How I got ripped off during my very first Turo rental

If you follow my column here at Hooniverse, you’ll know that I’m currently without a primary car. The used market was so crazy that I sold my BMW M4 back in October. Since then I’ve been getting by on press loaners and our family SUV. Well, recently we had a confluence of events where the kids all had to go in different directions and we only had one vehicle.

I fired up the Turo app and found a great looking Ford Bronco Sport available nearby at a reasonable price. This was my first Turo rental and it very much went sideways resulting in a surprise $170.78 “cleaning” fee.

Here’s what happened and how you can avoid it as a consumer. Stay tuned for an amazing update at the end.

It even had temp tags!

Everything seemed smooth

I was quite pleased with my Turo experience initially. The vehicle was new enough that I could use the Turo Go app to unlock it. I sent the host a note earlier in the day saying that I would be walking over and asked if it would open before noon (my rental start time) if I arrived earlier. I got no response until six hours later (so much for the “Response Time: 1 minute” rating), so I killed some time and grabbed lunch. The app unlocked the vehicle, I completed the check-in process and was off.

Then I set about doing it’s sole chore, dropping off and picking up kids. My youngest had ice hockey, so I dropped him there and set off to pick the other two. My older kids split time with between my house and their mother’s, about 50 minutes away in Maryland. I drove out, picked them up, no drama, easy day. One 17 year old male (human) and one 14 year old female (also human) successfully shuttled back to Virginia, ready for a fun pre-holiday weekend.

I dropped them off at home to start on the pizza and my wife followed me back over to the drop-off location. Turo requires a limited number of photos for check-in, basically driver’s side, passenger side and the front and rear on the outside and the mileage and petrol level on the inside. We barely used the car, total miles were well under the 200 mile limit (likely under 100).

I submitted a very positive response, though I was honest regarding “responsiveness” due to the six-hour reply lag and figured that was that. I was excited to continue to use Turo over the coming months until my Mustang Mach-E arrives.

It wasn’t smooth…

Oddly enough, I was actually awake at 11:06 PM the following evening (27 hours after the rental terminated). I received a note from the host saying that I had violated Turo policy by transporting a pet in the vehicle. Wait, what? I do have a dog, but he looks like this:

Meet Dublin, he f’ing hates the car.

Our fur-bearing dog Dublin does not shed, much less leave behind long hairs (not the same as fur) like this:

Plus, he also absolutely hates the car. Dublin was in my 2020 Mustang GT when a 17 year old late for his Chipotle pick-up t-boned us at highway speed last spring. The pup was OK, thankfully, but has never been able to get through a car-ride the same since. I quickly informed the host at 11:16 pm that this wasn’t the case, there was no dog in his car, and literally as I hit send, his reply came back at 11:16 pm (emphasis mine):

Hi there, I’m in the process of getting an estimate for the damage to my car. Once I have the estimate, I’ll send it to you for review and then send a request for payment. Don’t worry, I’m aware of the out-of-pocket maximum tied to your protection plan, so my payment request won’t exceed that amount.

Working directly to settle up the cost of the damage should be cheaper and faster than working with the Turo claims team, and I’m here to help if you have any questions.

Turo Host

The bot-like response told me that he had already queued up his claim and whatever I said did not matter. I informed Turo customer service via chat who made a note, but said that I needed to call the help line the next morning.

Additional bill #1 (of 2)

Customer Host Service

The host said that he was “in the process of getting an estimate for the damage to my car” for the pet hair and claimed scratches. An estimate which I still have not seen. I was contacted the next day by Stevie from “Power Host Support“, which should have told me all I needed to know about who was getting supported by Turo (hint: it’s not the customer, it’s the host).

I thought I had a chance at this point…

So I was assessed a $170.78 fee (including a $4.50 processing fee and a $16.28 Renter sales Tax) to my account for the “policy violation”. I eventually found the breakdown to be a $150 fee for “cleaning” and the rest goes to Turo. It’s unclear how much the host gets.

