I was already traveling quite frequently before turning 25. The issue with this is that most car rental companies make it almost impossible for you to rent a car if you’re younger than 25. Never mind my clean driving record and years of experience, someone could be 25 and only recently started to drive and maybe doesn’t have the best driving skills, but it wouldn’t matter because they would still get a better deal than me!
Because of this unfortunate fact, I found an app called Turo. When I was going to be in Florida for a month back in 2017, I found, what was at the time, this gem. If you’re familiar with AirBnB, Turo is basically the same idea but with cars: people will rent out their cars to strangers at a given price. Although they may charge an extra percentage for being under 25, it’s nowhere near as expensive as it would be to rent from a car rental company. I had used Turo for a total of 4 times and it was great so far. The last time, however, left a weird taste in my mouth. I don’t blame the Turo company though; they handled things well and I would even try them out again if I had to.
After my need greating trip to Ecuador, my friend BG and I flew to New York where we would be for a couple of days before driving up to Toronto (Canada) along with my friend Ashley and little sister, Chantal.
Upon picking up the car from New Jersey, the car had a few lights turned on the dashboard. This was not a good start. Immediately I messaged the owner and also sent him pictures. He told me that the dashboard just needed to be reset but that the people before me went on a road trip and everything was fine. I admit, I should’ve not believed him… but I chose to believe him, despite already having a bad feeling about it. We already had this planned and there was no turning back once we were on the road. The car was a bit older, but it worked and we just needed to get there.
We made it to Canada after about 8 or 9 hours. We crossed the border at Buffalo, NY and arrived at Niagara Falls. We got Chinese food for dinner from that Niagara Falls town before driving out to Toronto.
Our time in Canada was wonderful! Although cold, we saw many wonderful things and had a nice time overall. I will be honest, after Ecuador and New York, I was reaching the point to where I was ready to go home. I tried to ignore this feeling, but it was slowly creeping up on me and this car rental chaos that was about to happen only worsened it.
We stayed in Canada for about 3-4 days. After that, we were to head back to the country side of New York for a few days to visit the Bethels before spending our last night in the city then flying home. We hit the road early for the 6 hour drive that lay ahead of us. About 20min in, we hear a pop! The car begins to feel heavier and immediately after the pop!, there was a consistent plop! plop! plop!… “Girls,” I say, “we have a flat tire”.
We exited the road and parked in a nearby shopping center. Immediately, we searched for the spare tire. Locals offered to help us and a nice man did. After inserting the spare, we looked for a Starbucks so I could connect to WiFi to message the owner. We had to decide what we were going to do next. The owner took a while to get back to me (we were in Starbucks for well over an hour), so I submitted a claim through the app.
This claim seemed to have upset the owner a bit since he wanted us to fix this outside of the app. Either way, the next step was to find a tire shop. We decided that it would be best to cross back into the US, before finding a tire shop since the border was only a 15 min ride from where we were.
We cross the border and found a Walmart. We checked to see how much the tires are. The mechanic checks the tires but tells us that they don’t have that size and suggested we check in with the other local tire shops. The phone calls begin. I probably called about 5 or 6 shops around that area but not a single one in that area had that specific tire size.
By this point we had already spent about 2-3 hours on this and decided to limp towards our destination to at least be somewhat closer. We kept calling tire shops in cities we passed and not a single one had that tire! Why? What was so different about this tire? This was a common enough car, why were the tires so hard to find? We called about a total of 40 different tire shops and the soonest they could get the tire for us was an average of two days. We didn’t have two days! I asked at another Walmart what exactly made it so difficult to find the tire; they said that the car didn’t have it’s original rims which required a very specific tire size that typically needed to be ordered.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
We kept going slowly, and kept calling each shop we passed. Eventually, 4:30 came around, and we stopped calling because the shops were all closing. It was a Sunday so they were all closing early. I started to feel the anxiety run through my shoulders. We prayed and decided that we should take the risk and just limp with the spare tire and stop occasionally along the way to check. The whole time we rode the car, we didn’t go beyond 55 mph and because of the narrow two-sided roads, many cars would honk at us and pass us up. To make matters worse, it seemed that the forecast for that evening would be rain which would have increased the gravity of the situation because as Southern Californians who, at the time, already struggled driving in dark and winding roads, the rain would only complicate things.
BG and I took turns driving during the trip and the time came for me to drive… I was still under tremendous anxiety so BG didn’t want me to drive like that and said she could keep driving (You’re a trooper and a great friend BG!). I kept worrying that we would get stranded or that something else unexpected would happen. I tried to focus on things that could ease up my mind, like the sunflowers we saw along the way and the clear night sky full of stars despite the supposed rain forecast.
The journey should’ve only been about 6 hours. The journey took us about 13 hours total. We arrived to NY with a friend at around 12 midnight and I just wanted to cry and knock out. Thankfully we made it safe and sound! The even crazier part? It started to rain a few minutes after we arrived! I went to sleep and decided to worry about the car trouble the next morning. We just all needed to relax and sleep.
Upon waking up fully rested the next morning, I called the very first available car shop. Guess what? They had an available tire!! FINALLY! They told me we could take it in that same afternoon to have it installed. They were so kind, helpful and successfully changed the tire but also noted other issues. I asked them to make a note of them so I could also let Turo and the owner know.
Thanks to that we were able to enjoy our time visiting Bethel and countryside New York.
Now, as much as I’d loooove to say that the car rental issues stopped here and we had a smooth ending and gracefully returned the car to the owner and that’s where this ends… I really really really cannot. Nope, unfortunately, this was not the case.
This, my friends, is to be continued…