Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is Renting an RV Really Worth It?

A few months ago my wife and I got the bright idea to rent an RV and take a casual trip down the Oregon and California coast to my niece's wedding in Oxnard, CA.  We both enjoy the outdoors but typical tent camping is no longer a restful experience for my wife so this seemed like a good compromise.  Further, it was a good option that would allow us to travel with our lovable labrador retriever Zoie who is simply a part of the family.  The fact that I would even do this was a big step for me because I have in the past sworn that I would never be an RV owner.  However, as I have aged I guess my perspective and thoughts on this sort of thing have softened.

When my wife and I first discussed an RV trip I was a bit surprised at her high level of excitement.  In fact, within 15 minutes of our first conversation she was on the web looking at rental options of which there are many.  One of the things I learned is that there are a number of private individuals out there that rent their rigs presumably to offset the cost of maintaining and storing them.  Most private individuals seem to sour on pets, and since taking Zoie along was a requirement, we ended up renting from one of the big RV rental companies (there are 3-4 of them) Cruise America which has a liberal pet policy.  Basically if you return the RV to them in the same condition that you received it you can travel with a zoo.  Since there were only two of us and the dog (which in reality makes it three of us since Zoie is basically at big as my wife) we opted for Cruise America's compact RV the C19.  For those of you who are not RV savvy the "C" refers to a class C  RV which basically means it is a camper style where a primary sleeping area extends over the cab (alternatively a class A is the "bus" style RV).  The "19" refers to the fact that the RV is 19' long.

As is my habit I read a number of reviews regarding the Cruise America experience of others.  Reading the reviews scared me a bit because many were extremely negative particularly with regard to customer service.  However, my experience at the Portland, OR Cruise America site was pleasant and efficient.  I arrived before the stated pickup time to take care of paperwork and was on my only 15 minutes their stated earliest pickup time.  I suspect that service issues are highly site specific (e.g. from what I have read NEVER rent from Cruise America in Las Vegas).  My only criticism is that while I was given a tour of the vehicle I really was not given much explanation of how to use the vehicle.  Cruise America does have a 23 minutes video on YouTube that goes over the basics of how an RV works and a pdf users manual on their web site.  The problem is that these instruction materials were for a larger unit, not what I was renting (there were differences).  Since I had done my homework I was armed with questions to make sure I knew what I was dong before I drove off their lot.  Doing homework ahead of time is a good idea if you ever rent an RV.

Our trip lasted 8 days and covered a total of 2400 miles.  So, was it worth it?  Renting the RV turned out to be quite expensive.  To start the actual cost of the RV for 9 days was about $2,500.  Even though our trip lasted only 8 days you really need the extra day to clean the RV before you return it.  According to Cruise America's rental agreement the RV needs to be returned exactly as you receive it both inside and outside.  In a few minutes I will be taking our C19 home for the past 8 days to a self-serve car wash to give it a bath.  Last night my wife and I spent roughly 5 hours cleaning the inside.  The penalty for not returning the RV in an acceptable state of cleanliness (judged solely by Cruise America) is a $50/hour cleaning fee.  I'll let you know later today if we passed the test.  The $2,500 rental fee does not include unlimited milage.  Cruise America gave us 900 free miles (not sure how that is calculated but they knew where we were going).  Beyond that you pay $0.34/mile.  So, based on our total milage about $440 will be added to our bill bringing the total to roughly $2,940 for our 8-day trip. There is also a fee for using the on-board generator ($3/hour + fuel which they estimated to be 1 gallon/hour).  If you are what seasoned RVers call "boondockiong" (i.e. staying in places where there are no services or hookups) this can add up.  Fortunately for us we only had 8 hours of generator use (mostly to run the air conditioner for Zoie while were doing some wine tasting).  So for us the cost of using the generator should be $24 plus about $32 in fuel.  The total cost of the RV for our trip is now $2,996.  This morning I refilled the LP (liquid propane) tank at a cost of $7 for 0.6 gallons.  We only used 1/3 of the LP tank on our trip so I suspect you can go a long way on a tank of propane.  This brings the cost of the trip to $3,003.  Last but not least is fuel.  Cruise American gives an estimate for the C19 of 14-15 mpg.  We got between 11 and 11.6 mpg throughout the trip regardless of what type of driving we were doing.  Conservatively I would estimate that we spent $1,000 in fuel.  So, when all is totaled the cost for just operating our rented C19 for 8 days covering 2,400 miles was about $4,000!  Keep in mind that this does not count the cost of RV parks/campgrounds which were on average $40/night (range $33 - $65 based more on location rather than what is offered).  Thus this was an additional $320.