I was able to disagree with the charges and state my side of the case the next day via email (sent at 8:09 am) and the via an additional automated “claims” request to input the information via the Turo website (submitted at 11:07am). I wrote up what happened, how the vehicle was used, and provided a photo of my dog.

At 12:49 pm I heard from Britt in the “Executive Support Team“. Me not being an executive at Turo, I also didn’t really think she was here to support me. I was correct.

I reached out, there was no reply.

I responded immediately, continuing my rebuttal that there was no dog in the vehicle, but never received a response. In the future though, I will make sure to “disclose concerns as soon as they arise”! Thank goodness I was able to receive that valuable information.

Lessons Learned

The easiest way to not get scammed is simply don’t use Turo. My $92 rental turned into a $263.77 rental (actually more…), I heard from Twitter that others have had varied experiences, some good, some bad. The “entrepreneurial” angle of Turo is attractive, I get why people want to make extra money through hosting. However, there was never a moment where I felt like the company advocated for me as the customer. Their “Power Host” and “Executive” Support teams are clearly not focused on you, the customer, but the host and the bottom line for the company.

Also, pay attention to their “protection” fee. The note I received said that “You declined a protection plan on this trip, which means you are fully financially responsible for all costs related to this damage claim”. I figured that I am older and have great insurance, however that likely automatically made me a target to the host, which is being supported by the company.

Additionally – never rent a new car. The superficial scratches on the door, which looked like they could quickly removed by the host with a rag and some Armor All, were likely the result of (very light) normal use. In a car that only had a couple hundred miles on it when I picked it up, any use would be evident. I still have no freakin clue where the hair came from.

Finally, always take copious pictures on turn-in. Rookie mistake on my part, it was dark and cold when I parked it back in the lot, and the Turo app (perhaps intentionally) guides you through the check-in process with a minimal number of required photos. I take pictures of cars for a living, so I should have thought to document the vehicle better.

Regardless dear renter, if you decide to try Turo, beware. I won’t be going back. Especially because of what happened next.

Update: It’s Getting Worse…

As I was writing this, things got better, and somehow much worse. I got a note from Robert in Turo Claims. They determined that the pet hair did not warrant a $150 cleaning fee. However, the owner is pushing forward with damage claims for the vehicle.

When it comes to the cleaning fees you were charged, we have also agreed that those fees for cleaning will be refunded to you directly. The pet hair in the vehicle does not warrant the charge of cleaning/deep cleaning fees that were charged to you. Because of that, we will be issuing you a refund for those fees you were charged.

In summary, Turo has reviewed the claim in great detail and have determined the following:

Based on Valid Pre and Post Trip photos, the interior damages/scratches appear to be new and occurred during the Trip. We will move forward with these damages as covered.

Based on the review of cleanliness of the vehicle upon return, we do not agree there should be cleaning fees charged to you and any such fees will be refunded to you.

Robert, Turo Claims Department

After speaking to Robert, there is a new $500 bill pending. Still no estimate, if it costs more than that they will collect more. If it’s less, they’ll give me a refund.

More to come on this story unfortunately.

So what next? Well, Turo has been in trouble with this before, fairly recently:

Yang v. Turo Inc. – 1:20-cv-01049

A 2019 class action suit claiming fees charged by Turo are “unrelated to any costs incurred or services performed” by the company, and constitute a practice that’s “both deceptive and unfair” to consumers. It appears to have been settled out of court, but I reached out to the law firm that represented Mr. Yang for more information.

So I’ll be keeping all options open at this point. Stay tuned…

22 Comments

  1. Well documented little oddyssey there…what a mess! Services like that only work when the framework has some reasonable dispute solutions.

    Quite recently, I bought a cheap DVR off AliExpress, a place I have over 800 orders from over the last decade (yeah, I know, I live out in the middle of nowhere and a quick click-and-wait-three-weeks seems easier than going to a store). The camera was not full HD (1920x1080p), as advertised absolutely everywhere, rather 720p. I felt like I had recourse in the dispute system, that I have used before to get my money back.

