One of my personal goals is to acquire a small vehicle to convert into a camper van or RV -- something fairly inconspicuous that's not overtly an RV like the Cruise America vehicles. Months ago, I had reached out to Jucy USA about purchasing one of their retired vehicles but the pricing was inflated well over the value of the underlying minivan. However, there's a place in the market for renters who want the functionality of a camper in a vehicle that's smaller than an RV, so I put "drive a Jucy" on my To Do list. Recently, I needed to get out of the house and Jucy needed vehicles relocated, so I hopped on a plane (my dime) to drive a Jucy on AutoSlash founder's Jonathan's dime, with some impromptu camping between Los Angeles and Oakland.
On the day of pickup, I used some Apple iTunes credit and downloaded some Notorious B.I.G. for the three-day adventure. So what is a Jucy USA van?
If you don't know, now you know. Our van made it to Ventura Beach.
Cost of a Rental
We don't take compensation from any of the companies or products we review and I happened to pay full freight on the Jucy rental. Rates are ordinarily $70-$120 per day for a vehicle that serves as a camper and simultaneously alleviates the need for a rental car. Happily, there was a $1 per day transfer promotion to get vehicles from Los Angeles to Oakland and I drove the trip with zero add-on expenses, just like my AutoSlash car rentals!
Here's where the Jucy proposition gets tricky -- insurance on any rental vehicle is an important consideration and a Jucy campervan is not technically a "car". Do you know the exclusions on your credit card CDW and personal automobile insurance? Camper vans and RV's are almost certainly among those restrictions, even though the vehicle was originally a traditional minivan. In the case of my Jucy, it was registered as a type of bus in the State of California.
If your insurance coverage doesn't include buses, campers, or RVs (and it most likely doesn't), Jucy will offer insurance options at the time of checkout. As I returned my vehicle, a young couple was also returning their vehicle. There was a "discussion" about the substantial damage to the front bumper cover -- there were pieces missing -- and the couple had no insurance. My Uber arrived as the discussion ensued but I know the result could not have been millennial-friendly.
Here's where Jucy is unlike a traditional rental car company -- the $1,500 bond authorization for those declining their insurance? No receipt provided. A copy of the Rental Terms? I had to ask. The walk-around paperwork where one denotes damage? The trainee didn't know if I could get a copy, so I took a camera-phone photo. Checking the vehicle back in? The agent miscalculated the mileage I had driven because the staff member has to compute the difference between start and end mileage by hand. Although 39 miles under my 500-mile allotment, an attempt was made to bill me for 11 extra miles.
Yes, my allotment was 500 miles on the transfer special but many Los Angeles to Oakland rentals only come with 450 miles. There's a fee for each mile over the allotment and -- in the case of this and many other rentals -- there isn't much leeway to get "off the beaten path" (going off the path means driving back to the path).
The Jucy is a camper van and the company does realize that many travelers will need camping equipment -- at a cost, of course. I packed my own bedding to save $50 and brought my own inverter to save $20 on the rental cost.
In retrospect, the solar shower would have been handy.
A Converted Minivan
My vehicle was a converted Dodge Caravan with over 140,000 miles on the odometer. Jucy removes the decals and then paints vehicles white when it's time to sell, so this vehicle (without decals) was nearing the end of its timeframe as a Jucy rental. The vehicle is also heavy, with a high-center of gravity and a horrendous amount of drag due to the penthouse addition on the top (sleeper compartment for two). On a mountain upgrade, you won't necessarily be in the far-right lane with the slow-moving 18-wheelers and hazard lights but you definitely won't be in the passing lane!
There's a DVD player for those folks in the back but for the driver and navigator, there's solely AM/FM radio and a CD player (no XM, unless bringing a portable device).
The front seats are custom-built and re-tracked slightly forward to allow the lower bed to fold out. For a tall driver (I'm 6'2"), this means sitting very close to the steering wheel with a rolled-up privacy curtain hitting the top of one's head.
The middle bench seat is removed and there are "slimline seats" in the rear. There are three seatbelts on this bench, so the vehicle technically seats five but sleeps four.
There's another bench for seating when the vehicle is stationary, a little forward of where the first row of seats would be on an unconverted van. This bench hides the components to make the in-van camp table and also forms the bulk of the lower bed. The table was a little wobbly but passable to get some work done -- I answered questions from AutoSlash users on the Saturday and Sunday I had the vehicle. There's also some storage under this bench.
The main cabin has a dome light with a switch for those sleeping in the bottom bunk, two touch lights for those sleeping in the top bunk penthouse. The 12-volt adapters (for charging phones and MiFis) work all the time; the mini fridge also runs off the 12-volt. If one's going to be stationary for an extended period of time, the guidance from the folks at Jucy is to run the vehicle for at least 30 minutes per day if the fridge is being used.
Aft (With the Fridge)
There's a kitchen! Well, a five-gallon water tank, sink, two butane stove burners, some dishes, utensils, cutting board, and pans. There's also a tiny fridge that held all of my food for parts of four days. There's also a valve to release gray water.
