How to Estimate the Costs of Owning an RV

Updated on August 23, 2019
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.

There are many expenses involved in owning RVs. People wishing to purchase one would do well to create cost estimates before they buy so that they will know whether owning a coach is something they will be able to afford.

The best way to do this is to create charts that clarify the potential costs involved in owning a specific RV.

It helps if you decide ahead of time the type, year, and model of any RVs you are thinking of purchasing.

By creating a cost analysis chart for each one, you can do a reasonable comparison that will show you whether what you would like to have and what you can afford to buy are the same thing!

 A guide that will help people to know how much it will cost to own a recreational vehicle.
A guide that will help people to know how much it will cost to own a recreational vehicle. | Source

What You Need to Do

The easiest way to chart potential costs is to create a computer spreadsheet that holds the basic information you will need.

I’m providing a template in this article for you to copy and use if you wish. Once you copy it, save the blank form so that you can duplicate it.

You’ll use the duplicated form to forecast your costs and the original to use as a template to use for other RVs.

It will take some research on your part to get the information you’ll need to be able to fill out the chart but doing it is the only way for you to create a realistic estimate of expenses.

For example, to find

  • the cost of a new RV, you can visit dealerships and go to shows or
  • the price of previously owned units, you can check or search online for sale by owner ads.

As you get the information you seek, simply fill in the blanks on your form.

If you are not sure about specific expenses or if they do not apply to your situation, simply leave those spaces empty.

For example,

  • if you own a travel trailer, you won’t need to get prices for tow bars or tow dollies
  • if you own a motor home, you won’t need to get prices for a tow vehicle.

Use your computer to search for details about RV ownership costs.
Use your computer to search for details about RV ownership costs. | Source

Finding Information

Some of the information you will seek will be easy to find, but other data will take some digging.

Also, as time goes on, costs change, so it will be important to do a cost estimate that is based on current information. Using information more than one year old will not provide you with accurate figures.

This article will provide a good deal of what you need to know. I have also linked to others that you will find helpful.

Cost Estimate Chart and Example

Below you will find a chart that lists the things you will need to buy.

I have also included a sample that shows what you might possibly have to pay for them.

Following this are helpful details about some of these items.

If you expand them on your computer you can then copy and paste them to your own spreadsheets for future use.

Sample blank RV cost worksheet.
Sample blank RV cost worksheet. | Source
Example of potential costs of RV ownership
Example of potential costs of RV ownership | Source

Ownership Costs

The items listed here show you the basic financials involved in owning an RV. How Much Does It Really Cost to Own an RV? will help you to fill in most of the blanks.

Pay special attention to the section on Depreciation because it will affect your selling cost later. How Much Can You Afford to Pay for an RV? has a good section on depreciation. I am also adding a sample depreciation chart to show you how it works.

Travel Costs

How much you actually spend for travel can vary significantly. Much depends on how far you plan to drive, the types of things you want to do during your vacations and where you stay.

A good camping guide such as the Good Sam Travel and Savings Guide will help you to figure the cost differences between the different types of camping facilities. Some can be extremely expensive, while others are free!

We have always used this book to guide us in our camping choices so that we don’t overspend. It also helps if you join a good discount camping club. Reviews of the Most Popular RV Camping Clubs gives you a bird’s eye view of several of them that will help you to decide which one might be right for you.

Tools and Chemicals

Every RVer needs to take a complete tool box with him. What You Need to Have in Your RV’s Toolbox lists the most important ones people should keep on board, but it’s also important to make sure you have specialty tools as well like those required for cleaning black water tanks.

Likewise, you will need all sorts of tank cleaning tools and chemicals as well as those required for general maintenance.

This is important because you cannot use certain chemicals to clean and sanitize RVs or you will damage them. The Best Tools and Chemicals for RV Sewer Tank Cleaning will provide you with some of the info you need about this topic.

General Maintenance

Maintaining a recreational vehicle is a never ending job.

Owners need to

  • run generators and engines regularly,
  • make sure batteries are working,
  • check tire pressure regularly,
  • keep units washed and waxed and
  • maintain interiors.

This means they need to buy oil, keep tire gauges on hand, vacuum and dust regularly, and yes, even clean toilets and showers.

When something goes wrong, they often have to hire professional repair people to fix the problems. Labor costs vary, but can go as high as $189 per hour! Changing the oil can be costly also, even though people may do this job themselves, because RVs have big engines. A standard gas engine motor home takes approximately 5 quarts of oil and should be done every 10,000 miles on average.

All of these things require tools, chemicals and a good deal of elbow grease!

Towing Costs

Those who tow cars behind their recreational vehicles or use vehicles to tow their RVs have to buy equipment such as hitches and tow bars to be able to do this job.

Also, a vehicle that tows a coach has to be big enough to do the job and can cost a good deal


Unless a unit comes with a rear camera monitoring system or GPS, owners will have to purchase them. These can run hundreds of dollars but are “must haves” for people who want to avoid problems while traveling.

Replacement Costs

Big ticket items in RVs don’t break often, but when they do, replacing them is expensive. Refrigerators can run from $1000 to $2000, air conditioners can be upwards of $600 each and tires can run as high as $900 each.

Basic Living Items

Most people are able to equip their coaches with duplicates of items they already have in their homes, but even if they have to purchase new ones, the cost is minimal.

However, some may feel the need for outdoor furniture, which can be pricey.

Plan Well When Buying an RV

The list of things RV owners can spend money on is almost endless. Therefore, it’s important that people take the time to set up the types of charts noted in this article so that they can estimate the cost of owning a recreational vehicle before actually buying one.

There are many ways to cut corners with some things, but other expenses simply cannot be avoided.

This is why I always advise people to inspect any RV they may want to purchase very carefully. This is because one wrong decision can be financially disastrous!

For example, buying

  • a fifth wheel that needs 4 tires can easily add upwards of $1500 to its selling price,
  • a unit that needs a paint job can easily cost an extra $6,000 or
  • a diesel pusher that needs a new engine can add $10,000 or more to the cost.

These all are good reasons why people should take the time to prepare cost estimates. If they do, they will at least have some idea about the affordability of any unit they choose to buy.

Has this article helped you to decide whether you can afford to buy an RV?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Sondra Rochelle


Submit a Comment
  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

    Sondra Rochelle 

    22 months ago from USA

    That's interesting. Thanks for the info.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    22 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I have seen many RVs travelling to Croatia and it is one of the cheaper options to travel in. Prices differ and you shared useful tips here.


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