Here’s an experience that’s roughly universal: You sock away your paid time off (and paychecks) for a year and plan a romantic vacation touring vineyards in Napa or national park-hopping in Wyoming and Montana. You have your luggage neatly packed, you’re dressed for the occasion, you’re feeling a growing sense of freedom and a desire for the open road, and then you get to the airport. Your choice of rental car is a bright yellow Ford Fiesta or a bright red Toyota Yaris — base models, both of them. What’s more, the rentals aren’t cheap: according to a 2014 survey by CheapCarRental.net, the average daily rate for a car rental in August was $111 in Portland, OR, $99 in Louisville, KY, and $88 in Denver, CO. In a world in which you can use Airbnb to rent a weekend crash pad for a relative bargain, there’s got to be a better way to rent a car.
Silvercar is taking the airport rental car problem head-on. Founded in 2012 in Austin, TX, and led by Luke Schneider, former CTO of Zipcar, Silvercar exclusively rents silver Audi A4s at airports. The rental process is entirely app based, with a user experience that roughly approximates Uber or Lyft right up until you get to the airport; at that point Silvercar texts you with directions to the rental car lot, where you access a car by scanning a QR code on the windshield. Concierges are on hand if you have any trouble getting into the car, need help with baggage or want a gratis bottle of water.
We tried Silvercar in Denver, CO, one of the 10 locations where the company currently operates (Chicago O’Hare is the most recent addition), and found the whole process refreshingly simple and BS-free. The car was in like-new condition and came equipped with navigation, an in-car wi-fi hotspot and satellite radio. There were no lines, the concierges were friendly and, crunched for time returning the car to the airport, there was no need to fill the tank because Silvercar doesn’t mark up the cost of gas to refuel (there is a $5 fee). The total cost for a markedly better rental car experience: $59 per day, though the company says that during periods of high demand a customer may expect to pay up to $99. In an industry plagued by frustrating customer service, hidden costs and bright red Ford Fiestas, we’d say this is a step in the right direction.