Silvercar is a bridge between traditional rental car companies, such as Enterprise and Hertz, and carsharing services such as ZipCar. With a powerful app that handles all aspects of the rental experience, Silvercar is a high-end airport rental car option that offers premium vehicles only – for the most part, Audi sedans and crossover SUVs.
Silvercar dramatically simplifies the rental process, eliminating lines, paperwork, interaction with counter staff (in most cases), and exorbitant refueling fees. It’s highly convenient, saving customers time at both pickup and dropoff. And, while you have your rental, you enjoy a seamless, plugged-in experience that includes WiFi, Bluetooth integration between the car and your phone, and satellite radio on a premium sound system.
Unfortunately, Silvercar is somewhat scarce, with pickup and dropoff locations limited to about 20 U.S. airports: Denver, Phoenix, Austin, Chicago, Dallas (DFW and Love Field), Los Angeles (LAX and SNA), San Francisco (SFO), San Diego, Newark, Orlando, Washington (Dulles), Salt Lake City, Tampa, Seattle, Miami (MIA and FLL). And youngsters should keep one major caveat in mind: Silvercar doesn’t rent to drivers under 22, ever.
Some have compared Silvercar to Uber, now the world’s most popular ridesharing company, which also got its start as a small, flexible transportation alternative. (In Uber’s case, the black car and taxi industries were the targets of disruption.) Though it’s smaller and more localized than Uber, Silvercar has a similarly ambitious mission: to disrupt and improve the airport car rental industry.
How It Works
Unlike larger car rental companies, Silvercar’s fleet has just a handful of vehicle makes and models: principally, Audi sedans (A4), convertibles (A5), and compact SUVs (Q5). The company mostly targets younger business travelers who want a nice, sporty car, convenient pickup and dropoff, and a plugged-in driving experience.
Per-day pricing varies based on the location, duration of rental, time of week and year (for instance, in business travel destinations, rentals may be more expensive during the workweek, while the summer tourist season and holiday season may be more expensive in popular vacation destinations), and overall demand (so last-minute reservations may be pricier than those made well in advance). Pricing is subject to change over time in response to general demand and competitor moves, as well.
I ran a couple simulations to get a sense of Silvercar’s rates. Here’s a representative example.
Pricing for a three-day, midweek reservation for late January in Miami costs about $90 per day, including taxes and fees. A weekend reservation for the same time of year and airport costs about $65 per day. In Los Angeles, a three-day, midweek reservation also costs about $90 per day, including taxes and fees, while a three-day weekend reservation costs about $75 per day.
These price points are higher than traditional car rental companies. Identical reservations for luxury vehicles (Chrysler 300 or similar) at Enterprise and Hertz for late January cost $60 (midweek) and $40 (weekend) in Miami, and $65 (midweek) and $45 (weekend) in Los Angeles.
However, luxury car availability is much more limited at Enterprise and Hertz, as both companies were already fully booked for both periods in both cities, which isn’t surprising given that traditional rental car companies often have limited stocks of luxury vehicles. Besides worry-free vehicle availability, it’s also important to note that Silvercar is more convenient and high-tech than Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, and other major rental companies. In other words, you may have to pay a little extra for convenience and connectivity.
Pickup & Dropoff Procedures
Silvercar has no airport rental counter. Instead, you download a free iOS/Android app to reserve your car (using an app-based reservation system), and pay for it (using a stored credit card). When you arrive at the airport, you walk directly to your car and assess and rate its condition (using a basic checklist). Then, simply click a button in a secure section of the app to unlock it and drive away.
If it’s your first time renting, upload a credit card to the app and confirm the reservation. Silvercar asks you to reserve your car at least two hours in advance. You can request a vehicle in a shorter time-frame than this, but Silvercar doesn’t guarantee availability. For payment, Silvercar accepts all major credit cards: American Express, Discover, Visa, and Mastercard.
