A recreational vehicle comes in a variety of forms. This article will help you understand what types of RV’s are available and which one would be right for you. If you haven’t already read the previous article in this series, RV 101- Choosing An RV, I suggest you read it first. After you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, the types of RV’s will make a lot more sense.
The first category we will explore are RV’s that are pulled or mounted to your truck, van or SUV. Traditionally, this type of RV is used for weekend or vacation camping with the exception of the Fifth Wheel and certain models of travel trailers.
The RV industry is currently growing like a weed. New ideas are coming to market every few months. With this said, you may find an RV that doesn’t quite fit into the categories listed below. For the purpose of this article, we will call those hybrids and will discuss a variety of options at the end.
Folding Camp Trailer - When I was growing up, my Aunt and Uncle had a folding camper trailer. I was fascinated by it. These trailers are small and compact. They can be towed by nearly any vehicle and are often referred to as a pop-up tent. They have a metal base that holds the dining table; a restroom/shower (optional), and mini kitchen. When the top canvas is opened and unfolded, the frame is stretched. This provides extended space for the beds. Essentially the folding camper trailer is a tent that sits above the ground on wheels.
In general, the pop-up tent is a great RV for family camping. You can avoid sleeping on the ground and there is a greater feeling of space and organization than a tent sitting on the ground. You are also able to avoid bugs and uneven ground, which makes for a better overall experience.
Pop-ups are not designed for long-term living. They are fair-weather friendly and should not be used in the cold. Depending on the unit, they can sleep between two and eight people, and cost between $5,000 and $22,000 new.
Bumper Pull Travel Trailer - My parents were musicians and I was raised traveling from music gig to music gig. One of the ways we did this was by pulling our travel trailer. This little home on wheels helped me maintain a form of consistency when I was young.
Today, travel trailers come in all shapes and sizes, from the ultra-small teardrop to the 35 feet long trailer. The average length of a bumper-pull travel trailer is between 21 and 28 feet. Many also offer slide outs that supply additional living space. The travel trailer is a non-motorized RV that is pulled by a pickup truck or car. Depending on the style of the trailer, you can sleep between two and ten people.
One of the great things about travel trailers is the variety available in today’s market. You can find nearly endless choices in floorplans and amenities. You will, however, see a huge variance in both price and quality on the market.
Airstreams are considered one of the highest quality units available, while companies like Jayco offer a variety of budget-friendly options. Remember! You need to know how you plan to use your travel trailer before you purchase one. If you are a weekend warrior, your needs will be different than if you are full-timing with children. The make, model and build of the unit will become a deciding factor when you are shopping for a vacation versus a home.
Many travel trailers offer up to three slide outs, multiple exit doors, bunk beds, and even pop up options for space efficiency.
Teardrop trailers start at $8,000 and full size trailers go for up to $145,000. You may want to find something priced in between!
This is probably the most common of all RV’s. My Dad had a truck camper for hunting and he loved it. A truck camper is loaded onto the bed of a pickup truck, which makes it easy to take just about anywhere. If the truck can get there, you can camp. There are a variety of types and styles of truck campers. Some are made for small trucks, like the Ford Ranger, and others are made of large Diesel Duallys.
If you already own a truck, owning a truck camper can give you an instant RV. Be aware, however, that truck campers are not necessarily cheaper than travel trailers! Due to their compact space, campers can cost up to $60,000 or more new. They are, however, an affordable option if you are willing to look at the used market. Floor length depends on the truck bed. The average is eight to twelve feet and up to 100 inches wide before slide outs.
Most campers will sleep up to four people, but it will be tight. Many of the larger models offer a slide in the dining area, adding a bit of space to the living unit. Low profile truck campers offer pop-up tops, a great option if you want to save on gas. Truck campers are best for people who love to camp in remote locations, already own a vehicle, and are not looking for a full-time home.
Fifth Wheel - In recent years, the Fifth Wheel, or 5’r as they are frequently called, has gained increasing popularity. One set of my grandparents owned a fifth wheel when I was a teen and I loved the over the cab bedroom that these units offered. My grandparents parked their rig in Yuma, Arizona and spent their winters there for seven years.
