Let’s say your dream rig is a 4WD Sprinter. You spend lots of nights sitting next to a campfire, your trusty Subaru parked nearby, your tent pitched in the dirt behind you, wishing you had more space than your little wagon can provide. Something you could camp inside of, that has the off-road chops to get further off the beaten path, that will carry bikes, surfboards, perhaps your small family, and a gear shop’s worth of stuff anywhere you could want to go.
Ah, it would be perfect, you think. Except for the astonishingly high hurdle to entry you’d first need to vault—the cost. It would be great to have an adventure van, you think, but the price is unjustifiable. Or, actually, it’s easily justifiable, but not so easily attainable.
But maybe it can be.
I recently rented a truck camper through a brand called Outdoorsy. It’s something like airbnb but for campervans, RVs, trucks, even passenger cars with rooftop tents. If you can drive it and camp in it, you can rent that vehicle from its owner with Outdoorsy, or other brands like it. I have a Subaru Outback with a roomy rooftop tent, but my wife and I wanted something totally self-contained for a week-long trip with our 14-month-old daughter. We found a 4WD Toyota Tundra with a 4-Wheel Campers brand pop-up camper shell within an easy drive from our house. We booked it, I picked it up from the owners and was given a brief tutorial, and off we went.
The trip and the truck were great, a loop from the Bay Area to the eastern Sierra, up around Tahoe to the Shasta/Trinity National Forest, and back home. Plenty of off-road driving and deeply remote dispersed camp spots. All that driving gave us lots of time to think about what it would be like to rent out our own personal vehicle to total strangers. When I picked up the truck, the owners explained that they’d so much success renting out their truck, they recently bought a Sprinter van solely to rent it out on Outdoorsy for extra income.
A lightbulb went off in my head, as I began to fall in love with the Tundra and started to come up ways to justify the purchase. Is Outdoorsy’s platform a workaround way to afford an adventure rig? Could renting it out make a huge purchase like an off-road camper-kitted Tundra or a 4WD Sprinter pay for itself?
The Tundra we used rents for about $200 per night. Outdoorsy gets their cut of that (their take varies based on a number of factors), but they also provide their own insurance. 20% is a solid, conservative estimate of what Outdoorsy keeps. Say then that the owners were netting $160 each night we had the rig. The truck is booked often, though not every day, and this was the height of summer. In winter, they receive fewer bookings. Say the truck is rented 75 days per year, to be conservative. That’s $12,000 per year.
You can buy a used 2014 Tundra, the same model we drove, for roughly $25-30k. Figure another $15k or so for a nice camper shell, (easily found used) and you’re looking at roughly $40k, and that’s a big wide ballpark guess, for the setup we rented. It would take about three years to earn enough from renting it, at the above rates and frequency, to pay for the truck. Then, if you wanted to sell it once you had paid yourself back for the purchase, you’re talking pure profit at that point.
This starts to make lots of sense if you plan to purchase a vehicle solely for camping adventures that you expect to use only a couple weeks per year.
4WD Sprinters in my area, built out with decent living spaces, rent for $300 or so per night on Outdoorsy. Sounds like a lot of money, but for people who want to get out there, way out there, but don’t have access to a car capable of modest off-road driving, it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. You can buy used 4WD Sprinters for anywhere from $30k to $60k (or more) depending on condition, size, and build out. A new one might run a bit over $100k. The owners of the Tundra explained that while the truck sits idle a couple days per week on average, their Sprinter van rents constantly. Get a diesel engine Sprinter, and who cares if the miles rack up. You could pay that puppy off in a couple years while using it yourself for a few big trips per year.
Of course there are plenty of concerns. Mileage and wear and tear, obviously, are the biggies. Vehicles for rent on Outdoorsy have mileage limits, typically about 100 per day, after which you must be an additional fee per mile. We exceeded that just barely on our trip, occasionally driving well over 200 miles per day, but then not driving at all for multiple days at camp. The owners of the Tundra were fine with us driving it off-road, though other owners renting similar rigs specifically prohibited the rough stuff. Bummer, but whatever, it’s their choice and we avoided those sorts of picky owners.
We were looking for rugged adventure rigs, but Outdoorsy rents a ton of traditional RVs. This makes a great deal of sense for people who spend a fortune on those only to drive them once a year.
But even for two car families, it makes some sense. There are Subaru Outbacks with rooftop tents, like mine, renting for over $100 per night. No reason why we couldn’t rent out my Subaru, with my family using our Rav4 for daily driving. Heck, $100 per night a couple days a week would go a long way to paying for more off-road goodies for the Subie. Renting it out just three nights per month would basically cover a car payment.
Outdoorsy also makes sense if you’re on the fence about buying an adventure-based vehicle at all. Sure, you could drop tens of thousands of dollars on a kitted-out 4WD van. Or you could rent one for a week or two each year and not have to even think about registration, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, or parking the thing.
It’s a super compelling model. And one that has me doing lots of math about the monthly payment for a new Bronco next year, and how much I could make renting it out just a couple days per month. Starting to sound like a no-brainer.
For more on the joys of campervans, Foster Huntington’s Van Life: Your Home on the Road is kind of a must-read.