Home Car Stories How I lost $4,000 Renting Out My Car to Total Strangers

How I lost $4,000 Renting Out My Car to Total Strangers

December 2, 2016
Renting out my car, a TTS roadster

I love cars. All cars. Even Toyota Corollas. Turbocharged, supercharged, naturally aspirated, front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, all wheel drive – I’ll take them all.  If I could have a new car to drive every month, I would be the happiest person alive. The only thing standing between me and every car on earth is money. Depreciation, taxes, interest, and maintenance — cars are so damn expensive.

Sometime mid-summer last year, I came across a peer-to-peer car renting site, Turo, where anyone and everyone could rent out their cars to strangers. In the Bay Area, nearly all makes and models are available – from a run down Kia to new-ish Audi R8.

“Wow, what a great way to rent a 997 911 for $110 a day” should’ve been my first thought. Instead, my mind immediately went to justifying the purchase of a weekend car that could be rented out when I wouldn’t be using it.

Bad Renting Ideas Have the Best Intentions

With this new found burning desire to buy a car and rent it out to others, I opened a spreadsheet and plotted out depreciation curves, maintanence and interest costs, and modelled out rental rates. After crunching the numbers, I immediately ruled out buying a brand new car due to the massive year 1 depreciation. Leasing was also out of the question because of mileage restrictions. And as badly as I wanted a manual car, I knew it would spell disaster if present in a rental.

After deciding on a used automatic car, I dug around the web to see what was popular. Luxury convertibles seemed to be the most successful rentals in California. You’re probably thinking the obvious answer here: a lightly used Boxster. I decided against that because there were already 10 ‘lightly used’ Boxsters, and I didn’t feel like shelling out more than $30k on a car.

The Chosen Ride

I eventually settled on a 2009 Audi TTS with all the options checked and 49k miles on the dash. Complete with 265 horsepower, adjustable suspension, 19in wheels, and two-toned leather seats, it drove well and had a great tossable feel to it. I didn’t bother with a PPI since the dealership I purchased from assured me it was already done. Oh, and there were no maintenance records.

After taking pictures of the TTS, I posted the car at a variable rental rate of $89/day to $119/day — depending on demand. Within two days, I received my first renter — a pHD student from Stanford who wanted to take the ride to Carmel for the day. After a quick search on LinkedIn and Facebook and finding nothing sketchy, I approved the rental.

The car came back the next day without damage and a shit eating grin present on the renter and I was $63.75 richer (after RelayRide’s 25% cut). In the words of Borat, “great success!”

The renters continued to flow in, and the car continued to accumulate miles. Generally, they were very friendly and *cough* probably didn’t abuse the car one bit.

The Omen

Near the end of the summer, I drove the car to work. On the way, the car stalled and died. Thinking this may be a symptom of the dual clutch automatic, I thought little of it and restarted the car and completed my drive with no problems.

Two weeks passed, along with a few more rentals, and the car died again. This time, after restarting it, the check engine light illuminated. It was time to find a mechanic.

I did a Yelp search for reliable mechanics, made an appointment with the highest rated shop and headed to it.

After a few hours, the shop informed me that the high pressure fuel pump was gone and the camshaft was badly scratched from the follower. Total damage was $2,400. Begrudgingly, I accepted the damage and had the car fixed.

The Final Straw

I continue to rent out the car, hoping to make up the loss – much like a gambling addict.

One of the renters who took the car on a quiet spring Saturday was a chef from Boston, in town to meet with a noodle supplier. Apparently, San Jose is one of the largest manufacturers of udon noodles.

He left me the car with a mostly drunk bottle of whiskey under the driver seat and his credit card.

By late spring, the check engine light was back on. Diagnosing the symptoms from forums and YouTube videos, the thermostat appeared to be dead. Two days in the shop and another $1,000 later, the car was fixed and back on the road.

Realizing my great mistake of not getting an inspection, growing bored with the TTS, and tired of meeting random people to hand over keys, I put the car up for sale.

Goodbye Turo

After a few weeks, the car was sold and my bank account is almost $4,000 lighter.

Lessons learned: always check common issues with a car before purchasing, always do a PPI, and have sympathy for the rental car companies.

Unless times get really desperate, I don’t think I can handle renting out a car on a peer-to-peer site again.

That being said, what a fantastic site to rent lightly used 911s for less than $150 a day.

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