How Car2Go ruins Car2Go

So let me start by saying, in theory, I LOVE Car2Go. The service has helped prevent me from buying a car and has been indispensable in opening up more of Vancouver to me.

For those not familiar with Car2Go, it is a car sharing service where the cars can be parked virtually anywhere in the city, so when you need one, you just use a special card and pin number to access it, drive it to where you want to go and then log out of the car leaving it for the next person to use it. All this at the affordable rate of 38 cents a minute. It’s genius.

So what’s the problem?

Well, in practice, I’m having an increasingly worse experience with Car2Go, particularly when I’m most in need the service. What’s worse, the reasons are entirely within the control of Car2Go and specifically how it designed its app, its workflow and its security. My hope is there are lessons here for designers and anyone who is thinking about online services, particularly in the mobile space.

Let me explain.

Car2go-find-a-car-150x150First, understand that the Car2Go’s brand is built around convenience. Remember, the use case is that, at almost any time, you can find a car near you, access it, and get to where you want to go. Car2Go is not for people planning to use a car hours ahead (you don’t really want to be paying 38 cents a minute to “hold” a car for 3 hours until you need it. That would cost you $68!). Indeed the price point is designed to discourage long term use and encourage short, convenient trips. As a result ease of access is central to the service and the brand promise.

In theory here is what the process should look like.

  1. Fire up the Car2Go app on your smart phone and geolocate yourself
  2. Locate the nearest car (see screen shot to right)
  3. Reserve it (this allows you to lock the car down for 15 minutes)
  4. Walk to your car, access it using your Car2Go card and pin number
  5. Drive off!

Here is the problem. The process now regularly breaks down for me at step 3. At first blush, this may not seem like a big deal… I mean, if the car is only a few blocks away why not just walk over and grab it?

Alas, I do. But, often when you really want a car someone else does too! This is even more the case when say… it’s raining, or it’s the end of the business day. Indeed, many of the times when you would really like that car are times when someone else might also really want it. So being able to lock it down is important. Because if you can’t…? Well, the other week I walked 12 blocks in the rain trying to get to 4 different Car2Go cars that I could see in the app but couldn’t reserve. Why four? Because by  the time I got each of them, they were gone, scooped by another suer. After 30 minutes of walking around and getting wet, I gave up, abandoned my appointment (very suboptimal) and went home. This is not the first time this has happened.

The impact is that Car2Go is increasingly not a service I see myself relying on. Yes, I keep using it, but I no longer think of it as a service I can count on if I just cushion a little extra time. It’s just… kind of reliable because the split between really frustrating outcome and totally delight, is starting to be 40/60, and that’s not good.

Car2go-login-150x150But here is the killer part. Car2Go could fix this problem in a day. Tops.

The reason I can’t reserve a car is a because the Car2Go app forces you to log back in every once and a while. Why? I don’t know. Even if someone stole my phone and used it to reserve a car it would be useless. Let’s say they managed to also steal my wallet so had my Car2Go card. Even now it doesn’t help them since without my pin they couldn’t turn the car on. So having some rogue person with access to user’s account isn’t exactly putting Car2Go in any danger.

So maybe you’re thinking… well, just remember your password David! So here’s a big user moment.


But Car2Go has these insanely stupid, deeply unsafe password rules that require you to have at least one number, one letter and a capitalized letter (or a special character – god knows if I remember their rules) in your password. Since the multitude of default passwords I use don’t conform to their rules, I can never remember what my password is, leaving me locked out of my Car2Go app. And trust me, when you are late for a meeting, it’s raining and you’re getting soaked, the last thing you want to be doing is going through a password reset process on webpages built for desktop browsers that takes 10 t0 15 minutes to navigate and complete. Many a curse word has been directed at Car2Go in such moments.

What’s worse is there is evidence that shows that not only do these passwords rules create super crappy user experiences like the one I described above, they also user accounts less secure. Indeed, check out this Wired article on passwords and the tension between convenience and effectiveness:

Security specialists – and many websites – prompt us to use a combination of letters, numbers, and characters when selecting passwords. This results in suggestions to use passwords like “Pn3L!x8@H”, to cite a recent Wired article. But sorry, guys, you’re wrong: Unless that kind of password has some profound meaning for a user (and then he or she may need other help than password help), then guess what? We. Will. Forget. It.

