A smart new way to rent cars

When I was a (nerdy) kid, disruptive was a term I tended to associate with those green energy weapons mounted on Klingon and Romulan spacecraft – the alien equivalent of the phasers on the spaceship Business, with which said cultures occasionally traded explosions in some sort of interstellar kerfuffle before Captain Kirk or Picard found a way to smooth things over. Here in 2022, however – where, fun fact, we’re actually closer to Kirk’s five-year mission than the start of the Revolutionary War – the disruptor tends to refer to a company looking to revive a business. long-established and often stagnant. model.

By this definition, the car rental industry is ripe for disruption. As if dot-matrix printers crushing contracts with tear-off sides in their offices weren’t enough metaphor and proof, the past two years have revealed that the traditional car rental model is more flawed than a junk diamond. When the pandemic hit, rental car agencies across America shut down and sold their fleets, assuming the end of travel as we know it – only to be caught with their pants down when people started to travel in droves a few months later, forcing them to buy as many cars as possible, which in part leads to the car shortages and used car price inflation that haunt us to this day. In addition to that, some Hertz customers have found themselves with a particularly severe case of buyer’s remorse after being arrested and even jailed for allegedly stealing cars they both paid and returned correctly. (It became a big enough problem that some US senators are calling for an investigation into this.)

Enter Turo. Founded in 2010 as a pseudo competitor to ZipCar before pivoting to its current business model, Turo is often called “the AirBnB of cars,” and that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it. Private car owners – I guess you could call them “hosts” – post their vehicles on the service, offering others the chance to rent them out for a short-term period. Turo merely acts as an intermediary (for which, of course, they charge a small fee); you book with an individual, not a faceless company that might forget you returned your car and send law enforcement after you.

The vehicle selection can also be much more varied, which can be a boon for both enthusiasts and those who like to plan in depth. While traditional car rental companies only offer broad categories when booking, Turo lets you know the exact car you’ll be driving – year, make, model and options.

At least, that’s the idea. To find out how well it works in practice, I tested Turo on a trip to Montana to test Ski-Doo’s 2023 snowmobiles. Here is what I found.

Step 1: Book with Turo

As with AirBnB, you can use Turo on your browser, although it’s always worth downloading the app to your smartphone; once you get to step 2, you’ll need it (for reasons that will become clear shortly). I found using the website on my desktop easier for navigation purposes, as it’s a bit easier to compare different vehicles in different tabs

For my trip to Montana, I knew I needed something with both snow tires and all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, given that my route involved traversing tight mountain passes in rough terrain. arctic conditions. Turns out both are tickable options found in the “more filters” section of Turo’s website, along with a host of other choices – from wheelchair accessibility to Apple CarPlay/Android compatibility. Auto passing through the ski racks. There are also options to filter by number of seats, car type, transmission, year, even for “green vehicles” (EV or hybrid) and “luxury” and “super luxury” cars reserved for more customers older, presumably more mature. Or, if you want to go really deep, you can even search for specific makes and models.

For my purposes, I found a match in the form of a 2019 Subaru Impreza 5-Door listed by a guy named Ben. After submitting a reservation request, we corresponded using the Turo app’s built-in message function; Ben, who happened to be a very nice guy, not only explained the pick-up procedure to me in detail, but also provided local restaurant recommendations, which came in handy.

Sabel Courtney

Step 2: car pick-up

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s time to pull out the phone to let the host know you’ve arrived. In my case, owner Ben was able to remotely unlock the Subaru using the MySubaru app on his phone, even though he was several miles away. However, other “hosts” may do things differently; many will pick you up in person with the car, for example.

Before getting in, however, I had to document the current condition of the car — which, in the case of a Turo loaner, means taking pictures of it from all angles. This became the only sore point of the trip; not because taking the photos per se was an ordeal, but rather because the parking lot at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is very open to the elements, which when I arrived meant “windy and -6º Fahrenheit”. Suffice it to say, taking off my gloves and taking more than a dozen photos of a car was not my fingers’ favorite activity.

Once on board with the heating on and the heated seats on, life was good. Ben was not only kind enough to leave a few dollars on board to pay for my exit from the parking lot, but he also left some snacks and water for me in the car. The car itself proved perfectly suited to the Montana winter, starting quickly and easily even in sub-zero temperatures and providing consistent, measured grip even when driving on the nightmarish surfaces of snow and ice. blown by the wind along 9,000 foot mountain passes. Plus, as a side benefit, I got 35 miles per gallon.

Both host and borrower need to upload photos to the app.

Sabel Courtney

Step 3: Returning the car

Returning the car was basically like the pickup in reverse, with the slight addition of having to stop to refuel a few miles from the drop point to make sure the car had as much fuel than when I picked it up. Following Ben’s instructions, the return was easy: after taking another set of photos to prove the car was still in the condition I found it, I locked the keys in the car on the airport parking lot and texted him the location of his car later. recovery.

Is it better to rent a car through Turo than using traditional agencies?

I am certainly basing this on a single experience, but I must say: damn yes. The other reporter on my snowmobile trip ended up booking a generic SUV through a traditional car rental company, presumably expecting to get something capable – but ended up with front-wheel drive Mitsubishi Outlander Sport on inexpensive all-season tires.

Of course, as with sites like AirBnB, prices can vary based on all sorts of factors, some of which are rather opaque. The total sum of my two-day reservation came to $350.49; most of that cost came in the form of a $95/day rate for the car, but there was also the $38/day insurance (I went with the “standard protection” plan, one of three options), a “travel fee” of $16.32/day (which appears to be Turo’s discount and varies with other loan costs), and an “airport fee” of $31 $.86, which apparently goes to the airport where the deposit is made. All told, that was a bit more than the other reviewer paid for his traditional rental – but your experience may vary, as I’ve also heard stories that Turo options were cheaper than cars from ordinary rentals.

Yet given both acute and chronic rental car problems, even paying a little more for the peace of mind of knowing exactly what car you’ll be getting – and having a direct line to an actual human being should anything go wrong. – seems worth it. For my part, I will definitely check out Turo’s options for my next trip. And hey, why would you pass up a chance to drive an Aston Martin on your next trip to Los Angeles?


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