Taking a vacation in a recreational vehicle can be one of the most enjoyable ways to see the country, allowing you to travel comfortably with (nearly) all of the amenities of home while creating unforgettable memories. But before you decide to rent an RV, there are many questions to ask. Driving such a large vehicle comes with many considerations and restrictions. There may also be unexpected fees and maintenance requirements. Here are some questions to keep in mind if an RV vacation is on your to-do list.
HOW MUCH MILEAGE IS INCLUDED?
When it comes to budgeting for your RV vacation, one of the most important questions to ask before signing on the dotted rental-contract line is how much mileage is included with the rental fee you’re paying. With all the sightseeing you plan to be doing, unexpected extra mileage fees can add up quickly. It’s best to know what you’re getting into. “Absolutely ensure there’s a reasonable amount of mileage included with your base rate,” says travel writer Chez Chesak, board member of the Family Travel Association, who just returned from an RV vacation to some of America’s top national parks. “We had 1,000 miles included and used 849 of that. Additional miles would have been 45 cents per mile and would have certainly added up, if we weren’t careful.”
Savings Tip: RV listings through Outdoorsy specifically mention if there are any mileage charges associated with your rental, and many are unlimited.
ARE THERE SPECIFIC FUEL REQUIREMENTS?
Minimum fuel requirements can be yet another unexpected cost associated with RV rental, because some rental companies require at least mid-grade fuel, explained Chesak. “We spent about $340 just on gas, in part because we found out when picking the vehicle up that they require mid-grade fuel, 88+ octane,” said Chesak. Don’t let yourself be caught off-guard by this cost either, ask ahead of time if there are such requirements.
HOW CAN I LEARN TO OPERATE ALL THE COMPONENTS OF THE MOTORHOME?
It goes without saying that operating an RV is far more complex than driving your car. There are tanks to be emptied, generators, awnings to be raised and lowered, and more. Some rental companies will provide an orientation or familiarization tour. If this is your first time renting, it can be worthwhile to find a company that does. In addition, there are countless online videos that provide information about operating an RV. YouTube is a great place to start.
ARE THERE CLEANING FEES?
One more consideration when it comes to the overall cost of your RV getaway: cleaning fees. While many rental companies will allow you to return the vehicle with a normal amount of dirt, some will charge you if cleaning is required after you return the rental. “We were pretty disappointed about this,” said Chesak. “You wouldn’t have such a fee with a hotel room or cabin upon the completion of your stay. But we managed to avoid it by really cleaning the vehicle before we turned it in.”
IS THERE A CHARGE FOR THE GENERATOR?
Generators are not a necessary item if you plan on staying at campsites that provide power hookups. However, those camping without hookups, will need a generator in order to use such things as appliances and air conditioning, said Russ Lovell, co-founder and managing partner at RVPlusYou.com, an online travel agency for RV rentals. Most RVs come with them. And often, RV rental companies charge a fee for their use (which is monitored by a meter on the unit). The cost is typically a few dollars per hour.
Savings Tip: For the avid RV traveler, investing in a quality generator might be a smart move. That way, you can avoid rental companies’ surcharges and always have one handy.
WHAT IS THE LENGTH AND WIDTH OF THE RV?
The specific size of the RV you’re renting is important information to have handy. Why? For one, many campsites don’t allow RVs over a certain length, says Lovell. “RVs that are 25 feet or longer may not fit in some campsites,” explained Lovell. “And the campsites that accommodate larger RVs are usually booked up first.” Similarly, it is important to know width of the vehicle (including with slides out) because campsites can be tight. Being familiar with the length and width will allow you to book the appropriate size campsite.
CAN I TOW A VEHICLE OR A BOAT?
Not all rental companies allow the RV to be used to tow another vehicle (for those who may be hoping to take their car along on the vacation, a boat or a trailer carrying bikes and other recreational equipment). So be sure to ask what the rules are. “Towing a vehicle comes with risks — the first being that not every vehicle can safely be towed,” explained Jody Halsted, creator of the site Camping Tips for Everyone, “And not all RVs have a large towing capacity, so if you tow a vehicle that is too heavy, you could blow out an engine. Towing also increases the likelihood of accident if renters have never towed a vehicle.”
HOW MUCH IS THE RENTAL DEPOSIT?
Many prospective renters fail to consider the cost of the rental deposit when planning an RV vacation, says Halsted. Deposits typically range from $500 to $1000, on average. “Usually it’s equal to the RV owner’s insurance deductible,” Halsted explained. Be sure to ask how much it is, so that you have the full understanding of the true price tag of your RV getaway.
WHAT IS THE PET POLICY?
Traveling with an RV is one of the best ways to take a pet on vacation. It allows pets to be comfortable in their environment and still travel, says Amy Burkert the founder of GoPetFriendly.com. But before you pack up Rover or Fido to go on your trip, find out whether pets are even allowed in the RV and how much the pet deposit is, Burkert advises. You’ll also want to ask what the charges are if the RV is returned with pet hair.
