Customers say car rental app continues to fine them for smoking, kick them off platform

ATLANTA — Customers of a car rental app continue to turn to Channel 2 Action News after being fined for smoking in vehicles and kicked off the platform.

The issue: They say they are nonsmokers and were never given a chance to dispute the charges.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray first reported on concerns from customers of the Turo app in March.

Since then, we have consistently been hearing from customers with strikingly similar stories.

Turo functions essentially like Airbnb, but for cars. Turo says it has a zero-tolerance policy for smoking. But customers tell us some car owners appear to be exploiting that policy.

Joselyn Dexter rented a Jeep Wrangler for her solo vacation to the softball college world series. The former college player says it was a dream vacation and she gave the car a 5-star rating.

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The problem came when she was on the flight home and received an email from Turo.

“I got an email that said basically you’ve been kicked off the app, you violated our policies and you’ve been sent to collections,” Dexter said.

That’s the same email other customers who have reached out to Channel 2 Action News received. All of them were sent to collections with a nearly $300 charge.

Metro Atlanta teacher Josh Dempsey said he’s never smoked a day in his life. But the Turo host claimed he left marijuana paraphernalia in the car after his Nevada vacation.

“Do I want to pay $300? I’m a teacher. No. Every bit matters to me, but am I going to let you attack my character?” Dempsey said.

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Matt Myrvik said the host had originally given him a 5-star review when he returned his Turo rental at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

It was only after Myrvik messaged the host that he was going to give a negative review that he was reported for smoking in the vehicle.

“Now my 3-star review is completely gone and when you look at profiles, he has a 5-star rating,” Myrvik said.

In Dexter’s case, the photographic evidence of the smoking shows a small piece of paper the size of a fingernail and a small twig that Turo said is marijuana.

“Maybe I’ve been missing out. I’ve never taken a picture of an odor. I would like to know who has. I don’t understand how those pictures prove anything. I don’t know how to prove I didn’t except for my own word and own integrity,” Dexter said.

She said not only does she not smoke, but also she had the car professionally cleaned before returning it.

Turo is standing by its decision in Dexter’s case. A spokesperson told Channel 2 Action News that those photos are evidence of smoking. Turo said customers can protect themselves by documenting the condition of the car when they return it.

Turo said in a statement:

“We have a no-smoking policy to keep the personal property of our hosts protected. We also have a detailed trip photos guide for guests, so they may prevent any claims. In this instance, the host provided photo evidence of a smoking violation, and the guest had not provided post-trip photos.”

Travel expert Victoria Walker said startups like Turo often do not have the staff for investigating these complaints that more traditional companies do. That’s why she said travelers need to protect themselves.

“For travelers, they really are going to be on their p’s and q’s in terms of documenting every single instance from the time they book until the time they return the rental,” Walker said.

Channel 2 consumer advisor Clark Howard gave the same advice. As with a traditional car rental company: push back, even if it means you have to go to arbitration or small claims court.

“Administratively, they are the judge, the jury, the prosecutor and nobody is standing up for you. You have to stand up for yourself,” Howard said.

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