For on-the-road emergencies, such as an accident or breakdown, you can call a 24-hour hotline (800-FLY-2-CAR) and speak with a live representative at Silvercar’s Austin office. Round-the-clock roadside assistance is free with all Silvercar reservations.
When you return your vehicle (where you picked it up), a sensor at the lot gate checks you in and logs your return. You’re emailed a receipt with your total trip cost (including fuel and tolls if applicable) shortly after you return the vehicle. A shuttle bus or airport tram, depending on location, takes you to your terminal from the lot.
App-Based Reservation System
There aren’t any lines, paperwork, or human interaction during the pickup or dropoff process as everything> Your reservation, rental agreement, inspection, keys, and payment are all coordinated via the free Silvercar app or Silvercar’s desktop website. You can make special requests, subject to availability: for instance, rooftop ski racks at Denver and Salt Lake City, or child car seats with at least 24 hours notice.
Premium In-Vehicle Features
All Silvercar vehicles come with a slate of premium features: GPS navigation, in-cabin WiFi, satellite radio, all-wheel drive, and leather seats.
If you forget to refuel your vehicle before returning it, Silvercar’s onsite concierge will take care of it after you hand it over. You’re only charged for the fuel necessary to top off the tank, plus a flat refueling fee of $5. Your stored credit card is hit with this charge as soon as you return. Depending on the airport, this can be a major time- and stress-saver.
Silvercar doesn’t charge by the mile and doesn’t limit the number of miles you can drive per reservation. However, you can’t leave the continental United States.
Silvercar vehicles have an electronic toll tag that automatically records your movements through electronic tollbooths and checkpoints. Your stored credit card is hit with one charge for all tolls shortly after you return your car. This way, you don’t have to stop and pay cash.
Silvercar vehicles use Bluetooth technology to sync with your smartphone. With this feature, you can make hands-free calls and use the car’s sound system to play music stored or streamed on your phone.
Picking Up and Dropping Off at Different Locations
Most Silvercar reservations involve picking up and dropping off at the same location, with the return site pre-programmed into the vehicle’s GPS. If you’re arriving in one city and leaving from another, Silvercar can accommodate a pickup in one and a dropoff in the other, as long as both locations have Silvercar offices. The app can’t accommodate multi-city reservations, however, so you have to call (855) 359-2227 and speak to a staff person. Depending on demand at the two locations, there may be a surcharge for this service.
If there are any problems with the app or the car’s condition, Silvercar keeps a human “concierge” at each airport to help. To verify your identity and confirm that you have a valid drivers’ license, you have to meet with the concierge to pick up your first-ever Silvercar rental, but not for any future rentals.
1. No Lines or Paperwork
Silvercar’s app-based reservation and payment system is faster and easier than the traditional car rental process, allowing you to bypass the lines and paperwork at the rental counter and get out to your car almost immediately. Even your first rental, when you have to meet the concierge in person, is faster because you don’t have to fill out anything – you just show your drivers’ license and credit card, and then hit the road.
2. No Surprises at Pickup
As long as you reserve your Silvercar at least two hours in advance of your arrival, you don’t have to worry about a vehicle being unavailable at pickup time. And since Silvercar only offers vehicles of only one type, all of which come with the same features, you don’t have to worry about not getting the exact vehicle you asked for either. (Not getting your requested vehicle type can affect your budget. For example, if you asked for a compact car but arrive to find only minivans available, you could pay more per day for your larger rental – and more to fill up at the pump too.)
3. No Up-Selling or Pressure to Add Options
Silvercar eliminates another potentially unpleasant part of the car rental experience: the counter up-sell. Car rental companies incentivize employees to foist more expensive models, premium features (such as GPS and Bluetooth), and various protection and insurance packages on captive customers.
With only one vehicle model and a slate of standard features in each car, it’s simply not possible for Silvercar to up-sell at the counter. And there’s no counter, anyway.
