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Imagine the flexibility of renting a car with the long-term dependability of buying or leasing.
That's the promise of car subscription services, a new model for car use that automakers and third-party companies are rolling out across the country.
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The premise is simple: Skip the hassle of financing and pay a monthly fee in exchange for access to the car of your choice. Your monthly payment typically covers insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance, too.
You might have an option to swap models after a short period, a potential perk for car enthusiasts or anyone interested in the ability to upgrade more frequently than a traditional lease allows.
Despite the buzz, car subscription providers are still finding their footing. Only one service, Care by Volvo, is available nationwide; the remainder have debuted in select markets.
Cost can also be a concern. An analysis from car research and shopping site Edmunds.com found that many subscriptions tend to be more expensive than leasing over the course of three years, even after accounting for factors like insurance.
Still, the convenience and flexibility of a subscription may outweigh the extra cost for some drivers, especially those who need a car for a few months at a time or who want to use their subscription as an extended test drive before buying. Here's what to keep in mind:
Not all services are created equal
Existing subscription services vary substantially from one another in terms of pricing and other features. At the high end are services like Porsche Passport, which offers access to a pool of luxury vehicles for either $2,000 or $3,000 a month (including unlimited “flips” and concierge delivery) for drivers in the Atlanta area.
Care by Volvo, available nationwide, is a more affordable option, starting at $700 a month for the 2019 S60 or 2020 XC40. However, the program requires a 24-month commitment, and you can upgrade to a new model only after the first 12 months.
The least expensive services tend to be third-party offerings. Fair, an app that provides pre-owned vehicles through a network of dealerships in more than a dozen states, offers cars starting around $200 a month, minus the cost of insurance, which can be purchased separately through the app or independently from the company of your choice.