Car Industry

A guide to car subscriptions, a new alternative to buying and leasing

Consumers are no longer restricted to traditional car buying and leasing methods. Here’s our guide to find out if a car subscription service is right for you.

Volvo

It's 2018. We have drones and hoverboards, our phones unlock by scanning our faces and anything in the world can be delivered to your door with a couple of clicks. Why should we be stuck with buying or leasing as our only means of procuring a car to drive?

Thankfully, vehicle subscription services are becoming more and more popular. Think of it like any other subscription: Sign up for what you want, cancel it when you're done. From automakers to third-party companies, there are many ways to subscribe to your next new car.

The OEMs

If you're familiar with any vehicle subscription service, it's probably one of these. In essence, you pay a monthly fee to a manufacturer for access to several vehicle models in its lineup. In addition to access, this fee covers the cost of insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance.

Access by BMW is controlled, like most subscription services, through a dedicated app. 

BMW

Access by BMW

BMW now has a pilot program running in Nashville for its subscription service, Access by BMW. The program, like Porsche's is a two-tiered affair and again, like Porsche, isn't cheap. The first tier, which BMW is calling "Legend" will set users back a cool $2,000 per month and gives access to vehicles like the 4-Series, 5-Series, and X5 (sans M models) as well as the excellent M2. Upgrading to the $3700 M tier and things start to get really interesting with access to the M4 Convertible, M5, M6 Convertible, X5M and X6M.

Users can order vehicles through the Access by BMW app, an so far there doesn't appear to be any restriction on vehicle swaps. Your monthly subscription fee includes insurance, and roadside assistance, as you'd expect. The program will be facilitated by local dealers and not by BMW corporate and BMW hasn't given word on if/when it will expand the program beyond Nashville. 

Book by Cadillac gives customers access to the automaker's full range of vehicles.

Cadillac

Book by Cadillac

Cadillac's service was one of the first OEM subscriptions to be announced when it debuted in January, 2017. Initially, it was available only in New York City, but as the program continued, its service area expanded and will soon be offered to drivers in Dallas and Los Angeles.

Getting into Book will cost some coin. First, there is a $500 enrollment fee, and then you're shelling out $1,800 per month for the service. The upside to Book is that it gives you access to some of the best stuff that Cadillac makes, and it allows you to swap cars up to 18 times per year. Plus, when you're accepted, your spouse can legally drive the vehicles as well.

Say you want an Escalade to drive around during the week and then you want to swap it out for a CTS-V for the weekend. Not a problem. With Book, just fire up the app and make your selection, and a concierge service will drop off your vehicle for you.

Cadillac is careful to mention in its user agreement that members are responsible for returning the car to Cadillac clean, which means no dog hair or weird smells, lest you be subject to a $150 fine. Finally, the deductible for Book's insurance is $1,000, so factor that into your decision as well.

Care by Volvo originally launched with the XC40 crossover. Volvo says its entire product line will soon be offered via Care.

Volvo

Care by Volvo

Volvo launched its Care by Volvo service at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2017 alongside its new XC40 crossover. The Swedish automaker has since vowed to include all of its models in the Care program, but currently, we only have pricing for the XC40.

The Care by Volvo plan for the XC40 starts at $600 per month for the T5 Momentum trim and goes up to $700 per month for the T5 R-Design, both of which you can configure yourself. You start with a $500 deposit which then gets applied to your first month's payment.

Some of the more critical aspects of the Care by Volvo plan are the excess wear and use protection included with your subscription. Basically, this means that Volvo will forgive $1,000 in mileage overages and vehicle damage at the time you return your car. If you park exclusively by feel, you may still end up paying for deep scratches or dents, but this should help soften the blow.

Volvo also includes a road hazard plan for tires and wheels so if someone drops a box of nails off the back of their handyman truck and your tire picks them up, it's covered. If you fall into one of Detroit's man-eating potholes and your rim is destroyed to the point where it will no longer hold air or can't be balanced, that's covered too. Curbing the hell out of your Volvo's rim wouldn't be included, however, so practice your parallel parking in something else.

