Should You Buy or Rent a Camper Van?

by Vera Lawrence | LAST UPDATED September 10, 2021

group of friends sitting outside of a camper van
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If you’re not the type of person that wants to rent out an Airbnb for your vacation but would rather go camping, then you might have already looked into camper vans on your own.

We won’t go into specifics on camper van vacations or even the best vehicles that you can buy, but we would like to tackle a topic that often comes up among people new to the camping world. 

There are pros and cons to renting and buying a camper van, so we’ll go through all of the major points as quickly and simply as we can to help you decide on the topic.

Getting a License

The first thing you need to do before you consider whether you want to buy or rent a camper van is to make sure that you’re qualified to drive one. Different countries will have different classes, so you might need to look into those specifics before deciding to get a towable travel trailer for a European road trip.

As far as driving in the US is concerned, plenty of small truck campers from Dodge, for instance, and a few Winnebago models can be driven with a basic driver’s license. On the other hand, most classic vans like the Ford Transit Sprinter models will require a CDL.

A commercial driver’s license is required for any vehicle that passes a certain weight and length limit. For example, if you want to get an RV rental, and you get a vehicle that’s between 25 and 50 feet long, and that weighs close to 30,000 pounds, then you’ll need a Class A permit.

The Class C category is reserved for mid-sized vehicles in the 20-30 feet and 10,000-13,000 pound margin, and the Class B category is for vehicles between 17 and 23 feet and weighs no more than 9,000 pounds.

The class system sounds a bit counterintuitive, but the point that we’re trying to make is that most RV owners need to put in a lot of effort before they can even sit behind a wheel of a camper van, and they usually don’t consider the effort to be worth their time if all they’re going to do is rent a van for a few weeks.

Positives of Owning a Camper Van

a person working on their laptop in the back of a vehicle

There’s no question that you’d want to own a camper if you’re an outdoorsy type that spends most of their vacation days on camping trips in national parks. But, regardless if you go for a modified van with a pop-up rooftop tent or for a standard camper home with the propane stove, you’ll want to use a vehicle that you have full-time access to.

This way, you’ll be able to use your vehicle whenever or however you want to and won’t have to sign any intrusive agreements that restrict you. You’ll also be able to modify the interior and exterior in any way you might want to.

Additionally, the upfront cost of buying a van may seem high, but renting a van multiple times a year can cost you a lot more money in the long run. In general, the price of renting a van ten times will be much more expensive than actually owning and maintaining a van.

Negatives of Owning a Camper Van

While actually buying a camper van might be the better option, it’s still a pretty significant investment in the long run. There’s no single price point that we can go by since they can be as cheap as $5,000 or as expensive as $20,000

Additionally, you’re also going to need to deal with any repair and maintenance costs, fuel, and other upkeep camper van costs that might need to be covered. Parking or storing your camper van when you’re not using it is yet another thing that you’ll need to worry about.

Positives of Renting a Camper Van

a van parked in a field near some people and benches

You don’t have to cover the maintenance costs that come from actually owning the camper van; the only additional costs are those that aren’t covered in your insurance.

Speaking of insurance, most rentable camper van contracts come with a backup fifth wheel, roadside assistance, and towing options. This means that all of your bases are covered, and the only way that you’ll have to pay out of pocket for any damages would be as a result of an accident caused by negligence on the part of the driver.

You’ll also be spared from having to find a place to stash your van for all of those months when you won’t be driving it, as well as high insurance costs that you’ll have to cover for a vehicle of that size.

Negatives of Renting a Camper Van

Again, we don’t have an exact price point to go by here since you will run into different price points depending on whether you’re getting the van in Florida or Utah. Additionally, the pickup and drop-off points usually play a significant role in the price tag as well.

Getting the van in Denver and dropping it off in California will be a lot cheaper than getting a van in New York and driving it all the way to someplace like Portland, Oregon. And this isn’t even taking into account the class of the campervan or the fuel requirements.

Rental companies like Escape Campervans that specialize in campervans that are of the smaller size, usually charge around $800-$1,500 for a week if you pick up and drop off the camper van at the same spot.

Camper van rentals specializing in more conventionally sized camper vans will usually come to around $1,500-$2,500 per week, while the full RV experience in the luxury Airstream Touring Coaches will likely cost you more than $3,000 for a full week.

None of these price points are particularly appealing, and renting out a camper van multiple times a year can be a costly venture.

The Best Decision

Both RVers and RV renters will need to face the fact that a road trip in a camper van will impact their bank account.

As for the question of whether you should buy or rent camper vans, we’d say that the decision will ultimately come down to the number of times that you use them. If you’re looking to give the van life a test drive but aren’t sure that it’s for you, then we’d suggest just sticking to rentals in the beginning.

However, if you find that you enjoy spending your time in the wilderness in a mobile home, then you might want to consider renting out a few different types of vans for your first few camping trips and then buying a model similar to the one that you liked the most.

Vera Lawrence
Vera is a part-time van lifer after spending nearly four years in her 1990 Ford E350 (named Fred). She currently lives in Utah and takes extended weekend trips into the desert with her two dogs. She is an ice cream fanatic and avid runner.

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