Buying An RV Is A Terrible Idea

For many people the economics of buying an RV don't make sense.

It is very common as people get a little older they become increasingly interested in hitting the road in an RV whether the RV is a part-time adventure (more common) or a full time living situation perhaps driven by personal finances. In the last few years my wife and I have taken more road trips (not in an RV) with plans for more. We live in the Mountain Time Zone and are pretty close to a lot of national parks and national monuments. We’re taking a short trip this coming weekend up to Antelope Canyon and Canyon de Chelly.

As a side note, if you’re an outdoors person along the lines of what I mentioned above and like to hike, you might want to consider a trip to Page, AZ. It is close to several parks, monuments and other things like Horseshoe Bend and the aforementioned Antelope Canyon.

In this context it’s logical to wonder about buying an RV of some sort or a trailer. We all know people who own RVs, maybe you own one. Without minimizing the fun of it, I think the economics of such a purchase are pretty challenging in terms of cost to purchase, cost to insure and cost to maintain versus how much it gets used.

I did a little research on pricing new and used RVs at what I believe is the largest dealer where we live in Northern Arizona. I looked at new and used C-class rigs which have front ends that look like passenger vans, so not the massive motor homes that you see on the road. Brand new ranged from about $85,000 up to around $200,000 and used C-class RVs (there were only three) were $56,000, $58,000 and $74,000. I realize with a little patience you can buy directly from someone looking to sell for much cheaper, like maybe in the $20,000-$30,000 range.

A while back some click bait about RV-living popped up on my Facebook feed and one of the questions was “can you fix things on the fly?” I imagine that the closer you get to $20,000 the more time you will spend fixing things on the fly. The closer you get to the upper end, maybe you will spend less time fixing things on the fly.

For someone just looking to take a couple of road trips per year I think it makes a lot more sense to rent an RV. I looked up renting a C-class RV from Cruise America for the entire month of April. The quote was $2800. After all the add-ins, taxes, miles (they charge for miles) and everything else, the all-in cost was $4768.

That compares to payments when at the lower end would prorate out about the same but no additional insurance, no multi-year commitment that might be difficult to get out of, no repairs or having a depreciating asset sitting in the driveway or at a paid storage facility. If there is a mechanical problem a renter would certainly be inconvenienced out of the road but would not be on the hook for the cost of the repair.

For people fortunate to not have financial obstacles to retirement issues probably don’t need to weigh out the numbers of owning versus renting.

The manner in which people live in retirement is of course changing. Accessing activities like golfing every day (I have no interest in golf), hitting the open road in the context of this post or anything else can still be done but need a little creativity and ingenuity. If $5000 for a month is too much the obviously less time on the road would be fewer dollars out of pocket.

Obviously, plenty of people make the economics work for them but this is a fun activity that can be made accessible for people who can’t write a check for $100,000, who don’t want to pay $1000 month for the next seven years or haven’t been “car guys” their entire life.