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The Hidden Costs of RV Ownership: What To Expect

Beyond the Purchase Price: The Underlying Expenditures of RV Ownership

Are you considering purchasing an RV but want to know what costs of RV ownership to expect throughout the process? RVing can be the perfect way to explore the great outdoors while also having all of the comforts of home along for the ride.

As exhilarating as RV travel is, it can be a little bit daunting trying to estimate the hidden costs. This article uncovers the often-overlooked expenses associated with RV ownership, providing a comprehensive guide for prospective and current RV owners.

Ownership Costs To Consider

When thinking about buying an RV, you probably have a general idea of the purchase price, but there are other financial factors to consider, such as maintenance, gas, insurance, financing costs, and even the cost of additional equipment or upgrades needed to make your RV truly feel like home. 

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Understanding these additional costs of RV ownership will allow you to make an informed decision and properly budget for your travels. Let’s dive into the details so you can fully enjoy your travel adventures without any unwelcome financial surprises.

Initial Purchase and Financing

If you have been shopping for RVs, you have probably noticed the wide range of price options available. You can purchase an RV that ranges anywhere from a tiny bed on wheels to a large luxury motorhome. 

You can also purchase a used RV to save quite a bit over the price of a new RV. There is an RV option to meet any traveler’s needs and budget.

When it comes to financing your RV purchase, you have several options available to you. It is important to note that financing an RV can be a very different process than financing a house or a car. 

Buyers with lower credit scores may need to spend more time researching the best option. Here are some RV financing options.

Financial Institution Loan

Obtaining a loan from a bank or credit union is often the most traditional way to finance an RV. Interest rates and loan terms can vary widely between institutions and are based on your credit score. It helps to compare offers to find the best deal. 

RV Dealer Financing

If you purchase your RV from a dealer, you may be offered financing through partner lenders. Sometimes, financing through the dealership may provide better terms or special promotions. 

It may also be easier to get a loan with a lower credit score through dealer financing. You may still want to compare dealer loan offers with rates of credit unions or banks to make sure to find the best rate. 

Personal Loans or Credit Lines

If you have a strong credit score or a good relationship with your bank or credit union, you might be eligible for a personal loan or a line of credit to fund your RV purchase. Personal loans often have higher interest rates than secured RV loans, but they may offer more flexible terms.

Regardless of the financing option you choose for your RV purchase, it’s crucial to pay attention to the interest rate, loan term, and any additional fees. Read the fine print, and make sure you understand the true cost of borrowing before committing to a loan. This way, you’ll be better prepared to manage your RV investment and enjoy your time on the road.

Insurance and Registration Fees

The cost of RV insurance is a significant expense when owning an RV. The insurance price can vary widely depending on the type of RV, its age, the RV’s initial purchase price, and your driving record. Drivable RVs such as Class A motorhomes, Class B campervans, and Class C RVs are usually more expensive to insure than towable RVs such as travel trailers and fifth wheels.

In general, RV insurance costs for part-time RV owners can range from around $860 to $1,100 per year in states like North Carolina and Massachusetts. On the higher end, states like Michigan can have average costs of almost $4,500 a year. 

These are just average prices to give you an idea of RV insurance costs. Consider contacting different RV insurance companies to shop around for the best price on a policy that also meets your needs. 

It’s also helpful to think about adding coverage for additional expensive RV items such as a tow dolly or fifth-wheel hitch. Some RV insurance policies may also cover roadside assistance for your RV. If you live in your RV full-time, then you will need an insurance policy specific to full-time RV living to have the proper coverage.

RV Registration

RV registration fees are another cost of RV ownership that vary widely between states. Registration is required to legally drive your RV on public roads, and the cost depends on your RV’s value, weight, and age. Some states apply more of a flat fee system for registration, while others charge based on the RV’s market value or vehicle weight.

Some states have yearly registration fees, while others require registration renewal every two years. To find out the specific registration costs for your RV, check into your state’s requirements. Visit the state Department of Motor Vehicles website or inquire in the office.

