This is a review of the popular car-sharing service DriveNow. I have been using DriveNow for six months now, and love the convenience and hassle-free driving it offers. It certainly has its limitations so this article sums up my thoughts.
I’m writing this post because I find DriveNow to be one of the smartest ways to move around in London. It’s convenient, reasonably priced and it just works.
If you live in London, Berlin or in some other European cities you may have spotted the signs on cars. DriveNow (BMW, Minis),
These are cars that you can hire using your smartphone. I first signed up to DriveNow because I can hire it by the minute, it’s cheap and I can drop off the car at a different place. These 3 were the biggest selling points for me compared to other car services. I mean, I was hooked.
It was as if I had a car but without the hassle of having to pay upfront a high deposit, pay for insurance, maintain it and pay for parking. Oh yes, I also loved the fact that I can park where residents park for free. I believe they have made a great deal with councils.
I also loved the fact that I stopped using Uber. Uber is definitely not as it used to be. The cars are not as clean as in the beginning, drivers keep cancelling on you and I don’t like the pricing roulette. I also want to choose the driving style if possible, as my wife gets very dizzy when Uber drivers run over the speed bumps 🙂
So thankfully DriveNow has totally replaced Uber when it comes to “luxury commuting”.
Being owned by BMW, DriveNow offers only a range of Mini Coopers and BMW 1 Series. The prices start at 33p per minute which means £19.80 per hour. There are packages such as 2-hour for £32 etc. As usual, I never pay full price (see pricing hacks at the end of this article!). I usually go with the closest car available which happens to be mostly Minis. See full DriveNow pricing for details.
Is how we think of cars changing?
Most people prefer to do things on their own than delegate. That’s as long as it’s convenient. Car companies saw that people don’t really mind driving. They do mind finding parking in the city, paying for one, and having the burden of a car in one-way trips.
The model is not new. IKEA became hugely successful by finding out that people don’t mind assembling furniture if it comes with a 50% discount plus customisation. The sharing economy also helped. People don’t mind sharing houses. This is how Airbnb succeeded. The transportation industry was first disrupted by Ubers and now car-sharing is the next disruption I see.
Car companies also discovered that people don’t mind driving if it costs less than an Uber, cars are always available, clean, new and come with free parking.
This obviously doesn’t mean that car-sharing companies will replace car ownership. No, not at all. The convenience of having your own car for longer trips or to go on holidays is undefeated. Not to mention you can throw rubbish everywhere and smoke inside (you know who you are!). But I see the car-sharing trend developing aggressively in London and I find myself using it more and more.
So what makes DriveNow a big win for me?
DriveNow: The pros
As I mentioned at the beginning of this DriveNow review, the biggest advantages for me are the hire by minute structure and the pick/drop off anywhere in the zone. These were the basics that incentivised me to try it. But after a few months of using it, I discovered a few things that made me love it.
Starting from the price, it will cost me around £20 to drive any Mini or BMW for an hour. An Uber will cost £30-40 for a similar trip, in the best case scenario of no surge pricing!
Sometimes, I will get a discounted car nearby which will usually cost 25p per minute such as this one.
There are also multi day packages available, so a 48-hour trip, with 120 miles included will set me back £140.
Now the hire-by-minute structure is certainly not cheap, but it’s reasonable. It includes insurance, fuel and the driving experience is very pleasant. The cars are always clean and quite new. Convenience plays a big role here. If I’m watching a theatre in the centre I won’t take public transport anymore to return. We regularly share the car with our friends, drop them off first and vice versa.
Parking is a big benefit too. It’s free to park in the residents’ permit parking. That’s amazing and I take advantage of it in the centre too. I’ve heard some people go against this because DriveNow takes their available spots and rightly so but I can see the benefits on both sides. If more people used car-sharing more than owning a car then there would be more parking spots for everyone.
The cars are equipped with a touch screen and navigation built in, which shows the petrol stations in case you want to refuel for free (and get bonus minutes). The app’s User Interface is one of the best I’ve seen in the industry. As a software engineer, trust me, I’ve seen a lot of apps. You can reserve, lock, unlock the car with your phone and see all relevant info about the car before you book it.
Speaking of user experience, I was once at the very end of the parking zone and hadn’t realised I’ve parked outside the Zone. The car’s interface would complain I’m trying to end the rental outside the zone! Little things like that impressed me.
As I write this review I feel like I sound salesy as if DriveNow paid me to write this review. But I describe my experience ‘as is’ without trying to paint a rosy picture. They’ve done a pretty good job and I have to admit it.
Last but not least, I had to contact customer support once. The person on the line had a good knowledge of the system and was able to speak English 🙂 The customer service is based in Germany.
DriveNow: The cons
But not everything is perfect with DriveNow. They have definitely upped their game but it’s now becoming very popular. There are only 2 issues I see but enough to make it a pain sometimes. The biggest issue is the limited zone. Sometimes, car availability can be a problem too.
However, most of the times a car is just around the corner.
The Zone DriveNow operates in is quite limited. I understand this is a new company and that’s likely to change. But I recently had to take a trip to Ealing and DriveNow was not an option. I mean, I could have taken the car to Ealing and pay 19p per minute for “Park n Keep” but the cost would be much higher (£11.40 per hour).
