In What Type of RV to Buy: Part 2 we did some self-reflection on what you needs and desires are. Here we put that into practice by looking at the qualities offered by different types of RVs in various categories. Finally, we will offer some simple stereotypes that many travelers fit into and what their most common RV choices are.
Safety and comfort while driving are important, and the more road time you plan on having, the more important it is. Generally, any RV can be driven safely, but the level of skill required and the level of stress driving them can vary based on a number of factors.
The bigger they are, the harder they drive: The bigger the RV, the more challenges there are driving it. The length makes turning and changing lanes harder, height means you have to pay close attention to clearance, width reduces visibility making everything more dangerous, weight increases the challenge when dealing with steep hills both going up and down.
Trailers are tricky: Trailers come with challenges. Backing up a trailer is not intuitive and requires a lot of practice to become proficient in. You may not need to back up a trailer often, but it does happen. Having a spotter or wide angle rear camera is pretty much essential. Trailers can also suffer from trailer sway. This is when wind or other forces shove your trailer sideways causing it to pivot with respect to the hitch point creating instability. It is the leading cause of wrecks for travel trailers. 5th wheels generally don’t get trailer sway and there are hitches featuring sway control technology that reduce the danger, none the less it remains a consideration.
Motorhomes can have trailers too: If you decide to tow a vehicle or another trailer with your motorhome you end up with the same challenges that trailers face. In the case of towing a vehicle, called a toad in the lingo, then you simply cannot back up safely.
Home on the road: Motorhomes have the advantage of allowing passengers to be in the home part of the motorhome while in transit. Laws vary by state but typically you cannot ride in a trailer. For longer trips this typically allows folks to be more comfortable and entertained during the trip. It is also an advantage if traveling with pets. All that said, safety-wise, it is best to be in a belted seat with appropriate airbags. Often a trailer tow vehicle has the best safety options of this kind.
A commanding View: Class A motorhomes have big front windows offering a commanding view of the countryside as you drive. Chances are good there will be lots of great things to see as you drive so this can be a big positive in the pleasure of driving.
The Bottom Line for Driving: Motorhomes have an edge in being easier to and more pleasurable to drive. They are especially nice for very long driving trips. The bigger the rig of any type, the more challenge, and stress you will have driving it.
Size Matters: In this case the smaller the better in terms of mobility. Large RVs are limited as to what roads they can travel on and where they can be parked.
Built for Back Roads: ATV RVs are made for going up back roads or even off roads with your mobile abode. Small trailers like teardrops are also sometimes engineered to be towed on rugged roads using a 4-wheel drive tow vehicle. If you really want to take your RV anywhere, this is the only way to go.
Urban Explorer: If you want to travel in and sleep in urban areas, a Class B motorhome is probably the ideal option. They are a little tricky to park but you can usually find something workable and they tend to fit fine through tunnels, garages, and other urban obstacles. Likely you can overnight nearly anywhere without drawing undo attention.
Divide and Conquer: Large RV’s don’t mean you can’t explore remote locations, you just have to adopt the divide and conquer strategy. With trailers, you take your tow vehicle, and with a motorhome, you bring a toad. Toads are typically fairly small so they are great for running errands in the city or site seeing. You can tow a jeep or similar off-road vehicle for wilderness treks. Tow vehicles tend to be a good deal larger but will have strong suspensions that do well off road. Tow vehicles also tend to have more storage space for backpacking adventures and the like.
The Bottom line for mobility: Smaller means more mobile, but you can find a way to make nearly any choice work to get you where you want to go.
Living Large: Bigger RVs mean more options. You can sleep more people, you have more amenities, you have space for more stuff. This makes large and mid-sized RVs very popular and the smaller models more niche. Mind you larger also means more time and attention spent maintaining and cleaning your RV. The more time you plan on being out and about, especially if you are a full-timer, the more a comfortable RV will matter. Weather and illness can force you inside for longer than you’d otherwise plan and creature comforts become important. Going big usually means 5th wheels and Class A motorhomes, though some larger travel trailers can fit the bill.
