Why doesn’t every car rental start like this?

If you’ve ever rented from a car sharing company, then you probably know that it’s almost nothing like a traditional car rental experience.

Case in point: Turo. You meet your host at a predetermined location, and the pre-rental ritual is a lot different from the one you may be used to with a traditional car rental company.

Different, as in better.

I know because I just rented one of their cars.

I picked up a late model Honda CR-V in Phoenix from an affable guy named Sam. He met us at the arrivals area at Phoenix airport on a recent morning.

My first question: How are you going to get home?

“Uber,” he said.

Then he proceeded to give our car a once-over.

He took pictures of the front, back, sides and windshield. He urged me to do the same. I did.

He photographed the odometer. He suggested I do the same, noting the mileage. I did.

Then he walked around the vehicle. He pointed a scuff on the bumper.

“Don’t worry about that,” he said.

Then he motioned toward a chip on the windshield.

“Don’t worry about that, either,” he said.

Wouldn’t you know it, Turo strongly recommends it:

WHAT PHOTOS SHOULD I TAKE BEFORE AND AFTER EACH TRIP?

Photos must be clear, well illuminated, in focus, and high resolution. We highly recommend using the Turo Trip Photos feature for convenience. All these photos must be taken at the start and end of the trip.

Photos must include:

1. A clear and legible picture of the mileage and fuel level.
2. Six photos, capturing each angle of the vehicle (front right, front left, rear right, rear left, and both sides of the car) with the wheels positioned in a straight orientation.

If this were a car rental company, there’d be no such personalized inspection. Certainly, no one would encourage me to take “before” pictures. I understand that may not always be possible.

But isn’t it true that a lot of car rental companies go out of their way to not do the prerental inspection? You know, dark garages, lack of staff, no inspection forms. It’s almost as if they want us to take their cars and then get dinged for damage we may or may not have donel. It’s almost as if that’s part of their business plan: Cash in on those damage claims.

Then again, maybe it’s my imagination.

Anyway, back to the Honda I rented in Phoenix. Sam was really patient with us. He showed us some of the advanced features of the car (“Did you know that it practically drives itself?”). He made sure we knew how to open and close the trunk, which is a surprisingly complicated maneuver on some of these newer cars. By the time he said goodbye, we felt confident about the car we were about to drive.

That’s when I thought to myself, “Isn’t that the way a car rental should be?”

I wonder what kinds of lessons the big rental companies might learn from the sharing companies like Turo. Is there a better way to acquaint a driver with a car? Should the pre-rental inspection be mutual — with both the owner and the driver signing off and keeping all the necessary documentation? Wouldn’t that essentially eliminate frivolous damage claims?

So why haven’t car rental companies done this? Is it too labor-intensive? Or do car rental companies want to keep things as they are because the system is more profitable as it is now?

These are questions worth asking.

I’m happy to say my Turo rental was problem-free. I hope car rental companies take a closer look at how the new sharing companies handle their rentals. They might learn a thing or two. And we might all benefit from that.

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