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Maui owners renting their cars for cash

Rental car shortage and high visitor counts mean extra money for some

Cars available to rent on Maui in July are shown on the carsharing app Turo. As the visitor market recovers faster than the local rental car inventory, some Maui residents are cashing in on the shortage by renting out their own cars through the online platform. — The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

WAILUKU — As Maui continues to see the state’s highest share per capita of U.S. Mainland visitors, residents are banking off Hawaii’s rental car shortage as a way to make money.

San Francisco-based Turo, a car-sharing company that spans national and international markets, has gained traction over recent months on Maui. Though not new, the online and mobile platform for renting vehicles from owners is funneling cash to locals on the Valley Isle, which suffered some of the worst unemployment rates at the trough of the pandemic.

“It’s a lot of effort and time to do it properly, but the benefit I think is that the money coming from tourists is going directly to residents instead of to the companies,” said professional photographer Trish Michael, who recently started renting her car on Turo. “So it’s almost like it helps rebalance things.”

Nicole Nadalin-Vincent, another Maui resident, said she’s driving the family “beater” to take her kids to school among other daily tasks to free up their Tacoma and Tesla for Turo reservations.

“We have a truck we use to take things to the dump. It’s an old F-150 flatbed. Here I am pulling my kids up to Montessori. But we’re making more money than I make at work,” she said, laughing.

Thousands of unused rental cars packed Maui’s landscape last year during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, Hawaii’s rental car supply dropped by nearly 10,000 units, or almost a quarter, during the 2020 fiscal year that ended in July. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Crediting her husband as the moneymaking mastermind, Nadalin-Vincent said the couple listed their Tacoma after hearing about the high demand for rentals in Hawaii. Within seconds — before they could change the rental price — it was booked.

Nadalin-Vincent said there have been times where she’s had to race to the gas station to fill up the truck, vacuum it, then race to a drop-off spot because there is 40 minutes between bookings.

“Since then we’ve added a surfboard, coolers, beach chairs — you can just ‘click, click, click’ and add it to your ticket,” she said. “People are so psyched because there are no rentals.”

When the two first started listing on Turo months ago, there weren’t many people doing it. Now the platform has more rentals available, she added.

Nadalin-Vincent, a stylist and co-owner of Salon 253 in Wailuku, said that one of her clients bought a $48,000 car just to sign up for Turo. Another client got two Jeeps to rent out.

The truck rents for $148 or higher a day. The Tesla is about $330 a day. Since they started, the two have made about $8,000, according to Nadalin-Vincent.

“It’s so great,” she said. “It really gives us the little bit of extra income.”

Although there are benefits to the business venture, Michael said the jury is still out on whether she and her partner will keep renting their third car via Turo over the long term.

Michael said they purchased a 2018 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300 convertible with low mileage from California and had it shipped to Maui a few weeks ago with the aim of listing the luxury vehicle on Turo.

“I wanted it — I figured I could get it and have someone else pay for it,” she said. “That was the plan.”

With the first booking, Michael said the renter had damaged the rear passenger rim, which is hard to repair.

Owners may collect 100 percent of the booking fee or opt for tiers of Turo insurance, which is covered by various percentage cuts of the bookings. Michael has her own car insurance, along with Turo’s most comprehensive car insurance tier.

Michael said the Mercedes, listed for $330 a day, was booked Thursday and is reserved a couple more times in June.

“I think the jury’s out,” she said. “We have to go through a couple of things and see if it’s worth it. If there’s damage every time, it’s too much work.”

Advice Michael would give to other residents who are considering renting out their vehicles?

“Don’t rent your car if you’re in love with your car,” she said. “You gotta treat it like a business because otherwise you are opening yourself up to problems.”

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization’s second quarter forecast, released about two weeks ago, said Hawaii’s rental car supply dropped by nearly 10,000 units, or almost a quarter, during the 2020 fiscal year that ended in July.

Last year, rental car companies laid off workers and sold inventory to cover pandemic losses and the decline in travel. The lack of rental vehicles is among one of several factors that will weigh on Hawaii’s economic recovery, experts said.

Due to the shortage, rental vehicle prices have surged to hundreds of dollars a day in some cases. An online search shows that compact cars may be rented for more than $100 a day this weekend and luxury cars start at $500.

Meanwhile, Maui County’s strong U.S. Mainland visitor market, which is outperforming economists’ expectations due to built-up savings and pent-up demand, may match record 2019 pre-pandemic tourism levels by this summer, Carl Bonham, UHERO executive director, told The Maui News.

For other counties in the state, reaching pre-pandemic visitor numbers will take longer. Oahu and Hawaii island rely more on international travel, and Kauai’s stringent travel measures that were relaxed last month deterred visitors for some time.

In April, Maui visitors climbed to 178,105 — its highest mark since reopening to tourism in October, according to a Hawaii Tourism Authority report released Thursday.

Arrivals rose from 23,103 in October to 63,740 in November and 90,605 in December before dipping to 66,925 in January. March’s count of 170,750 was nearly double February’s visitor total of 92,608, HTA data shows.

After discouraging travel to Hawaii and mandating self-quarantine on arrivals starting March 26, 2020, the state relaxed trans-Pacific travel rules Oct. 15 as a way to boost tourism.

However, the pandemic shutdown and subsequent reopening to travelers have exacerbated residents’ already eroding perspective of the tourism industry.

“I’m in the salon all day and I’m so shocked with all these tourists,” Nadalin-Vincent said. “I see them and at first, I’m like, ‘Ah man, here we go again.’ But the bottom line is we all depend on tourists. This is one way we can make money off tourism.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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