Living Small: If your focus in traveling is reveling in the great outdoors, then going small may hold many rewards. For starters, it encourages you to get out of your RV and spend more time under the open sky. It also occupies less time and attention in maintenance and the like, freeing you to get out and do more. Part of the RV lifestyle is exposing yourself to the wider world and a smaller RV helps accomplish that. There is also a peace of mind that can come from minimal materialism and maximum self-reliance. Small usually means trailers, though Class B motorhomes and the old truck camper certainly fit the bill.
The Bottom line for Lifestyle: Size is what you are deciding on here. In listening to longtime RVers talk about their choices and watching what people pick when they change RVs two trends emerge. People either move towards larger and more luxurious models, or they seek to strip down and go as small as possible. If you have a strong sense as to which type of person you are, go big/small as you are inclined. If you are not certain, I’d advise trying something in the middle ground and finding out which way you learn through experience.
Budget often puts a hard limit on what you can buy, and if you are like most folks, you will spend up to, and probably a little beyond what you intend to. Prices can be all over the map depending on how fancy you get. By type, it tends to go about like this from most expensive to least.
- Class A (Diesel Pushers) & All Terrain RVs: New ones start at $150K and go up a lot from there into the millions.
- Class B: Surprisingly small isn’t cheap, they start in the $90K range and up to around $120K
- Class A (Gas) : New ones start around $70K and can go well up from towards $150K
- Class C: New starts in the $55K zone and cap out around $80K
Vehicle Sold Separately
- 5th wheel: Low end is around $30K, and go high as $100K for the 50′ monsters.
- Park Models: Low end is around $18K new but can range up into the $100K zone for deluxe Airstreams.
- Truck campers: Starting near $10K and topping out around $20K.
- Expandable and Teardrop Trailers: Start in around $5K and tend to go as high as $20K
New vs Used: Used trailers come at a steep discount. The primary reason for this is supply vs demand. There is a much larger supply of used trailers than new ones, yet demand for trailers is more evenly split. Value wise, used is almost always better. If budget is less limited, new trailers come with fewer surprises and less financial risk. While new trailers are rarely perfect, they often have manufacturing defects you get to discover, they come with warranties meaning repairs are generally at no cost, only time and hassle. If you want to reduce the risk on an older trailer, hire a professional inspector once you are fairly certain you are interested in one. Knowing what the hidden costs of repairs will help you make a more confident decision. New trailer prices are determined largely by make, model, and dealership. Used trailer prices can be all over the map from “get it out of my yard now,” bargain prices to “might as well buy a new one,” overvalued. Conditions also range from “better than new,” to “water logged, mold infested nightmare.”
Maintenance Cost: Bigger and more complicated means more to break and maintain as where simple and small is cheaper. You will spend money fixing things in the trailer. The more handy you are the better, but sometimes you need specialized parts and tools to get the job done and that means hiring professionals. The most expensive configuration is likely a Class A towing a toad. This means two engines to maintain and maximum bits and pieces. The cheapest is likely a teardrop towed by a reliable car. Diesel engines are an interesting case. On the one hand, they last considerably longer than gas engines much of the time, on the other they typically have a higher per mile cost as they require more lubrication and additives. Commercial vehicles prefer
Diesel engines are an interesting case. On the one hand, they last considerably longer than gas engines much of the time, on the other they typically have a higher per mile cost as they require more lubrication and additives. Commercial vehicles prefer diesel because they are on the road near constantly so lifespan really matters. RVs, even for full timers tend not to see quite so much road time and are more likely to be swapped out before the engine comes to the end of its natural life.
