Cheaper car rental? We give Turo a test drive.

In America

The emergence of the sharing economy is ushering in a new age of travel. Can car sharing platform Turo change the way we rent cars?

AirBnB has opened up whole cities to travellers, who no longer need to stay in overpriced hotels or overcrowded hostels in “touristy” parts of town.  There are some big downsides to this – you can see AirBnB sweeping through neighbourhoods like Brooklyn and Queens in New York (despite not being legal), driving up rents and pricing long-time residents out of the neighbourhoods.  Berlin has become the latest city to ban the rental of whole apartments through Airbnb for this reason (but you can still rent a spare room) https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/01/berlin-authorities-taking-stand-against-airbnb-rental-boom.

But for travellers, Airbnb is a game changer that has made accommodation more affordable, more enjoyable, and has allowed travellers to feel part of a city in a way that was not easy before.

Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are another game changer that have rapidly changed the way people travel, and made getting around easier and far more affordable.

A new frontier for the sharing economy is sharing cars – not as in Uber and Lyft where you are driven around, but rather hiring a private vehicle directly from a person.  Think about how many cars are left sitting idle.  In the USA, there are an estimated 253 million vehicles.  People have spare vehicles that they don’t use very often.  Others have cars that they only use on weekends.  When people travel overseas for business of pleasure, they often leave their cars idle at the airport. In the sharing economy, this is an opportunity to make money for the vehicle owners.  

I’m pretty sick of dealing with rental car companies – prices fluctuate dramatically, hiring a car feels like a trap where every question brings with it a new charge.  Consumers are scared into taking out overly expensive insurance, which is tough on a budget traveller.  Renting a car from an airport can mean paying double (although many people don’t know this).  So I was intrigued when I heard about Turo (formerly known as RelayRides), a peer to peer car rental company that has been getting great reviews.

We gave it a try and were pretty impressed with the results.

For a four day trip to Cape Cod from Boston, the cheapest car on offer from the big car rental companies was around $60 per day, without taxes and insurance added on. We ended up booking a car from Turo for 3 days for $131, including the booking fee and insurance (around half the price of the major companies).

We wanted a basic cheap car (which Turo had plenty of), but the variety of cars on offer was impressive.  Everything from brand new convertible BMW’s, to tiny smart cars, to old pickup trucks and vintage cars.

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I booked the car 4 days ahead, which was really simple.  I msg’d the car’s owner the morning of the pickup just to confirm the details, and he responded that the car we had booked had been in a minor accident the week before – it was drivable, but he said we probably wouldn’t want to drive it (he was correct).  What a disastrous start!  He said that Turo should have removed the car from the website and said we said we could upgrade to another, nicer car that he had on Turo for no extra cost.

So a pretty awful start.  However Turo customer support where fantastic.  I called them and they answered straight away.  They were really helpful, they could access my chat history with the car owner, and the confirmed that I could change to the other vehicle at no cost.  In fact they said it was the owner’s responsibility to take the damaged vehicle offline, but they would discuss this with him.  The whole thing was sorted in 10 minutes.

Picking up the car was super easy (we also had the option of having the car delivered to us for $20).  We uber’d across Boston, picked up the keys from a letter box and found the car on the street.  We never even meet the car owner, which felt pretty strange.  Four days later we dropped the car back at the same location and put the keys back in the mailbox.

The car was in need of a good cleaning when we got it (the inside hadn’t been vacuumed for a while), but as we were taking it camping it really didn’t matter to us.

At the end of the day, travellers like us we are looking the cheapest car we can get, we don’t care about having the latest model.  Turo can offer cars cheaper than the major car rentals companies.  As happens in the sharing economy, consumers are dealing directly with other people and not every experience will be the same, but on the whole Turo seems like a great new tool for travellers.  

The following week we hired a car through Hertz, and had all manner of headaches.

I booked a car online with my Visa debit card, however on pickup they informed me that I had to change the booking to a credit card (there was no mention of this online).  The staff in the Hertz office could do absolutely nothing, and I had to stand in their office for 90 minutes calling three different customer departments to change my booking.  After returning the car I have realised I was over-charged $100 – now I’ve got to try and sort this out via the Hertz call centres, cue the hold music.

Book a car through Turo here. (Full disclosure: that’s a referral link – so if you book a car through Turo, we will get a $25 credit 🙂