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