A few years ago, I rented a Chevy Volt out for a few months. Most renters did a good job taking care of the vehicle, but after a series of bad renters I ended up selling the car. Several smoked heavily in it, and one got into a wreck, which wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had the spare time to deal with it. But, I know many people do better renting out cars, with some making a living. So, I’m not going to assume my experience (and lack of time to deal with it) extends to everybody. Renting small campers out can really be a good industry for people who have the chops and the time.
A few months ago, several people in my family decided to jump into renting RVs, and between conversations with them and some YouTube watching, I’ve learned a lot. Not only can it be a good way to make some money, but it can be a good way to make RV ownership more affordable.
One of my family members did something a little unusual. Instead of doing the typical American thing and picking up the biggest RV possible (with three axles, 3 king-size beds, and a garage), he picked up a tiny popup camper with a broken axle. A couple years earlier, a tree had fallen on and crushed another popup he owned, so there was a spare axle ready to swap in. Now, it’s getting a fresh paint job and new upholstery job to be good as new.
The little popup isn’t a lap of luxury by any stretch, but it’s small enough that just about any vehicle can tow it, even my Bolt EUV. Pulling any trailer means a range hit, of course, but the smaller and lighter a camper is, the less it will impact range. Aerodynamics are more important than weight at highway speeds, so a folding design generally does a lot better, especially if you aim for renting small campers to EV owners.
So, if you’re renting out EVs already, and you know people are taking them on trips, pickup up some used popup campers and cleaning them up could be a good way to get some extra money. Plus, because they can be pulled by just about anything, just about anybody can rent them (ICE or EV). Because most people are doing big trailers only a pickup or real SUV can tow, this makes for an underserved niche you can get into for cheap and offer for low rates.
How It Works Out Over Time (Should Apply To Renting Small Campers, Too)
Because my family members got into this not too long ago, I can’t give you any long-term idea of how it works out. For all I know, renters might all be idiots and it could be a rough way to make a few bucks (or lose a few). So, I did some searching and came across a video that gives a clue about this: (article continues after vide0)
When it comes to accidents, the Drive North family had very little issues. Only on one occasion did an RV take semi-serious damage, and it was to the ladder during drop-off. They had a few minor problems occur, like a renter putting camping chairs away wet and they had grown mold by dropoff time. For this, they have chosen to take minor things just as part of the cost of doing business instead of trying to get people to reimburse.
Why? Because sweating the small things (damages around $50, minor scratches that need buffed out, etc) would have prevented them from getting repeat business and would have prevented them from getting a perfect five star rating. So, this may be a good way to do business. They know that other RV owners renting them out are less nice.
Another thing that’s nice about trailers is that they don’t rack up miles in the same way as a motorized RV. So, values don’t take a hit (there’s no odometer), but frequent use can lead to accelerated wear and tear. So, careful maintenance and staying on top of small things is very important. Regular buff jobs, inspections, and being familiar with the particular model of RV’s weird idiosyncrasies is important. Things WILL break, but his family was able to keep on top of it.
They do have the question in mind of when to sell. Should you sell early to not lose too much value? Keep the RV for as long as possible? Rent it into the ground? That’s a decision every owner will have to make, and owning something used instead of buying new will be a factor in this decision.
Insurance is available for accidents, and he explains how it works. It’s available through the Outdoorsy platform and gets paid for as as part of the rental process, coming right out of the revenue. Most RV insurance companies only cover personal use, but the platforms offer insurance that covers rental use like this. Like renting anything, customers have the option to pick between different packages and end up owing you for anything that’s not covered, but Outdoorsy lets the owner choose a minimum package if desired so that you can limit your risk.
It’s important to note that the insurance only covers accidents and not damage to small things, like awnings or interiors. Those other damages come out of a deposit, so you can keep part of it to make any needed minor repairs (with the understanding that letting little things slide might be a good way to offer superior customer service).
The owner did track miles, but because there aren’t odometers for trailers, it isn’t the big problem it might appear to be on the surface. Watching out for things like bearing lubrication jobs, tire wear, and other consumables will be important. Average trip mileage was only in the hundreds, with one trailer getting a couple hundred miles more on average than the other. This leaves plenty of opportunities for inspections.
Rental seasons will differ by climate and what’s available nearby to do. In the northern US where they live, the rentals tend to mostly fall in a six-month travel season, and in that six months, they rented for 47 and 74 days. This came out to 8 days a month for the one that rented less (split across two platforms), and profit during that time period was just over $5,000. The older RV that had more ratings got out for 12 nights a month, with a profit of around $8400 during the six-month period.
Payments and insurance are year-round, though. So, you have to be careful to set aside money from the good times to cover the costs of ownership during the low or dead season. This was still a profitable venture, even after maintenance, cleaning supplies, etc. They didn’t take too much of a hit for providing free propane (something most people wouldn’t do).
Finally, he points out that there are two ways of thinking of rentals: it’s either to make a few extra bucks or a way to afford an RV. You can always block out dates for yourself, effectively getting free use of the RV out of the deal. So, you have to decide going in what your goals are. So, renting small campers out can be a good solution for multiple needs or wants.
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