On any given holiday weekend, there might be a million people paying to stay in rooms in somebody’s house or putting their whole family up at private homes. Airbnb helps many of those travelers and is now a household name.
But personal vehicles, which are also near the top of the list of many people’s most expensive assets, are even more underused than homes. Most people don’t drive more than two hours a day, after all. So why isn’t there a globe-straddling colossus on the tip of our tongues that puts millions of privately owned vehicles into a part-time rental pool?
Early in the decade, it looked as though RelayRides might become that company. Since then, however, two people have died in crashes involving vehicles on its rental platform. In New York, the state authorities have effectively evicted the company. And RelayRides has changed its name to Turo, given that it doesn’t offer rides the same way Lyft and Uber do.
A competitor called Getaround is also competing for cars and drivers. “Put your idle car to work,” its website boasts. “Earn $10,000 a year.”
Never heard of either business? Let’s review the history, because — as mixed as it is — they’re still in business and continue to attract investments from the likes of Kleiner Perkins and Toyota. And even after crashes, some car owners put their vehicles right back up for rent once they come back from the body shop.
In 2012, I wrote a column in which a number of insurance companies expressed deep skepticism about customers putting their cars into a rental pool. In that article, I quoted a statement from RelayRides in which the company said it had been operating successfully in Massachusetts even without any legislation — like the kind that exists in California, Oregon and Washington — that would generally keep insurers from dropping your personal coverage as punishment for putting your car up for rent. Those Massachusetts operations had gone on for two years “without any problems” relating to lost insurance, RelayRides said.
Except there was already a problem in the state that the company did not tell me about at the time: a fatal accident that killed the man who rented a car and turned into an insurance nightmare for the vehicle’s owner. In a follow-up column, I told the story of Liz Fong-Jones, who had put her car up for rent, and the four people who were injured when their vehicle was struck by the man who had rented the car (and who died). The subsequent lawsuits and claims threatened to eclipse the $1 million in liability coverage that RelayRides provides people who put their cars on the platform. (Getaround has a similar insurance policy.)
Eventually, all of the legal cases settled without breaching the $1 million barrier, though the lawyers I reached this week said that the terms of the agreements kept them from saying much. In late 2013, RelayRides published a blog post making the case that its insurance is actually better than what most people buy for themselves.
Earlier that year, however, the New York State…
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