The Vanagon Burke rented via Turo. Photo: Courtesy of Mike K./Turo
Very little can match the joy of a mint 1983 Volkswagen Westy. You know it’s someone’s beloved pride. In all likelihood, it has a name. And for a single weekend, I had a vintage model all to myself, having borrowed it for a quick road trip in October through a rental service called Turo.
Think of the service as Airbnb for van owners. It pairs owners of (preferably awesome, totally unique) vehicles with renters looking for a little adventure. Turo lists more than 800 makes and models and seems to have everything short of a battle tank—from Porsches to Elements to Volkswagen campers of all ages. In other words: adventuremobiles you won’t find at Hertz. Turo launched in 2010 in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and now has more than 2.3 million users with 121,000 vehicles in 4,700-plus cities.
I wanted to check out Turo’s offerings, so I browsed the site until I came across a lovely 1973 Volkswagen bus near Atlanta. The photographs and details on the listing seemed great, and for about $80 per day, it was a steal.
Now, the whole point of Turo is to connect with a car that has personality. There’s some risk involved, as I found out when I arrived at the location of the first VW bus I was supposed to rent, 20 miles north of Atlanta, and found a bashed-in, stained rust trap with a fist-size hole between the brake and gas pedals. I called the company. The representative apologized profusely, refunded the charge, removed the listing, and set me up with another vehicle within a few days. Turo claims it makes a point of surveying, testing, and photographing the vehicles it lists, but the rep conceded that they hadn’t gotten around to doing so for this new post. Still, the company holds its hosts to high standards and will address any issues with its 24-hour roadside assistance.
Take two. My next experience with Turo took place in the Pacific Northwest, where I ended up renting Gretel, a 1983 Westfalia owned by a devout Volkswagen enthusiast named Mike, who was so compulsively meticulous that he made certain I knew every nook and cranny of his baby—including where to set the hydraulic jack should I get a flat.
Mike had stocked the van with clean sheets, pillows, a full kitchenette (complete with good coffee and bottled water), and cabinets overflowing with board games and playing cards. It was spotlessly clean, inside and out. Generally, I’d have no compunction about leaving a rental vehicle a little bit worse for the wear. I take turns harder than I normally would and…