    Not this time, though…and it irks me. Just as you portray above, the framework has shifted and become much more seller-friendly. So you end up scammed with no way of righting it, which doesn’t lead up to more use of the platform.

  2. I’ve been tempted to try Turo, in order to “test drive” vehicles I’m interested in without being pestered by salesmen for weeks afterward. This story certainly give me pause.

  3. I’m admittedly biased (I might be employed by one of the supposedly disrupted competitors), but the only time I was ever tempted to use Turo was finding an R107 Benz SL (a 380SL, but still) in Hawaii. Oddball stuff that a major corporation could never justify, but it’s never seemed that competitive on normal consumer products. And not that the big companies are immune to customer service issues, but this seems next level.

    1. “finding an R107 Benz SL (a 380SL, but still) in Hawaii”

      Honestly that would be pretty amazing though… For years, I tried to convince Aston Martin to let me do a story for their owners magazine about one of their cars on the islands. They never went for it, haha.

  4. Vehicles whored out by OCD Karens who finally get to be the manager in an unholy union with a faceless corporation hiding in their cyberbunker packed with lawyers and weasel word fine print. Throw in customer time wasted taking pictures and composing multiple texts to customer service drones for the very best First World Hellscape experience.

    Do they make a credit card on a rope? Because you wouldn’t want to drop one around anyone involved here.

  5. Did you update your review of the owner? It seems like other renters should know about this for this guy. I’ve rented from Turo with really no issues, but they were never new cars. I typically only use National because I have status, but sometimes there are no cars available or their prices are ridiculously high. I’ll be very careful next time.

  6. Unfortunately, You aren’t Turo’s customer, the owner of the vehicle is. They run a service for people who want to make money renting out their cars, not for renters. Sure, they want you to be happy if possible, but you walking away is not nearly as bad as the vehicle owner walking away.

    Can your auto insurance company be of help here?

  7. Bogus charges aside, that’s a lot of items on the bill. Trip charge and trip fee and admin fee?

    I haven’t had any real need for a rental in the past few years, but I would have given Turo a shot. Not anymore. Their “The customer is always wrong” attitude is a dealbreaker.

    1. That’s the problem with things like Turo and AirBNB. You see the initial price and think “hey, that’s a pretty reasonable price.” Then by the time you get to the checkout the price has doubled from all the fees and taxes.

  8. The percentage of customers who take the trouble to complain to the Better Business Bureau is probably a very small number of those customers with complaints, and to be fair, the number of customers with complaints beyond that is probably a small portion of Turo customers overall.

    https://www.bbb.org/us/ca/san-francisco/profile/auto-renting-and-leasing/turo-1116-378793/complaints

    However, when you look at these problems that WERE reported to the BBB, the pattern is the same: Turo has terrible customer rapacious service that does not listen to complaints. Fees are arbitrary with two common factors: they either appear from nowhere for little reason, and if you ARE aware of them, what you see is a lot less than you will actually pay. The guiding spirt seems to come from Adonijah, King Solomon’s brother. You are aware the famous story of two mothers quarreling before King Solomon about a baby and Soloman’s solution of splitting the baby between the two…well Adonijah’s solution would have been to keep the baby for himself. Yeah.

    This kind of conduct is almost always a result of Company Culture, and will persist as long as the company does.

    Too Long/Didn’t Read: No Turo for me.

  9. It does look like you either allowed the dog to be in the vehicle or the hair came from somewhere.Dog hair is very hard to get off when it comes to cleaning.I’m sure you know.And some people are allergic.
    Writing a whole entire article about your own irresponsible behavior is another thing..If dogs arent allowed..dont let your dog in there.
    If you did, or the hair came from something else, vacuum the car before you check out.
    Also, you know this car belongs to somebody, maybe make sure your kids dont wear sporting goods that scratch the car?
    I mean it is a rental, not a car you own.You borrow something, you bring it back in the same condition.Nobody loans their car to you expecting scratches in their car that will cost more than what you paid for the rental for that day.You renting it doesnt give you the right to damage the interior.You’d be sad if you accidentally scratched the inside of your car right?I guess its offensive to be charged when you damage somebody elses.
    You know you have kids and a dog and you know something may happen, maybe rent an older car?Or just simply tell them to be careful?