Fuel costs: While you burn a lot of fuel traveling around, the overall difference from one type of RV to another, and their relative price tends to make mileage less of a consideration than you might expect. Generally, the heavier your rig, the more you spend in fuel. Trailers and tow vehicles will tend to get a bit better mileage even if about the same weight as a motorhome. Unless you are in an economy car, pulling an ultra light trailer, expect gas mileage somewhere between 5mpg and 12mpg on average.
Shop till you drop: You should be able to shave at least 20% off the manufacturers list price for most new RVs, more if you are very crafty about it. Used models will vary wildly in price, with the best deals coming from direct owner sales via classifieds and the like. Your best bet is to find lots of options, then negotiate between them getting the lowest prices possible. Patience is also helpful as events like model year sell-offs and the like can generate more savings. Generally, you want to buy locally. Costs to move a vehicle from another state or long distance will tend to eat up any price advantage you can get.
The bottom line on money: New trailers come in a pretty wide price range while motorhomes are more narrowly priced by their class, with only Class C being in the economy range. Motorhomes cost considerably more than similar sized trailers, though with a trailer you need to have or buy an appropriate tow vehicle. Maintenance matters, but fuel economy is a small factor by comparison as its generally poor no matter what. Smart shopping is what will really save you money and buying used is far more economical for the budget minded than buying new unless you have the bad luck of purchasing a real lemon.
What is your type?
One way to pick an RV is by using stereotypes. Folks often do fit into some broad categories and the RV marketers of the world understand these pretty well. Each type will have some preferences that match up to an RV type.
The Castle Camper
Your home is your castle and you want to take it with you on the road. The more luxuries and room the better. You will journey out by day but spend a good bit of time at and in your RV. You tend to settle down somewhere for a good stretch of time, often for weeks or even months at a time. When money is no limit, you go for the Deisel Pusher, often with a toad for trips for supplies. If money is a consideration you go for a 5th wheel, often as big as you can find.
The Robinson Family
You and your sizable family love to travel. Kids, pets, parents, grandparents, guests, it’s all about communal adventure. Luxury is not as important as experience but you need space for everyone and their gear. If you can afford it a Class A is certainly nice, but more likely you are rocking a good sized 5th wheel pulled by a king cab truck. Mom and dad have a private room up front and there are lots of bunk spaces for the kids.
The happy campers
A couple or small family, not retirement age but eager to explore. Because budgets are limited a Class C is usually the motorhome of choice, while a small 5th wheel or park model are also good options in your price range. Both offer enough room and amenities for visiting the great parks, exploring America, or just spending a week with relatives.
The wilderness wanderer
You would like to be as far from civilization as possible as much as possible. You tend towards a nice teardrop or ultra-light pulled by a jeep or off road SUV. Truck campers are also a possibility. With your compact shelter and rugged vehicle, you can go anywhere and do anything.
The urban explorer
You are eager to explore the country, probably single or a couple without kids. You like some creature comforts and are as at home in the city as the park lands. A class B is just about the perfect way to go anywhere and do anything.
This is a bit of an older post, but it is a good discussion of RV purchase considerations. I realize you’re not in this particular situation, so may not have thought about it, but with the larger family, you run into tow vehicle limitations. So while a fifth wheel may sleep 10 (advertised), your truck tow vehicle is likely only to seat 5 (6 if you have a bench seat in the front) packed in. That isn’t always fun with kids who have issues with their siblings touching them. Being packed in as an adult isn’t comfortable for longer trips either. So if you want a single tow vehicle, you start being rather limited in your trailer choices.
Good point Ben, I hadn’t considered that but it makes a lot of sense. I suppose a Van that is outfitted for passengers and with good towing power could work for a travel trailer, but for a 5th wheel, which can be huge, even a king cab pickup only has so much room.
What I’ve observed is that large groups using an RV will caravan and travel in more than one car. still, it seems to me like if you are traveling with a big family, a Class A or large Class C makes the most sense as folks can simply ride in the RV itself.
Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Some of these articles are due for a revision to add in what I’ve learned since first writing them. 🙂