GetAround: the Car Sharing Service that Needs Improvement

I just spent a long weekend in San Francisco and, with some out-of-city travel on the agenda, needed to find a rental car.  My desire to find a deal rivals that of Morty Seinfeld so after receiving quotes of $125+ for a single-day renting the cheapest car available from the main rental companies I started looking for sharing-economy alternatives.

GetAround.com came recommended through a friend-of-a-friend in the Bay Area as the service to use.  That I would get a $20 credit for being a first time customer bolstered my interest.

For those unfamiliar with GetAround, it's like AirBnB for cars; or Uber--but you drive yourself in someone else's car.  Car owners sign up for the GetAround fleet.  Once accepted, they're sent a device that, among other things, facilitates remote lock and unlock (this is how you, as a renter, get into the car and lock it after use).  Drivers select a starting point--your current address, or where you'll be when you want the car--as well as a time frame, and GetAround provides a list of cars meeting your criteria.  You pick up the car at/after your start time, return it and close out your drop-off inspection before your end time, or easily extend your trip (assuming it's available) to literally buy some more time.  As far as I can tell, this is round-trips only, and the car has to be brought back to its home parking area--described in instructions provided after rental is confirmed, for privacy reasons presumably.  To rent a car, you must sign in with your Facebook account as a safety precaution, then provide a credit card and your drivers license info.  GetAround verifies your drivers license before permitting you to rent.  See Getaround.com for more info on the logistic, insurance, roadside assistance, etc.



So with the local recommendation, I downloaded the GetAround Android app and searched for cars near our AirBnB for the date and times needed.  

Hundreds of cars appeared in the search results!  They ranged from small, sensible Smart Cars, to trendy, thrilling Teslas.  Hurdle one--selection and variety--passed!

With Smart Cars renting as low as $4.50/hour, for a total of around $40 for my selected duration, GetAround easily passed hurdle two--price.

But anyone who has ran track should know, passing the first two hurdles is easy and doesn't win anyone the race...and GetAround started stumbling immediately after passing the second hurdle.

I settled on the cheapest, closest car available--the aforementioned SmartCar for $40-ish that was parked about a half-mile away. To confirm the rental I had to create an account--as expected--and was required to enter credit card info, then put in my drivers license info, which GetAround somehow confirms before proceeding to rent.  

This was the first fall for GetAround.  The app got stuck verifying my drivers license info for about 20 minutes.  In that time, I sent an email to their helpdesk, hoping for a quick reply (five days later, I still haven't gotten a reply).  The app was making no progress and I didn't want to risk a double-charge to my credit card, so after not getting a quick reply from my email I called customer service.  The woman who answered suggested force-closing the app and trying my rental again.  So I hung up with her and did as instructed.  Closing and re-opening meant starting from scratch, so I found the same Smart Car and proceeded to book...only to have the app hang again.  After waiting a few minutes I force closed and tried the website as suggested by customer service.  

Upon logging in to the GetAround website I noticed a notification badge on the "trips" section.  Turns out, one of those two attempts to reserve the Smart Car on the app ended with a successful rental.  I never got an email or any other confirmation of this rental. And it's good that I went to the website rather than making a third try on the app because, for reasons I'll explain in a minute, I could have easily wound up with multiple cars reserved for the same trip.

With the ordeal of reserving the Friday car apparently complete, I went back to the app to review the car in my Trips section of the app...only to be told I had no trips booked and that I should search for cars to make my first reservation.  I went back to the website to make sure I wasn't dreaming and, yea, the SmartCar was really there.  I decided that the more likely glitch was for the app not to know about the reservation than for the website to have made up a reservation that didn't exist, so I begrudgingly accepted that the process was done.

But we still needed a car for Friday, so I sent my girlfriend my promotional link (so we would each get $20 credits) and walked her through the process of making a reservation on the mobile website.  (I decided to skip the app after it's failure on my attempt.)

She found a car for Saturday, input her information, and tried to confirm the rental, only to find the "confirm" button (or "verify" or "complete" or whatever the final button is) was non-responsive.  Multiple frustrated button mashes later, still nothing--and nothing magically appeared under "trips" like my Smart Car.  

Having struck out with the app on my phone, and the mobile website on a tablet, we moved to a device with a full browser.  Finally, we were able to complete the rental for a Saturday car.

Skip ahead to Friday.  Still nothing appearing in my GetAround app under the Trips tab, but the Smart Car did show up on my account when I logged in to the website.  I just had to cross my fingers that I would be able to adequately find the car and unlock it through the website.  

Walking to the Smart Car, I got a notification from the GetAround app that my trip was starting.  Hey, finally, the app knew I reserved a car!  It was a relief not to have to worry about the website being able to manage all the logistical details of finding and unlocking the car; and using the app we quickly did both.

Next came inspecting the car and reporting damage.  Having read some horror stories in Yelp Reviews (which were bad enough that I would never have used GetAround if not for an acquaintance recommendation) and seeing the steep fees for returning a dirty or damaged car, I meticulously documented the numerous dents, dings, and scratches; as well as the copious amounts of dust and bird poo that came with a car parked outside.  The app handily prompted me to inspect the car:  asking specifically if it was dirty or damaged, if the car seemed unsafe, and a third question that I have forgotten.  It also included a text box for comments and a way to upload photos.

