Is a vehicle subscription service in your future?

Automakers and start-up companies are betting that today’s generation of drivers will embrace a new model of temporary ownership called a vehicle subscription service.

A vehicle subscription service offers an alternative to buying or leasing. You don’t have to sign a long-term contract or commit to just one vehicle. Once you join, you typically pay an all-inclusive monthly or sometimes weekly fee that covers the cost of using the vehicle you choose, including insurance, routine maintenance, roadside assistance, and a warranty. You then have the option of swapping out your vehicle periodically, depending on the terms of your subscription.

For example, perhaps you’ve been temporarily transferred to a new city and want a fuel-efficient car for the six months you’re living there. Maybe you need a second car only during the summer when your child is home from college. Or you might want the flexibility to drive whichever vehicle suits your needs at the time — a luxury sedan for day-to-day driving, then a minivan for a family trip. If your needs change, you can return your vehicle and get another, or end your subscription. Plans vary, but many subscription services require only a short one- to two-month minimum commitment, with the option to renew. Subscription services are often app-based, making it easy to find and swap vehicles, and your newest ride may be delivered to you via a concierge service.

Of course, flexibility and convenience come at a cost, which is often substantial, so if you are interested in subscribing to your next vehicle you’ll need to carefully assess your options. Prices depend on the subscription service, the vehicle selected, and other factors such as mileage and extras. You may also be required to pay a sign-up fee.

Vehicle subscription services are evolving and are still not available everywhere. Many services are in the testing phase, and most have been launched primarily in major metropolitan markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, with a few offered in other cities. But vehicle subscription services are gaining traction, increasing the likelihood that they will someday be available in most areas.