Woman's App-Powered Rental Car Fails in Woods and Company Tells Her to Sleep in the Car

Kari Paul is a technology reporter, so she reported on this egregious failure of technology on Twitter in real time.

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Feb. 20 2020, Updated 10:12 a.m. ET

Kari Paul is a technology reporter for The Guardian, so it was probably extra disappointing when she tried out GigCarShare, an app-powered rental car company, and the car, well, died on her in the middle of the woods, on a mountain, in California. In a viral Twitter thread, Kari explains how the car wouldn't start because of some sort of software failure.

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And then to top it all off, when there wasn't enough cell service to reboot the car, the company claimed it couldn't do anything about it and suggested she spend the night sleeping in the car, an entirely absurd proposition. 

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When she and her partner, who were trying to head out of town for a nice Valentine's Day weekend away, got stuck on the side of the road, their rental car unable to start, she assumed there would be a solution other than sleeping in a strange car on the side of a strange road for the night. But the company claimed there was nothing they could do for her. 

In her article about the ordeal for The Guardian, Kari explains, "Gig is a company that rents a fleet of hybrid Toyota Priuses and electric Chevrolet Bolts in the Bay Area and Sacramento to 65,000 users, according to a spokesman for the company." App-powered transportation — cars, bikes, scooters — is becoming increasingly popular these days, but it's clearly not without its massive pitfalls.

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Sure, companies like this make it easier to get around for people in urban areas who don't have their own cars, but is it worth it if they crap out and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere with no options? Kari's not so sure anymore. 

She explains that she and her partner stopped the car on their drive to hike down to a beach. When they got back to the car, she couldn't use her phone to start it. They called GigCarShare, and a customer service rep told them that "the car's software could not be remotely reset as it was out of cellular service range. It needed to be towed." 

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GigCarShare explained in an email way after the fact that their cars are re-synced automatically every 24 hours for security purposes. But if, for example, there's not enough cell service for this to happen or the car is more than 50 miles outside of the "HomeZone," it just can't happen. And then the car doesn't start. 

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According to the GigCarShare customer rep, this issue was common, especially on the stretch of road they were on. Cool cool cool. Eventually, after a horrible suggestion they sleep in the car, the company sent a tow truck and brought Kari, her partner, and the useless car back to their Airbnb. 

But even with the wifi there, they couldn't start the car because it "needed to be synced through the cellular network." Kari writes, "We pleaded with Gig employees to send us a second tow truck and then pleaded with them to reset the car after they told us we had already reset it the maximum number of times that day. 

"We had to explain to numerous American Automobile Association (AAA) representatives and one rural tow truck driver what a connected smart car is."

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What a nightmare! After "five hours, two tow trucks, and more than 20 phone calls to Gig's customer service line," the car was finally running again. But the customer rep told them, "Can I give you one more piece of advice? Get the hell out of there — now," like they were in a horror movie or something. 

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Needless to say, Kari's trip did not go as planned. And she's not the only one. Several others have experienced similar things, and not all of them were in rural areas. One person on Reddit explained how their rental stopped right before they went over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

A spokesperson for AAA, Gig's parent company, apologized for the experience, and Gig posted a "Formal Response" on their website, where they wrote, "We want to make it right, and we have refunded the cost of this Member's trip and all related expenses this Member incurred, and we provided this Member with future Gig Credits."

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Something tells me it will at least be a little while before Kari and her partner put their trust in GigCarShare again, at least for longer car rides. It might be more expensive, but cars from a traditional rental company generally don't break down on the side of the road due to lack of cell service.  

Update: A GigCarShare spokesperson reached out to Distractify to clarify a few things. In an email, they wrote, "Although nothing could be done remotely by the customer service rep to assist in starting the vehicle, they did set up a tow for the member and the car to get to an area with better cell service.

"Regarding a Gig rep advising the member to sleep in the car: We assure our members that a miscommunication must have occurred and that after reviewing call records, no such advice was given...

"Gig cars require cell service, Bluetooth or a Gig card to be unlocked and the engine started. We recommend that if a member is traveling to an area with low cell service they acquire a free Gig card to ensure they always have access to the vehicle regardless of cell service and Bluetooth connectivity."

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