Friday, September 6, 2019

When I Took My Zipcar Into the Wilderness

Annie Lowrey (via Hacker News):

If you take a vehicle loaned out by Zipcar—a rental service where drivers use RFID cards or a mobile app to open up the car—to an area without cell reception, there’s a chance the car will not work. The doors won’t open, and even if they do, the engine will not start. And because you will be in an area with no cell reception, it might be impossible for you to call for help.


Zipcars in general work just fine when they do not have cell service, he said, as they have some internal memory that lets them function even when out of touch with the company servers. Indeed, making sure that the cars work when out of reception is a “mission-critical success factor” for the company, he said. Still, cars without reception become vulnerable in a few scenarios: when members lose or do not have their physical Zipcard with them, when they exceed their reservation time or want to extend their Zipcar reservation, or when the vehicle battery dies. That last scenario was the one my family and I found ourselves in, though we did not know it at the time.


He was amazed—and I was amazed—in part because Zipcar does not warn users that they need to take extra precautions in areas without reception, whether the bowels of parking garages or overlook points on mountainous roads.

I wonder if the car battery died because it was continually searching for a faint cell signal.

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I read this story when it first appeared and while it does seem to be true that Zipcars won’t function without a signal, the author’s personal story doesn’t support that conclusion. No car will work with a dead battery. For all we know, they could have left the dome light on.

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