Fifth Wheels are a popular choice for full timers. They offer the maximum living space of any pulled unit. Most are constructed with a master bedroom over the cab, creating a bi-level living zone. In recent years, new floor plans have emerged, transforming the above cab area to an open living room and placing the bedroom in the back of the trailer.
I recently saw a 5th wheel with five slide outs! It was huge. A Fifth Wheel requires a large pickup truck for towing. Most new owners error on the side of too big of an RV, with too small of truck. Be aware of both the dry weight and the maximum load your truck can pull. You want to have significantly more power than you need in order to pull something this large over mountain passes.
The hitch on the 5’r is placed in the back of the pickup bed, directly over the rear tires. This contributes to its ease of maneuvering.
The average length of a fifth wheel is under 30 feet, but that is changing fast. Units are now being made up to 40 feet long with wide bodies up to 102 inches before the slide out. Just like other RV’s, 5’rs vary in quality.
Residential-style units will cost between $100,000- $175,000, but many are readily available for under $45,000. Pinterest has gone crazy in recent months featuring incredible Fifth wheel makeover ideas. Many people are buying used, outdated models, and updating them to feel like a tiny house.
5’ers offer a variety of special options, including residential appliances, island kitchens, full size showers/tub, washer/dryer and on board generators. Some units are even being built solar ready.
Toy Hauler Trailer - This is a category of RV that has exploded in popularity. A toy hauler is essentially either a Fifth Wheel or a Travel Trailer, with a large ramp door at the rear of the rig that can be lowered, allowing you to drive in “cargo.”
People use toy haulers to carry ATV’s, motorcycles, jet skis, racing cars, kayaks and any other adventure toy you can think of. Cargo haulers are not exclusively for toys. Many RVers are converting these back rooms into mobile offices, TV rooms or extra bedrooms, in the case of a large family.
Another unique feature of the toy hauler is the collapsible furniture mounted within the garage space of the trailer. These can include rear bed, tables, couches and TV’s that actually fold up either into the roof or the wall of the rig. When the furniture is folded, you have garage space. When it is open, you have an additional room. Larger cargo haulers have double bunk beds that raise and lower into the ceiling, allowing these trailers to sleep up to 12 people.
Since many of the people who use Toy Haulers do not park in RV campgrounds, haulers have become more self-sufficient, with larger tanks for water and gray tanks. Many offer solar and generator options, and some even have pop down decks on both the side and back of the units.
Toy Haulers range from 12 feet to 40 feet and are usually a full 8 feet, 6 inches wide before the slides. Prices range from $35,000 to $100,000 per unit.
Note: While there are many used toy haulers available on websites like RVT.com, I highly recommend a full independent inspection before you buy one. This consumer group can be hard on their units. Be sure you get one that was gently treated!
Motorhomes - Let’s talk about Motorhomes! A Motorhome is an independent unit not reliant on a truck. The engine is built-in and allows you to drive your home everywhere you go. There is no need to hook something up; just turn the key and you are off!
There are three basic classes of Motorhome that we will discuss in detail. Again, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend you read my previous article in this series, RV 101 - How To Choose An RV. This will enable you to pick the right class of Motorhome for your personal lifestyle.
Class A - My Mom’s parents always owned Class A Motorhomes. From their first 1974 Allegro, to their final 40 foot Beaver Coach, they loved having their home on wheels. This was a good thing, since after retirement, they decided to take to the open road and compete in the senior professional rodeo circuit. (I should say, my grandfather joined. My grandmother was the ultimate fan, along for the ride!)
The Class A Motorhome is the largest, and in most cases, most luxurious of RV options. It is built on a specially designed chassis and is a popular choice for full timers. I like to think of the Class A as an apartment on wheels. Everything you need is right there and many models now include a residential fridge, washer/dryer and even a dishwasher!
When traveling in a Class A, family members are able to watch TV, read or even play games while traveling down the road. There is no separation between the cab and the living space as there is with a fifth wheel or trailer.
Another great feature of the Class A is its ability to Boondock. With its extra-large water and waste tanks, and extra-large roof for solar, a Class A can go days before needing an actual hook up or dump. Class A’s include a large generator, basement storage space, and up to four slide outs for increased living space.
Top-end coaches come in lengths of up to 45 feet and offer double slides that expand the living area on each side of the unit at the same time. Luxury coaches offer two bathrooms, beds that automatically slide up into coaches and flat screen TV’s throughout.
