscription services offer more flexibility than others –– many are simply a customized lease option and will seem familiar to anyone who has leased a vehicle before.

What Do Car Subscription Services Include?

Your monthly fee covers not only the use of your vehicle but also insurance, maintenance costs (precisely what will vary by plan), and often roadside assistance. You will be on the hook for fuel.

Pros and Cons of a Car Subscription Service

What We Like

  • No long term-commitment to vehicle.

  • Vehicle insurance and maintenance costs are covered.

  • Depending on the service, you maybe able to swap out your set of wheels for a new one for a relatively small fee, even on short notice.

What We Don't Like

  • More expensive than monthly payments on a comparable used vehicle.

  • Not as many options for vehicles to choose from as there would it be while buying, leasing or renting.

  • Most plans are pretty inflexible with your mileage limit; you'll be charge steep fees if you exceed allotment.

The Pros
The most significant benefit of a car subscription service is that you can drive around a vehicle of your choosing without having to commit to it long-term. You will also get the peace of mind that comes with knowing your vehicle is insured and that maintenance costs will be taken care of. Many car subscription services let you swap out your set of wheels for a new one with little notice and for a relatively small fee.

The Cons
Compared to a monthly payment on a comparable used vehicle, car subscription services are more expensive — but that is because they include insurance and often special treatment. Because they are mostly run by car manufacturers, you will not get to choose from as many options as you would be able to if you were buying, leasing, or renting a vehicle — you are stuck with what the manufacturer wants to get out onto the market. Most plans are also pretty inflexible with your mileage limit, and you’ll be charged steep fees if you go over your allotment. 

What Car Subscription Services Are Available in the U.S.?

Currently, the only car subscription service available nationwide is Care by Volvo, and it is a traditional lease plan. You can build your own S60 sedan or an XC40 SUV and commit to it for 24 months at a time, but you can try a new set of wheels after one year of use. The monthly rate, between $700 and $850, includes both premium insurance and wear and tear coverage, and you are allowed to drive up to 15,000 miles per year.

There are many smaller subscription services in operation, but most are centralized in a small geographic area and are not available nationwide. Access by BMW is a true subscription service — you can choose a vehicle through their app and it will be delivered to you with a full tank of gas. There is a one-time activation fee, but no month-to-month commitment, and you can cancel at any time. It’s currently only available in Nashville, TN.

Audi Select, located in Dallas/Fort-Worth, is a bit pricier: $1,395 per month for three months. They do offer more luxe vehicles as well as added perks like two free rental days per month, up to two free swaps per month, unlimited mileage, and concierge service. Canvas, available in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, pairs you with a vehicle for 1 to 12 months. If you choose to swap, it will cost you $99. 

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