Ever had problems with a hire car company? Ever wished you could access a hire car that wasn’t beaten to death, grubby and devoid of any of the comforts of your own car back home?
We recently sampled a new service in the United States that might just seem to you like a dream come true. Especially if you own a silver Audi and can’t handle the thought of driving anything else…
Our discovery came about during a conversation with Audi Australia PR Manager Shaun Cleary, when I mentioned to him that I was stopping through LAX on my way back from an overseas drive. Like many of you, I’ve hired cars out of LAX before and it’s something of a pain in the neck, trying to get from the terminal to the collection area - and more often than not, there’s a sea of people waiting to collect cars regardless of which company you’ve booked through.
Silvercar is an impressively simple concept, which, according to the company, is aiming to create the same stir in the hire car market as Uber did in the taxi market around the world. And, if you’re looking for a slightly more premium travel experience, with a more ‘on-demand’ feel to it, then Silvercar is something you should check out.
Like many new services, it’s an app-centric system, which means it’s really easy to set up and access via your smartphone.
Once you’ve set the app up on your phone and input your contact and billing information, you can reserve your Audi in a few simple steps. Doesn’t take long, either, and Silvercar guarantees a beautifully detailed Audi A4 will be made available to you.
Silvercar is already running at nine major airports across the United States and, where possible, they will even bring your Audi to the terminal for you at the airport. I reckon the best thing about Silvercar though, is the way it allows you to completely avoid lines at hire car company desks trying to sort your booking out.
The booking process is seriously easy, and the homepage will prompt you to select your location, pick-up date and time, return date and time and your email address. If it’s the first time you’ve used the app, you’ll have to add your billing information, but if you’ve booked with Silvercar before all that information will already be in the app.
Pricing is as cheap as $90-$100 for a 24-hour rental period, with various specials offering even cheaper deals if you’re in the right place at the right time.
When you land at your destination, you open the Silvercar app once you have your luggage and you then have two options. You can send a text message to home base to let them know you’ve arrived, or do what I did and ring the number displayed to talk to someone at the depot.
In the case of LAX, the Silvercar facility is approximately ten minutes out of the terminals, close to the long term parking facilities.
I was instructed to head up to the VIP drop-off area at the departure terminal upstairs, which was no more than a five minute walk from where I’d exited the terminal. I waited for no longer than ten minutes once I got there, until a silver A4 rolled up to the curb.
My Silvercar concierge then drove me back to the depot/office where we checked my booking details, looked over the car to see that any minor marks or scratches had been noted against the car’s registration details, and then you can even have a detailed orientation of the A4 if you need it.
You simply use the app to scan the QR code on the windscreen of the A4 you’ve been assigned, and that activates your booking.
Some of the little details were most impressive the minute I got into the driver’s seat. There’s satellite navigation and satellite radio included in all Silvercar bookings, but there’s also a wifi hotspot you can tether your phone to and use Silvercar’s data not yours.
Added to that, the satellite navigation system already has the return address set into the system so you just have to select home from the menu when it’s time to return the car. Silvercar had also supplied charging cables for both Apple and Android devices, which is handy if you’ve forgotten where you buried yours.
The car itself was clean, and in immaculate condition. It was a fully optioned A4 with 28,000 miles on the odometer and it looked like it had been fastidiously maintained. No strange smells, stains, or dirty interior areas as you might have experienced with other hire cars around the world. This fact alone might be reason for some of you to spend a little bit more money per day on the rental cost.
I know I reckon it’s worth it. My A4 was also equipped with an e-tag for the tollways, and should you need to use any, the cost is added to your bill when you return the car.
The concierge also explained Silvercar’s ‘fair fuel cost’ theory, which means they will fill the A4 up for a nominal fee as well as the actual rate for the fuel if you don’t have time to top it up before you return it. I opted to fill the A4 up myself as I tend to do with all hire cars I rent.
After a day and a half dealing with Los Angeles’ notoriously rubbish traffic, it was time to return the A4. Finding the home address, as I mentioned above, was easy. I’ve often collected a car and forgotten to note the return address, which has resulted in a bit of a panic when the time comes to return it later.
Internet access and smartphones have obviously made finding this kind of information easier, but it still helps to have access to such a simple process.
I received a text message earlier in the day to check whether any of my drop-off details had changed or if I needed to keep the car longer, which I think is helpful, especially if you’re travelling for work where plans can change without much notice.
A different concierge was working when I returned the A4, but the process was just as easy. He quickly checked over the car and was genuinely keen to hear my feedback on the whole experience - even more so when I informed him we’d be running a story on CarAdvice about it.
You simply have to close the booking in the app on your phone and it’s done. Well, not quite. the concierge will then drop you back to your departure terminal, usually in the same A4 you just returned.
I’ve had plenty of good hire car experiences around the world, but I’ve also had plenty I’d never recommend to anyone. Some of the horrible beaters with wobbly steering and average brakes, don’t bear mentioning.
Silvercar is one of the smartest, and one of the most enjoyable travel services I’ve accessed. I loved the fact that the A4 was well looked after and clean, the wifi hotspot was handy and the up to date, proprietary satellite navigation was also excellent as opposed to some of the less effective, removable units you can end up with at a hire car company.
While there are cheaper hire car options - certainly not at the luxury end of the spectrum - the Silvercar experience weighs in at the same sort of price as any luxury rental car rate. The real benefit is that you know what you’re going to get every time you make a booking - a beautifully maintained Audi A4. If you’re heading to the States anytime soon, make sure you download the app and check Silvercar out.