According to Kiplinger, 10 million U.S. households own an RV or motorhome. For much of the year, those RVs sit unused, costing owners in storage fees, vehicle taxes, and depreciation.
If you’re an RV owner yourself, you could be earning money renting it to people who want to try the lifestyle out themselves.
But although RV rentals can create a lucrative side-income for owners, there are some risks involved. Understanding how these risks can affect the rewards is crucial when deciding whether or not to jump into the RV rental business.
Why the RV Industry Is Booming
Interest in full-time RV living is increasing each year for several reasons. According to Forbes, RV sales have risen 15% in recent years thanks in large part to retiring baby boomers who want to explore and stay active in their later years.
However, younger generations are also getting into the RV lifestyle. CNN Money reports that people under aged 45 now make up half of all RV sales. Some of these younger people are opting to travel full time in their RV so they can explore the country, while others see RVing as an inexpensive way to take their family on vacation. A study commissioned by the RV Industry Association found that an RVing vacation for a family of four costs 21% to 64% less than other types of vacations, depending on the type of camper used.
There are also more young families traveling full time with kids. These families come from a wide range of economic backgrounds. Some are traveling nurses or work in the oil and gas industry, some work digitally for larger organizations, others are entrepreneurs.
Many families want to try RV living because it’s less expensive than owning a home. The allure of living in a tiny home, living simply, and opting for experiences over things all contribute to the rising popularity of RVing and, in turn, RV renting.
Advantages of Renting Out Your RV
Renting out your RV, also called “RV sharing,” offers owners several advantages, and there’s never been a better time to get started.
1. Extra Income
Chances are, earning money with your RV is one of your biggest incentives for renting it out. But how much you earn depends on several factors:
- Your location
- The type of RV you have
- How well your RV has been maintained
- Any renovations you’ve done to the vehicle
- Extra services you’re willing to offer, such as pickup/drop off or personalized setup
The RV sharing website Outdoorsy lists the following income estimates, broken down by RV type, for a one- to two-week rental:
- Class A: $1,953 to $3,906
- Class B: $1,575 to $3,150
- Class C: $1,456 to $2,912
- Fifth wheel: $1,106 to $2,212
- Camper van: $910 to $1,820
- Truck camper: $490 to $908
- Trailer: $749 to $1,498
- Folding trailer (Pop-Up): $560 to $1,120
As you can see, larger campers earn more money because they offer more room and more amenities.
But even smaller pop-up trailers can earn a decent income if you rent them out during the summer months, and you might earn enough to at least offset your monthly payments or pay for renovations. According to Forbes, smaller pop-ups and trailers are one of the most popular RV subclasses because they’re the least expensive, which makes them a favorite for younger generations.
Another strategy you can use to earn an income is to purchase an RV with the sole intention of renting it out full time, much like owning and renting out a vacation home.
Your pricing strategy also affects how much you can earn renting out your RV. For example, you’ll want to charge more during peak times such as summer, holidays, or spring break, and less when demand goes down.
Some owners create travel packages for special events that help them earn more. For example, Burning Man, the Indianapolis 500, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally are all popular events for RV rentals. Offering delivery and setup packages or extra amenities during these times could increase your bookings and overall profits.
2. Sharing the RV Lifestyle
Renting an RV is an economical way for individuals and families to see what RVing is like before they invest thousands of dollars buying an RV of their own. As an owner, it can be rewarding to know you’re introducing people to a lifestyle you love and helping them learn the ropes of RVing.
Most industry reports show that RV camping will continue to be a popular activity, especially among younger generations. According to the 2017 North American Camping Report compiled for KOA by Cairn Consulting Group, it’s estimated over 73 million Americans went camping in 2016, and the number of campers who take three or more camping trips annually has increased by 36%.
In short, more people are trying RV camping, and many of those who do want to camp out more often. By renting out your RV, you help them do this.
Disadvantages of Renting Out Your RV
Buying your RV is probably one of the biggest investments you’ve made in your lifetime, next to your home. Letting someone else occupy it for a week or more on the road can cause owners significant anxiety. You can earn great money by renting out your RV, but there are some clear disadvantages to consider.
1. Damage Risks
As an owner, you already know the ins and outs of RV camping, and you have a complete checklist to review before transit and during setup and disassembly. However, novice campers don’t have this knowledge and experience, which means they can inadvertently cause a great deal of damage to your rig.
For example, an inexperienced RV renter might accidentally leave a faucet running when they leave for a day-long hiking trip, which then fills the gray tank and floods the entire camper. Or, a renter who’s never towed a trailer may try to back your RV into a campsite and end up backing it into a tree instead.
It doesn’t take much imagination to envision dozens of costly scenarios. By far, the potential damage to your camper is the biggest downside to renting it out. However, RV sharing sites offer both campers and owners an insurance policy in the event a worst-case scenario occurs.
