When was the last time you looked forward to a car rental experience? Depending on how lucky you are, perhaps never. I find there’s a certain ambiguous anxiety shadowing the entire process, from booking to returning.
What do they mean by ‘Fiat 500 or similar car’? Which of these 50 levels of insurance cover do I need, if any? Roadside assistance express or Super Personal Accident Insurance? It feels like I’m trying to pick over-the-counter hayfever medication rather than arranging a car for my holiday in Spain.
Car rental giants have streamlined the process for the masses who don’t mind which car they drive as long as it gets them and their family from A to B in one piece. That’s why you end up driving soulless fleet cars. But for those of us who are often more interested in which car they drive rather than where they’re going, it can be rather hollow.
This is where, for me, clever peer-to-peer carsharing services such as Turo come in. It’s much like an Airbnb for cars as it allows you to rent other people’s vehicles with a certain degree of refreshing freedom.
One of the greatest advantages is the ability to choose exactly which car you want. Because these are all privately-owned cars, you are more likely to find a choice of far more interesting vehicles. It’s this level of choice which makes Turo a great service for enthusiasts – just scan your driving licence and you’re off to the races (not literally).
I can pick up a classic Land Rover Defender and take part in some gentle greenlaning, or perhaps you would prefer a taking an 1962 Austin Healey 3000 for a weekend in the Cotswolds? If you’re of the cutting-edge persuasion, there are plenty of Teslas and supercars to satisfy your need for speed (limits).
Petrolhead weekend breaks aside, this is a great option to inject some motoring fun into an otherwise dull rental experience. For a more realistic use case, I needed a small and sensibly-affordable car to take me from the packed roads of London to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and then straight to Gatwick Airport. Usually I would take any rental I am given with the lowest degree of effort put into it. This combination of urban driving, motorways and fun country lanes would normally be forgettable in your average rental VW Golf.
Instead, with Turo I was able to choose a 2.0-litre 2018 Mini Cooper S. It zips around with a generous amount of power for its size, it fits anywhere and it sounds far better than most city cars. Though this is not the holy grail of hatchbacks, it’s a far cry from what I would otherwise have had from a conventional rental agency. Suddenly the trip is far more enjoyable, something which you almost never hear about a rental.
That is, of course, if you’re willing to pay for the privilege. Prices are set by the owners of the cars, meaning it varies widely - even on the exact same models. Naturally, the aforementioned classics will start in the hundreds of pounds per day.
My one-day trip cost £65.60 with 200 miles included and the minimum insurance required. I consider that affordable as long as you have the flexibility to meet the owner of the car wherever they are located. In my case there was £90 fee for home address delivery. One of the benefits of a rental giant is that they are located in or around busy travel hubs so you are unlikely to need delivery.
But my experience was conveniently straightforward which showed how well the service could work. It is important to note, however, that I chose a ‘commercial host’, meaning someone who rents out vehicles for a living, rather than an average person renting out their own personal car. This is where the second drawback of the service might exist. You are essentially at the mercy of your host.
Much like Uber and Airbnb, there are rating systems which allow users to publicly review and comment on their experience. This in theory exposes poor service and prevents you from choosing an unreliable host - I just wouldn’t want to be the one to have to warn others of a dodgy host whose car broke down halfway along the M4. Thankfully I had no issues on my very short trip, but as ever it’s best to stick to well-reviewed hosts.
Naturally, the more expensive and exclusive the car you choose, the more hassle you’re likely to have ahead of your rental. Some owners will require a deposit and extra paperwork such as proof of address. Essentially it is up to each host to be satisfied with, rather than a standardised process as you would find with the large rental agencies. Though most of them don’t require this, you should always check ahead of the booking as it varies greatly.
Taking everything into account, there is definitely a space in the market for this service now and in the future. I do not see it replacing the large rental agencies with their standardised fleets and worldwide reach. Also, not everyone will care about which car they drive, let alone bother to navigate all the options as they would for an Airbnb accommodation.
But I can certainly see myself, and car enthusiasts alike, use it as a way to inject some flavour into otherwise dull travel, or even as a fun extra to a holiday abroad.
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