- I am currently renting through Turo, a car-sharing app, to avoid sky-high rental-car prices.
- I’ve rented a Mercedes Benz for 24 hours and a Prius for more than 30 days through the app.
- I learned from three mistakes that made me worry about my safety and being charged additional costs.
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To avoid skyrocketing rental-car prices while traveling around the United States as a digital nomad, I recently turned to San Francisco-based car-sharing app Turo.
Turo functions like an Airbnb for cars in that you can book vehicles directly from their owners. The company has over 450,000 listings across the US and Canada, so it’s available in most major cities, and I have found it to be more affordable than booking through companies like Hertz and Enterprise.
So far, I have booked two cars through the app: a 2010 Mercedes Benz for 24 hours and a 2009 Prius for more than 30 days.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed using Turo, but after a few unpleasant and harrowing experiences, I’ve learned a few lessons and am going to use the app differently in the future.
If you book through Turo, here are three tips to avoid stress, additional fees, and the possibility of your car breaking down in the middle of nowhere.
1. Read reviews thoroughly before booking
On a recent trip to Palm Springs, California, I was in a hurry to lock in a 24-hour rental car and found a 2010 Mercedes Benz listed by an all-star host on Turo. I booked it without looking at reviews, but reading them would have saved me a headache.
When I met the host at the airport to pick up the car, our exchange was very quick. We both took photos of the outside, then he handed me the key and left. It was only when my partner and I got to our destination that I realized the car seemed far from “like new” as the listing had described. There was a huge gash in the middle of the driver seat, exposing the foam, and the passenger door didn’t open from the inside, which is a safety issue.
After reading reviews, I realized that recent guests had called out these faults and given the listing low ratings. Because of older, more positive reviews, the host’s rating was still high overall.
2. Factor in time to examine the car before you accept the reservation
As I drove around in the Benz, I noticed a nauseating smell of cigarettes in the car. Reading Turo’s smoking policy, I learned I was on the hook for it because I did not immediately file a report.
Turo tells guests not to check in to a reservation if they smell cigarette smoke upon picking up a car and instead to call customer service. A representative will then cancel the trip and arrange a replacement car.
Fortunately, my host accepted the car back with the smoke odor, but he technically could have charged $50 for odor removal.
3. Research the car model and how it works, and ask the car owner about quirks or issues
I am currently renting a 2009 Prius, and so far the host has been incredibly helpful and responsive, but I wish I had asked him how the car performs in different environments as well as when the car was last serviced to avoid a few hairy situations.
When driving along a highway in high wind, I realized that the car drifts to the right if you don’t have two hands on the wheel, which caused my heart to jump out of my chest.
I also panicked when my partner and I were heading home from Death Valley National Park recently. We were driving the Prius at around 50 mph shortly after sunset when the car started to make odd sounds, almost as if it was stuck in the wrong gear. A strong electrical smell started to waft through the windows.
We pulled over and saw heat escaping from the engine, which was disconcerting considering that Death Valley National Park advises visitors to pack to survive, there is no cell service in the park, and the weekend before, a man was found dead after his car broke down in a remote area of the park. We were on a main road, but it was empty nonetheless.
Thankfully, we made it out of Death Valley, and the car engine started to make normal sounds again.
I found Turo to be a great and easy-to-use app, but I recommend doing your due diligence before driving someone else’s car.
When contacted by Insider for this story, Turo CEO Andre Haddad said in a statement via email: “We are excited record numbers of travelers are discovering the amazing hospitality of Turo hosts, our superior selection, convenience and value.”
Learn more about how to use Turo here.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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