Rough Road

Sales of recreational vehicles continue to skid — an expected 40 percent this year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. And that’s after a 33 percent decline from 2007. A perfect storm of tight credit, high unemployment and still-pricey gasoline is to blame.

So why do we still see so many RVs on Las Vegas roadways? The answer seems to lie in a strong rental market.

El Monte RV estimates that 85 of its 200 motor homes still leave the lot every week, a number holding steady since the economic downturn. (The company also sells vehicles at the end of their rental lives, and reports a 50 percent drop in that business since last year.) Both Cruise America, the nation’s largest RV renter with 130 stores, and Road Bear RV reported only marginal rental decreases. (Neither would provide specific numbers or comment on sales.)

Most RV rental business in Las Vegas comes from European tourists, as it did before the downturn (El Monte estimates 95 percent of its customers, Road Bear 75 percent and Cruise America 50 percent).

"They’re just really into it," says El Monte branch manager Roger Brewer. "They like the wide-open spaces we have here because they’re not used to that."

And gasoline prices don’t impede their plans, since Europeans are used to paying twice what we do.

Brewer also notes a "huge increase" in business over the past two summers from Americans who were forced to sell their RVs.

"They say they miss the experience," he says.

Las Vegans who own RVs still seem to be using them, too. They cite a love of travel, the camaraderie at RV parks and the convenience of never being more than a few steps from their own bed and bathroom.

"There’s no other way to go," says Jerry Flaherty, 65, of Henderson, a retired Navy master chief who bought his 34-foot 1995 Four Winds XL to see the country he defended.

However, Flaherty admits that financial factors caused him and his wife, Carolyn, to rethink how they use their RV during the past two years. (The couple lives on two fixed incomes.)

"We budget and plan things out more now," says Flaherty, noting that they ventured only 200 miles from Las Vegas at a time this past year.

"Pahrump has a couple of real nice, pretty RV parks," he says.

Jack Haupt, 80, and his wife, Mary, 71, cut their usual RV travel from 20 weeks to six weeks since last year. And they say $5 per gallon is their magic number. Once gasoline climbs that high, they’ll sell the Winnebago Adventurer they paid $129,000 for in 2006 — even though they’ll probably get a fraction of that amount. (Jack, a retired casino accountant, says a friend saw such a precipitous dip in the value of her new $350,000 RV last year, "she had to give it back to the bank.")

Other Las Vegans will drive their RVs no matter what gasoline costs. Michael Yurasko, a 62-year-old retired traffic controller, plans to continue spending at least one week every month traveling the country with his wife, Nan, even though both also live on fixed incomes.

"We have a house that’s paid off," he says. "All we have is an RV payment."

If they weren’t baby-sitting his son’s pets, Yurasko says, they wouldn’t even have been available for this interview.

"We’d have been in San Diego or Oregon right now," he says. "We deserve it. We’re retired."

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at or 702-383-0456.

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