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RVs provide freedom for adventurous travellers, but it will cost you

Last Updated Oct 11, 2018 at 10:40 am EDT

A recreational vehicle worth over $600,000 is on display at Bucars RV Centre in Balzac, Alta., Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY – The symbol of a retirement filled with travel and relaxation arrived last year for Bruce and Lisa Anderson of Calgary in the form of a 12-metre long package.

That’s how big their diesel-powered Class A motorhome is — about the same size as a city bus with, as Bruce points out, a bigger weight-carrying capacity.

It’s big enough that it doesn’t fit into some campgrounds. It’s so big it has two wry nicknames: “Motorhome” and “My Daughter’s Inheritance.”

“Our camping experience has run the whole gamut from tent to travel trailer to motorhome,” said Bruce, acknowledging that purists might not consider it camping if you stay in air-conditioned luxury with more floor space than a small apartment.

“As a teenager, I camped under a lean-to. At age 60, I like my house on wheels.”

When it comes to buying a trailer or motorhome to get out into the great outdoors or just avoid paying hotel rates on vacation, the choices can be daunting and the price in the window just the beginning of what ownership will actually cost.

The best prices are usually seen now, at the start of the off-season, when more used units are on the market and dealers may be willing to bargain to reduce inventory, said Jeff Redmond, general manager of Bucars RV just north of Calgary.

The range of options and prices mean it’s best to have a good idea of your budget and needs before turning up at the dealership, he said.

“You can get into a really good used RV for around $5,000,” he said.

“In the new market, you can be as low as … $20,000 (for a travel trailer) and we range all the way up to over $1 million for luxury Class A diesel motorhomes.”

A scan of used campers for sale online shows a number actually being given away for free — although sometimes with ominous wording such as: “Toilet works but valve to empty out sewage won’t open,” and, “Floor a little spongy and will need to be replaced.”

The total number of new camping units sold in Canada this year is expected to be about 52,000, up about five per cent over 2017, said Eleonore Hamm, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada.

Private RV sales represent about 50 per cent of used unit sales, with the rest being sold by dealers.

“If you’re buying privately, the main thing is safety,” Hamm said, adding many dealers will do safety checks for a fee.

“You want to ensure that the units have been checked, that the propane has been recertified, make sure there’s no water damage, make sure the braking system is working adequately.”

Renting is the best way to go RVing, says Brian Gronberg, CEO of Calgary-based CanaDream Corp., which counts about 85 per cent of its RV rental customers from outside of Canada.

“Nobody should buy a motorhome. They’re expensive and they are depreciating assets,” he said in an interview.

He conceded, however, that his company sells used RVs as part of its program to continually refresh its fleet of 1,200 rental units — and CanaDream allows renters to apply their rental fees to a purchase.

The fall rental of a two-person RV might cost $100 per night from CanaDream, but a last-minute, mid-summer rental of a big motorhome that sleeps six could be $350 to $400 per night, Gronberg said.

The Andersons have learned a lot about RVing since buying their hulking unit for about $390,000. They went on a three-month vacation to Newfoundland and Labrador last summer and they are planning lengthy vacations on Vancouver Island and in the southern U.S. in future years.

Storing the unit at the dealership costs about $1,000 a year, Bruce said, more than the $500 to $600 he used to pay to store his travel trailer on a rural lot. (Many cities don’t allow RV storage on the street.)

Insurance for the motorhome costs more than for a house. Campground fees start at $40-$50 a night with power and water service but some resort-style campgrounds charge as much as $110 a night, he said. Other regular bills are for maintenance and draining the RV’s water lines before winter’s freeze.

And then there’s the cost of fuel, he said.

“Motorhoming, in my opinion, will not save you money.”

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