A Stay-at-Home Mom Drives Autism Advocacy with the Turo Car Sharing Marketplace

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Turo is steadily growing as a household name. The world’s largest car sharing marketplace is available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and France, allowing people to sign up as hosts and rent out their cars to those who need wheels. Turo’s mission is to “put the world’s 1.5 billion cars to better use.”

Turo car sharing as a side hustle

Colorado stay-at-home mom, Michelle Perez, had a car that spent most of its time in the driveway. After starting her family in 2011, her circumstances rapidly changed when her 18-month-old son was diagnosed with autism. At the time, both Michelle and her husband were working fulltime and started investigating in-home therapy options. Before long, they were burnt out from balancing new parenthood, full-time work and therapy visits. Something had to give, leading Michelle to resign and step into a new role as a full-time, stay-at-home mom.

In 2022, Michelle finally found herself with spare hours in her day and began her job search in earnest, searching for a position that would allow her to contribute to the family financially while still providing her with enough time and flexibility to look after her son. “I always had the feeling I could do more to help out my household,” she says. A friend of hers told her to check out Turo as a side hustle for her 2020 Toyota 4Runner that was left in the driveway most of the time. She listed the car on Turo and, in the first month, earned enough to cover her family’s groceries. “This was earth-shattering for me after over a decade of being out of the workforce,” Perez says. “I quickly gained experience on how to grow my business on Turo and now earn enough each month to cover our mortgage.”

Scaling and managing the business

Since then, Perez has scaled her business by adding four additional cars to her fleet through financing and developed a business entity, Ausome Rides LTD, a pun to include her autism activism with her business. In 2023, she earned $56,000 before the holiday season, which traditionally results in a business boom. 

While the earnings from her business help her own family significantly, every mile counts for others, too, thanks to her autism advocacy.

Perez donates a portion of her profits to charity, helping non-verbal autistic children, like her son, find their voice through the use of technology.

“My son is considered non-verbal, and although he’s had speech therapy since he was a toddler, today he speaks in two- to three-word phrases,” she says. “He uses an iPad with an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) app to communicate with us when he cannot find the words. Many years ago, we were lucky to receive a grant for my son’s first AAC device, and it has helped us on his speaking journey in more ways than I can ever explain.” 

Perez and her husband wanted to pay it forward and give other families a chance at being able to communicate with their kids who have autism, so she sets aside a portion of the earnings from each booking to purchase  talking devices for  families who can’t afford them.. 

“I work directly with my son’s [therapy] offices to help find families to whom I can donate,” she explains. 

Perez’s biggest challenge in balancing caring for her family and her Turo business is time management, since it can be tricky delivering cars to guests at their locations if she has a therapy session scheduled with her son at the same time. She says Turo’s support team has been helpful in this regard, though. “Turo is always coming out with new tools and updates on the app that are easy to use and makes running my business so much more convenient,” she explains.

Advice for starting a car sharing business

After a year of working with Turo, Perez credits her personalized approach as the reason behind her success. Treating guests as if they are visiting family members has earned Perez dozens of five-star reviews.

“I personally detail, clean and maintain my vehicles to make sure each trip is an Ausome Adventure, as I like to call it. I also carry free medical alert seat belt covers for any families with special needs,” she says. The wording on the seatbelt reads: Person with special needs. Please be aware they may not respond, resist and run away, be non-verbal, be unaware of danger. 

Perez also likes to provide small amenities in her cars. “One of my favorite free perks that I offer is the Colorado State Park Pass, which allows my guests to visit any of Colorado’s beautiful parks by car, bike or foot entry at any time of the year,” she says.

Perez isn’t done growing the business yet and she knows she is completely in the driver’s seat when it comes to how much growth is possible. While she has several cars on her Turo profile, she plans to grow her fleet to 20 or more. While initially nervous about getting back into work after many years away, Turo provided a soft landing pad. “Turo has given me the opportunity to be a homemaker while providing for my family in many ways I haven’t been able to before,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Perez.

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Tayla Blaire is a South African freelance journalist and copy/content writer for business and lifestyle brands. She enjoys helping new writers find their feet in the world of freelancing, thanks to her background in education. Find her at www.taylablaire.com

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