Renting an RV – The Complete Concise Guide for Beginners

Renting an RV - The Complete Concise Guide for BeginnersIf you’re renting an RV, especially for the first time, there are things you have to know and pitfalls to avoid. Renting can actually get you into trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. We’ve researched the topic and talked to many renters, and compiled this detailed guide that will help you out.

We’re going to cover topics such as where to rent, how much it’s going to cost you and what kind of insurance you need – as well as the kind of road trips you can take with your rental RV. Don’t rent an RV before you read this guide.

Why rent an RV?

An RV provides you with a great way to take a road trip. The entire family can stay together in the same space, without having to move from one hotel to another every night. This is a great way to experience the great outdoors, as you can camp in a natural setting, by the lake, in the forest or in a state or national park. Hiking and other outdoor activities are right on your doorstep.

For many, an RV vacation in a rental motorhome provides the ultimate sense of adventure, but you should not embark on one for the wrong reasons.

Why you shouldn’t rent an RV for your next vacation

If you’re flying to your destination, you’re probably faced with one of two options –

  1. Rent an RV
  2. Rent a car and sleep at motels/hotels.

Don’t think that the first option is cheaper. It’s not. The cost of renting an RV in season is more or less equal to the cost of going with the minivan + motels option.

RVs can be very expensive to rent during July and August. A small RV can easily cost you over $200 a day. But that’s not all. You’ll pay more for gas and you’ll still have to pay for campgrounds which also get expensive in season. A minivan will cost you around $40-70 and motels are around $150 a night for a family room, so overall, renting an RV won’t save you money. If anything, it might be more expensive.

Rent an RV only because you want to experience RV life – not to save money.

Where to rent an RV?

These days, you have two options where it comes to renting an RV. You can either rent from a reputable company that specializes in RV rentals, or you can rent directly from owners of RVs via peer-to-peer services. Let’s take a quick look at what’s available.

RV Rental Companies

There are many companies in the US that rent out RVs. Some are local but many are national – with branches across the country. Some of the largest are –

Cruise America

El Monte RV

US RV Rentals

Apollo RV

With an RV rental company, you’re going to get to one of their locations to pick up your rental. They will usually have you sit through an orientation video and then show you the actual RV. A rep will walk you through everything and you’ll get a chance to ask them anything you like. If you’ve never driven an RV before, they’ll let you practice for a bit in their parking lot too.

This is what the orientation video looks like –

Pros of renting from a company

  1. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting and you can read detailed reviews about the company and the specific location you’re renting from.
  2. These companies have locations across the country. If anything goes wrong, you can get into one of their other locations and they’ll help you out.
  3. The structured process of giving you the RV means you’re more likely to get all the information you need.
  4. You can rent additional packages of linen, towels, and utensils.

Cons of renting from a company

  1. A limited selection of RVs to choose from – you can only choose the ones they have in their fleet and if you don’t make your reservation early enough, they may not have the model you want or need.
  2. You can usually only rent motorhomes. If you’re looking for a travel trailer or 5th wheel, you may not find one there (read more here about types of RVs)
  3. Can be expensive. You get more but then you pay for it as well – especially for extras.

Renting from owners (via peer-to-peer services)

You probably know Airbnb, right? Where homeowners rent out flats, houses or just specific rooms for a short-term stay (i.e. to tourists). So, there are similar services for RVs as well.

The two main players are –

RVShare.com

Campanda

These companies do not have an RV fleet of their own. Instead, they connect you with RV owners who are willing to rent out their rig. Not only do they run a database that matches you up with the right RV but they also provide the contract and insurance arrangements.

Pros

  1. A huge selection of RVs of all types, sizes and price ranges
  2. Good online support for using their websites and getting information
  3. Lower prices – or at least you can find low prices if you look hard enough

Cons

  1. You’re renting from someone who isn’t an RV rental pro. The way they will hand over the RV to you is likely to be less structured.
  2. No branches elsewhere. You must return the RV to the same location. If anything happens on the way – you’re on your own.

What kind of RV should you rent?

If you’re renting from one of the large RV rental companies, you can usually only rent a motorhome.

A motorhome is a single unit that is comprised of the vehicle (engine) and the home. There are three classes of motorhomes but the most common one offered by RV rental companies is a Class C motorhome. It looks like this –

Class C motorhome

If you’re traveling as a couple, then you can opt for a Class B motorhome, also known as a camper van. Class A motorhomes (bus-like) are also available for rent by some companies – but not all.

As for peer-to-peer rentals – you can find anything there. From huge luxury class A’s to tiny teardrop travel trailers or even pop-up campers.

Can you rent a travel trailer or 5th wheel?

If you own a pickup truck or a large-size SUV then you can rent these from peer-to-peer sites. The owner will usually be able to rent you the hitch along with the trailer or 5th wheel they’re renting out.

If you don’t own a proper towing vehicle – then renting a towable is going to be much more difficult but not impossible. You’ll have to rent out a towing vehicle too which basically means renting a pickup truck.

Car rental agencies do have a large selection of SUVs including full-size ones like Chevy Suburbans and Ford Expeditions (which are fully capable of towing a small travel trailer). Unfortunately, these vehicles do not come with towing packages and what’s more, your contract specifically forbids you from towing anything with them.

