Car Rentals Done Right

For the last few days my wife and I have been visiting family on both sides that live around Los Angeles. Since we were bouncing between locales, and since LA is an exercise in urban sprawl, we decided to rent a car. A friend of mine had mentioned that he was looking forward to trying a new rental service that is only available in a few locations: Silvercar.

The Idea

Silvercar is designed to be a modern, tech-savvy take on car rentals. In most locales, the process is as follows:

  1. Make a reservation using their app or website
  2. When you arrive at your destination, find the Silvercar rental area
  3. Walk up to any silver Audi A4. It’s the only kind of car they rent
  4. Scan the QR code on the windshield using the app
  5. Get in and drive away

Silvercars offer a few perks over regular car rental:

  • As mentioned, the fleet is entirely silver Audi A4s.
  • All cars are equipped with WiFi (more on that later)
  • Easy in/out using the iPhone app
  • Competitive prices: we paid under $70/day for a rental out of LAX, though this included a $50 new customer credit. This is roughly on par with a far crummier car from Hertz.
  • When you return the car, if you don’t want to bother filling it with gas, they charge $5 plus whatever the normal rate is at the pump.

First World Problems The Car

I have, in very short time, gone from hating all BMW drivers to becoming one. In all the worst possible ways. I really do believe that within the semi-affordable sport sedan segment, they are “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. Part of the draw of renting a Silvercar was being able to see how an Audi compares.

It turned out to be death by a thousand paper cuts.

To be clear, I really liked the Audi. I thought it was a well-made car, and way, way better than any other rental I’ve ever had. But many things about it annoyed me just a little. By the end, it made me appreciate how much better the A4 was than any other rental, but also made made appreciate my car that much more.

What I noticed:

  • The window sill is too high, but
  • the center armrest was just a little bit too low.
  • The feel of the switchgear was excellent.
  • Audi’s MultiMedia Interface, which is their equivalent of iDrive:
    • The stick, rather than sliding in four directions like on the iDrive, instead tilted. Which was wonky, and felt flimsy.
    • It showed wonderful upcoming exit information (i.e., what gas stations were at upcoming exits), but at the cost of next-move instructions not being terribly clear.
    • However, the display in the instrument panel included navigation data, which was awesome, and much nicer than the single center-mount screen I have in my car.
    • …but it didn’t show the next turn as early as I would like.
  • The stereo was pretty bad.
  • The volume control was to the right of the gearshift, in an unnatural place for the driver, but much more accessible to the pasenger.
  • The car sounded like an anemic, struggling 4-cylinder. Probably because it was an anemic, struggling 4-cylider.
  • The WiFi was slow. Unbelievably cool to have for free in a rental, but really slow. To be fair, this test was done on the 405 outside LA and it could be a hiccup.

The only other thing to note is that in some locales, such as LAX, there are absolutely no car rental agencies on site. Thus, you have to take a LAX shuttle to the cell phone parking lot (which is free). When you get on the bus, you use the Silvercar app to send a text message to them to let them know you’re on your way. By the time you get there, the car is waiting. An additional car is also waiting to take your delivery agent back to their facility. It worked out well, but it did take time for the bus to arrive.

On the return side, you drop the car off at their facility, and then one of their drivers takes you to your terminal in that same car.

At a more traditional airport with on site rental car presence, none of this would have been the case.

Overall

Would I do it again? If it’s cheaper than Hertz/equivalent, absolutely. If it’s slightly more expensive than Hertz, almost surely. However, the value-add diminishes as price gets more and more expensive than a traditional, national chain.

No matter what, I definitely recommend Silvercar, and will start my next car rental search with them.

Should you decide to give it a try, you can use the referral code CLISS; if you do, we’ll both get $25 off.