I’m standing in a suburban street, a 10 minute Uber ride from San Francisco airport. In front of us is undoubtedly the smallest car I’ve ever seen. I open my phone to text Lance, a man I’ve never met but who happens to own this car. The car door clicks open as if by magic. We get in and take the keys from the glove box and simply drive away.
In this new world of the sharing economy, homeowners are renting out spare rooms on Airbnb, drivers are replacing taxis using Uber and now car owners are renting their cars to travellers via Turo, the most popular peer-to-peer car rental service based out of San Francisco.
This guide will hep you decide if Turo is right for you as a traveller. We have focused on how Turo works in the USA (based on our experience) however Turo is available in Canada, UK, Germany and now Israel.
How does Turo Work?
You know how many cars sit idle, often for days at a time? Well what Turo does is allow car owners to rent their cars to others to make money from their car when it is not in use. Turo has been operating since 2010 and has thousands of cars to rent in over 5,500 cities worldwide.
Cars can range from super compact to luxury sports models depending on what people are willing to rent. Each car listed will have specific details outlined by the individual car owners explaining the conditions of rental and also the pick up and drop off instructions.
To secure the rental, a driver needs to register a profile on the Turo platform and supply a picture of their drivers license. Once the car has been reserved, much like Airbnb, payment is held by Turo until the car exchange has taken place. This can happen by a simple meet up and exchange of keys, or use the more sophisticated, but very convenient, option of unlocking the car remotely (a Turo patented device).
Pros of Using Turo for Car Rental in the USA
Low Price points available
While Turo doesn’t claim or try to beat traditional rental car prices, it can be a cheaper alternative. A much wider range of car makes are available and the year models can be up to 10 years old. This allows cheaper cars to be rented. The price is also governed by the car owner. For example, for our compact Smart four two it was $17 per day rental and $8.50 per day for insurance. This was far cheaper than any other car rental available (with essential insurance) in San Francisco.
Massive saving on insurance costs
One of the major benefits of Turo is the price and simplicity of car rental insurance. In the USA, this can be a minefield to navigate. With Turo, you choose to either get premium, basic or no protection. Premium is recommended and means both personal liability (up to $1M) and lost, stolen or damaged costs are covered which can be as little as $8.50. This type of cover is usually $40 on top of any standard rental fee.
Available for under 25 rental
Turo allows you to rent a car if you are over 21. Most car rental companies need you to be over 25 or otherwise pay a large insurance fee. If you are under 25 you only need to have been driving for over 2 years.
Good pick-up/drop-off experience
Depending on the way you look at it, the pick up experience can be far superior to a regular rental. Rather than wait in line at a busy car rental counter and mess around with paperwork, the car owner can meet you at an agreed location like an airport and simply hand you your keys and you are off! This depends of course on the responsiveness of the car owner to be available at the day and time of the exchange (see cons).
Making a Local Connection
The sharing economy when it comes to travel offers a local contact on the ground in the destination you are travelling. The car owner can give you tips on where to go and at the very least some things to watch out for when driving in the city like parking restrictions and tolls.
Useful and relevant rental reviews
Reviews, like with any sharing economy gig, will provide a good guide as to the experience you are likely to have. Look for speed of response along with quality and condition of the car.
Cons of Using Turo for Car Rental
No one-way rentals
Doing a one-way rental using Turo is limited to the few commercial operators using the platform. It’s unlikely a car owner will want to travel a long distance to pick up their car at a remote location. Individual car owners though may be willing to consider it so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Possible pick up/drop-off inconvenience
Major car rental companies have offices within airports and convenient inner city locations often open 24 hours. With Turo, the owner needs to either meet you to exchange the keys or unlock it remotely for you. So you need to be in contact with the owner at the time you need it. Depending on the communication skills of your car owner this delay may cause frustration.
Varied car condition
Regular rental cars are often clean and spotless and quite new (if a bit soulless). With Turo, you could be using someone’s car they use everyday of the week. While the renter’s reviews will be impacted by the condition and cleanliness of their car, you are likely to have a higher variance in quality.
Commercial rental companies coming onto the platform
As with many peer-to-peer services, commercial operations have decided to use it as another sales channel and some independent operators have scaled up their operations by buying a fleet of cheap cars to maximise returns. Be aware, the Turo insurance does not apply for commercial operators on the platform. And, I believe the insurance savings to be one of the biggest benefits of Turo to the traveller.
Most rental cars these days provide unlimited mileage. Car owners though are more protective of the wear and tear that occurs with high mileage so many advertise limited miles. If you are looking to travel massive distances in a short space of time it might not be the best option.
Overall recommendation for using Turo
I would highly recommend using Turo based on our San Francisco experience. I would look at reviews and ask specific questions from the car owner to determine the speed and clarity of their reply communication. The biggest benefit in the USA however is the insurance which could save you upwards of $30 a day! It is also a unique experience to add a little adventure to your next holiday.