As you can see below, even central area such as Fulham and Greenwich are out of the Zone. However, you can take the car anywhere really, and park it out of the Zone but you can only end the rental inside the Zone.
I believe this is one of the hardest problems to tackle for the DriveNow engineering team. I mean, adding more cars is one option but regardless of how many cars you will add, how do you make sure they evenly distribute across the supported area? If a DriveNow engineer is reading this, please let us know how it works 🙂
Although for the majority of the time they do a good job, there are times where I can’t find a car. That’s probably 1-2 out of 10 times that a car is longer than a 5-minute walk from my pickup location. Not all areas are supported equally. Have a look at how easy is to find a car around Finsbury Park vs Camberwell-Burgess park. I took these pics on the 18th of April 2019.
I hear you asking, Can you not walk more than 5 minutes, Michael? Although I certainly do, if I am to pay for convenience I better get one when it’s rainy or too cold.
Ok, personally I think DriveNow has totally trashed Uber and other taxis (if you can drive) but how does it compare to owning a car?
How does DriveNow compare to owning a car?
When I first started writing this post, I wanted to do a full-on comparison vs owning a car. But after speaking to a friend about it (thanks Nick!) I realised it’s not really comparable.
There are certain qualitative aspects that cannot be measured when owning a car. Such as the comfort of knowing that a car is ALWAYS available. Or the options it gives you to make trips that you’d otherwise wouldn’t. For example, it’s a sunny Saturday morning and you feel you want to enjoy the day. You would think twice about paying £60-£80 for a 6-12hour driving package to go have fish near Southend-on-sea. But you would happily take your car for such a trip with no second thoughts. After all, you’ve paid for it upfront already!
Then you’d have to find secure parking. A friend just told me he had his car vandalised because of bad luck. His neighbours had problems and some idiots attacked the neighbour house. His car happened to be parked outside when the vandalism happened. Good luck trying to deal with the insurance, and car garages to get it fixed.
So for some, owning a car comes with different pros and cons. All things being equal, we can get a direct comparison assuming that people own BMW 1 Series and Mini Coopers. But the average UK person owns a 1300cc Ford Fiesta or a Vauxhall Corsa, 8 years old. I should make a comparison with those cars in mind. Note to self for a future post.
DriveNowcovers some needs better than owning a car, such as free parking in residents’ permit areas, the ability to return with a car without having taken one for the first leg of the trip (and vice versa) and the need to travel in a convertible or a nice new car. When driving you don’t have to think of switching insurance to get a better deal, renew the MOT, service the car, park it at a safe place and other necessary arrangements that a car needs and use your free time (and money). It’s all-inclusive in a nice per-minute figure.
Owning a car, on the other hand, is beneficial when you definitely want to know you can travel with one. Say you have to take the kid to the doctor as an emergency. A car also gives you the option to travel far away without having to think twice about pricing… We said that already but it’s quite important! Overall, I don’t think DriveNow can replace owning a car. At least not yet given its limitations. But I think it nicely supplements it.
How to get a better deal with DriveNow
As you can imagine, I don’t like paying full price for pretty much anything 🙂 Hell, I even devoted a whole lifehacking section in this blog! So when it comes to DriveNow here are my top 3 tips for paying cheaper than the average person.
- Refuel the car. DriveNow will give you 20 minutes free driving every time you refuel a car with a tank lower than 25%. That’s a great incentive. In other words, they pay me £6.60 for a 5-minute job. If £79.20 an hour is not a good reward for you, it certainly is for me. Refuelling comes for free as they provide a debit card in the car for you to pay with. I always take advantage of it when I’m not in a hurry and a Shell station is on my way. You know upfront the petrol level of the car so if you want you can pick a car that’s running low on purpose. If your destination is less than 30 mins away, you almost ride for free! The app also shows you where all the partnering petrol stations are so that makes it super-easy.
- Invite friends to earn 30 mins of free driving. DriveNow is relatively new in London and in Europe. Usually, people are not aware of it yet in my experience. Although I started seeing ads around lately. So you can take advantage of it and spread the word. I can do the same right now -> Join DriveNow using my link to waive the £9.98 joining fee and get £10 of free driving credits 🙂 I get £10 too and thanks!
- Look for cars that have the % symbol instead of the Car symbol on the map. This means that for some reason (car distribution?), they’re running on a discount!
DriveNow review – Final thoughts
Personally, DriveNow has made my life better in London. Would I use it if I lived in Zone 5 instead of Zone 2? Maybe not so much. But I definitely see the trend developing and will soon expand. Zipcar is a competing one which serves a slightly larger area but the availability is quite low in my experience. I happily used a ZipVan though when I had to move flats.
Virtuo by Mercedes and Ubeeqo just joined the party. Can’t wait to see how this trend will develop in the next few years. Will they take the rental companies out of business? Will we all move around in self-driving cars? Car driving sometimes is a nice activity by itself so I hope not. I certainly enjoyed driving 2,600 miles last year in the US roadtrip 😉
What has your experience been in car-sharing? Happy and safe driving!
I have not been paid by DriveNow to write this review. But I (and you) will receive £10 of free driving credits if you join DriveNow using my link and you’ll also waive the £9.98 signup fee. And thanks!