What I learned from the trip is that I actually did enjoy traveling in the RV.  We did not eat out a single time on the trip (actually took too much food), was able to stop along the road for a casual lunch sitting in our chairs overlooking the ocean, and never had to worry about finding rest stops (really important since I drink a lot of soda).  Even so I don't think I would do this sort of trip again in a rented RV.  The cost is simply too high.  For $4,000 you can live pretty high on the hog for 8 days.  That's not to say that I would never again rent an RV.  Actually I could easily see myself renting again if I were not traveling far and planned to stay put for some period of time.  Alternatively if I wanted to go someplace that was some distance away from our home we could drive our car to the destination and rent the RV there to cut costs.

I should say a few things of note about the C19 we rented from Cruise America.  While the C19 worked just fine the interior is a bit cheap and the unit we rented was a bit beat up.  I don't blame Cruise America for this since the care people take with their units is likely highly variable.  The beds have seat cushions that are only a couple inches thick rather than matresses which are not horribly comfortable and we ended up bringing a heavily padded mattress cover to make the overhead bed usable.  Also, I question if the design of the bed would hold up with a large person (I am over 200 lbs and where I slept sagged by the end of the trip).  Cruise America's literature gives the distinct impression that its units are equipped with a combo convection/microwave oven.  The C19 came with only a microwave which would have been problematic if we had planned to do any oven cooking.  Finally, the tanks in the C19 are entirely too small.  The "black" water tank (septic) was manageable.  However, the "gray" water tank (water that goes down the drains) and the freshwater tank were both under 20 gallons and did not last long at all.  We had great difficulty making the gray-water tank last an entire day.  If you are in a position to have to take showers in the RV this can be really problematic if you have no place to dump. My sister and brother-in-law, who have owned an RV for years, just upgraded largely to get something with bigger tanks.  I totally understand why.

I apologize of my descriptions are a bit random, but after all these are random thoughts!  If you have questions that I have not addressed let me know and I'll try to answer them from my experience.

Cheers!

14 comments:

  1. Hi, Don! I think you did not enjoy the RV experience because you are pressured with the expensive price rate, to the point you didn't eat much just so the pay will be worth it. I guess you would appreciate the RV trip more if you own the vehicle and not rented.

    -Liza Pilon @PrairieCityRV.com -

    ReplyDelete
  2. Liza, my wife and I actually enjoyed the RV trip a ton. Frankly, we thought it was a great way to travel. The point of the blog was simply an assessment of the value of renting. If you are taking a longer trip as we did it simply does not pay. The trip actually convinced me that I might just want to own one some day.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We are considering renting an RV trip for a 4,000+ mile Great Southwest Adventure, starting from and ending in our hometown of Chicago. This post is extremely eye-opening in terms of the realistic expectations of Cruise America, the RV itself, and most critically, gas-mileage. As much as I want the complete adventure, it seems like it might be more cost-effective for us to rent a car and stay in hotels instead, and save the RV trip for a shorter expedition down the road. Thank you so much for the thorough info!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really appreciated you taking the time to put your experience in writing! I was looking for exactly this kind of info for the compact size RV. I have really wanted to try out an RV trip but have so far been totally put off by the overall expense! I could go on a European vacation for what a fairly short trip would cost me through Cruise America! I think what really gets me is the milage charges. The whole point to me of being in the RV is to be mobile but whew! that is a lot of extra and potentially unknown expense. I'm going to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta this fall and will probably drive down and then rent the RV there so I can stay on location at the festival. Thanks again for this info!

    ReplyDelete
  6. You are very welcome! I think your solution is a good one. You might also look into renting from a private person rather than a company like Cruise America. Don't know what the cost would be but you might get more RV for your buck. There are many people who do short-term rentals of their RVs. A quick Google search will reveal many as well as places like Craig's list. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  7. You should send this entry to the Consumerist blog, and definitely to the Better Business Bureau.
    Surfers Rent A Car
    61 7 5572 0600
    2/11 Northview St Mermaid Waters QLD 4218

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nice post and you describe all attraction very well. I must add one site where you could be get good information about Cheap Car Hire

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very useful costings as we are planning a trip from UK.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow I wonder why it was so expensive it cost me only $400 for the rv rental for 6 days from cruis America

    ReplyDelete
  11. loved reading your blog... lots of great info! I have been doing some research on vacationing in Iceland and have come across this whole camper van phenomenon and it is intriguing.
    camper rental Sydney

    ReplyDelete
  12. Al’s Trailers is an Oregon RV dealer and major provider of RV parts, Supplies and Accessories Als Trailer Sales We specialize in New and Used RV Sales, RV Service, RV Parts and Accessories

    ReplyDelete
  13. Al’s Trailers is an Oregon RV dealer and major provider of RV parts, Supplies and Accessories Als Trailer Sales We specialize in New and Used RV Sales, RV Service, RV Parts and Accessories

    ReplyDelete