Cambio Fleet Fiesta by cambio via Wikimedia Commons
Cambio Fleet Fiesta by cambio via Wikimedia Commons

Airbnb for cars?

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

If the Airbnb business model works for overnight accommodations, why not cars? Or why not Uber without the driver? The idea of matching idle cars with car-seeking drivers has occurred to several would-be entrepreneurs, setting up peer-to-peer car renting operations.

Turo.com seems to be the most fully developed of the current players, with cars available throughout the United States. Here’s how it works:

  • Car owners sign up, list their vehicle, post photos and detail and state where and when the car will be available for rent. Owners can either set a rate, or Turo will set what it considers an appropriate rate. Owners can also set a mileage limit. When someone indicates an interest, owners confirm availability and arrange to meet with renters and hand over the keys. Although Turo is not airport-centric, Turo owners can meet renters at major airports. At the end of the rental, owners again arrange to meet with renters. During the rental, Turo covers cars with $1 million in liability insurance and a 24/7 roadside assistance program. Turo pays owners, retaining 15 percent to 35 percent of the rental fee.
  • Car renters log onto Turo and check out available cars to meet their schedules. When a rental is confirmed, they meet with the owner to take the car, drive it. At the end of the rental, they replace the gasoline used and return the car to the owner. Presumably, Turo vets prospective renters the same way rental companies do. Renters pay Turo by credit card; Turo pays owners by transfer.

I checked Turo options for Los Angeles, a place where lots of people have cars and lots of people want to rent cars. What I found was that many of the featured rentals were for exotic or muscle cars, with rental rates in the $40 to $50 a day range, going up to $199 a day for a 2016 Jaguar F-Type, $204 a day for a Tesla Model S and $250 a day for a 2018 Porsche 718 Boxter. The lowest rate available was $20 a day, for a 2010 Yaris, 2006 Camry or 2007 Corolla. As an alternative, I found the least expensive car from a commercial rental company was $39 a day at International Airport but $25 a day at off-airport locations.

In Boston, Turo lists plenty of performance cars in the $440 to $60 daily range, but only two — a Yaris and a Nissan Cube, both $29 a day — for less than $30. The cheapest rental-company airport rental, a Focus, was $29 a day; the cheapest off-airport rate was $29 a day.

Getaround.com works in about the same way. It features rental rates as short as hourly. Even more than Turo, Getaround’s primary focus is on car owners looking to earn a few extra bucks. The website touts, “You can earn over $800 a month renting through Getaround.” I did not check Getaround rates because the only way to access that site is through Facebook, and I’m not doing Facebook.

If you’re looking for a low-cost car rental, you aren’t likely to find any game-changing bargains with peer-to-peer. Especially if you’re arriving and leaving through an airport, arranging meetings with owners at both ends of the rental is likely to be a lot more hassle than dealing with a 24/7 rental counter. But if you like to drive around in a hot car or classic, Turo may well have something you can’t duplicate with a commercial rental company. Overall, Turo and Getaround would seem to be a better bet for locals who need an extra car for a few days. And as an owner, both can offer a little extra income.

With car rentals, peer-to-peer is in about the same place that Airbnb is with accommodations, although peer-to-peer does not appear to offer a big cost advantage over renting from a low-end commercial rental company. It’s clearly a niche, but one that some of you will appreciate because of the unusual cars available.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)

(c) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– March 27, 2018

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