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The end of fumbling with friggin' gas station credit card readers is upon us

Our long national nightmare is over: At CES, SiriusXM and Visa show how to buy fuel and order food right from your car's dashboard.

This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.
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In the 21st century, we have a multitude of ways to pay for things. There's always cold, hard cash, but you can also use a debit or credit card; your modern smartphone is even an option. Offering yet another method, the folks at SiriusXM have partnered with Visa to develop a system that allows you to pay for stuff with your vehicle. That means no fumbling for greenbacks or digging a card out of your wallet or purse.

An extension of its connected-vehicle services, the satellite-radio firm announced this technology at CES last year, but now it's basically ready to hit the market. Here's how it  works.

SiriusXM has partnered with Visa to develop this system, which enables you to seamlessly pay for things like tolls and parking, buy fuel, and even order a sausage, egg and cheese McBagel breakfast burrito from your favorite quick-service restaurant. You can do all this right from the driver's seat using either the vehicle's dashboard display or voice commands.  

No matter what you do, it's all designed to be extremely easy. Whether you buy some fuel or pay for a fast-food combo meal, there are no separate apps to fiddle with and you only have to enter your payment information once. That's it.

SiriusXM Visa Payments

You can select your favorite food items so they're at the ready when a craving strikes. 

SiriusXM

Another advantage of this system, since the vehicle essentially is the payment method, you can leave home without your phone or credit card and still be able to buy things, though you might want to make sure you still bring a driver's license. Just sayin'.

Visa's role in developing this technology has been largely on the back end, doing some highly technical stuff to ensure the payment system both works and is secure. Keeping your credit-card account safe, and without getting too far into the weeds, this system uses something called tokenization. It's basically a way of replacing sensitive information with a unique digital identifier. Think of it as sort of a virtual credit-card number.

But what if someone steals your Toyota Camry or Ford F-150? Well, SiriusXM and Visa are already two steps ahead. Making sure unauthorized users can't rack up fraudulent charges, authentication is required. Basically, the vehicle needs to know that an approved person is driving before any payments can be made.

SiriusXM is demonstrating this with an iris scanner, but other biometric options are available depending on how automakers care to implement this technology. Voice and facial recognition plus fingerprint scanners are other options. Before heading out on a trip, you authenticate, essentially tell the car that you are in fact you, and then vehicle-based, on-the-go payments are magically enabled.

On a very brief test drive around Las Vegas amid the crowds that had come to town for CES 2020, three aspects of this system were demonstrated. While underway, a simulated road toll was paid as I dove the test vehicle past a certain intersection. This was done seamlessly and without any separate transponder.

Several minutes later, a low-fuel warning popped up. Acknowledging this prompt on the infotainment screen, I was able to find a nearby gas station on the map and easily navigate to it. Once there, I selected the fuel pump I wanted to use, and it was seamless and automatically authorized. No need to go inside and prepay or swipe a credit card.

SiriusXM Visa Payments

There's no need to reach for your wallet when it's time to top-off the tank.

Evan Miller/Roadshow

Finally, near the end of this test drive, I was able to order some fast food basically by using voice commands. This could be a game changer for families or road warriors.

At least in a tightly controlled environment this technology worked extremely well. The only real downside right now is a lack of partners. SiriusXM is working to get restaurant chains, gas stations and toll roads to use this system. After that, it's no leap to see this product rapidly proliferate throughout the automotive industry. The experience it should provide will be almost seamless.

Currently, SiriusXM provides connected-vehicle services to a wide range of car companies. And this new payment system is something OEMs will surely want to add to their vehicles.

The technology is essentially available right now, though the company is working with automakers to get it on the market. In addition to Visa, other payment options should be made available down the road.