4. No Exorbitant Charges for Partially Fueled Returns
Before you return your regular airport car rental, you need to budget extra time for refueling – sometimes a lot of extra time, if you can’t find a gas station right next to the airport. Otherwise, you face the prospect of an exorbitant refueling charge. Though the exact up-charge varies by airport and company, it’s not unheard of to fork over double or triple the surrounding area’s prevailing fuel price.
Silvercar also charges you for returning without refueling, but only at the rate it costs to fill up at the nearest gas station, plus a $5 surcharge. By reducing the cost of returning without a full tank, Silvercar saves you time and money as you rush to make your flight – a potentially stressful juncture. Silvercar vehicles do require premium fuel, adding perhaps $0.20 to $0.40 per gallon to your fuel costs.
5. Better Luxury Availability Than Traditional Rental Car Companies
As long as you reserve your Silvercar vehicle at least two hours in advance, you’re guaranteed to have one ready at your destination. While it’s unusual for traditional rental car companies to be sold out at a particular destination, it’s quite common for companies like Hertz and Enterprise to be out of higher-end vehicles of the sort Silvercar offers. So if you absolutely need a luxury car on your next trip, Silvercar is a great choice.
1. Not Widely Available
Though Silvercar has plans to open at more airports, its coverage remains pretty limited. It’s currently available at about 20 airports, mostly in the south and west. Even in the cities where it’s available, Silvercar’s vehicles are harder to access.
Unlike Enterprise and other large rental car companies, Silvercar is virtually nonexistent outside airport zones. Other than a handful of in-town rental locations in New York City, it’s an airport-only affair. And unlike flexible carsharing services, its vehicles aren’t available for pickup on random city streets or lots.
2. Limited Selection
It sounds petty to complain about getting to drive a spiffy German sedan or SUV on your next trip, but Silvercar’s lack of vehicle selection is a definite drawback for travelers who need a bigger trunk, more seating space, or better fuel efficiency. Most airport rental car companies have a wide range of vehicle configurations, from small, fuel-sipping subcompacts, to roomy SUVs.
3. No Debit Card Payments
Silvercar only accepts major credit cards. Unlike traditional car rental companies such as Hertz and Enterprise, the company doesn’t accept debit card payments.
4. Premium Fuel Requirement
Audi A4s require premium-grade fuel with an octane rating of 89 or higher. Depending on the geographical location and gas station, premium fuel can cost anywhere from $0.10 to $0.30 more than regular fuel with an octane rating of 85 or 87. (Super-premium fuels with octane ratings of 91, 93, or higher, may come at an even higher premium.) This might not be a big deal if you don’t plan on driving much, but if you’re taking a big road trip with your Silvercar, it could add up.
5. No Driving Outside the Continental U.S. or Canada
You can’t take your Silvercar outside the continental U.S. or Canada. This might not be a big deal for city vacations, but if you’re visiting San Diego or Phoenix (for example) and want to jaunt down to Mexico for a day or two, you need to use another car rental company.
6. You Absolutely Have to Be 22
You may have heard that you have to be over 25 to rent a car in the U.S. That’s a myth: Most major car rental companies rent to drivers over 21, and some rent to drivers as young as 18, though young people may have to pay higher rates due to the higher statistical likelihood of accidents. But Silvercar doesn’t rent to the under-22 crowd under any circumstances. So if you’re on spring break from college and need a car to complete the last leg of your journey, Silvercar is off the table.
In my experience, renting a car is both stressful and fun. It’s stressful because it often involves dealing with pushy counter staff and worrying whether I’m going to get the car I asked for. I also don’t like standing in line or filling out paperwork when I should be on the road to my final destination. On the other hand, I enjoy the prospect of trying out a different, probably nicer car than the one I normally drive and having the freedom to make my own way around an unfamiliar city or state.
Silvercar isn’t perfect, but it definitely reduces or eliminates some of the least pleasant elements of the rental process without impeding its more joyful aspects. And, if you care about your image, there are worse things than sitting behind the wheel of a premium German ride.
Have you ever used Silvercar to rent a vehicle at the airport?