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I Rented, Unlocked, and Returned a Car Using Only My Smartphone

Why is renting a car such a giant hassle? You reserve an economy car in advance for what you think is a low price. Then you get off the plane and have to wait forever for a shuttle to pick you up and take you to some lot miles away from the airport. After you’ve waited in the world’s longest line, you’re greeted by a surly employee who informs you that they are sold out of the cars you reserved and you’ll have to pay extra for a mid-sized vehicle that you don’t need. Then the employee will badger you until you agree to sign up for the company’s overpriced insurance. When you return the car, you’ll have to go through the whole wait in line process again, argue over any minor scratches that may or may not have been there before you took possession of the car and hope that the shuttle finally arrives in time to get you back to the airport for your flight. And there’s no mercy if your car is returned with a tank that’s even a little bit less than full—prepare to be hit with a massive refueling fee and gas prices that are overinflated.

Luckily, there’s a new car rental company that’s here to save you from that. It’s called Silvercar and we tried it out so we can give you the low-down on this game-changer.

Here’s how it works:

You download the Silvercar app (available for iPhone and Android) on your phone, and make a reservation. There’s only one type and color of car available—a silver Audi A4. Rates are just $59 per day for the whole month of February. Simple. Upon arrival at the airport, push a button in the app, and a Silvercar concierge will come pick you up in the car. (If you input your flight information into the app, they will track your flight and hold your car for you if you’re running late.) Do a quick walk-through—the cars are all new, and Silvercar is pretty lax about cosmetic damages so you don’t have to be too concerned about returning it in perfect condition. Small scratches and that sort of thing are no big deal. The representative will show you how to work everything in the luxury car. First time renters with Silvercar will need to show your license to the concierge for verification purposes. You can also add additional drivers to your rental at this time—at no extra cost. The additional driver will just have to show his or her license. (Most rental companies charge a daily fee for this.) Then you use your phone to scan the code on the car and unlock the rental. There’s no hard sell on the insurance—whatever option you selected through the app (even if it’s to use your own insurance) is what you’ll get, no questions asked. You’ll be on your way in less than 10 minutes.

When you’re ready to return the car, simply use the car’s GPS system to navigate back to the return station that’s programmed into the map. Don’t have time to stop at a gas station on the way? Silvercar will refuel your car and charge you for gas at the market rate, plus a $5 fee. Once you’ve arrived at the drop-off location (near the airport) you’ll be met by your personal concierge (again, no waiting) who will give the car a quick once over before driving you back in your rental to your airport terminal. The return process takes less than five minutes, and you don’t have to bother dragging your bags from your car to a shared bus or waiting for a shuttle. Your receipt is e-mailed to you immediately.

What if your plans change and you need to keep your rental car a little longer? No problem, as long as there is availability. When we tested the rental, our flight got cancelled due to weather, and we unexpectedly had to stay an extra day. There’s a button within the app to call Silvercar—we called late at night and left a voice-mail. Within a few hours, we received an e-mail from Silvercar informing us that they extended our rental.

The Cars:

All of the sleek silver Audis come equipped with free WiFi, GPS, and satellite radio. We’re not car people, but this car was fun to drive, especially with all of the bells and whistles included—like heated seats, dual-climate control, and a sunroof.

The Downsides:

Unfortunately, Silvercar is only available at eight different airport locations: Austin, Dallas Love Field, Dallas Ft. Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and San Francisco. (If you live near one of these markets, keep your eyes peeled on February 14th, when Silvercar representatives will be out on the streets giving away discount codes for first-time renters as part of their #KissAndTell promotion.

Silvercar is just unbelievably easy and hassle-free to use. It’s ruined us for traditional rental cars forever.

Have you tried out Silvercar? Tell us your experience in the comments.

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