When flying for work or vacation, one often needs a car to move around and visit places.
Strangely, despite the growing number of electric vehicles on the market, and the fact they've been around for several years, rental fleets still don't offer much choice to renters. In fact, except for a select few markets (Amsterdam comes to mind for example) it's near impossible to rent an EV or even a plug-in hybrid. Even in Los Angeles, where I recently spent a week on vacation with my family, it was impossible to get a green car from Avis, Hertz, Enterprise and the other big names. One of them, Hertz, has a "green car" selection, but they're only standard hybrid, no plug-ins.
If you've never heard of Turo, it's somewhat similar to AirBnB in concept, but for cars. Individuals use this platform to rent out their personal cars. Some people even started making a business out of it by buying extra cars just for the purpose of renting them.
Having never rented through Turo, I decided to give it a try on our one week vacation in LA.
Going to the main Turo website and searching for cars in LA revealed quite an amazing number of offers for our specific travel dates. And, the best part is that they have a filter to show you only the electric/plug-in vehicles, sort by price, etc. In LA there are lots of options! You will find the i3, Bolt, Leaf, Ionic, Volt, Clarity, Teslas, and more. I didn't find the Niro or Kona EVs though. Maybe my dates didn't match or these cars are too new at this point.
Now, when selecting your car there are a number of factors to take into account. I'm going into details below for price, pickup/return, and insurance.
This might be your first criterion. The offering is quite broad, not only in car selection but also price. You have to decide where to draw the line. I was very tempted by a Model 3 at around $75 per day (not counting the extras, more on this below). But, I felt it was unnecessarily expensive for my needs. We were planning to drive mostly in LA, with no long trips expected, so the experience of the Model 3 might have been wasted somewhat (disclaimer, I drive a Model S at home, and before that a couple years of Volt gen1).
So basically, I could live with a shorter range EV with a lower price. I was tempted by the various plug-in hybrids, like the second-generation Volt and Clarity, but since driving full electric at home, I've just become averse to using gas. In the end, I went with a 2018 Leaf (40-kWh, 150 miles range). Of note, the pickup/return method can have an important impact on price and might also drive your choice. More on this in the next section.
Before concluding on price, just a word on the extras. Similar to AirBnB, there can be extra fees involved in the rental of the car, independent of pickup/return and insurance. There could be extra daily fees for example, and some might limit mileage or ask extra if you drive more. So, make sure to take these into account.
For the 2018 Nissan Leaf I ended up selecting, the total cost was $305 US for seven days.
The pickup and return experience are extremely important in the case of Turo. Because, unlike a traditional rental company, you don't have a standard booth at the airport waiting for you. So how does it work?
Well, it depends mostly on the host. Several options are available, like picking up at the host place directly. But in general, and given the expected market, there are usually options to get the car at the airport. And, in the case of the main LA airport, there is even a Turo valet service.
This is basically a booth located behind the Custom Hotel (on Lincoln blvd) near the airport. You'll need to get there by an Uber for example. Turo will reimburse you the cost as long as it's below $20.
One important note about the valet service is that it is opened from 6am to 10pm. So, if your flight arrives late in the evening (which was my case), it's not an option.
Note that a lot of hosts use the valet service only. So, this might seriously restrict the choices in case your flight schedule is outside of their opening hours. Another option is at the airport itself in the loading/unloading area right out of your terminal.
Note that each of these options can carry a cost. It depends on the host. Some will bring their car to the airport for free. Some will ask $80 to do so, etc. The Turo valet service appears mostly free.
In my case, I choose a car with a free pickup/return from the airport. However, the return in my case had to be done through the Turo valet service. More on this in the last section about my experience.
Just like for standard rental vehicles, you have an array of options for insurance. They can be minimal or very expansive (and expensive, going all the way to 50% of the total cost of rental!). In my case, I was already covered by my personal car insurance for rentals in the US. Just to be safe, I also validated with my insurance company that cars rented through Turo were covered. If you decide to go on the expensive side (like renting a Model S or X), make sure your insurance covers the total cost of the vehicle, otherwise you might be in trouble in case something serious happens!
My Turo (and Leaf) experience.
Now that I explained the various aspects of renting with Turo, how was the experience for me?
In short, it was absolutely perfect!
