Is your rental car spying on you? Cars are getting smarter all the time, and rapidly turning into mobile computers. As a result, rental car companies have many “connected cars” in their fleets.
In a nutshell, a “connected car” is a telematics-enabled vehicle that allows the company to locate it on demand. The company can also collect vehicle data, and access the vehicle for on-demand rentals.
Connected features can help a customer who gets locked out of a vehicle. Agents can unlock the car remotely or even locate and recover a stolen vehicle. In addition, they can let the rental companies monitor the car’s location, odometer, median speed, fuel level and more.
How prevalent are connected cars in the rental car space? Many Hertz vehicles have had visible cameras in cars for years. In addition, Avis had 200,000 vehicles connected at the end of 2019.
The Hertz NeverLost device next to the radio features a camera, and some models even greet the renter by name.
Hertz envisions a future where customers can have a live chat with an agent, just like at any check-in desks across the country. But the company doesn’t have the capacity to do so at the moment, so the cameras are inoperable at this time.
Microphones are fairly ubiquitous in new rental cars. We don’t recommend syncing your personal phone to a rental car’s entertainment system, but be aware that services like OnStar that operate through a car’s speakers mean that microphones are in cars.
Information Rental Car Companies are Collecting
In general, the information that is collected serves the company’s needs. There is no intent to spy on rental car customers but the companies do want to keep an eye on their own assets.
- GPS: Used to report the location of vehicles with mechanical problems, recalls, accidents, and also to help when vehicles are stolen or suspected as stolen. Enterprise once lost a car for more than two years without noticing, then used OnStar to quickly locate the car. Avis uses the GPS settings to verify an after-hours return.
- Remote Lock / Unlock: Leave the keys in the rental car? The agent can unlock the car remotely to help customers in a jam.
- Remote Shutoff: If the car still running after an accident or stolen, remote shutoff precludes the vehicle from moving.
- Operating Statistics: Rental car companies extensively document the service history of cars. Therefore, operating statistics help plan maintenance and alert the rental car company of problems.
- Fuel Levels: It’s not expressly listed in Hertz’s policy, but the company was the innovator on fuel metering. Fuel levels are usually only checked at the time of pickup and return.
What Rental Car Companies Do With the Information
In truth, the rental car companies are not out to punish rule-following customers. There are, however, limited circumstances where the data collected might lead to a fee or a sanction.
At times, the rental car companies do assess fees based upon the use of the telematic resources. A member of the AutoSlash team was once charged a $15 fee by a rental car company for the few minutes required to unlock his rental car remotely. Agents prefer the opportunity to unlock the car and get it on its way, since the alternative would be to wait for a locksmith.
If you violate a rental car contract, expect to pay hefty fees. For example, each rental car company has “geographic restrictions” that limit where the rental car can go. If these restrictions forbid border crossings and ferry rides, a user who takes a rental car to Tijuana, Mexico instead of returning the car at the Cross Border Xpress will land on the rental car company’s “Do Not Rent” list.