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How Does Turo Really Work?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2017

Hello and welcome to the latest round of Ask Doug, everyone's favorite weekly event, where you Ask Doug various things, and Doug laughs at your ridiculous question and then openly mocks you in a public forum.

If you want to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just email me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, and I'll consider responding to your email live and in person, right here on Oversteer -- the finest automotive site in existence, according to me.

This week's letter comes to me from a reader in Connecticut whom I've named Wilbur. Wilbur is writing about Turo, the "Airbnb for cars" service I often use, which allows you to rent other peoples' cars instead of normal rental cars. Wilbur says:

Doug

I noticed you often film videos with Turo cars. I am going out west on a trip to Arizona with my wife and I am wondering if we should sign up for Turo. Is it safe? I am worried the owner won't show up at the airport, and I'm not really sure what the situation is with insurance. Obviously the cars are more interesting than a normal rental car company, which is why I'm interested at all... but I have visions of being stranded at the airport with no rental car and I can't get in touch with the owner.

Let me know...

Wilbur from Connecticut

Now, before I get into this response, I should mention that Turo gives me a monthly budget to rent cars, so you might consider me a paid shill. If so, feel free to disregard everything I say below, although I should note that I used Turo several times before they ever reached out to me. I get a lot of advertising offers, and Turo is the only one I've ever actually accepted, largely because of my satisfied prior use, even when they weren't paying me -- and because, let's be honest, it's a lot cooler to rent a Turo car than an Enterprise Chevy Malibu.

So here's the deal: Like I said above, Turo is like Airbnb for cars, where you rent someone else's car instead of a typical rental car. You get that part.

What usually trips people up are the two things mentioned above by Wilbur. The biggest is communication with the owner, and whether the owner will actually show up at the airport to get you.

This, obviously, has worried me a lot too -- and maybe more than a normal person, since I have a video to film with the Turo car in question, meaning I'll actually lose money -- subscribers, popularity, clicks to Ovesteer, advertising revenue, whatever -- if the guy doesn't show up. So here's how I make sure this isn't a problem.

Number one, I look at their rental history. I try to stick to cars that have been rented and reviewed before, so the owner demonstrates a pattern where he or she clearly understands what's going on (aka -- this is a person traveling here from another place, and they do not want your vehicle, but they actively need it to get around). Number two, I send them a nice note when I'm renting the car, explaining why I need it. "Hey, I'm coming to St. Louis for a business trip and your Pontiac Aztek looks awesome! I can't wait to drive it!" This gives a human face to my rental request, and it lodges in their mind that someone is renting their Pontiac Aztek.

Most importantly: On the actual day of the rental, I send them a note through Turo and a text message reminding them that I'm picking up the car. I tell them my flight number and the exact time I'm landing, and I let them know whether or not I have bags. If they don't respond, I follow up with another text message later in the day until they do.

This strategy hasn't failed me yet, and I think I've rented 10 or 12 Turo cars at this point. In fact, the only time I've been left "stranded" was out of the car owner's control -- a Ford Focus RS I was planning to rent in Denver was smashed while parked on the street a few days before I was due to fly in. This was unfortunate, but it's an obvious risk when you're renting "Jim's Pontiac Aztek" instead of some random "intermediate" car from Enterprise.

Interestingly, Turo doesn't really advertise what I consider to be their single best benefit: no waiting in rental-car lines. Nine out of 10 times when I use Turo, the owner of the car hands it off to me in the "passenger pickup" area at the airport. This is a MASSIVE MASSIVE HUGE INSANELY BIG INDESCRIBABLY GIGANTIC time savings over going to a rental-car counter where every single person is a "special case," where people reserve a compact car for one day and arrive and decide Naaaah, I actually want a pickup, and I want it for a week, and is it OK if my friend with a foreign driver's license is the primary driver?

I once booked a "luxury SUV" from a rental-car place at the Atlanta airport, waited in line for over an hour, and when I finally got up to the rental-car counter, I was given a Chevrolet Traverse. Obviously, this doesn't work every time -- I've had to take a shuttle to an airport parking lot for a few Turos -- but normally this simple benefit alone is so much better than the typical rental-car experience that it's worth using Turo by itself.

The other question Wilbur asks is about insurance. This is a good one and, once again, I had the same question: Will my insurance cover me? I called up my insurance agent with Allstate, I asked them about Turo, and I was shocked at the answer: Yes, they know Turo. Yes, they cover Turo just like a normal rental car. Yes, it's no problem. I now decline all coverage when I rent a Turo car, as I'm covered through my regular policy. However, obviously, your exact situation may be different. If you plan on using Turo, don't ask some random internet writer if your insurance will cover you -- call your insurance company and get an answer. If they don't know, it might be worth springing for the added insurance policy through Turo.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my Turo experience. I've been thrilled so far virtually every time I've used it -- and I have to say, I'm always happier driving around in "Jim's Pontiac Aztek" than a normal airport rental. It also doesn't hurt that "Jim's Pontiac Aztek" always has local plates, so nobody thinks I'm a tourist dweeb who has no idea where he's going. Even though that's usually true.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
How Does Turo Really Work? - Autotrader