Under Volvo's service and maintenance plan, all repair and wear items are covered in the first three services (10,000, 20,000 and 30,000 miles). This includes things like brake pads, wiper blades, fluids, etc. This sounds pretty good, but typically in the first 30,000 miles of car ownership, maintenance items aren't that big of a deal, for example, having to replace a set of brakes at 30,000 miles on something like the XC40 would be atypical.

Lastly, unlike the more expensive programs by Cadillac and Porsche, Care by Volvo only lets you swap cars every 12 months in most markets. While that's still better than most lease programs, it's not ideal for those of us who suffer from a lack of car commitment.

Carpe is one of the only subscription services that locks you into a car choice for a year, but the cars are cool.

Jaguar Land Rover

Carpe by Jaguar Land Rover

Most of the OEM subscription services that we're talking about let you swap cars out whenever you feel like it and cost a boatload of money. Only Care By Volvo locked you into a car for a 12 month period, but not any more, because now Jaguar Land Rover is getting into the game with Carpe (as in Carpe Diem, which I think is Latin for "Dead Poets Society is one of the best Robin Williams movies"), a new subscription service that is, for the time being, only available in the UK. 

Like most subscription services, it's all-inclusive so your monthly fee takes care of the car, insurance, maintenance, etc leaving you to deal with fuel and not much else. Carpe isn't cheap, but neither are Jags and Land Rovers, so your basic E-Pace SUV will run £910 (around $1,200) per month and range (get it?) up to £2,200 (about $2,900) for a Range Rover Sport HSE. Interestingly, Jaguar Land Rover isn't requiring a deposit to be put down, but should you choose to do so anyway, it will lower your monthly subscription cost.

While Carpe is currently UK only, we wouldn't be terribly surprised if it hopped the pond, given how hot the subscription market segment is right now. Roadshow has asked Jaguar Land Rover if it has any plans to bring it here, but so far, they've remained tight-lipped on the subject. 

The Mercedes-Benz Collection subscription service gives members access to everything from wagons and SUV's to coupes and AMG models, for a price.

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz Collection

Mercedes-Benz has been talking about launching its pilot program for a car subscription service for months but now it's a reality. The program is called Mercedes-Benz Collection and like most of the other OEM programs, it's not cheap but it might be worth it if you really love that three-pointed star.

The program is called "Mercedes-Benz Collection," and it actually provides a pretty broad range of cars to those who subscribe. The plan, like others from OEMs, has more than one tier. The Reserve tier will cost $1,595 per month and gives you access to vehicles like the C43 AMG, the E400 wagon and the GLE350 SUV. For $2,995 per month you can access the Premier tier, and with that, you can drive around in a C63 S sedan, a G550 SUV or an SL550 roadster.

If your jaw is on the floor over the price of the Premier tier, you're not alone. That's a lot of cash per month, but the ability to "flip" into different vehicles with minimal notice through the Mercedes-Benz Collection concierge service is pretty cool. As with most subscription plans, cars are delivered to you cleaned and fueled, and the plan includes insurance.

Joining is a relatively simple process. You just have to download the Mercedes-Benz Collection app, go through the prompts which include sending a photo of your driver's license, and in around 24 hours you should have a decision on your application. You then pay a $495 application fee, and you're in.

Porsche Passport offers different tiers of service depending on which models you want to drive.

Porsche Passport

Porsche Passport

Porsche's Passport service is expensive, but it gives you a lot for your money. First, there are two tiers from which you can choose. The first tier is called Launch will set you back a tidy $2,000 per month and gives you access to an unlimited stream of Caymans, Boxsters, Macans and Cayennes.