It started with the pickup experience. As soon as our plane landed, I had texted our host about our arrival. Since we were picking the car at the loading/unloading area the host didn't want to have to wait for us endlessly, so communication was important. Quick note here, unlike for AirBnb, you cannot always communicate with the host before booking the car. I personally found this a bit annoying, and something that could definitely be improved. However, you can always cancel within the hour of doing your booking if the host responded to your question within the hour.
In our case, I texted our host several times as we were progressing to our exit. Once we got our luggage and went out at the curb, we waited only 10 minutes before the host showed up.
Now, and here's one important piece of advice, if you get the car in that area you might be pressed into moving fast and not take pictures of the car. This is an important part of the rental experience with Turo. There is even a section of the Turo app devoted to pickup where you can take a lot of pictures. This is to make sure that if any defects were found on return you will not be accused of damaging the car. Given this, I would suggest using the valet service if possible, as it is less of a rushed experience.
So, in our case, I just spoke briefly with the host, put our luggage in the trunk of the Leaf, and left. The whole experience was like two minutes! This is another important plus factor compared to traditional rental companies, where the process is often long.
This was my first experience with a Leaf, and I was pleasantly surprised. Sound proofing was fairly good (maybe helped by the smooth roads of California?), the ride was silent, and e-pedal was working wonderfully well. The e-pedal system in the new 40-kWh Leaf uses regen and brake to give you a pure one pedal driving experience. I wished we had that option in the Tesla!
In the following week we drove around a lot. Given the heavy traffic in LA (not much worse than Montreal though!) the car showed excellent consumption. I was often doing between 4 and 5 miles per kWh. When you are used to 3 miles per kWh in the city in a Model S, such numbers look amazingly good. Since we had chosen an AirBnB place with the availability of a 120V outlet, we could recharge at night just as if we were at home. Our AirBnB hosts didn't mind, being very environmentally conscious as well.
Needless to say, that in case you rent an EV or plug-in hybrid, having a place to charge overnight is a big plus. Make sure also that the host provides you with the cable that comes with the car.
Despite being plugged overnight we still used fast-charging and Level 2 charging a couple of times. On two days we drove more than 150 miles each day, exceeding the range of our Leaf. Our host had provided a charging card that workied in lots of places, including EVGo, so using 50kW charging was no problem. If you're renting an EV, make sure to check with the host if he has a card already for you, otherwise I suggest you do some research and get a number of apps (like the EVGo app). Also, make sure you know which fast connector your car uses. There are lots more CCS connectors than CHAdeMO. The Leaf uses CHAdeMO.
This experience with the Leaf also gave me a good idea of what it's like to live with a non-Tesla EV. I must say that given the limited number of charge points, and especially connectors at a given charge point, it was requiring much more planning than if I had been driving a Model 3 for example. But overall, I felt it was reasonable. On one day we went for lunch while the car was charging. It went from 41 to 87% in 30 minutes. In general, my fast-charging sessions were giving me back roughly 50% of the capacity in 30 minutes.
Oh yes, the 30-minute limit. That was one annoying aspect of charging. I'm not sure if all fast chargers are like this, but you need to take that into account in your planning. Even worse, anybody can come, stop your charging session, and "steal the juice!" Given the scarcity of connectors at any station (I was usually seeing two), I can understand that people are not expected to spend an hour there. Hopefully, as bigger charging stations come online (like those from Electrify America) this will become less of a problem.
At the end of our week, when returning the car, we could not deliver it directly to the host as our departure time was conflicting with his work schedule. Our host offered us to use the Turo valet service. This worked out very well. After not even five minutes (we had to wait for an "inspector" to come and have a quick look at the car), we were walking towards the Custom Hotel lobby to be picked up by a User, which was ordered for us free of charge by the Turo valet service. We were in the airport 10 minutes later.
So, in conclusion, all I can say is that Turo is worth giving a try, especially if you plan to travel green (and try to offset a little bit of the carbon cost of your plane travel). I'm sure not everybody has had a positive experience with Turo, just like some people didn't have a good experience with AirBnB. Then again, just like AirBnB, you can check the review of previous renters and see if anything negative came out before you make your final decision.
As far as I am concerned, from now on this will be my preferred method of renting cars on trips. Hopefully, with the new lower cost Model 3 out, more affordable rentals will become available for it, making it even easier to travel longer distance in a pure EV when on holidays.