Is It Best to Buy or Rent a Van for Road Trips?

Is there any more classic traveling expedition than the old American road trip? Even with planes, road-tripping is still as popular as ever, with over 47 million Americans traveling 500 miles or more by car every year.

One of the best ways to save money is by bringing your lodging, but nobody wants to spend a fortune on an RV. Let’s discuss whether it’s better to buy or rent a van for a road trip so you can save money and hit the open road!

Reasons to Buy a Van For a Road Trip

Nobody wants to rent. Here are some key benefits of buying a van for your next road trip!


Owning a vehicle comes with a certain level of freedom, especially when it’s paid in full. For example, you don’t have to worry about returning it to the rental shop with a few dings and scratches.

On top of that, you can alter the van however you want. This means nobody will stop you if you want to drill into the van, add insulation, install solar panels and batteries, or whatever you want. Renting a pre-done van will not offer the same level of personalization as buying and converting yourself.

Keeping the Van

Buying is the obvious strategy if you want to own a van after your road trip. Vans are great for specific purposes, but not everybody needs one. A pickup truck is better for plowing or towing and typically has better gas mileage.

Still, if you move around a lot, have a job requiring a lot of hauling, or want a nice recreational vehicle for later, buying a van is the way to go! You’ll also keep the biggest souvenir from your cross-country trip!

Potential Profit

For all you know, converting the van could yield you a profit if you choose to resell it later! Campervans are quite popular, especially with the average RV costing between $50,000 and $150,000.

As a result, upgrading the camping van can help you earn back some of your money from the road trip. This way, you may break even or profit from your efforts!

Disadvantages of Buying a Van

Clearly, there are some serious benefits to buying a van. However, there are some disadvantages to keep in mind, as they may apply to you. Here are some of the most important ones to note.

More Expensive

If you don’t plan on using the van after your road trip is complete, then why waste money? You should already anticipate spending plenty of money on your road trip, and your budget is likely tight unless you work remotely.

Would you buy a house you only intend to live in for two months? If not, don’t buy a van unless you intend to use it afterward.

Also, don’t just assume that you will use it if you don’t have a practical reason. Unless you will use it for work, as a primary vehicle, or for regular recreation, why spend money on insurance and payments if you don’t have to? Ask yourself if you really intend to use it, as buying is a big commitment.

While our first reason to buy was “freedom,” you also have to look at the flip side. If you need to make payments with high-interest rates, that takes away some of the freedom of owning the vehicle. You won’t technically own it until the payments are complete.

Greater Risk

Yes, there is insurance available for purchasing a van. Still, when you purchase a vehicle, insurance may not cover everything. Unless you purchase “gap insurance” separately, you likely won’t receive the full amount you paid for the vehicle if it is totaled.

Moreover, this is especially true when buying a used van from a dealership. Insurance estimates on used vehicles tend to be conveniently lower than the purchase price at a dealership.

That’s not to say that you can’t find a good deal on a used van, especially if you buy from an owner. However, this is riskier than purchasing from a dealership, as you never know the quality of the van.

Reasons to Rent a Van For a Road Trip

Buying a van clearly comes with key benefits and disadvantages depending on your needs, budget, and preferences. If you’re still unsure whether or not it’s right for you, here’s why you should consider renting!

Saving Money

No, you won’t be able to keep the van for the rest of your life. However, the point of a road trip is to keep memories for the rest of your life, and you only need the van temporarily for that. You can always find other, less expensive, souvenirs along the way.

Renting a van is bound to be cheaper than purchasing. It may be more expensive daily compared to keeping the van forever. Again, if you aren’t going to use it after the road trip, then why bother spending more?

Vans May Come Pre-Loaded

Did you know that you can find campervan rentals that already have what you need? This means you can rent a van that already has the electrical setup, storage, or sleeping solution you need.

More Space

Saving money by renting can allow you to invest in a better van, especially if you only get one for one trip. This could allow you to bring more people, pets, or recreational equipment along with you. Of course, you might even be able to stand up!

Disadvantages of Renting a Van

Nothing comes without a price. Here are some disadvantages of renting a van for your road trip.