If you're a true baller, you can upgrade to the Accelerate plan, which runs $3,000 per month and gives you access to those three magic numbers that drive every Porschephile crazy: 911. Panamera, too. That said, exclusive models like the GT3 RS are off-limits no matter what. Sorry.

The next thing you need to know, and perhaps the biggest bummer about the whole Porsche Passport program, is the geographical area it serves. If you don't live in Atlanta, you're outta luck for now. Apart from that, it's all sunshine and roses. Porsche doesn't put any kind of restriction on the number of vehicles you can change into, and its insurance is decent, though still with a $1,000 deductible.

Unlike Book by Cadillac, Passport includes full-detail washes as part of its fee, so you'll never (in theory) be charged for turning in a dirty car. There are also no mileage restrictions, so if you feel like road-tripping your borrowed Panamera S around the US, that should be fine.

When you apply to join, you'll be paying a $500 application fee, and Porsche expects you to be a member for no less than 31 days. The rest is simple and handled through either Porsche's app or its concierge service.

Third-party services

These subscription services aren't directly backed and managed by a vehicle manufacturer. Most offer used, or off-lease vehicles, and prices vary pretty widely as does the level of bundling. Some services, for example, provide insurance bundled with the vehicle while others will help you find insurance. Others, meanwhile, leave you to figure it out yourself. The benefit to third-party services is that they're usually much cheaper than the OEM options, and represent lower-cost ways of getting into a vehicle.

Canvas' lineup is made entirely of Ford and Lincoln products.

DriveCanvas.com

Canvas

Canvas is a different kind of subscription service altogether. It's backed by Ford Credit and offers Ford and Lincoln vehicles exclusively, but rather than having brand new shiny cars for you, you're paying for used off-lease vehicles that are several model years old. In fact, as of this writing, the bulk of the cars available through Canvas in West Los Angeles are from the 2015 model year.

The Canvas program is more à la carte, allowing users to select different subscription lengths and mileage packages to go with their vehicles. Insurance is included, as with most subscription services and Canvas cars come with Ford's Protect Premium Maintenance Plan. This package covers routine oil changes, multi-point inspections as well as some preventive care and replacement of normal "wear and tear" items.

The Canvas pricing structure is interesting too, again because of its à la carte nature. When signing up for Canvas, first you select a subscription length from one to 12 months, and the longer your subscription, the lower your monthly fee. For example, a one-month subscription would cost $375 while a 12-month subscription would cost just $50 per month.

Next, you choose your vehicle. Canvas' cheapest option is a 2015 Ford Fiesta S sedan at $329 per month, and it ranges up to the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Convertible which will set you back a not-insubstantial $629.

Lastly, you choose your mileage package. If you plan on driving 500 miles per month or less, congratulations, you won't be charged anything extra over the cost of your subscription and car fee. If you plan on making regular cross-country trips, however, you'll clearly need the unlimited miles pack. Depending on what car you choose this can range from an additional $80 per month for the Fiesta S sedan to $135 per month for that convertible Mustang.

Flexdrive lets you use an app and charges by the week.

Flexdrive

Flexdrive

Flexdrive allows you to select a car via its app, pay a weekly fee -- which differs from car to car -- and pay for mileage on top of that. One of the benefits is that Flexdrive doesn't make you choose up front how long your subscription will be, unlike Canvas. This, plus its week-to-week pricing, offers a ton of flexibility which might be cool for someone who only needs to travel occasionally.

Like with other subscription services, routine maintenance is included, as is insurance. But as with Canvas, you're not getting a new car. Model years range from 2014 to 2017 and costs aren't super low either. A 2015 Honda Accord in Atlanta will run you either $219 per week or $876 for four weeks.

Currently, Flexdrive is available in select parts of Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Less is only available in the San Francisco Bay Area right now.

LessNow.co

Less

Less is a Bay Area-only service that functions much like a traditional lease with the exception that you're allowed to change your car once per year during your three-year contract. Less also offers a monthly discount on your lease which it says will offset the $399 annual membership fee, which is, incidentally, the only money you pay to Less directly. Your monthly payment goes to the dealership from which you get your car.

