I love to travel, but vacations can be expensive. So I'm always looking at ways to save a little cash on my adventures.
When you fly somewhere, it seems like a traditional car rental agency is the only way to go, especially if you're traveling with a bunch of kids. Even in cities with a good public transportation system, we often opt for renting a car if little ones are along.
But on our family's most recent trip to California, I decided to try out a peer-to-peer car rental. The thought of renting some random dude's car made me a little leery, but it's no different than what I've been doing with homes for 20 years. Our family rarely stays in hotels. No matter where we travel in the world, we rent someone else's home (usually through Homeaway). So I cast my fears aside and followed in the footsteps of my many millennial friends and rented our car from a total stranger.
The peer-to-peer car rental company Turo has been around for nine years. Christin Di Scipio, senior communications coordinator for Turo, says the service is available at 300 airports and about 5,500 cities. I told her about my concern of renting a stranger's car.
"We do a background check," Di Scipio says, "and the two-way rating system helps create an open and trustworthy marketplace."
The rating system has car owners and car renters rate each other, and all the information goes on the app and website.
We flew into California last Wednesday for a long weekend. As I was looking at renting a minivan through a traditional car rental agency, I choked a little bit on the price. The cheapest I could find was through Enterprise at $117 a day. After adding taxes and fees for a Dodge Grand Caravan (or equivalent), my grand total for a Wednesday though Sunday rental was $608. That came with free cancellation and unlimited mileage, but I would have an additional cost if I chose to buy rental car damage protection for $9 a day.
I decided to check out Turo. I knew my home rental was about an hour from the airport and I didn't plan on traveling too far from there. So I chose a 2017 Toyota Sienna that allowed 600 miles plus free delivery. Turo does have two insurance options at either $7.50 a day or $20 a day, which I declined. The price was $50 a day plus $25 in fees for a grand total of $220. I saved more than $400.
Choosing a car from Turo's website is a little different than what you're used to. You choose the type of car and everything, but also choose how far you'll need to travel and what type of pick-up you prefer. You can also select features like a ski rack, a child seat or all-wheel drive. Some airports have Turo parking lots similar to traditional car rental agencies, where the hand-off takes place. I chose free delivery, which meant my car owner, Levon Pogosyan, drove the van to the pick-up lane at Long Beach Airport. He took a few pictures of mileage, gas levels and the condition of the car and handed me the keys. Levon then took the metro back home. It was so easy with no shuttles or long lines or paperwork. I did pay close attention to those online ratings, though.
Levon says he knows his good ratings help his van get a lot of business.
"I enjoy helping people out and it helps me too," he says. "After I pay my car payment and the cost of getting to and from drop-off locations, I make about $500 in profit each month."
That average includes renting his van out about half of the month; a nice supplement to the income of Levon, who is currently a graduate student.
The cars on Turo must be 2005 or newer with less than 130,000 miles, and cancellation is not free unless it's more than seven days before your trip. You'll lose your fee if it's within a week of your rental and will lose everything if it's less than 24 hours before you're supposed to pick up the car.
My first experience with this peer-to-peer rental idea was awesome. But there are some things to take into consideration before you try it. First, Long Beach is a small airport. The process may be a bit more confusing if you use a larger airport or other hand-off location. Second, make sure you read the reviews. Third, talk with your credit card and insurance companies about their policies when it comes to using a service like Turo. The coverage you normally rely on may not hold up when the car rental isn't from a traditional agency.