If you plan to park your car at an airport for more than a day or two, fees can add up quickly—even at the discounted off-site lots. And even if you don’t leave your car at the airport while you’re gone, your car just sits somewhere being of no use to anybody while someone you don’t know arrives at your hometown airport and rents a car, again for a stiff fee. And maybe you’ll need a car rental at your destination, too.
The idea of matching idle cars with car-seeking drivers has occurred to several entrepreneurs, setting up peer-to-peer car renting operations that mimic Airbnb. The earliest attempt, called FlightCar, failed. It was considered too airport-centric and risked losing money by guaranteeing travelers free airport parking regardless of whether anyone rented their cars. But now two major current operators, Turo and Getaround, have emerged. Here’s how the technology works.
How Peer-to-Peer Car Rental Works
- As a car owner, you list your vehicle, describe it, and upload some photos, and state when and where it will be available. The operator may set a rental rate based on your car’s market value, or you can set a different rate. You can also set a mileage limit if you wish.
- When someone requests information or books your car, you confirm or deny availability. At pickup time, you set up a meeting with the renter and hand over the keys. At return time, you meet the renter again, retrieve the keys, and go on your way. During the rental period, the matching service covers your car with million-dollar insurance and a 24/7 roadside assistance program.
- As a renter, you check out the options available for your trip, along with posted prices. Select one, agree to terms, set up the meeting with the owner, and then you have a car to drive around. Afterward simply replace the gas you used, return the car, and head for your next destination.
- The operator charges the renter by credit card or money transfer, takes a cut of 15 to 35 percent of the rental fee, and pays you the remainder.
- These services don’t offer airport parking, and they don’t promise to rent your car. Still, the services are intriguing for travelers.
Peer-to-Peer Car Rental Options
Turo has recently expanded and generating a good bit of traveler interest. Although Turo is not airport-centric, it comes with the expectation that most renters will be visitors and that most exchanges will occur at or near airports. But, it’s available in lots of places, even airports as small as mine in Medford, Oregon.
Getaround works about the same way: It appears to be pitching car owners the rental income rather than as a way to avoid airport parking fees, and it also appears to be targeting non-traveler renters more than Turo. It also features hourly and extended rental periods.
Neither Turo nor Getaround is as convenient as FlightCar was for travelers looking to avoid airport parking fees with minimal fuss. With both current players, owners and renters must agree to meeting points at both ends of the transaction, and arrange mutually agreeable time schedules.
According to recent reports, though, General Motors is considering building a peer-to-peer car rental capability into some future car sales.
As currently offered, peer-to-peer does not seem likely to be an Avis, Hertz, or Enterprise killer: Rental rates are surprisingly high. Mid-March displays show rates starting around $25 a day for cars such as a 2014 Scion XD, a 2015 Chevrolet Cruze, or a 2006 Nissan Sentra. It’s not hard to find rental-company rates at that level, although with peer-to-peer, renters do not have to buy any collision coverage.
Rental companies can offer travelers airport availability, shuttles, and a bunch of other features that much more closely cater to typical traveler needs. Given the gap in convenience and relatively high rental rates, my take is that peer-to-peer looks more attractive to car owners looking to make a few bucks than to renters. But peer-to-peer car rental is clearly on the horizon: Give it a chance if you’re interested.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.