Safari Planning: Should you rent or buy?

By Loftus Viljoen

Equipping yourself for the family’s dream adventure into the bush can be an expensive business. The question is, wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run just to hire that caravan? Loftus Viljoen is a director of Ngonyama Rentals, and makes the case for renting

While buying your own off-road equipment has its advantages, sometimes it makes sense to rent an off-road caravan, trailer or even your camping gear. Most of the time, practical or economic considerations will prevail, but the decision on whether to rent or buy is your own.

When you buy, you can kit out your caravan or trailer just the way you want it, but when you rent a unit it’s a different story. It may not be the latest model, or it may not have the equipment you would have liked, but you take what you can get.

The camping lifestyle may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We often find that people are caught up in the idyllic idea of camping in the bush with a tranquil river flowing by, believing everything is carefree.

The reality when travelling in Africa is often different. You may find it is uncomfortable and dusty, with long distances between sites, and camping spots that turn out to be not as idyllic as they seemed in the brochures.

Often there is no running water, or the water may not be suitable for human consumption. Bugs, mosquitoes, various goggas, and even malaria and cholera may add to the problems. The places you are travelling to could be flooded and inaccessible, bitterly cold or very hot. Your car’s air-conditioning may struggle to cope, and when you open up the caravan or trailer, you may find that dust has crept in everywhere – especially that very fine, powdery, talcum-like dust you get on Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans.

In the back of your mind you know you have paid a lot of money for your equipment, but your ego won’t allow you to say, “This trip is costing me much more than I expected. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and easier if I had rented the equipment?”

In 2008 we were confronted with the question: “Why is it better to rent than to buy?” It is a question that is still relevant in 2012. It is actually a simple matter of mathematics. Cost of capital, or interest costs, over five years (60 months) is more or less 43% of the value of the unit you bought, at current interest rates. Once you have bought an off-road caravan or trailer, you need to store and insure it. Maintenance would not only include checking bearings, brakes and tyres, but the unit as a whole. You’d have to take into account the batteries (keep them charged), the loose items such as gas equipment (needs refilling) and replacing cutlery and utensils, bedding and so forth.

The maintenance costs may be more than we show below, but these are the averages at Ngonyama Camper Rentals over a period of eight years. Most people, when buying an off-road caravan or trailer, only use it for a maximum of 30 days a year, and this includes weekends and holidays. Thus the cost of ownership comes to R1918,67 per day. However, should you use the unit for less than 30 days a year – say for only 15 days – that figure becomes a shocking R3837,33 per day. If you rent a fully equipped off-road caravan today, you can expect the rates to be about R1000 a day (including VAT and insurance). This rate is nearly 50% cheaper than owning such a unit, depending on how much you use it. Now which is the best? Owning or renting?

(Note: the following figures estimated at time of print, May 2012)