March 18, 2021 7 min read
Like many of us, you may be in the position where you have a campervan but regrettably can't be away in it every week of the year (more's the pity). Could it earn you some extra cash instead of keeping your driveway company? The answer is a big fat YES, if you can bear the sight of a stranger driving it into the sunset. We decided in 2013 that we could make our peace with having someone else at the wheel of our beloved Brazilian Bay 'Babs'. It meant significant financial gain that could be put to good use funding our own holidays. The long and short of it is that you can make roughly £15,000 a year from one van, if not more. If you outsource some of the labour involved it's not a huge amount of work either. What's more, you get the winter off! Here are some things to consider when deciding if you should rent your campervan out:
You'll need to decide whether to build your own website and maximise the free advertising on social media, or whether to stick it on a platform like Rent My Campervan or Camperbug and save yourself a job. Remember that you'll pay a cut for the latter which will eat into your profits. After trying both, we discovered that most people found us via our own website and social media with very few bookings coming via Camperbug.
This is the biggie. Of all the costs, this one is the most eye-watering. We went with Alan Boswell Self-Drive Hirepolicy which was about £1800 per year, including breakdown cover. There are other companies or 'pay as you go' policies if you don't want to pay the full whack at the outset. However, you'd have to set this up for every hire which involves much more paperwork. The way we saw it, the £1800 is covered by the first few weeks hire and the rest is profit.
You'll need to spend some time on robust terms and conditions and a rental agreement which includes an inventory of van contents. Also, get the necessary signatures and copies of I.D before waving the customer off. Definitely send reminders prior to the rental date to remind the customer what they need to provide you with. Inevitably there will be someone who drives three hours to collect your van and realizes they've forgotten their photo I.D. This is a horrible realisation and conversation because there's no way around it. No I.D, no van. Keep on top of your admin, including MOT/service dates and health and safety checks e.g. gas cylinder. You'll also want to install a tracker if you don't have one already.
These were the tariffs we charged in 2013, so the ballpark figure will be higher now. You can get a rough idea of what you could make in the 6 months of high-season, if you rent your campervan out back-to-back:
7 nights during high season (April - October): £600
7 nights during low season (November - March): £350
3 nights during high season (April - October): £350
3 nights during low season (November - March): £200
We also charged for additions such as a porta potti (eek - I know!), bike rack, bedding, glawning and awning because of the extra work involved.
We decided there was no need to put a mileage cap on the van. Whilst some customers drove all the way down to Glastonbury, for example, others only drove to a destination ten miles away; it all evened out in the long run. Customers rarely drove to Europe.
Everything slows down nicely from October to March. Although we kept things ticking over and there was the odd hire (especially during school holidays), you pretty much get the winter off. This is when we used some of that extra cash to head off on a Caribbean Cruise/visit friends in Australia/insert dream holiday here!
Breakdowns and Problems
Although the dream holiday is a very persuasive perk, it's not all plain sailing (or driving, if you will...). During the three years that we rented out Babs and Jemima, we endured a burnt out clutch (£500), a snapped gear stick, broken crockery and a handful of breakdowns, amongst other things. It was an immense help to have an excellent, laid back local mechanic who we could count on in emergencies (big shout out to Dubtricks). Some days we waved the customer off thinking it would be a miracle if the van arrived back unscathed, but we were able to deal with everything without too much hair-tearing, and we knew we were fully insured if the worst case scenario occurred.
We charged a £500 security bond with every hire to cover any damage, but never used it. On some occasions we probably should have, but we took the hit because we were too nice. Remember, you will be on call 24/7 for the duration of the rental for any issues the customer might have. This was never huge problem because there weren't that many calls or catastrophes overall (and we have very helpful in-laws) but there were certainly instances where we had to drop everything and embark upon a rescue mission. This is all stuff you need to consider should you be looking to rent your campervan out.
This is my mantra for life, not just a campervan hire business. If you can possibly outsource a job, DO IT. When the cleaning and washing of vans started making me feel like a glorified car wash assistant, we hired a student to do it for us. He was chuffed with a summer job and it saved me HOURS. It got fairly manic during peak season. There were still days in July and August when, due to swift turnarounds, I was out washing the van at 6am before a day's work in order to handover the van the minute I got home. I had a part time day job at a care home so I slotted this around that. This is when I was glad of all the instructional videos I had made. Top tip: Make a video showing how to work various things on the van and get the customer to watch it and sign something to say they've watched it. Not only does it save everyone a lot of time on handover, it also protects you against anyone claiming ignorance.
This is a business that could be scaled up to quite a significant level. The year after we started out we added another Brazi Bay - 'Jemima' - to our 'fleet' and doubled the profits. The beauty of VW campervans is that they hold their value exceptionally well. Depreciation isn't a cost you'd need to consider like you would with other vehicles.
The Test Drive. This is a harrowing experience for hirer and hiree and it's not something you have to do but is advisable in order to avoid aforementioned burnt out clutches and the like, especially if your van is LHD or has 'quirks'.
You will probably get a complaint or two. There's always going to to be someone who has an axe to grind. Thankfully, we never had any blazing showdowns but we have heard of fellow camper hire companies with customers demanding refunds because they had a terrible time for some reason or another. Prepare for things to be forced, latches to be broken and items to be lost. The roof latches on our brazilian bays were constantly having to be replaced, but the cost of this was fairly inconsequential on a £600 hire. Take the rough with the smooth. Keep spares of everything (even gear sticks!). It's also handy to make friends, not enemies, with the competition. If you have other local campervan hire businesses you can call on in an emergency, it can save the day for someone's holiday/wedding if you have a problem.
It was a mixed bag with how people returned the vans - some people looked after Babs and Jemima better than we did ourselves and a couple even washed it before return. Others brought it back with the usual wear, tear and sticky finger marks and a broken catch or hinge. There was never anything we couldn't fix/clean/sort in time for the next hire - a husband (or wife) proficient in DIY is handy to have around. Just make sure you have someone with some skills if thinking to rent your campervan out!
We're passionate about customer service so a hefty welcome pack (wine, tea, coffee, cakes, guidance manual and other essentials) was an important inclusion with every hire. Wedding hire always had the obligatory bottle of bubbly and choice of chauffeur attire (tux or Hawaiian shirt!). Customers really appreciate these little extras and it was very worth it when we received great reviews mentioning the little touches, not to mention repeat bookings.
The End of the Road
In the end, we had bigger fish to fry with a new baby on the way and our other business selling driveaway awnings taking off (glawning). We eventually sold the business in 2016 to a lovely couple in Sheffield and it's still going strong to this day: give Retro Runaways some love on Facebook!
In conclusion, we would say if you can bear to wave your beloved van off with a stranger at the wheel, do it. It's a lucrative business. £600 per week for a few hours work is not to be sniffed at.
If you would like any more advice we have multiple detailed checklists, tick lists, guides, instructions etc we can bestow upon you! Just drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
We would love to hear your experience of renting or hiring a campervan too, in the comments below. Now, are you going to rent your campervan out?
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