It gets worse. Because you will you forget it, you’ll do something both logical and stupid. YOU’LL WRITE IT DOWN. Probably somewhere that will be easy to access. LIKE IN YOUR PHONE’S ADDRESS BOOK.

Stupid password rules don’t make users create smarter passwords. It makes them do dumb things that often make their accounts less secure.

The result? Car2Go’s design and workflow creates a process that suboptimizes the user experience, all in an effort to (I’m guessing) foster security but that, in reality, likely causes a number of Car2Go users to make terrible decisions and make their accounts more vulnerable.

So if you are creating an online service, I hope this cautionary tale about design, workflow is helpful and password authentication rules. Get them wrong and you can really screw up your product.

So please, don’t do to your service what Car2Go has done to theirs. As a potential user of your product, that would make me sad.

30 thoughts on “How Car2Go ruins Car2Go

  1. Sara

    I totally agree. I can never remember my user name or password for this app and it is very annoying. Are any of the non-official apps any better?

    1. Boris Mann

      Last time I checked, the third party apps didn’t support reserving. This may have changed. I only switched to the official app because of this feature (since they didn’t originally have an app of their own).

  2. Sameer Vasta

    I stopped using Car2Go months ago because the app was buggy, the communication back to base after I had parked the car (resulting in my waiting for a while after I had parked before the car was officially “returned” and also resulting in more charges) was horrendous, and their service people whenever I called were surly. Hope it has got better since then, but it doesn’t look like it has…

  3. cathy

    I have 2 current issues with C2G:
    use a blackberry – no app at all with reservations capability.
    a general decline in the number of cars that are located close by, over time, as the service area expands

  4. Stephen Rees

    I have an old fashioned smart phone made by Nokia so the app I use is different from the one on iPhone. I have to say that until i found Carthago, my experience was similar to yours – there was no booking using my phone. Is it possible that there is more than one iPhone app for car2go? By the way, booking holds the car for 30 minutes, not 15.

    Is there a way to keep your password in a note book app on an iPhone?

    Car2Go is getting steadily less convenient as more people use it – just like Velib in Paris. The more popular the service the more likely there is either no car near you – or far too many, so there is nowhere to park it. A book a bus tickets is an essential back up system.

    Also bear in mind that Car2Go do not develop phone apps – that is done by other enthusiasts/entrepreneurs.

  5. John

    You’re an idiot. You can’t remember a password therefore its a lousy service? Give me a break. There are multiple secure ways to store that information, in your phone, online, or on a desktop.

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  7. Robert Glen Fogarty

    According to the parlance of Johnonymous, I’m an idiot, too. My complaints mirror yours, David, and I know others who would agree that the car2go app could be a lot more convenient without locking out legitimate users at the worst of times.

  8. wJustin

    I use Car2Go, the andriod app stores the (agreeably ridiculous password) for 90 days. So four times a year I have to look up my password. Odd, but not a problem.

  9. anon

    So essentially your complaint is that the car2go app makes you login every 90 days and you’re unable to remember your password? At least one uppercase character and one number doesn’t seem so draconian…

  10. Lisa Paul

    I agree completely. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how to “unlock” my account or whether it’s my app needing a permission reset (My card still works fine to book cars if they’re still there when I get to them). I phoned, and the customer service fellow said to uninstall & reinstall the app, which did not help.

  11. Ben

    This is an old post, so I’m wondering: do you still use C2G? Do the problems you were having still exist?

    I’m in Portland, where I’ve been using C2G for a few months… usually 1-4 times/week, trips that only take about 5 minutes but get me where I want to be when I want to be there. This is competitive with the buses price-wise, and beats them hands down in convenience.

    The Android app hasn’t given me any trouble until today, but it isn’t the app: the whole system is down. I googled to find out what is going on, found C2G’s twitter apologizing for the service outage (which seems to have been going on all day) and also your blog.

    Reading other blogs I find complaints similar to yours, but they are mostly from earlier in the year, March or April. So: has your C2G experience improved since March, or have I just been rolling twenties?

