What it’s like to rent an Audi with nothing but an app

Audi rented with Silvercar app
Image credit: Joe Miller (Image credit: Joe Miller)

To say the car rental business is a bit outdated is an understatement. Most still operate the exact same way they have for decades – you go to a counter, hand over a credit card, and then find your car in the lot. Some have experimented with apps and 'concierge' services, but I recently tested the Silvercar app to see if the process is a bit smoother.

Silvercar, as the name implies, only rents silver cars – specifically, those from Audi. Originally a startup that operated out of Austin, Texas before moving to Las Vegas, it is now owned by Audi and operates in 25 cities. The idea is fairly simple. Silvercar wants to take some of the ambiguity out of car rentals, so you know the car waiting for you will probably be an Audi A4 (they also rent a Q5 or A5 Cabriolet) but will definitely be silver and not from any other brand.

Showing the way

Before I left for my trip to CES 2019 in Las Vegas, I used the app to enter my personal info including name, address, credit card, and a picture of my driver’s license. One thing that’s really helpful about the Silvercar app is that it includes instructions for your destination city about what to do when you arrive. When I reached Vegas, I used the app to find out I needed to catch a Silvercar shuttle. The app included the directions from the baggage claim.

Once the shuttle dropped me off, I again used the app in a parking garage. I used a QR code reading in the app to scan the waiting 2018 Audi A4, which unlocked the vehicle. There were no other steps involved, such as talking to an attendant, showing any paperwork, and proving my identity when I left the parking garage.

I liked that it was all so predictable, including the fact that the A4 cars all look the same and all the same year. For anyone who flies constantly, knowing that the car is going to be the most predictable part of the trip is a big bonus.

And the A4 is a dream to drive. It has a nice 252-horsepower turbo engine, and during my test I took advantage of the amazing Google Earth-powered navigation system. It was helpful to see my route not only in Las Vegas but also in the mountainous area of Zion National Park.

That’s another perk of predictability – I didn’t have to learn how to use the nav system because I’ve tested so many Audi car sin the past, and I knew it was a good match for the craziness of Las Vegas and the scenic vistas of the national park.

The cost of convenience

My only complaint, as you might have predicted, is the cost. The Audi A4 costs around $42 (about £30, AU$60) per day in Vegas, but there are much cheaper alternatives – down to about $26 (about £20, AU$35) per day for a somewhat similar car like a Toyota Corolla (don’t laugh – they are at least similar in size). And it’s not always a bad thing to be able to select a different auto brand for a trip.

Another slight issue is that you may have to take a shuttle like the one in Las Vegas. To get the car, I had to take a shuttle to the rental center, then another one to the Silvercar lot. Silvercar originally had agreements to be able to have the car parked right at the rental center.

While the drop-off on my return flight was quick (and no shuttle involved, since the driver used the A4 we rented), it would be even better if the parking garage was even closer.

However, knowing exactly which car you will drive each time, using a simple app for the rental, and benefitting from the sportiness and extra tech features does make Silvercar worth considering. I had no glitches or surprises, and even added a photographer to the app without any issues (mostly by taking a picture of his driver’s license).

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.