Driving to more remote yet scenic places as a side trip to a big city can reveal places and ways of life unknown to folks who don’t get out of the downtown bubble. Not everything a city dweller enjoys is in the city, so part of the experience of a culture is to get to know where folks go to take a break. For instance, when visiting Washington, DC, why not hit Virginia Beach too? Maybe next time you’re in Boston, think of taking a couple hours to go to Cape Cod. Maybe if you’re in New York City, take a visit to Long Island (though better plan that one in advance). But if you find yourself in Detroit, it might be better to go to Windsor just across the Canadian border and stay put. :-P As such, for once, I will regale you with experiences not from software I'm writing, but that I'm using as a consumer.
Background - What brought me here?
I was in quite a conundrum during a recent trip, visiting a city where several famous Ivy League schools were all about to start at once, and the vast majority of the students would be moving in. I arrived in the city late Tuesday, had a conference Wednesday, and then had Thursday and Friday free. One of these days was to be allocated for taking a tour of somewhere I could easily get to by car. As such, I had to pick if I wanted Thursday or Friday to use the car rental.
The benefits I saw to picking Thursday included:
- Possibly higher availability of rental cars — that is, closer to the weekend could mean higher demand
- No rush to get back to the airport for the flight home Friday night
However, Friday saw the following benefits:
- I could leave my luggage in the car. Now, since my luggage simply consisted of a backpack, it wasn't too crucial, other than wearing it all day would get me all hot and sweaty, so it would be nice to lock it in the car while walking around.
- Turn the car in at the airport right before my flight, without having to make a special trip to the rental car place which is probably at the airport anyway
Then there’s the whole modern-day dilemma of whether to rent from a traditional rental car company or to go with a car-sharing service like Turo. I thought I’d try something different because a lot of the standard rental car places seemed to be in areas not exactly in the direction I wanted to travel, and the ones with the least taxes would force me to have to drive through the city (and all its traffic) in order to go the desired direction. Plus, why not try something completely novel?
As I found myself into Thursday, I’d pretty much decided to rent the car that day rather than wait until Friday. I checked Turo and availability was already vanishing rapidly. I saw something else that was available later in the afternoon, which gave me some time to visit a museum I had prioritized before picking up the car. Well, on my way to get the car, the cab driver (yes, a real live cabbie was just chilling out in front!) started chatting and saying this part of town I was going to pick up the Turo rental isn’t somewhere I want to be waiting on a ride for very long. Uh-oh…
Fine Points of Comparison
Having gone through the afternoon and night with the Turo rental, here are things to consider if you want to give Turo a try:
- Good for knowing exactly what vehicle you will get. Most rental car companies only give you a vague idea as to the size of the vehicle, such as “mid-sized” (which most folks would consider compact), or even “compact” (which might as well be the Tata Nano, the $2,500 car produced in India). Of course, they might specify a vehicle that fits into their categories, but those specific vehicles never seem to be available by the time you get there.
- Flexible scheduling. Book the car to be available exactly when you need it for how long you need it. Want to return it at 11:00 PM or later? Maybe the owner will facilitate that for you.
- Book a car in cities or areas you’re familiar with, otherwise you might get freaked out if you’re returning late at night and it’s in a neighborhood that people claim is sketchy. Of course, this is perhaps what I get for picking the cheapest car by a long shot in the city that day, so your mileage may vary depending on your price sensitivity.
- The prices didn’t really seem that much better than a rental car company. However, I was feeling this way after mostly having seen Porsches made available for $150 or $200/day, and I don’t really know how much a regular rental car company would ask for a Porsche. That’s expensive even relative to what I normally get from a typical rental car company, but even for the cheaper vehicles, it seemed like Expedia was showing conventional deals for maybe $10-$30 more per day than what Turo was offering.
On the other hand, it’s worth considering these points about a rental car company before you steer all the way into the Turo camp:
- Better guarantees about the quality of vehicle you’re getting. It’s not up to one individual to maintain the car or take care of check engine lights; if a traditional rental has a problem, the company should back it with a guarantee or replacement from their ample-sized lot. Better yet, such problems should be unlikely in the first place if the staff rigorously inspects and repairs vehicles in a timely fashion in between rentals at company service bays.
- Often, rental car companies have nice grounds. Even if they might be in a sketchy area outside, I’ve never felt threatened or unsafe on their property because they are well-lit, often gated, and with ample room to park your vehicle as you return it (which may be problematic if you’re looking to return the vehicle late at night in a densely-populated area).
- However, you would need to make sure the facility is open 24 hours if you’re planning to return it late. Otherwise you might be charged an extra day or have to go out of your way to drop it off properly before you can go on.
The Bottom Line
Given my own personal preference, a rental car company would be the way I’d go if renting a car in an unfamiliar city and not planning to return it until late.