The day before the Super Bowl, Eric Patenaude of Bloomington was driving his Subaru Forrester to the Twin Cities airport. He had an agreement to rent his car for three days to someone he'd never met — a Philadelphia native who had come to see his Eagles vanquish the Patriots.
Many people these days are comfortable turning the keys to their homes over to strangers who are renting through services such as Airbnb and VRBO. Now people like Patenaude are turning over the keys to their cars.
He has done about 40 such rentals since he joined the Turo vehicle sharing service about a year ago. Turo popped up when he googled "Airbnb for cars."
"I just started making pretty decent money and I thought, 'Well I might as well keep this going, as long as it's lucrative,'" he said.
And so far, so good.
"I'm basically paying for my car and making an income on the side," Patenaude said. "It's just a fun side hustle to make a little extra money."
The Eagles fan who rented Patenaude's car for the Super Bowl, Robert Inverso, was visiting Minnesota for the first time.
Inverso is a Turo fan, too. When he travels, he prefers to rent from individuals than traditional car rental agencies.
"You can pick the kind of car you want. It's more economical. More personal," he said.
Inverso paid $165 for the three-day rental.
People have listed about 200,000 vehicles for rent, said Turo. The service is available in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and every state but New York. The company entered the Twin Cities market in 2012. Its website currently lists about 100 vehicles for rent locally.
Spokesperson Steve Webb said a car that's rented for nine days a month could pay for itself.
"The average active host makes around $500 a month. So, if you're a car owner you can completely offset the the cost of owning a car," he said.
The company runs background checks on car owners and renters to try to avoid trouble, Webb said.
Most personal auto insurance policies do not provide coverage when a vehicle is rented out — so the vast majority of car owners accept one of the insurance packages Turo offers, Webb said.
"The standard one allows Turo to take a 25 percent cut of whatever the host earns," he said.
That plan covers physical damage to a vehicle with no deductible. All plans provide $1 million in liability protection.
Turo said no claims have exceeded that coverage.
But one claim reportedly did come close because a renter crashed into another car, injuring four people.
The company pulled out of the state of New York after regulators there said the insurance offered by Turo did not comply with state law and did not replace personal auto insurance policies.
The idea of renting out your own vehicle may strike a lot of people as crazy. But Turo's got some big backers — the German auto-maker Daimler AG, Liberty Mutual and Google Ventures are among Turo's investors.
Turo is just one business betting that Americans' love affair with their cars is changing, if not a relic of the past. Uber, Lyft, ZipCar and HOURCAR are all based on the idea that people will pay to use someone else's car to get somewhere — even in their hometown. And those services may herald a day when most of us don't own a car.
"That's what the car companies are betting on, said Thomas Fisher of the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies. His current research focuses on the so-called "sharing economy," including the emergence of autonomous vehicles and mobility services. He said the shift from car ownership to renting, including renting self-driving cars is underway.
"This is not some wild Utopian idea. This is the business model that the automobile industry is moving rapidly toward," Fisher said.
Toyota says it is transitioning from a car company to a mobility company.
"We really want to be able to not just sell to people who want to own a vehicle," said Toyota spokesperson Ming-Jou Chen. "We want to be able to give everybody a variety of different options based on lifestyle, age, capabilities and need."