Frustratingly, photos can only be added one-at-a-time, so after about 10 minutes of using the GetAround app to take a picture, add it, take another picture, add it, repeat...and making my comments about the car's condition, I submitted my inspection.  Annnnnddddddd...the app crashed.  Inspection not submitted, 10 minutes worth of photos and typing gone.

On the second go-round, I used my camera app to take pictures so if GetAround crashed again I would at least still have the photos.  Luckily this time it worked, but having spent 20 minutes of my rental on the inspection, I was more than a little annoyed.  And in the flustered moments of trying to quickly inspect and document the car, I failed to document the sand and pebbles littered in the floorboards.  (I now know that you can update the inspection with additions, prior submissions are "locked," which was probably the only impressive app feature/foresight).

The car itself worked fine, getting us to and from our hike in Muir Woods. 

Returning the car was easy, having already learned some of the pitfalls and nuances of the GetAround app.  We easily added 15 minutes to our rental after it became apparent that we were pushing the deadline a little too closely.  The return inspection went smoothly, with no app crashes.

After completing our first trip I was warming up to GetAround and confident that the next day's trip would be a breeze.

Cut to 8:00 PM Friday night, 12 hours before our Saturday rental was set to start.  We get a phone call from GetAround that our car for Saturday needed to go to the shop to correct an issue that the owner felt would endanger our safety.  While we VERY much appreciated the diligence to ensure our safety, being car-less the night before our anticipated Sonoma trip was not a welcome surprise.  GetAround gave us a $30 promo-credit for the trouble, which really amounted to a $10 credit since we were already using the $20 first-time credit...but not the biggest deal.

We decided to rent a Subaru Crosstrek as a replacement vehicle.  Not the most economical choice, but a fun choice (and a car I've fantasized about buying).  It was also a half-mile from our AirBnB and of the options remaining it seemed like the best for navigating the city and for four-hours of driving.

The Subaru was parked in a dedicated garage, a relief since street parking in San Francisco is far from guaranteed and the renter is liable for any parking tickets incurred in the 24-hours after returning the vehicle.  We found the garage and started looking for the Subaru "parked on the 5th floor near the elevator facing Mission St." 

With those general instructions, we walked the length of the garage and finally spotted it from the cargo box attached to the roof rack.  When we got closer, we noticed the cargo box looked a little off...it was attached to the rack on a diagonal (for those unfamiliar, you would typically attach a cargo box in an aerodynamic straight-line).  My thought was about reduced fuel efficiency as I unlocked the car and put my belongings inside.  

My girlfriend, however, was wondering if the box was securely fastened, and quickly found it wasn't.  The cargo box easily slid on the roof racks from side-to-side, the clamps that attached it to the racks were loose in all four connections--and at one connection the rack could completely lift off the cross bar.  There was no apparent way to secure the clamps from outside the box and no key to open the box.  So while I texted the owner and began documenting damage, hoping that we would get a quick text back on how to secure things, my girlfriend called GetAround customer service.  The owner never responded.

Luckily we quickly reached a GetAround rep who cancelled the trip and issued a full refund for the Subaru.  She also helped re-book a new car for the day.  She said the GetAround rebooking default is for a car of the same type that was originally booked, so we were offered a Toyota Highlander a half-mile from our location.  
Having already walked a half-mile, and spent about an hour on inspection and phone call, we were not interested in burning more daylight on a half-mile walk...especially when we passed at least 10 GetAround cars in the garage looking for the Subaru.  So I declined the Highlander and did my own search on the app.  There was another car in that garage available, so we compromised on that car for the same price (though I later realized we paid the same price for a trip 1.5 hours shorter than we originally planned).  

Luckily that car worked well and there were no issues with the app crashing during the rental or return inspection, so our Sonoma trip was salved, though delayed and shortened due to the day's GetAround fiasco.

Be careful with your trip plans--there is a 200 mile maximum range on "standard" rentals before a per-mile fee applies; for the fancy cars the max range is 100 miles.  But you don't know until after booking whether you have a 100 or 200 mile car.  I mentioned that to the rep who rebooked us out of concern that our replacement might fall into the 100-mile category.  She said that "it's something they're working on" (which, like, should be a priority since at common law, at least, you can't add terms to a contract after its formation and acceptance...) but that the 100-mile cars are those with a resale value of over $70,000 (I think).

Another frustration frustration was that the app doesn't let you begin or complete an inspection outside your rental hours.  So if you arrive early for your rental thinking you can get a head start, all you can really accomplish is taking exterior pictures with your camera app then waiting for the rental period to take interior pictures and submit your inspection.  Similarly, you need to complete and submit your inspection before the rental ends.

Overall, the GetAround service is about connecting drivers with cars, and providing the interface for facilitating the rental.  And at that, GetAround has a lot of work to do.  Despite abandoning my 100-meter hurdle metaphor a while back, I'd say GetAround is dq-ed from the race.  Literally every part of our rentals had some significant issue in getting us into an inspected, safe car.  Even though I now about $50 in available credits (some referral credit, some "we're sorry" credit), I can't imagine using GetAround on my next visit to one of its few service cities.  No part of our experience with the service worked well, and using it as an alternative to a traditional rental service proved more stressful than preferred.  

Maybe vacationers aren't the main target demographic, but considering their incredible prices compared to standard rental agencies GetAround has a huge potential market there.  With the GetAround service being a constant source of uncertainty and frustration, I'd almost rather have paid the money for the familiarity of an Enterprise rental.

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