People in San Francisco are leasing their Teslas and supercars to strangers in order to afford owning a car in one of the most expensive cities in America

  • Turo is changing the economics of owning a car in cities like San Francisco.
  • Car owners list their vehicles on the platform and lease them by the day.
  • The company says the average host in San Francisco makes $US672 a month on Turo, more than enough to cover the national average monthly car payment on a new vehicle.
  • One “power host” says her new Tesla Model 3 costs her practically nothing because she recovers the cost by renting it to strangers via the Turo app.

Veronica and her boyfriend were on the fence about buying the Tesla Model 3.

At a base price of $US35,000, the electric car is the most affordable on the Tesla dealership lot, but it’s not cheap.

The couple lives in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the US, where they mostly zip around in Ubers and on trains.

“We wouldn’t be driving it all the time, but we could put it on Turo while it’s not being driven,” Veronica said. “That’s what helped us pull the trigger on the Tesla.”

She rents the car to strangers six days a week through the Turo app, a person-to-person car-sharing service most easily described as “Airbnb for cars.”

“It’s like, being able to rent the Tesla on Turo pays for the garage, pays for the loan we took out to purchase the car, and insurance,” Veronica said. “It covers all the cost.”

Turo is changing the economics of owning a car in cities like San Francisco. Car owners list their vehicles on the platform and lease them by the day. They can charge $US29 to $US200 a day, depending on the make and model of their ride.

The company says the average host in San Francisco makes $US672 a month on Turo, more than enough to cover the national average monthly car payment on a new vehicle. One local “power host” said he earned $US40,000 last year by renting his 2016 Tesla Model X to strangers.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one the largest markets for Turo, which has vehicles in more than 56 countries and 5,500 cities. Given the high cost of living, it’s unsurprising that residents would go to such lengths to offset the cost of car ownership.

In a survey of Turo users, the company asked hosts what they do with the money they earn by renting their cars on Turo. More than half of the respondents said they pay down their car loan or lease, while about a third said they added to their savings.

Michael Quinn, the lead content strategist for the hospitality startup Lyric, leased a 2017 Subaru Forester for commuting to Palo Alto but found he was using it much less than he expected. Instead of letting it idle, he decided to start renting it out on Turo.

He averages one or two bookings a week, he said, and it covers all the costs of the SUV.

“It’s like having a free car in the city,” Quinn said.

Veronica belongs to the group of Turo users – 23% of survey respondents – who said they use their Turo earnings to buy an additional car to list on the service.

The Tesla Model S is the most popular car make and model in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Turo, followed by the Tesla Model X and the BMW 3 Series. Since its limited-production launch last year, the Tesla Model 3 has also become a local favourite.

“I literally have renters who will take it out for an hour because they want to test drive it,” Veronica said of her Model 3, adding that those are her favourite renters because they spend so little time in her car – the chance of an accident is that much smaller.

Tesla driver san franciscoShutterstockOne Turo host in San Francisco (not pictured) said he earned $US40,000 last year by renting his 2016 Tesla Model X to strangers via the app.

Like many power hosts, Veronica gives renters the option of paying extra for door-to-door delivery. (She charges $US100.) She works as a freelancer, so her schedule allows her to leave in the middle of the day to drop off or pick up the Tesla. Turo doesn’t require hosts to offer delivery, though it says it does improve their chance of booking a reservation.

Veronica doesn’t offer delivery for her first car, a Toyota Corolla, which she also lists on Turo, because she said its make and model don’t justify a big delivery fee.

The biggest inconvenience of using Turo, according to Veronica, is drop-off. Sometimes a person books one of her cars within a few hours of the reservation, and she has to stop what she’s doing to meet them. She’s excited that Turo just announced a feature designed to let hosts remotely unlock their vehicles instantly through the Turo app.

If a renter makes a mess of her car – like during one ski trip to Tahoe in her Corolla – Veronica has the option of charging them for cleaning. She has to provide Turo with before-and-after photos of the vehicle’s interior to make the Veronicasaction.

Quinn said he couldn’t think of a bad experience on Turo.

“They have really all been positive experiences,” he said. “I think my favourite was renting my car to a family who needed a bigger SUV to visit their extended family in Tahoe.”

He added: “They were so thankful and took such great care of the car. And it was touching to help them make that trip happen.”

UPDATE: Veronica’s last name has been removed to protect her privacy.

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