WHAT SORT OF INSURANCE COVERAGE IS REQUIRED?
Often when renting a car, you’re allowed to use your own automobile insurance to cover the vehicle. When renting an RV however, that may not necessarily be the case. Ask what sort of insurance coverage is required and whether you can use your own insurance. You may be required to buy additional insurance from the rental company. If that is the case, you’ll want to know how much it costs and what it covers. “The chances of using the insurance are high, so plan ahead,” says Lovell of RVPlusYou.com. “Most RV renters aren’t familiar with driving a big box. In addition, the vehicle is not familiar to the driver, nor is backing up and maneuvering in a tight campground with trees, rocks, and other hazards.” For all of these reasons and more, it’s wise to have rental insurance. Also, consider checking with your insurance agent to find out whether your auto policy even covers RV rental.
IS THERE A LIMIT ON HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN RIDE IN THE RV?
Planning a family getaway in that RV? Make sure you know just how many people are allowed in the vehicle so that you can rent the appropriate size. For instance, compact motorhomes can handle a family of three, while a large motorhome can typically handle seven people. There are also intermediate-size motor homes that can hold about six people. If you want to have an enjoyable and safe vacation, get the right size vehicle to meet your needs.
DOES THE MOTORHOME COME EQUIPPED WITH POTS AND PANS?
One nice feature of an RV is the ability to cook your own meals in them. However, be sure the vehicle has cooking equipment. Not all rental companies provide it. Some charge extra for kits that include basic necessities. At Cruise America, for instance, the Vehicle Provisioning Kit costs $100 per vehicle and includes such items as a can opener, broom, spatula, cooking spoon, cooking fork, coffee cups, plates, soup bowls, silverware, and more. The company also offers a Personal Kit, which costs $55 per person and provides a sleeping bag or comforter, pillow, pillowcase, flat sheet, bath towel, washcloth, and dish towel.
WHERE CAN I PURCHASE SUPPLIES FOR THE RV?
If it’s your first time driving and caring for an RV, it’s a good idea to ask the rental company where you can purchase items for the vehicle, such as propane, cooking equipment, and more. You’ll also want to know where you are allowed to dispose of the waste that accumulates in the vehicle’s holding tanks. If you can’t find a motorhome specialty store, keep in mind that even Walmart sells RV supplies these days.
ARE WE ALLOWED TO DRIVE TO CANADA OR MEXICO?
While the possibilities may seem endless once you get behind the wheel of an RV and hit the open road, be sure to find out where you are truly allowed to take the vehicle. For instance, some rental companies prohibit taking their vehicles to Mexico altogether. And the policy on driving into Canada varies based on the rental contract and citizenship of the renter in some cases.
IS IT SAFE TO DRINK THE WATER FROM THE MOTORHOME TANK?
Cruise America recommends against drinking water from your RV’s tank. It can be difficult to know if the water in the RV tank is potable when you’re filling it at various locations. There are places to fill the water tank from a water supply known to contain clean drinking water, such as campgrounds and tested well-water sources, but it may be best to use bottled water. Getting sick from drinking contaminated water can very quickly ruin a vacation. At the very least, ask the company you are renting from about this issue.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DAMAGE TO THE VEHICLE?
When considering renting an RV, read the proposed contract carefully and understand its terms and conditions. In some cases, the renter is solely responsible for the condition for the RV, including the interior and exterior, and will be held liable for any damage that cannot be proven to have existed prior to the rental period. Know exactly what you are getting into.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE RV BREAKS DOWN?
Understanding who to call in the event of an emergency with the RV is critical ground to cover before renting. Some rental companies provide around-the-clock travelers assistance to help get you back on the road. Still, other rental companies, such as Outdoorsy, will assist you with a breakdown even if you did not opt for this type of coverage, allowing you to request a “pay-as-you-go” service at a higher premium if you contact them at the time of a breakdown.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ROUTINE MAINTENANCE?
Aside from all-out breakdowns and damage to the vehicle, routine maintenance is another topic to cover. Often, the renter is responsible for such things as checking the oil and coolant levels, and reporting mechanical failures. In addition, you could be held responsible for mechanical damage tied to negligence while renting the vehicle.
CAN YOU ACCOMMODATE RENTERS WITH DISABILITIES?
It is worth asking about the sort of accommodations that can be made to assist those with disabilities who are interested in renting a motorhome. While the options may be limited given an RV’s design, Cruise America offers controls that enable drivers to accelerate or brake using a hand-controlled device.
IS THERE A LATE-RETURN FEE?
Like any other vehicle rental, there are often fees for not returning a motorhome on time or by the deadline specified in the contract. Some rental companies provide a short grace period for being late and then begin charging by the hour after that. They may also charge an administrative fee on top of the hourly rental rate when the vehicle is past due. In addition, if your late return impacts or disrupts another individual’s rental of that same vehicle, expect the fees to be even higher in some cases.