What's Intriguing About Turo?

The concept of the "sharing economy" is popular in the media but why is it relevant to folks who look for the low-cost car rentals? Our interest in exploring companies such as Turo.com initially began as a matter of helping fellow travelers understand alternatives. We study everything about the rental car industry and alternatives to rental car companies, even using alternative forms of transportation when needed. If we didn't enjoy helping customers with transportation needs, we wouldn't run our service!

And we really don't like to tell our peers that there's no rental car available.

Sometimes, we simply can't find a way to help a renter get the vehicle they want in a useful manner. Like all other commodities, rental cars are limited - we've seen many locations sold out for weeks at a time after major weather disturbances (such as recent flooding and hurricanes in the Southeastern United States).

Yet vehicles have remained listed as (theoretically) available on services like Turo. Adaptable drivers who trust the peer-to-peer model might be able to find a vehicle even when the traditional rental car companies are "sold out".

So What's Different about Turo?

Turo - the company formerly known as RelayRides - operates on the peer-to-peer model of car sharing. A driver renting through Turo will be in another individual's personal car, rather than in a corporation's car. Turo is effectively the vehicular equivalent of AirBnB with the same strengths and weaknesses* - individual experiences can vary wildly.

* The author once slept in a rental Suzuki Swift after an AirBnB host refused to provide the address to a property, despite already receiving payment through AirBnB.

The leadership of Turo and Getaround believe there's a vast untapped potential of vehicles that are underutilized. Yet the market has thus far shown car-sharing to be a niche. RelayRides (the predecessor to Turo), competitor GetAround, and Uber were all founded in 2009 to serve some transportation need. Uber has quickly become a multi-billion dollar enterprise while car-sharing has comparatively floundered.

Theoretical Underpinning of Turo

Turo's genesis narrative describes the company as connecting individuals who have an unused car with drivers who have the temporary need for cars.

With Turo, you're not just getting any old rental car; you're getting a car that's part of a personal story, not a fleet.

Turo might claim that vehicles are part of personal stories but there's clear evidence that this might be stretched by some of the owners. My initial search on the Turo website showed a guy named Mariano, and his unused "personal story, not a fleet" clearly resembled a fleet. Despite listing a non-automotive form of employment, Mariano has 18 cars listed on Turo and sounds more like an imported car dealer - 1 Acura, 6 Hondas, 4 Nissans, and 7 Toyotas. The company affirmed that there's no limit on the number of vehicles that can be listed through the service; in fact, those using Turo as a true business might be the best providers.

Applying for the Turo service

Time and place utility are very powerful concepts; an application process that takes days and cars that require a long lead time would decrease the value of the service. Turo requires a rental application that can be approved within minutes, with cars that can be booked online.

The company does require a driver's license number, last four digits of the Social Security Number, and credit card then does a check for the auto insurance score from a consumer credit reporting agency. The company actively verifies identity and determines whether a driver is a suitable risk to drive another person's automobile - the right to conduct a similar driver record check is reserved by almost every rental car firm (including ZipCar sharing).

How Does the Availability Look?

Reviewing a weeklong holiday rental at the three major Washington, D.C. area airports, there was substantial apparent availability. At DCA and IAD, over 200 cars were available. BWI had 180 cars available. Even requests for the next business day ostensibly showed more than 100 cars that could be picked up at each of the three airports. For customers absolutely needing a car when traditional firms might be sold out, a car may indeed be available. Some of the individuals offering their cars for rent on Turo will even assist with airport pickups.

However, like AirBnB in many cities, there aren't many "Book Instantly" options. Fewer than 10% of the cars listed could be "booked instantly". Even worse, some users won't have the option to book instantly until after their first rental.

While cars started as low as $30 for the next day, there were a sizable number of listings for expensive, specialty classifications that might be hard to book at traditional rental car companies. With enough cash per day, even Tesla models and Corvettes are available.

Our Take

Turo is an example of an option for customers who are stuck without rental car alternatives, in areas where mass transit, taxis, and ride-sharing are insufficient. AutoSlash can't help with Turo rentals but we do want drivers to find the vehicles that meet their needs; Turo might be better than no car at all as a peer-to-peer alternative. We always provide guidance to users when vehicles are not available through traditional rental car companies, and Turo has some potential use cases where trusting a peer might be the best possible option:

  • A renter requesting a vehicle at an airport but the location is sold out.
  • A renter requesting a vehicle in a specific neighborhood but the location is sold out.
  • A renter requesting a vehicle at a time when neighborhood locations might be closed (evenings, Saturday afternoon, Sunday, and holidays).
  • A renter requesting a vehicle in an area where there's simply no rental car availability (like my hometown).
  • A renter requesting a specialty car that is typically unavailable with traditional rental car companies. Turo has listings for exotic vehicles, convertibles*, and even cars with manual transmissions in the U.S.

  • * Convertibles are even listed in New York during the winter, potentially helping with one of our frequent requests that can't be handled by the rental car companies.

    The Other Side of Turo

    Given our experiences with traditional rental car firms, there are parts of the Turo model that are sticking points. If flying into a city, we expect Avis to have a car when we land - with a service like Turo, our faith has to be with an individual rather than a corporation. In addition, Turo rentals have limited mileage on a per day basis. Most importantly, AutoSlash can't search for cheaper car rentals when using a service like Turo.

    While we could envision ourselves using Turo or an equivalent in the future, the AutoSlash team probably wouldn't list our own vehicles on the site. We enjoy having comparatively intact manual transmissions and don't want our cars showing up on various speed and red light cameras in the D.C. and NYC areas.

    Experience with Turo or other alternatives to rental cars? Let us know at feedback@autoslash.com and we might share your story.

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