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Will You Subscribe to Your Next Car?

April 9, 2018
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If you’d like to be able to switch cars depending on your needs, and even your moods, then you might want to subscribe to your next car.

Car subscription services offer a simple and flexible alternative to buying or leasing a car — you get a car commitment-free, for one monthly fee, and you can often swap it out for a different ride in days. You can even skip the haggling at the dealership and, instead, manage your plan on your computer or smartphone, and have your wheels delivered to your door.

“This seems to be what people have been asking for all along — a negotiation-free way of driving a car,” says Matt Jones, a senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds. “And there’s no fear of buyer’s remorse — if you don’t like the car, jettison it and get something else.”

Subscribe and drive

Manufacturers such as Cadillac, Ford, Volvo and Porsche offer subscriptions to their cars, while companies like Fair, Flexdrive, Clutch and Carma allow members to drive a variety of makes and models. Generally, subscribers pay an upfront fee. Then the car payment, insurance, maintenance and, in many cases, roadside assistance are bundled into one monthly fee.

Subscribers to Book by Cadillac, for example, can hop between different models of Cadillacs up to 18 times a year for $1,800 per month. With Ford’s service, Canvas, monthly subscription fees for pre-owned Ford vehicles start at around $400, depending on your vehicle and mileage. Meanwhile, Fair subscriptions start at $235 a month, according to Edmunds.

Additionally, unlike leasing contracts, which specify the term — usually 24 or 36 months — many subscriptions can be for as short as a month. Care by Volvo differs in that it requires a  two-year contract and you can trade cars only after 12 months.

Subscribing vs. buying

Though car subscription services vary, they all address today’s desire for simplicity — one all-inclusive payment — and maximum flexibility. But it’s difficult to say whether they’re more expensive than buying or leasing.

This highlights a common misconception about car ownership, Jones says. “People look at their car payment as their total car costs — they’re oblivious to the fact that it’s much more than that,” because of insurance, registration, maintenance and repairs. But with a subscription, it becomes clear how much you’re paying for your car each month. The only additional expense is fuel.

Edmunds crunched the numbers on Ford’s subscription plan and found that buying a midsize SUV would carry a lower car payment than the monthly subscription fee. But once you added the insurance payment, it became more expensive than the subscription plan.

But there are restrictions

So far, most subscription services are available in only a few urban areas, but many companies plan to expand.

And while most plans deliver late-model cars, they’re not brand new. The cars will have some mileage and, possibly, minor evidence of wear and tear. Fair’s cars, for instance, may be up to 6 years old, with 70,000 miles, while Canvas seems to offer mostly 2015 model Fords.

Furthermore, some plans require that additional drivers be authorized in advance, and some prohibit smoking in the vehicles. And Cadillac and Flexdrive, for example, require that pets be kept in carriers.

As Jones reminds prospective users, “You have to remember, it’s not your car.”

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