  12. Grant

    My experience is a bit different; the app booking process is just buggy.
    When making a reservation from the iPhone app, and NOT being logged into the Car2Go app, I think the reservation is actually made when you click the first Confirm reservation button.
    Then when you log in; the app tells you that the reservation has been scooped by someone else in the meantime, in just the few seconds it has taken you to log in. But, the reservation has not been scooped by someone else, it was you in the prior step.
    I get a confirmation text for the reservation; even though the app ( just seconds before or after ) says the reservation was lost to someone else.
    Walk over to the car and authenticate, it’s yours.

  13. Peter Francis

    I have another bone to pick with car2go. They continue to debit my credit card when I do not use their system. I have notified them a week ago and they acknowledge that I do not have any invoices or have made any trips yet they continue to debit my card. It gets worse. Head office is in Madrid but nobody has any contact information for this office? The customer service people tell me to talk to the local office which is open from 10 to 6 but nobody there can do anything or knows anything, and they continue to debit my card. When I contacted Capital One they agreed to work on my behalf if I write out a report and mail it to them with all the information on my MC statement? Yes, write it out and put a stamp on an envelope. So far I have made over 10 phone calls to every number I can find and have had one call returned to my voice mail and when I returned that call withing office hours the manager Chris someone no I can not tell you his last name had left early. He will call tomorrow morning I am told but this morning no calls from Chris and of course when I call he has left the office again, during office hours.

    For me this takes the cake for worse customer service ever. They are stealing and do not care enough to stop the process let alone rectify their mistakes.

  14. Bart Claeys

    To counter all these negative comments, I’ve never experienced any problems with Car2Go. The Android app works perfectly and I can’t remember that I had to change my password in the past months. Concerning reliability, yes there are times that there are no cars available. When leaving for work late in the morning there are no cars available in my neighborhood. When leaving late at work there are no cars available there either. But that’s just the way the model works and I don’t see how Car2Go could easily solve this. I use Car2Go as an alternative to a bus or taxi and when Car2Go is not available I request an Uber, Sidecar or Lyft cab. Car2Go is a nice addition to the mix of transportation methods that are available, you should never rely on it solely without having other transportation options.

  15. mac

    Now my beef with car2go isn’t the app, isn’t the password but the unavailability of cars. I can wait upwards of an hour for a car to come within a 5 block vicinity. For meetings, this is nuts. Then when I get there, there’s a scratch that needs to be reported, which means waiting on hold, or remembering after your meeting what the heck the scratch looked like, how long it was, where it was, etc. when you call in the emergency number. They’re adding more cars but every time they do, they also expand the service area, leaving me in the rain waiting for a car to appear on the GPS!

  16. David K Koppe

    Since I never forget my password and pin, I can’t share in your frustration. Just use a password you normally use and capitalize a letter. Not that hard.

    But I have a different frustration. I want to know how much fuel is in the car2go before I book it, (which by the way, is 30 minutes of reservation – free) and the app doesn’t show me the fuel level of cars parked in car2go spots!!

    If anyone’s reading this — FIX THIS PLEASE!! :)

  17. Doug Brockway

    Wanting to punch car2go corporate in the face at the moment….ahhhhhh!!! I feel your pain and have been feeling it for several months as their lame ass ap keeps on screwing up.

  18. Daniel Robinson

    This article had extremely little to do with car2go and a lot to do with frustration about the author’s password management. Quite honestly, use a password manager like MiniKeePass + dropbox on your phone, paired with KeePass(X) on your computer. Remembering passwords is not the issue of any service provider such as Car2Go, while the security of your information is their issue, hence the password rules, which may sound pointless up until the point they leak all your information, or others access your account. Anyway, my main point is your topic is not your topic. I’m awaiting my Car2Go account, so glad that it’s otherwise a good service!

  19. ken

    I also this problem with stupped password requirements. Why does car2go need to have stronger password rules than banks, most banks only require at least one letter and one number to be part of the password.

  20. Keith Nunn

    WARNING! Car2go security is garbage and they will make you pay when it fails.

    The card they issue you can be used to access any car2go. Even though a PIN is required to start it, if any vandalism or theft happens in the car, they will take no responsibility and charge you for it.

    ALSO, they don’t do any real monitoring of fraudulent behaviour with the cards. My stolen card was used 4 times in 10 minutes to access 4 different cars without entering the PIN. They didn’t notice.

    They contacted me three days later when another user reported a missing key. Hopeless! If the credit card companies were as lax with fraud, no one would use them. I recommend you don’t use Car2go until they fix their security model. I certainly won’t be using them anymore.

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