Which leaves you with the option of renting a pickup truck. Both U-haul and Enterprise offer pickup truck rentals which include towing.

You’ll need to rent the pickup, then go to your peer-to-peer towable rental. Make sure the hitch, truck and RV all fit and that your rental truck can indeed tow the RV you’re renting. And when your rental period is over, you have to return the rented trailer in one place and the truck in another.

How much does renting an RV cost?

The price will depend on the season. In the summer, expect to pay anything between $150 and $300 a day for a rented motorhome.

For a trailer – you can get a small teardrop trailer for as low as $75 a day over at RVShare. You may be able to find an old Class B or Class C motorhome for under $100 a day but generally speaking, expect to pay the same price of $150-$300 a day for a decent motorhome. Or more, if you opt for a luxury unit. These can get as high as $700-$800 a day!

We’ve explored the topic in depth in this post: How Much Does It Cost To Rent An RV? (Specific Examples Included)

What kind of insurance do you need?

It’s illegal to drive without insurance in the United States so you must make sure that the RV is indeed insured. RV rental agencies, as well as peer-to-peer networks, offer you only insured vehicles. So, the price you’re seeing includes the basic coverage required by law.

You may want to buy additional insurance to cover the deductible which you will be required to pay in case of damage to the RV. That’s something the agencies and sites are only too happy to sell you. This additional insurance can get expensive but many people choose to take it. That’s entirely up to you.

Things to look for in the contract before renting the RV

There’s nothing like RV rentals for caveats and limitations. Do yourself a huge favor and carefully read the details before moving forward with the rental. It is different from your run-of-the-mill car rental agreement.

Look for the following –

Daily mileage limits

RV rental companies may tempt you with a great daily price but read the fine print. They often limit your daily mileage for that price. Want to drive further away? No problem – but you’ll pay more. And you should buy these additional mileage packages in advance or they’ll cost you even more on your return.

What the rental does and does not include

Rental prices usually do not include basic things like linen, towels and food utensils. They may or may not include GPS and toll transponder (like EZ pass).

The good news is that you can rent all of these from the rental company. The bad news is that it’s going to cost you extra.

Limitations on where you can take the RV

Just like with a rental car, you won’t be able to drive the RV into Mexico. Canada should be ok. The emphasis is on “should.” Smaller companies may place more limitations on how far you can drive – to make sure you don’t get too far away from them.

Going beyond the rental agreement, there are places where you can and can’t go. Check out our post about where you can go with an RV for more information.

What you’re not allowed to do

There’s a lot you won’t be able to do with a rented RV. If you do – it will at the very least void your insurance, so don’t do it. These things may include –

  • Towing behind your RV
  • Illegal stuff like texting while driving or driving under the influence
  • Going off-road – which usually means driving on any unpaved roads unless it’s a short drive you must take to get to your campground site.

One-way RV Rentals

So, can you rent an RV in Miami and take the road trip of a lifetime to LA? Or just rent in one place and return in another.

That is doable with some rental companies – but not others. And not between just any two random cities of your choice. There must be branches of the company in your destination. As with any vehicle rental – if you do return in a different location, there may be a hefty drop-off fee involved, so make sure you find out how much it’s going to cost you before you embark on your coast-to-coast road trip in a rental.

What would you need to buy for your rental RV?

That would depend on what kind of packages you’re renting. Many people prefer to forego the “generous” offer to rent you linen and utensils for $40 a day for a family. Instead, they make their first stop in the trip a local Walmart where they buy everything they need for the entire trip.

If you go that route, you’re going to need to buy –

  1. Pillows and blankets
  2. Sheets, pillowcases, etc.
  3. Pots, pans and anything else you’ll need to cook with.
  4. A few food storage boxes/bins.
  5. Plates and cutlery – many people go for eco-friendly disposables because they don’t require washing (water is a precious commodity in an RV).
  6. Toilet paper, paper towels, etc.

And just about anything that you’ll be using for the duration of your trip. Some renters who just overnight at a nearby Walmart for the first day. Then they can take the time to organize their new home on wheels and just hop in the store and grab whatever they need from the shelves as the need arises. Once your trip is over, you can donate everything to a local charity thrift shop like Goodwill.

Read more: How to stay overnight at a Walmart and What do you need to pack for an RV trip.

Should you buy instead of renting?

Obviously, buying an RV is a huge deal for most people. After all, you’re buying a vehicle AND a home at the same time.

For a long road trip, the high price, limitations, stipulations, and overall hassle of RV rental does make people wonder if maybe buying one isn’t an easier option.

If you’re just looking for an RV vacation for 2-8 weeks, then rent. Buying and registering an RV is time-consuming. If all you want is a one-time vacation – it’s probably not worth it.

However, if you think you’ll be using an RV regularly – at least several times a year – then yes, buying makes more sense. It will probably be cheaper to own your RV – as long as you actually use it. RVs are like cars, in the sense that they depreciate in value but if you’re using yours, it could be worth it. And owning your own rig has its own benefits – like being able to keep your stuff in there.

So, there you have it.

If you ever rented an RV – we’d love to hear more about your experience, so drop us a line in the comment form. And before we leave, could you take a minute to complete our quick one-question survey?

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