Zipcar Ceases To Zip For Temporarily Stranded Customer

We’ve always heard good things about Zipcar—the biggest complaint from friends here in NYC is that reserving one in the summer requires a lot of patience. Jen and her friend, however, just had an experience that was so bad that Jen finally had to dispute the charges on her card, and now she says she’ll never do business with them again. Based on her encounter with them, we think she has a good reason to feel that way.

Here’s what happened:

I had my first and only rental with Zipcar on August 8, 2009, and I will never use Zipcar again. The poor customer service I experienced during the reservation and after, when I attempted to contact Zipcar multiple times to get a refund, means I will never recommend Zipcar to anyone I know.

Here’s the summary:

I rented Mazda 3 McCory from a garage in Sunnyside, Queens, NY. When I received the car, it was covered in bird poop. My traveling companion and I were going to a wedding, and we didn’t know if we’d have time to clean the car before the ceremony. (See a picture of the car here: We ended up finding a car wash in rural Connecticut, but I was told without a receipt, I wouldn’t be reimbursed for my expense of cleaning Zipcar’s vehicle.

The car died three times. The first time, I was in East Hartford, CT, pulling out of a parking lot. This was after two hours of driving from New York City, so the battery should have been fully charged. The engine suddenly shut off, all of the warning lights on the dashboard came on, and the gas pedal stopped working. I had to coast over to the side of the road and turn the car off. When I restarted the engine, it worked fine.

The second time the car died was while we were driving in downtown Hartford, CT. We had left the car in a parking lot during the one-hour wedding ceremony and then driven it on I-84 to Hartford, so we assumed the battery issues were over. However, upon making a right turn in Hartford, the car died again, exactly the same as it did the first time. I had to pull over in traffic to turn it off and then on again to keep moving.

When we reached the reception hall around 4:30 pm, I called Zipcar and told them the car had died twice already and I was worried it had severe electrical problems. The female rep told me that previous users had been reporting battery issues with the car, but that the last report was July 22, so she “assumed it was fine.” This was on August 8, a mere three weeks later.

We parked the car and went into the wedding reception, where we stayed for about four to five hours. When we came out to leave for the trip back to NYC around 10:30 pm, we found the car totally dead. It wouldn’t even respond to my Zipcard to unlock. The rep sent an unlock signal, which didn’t work, then suggested we find someone to jump it (I explained that was impossible because we couldn’t get into the car to unlatch the hood).

It is now 11 pm, and we are two girls stranded in the middle of downtown Hartford, CT, a very unsafe area. Zipcar tells us they’re sending roadside assistance, but that it will take 45 minutes to an hour to show up. We’re both wearing dresses from having been at the wedding reception, and I feel like we’re just screaming “Mug me!” while we’re forced to wait for Zipcar.

I call Zipcar back to ask if we can stay with friends in the area overnight and get our problems sorted out in the daylight. The representative, Kevin, is completely unsympathetic and borderline rude. He tells me it’s my responsibility to get the car back to NYC by the end of my reservation (9:30 am the next day), and if I don’t Zipcar will fine me $50 for each hour I’m late. That’s it, no bending the rules, no empathy.

Around midnight, Zipcar’s roadside assistance shows up, breaks into the car and gets it started. The engine makes a whirring noise the entire two-hour drive back, and the car struggles to get above 60 mph. We’re afraid to stop at a gas station in case it won’t start again. Approximately 30 minutes into our drive home, we get a robocall from Zipcar asking how our roadside service was. We press “2” to indicate we still have concerns and are promptly put on hold for 10 minutes. At 12:30 am. I tell my friend to just hang up because I don’t want to deal with holding while I’m worrying if the car will even make it back to New York.

That’s just the bad experience with the car. Here’s my experience trying to get a refund:

Sunday, August 9 – I call Zipcar and explain the whole story. The rep, Lacey, writes out my complaint and says someone will contact me in three to five business days. She gives me the number for the New York area office as well.

Monday, August 10 – I call Zipcar and talk to rep Andrew, and I’m told to wait for them to contact me. I try calling the NY office number (212-691-2884), but the phone tree won’t let me talk to anyone, not even an operator, without a specific contact name. I try for the head guy, Joel Johnson, but end up getting John Eaton in member services instead. I leave a message with John Eaton and my phone number, asking him to call me back.

Wednesday, August 12 – I called at 8:30 pm and spoke to Stephanie. She tells me Zipcar has contacted me already, and forwards me the e-mail they sent “me.” It turns out Zipcar has their wires crossed, and the e-mail is directed to the person who rented the dead-battery Mazda after me. The e-mail says they’re offering him/her a refund of the difference because they had to switch him/her to a different car. I tell Stephanie that’s not me, that’s not my e-mail, and that’s not even my reservation date. She apologizes and says she’ll try and get things sorted out with the New York office.

Monday, August 17 – I dispute the $145.05 charge on my credit card.

Tuesday, August 18 – I call Zipcar to tell them I want to cancel and speak to Lee at 7:00 pm. Lee says I was refunded the difference, and I have to explain again that the refund they issued was not to me and that person is not associated with my account. Lee tells me I can cancel online and to leave comments.

I hope you now understand why you’ve lost this customer.

Update: Zipcar has responded to Jen’s complaints and refunded her money.

(Photo: jm3)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.