    1. Bias, much? I don’t think I’ve read a more astroturfed comment in my years of being a connoisseur of the art form. At no point in your rebuttal do you consider or argue any of the points William made, you just dismiss everything he wrote and double down on your rhetoric.

      I fully plan on eating an entire cabbage then renting your Bronco a few hours later.

  10. Welp, looks like we found the owner of the vehicle….

    Sorry, ‘Come on man’, after reading the BBB complaints, that all align with the story, you’re scamming up the wrong blog.

    1. No, “name and shame” is already a difficult route between private parties, but William here sits with power and responsibility that would require publishing the other party’s view, too. Sounds like there might be a follow-up, but for now, it is a platform failure maybe more so than a car owner’s skewed sense of reality.

  11. There is definitely some scammy-ness going on, but I am sorry I cannot 100% determine by your writing if your dog was or was not in the vehicle at all. I can see you told them no dog and your dog hair doesn’t match the hair provided in the pictures, but then I took it as you were accepting their claim on the dog hair along the way, just not damages being claimed.

    I am reading this after a few drinks, but I am reading this as. You broke terms, there was a dog in the vehicle, hair isn’t from your dog, so something scammy is indeed happening, but still, you broke terms in some way. You breaking terms has opened a hole where some scammy stuff can occur and is occurring.

    1. Happy New Year. Hopefully you’ve had a few hours to sober up now, and re-read the article to see that William did not have his own dog in the vehicle; the only living beings transported during his rental of the vehicle were our protagonist and his offspring. He mentioned his own dog only to point out that it avoids car rides and does not shed (it appears to be a Labradoodle, a breed noted for being non-shedding and non-allergenic). No dog in the vehicle=no breach of terms, and even Turo ultimately agreed the cleaning charge was not warranted, though the revised bill does not yet have the charge removed or credited back.

      “Based on the review of cleanliness of the vehicle upon return, we do not agree there should be cleaning fees charged to you and any such fees will be refunded to you.”

      He did mention that check-in only requires interior photos of the fuel level and mileage, so the pet could have been transported by a prior or subsequent renter. At this point it’s he said-she said and Turo holds all the leverage, including our victim’s billing information.

      Mainstream car rental places typically wash and vacuum the car between customers. I guess Turo doesn’t provide that courtesy to the next renter. The mainstream places also are pretty tolerant of damage that goes beyond normal wear and tear, even when they can prove who actually caused it.

  12. This is the reason I’ve never considered Turo or anything similar, on either side of the equation.

    As a renter too much incentive for the owner of the vehicle to come up with a reason to charge a cleaning fee or claim that there are new damages.

    As someone who would rent their car out I’d be too afraid that it would actually get damaged or returned with the detritus of a night of partying, or hauling a bunch of kids.

    So yeah I’ll stick with one of the actual rental car companies and keep my cars to myself or family members and friends I trust.

  13. As far as i read this article, i can tell you violated Turo no pet policy . I’m a Turo host with over 1500 trips so far. I’ve seen pet hair and small scratches caused by pet and i always make sure to charge the guest for that. Because those things are hard to clean and also stink the car especially new cars. Pets are messy and cause scratches. I wouldn’t want to rent $50k car and put my pet in it 😂 Turo supports those Whoever has enough Evidence. The host has to charge for scratches since it depreciates the car . Some charge , some don’t. Depending on whom you rent from. I’d recommend you to rent with someone who has tons of good reviews and a big car rental fleet .So you know that , you’re dealing with professional business not random hosts who are there just to make quick money or doesn’t care that much customers service.

  14. It seems that you either allowed the dog to be in the car or that the hair originated from someplace else. When it comes to cleaning, dog hair is quite difficult to remove. I’m sure you’re aware. Some folks are also allergic. Another way is to write a full piece about your own foolish conduct. If dogs are not permitted, do not bring your dog in.

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