You also need to consider the general wear-and-tear that will, over time, result in damage and require repair. For example:
- Extra miles put on your camper’s tires, body, and engine
- Extra use of systems such as the hot water tank, appliances, slides, and furnace (if applicable) that will affect how soon you’ll need to pay for a replacement
- Damage to walls, furniture, windows, and flooring from dirty hands and shoes, or from unsecured items that fly about during transit
- Damage caused by pets left inside while the owners are out
- Damage to the camper body and windows from road debris during travel or from storms that occur while renters are camping
- Damage to the roof or antenna from renters pulling the RV under trees or low-clearance bridges
- Damage to the rear end or rear corners from renters pulling out of steep driveways too fast and bottoming out
- Damage to slideouts when renters don’t retract them fully before travel or don’t check for obstructions before extending them upon arrival
- Damage to the awnings because renters didn’t retract them before a storm or high-wind event
- Damage to your generator because renters don’t know how to start it correctly.
- Damage to the electrical system from not using surge protectors or pulling out of a campsite before disconnecting from the electrical box
- Damage from hitting an animal while driving
- Damage from vandalism or theft
This is only a short list, but you can see how easily a novice camper could cause serious damage to your rig or its accessories. That said, you can mitigate a lot of this damage by creating an instruction booklet and checklist for renters and taking time to educate renters on the do’s and don’ts of camping before they drive off into the sunset.
Some renters choose to limit the possibility of damage by offering their camper as a “destination location.” The camper stays on their property, typically with full hookups, and renters stay in the camper on-site. This option is most appealing for renters when the camper is in a desirable location, such as near a big city, or in a location people want to visit, such as in the mountains or near a beach.
2. Moving Personal Items Out of Your Camper
You’ll need to remove all your personal items from the camper each time someone rents it out. This can be time-consuming, especially if you live in your camper full-time and opt to rent it out while you’re on vacation or visiting family. However, if you only use your camper for seasonal vacations, you likely won’t have to spend much time on this.
3. Safety Considerations
You’ll probably need to invest in some upgrades for your RV to ensure the safety of your renters. This is especially true if your RV is a few years old. However, a well-maintained RV will attract more renters because it provides peace of mind.
One investment you’ll likely want to make is replacing your tires. Tires are a particular concern because a blowout can cause an accident, risk the lives of renters if they have to change a tire on a busy freeway, or seriously damage your RV when they explode. Investing in brand-new tires is expensive, but it can help ensure renters have a safe trip.
You might also need to consider these safety investments:
- Purchasing a fire extinguisher and smoke detectors if your RV doesn’t currently have them
- Purchasing a quality air pressure gauge and portable air compressor so renters can check and adjust tire pressure on their trip
- Investing in a safety inspection where a qualified RV mechanic checks the brakes, suspension, brake lights, and tires
You can find an RV safety inspector near you by using the National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association database. Some mechanics also offer RV inspection services. Prices for a safety inspection vary but typically range between $200 and $500.
4. Higher Insurance Costs
You likely already have an insurance policy for your camper or motorhome. This policy covers damage that might happen to the vehicle on a trip, such as hail damage or an electrical surge, or damage your camper might cause to someone or something else, such as during a vehicle accident. However, your policy doesn’t cover damages if you rent out your camper to someone else.
Large RV sharing sites like Outdoorsy and RV Share offer insurance policies for every owner who lists their vehicle on the site. However, you might want to consider purchasing commercial RV insurance to make sure you and your investment are completely covered. While this can be expensive, keep in mind that you can deduct it as a business expense to offset costs.
Why do you need the extra coverage? The insurance policies offered by booking sites often do not cover many of the damages that are most likely to occur during a rental. Before you rely completely on an insurance policy offered by a booking or reservation site, make sure you read their policy thoroughly — not their summary but the policy itself — so you can see clearly what’s actually covered and what’s not.
5. Complex Taxes
Your taxes will get a bit more complicated once you start earning an income with your RV. You’ll be able to add your RV as an asset and claim depreciation over a five-year period, and you might be able to deduct insurance costs, maintenance, and repairs. You’ll also have to pay taxes on the revenue you take in.
RV Share has an informative article on the tax deductions you can take when renting out your RV.
How to Rent Out Your RV
RV owners have a few options when it comes to finding renters for their RV.
You have several options when it comes to renting. You can choose to meet renters at an agreed-upon location to hand over the keys and perform a walk-through, you can opt to make your RV a “destination location” and rent out to people who stay in the RV on your property, or you can deliver your RV to a vacation location the renters have reserved and then pick up the RV when they’re done.
Outdoorsy performs DMV license checks on all drivers to ensure they have a safe driving history. Renters will fail a DMV check if they have more than two speeding tickets over the past two years, a suspended license, or a DUI.
Although it’s free to create an account and list your RV, you have to pay when someone books your rig. Outdoorsy imposes a 20% to 25% service charge on all reservations, which means as an owner, you keep 75% to 80% of each total reservation cost.
Comprehensive insurance is one of the biggest selling features with Outdoorsy. They’ve partnered with Liberty Mutual and offer both renters and owners $1 million in liability insurance and $1 million in physical damage protection. They also offer renters three different levels of insurance, which vary in price and coverage.
