What to know about renting an RV for beginners
Renting a recreational vehicle (RV) probably won't be the best part of your journey, but we're here to make it easier. There's a busload to research and prepare for, so here's your guide finding a rental.
What are the different types of RVs?
Before we get into all of the details, there are two main types of RV: drivable and towable. Common features of both drivable and towable RVs are a kitchen, bathroom and at least one sleeping feature. Both types can also have expandable parts like canopies that are deployable when the RV is stationary.
When it comes to the differences, drivable RVs have distinct classes: A, B and C. Meanwhile, all the RVs that can be towed have distinguishing features and form factors.
- Class A: This is the largest type of drivable RV and will look most like a coach bus. Usually, this class is associated with tour buses and the brand Winnebago (which does make a wide variety of RVs). You can expect Class A RVs to be spacious, sleep many people and have pretty substantial kitchens and bathrooms.
- Class B: The smallest type, these RVs are often called camper vans. One will look much like a van, but it'll have an elevated roof. Although the shapes are similar, Class B RVs might have dated patterns or designs, as they were most popular in the '70s and '80s before a recent resurgence. Class B RVs don't sleep many people and often come without bathrooms and full kitchens.
- Class C: Sort of an in-between class, these RVs can provide a lot of space without being as large as a bus. Class C RVs tend to be built on van or truck frames and handle like large trucks. This class can range from about 20 to 38 feet, so you'll find a lot of variety in the space and living features.
These RVs are attached to the rear frame of a vehicle with some kind of towing tech. Although these don't have classes—like their drivable counterparts—there are still distinct types of towable RV:
- Camper/travel trailer: This attaches to the towing vehicle's frame with a standard tow hitch. This type of towable RV has a lot of variety. For instance, some can sleep just one person, while others can sleep a family of 4 comfortably.
- Folding (or popup): These RVs are known for having collapsible parts that are not deployed when the trailer is being driven or towed.
- Fifth wheel: This type gets its name because the RV may have wheels or sit on a trailer. It attaches with a fifth-wheel coupling to the rear axle of the vehicle towing the trailer. This causes a bit of a gap between that vehicle and the RV, hence the fifth wheel. This is another type of towable RV that can range greatly in features and size—anywhere from 17 to 40 feet.
- Truck camper: This type isn't towed as much as it's carried, almost always in the bed of a pickup truck. The recreational insert is usually a minimum of 8 feet long.
Where can I rent an RV?
The process of renting an RV starts similar to how you'd rent most types of vehicle. You'll be able to narrow your search by the locations you'll be traversing and the features you most desire. You may find that you have many traditional and peer-to-peer options for renting an RV in your area. Dealers that sell RVs might rent them, as well.
In case you don't want to rent from a private or independent owner, many RV-rental companies exist across the United States. To help narrow your search, look for companies with dealers near your major stops and those that deal in the class or type of RV you want. Nowadays, RV rental websites should detail all of the costs and features you'll need to sort when renting an RV for your specific trip.
A handful of major peer-to-peer RV rental sites exist today, and they've become mainstays because they offer selections of rentals in every state. This option is also very popular because they make one-way rentals quite simple. Wherever your trip is, you should find a wide selection of towable and drivable RVs to rent on peer-to-peer rental sites.
Is renting an RV a good idea?
All RV trips might seem like they'd be similar: rent, drive, camp, return. Whether renting an RV is a good idea depends on your trip, your vacation goals, your group or family and your budget.
If you're renting an RV for the first time, we suggest you include more than just the type of RV in your plans. What sort of experience do you really want? Make a list of what you'll need and what you'll want throughout your journey. You could stay one or more nights at an RV park or campground, for instance. They're often rich with features and amenities that can enhance your trip.
Do you need special licenses for RVs?
At the time of writing, a special license is not required to operate an RV under 26,000 pounds in all 50 states. Operating a vehicle above that weight typically requires a commercial driver's license (CDL).
In general, most states will require a valid driver's license to rent an RV, and a non-commercial license should be acceptable. State laws can change, but the official government websites will list requirements that apply to your situation.
What's included in the RV rental?
When you rent an RV, the rental should include everything inside that works: beds, appliances, storage, toilet, etc. Everything else might cost more than the rate you pay for each day you rent the RV.
A major perk of renting an RV is that you can go wherever you want to drive. However, transportation to and from your rental may not be included in the rental price. You may have to drive there yourself or pay for a delivery charge.
Stationary RV rentals are also more common than you might think. It's like camping without all the setup. The delivery/setup may not be included in your RV rental, though. This can be a good choice when having a mobile living accommodation is more important than driving it. Besides camping, stationary RVs can be good for music festivals and stock car races.
The average cost of renting an RV
Similar to a hotel, the cost of an RV rental will vary on several important factors: time of travel, location and amenities. Daily rates for drivable RVs tend to be higher than rates for towable RVs.
Besides a base cost or daily rate, you should expect additional costs for most RV rentals:
- Gas: Whether you choose a drivable RV or towable one, you'll have to pay for gas as you travel. As you plan, you could estimate your total gas cost based on current rates and the miles you anticipate driving.
- Mileage fee: Your RV rental may restrict how many miles you can drive. It's common for a company to charge a mileage fee for each mile the RV is driven. Typically, the fee is under 50 cents per mile and is due up front based on a mileage estimate or calculated after you return the rental.
- Refundable deposit: You may need to provide a damage deposit when you book your RV rental. These deposits are typically refundable when the rental is returned.
- Generator: This central power source may be an added cost to your RV rental. Sometimes this is a flat fee; other times, it's based on your power usage during the rental.
- Campground: Although it's legal to park an RV overnight in some parking lots across the nation, campgrounds and RV parks have appealing amenities for a nightly fee. Rates can vary based on the time of year and availability, so it's best to plan ahead and factor in this cost.
What is the cheapest way to rent an RV?
You're most likely to find the cheapest options for renting an RV by having a short list of requirements for your journey. Costs tend to range widely because of the many types of RV and the additional costs we outlined above. Maybe you don't need many amenities; perhaps you can bring your own vehicle and tow the setup. Both of these will probably narrow your choices of RV to the less expensive options.
As with most choices, listing your must-haves and nice-to-haves, plus the pros and cons of different types of RV, is a good place to start. Then you can shop with that information to find the option that suits you best.
The last big factor in your final price will be the duration you need a rental. Longer trips often result in more expensive rentals.
An RV vacation can be a wonderful undertaking, whether you're venturing alone, with a pet, friends or family. That's why RVs have been popular and flourished as an industry for almost a century. We've come a long way since horses and caravans. Although the list of to-dos might seem lengthy, you're likely to find renting an RV at least once in your life well worth your while.