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Most of us love having a car. But it is debatable whether most of us love owning a car. Having a car enables you to dream of the endless horizons of the open road and meeting new, exciting people. Or, it also means you can get a quart of milk in the middle of the night when you find out somebody in your family didn’t tell you there's no more in the refrigerator.
From the sublime to the mundane and everywhere in between, having a car means all of those things. It can enable adventure; it can let you can get the stuff you need when you need it. But all that begs the question, do you need to own a car to get all the advantages of having a car? Those promoting subscription services for cars say no. Instead of owning a car, why not subscribe to a service that enables you to drive the car that is appropriate for your use that day, that week or that month? Drive Options is one of these new breeds of subscription services, and we've got five things you need to know about it.
The typical auto lease is three years. In comparison, a commitment to a Drive Options subscription service will allow you to obtain a car for a much shorter period of time. But it is not as short as ZipCar (an hour or so) or even a daily rental from a traditional rental car company. If you plan on using the Drive Options subscription service, your minimum commitment is a month.
However, if you use the service for just a month, you’ll probably be cheating yourself. That’s because there is a non-refundable $575 “joining fee” for all new memberships. So if you used the service for a single month, you’d have the monthly fee (which varies depending upon your plan) plus that additional $575.
Getting on board as a Drive Options subscriber is easy. Everything is handled through your smartphone via the Drive Options app. Download the app, hit “Sign up” and follow the simple instructions to create an account. You will need to provide a credit card because that’s how billing and your monthly subscription will be renewed. Like a record club, it renews automatically.
Once your account is set up, you will have three available service plans to choose from — Innovator, Trendsetter or Visionary. You'll also need to provide a photo of your driver’s license. Then Drive Options will verify your identity and check your driving history. In most cases, applications are approved within one business day. Drive Options will then contact you to get your first car rolling.
One irritating and expensive aspect of owning a car is the requirement to get car insurance. Even when you are leasing you must obtain and carry insurance on the vehicle, and that insurance must fulfill the requirements of the leasing company. In contrast, if you subscribe to Drive Options, car insurance is a part of the program.
All approved drivers are covered by the Drive Options insurance coverage, and it provides $1,000,000 liability coverage (combined single limit), $300,000 uninsured motorist coverage (combined) and $2,000 in medical payments to offset any out of pocket or deductible costs. Another provision, though, is important. All this is based on a $2,000 deductible, which means when things go wrong the first $2,000 in costs are yours.
If you've got a subscription to a wide variety of vehicles, you might as well use it. With Drive Options, it's easy to "flip" into and out of cars as often as you choose. All you need to do is use the app to request your next vehicle. Through the app, you indicate what vehicle you want and where and when you want it. A Drive Options “concierge” will deliver the vehicle and transfer everything over to the new car.
The company says its goal is to ensure you have the perfect car for any occasion. There are no restrictions on how long or how short your flips can be. Occasionally, when a vehicle has been with a member for many weeks, Drive Options will ask for it to be returned so that routine tasks like preventive maintenance can be completed. If that happens, they will give you a “fresh” vehicle as a replacement.
It's great to have vehicle flexibility, but when you take a look at Drive Options costs, it's obvious that its subscribers pay for the privilege to “flip” between vehicles. First, there’s the $575 joining fee required for all new memberships. If you use the system for several months, the fee becomes less of an issue, but it is a barrier to trying the service for just one month.
In addition to the joining fee, there’s the monthly subscription fee. The Innovator plan is the least expensive level, and it costs $975 per month. It enables you to flip among the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Lexus ES, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and other luxury models. The Trendsetter ($1,375 per month) and Visionary ($1,795 per month) enable members to flip through increasingly more expensive vehicles.
Each subscription includes 2,000 miles of driving per month across the vehicles you drive. Any unused miles roll over each month you continue with the service, but if you go over the 2,000-mile limit and don’t have rollover miles on your account, you will pay $0.40 per mile for the overage.
Photo by Lexus
Like all car subscriptions we’ve examined, Drive Options is all about convenience. You pay an upfront fee and a monthly subscription payment, but you don’t have to buy insurance, worry about maintenance or repair costs, and you never have to visit a car dealer. When you want a different car, you push a few buttons on your smartphone and there it is. To get your money’s worth you probably need to value and enjoy flipping through several vehicles a month, because if you just went out and purchased one of them or leased it, the likelihood is it would cost you less over the course of time. But we live in an age where many are willing to pay to avoid hassle and to gain flexibility. Drive Options, which is currently available only in northeast Ohio, offers that hassle-free, flexible approach to having a car.