(Author’s note: This was originally part of my C7 Corvette Review, but it became so long that I decided to make this a separate post).
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of the so-called “Gig Economy.” I don’t use Uber or Lyft, and I’d rather stay in an actual licensed and regulated hotel than an Airbnb that may or may not be spying on me. However, I’d been toying around with the idea of getting a car from Turo, that peer-to-peer car online rental platform, for years now, and finally decided to pull the trigger this summer while on vacation in Southern California. Turo rental reviews are becoming more common on this site, but no one has ever really explained what it is or how it works, so I put this together for the uninitiated.
In theory, Turo is the ultimate expression of the marketplace economy. Owners compete solely on the merits of their offerings, and consumers are free to shop for the best deal, while simultaneously sticking it to “The Man” of traditional big car rental companies. In practice, as we shall see, you are not really saving that much over a traditional car rental. Moreover, legally speaking you are not actually renting a car through Turo, you are borrowing someone else’s car. This sounds like a subtle distinction, but it can have legal implications for both the borrower and owner.
Still, you can’t deny that Turo gives you access to a much wider variety of vehicles than you would ever get from a traditional rental firm, including classic cars, exotics like Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini, and even Teslas. I suspect the variety, and not the cost savings, is why most people rent from Turo.
The Turo process couldn’t be easier – Using their mobile app or their website, you can filter on location, date, vehicle type, price range and a bunch of other options. All the cars/owners have ratings and reviews from previous renters, so you can use these to be fairly guaranteed a good experience. Renters are also rated by owners, so this rating process works both ways, by the way.
Just beware that quoted price on the screen won’t be your total out of pocket expense. For starters, Turo charges a “trip fee” of up to 25% of the cost of the rental that essentially amounts to a booking fee. This is how Turo makes their money, as the actual rental fee itself goes to the owner of the car and not to Turo.
Next is the protection fee, which is a fancy term for insurance. Because you are technically borrowing a car, any LDW or other rental coverage you may get from your credit card likely will not apply. While you can skip the coverage (on most vehicles), you will probably want to pick up one of the three insurance options Turo offers at checkout (Minimum, Standard, or Premiere, each with increasing levels of coverage and a corresponding increase in cost). All are backed by Liberty Mutual. They even provide a printable insurance card.
Costs continue to add up as virtually all owners require you to wash the car before you return it, or pay a cleaning fee. Some will charge a delivery and/or pickup fee if you are not able to pick up or return the car at or near the owner’s residence. And of course, you will need to return the car with a full tank of gas.
Next, be sure to check how many miles are being offered vs. what you plan to drive. Unlike traditional rentals, most cars on Turo do not offer unlimited mileage. Many offer 200 miles per day or more, but most exotics are limited to 100 miles per day (or less), and the over mileage charges can be steep (we’re talking dollars per mile for exotic cars).
In any case, it pays to compare the “all in” price, and not just the base rental fee. Some owners will offer more miles with their rental, and some will waive the cleaning fee. And pay particular attention to where the owner is located, to minimize any delivery fees. In any case, expect to pay at least double the quoted price: I was in for over $200 on my $99 Corvette rental by the time I paid for the least expensive insurance, trip fee, gas, and a car wash. I also had to pick up and return the car to the owner’s home.
While that is about all you need to do for your typical rentals, things get a little more complicated when dealing with exotic cars. Some exotic car owners require you to take the Turo offered insurance, under the (probably correct) assumption that your personal insurance won’t be sufficient to cover a Lamborghini or Ferrari. Most exotic owners will also require you to leave a security deposit that you may not get back until several days after the rental ($500-$1,500 is common). And while the minimum rental age at Turo is 21, many exotic cars are restricted to renters over 25 (Deluxe Class) or even over 30 (Super Deluxe Class).
Once the time comes to pick up your rental, you check in with your phone. Turo requires using their app to take pictures of all four sides of the car, the odometer and gas gauge before you can “check out” the rental. While not required, I recommend taking pictures of the interior as well, along with all four wheels and tires (to note wear and curb rash).
Once you have completed your rental, you simply repeat the process, taking a fresh set of “after” photos as part of the check-in process. You can then leave feedback for the owner, but otherwise you are done at this point.
I found the process smooth and easy enough that I will definitely do it again on a future trip.