Maintenance and Repairs

Regular RV maintenance is an important part of RV ownership to avoid problems and make sure that your RV remains in great shape for future adventures. Maintaining your RV is a way to protect your investment.

Drivable RV maintenance is similar to car maintenance. You will need to regularly change your oil, replace the oil filter, monitor fluids, and service your transmission as needed. Oil changes can range from $80 to $200, which varies according to your RV size and the type of oil used in your RV.

Towable and drivable RV models require air conditioner units to be cleaned and serviced regularly. The cost depends on if you will be doing this yourself with a couple of cleaning products or if you will be hiring a mobile repair or dealership to service the ACs. 

Cleaning your own RV air conditioners could cost around $50 in supplies. Taking your RV to a shop could cost $300 or more to have your ACs serviced. You also want to clean or replace any air filters regularly. 

Slides must be maintained by regularly cleaning and lubricating slide rails. Tire inflation must be checked regularly, and tires must be replaced every few years. Tire cost can be between $150 to $300 per tire.

Unexpected repairs are also a part of the RV lifestyle. The truth is that roads are rough, and things will break along your travels. 

Costs vary for repairs, but you can plan on around $150-$250 an hour for RV service on top of any parts required. Some RVers choose an extended warranty to help take care of unexpected RV costs.

Regular Maintenance Can Help Prevent More Costly Repairs

You may be tempted to skip RV maintenance due to cost or time. However, skipping maintenance can end up being even more costly in the future. Save yourself a big headache as well as save money RVing by staying current on RV maintenance.

For example, not staying up on your RV tires can lead to blowouts that cause extensive damage to your RV’s exterior. Or not regularly checking your roof caulking and lap sealant can lead to leaks and potential mold. It’s best to address RV issues as soon as they arise and to keep up with all RV preventative maintenance.

Check your RV manual for suggested maintenance. Then set reminders for yourself when tasks are due so you don’t forget. 

Or better yet, check out the RV LIFE Pro Membership, which includes the RV LIFE Maintenance Tracker to help you develop and stick to a maintenance schedule. RV LIFE Pro also includes an RV Safe GPS and RV Trip Wizard to help you plan your trip. 

There is a free 7-day trial right now, so you can check it out. It’s a valuable resource for any RV traveler.

Fuel And Mileage

Gas costs are a large part of ownership, and it helps to consider this expense before purchasing an RV. When calculating your fuel expenses, consider your RV’s miles per gallon. The more fuel-efficient your RV, the lower your overall fuel costs will be.

To figure out your fuel costs, track the distance you plan to travel and divide that by your RV’s MPG. Then, multiply that number by the current fuel price. For example, if you plan to travel 1,000 miles in an RV that gets 10 MPG and gas costs $3.50 per gallon, you’ll require:

1,000 miles ÷ 10 MPG = 100 gallons

100 gallons × $3.50 per gallon = $350. In this scenario, your fuel expense for the 1,000-mile trip would be $350.

Gas Versus Diesel RVs

Gas and diesel engines have their own unique pros and cons, affecting both fuel efficiency and long-term costs. While diesel engines tend to offer better mileage and more torque, they also come with higher upfront and maintenance expenses.

Gas engines:

  • Lower upfront costs
  • Generally faster acceleration
  • More widely available fuel
  • Often simpler and cheaper maintenance and repair

Diesel engines:

  • Improved fuel efficiency
  • Greater overall power
  • Longer engine lifespan
  • Potentially higher resale values

When deciding between a gas or diesel RV, consider how these factors will impact your RV budget and travel plans. By understanding the costs associated with fuel and mileage, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision about your RV purchase and ongoing expenses.

RV Storage and Parking

When you aren’t using your RV, you will need to find a storage location. Many local and subdivision regulations prohibit parking an RV in the street or at your residence. Most RVers end up paying for an RV storage facility to park in between adventures. 

Indoor storage can be tough to find, and there may be a waiting list. This type of storage is the most popular with RVers because it keeps the RV out of the elements. It is also the most expensive option and can cost anywhere from $100 to $200 per month if you can score a spot. 

