For most people, buying a caravan or motorhome is the second most expensive purchase they will make. Of course, like many things, there isn’t just the initial purchase price but quite a number of other costs as well. Some are annual items and others are incurred during the travelling year.
The big items are a tow vehicle and/or getting said vehicle ready for towing — tow hitch, electrical connections, electric brakes, and even things like roof racks and bull bars. Additionally, items like an annexe, awning floor, weight distribution hitch, power cords, tools, sheets, blankets, towels, cooking and bathroom items could all be on the list.
That’s all related just to the initial costings. Then there are annual costs like registration and insurance.
Modern RVs are quite expensive pieces of equipment and require regular servicing, plus there are the onroad costs like fuel, caravan park/campground fees and day to day items like food and drink. Finally, there’s the matter of depreciation, something that affects all vehicles, but unlike cars and truck, there isn’t any real guide for RVs.
I’d like to stress this very much a guide not a financial advice column. Costs on a number of factors can depend on what state you live in, where you travel and how often you travel.
PURCHASE PRICE — CARAVANS
If you’re buying a new van, something like a Nova Bravo 196-1C for instance will cost about $70,000 from Sydney RV. It has an ATM of nearly 3000kg, making it a good candidate for something like a Ford Ranger or any of the utes available in that tow vehicle category.
If you don’t happen to own one, that will cost somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000 depending on the model. To that, add between $1500 and $2000 for items like the tow hitch, electric brakes, electrical connections, towing mirrors, rear view camera and UHF radio.
Of course, that van might be more than your budget will stretch to, so something like a Lagoon Woodland 5.4m (18ft 6in) single axle priced at $56,990 from Queensland dealer, Caravan World, at $56,990 might be more in the budget. With an ATM of just under 2500kg, that means a smaller and cheaper tow vehicle is needed, maybe something already sitting in your driveway.
Not everyone can afford a brand-new caravan of course and there are plenty of second-hand vans available. Prices are affected by supply and demand — especially at the moment — but a family member recently bought a 2014 Jayco Starcraft for $36,000 in a private sale. With an external length of 6m (19ft 6in) and front bed/rear bathroom layout, it didn’t break the bank and promises plenty of good caravanning holidays.
PURCHASE PRICE — MOTORHOMES
Motorhomes are a slightly different kettle of fish, as, apart from anything else, they don’t involve a tow vehicle. Hence while the initial price might look more expensive than a similar length and layout caravan, there are no tow vehicle costs — that includes not only the purchase price but additional ongoing costs like registration and insurance.
To give a couple of examples, a quick internet search revealed a brand new Avida Birdsville 7.4m (24ft 3in), two berth motorhomes with slide-out for $163,000 from Australian Motorhomes and Caravans. More expensive, but also with more interior space is a shiny new Sunliner Switch 8.3m (27ft 2in) 4 berth motorhome with a slide-out for $196,990 from Sunshine State RV, Qld.
For those whose budget does not extend to a new motorhome, I checked out a 2007 Winnebago Birdsville with 80,000km on the clock from Elite RV in Sydney for nearly $80,000.
An ongoing cost also incurred at purchase time is insurance. Essential for everybody, it involves not only the annual premium for an agreed value but also includes factors like excess, contents value and items like windscreen replacement in the case of motorhomes.
Siting insurance costs could take an entire article, but of the two caravans I checked out, a new model had an agreed value of $58,000 and a premium of $1300, while a used van had an agreed value of $46,000 and a premium of $10,500.
REGISTRATION AND CTP INSURANCE
These particular items do depend on the state you live in and to a lesser extent your driving record and what other insurance policies you hold. Just for a guide, in the state I live in, the registration for a motorhome under 4500kg was $550 and the Compulsory Third Party (CTP) was $420.
When travelling in a caravan or motorhome, there are a number of choices about where to stay. For many it’s a caravan park, but there are other more rustic locations, as well as rest areas and freedom camping spots.
Costs are hugely variable here, particularly for caravan parks where location and the time of year are big factors, not to mention facilities like ensuites and power connections. Some caravan parks even have a minimum two-night rate, so, consider anything between $25 and $80 per night — however, away from the big cities and popular spots, the overnight rate is going to be towards the lower end of the scale.
Not everybody has this problem but for those who cannot park their RV on their own property or on the street, the only other option is paid storage. This has a location factor, with storage in and around the big cities going to be more expensive than in country areas.
A bit of research revealed that outdoor areas could cost between $40 and $120 per month while undercover parking could be between $100 and $180 per month — it depends on the location. Naturally long-term storage attracts a cheaper rate but it’s still a cost to be considered.
Just like any vehicle on the road, a caravan or motorhome needs servicing. To get some detail on this I asked Australian Motor Homes and Caravans (AHMC) marketing man, Mat Perks to give me a few clues. He told me that the AHMC recommends a service at least once a year.
However, during the warranty period more services are recommended. For instance, Avida suggests the first service after one month, then every six months. Sunliner has a different approach with the first service at three months, then 12 months, then every six months. Caravan manufacturers Condor and Royal Flair both recommend the first service at three months, then every six months.
AHMC have a fixed rate of $495 for a home service (i.e. the body components above the chassis) and $495 for a chassis service, or $795 for both. Please note that does not include any consumables like sealants, batteries, hot water anodes, air conditioner filters or brake components. In motorhomes AHMC does not service the base vehicle part at all, as that is handled by the relevant Fiat/Mercedes Benz/Iveco/Isuzu dealer.
As with just about any large purchase item, except for housing, depreciation is a factor. I was going to give you an annual percentage factor but when I made a few polite enquiries, the answer was in both cases, “it depends”. For instance, right now there is a big demand for caravans and motorhomes both new and used, so just about anything used and in a good condition is going to command a good price with a relatively small depreciation factor. However, in a few years’ time that may change. Possibly the best advice here is to keep your RV in tip top condition and don’t do any radical modifications that suit you but no one else.
There are other items to consider of course, diesel or petrol being one of them. That of course depends on where and how far you travel and, to a lesser extent, your driving style. Food and drink are a cost when we travel but also when we don’t, so it’s not really an additional cost except that prices might be higher in country areas.
On that note, there might be a temptation to stock up in big cities and towns as you travel but please do remember there are plenty of country towns throughout Australia still recovering from fire or drought or both that are desperate for your business and would appreciate it if you shopped locally.
As I mentioned earlier this is not a definitive guide on the costs of RV ownership and travel, but rather a guide with possible costs associated with caravan and motorhome travel. Create a spreadsheet and do the maths!