Your choice of cars is pretty decent in terms of quality if not variety, with around 12 options at any given time. Less selects luxury cars and SUVs from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, each with a sticker price more than $60,000 and negotiates rates in bulk which allows for the discount that it passes on to the customer.

Plans allow for 12,000 miles per year with an overage fee of $0.25 per mile after that. Maintenance is provided by the manufacturer's prepaid maintenance plan which is included in the negotiated cost of your lease. Drivers will be expected to pay for their own insurance though, so make sure that you're factoring that into the cost.

This is a more traditional route to go for those who are fine with extended commitments and those who just want to save a little dough.

Borrow only offers electric vehicles in its Los Angeles-based fleet.

JoinBorrow.com

Borrow

Borrow is an electric car-only subscription service that will give you an EV for three, six or nine months at a time. Borrow functions more like a rental service since all vehicles remain the property of Borrow. The EVs that it provides to customers are all used and available in the Los Angeles area only.

Customers can currently choose from two tiers of electric vehicles, each with different pricing. The lowest-cost tier is the "City" plan. Those who opt for the City plan can choose either a Nissan Leaf or a Fiat 500e, and prices range from $499 per month for three months to $399 per month for nine months.

The next step up is the "Premium" plan. This gives users access to either a BMW i3 or a Volkswagen eGolf. This tier ranges from $624 per month for three months to $524 per month for nine months. There is a third "Platinum" tier planned which offers a Tesla Model S, but this isn't yet available to subscribers.

Insurance is not included with the monthly subscription fee but Borrow says that it can assist with finding insurance and bundle it with your monthly payment. Maintenance and roadside assistance are both included.

Borrow is the most lifestyle-focused of the third party options with its promises of swag bags, new products, event and restaurant discounts. While it might be good for someone who is in Los Angeles for a predetermined length of time, with used EV prices being what they are, it's probably not a great option for someone who is living here permanently, kind of like a furnished apartment near a movie studio.

Fair doesn't lock users into a set length contract.

Fair

Fair

Fair is another lease-like program with the benefit of being almost totally online. Users have to download the Fair app and then scan their driver's license to get approval. Fair then runs a soft check on their credit to determine the maximum payment that they'd qualify for and shows a collection of vehicles in their area that they can afford.

Again, where it differs from a lease is that the user isn't locked into a set-length contract. Fair offers customers the option to trade up or return vehicles. Another key difference is that unlike other subscriptions, Fair asks that you make a "Start Payment" which is higher than your typical monthly payment and is linked to the overall value of the car.

Fair offers a three-day/100-mile return policy that will allow users to return the vehicle if they don't like it, but after that or if there is any damage on the vehicle within that period, the Start Payment is non-refundable. So beware.

Fair does not include insurance in the cost of your monthly payment, but like some of the other services we've covered, it will help you find insurance. Routine vehicle maintenance is included, think oil changes, fluids and tire rotations but other expenses will come out of your pocket.

Everything else happens through the app. You make your payment through the app by linking a bank account, your vehicle documents are found in the app, etc. It seems fairly convenient, and with no obvious mileage restrictions (based on documentation), it would be a good way to go for most people wanting a car. Fair also offers a great deal of choice when it comes to what vehicles are offered whether you're looking for an economy car, a truck or SUV or even an EV.

Carma was a part of the Techstars Mobility Accelerator program in Detroit in 2017 and currently has two pilot programs running in Chicago and Columbus, OH.

Carma

Carma

Carma, based out of Detroit, has pilot programs running in Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, and is focused on the mainstream car shopper as well as the dealer/retailer side of things. While it doesn't have a hard and fast list of vehicles which will be offered, the founders are clear that they will not be catering to any kind of commercial customer. Lyft and Uber drivers, look elsewhere. Drivers are required to be 21 years of age and have a clean driving record.