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Renting an RV can be much more economical than buying one, especially if you’ll only be RVing for a few weeks out of the year. However, be aware that there is more to the total RV rental costs than just the daily rate. In this article, we’ll break down some of the other cost factors to take into account when budgeting for your next trip.
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Some RV rental agreements include a base mileage amount, which means that you can drive a set number of miles per day with no additional fees. But, if you exceed the base mileage amount or if there is no base mileage in your rental agreement, you can expect to pay anywhere from 35 to 50 cents per mile that you drive. You can estimate your mileage in advance by using a free tool like Google Maps to plan out your route. Generally, mileage fees usually only apply to motorhomes, not to towable travel trailers.
Some rental agencies might also have minimum mileage requirements, so for instance you must pay for at least 50 miles even if you take a very local trip and drive fewer miles than that. However, in the course of a normal trip, you will more than likely exceed these minimums. These mileage fees are meant to help counteract wear and tear on the engine and other drive components of these RVs, and often go towards maintaining the vehicles with oil changes and so forth.
In terms of RV rental costs, you are essentially paying two ways for every mile that you drive: for the mileage fees mentioned above AND for fuel. Smaller and lighter RVs often run on unleaded gas, although some require diesel. Obviously, fuel prices vary dramatically based on the oil market and where you are in the country, so it can be difficult to calculate costs in advance. You can use an app like GasBuddy to get an idea of what gas prices are like along your route and to find the cheapest gas stations.
The fuel economy of RVs also varies a lot, based on the size and weight of the vehicle, what kind of tires it has, whether it’s four-wheel-drive, and so forth. It ranges from around 6 miles per gallon for massive Class As to about 20 miles per gallon for small campervan conversions. Fuel tanks can hold anywhere from 20 to 55 gallons. The larger tanks obviously enable you to drive for longer without having to stop for fuel, but it can be a shock to drop $150 or more just to fill them up, especially when you are used to a small car tank.
You can roughly estimate your fuel cost by checking the price of fuel per gallon along your route with GasBuddy, dividing that number by the estimated miles per gallon of the rig you have in mind, and multiplying the result by your mileage estimate from Google Maps.
For example, if gas costs $2.50 and the RV you want to rent gets about 15 miles per gallon, that’s roughly 17 cents per mile. If you plan to drive 500 miles, you can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $83 in fuel costs.
Finally, here’s a tip to avoid overpaying for fuel: never stop at the first gas station you come to in a town after a long stretch with no services. Instead, skip over the first couple of stations and look for one in the middle of town and off the main road if possible. That way, you will not be subjected to the convenience and desperation markup that the first gas station is likely to charge.
Insurance is sometimes included in the RV rental cost, or sometimes it’s covered by your car insurance, depending on your policy. However, if it’s not included or you aren’t covered for RV rentals, you will need to purchase insurance through the rental agency on a per-day basis.
For example, Cruise America offers free supplemental liability insurance for RV rentals, but you can upgrade to a zero deductible plan for about $12 per day. The upgraded plan means that if you were to get into an accident, you would not have to pay anything, whereas, without it, you would be required to pay anywhere up to the $1,500 deductible.
However, Outdoorsy charges nearly $50 per night for insurance coverage, and renters are still responsible for a $2,000 deductible if any damage occurs. All of this to say, be sure to check out the insurance policy when you are looking into RV rental costs and keep them in mind when you are creating your budget.
You may also need to rent certain gear to be able to fully utilize your RV rental, like kitchen kits, linens and pillows, a generator, and so on. Some RV owners also offer recreational gear rentals, like kayaks, bikes, or hammocks for additional fees. It depends on the rental agency and/or the owner of the RV as to what is included in the rental package and what is considered an add-on.
Plus, you will need to return the vehicle with the propane tanks full or pay for the difference. Many RV utilities are powered with propane, like the cooktop and refrigerator. If you rent a generator, you will most likely need to purchase gas for it.
Other Unexpected Fees
There are also other fees that might be applied to your rental agreement, like a service fee for making the reservation, a cleaning fee or non-refundable pet fee, environment fees, and/or sales tax. Owners’ fees may also apply for peer-to-peer rental at the owner’s discretion. Finally, if you are camping for more than a couple of days, you will probably need to dump your tanks at a dump station, which can cost up to about $15 per dump.
Finally, if you plan to stay at organized campgrounds on your trip, you will need to factor in campsite fees. Most campsites without hookups cost between $10 and $30 per night, while RV sites with hookups run between $30 and $80 per night. These fees depend on what amenities are offered, whether the campground is private or public, and even what region of the country you are in. It is also entirely possible to find free campsites, although they may not have all (or any) of the amenities of a paid park.
BUT, You Will Save Money In Other Ways
Finally, the good news! With an RV rental, you can save money in several ways.
First, you’ll have a kitchen space and food storage in your RV so you can shop for groceries and prepare many of your meals in the rig instead of eating out. You are also combining your lodging and transportation into one, so unlike if you flew somewhere, you don’t have to rent a car AND pay for a hotel or other lodging.
Finally, you can save money on entertainment. The point of going RVing for many people is to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life and allow yourself to slow down, enjoy nature, and relax. Conveniently, many of those activities are free, like hiking, riding your bike, swimming in a lake, and so forth. Traveling and exploring are the main activities, whereas on a trip to a city you would likely spend money on museums, performances, nightlife, and more.
While RV rental costs may seem to add up quickly with all the factors we’ve listed above, it is in fact one of the more affordable ways to take a vacation!
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