A white RV parked beside a lake

Renting an RV? Here’s What to Know

Tips for First Time RV Rentals

Recently, we've seen record numbers of visitors to national parks and monuments to experience the ultimate in social distancing vacations. Those trips introduced a whole new class of travelers to the world of van life and RVing for the first time. If you are considering a similar adventure and will be renting an RV for the first time, there are some tips you will want to know to make it a more enjoyable experience.

Renting an RV for the first time can be a scary experience, but with a little planning and realistic expectations, that first time can be enjoyable. At a minimum, it will be educational. Our advice for new RVers is to start small, both in the size of your RV and the duration of your trip. Remember, this vehicle is replacing commercial transport, hotels, and restaurants. Use your first rental RV to see if van life is really for you and your family.

What is an RV?

Generally speaking, RVs can be divided into two basic categories: driven (motorhomes) and towed (Airstreams, popups, etc.). Beyond that distinction, RVs can be almost any type and size of vehicle/trailer manufactured.

Selecting a motorhome is confusing enough, so the industry has tried to identify motorhomes with similar capabilities into classes.

  • Class A: If luxury, plenty of space, and an interior that resembles your living room are what you are looking for, then you want a Class A. These are built on commercial bus frames, run 33 feet long (or longer), and can be decked out like a rock star's travel bus. They are expensive to rent, get 8-10 mpg, sleep four or more comfortably, and unless you had a previous life as a bus driver, they are not suited for newbies.
  • Class B: Looking like an oversized van, Class B RVs are tall enough to stand up in, have a kitchen space, toilet and bath, and are fairly comfortable for two people. They are the smallest of the common RVs, so they are the easiest to drive and park and have the best fuel efficiency. In addition, they can tow up to 3,500 pounds, so you can tow a car if you want.
  • Class: A cross between Class A and B, Class C is ideal for families or groups of four or more. These are easy to spot because of the cab over "granny's attic" design. An ideal ride for families, particularly those who want to park the RV and explore the area in the car they towed, Class C are top rentals for commercial RV rental agencies.
  • Travel Trailers: Like motorhomes, travel trailers come in all sizes and configurations. Trailers offer the most space and can be tricked out to be the most "home-like" if that's what you are looking for. Of course, you need a vehicle capable of doing the towing, and you should be comfortable pulling a big load. Alternatively, you can have the trailer delivered to the campsite you want by the owner and picked up after the rental period.

Where to Rent an RV

There are hundreds of rental RV operations across the U.S. and Canada. Again, they can be divided into two general classes, commercial agencies that own the RV and work similarly to rental car operations and online peer-to-peer platforms that connect owners with potential renters. Between the two, there are a dizzying array of RV vehicles and services.

Here are a few of the larger RV rental operations in the U.S.:

  • Cruise America: Offering Class C motorhomes at 125 locations across the company, Cruise America is the largest company-owned RV rental company. You can tell a Cruise America RV by the large Cruise America branding on the sides of each vehicle. Over 50 years of experience in the business.
  • Outdoorsy: A peer-to-peer platform listing Class A, B, and C motorhomes and towable trailers ranging from luxury models to popup campers.
  • RVshare: Another peer-to-peer platform featuring inexpensive RV rentals with an easy-to-search format.
  • El Monte RV: Class A and C RVs for rent. Best rental agency for families with pets. No extra charges or limitations for bringing your furry family member on the trip.

What You Absolutely Want From Your RV Rental

Renting an RV is not the same as picking up a car from Hertz or Avis. There are similar issues, but there are also concerns that are unique to RVs. If you rent from a commercial agency, you will only be dealing with the agency. With a peer-to-peer platform, you may be dealing with the owner and the platform as well.

  • Insurance: Unlike a car rental, your personal auto insurance will not cover an RV without a separate binder/endorsement naming the RV owner as an additional insured. Often rental sites will offer insurance provided by them. The cost is often included in the daily rate. If that's the route you go, make sure you get a copy of the policy and review it for coverage and deductibles before you agree to it.
  • Comprehensive Orientation/Training on the Unit: Do you know how to dump black water and gray water, connect and disconnect from a shore-based power source, change a propane tank, or replenish drinking water on a van? You want to learn the essentials. It's a good idea to have a partner with you as the owner goes through the orientation. A smaller, simpler unit makes sense for a first-time adventure.
  • Roadside Assistance: Who are you going to call when there is a mechanical problem or the freezer goes on the fritz? The availability of roadside assistance is critical and often a weak point with small peer-to-peer owners who are renting out their personal vehicles.
  • What's Included: Pay close attention to what is included in your rental agreement. Don't assume that items like utensils, dishware, bedding, towels, etc., will be included. You may be bringing stuff from home to make the rental your home away from home.

First-time RVing can be like many other first-time experiences in life: exciting but not very elegant and sometimes embarrassing. But with a little planning and careful selection of rental units, you can open up a whole new life experience.