Online check-in and on-site kiosks have quickly revolutionized the way we get through airports and hotels. Renting a car, however, has remained a stubbornly retro experience. The companies do have their reasons: "We need to validate your driver's license, and we're giving you a $20,000 asset, not just renting you a seat or room," says Jerry Dow, chief marketing officer of Alamo/National parent Vanguard Car Rental USA Inc. But still. Mercifully, changes are afoot, though unfortunately no one company has all the answers. Each is addressing different problems, so you'll have to decide what's most important to you.
Pickup: Alamo and National are making the boldest moves, rolling out self-check-in kiosks at airport locations nationwide. The machines function much like the airlines', letting you skip the queue and print your own rental agreement. Better yet, you can do it in advance, online. Swipe or enter your driver's-license information, and the agency's computers automatically cross-check your data, just as a counter person would. The lot attendant checks your ID, scans the bar code on your printout, and off you go. By summer, Alamo will have kiosks in 80 cities, and National will have them in 70 locations.
In-car Conveniences: Several agencies are testing ways to let renters blow through highway toll plazas without opening their wallets.
Drop-off: Dollar and