My impressions of I-GO car sharing

We have been using I-GO car sharing for a few months now, since we sold the Volvo Cross Country (which I loved) to cut down on our monthly expenses. With the car loan, parking, gas, maintenance, and insurance, we were paying around $400 a month, and because we both take public transportation whenever possible, we were using it only on the weekends for shopping or trips to the zoo or whatever. It just didn’t make sense, financially or practically, to own a car.

We were sure that I-GO would save us money, but we weren’t sure we could give up the freedom and independence that comes with ownership. As it turns out, we could, and with a combination of renting from Budget or Hertz for the longer trips and I-GO for the quicker ones, we found we could save some money without too much sacrifice.

But, we were basing our expectations for I-GO on our experiences with renting from businesses like Enterprise, and a shared car is not the same as a rented car. I-GO would do well to close some of these gaps.

For one, when you rent from a company like Enterprise, you can expect that the car has been recently cleaned, inside and out, and the tank is full. The regular maintenance, like tire pressure, has been taken care of, and you won’t get in to discover the check engine light on. You can also expect to find the owner’s manual in the glove compartment. This is not the case for car sharing. You are basically borrowing a stranger’s car for a few hours, and very few people are going to care to wash it and fill it up when they are under no obligation to do so. So you tend to find yourself climbing into a car that has someone else’s crumbs in the back seat and is nearly out of gas. Just how to turn on the AC, or the headlights, or figuring out what that light on the dashboard means, is left to your ingenuity and curiosity, as so far none of the car’s I’ve used have come with an owner’s manual.

Both the I-GO and the rental cars are generally quite new or only a few years old, which is nice. The last I-GO car I drove had only 500 miles on it, while the last rental had 2000.

I-GO cars come with a fleet gas card, so you don’t have to pay for gas yourself. But, because you are generally paying by the hour, you pay for the time it takes to gas up.

You also don’t have to wait in line to pick up or drop off the car, and there is no paperwork after the initial sign-up. This, to me, is a huge advantage, as the process of renting a car, even if you reserve it online, still seems to take half-an-hour or more and involves signing papers. Scheduling a time to borrow an I-GO car takes about 4 minutes and is done entirely online. It’s totally self-serve and the cars are available 24-7, so you’re not stuck waiting until an office opens on Monday morning to return a car.

Insurance is included in the I-GO cost; not so for rentals. With rentals, you can waive the insurance if you carry it yourself, but I-GO means you can cancel your insurance policy (with the understanding that you’ll have to then buy insurance when renting).

Because you’re typically paying by the hour (or half-hour) for I-GO, vs by the day or weekend with a rental, you do have a sense that you’re not getting your money’s worth when the car is sitting in the lot. So it’s not ideal for trips to the zoo, or other places where you park and leave the car for an extended amount of time. It’s best when you need to get some place, grab something, and zip back.

All-in-all, I-GO is pretty great. If they could come up with a small incentive to encourage people to wash and gas up, so that it felt like the cars were just-for-you and ready to go, it would be even better.

I would like to be asked to complete a survey after each rental that encourages me to report on the condition of the vehicle.

The only other thing that bothers me, and it’s not a big deal, is the bumper stickers on the cars identifying them as I-GO vehicles. I realize that it’s helpful advertising, and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to be driving one, but the stickers are tacky-looking. More professional-looking signage, maybe a tasteful and understated sticker like you would see on a Mercedes courtesy car, or what they show on the I-GO home page, would be nice.

Oh, and we chose I-GO over Zipcar because I-GO is a Chicago non-profit, and we like to support the little guy when we can.