It Isn’t Yours

When you rent a van, it isn’t yours. You can’t make modifications like you can with your own vehicle, and it isn’t yours to ding or scratch up. Also, you won’t get to keep it after the road trip, which may be heartbreaking after making so many memories.

Paying For Damage

Again, it isn’t your vehicle. Therefore, you will have to pay the rental company for any damage you cause to the vehicle.

As with any rental vehicle, take pictures of the vehicle before driving off of the lot. Unfortunately, many rental companies will try to charge you for somebody else’s damage, knowingly or unknowingly.

Paying For Mileage

Depending on the rental company, you may have to pay a fee based on your mileage during the road trip. If you’re planning on going cross-country and taking your time, this could add to a lot of additional expenses.

A long road trip will cost a lot in mileage when you’re already paying for high gas prices in a gas-guzzling van on top of insurance and rental fees. You can avoid this by choosing an unlimited mileage plan or one that meets your needs, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

Possible Time Constraints

Depending on the term of your rental agreement, renting could place unwanted time constraints on your trip. The last thing you want to do is worry about getting home in time to avoid fees and missing out on certain attractions.

How to Rent a Van For Your Next Road Trip

Now that you know some of the key reasons to rent a van, you may be interested in renting. Here’s how to start.

Determine Your Needs

First, what kind of van do you need? There are plenty of features and models for specific uses. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Will I need to take the van off-road??
  • Will I need to drive in harsh weather conditions like snowstorms?
  • What are the most important entertainment features?
  • Will I need electric access in the back of the van?
  • Do I need a tow hitch?

From there, research different models and years and find one that meets your needs and preferences.

Determine Your Budget

How much are you willing to spend per day on your road trip? If you plan a long road trip, you will likely want a weekly or even monthly rate, as this could save money.

Remember that you will spend money on the road trip itself. Gas, food, bills, recreation, and more will add up, and you should expect between $200 and $250 per day for the average road tripper. Ensure you have a maximum amount in mind for the van itself, and remember to factor in fuel economy and insurance!

Find the Right Rental Company

Renting from reputable companies with the right vehicles is essential. Always read online reviews and try to find the right deal for your budget and needs. If you can’t find one that fits your budget and needs, you may need to adjust or expand your search elsewhere.

How to Buy and Build a Road Trip Van

If you want to take matters into your own hands, buying the right van for your needs is important. From there, you can build it exactly how you like it!

Measure Your Available Space

If you buy a van, remember to account for the space you will eliminate by insulating or building inside. Buying too small of a van will either prevent you from building what you need or make it quite uncomfortable when you do.

Don’t just accept the cargo volume you find on a Google search. Go into the back of the van with a tape measure and determine exactly how much space you have and in what directions! Don’t forget to write down these measurements.

Start With a Plan

Do not build anything in your van until you know exactly what you’re doing. Once you’re done measuring the available space, you’ll know what to work with. This includes insulation, walls, bed frames, storage, and moving space.

Fortunately, there are plenty of van conversions to model after, so go with what’s tried and true, or at least take inspiration from them. This information can prove invaluable, especially if you have limited building experience.

Find Ways to Save

There are plenty of opportunities to save money on a van conversion. Buying a used van is a good start, but make sure you research the particular year and model. It’s important to know the common problems with the van before risking a drive in remote locations.

From there, try to get the necessary tools to make likely repairs, as this could save you a lot on mechanic bills. Also, like with any vehicle, preventative maintenance will save you a lot of money! Get the oil changed, the brakes serviced, and an overall inspection before hitting the road.

When building your conversion, ensure you find ways to save, as there are plenty. For example, using recycled wood from pallets, used insulation, or other free or discounted materials can save you a small fortune. Also, building it yourself will save money on labor or from buying a converted van upfront.

Hit the Road

Now that you know how to buy or rent a van for a road trip, you can decide which is right for you. There is no right or wrong answer, as it depends largely on your budget, needs, preferences, and free time.

Either way, take your van and hit the road to start making memories, and keep reading our blog for our latest lifestyle tips!




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Noman covers automotive news and reviews for Unfinished Man. His passion for cars informs his in-depth assessments of the latest models and technologies. Noman provides readers with insightful takes on today's top makes and models from his hands-on testing and research.

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