Note: the kitchen means there's no storage in the back!
I cooked four meals during the trip, using less than one of the two butane cylinders provided. One quick stop at a supermarket in Malibu shortly after pickup and I was effectively disconnected from every resource except the highway for three days.
A kitchen (with sink) meant I could cook in parking lots across the state.
About that Limited Storage
Traveling with a group of 4? There's probably enough storage for precisely 4 rollaboards in the entire vehicle. Without any space in the rear (the kitchen), the drive-time storage would be under or on top of the bench. The night-time storage would be under the bench, under the bed made by the bench, or the front passenger seat (the seats must go all the way forward to use the lower bed). Nothing can be stored in the penthouse (ever), so our guidance is to pack light.
The bench downstairs folds out to form a bed. There are privacy shades all around and options for cross ventilation in the passenger compartment. The sliding doors have windows that roll down for some air flow even if the doors are closed and the privacy shades are pulled. However, it's still a parked vehicle when the heat outside gets excessive.
Upstairs in the penthouse, there are two end vents, the entranceway, and a vent fan. The bed up there was far more comfortable but the ladder wasn't the most fun to traverse -- the ladder is vertical and about a foot outside the frame of the vehicle, as it has to extend past both the vehicle itself and the sliding door. However, upstairs is the place to sleep, with a much larger, much more comfortable mattress. I'm 6'2" and had easily a foot to spare when upstairs on the passenger side of the van. The driver's side was slightly more cramped due to the mechanism that raised the penthouse but still sufficient for a 6'2" traveler.
Plenty of room upstairs, even for those of above-average height.
What are the downfalls?
Aside from potentially camping with three friends in a minivan? There were really only two notable downfalls. One was weather-based while the other is due to regulations in the State of California.
The Heat is ... On.
I had a Jucy in May. It also happened to be a time of record highs in California and shortly after historically heavy rains had closed part of Pacific Coast Highway (and many of the campgrounds along the coast). The major landslide at Big Sur on PCH happened during this trip.
The closures meant that I had to take a more inland route than originally desired and the sun/temps were vicious. When does the air conditioning run in this RV? Only when the vehicle's running! And with summer rentals originating in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, that's not a recipe for fun. In fact, Jucy USA (wisely) forbids the use of their vehicles in Death Valley over the late spring and summer. During my inland routing, daytime temps were 98-degrees each day.
If I had Fought the Law, the Law Would have Won
The most discouraging part of having one of these vehicles in California? A driver's still likely to pay for accommodations unless very resourceful. Most cities in California have prohibitions against camping in vehicles and even WalMarts - known for allowing customers with RVs to stay overnight -- largely prevent car camping due to those ordinances. We won't get into why it's fine for a tractor trailer driver to sleep in a truck but other citizens can't sleep in an RV, camper, or car on private property ...
Formal Rest areas? The State limits rest area usage to 8 hours over a 24-hour period, enforced by the California Highway Patrol. Rest areas are also relatively noisy without services like 110-volt power to charge a device like a laptop. The most popular rest areas -- sometimes more than 100 miles apart -- do fill up and the ones near prisons don't allow overnight parking at all.
Truck stops? Some of these are options but there are both consistent traffic and the sound of diesel engines.
National forests with free campsites? These were among the inaccessible areas due to the landslides and historic rains along PCH.
Can one buy a used Jucy?
Yes -- the company's been listing vehicles as available for the entire time I've known about the organization. However, the costs being asked are exceptionally high for Dodge Caravans with the mileage; the company is requesting a premium of approximately $7-8 thousand from blue book value as a result of the camper van conversions.
Among the AutoSlash team, we'll drive anything where we have the proper licensure and the authorization from the vehicle owner! The Jucy vehicle was an experience we would try again, especially when temperatures are much lower! The ability to freely travel, stop and go as one pleases, and get away from hotels and tourist destinations is fantastic for one who loves the outdoors. I avoided formal campgrounds but those were running a fairly reasonable $35 per night during my excursion (California pricing).
Trust us: Park for a bit to work or cook lunch and the vehicle does draw attention. Curious drivers will ask about the campervan and I even got propositioned while stopped to refuel the vehicle (the Oakland Police Department may want to look into the neighborhood near the Jucy dropoff ...)
On my last morning with the vehicle, I awoke in the penthouse with a fantastic view of the moon and Venus.
This early morning view was worth the high daytime temps.
Driving this vehicle did give me many ideas of refitting a camper van of my own; perhaps you'll see me at an upcoming auction in Tennessee purchasing a gently used minivan!
We can't help you book a Jucy camper van -- we only do rental cars -- but you can learn about and book a Jucy here. The locations in the USA are limited but there are also options in Australia and New Zealand.
Ready to book a traditional rental car? You're in luck! We're always happy to find you the lowest possible rates on your upcoming rentals. Click the link below for quotes now!