Outdoor storage is the most available and most common choice for RVers. It is less expensive, but your RV will be left out in storms, intense sun, and freezing weather or snow. Where you store your RV can also affect your RV insurance policy price.

Parking Fees at RV Parks And Campgrounds

When you want to use your RV for trips, you likely will end up staying in RV resorts or campgrounds. This is a great way to camp comfortably with hookups and often other amenities like swimming pools or park activities. Many campgrounds charge nightly fees ranging from $20 to over $100, depending on the location of the campground. 

If you can stay at least a week in the same location, ask the campground if they offer a weekly discount or a discount for longer stays. Most do, which can help you save money camping. If you are having a tough time getting a campground reservation or you are looking to camp for free, consider boondocking on BLM land. 

RV Depreciation

Like cars, RVs also depreciate over time, meaning their value decreases as they age. RV depreciation is due to wear and tear, mileage, and newer models hitting the market.

RVs tend to lose about 20% of their value in the first year and then around 5% each following year for the next four years. Keep in mind this is just an estimate, and individual RVs may depreciate differently.

A few factors affect the depreciation rate of your RV:

  • Brand: Some brands are known to hold their value better than others.
  • Condition: Keeping your RV well-maintained can help retain its value.
  • Usage: If you use your RV frequently, it’s likely to depreciate faster than an RV that’s rarely used.
  • Market: Economic factors can also impact the resale value of your RV.

How Depreciation Effects the Cost of RV Ownership

You may be wondering what depreciation has to do with the cost of owning and operating an RV. Depreciation dictates the resale value or the trade-in value of your RV. 

For example, if you paid $100,000 for a new RV and sold it five years later for $60,000, the $40,000 difference is the depreciation cost. In this example, the depreciation cost is a big part of your overall RV ownership costs.

Including the depreciation cost in your RV ownership expenses can help you make informed decisions when purchasing an RV and when deciding if it’s more beneficial to trade it in or sell it privately.

Accessories and Upgrades

As you hit the road on your RV journey, you may find yourself wanting to customize your new home-on-wheels to better fit your needs. When you first buy your RV, it probably already comes with all of the basic necessities for a comfortable trip. 

However, you may quickly find that there are a variety of optional accessories that can make your RV travels even more enjoyable. These can include:

  • Accessories to make campsite set up easier, like leveling pads, wheel chocks, a second water hose, extra sewer hoses, and an additional power cord
  • Gadgets to protect your RV, such as a surge protector and water pressure regulator
  • Grills and space-saving kitchen appliances
  • Customized storage solutions
  • Entertainment systems
  • Outdoor lighting
  • Outdoor chairs, tables, and rug

While these additional items can greatly improve your RV experience, they can add expense to your initial investment. It’s important to consider the costs of these extras and choose the items that are most important to you.

Are There Potential Budget Pitfalls of Customizing an RV?

Some RVers also decide to renovate or upgrade the interior of their RV. Maybe they want to make it seem cozier? Or better utilize the living space inside? 

Whatever the reason may be for changing your RV’s interior, here are a few things to consider:

  • Set a budget: Determine a reasonable amount to spend on upgrades before you begin shopping. This will help keep your spending in check.
  • Research before you buy: Look for reviews, recommendations, and information, preferably from other RVers who have used the item for each material you are considering. This can save you time, stress, and money in the long run.
  • DIY when possible: If you’re handy with tools or have crafting abilities, consider customizing your RV yourself. It’s tough to find people that work on RV renovations, and DIY can significantly cut down on expenses and time to complete the project.
  • Consider resale: The hard truth is that some RV renovations will improve the resale value of your RV, while others will hurt it. Think about what a buyer would think of your proposed changes.

Navigate the Hidden Costs of RV Ownership With Confidence

As a prospective RV owner, thoroughly researching and understanding these hidden costs of RV ownership is important to make an informed decision. Awareness of these expenses will help you better plan your budget, prepare for the unexpected, and enjoy your new RV to the fullest. Take the time to explore various financing options, get RV insurance quotes, and develop a routine RV maintenance schedule. Now you can fully embrace the RV lifestyle with confidence and peace of mind. 

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