I recently rented a Tesla Model X while I was in San Francisco for a work trip. I didn't rent it from Hertz or Avis. I rented it from a person. It was his own personal electric SUV and I paid about $900 to drive it for three days
That might sound awkward -- to pay a total stranger to drive his car for a few days. And, yes, it was. But only slightly.
I rented his roughly $145,000 Model X through Turo, which is sort of like Airbnb for cars.
The main reasons someone might want use Turo are that's it's cheaper and weirder than renting a car the regular way. If you want something normal, like a Toyota Camry or Hyundai Elantra, renting from someone on Turo is usually about a third cheaper than your standard auto rental.
But what's most interesting to me is the ability to rent stuff you'll just never see on the lot at Hertz. If you want to rent a 1995 Ferrari convertible, a Porsche 356 Speedster replica or a classic Pontiac GTO, Turo has that kind of stuff.
Turo currently lists 121,000 vehicles, has over 2 million members and operates in 49 states. (Turo insures the cars rented through the site, but its plan doesn't mix with New York's insurance laws, so Turo doesn't operate there.) Over the years, some people have used Turo as a platform to run small rental car companies. Most others occasionally rent a car or two to offset their monthly payments.
The person I rented from, who asked that I not identify him, is somewhere between those two. He has two Teslas for rent on Turo, a Model S and a Model X. He rarely drives either of them. These cars are strictly for business. He rents them out and hopes to make a profit on these investments somewhere around 150,000 miles.
Probably the biggest drawback of renting a car this way is the lack of flexibility. A big car rental company, with lots of vehicles to rent and plenty of customers coming through, can afford to let you off the hook if you cancel at the last minute. They're also usually amenable to changes in your schedule if you want to, say, extend your rental.
Not so much with Turo. When you're dealing with someone who may just have that one car to rent, they may not be so cool with you keeping it an extra couple days. The full three days' rental fee got charged to my American Express card almost as soon as the reservation was approved. I could have gotten all or most of that money back If I'd canceled up until the day before my trip. If I'd bagged out later than that, I'd have been on the hook for the whole amount.
Another thing that could turn off a lot of people to peer-to-peer car rental is having to deal directly with peers. When I rent from Hertz, the only time I have to look a human in the face is when I'm showing my driver's license on the way off the lot and picking up the receipt when I return.
With Turo, I had to arrange to meet someone at the airport... twice. That involved lots of texting, calling and even arm waving. For some people, that personal touch is a plus. But I found myself strangely nervous driving that Model X, much more than I usually am driving a rental car.
I figured was driving someone's personal car. Even though the extra insurance I'd bought would have covered it -- aside from a deductible -- I was aware that any scratch on that car would be seen by its owner and, I thought, he would curse my soul. I never feel that way when I'm driving a Hyundai from Hertz.
I wonder how nervous I'll be if I rent that Ferrari?