If you’re anything like us, you’ve likely lost countless hours scrolling through camper listings on your local RV rental company’s website, punching in dates for an imaginary road trip and comparing the daily rate with the nightly rate in a hotel room. It’s never that simple though, is it? Sure, the rental company is up front about the rental rate, and they might even tell you about the security deposit and sales taxes involved, too. But what about all the other stuff, like collision Insurance and the cost of gas?
The seemingly super-low daily cost of renting a recreational vehicle can soon add up, once these unavoidable extras are taken into account and not budgeting for them beforehand can leave you in serious hot water. We’ve explored all the things you need to include in your calculations to work out just how much it actually costs to rent an RV.
How much you can expect to pay per day will depend on a number of factors. RV rental prices can vary according to the deemed “brand quality” of the rental company, where they’re based, where and when pick up will take place and, finally, the size, age, and type of RV. It’s often cheaper to rent privately; either directly from the RV owner or through Outdoorsy, which is a peer-to-peer rental platform that works along the same lines as Airbnb.
The category of what you might describe as a typical campervan is quite wide and includes pop-up campers, travel trailers, toy haulers and fifth-wheels. Motorhomes are a lot bigger and usually have more permanent living features. They are categorized into Class A, B, or C. Class C is the cheaper of the three, and generally refers to small or medium motorhomes, while Class A motorhomes include those super-luxury RVs that are bigger than your house.
An RV isn’t a library book. They’re expensive to repair and it’s pretty important that you return them when you say you will. The RV rental company charges all renters a security deposit as a way of making sure they get their vehicle back on time and in one piece. This is usually around $500 and—all being well—you should have no trouble getting it back at the end of your trip, so it’s not a cost, exactly. But you need to factor it in because if you don’t, you’re not going to get very far.
Pay attention to this one because it can catch a lot of RVers off guard, particularly those who are going to be arranging everything online and going out of state. Sure, you know you have to pay sales tax when you rent an RV, but did you know you pay it for the state where you pick up the RV and not the state where you live? Make sure you’re adding the right amount into your costing calculations or you could end up with a nasty surprise.
Once you’ve paid the rental cost, the security deposit, and your sales tax, the next most important thing is insurance. There are three different types of insurance when it comes to renting an RV: basic liability, collision damage waiver (CDW), and supplemental liability insurance (SLI). The first two are usually worked into the daily cost of the RV, while the latter is an optional extra you’ll have to arrange with your insurance company.
Collision damage waiver is sometimes referred to as rental collision insurance or loss damage waiver. If you go for this option when renting an RV, you agree to pay a specific amount (the excess) in the event of any damage. If you don’t go for it, you’re liable for all potential damages and repair costs. Expect to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 for this insurance, depending on the RV and rental company.
Having Basic Liability Insurance means you’re covered if somebody makes a claim against you because you damaged their property or caused them injury. How much you are liable for ranges from $25,000 up to $60,000, and the limits vary from state to state. SLI—as the name suggests—gives you the option to increase this liability so you (and other authorized drivers) are covered against any third party claims up to the value of $1 million. It might be included in your existing vehicle or credit card insurance so—even if you’re sure this is the case—check the small print for confirmation that it covers motorhomes and RVs. If it’s not covered already and you want the extra coverage, it’ll cost you between $10 and $15 a day.
In addition to making sure you’re covered for the camper van, general travel insurance is also worth considering. Trip insurance will make sure you don’t lose out financially if anything else goes wrong, such as the trip being canceled or cut short because of an emergency. Again, you might already be covered by your existing insurance policies, so check out the small print before getting your credit card out!
While we’re on the subject of small print, it’s very easy to miss some of the additional costs included in your RV rental if you don’t read all parts of the agreement. For example, are you expected to pay cleaning fees? Not all rental companies charge for cleaning the camper van once you’ve returned it, but with fees coming in at around $50 to $100, it’s something you should know about before hitting the open road! If there is a fee, ask if you can avoid this by cleaning the motorhome to an agreed standard before signing the contract.
A similar type of charge that renters often overlook is the cost of transporting and setting up the RV. If you’re not collecting the camper from the rental company site—or you’re dropping it off at a different location—you might find they charge you for delivery and collection. Even if you’re planning on using the RV as a permanent base on a campsite and won’t be picking it up or returning it yourself, some rental companies will charge you for setting it up on your pitch and getting everything ready for your arrival. These fees will be listed as setup or delivery fees and average costs are around the $100 to $150 mark.
One of the biggest benefits of having an RV over a hotel room is that you’re free to go wherever you want, whenever you want, with very little hassle. Unfortunately, some rental companies will only let you drive their RV so far before you start having to pay for any extra miles. If you know exactly where you’re going during the trip and you know the distance doesn’t outstrip that specified by the rental company, the additional miles charge isn’t going to matter.
However, if you’re not sure of your route, or something unexpected happens, you can end up paying up to 75 cents for every mile over your allowed amount! In this case, it might be better to go for a rental with unlimited mileage. It’ll be pricier up front but if you suspect you’re likely to overstep the allowance or you’re planning on going a really long way, it’s cheaper than paying the mileage fees.
Even with the best mileage deal in the world, you’re not going to get very far unless you factor in how much it will cost you in gas. This is going to depend on a few things, including the type of RV, how much you want to carry, and how fast you’ll be driving, as well as whether things like the air conditioning or generator use the same fuel. How far you’re planning on driving isn’t even half of it!
In general, the bigger (and heavier) the rig, the more you’ll need to spend to keep it going. If the average miles per gallon (mpg) figure for your chosen camper isn’t provided in the listing, you can usually find this on the manufacturer’s website. If you’re still in the early stages of planning your road trip and haven’t decided on a specific camper yet, there are lots of other tools available online, such as Google Maps, to help you estimate your fuel costs.
Remember that most rental companies will expect you to return the RV with a full tank too. They’ll charge you for the extra gas as well as add on an extra $20 to $50 for their inconvenience, so make sure you don’t forget!
If you’re planning on parking up for any extended length of time, or just stopping to use the facilities, campgrounds and RV parks will charge you for your stay. A basic pitch with no electric or water hook-up can cost as little as $3 or $4 per night, while the full works with all facilities might set you back as much as $40 a night.
Make sure to check whether the site has room for that size of RV. Pitches might be allocated and charged based on length or width, and there may be extra costs for pets or additional facilities.
Average Total Costs
Because there’s such a huge variation in size, age, and level of luxury when it comes to types of RV, working out an average total cost without knowing these details is an impossible exercise in futility.
Realistically, the only way you’re going to know how much it costs to rent an RV is if you choose a camper and a rental company, plan a vague road trip and then work out your expenses around those factors. We’ve obviously not covered things like food, leisure activities and entrance fees, because these are not specific to renting an RV. However, they still need to be included in your total trip budget and shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked.
There’s a lot to consider, but as long as you take into account the information above, you should end up with a fairly accurate figure that you can use to make an informed decision before booking that road trip.