That $1 million in damage protection sounds like a sweet deal, and it’s definitely Outdoorsy’s biggest selling feature. However, it’s essential to read the fine print because the policy doesn’t cover many damages that are most common during a rental. Outdoorsy states that their policy doesn’t cover any damage that’s not the direct result of a collision. For example, this means Outdoorsy won’t cover:
- Damage to the body or paint that’s less than 2 inches, or minor scratches
- Tires and rim damage or replacements
- Damage to interior trim, flooring, upholstery, and controls
- Minor cracks and chips to windows, or worn weather stripping around windows
- Mechanical and transmission systems (which include the brakes, drivetrain, clutch, and suspension) or internal systems such as plumbing, heat and air conditioning, and electrical.
- Costs associated with breakdowns, including towing and hotel expenses
To put this in perspective, imagine you rent your camper to someone who ends up trashing it. When they return it, it’s filthy and the camper has two broken interior doors and torn upholstery. You also discover they’ve managed to break one of the slideout motors, and there’s now a leak in the hot water tank. Overall, this one renter caused $2,500 in damages.
Under Outdoorsy’s policy, these damages would be covered by the security deposit, which you set at $1,000. The rest of the repairs are up to you.
Outdoorsy also offers trip interruption and cancellation insurance, which benefits both renters and hosts. This coverage protects renters if they have to cancel a trip due to illness, natural disaster, death of immediate family, or other unforeseen events. As a host, you benefit when renters opt for this insurance because if they do have to cancel at the last minute, you’re still reimbursed for their trip.
Outdoorsy also offers a Roadside Assistance Program. This policy, which costs renters a $15 daily fee if renters opt in, covers emergencies such as:
- Fuel delivery service when they run out of gas
- Replacing a flat tire
- Getting locked out of a vehicle
Keep in mind that the Roadside Assistance Program is not comprehensive, and there are plenty of events or contingencies that are not covered. As an owner, it’s important to read the program’s fine print so you understand when you might be forced to go retrieve your camper personally in the event of a breakdown or other emergency.
Outdoorsy might be the biggest RV rental website out there, but it also has a significant number of complaints, especially regarding their insurance policy.
As of 2020, Outdoorsy had 37 formal complaints in the past three years with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) from owners and renters over their insurance policy, but it maintains an A+ rating. There are also a significant number of bad reviews at Trust Pilot.
As an owner, it’s a good idea to read through these bad reviews to see what other owners are going through and what your experience could be if you end up having to file a claim through the site.
RV Share is Outdoorsy’s biggest competitor, and while it provides similar services, there are some key differences.
RV Share requires renters to submit a valid government ID, like a driver’s license or passport. Users also must submit a separate photograph of themselves, which is then matched to their ID using biometric software. Renters are not allowed access to your personal information, including information about your RV’s specific location, until their ID has been verified.
RV Share offers owners $1 million in liability coverage, as well as comprehensive and collision coverage for the value of the RV, up to $200,000.
RV Share’s Rental Insurance is paid for by the renter as a daily fee, which varies depending on the type of RV they want to rent and its overall value. Insurance prices range from $10 up to $40 per day.
The biggest benefit to this insurance is that it covers many damages Outdoorsy’s insurance doesn’t. These include:
- A tree falling on the RV
- Animal impact
- A stolen RV
Every renter who uses RV Share gets Emergency Roadside Assistance at no additional cost. The service includes:
- Towing to the nearest qualified location
- Tire replacement or reinflation
- Emergency supply delivery of water, fuel, oil, or other necessary supplies
- Battery recharging or minor battery repairs while you’re traveling
- Lock-out services
- Extraction and winching services if your RV gets stuck or runs off the road
Like Outdoorsy, RV Share has quite a few complaints that filed with the BBB. As of 2020, there were 95 complaints. However, the company maintains an A+ rating.
These types of complaints mirror the issues others have had with Outdoorsy, namely insurance and cancellation issues and nonresponsive customer service. Generally, it seems that once a renter or owner complains through the BBB, their issue gets the attention of the customer service department, which is motivated to follow up.
RV Share also has a Disaster Relief platform owners can use to offer their RV to people who have been displaced by a natural disaster or to volunteers and helpers on location helping those in need.
What’s unique about this service is RV Share provides owners with the same insurance they do when it’s rented to a paying customer. This provides owners with peace of mind and helps encourage more people to offer their RV temporarily to others in need.
Around the country, millions of RVs sit unused, costing owners hundreds of dollars each year in storage costs, depreciation, and insurance. Renting out your RV a few times could earn enough to pay for its upkeep, match your yearly payments, or even earn you a tidy profit.
Although RV renting seems like a quick and easy way to earn extra money, there are some significant risks involved. Understanding these risks, and doing what you can to mitigate them, will go a long way toward ensuring your vehicle is protected and you have a good experience with renters.
Do you have an RV you’d consider renting out to earn money? If you’ve rented out your RV, what was your experience like?