The Class A offers two types of unit. The Gas Coach is usually a shorter, lighter unit, with a gas engine in the front. These coaches offer a lot of the same bells and whistles on a much smaller engine. Prices range from $100,000-$200,000 new. These RV’s are usually under 35 feet in length.
The Diesel Pusher is often a larger coach, with its big diesel engine in the rear of the RV. These rigs have a lot of power and are easily able to tow large trailers or vehicles behind them. Class A Diesels are expensive. They start at $350,000 and go upward of $1 million. This level of the coach is usually 36-45 feet in length.
Class A’s will sleep up to eight people and many offer bunk options for families.
While the cost of a Class A can be prohibitive to many, there are thousands of used rigs available at a much lower price. As always, be sure to have a used unit checked out by a licensed RV inspector prior to purchasing.
Class B - The Class B Motorhome is kind of like a Class A, only washed in hot water and shrunken. In other words, while Class B’s have many great features, they are much, much smaller than the traditional Motorhome.
Class B’s are sometimes called van conversions because they are essentially built out of a van body and made into a tiny Motorhome. Their roof is raised for additional headroom, and may be a fixed roof or a pop up.
Vans range from 16 to 23 feet in length and are normally about 85 inches in width with no slide options. They sleep two people comfortably, and with a pop up roof, they can sleep up to four. While most Class B’s are used for short excursions, there are a growing number of active full timers who love the van life. (Check out Roadtreking.com for ideas).
A Class B is perfect for stealth camping. I once read an e-book about a guy who lived in his van conversion in the heart of San Francisco and never got a ticket for parking in a long-term lot. To the outside world, it looked like a parked van. In reality, it was his full-time home. He lived in the most expensive area without the high rent.
Class B's can be converted for Boondocking, and because the units are small, solar can play a significant role in providing energy for nearly everything. The advantages of a Class B include it’s drivability, it’s ability to go just about anywhere, and the fact that it can be used as a second vehicle! It can also be used to pull a jet ski or a motorcycle on a small trailer.
The interior of a Class B includes a mini kitchen, a toilet/bath combo, convertible sleeping areas and sometimes even a work space.
New Class B’s can run up to $150,000 or more. Used you can find them in the $35,000 range. Popular models include the Airstream, Roadtrek and even the classic VW Camper Van.
Class C - The Class C is generally less expensive than a Class A Motorhome. It is smaller, more fuel-efficient and a bit scaled down. Many owners love the Class C because it is built on a truck or van chassis and feels more natural when they drive.
The average length of a Class C is 32 feet or less, with a 102 inch body width before the slides. In the front of the unit you have the over the cab section, much like a shrunken fifth wheel. This is usually a bed space that can either be used for sleeping or for storage. Class C’s are a popular choice for weekends and vacations. In fact, you will see more Class C’s in the RV rental pools than any other type of rig.
Sleeping up to eight guests, the Class C makes camping as a family fun. It offers a full kitchen, small living space and a bedroom with bath. The entire family can interact while traveling because the van or truck style cab is open to the back of the rig. Class C’s are gas driven, which means they can tow a vehicle as long as it is light weight.
Prices range from $100,000 - $250,000 new, and the average price of a used model is $60,000. Class C’s are often chosen by families who have a tighter budget but want many of the same features as the Class A.
Hybrids - A hybrid is an RV that doesn’t fit into any one class. With the RV market exploding, we are seeing many new ideas come into the market place. Here are a few that you need to be aware of.
Converted Bus - Whether it’s a vintage school bus or a brand new Prevost, bus conversions are on the rise. A bus conversion is when a traditional school or transport bus is professionally remodeled from the ground up to create the ultimate home. While the average Class A will last for up to 100,000 miles these units are closer to a million plus! Buses are built for miles, so if you plan to live the life of a road warrior, these babies are for you.
There are several companies that professionally convert buses, such as Marathon and Liberty, who work on Prevosts. In addition, companies like Wanderlodge Blue Bird made fabulous coaches for years and many are available in the used marketplace.
The DIY interest in bus conversions is ever-growing. If you’ve always dreamed of buying a school bus and making it a home, you may want to check out the website Skoolie.net.
Another popular brand that IS NOT actually a bus conversion is the Newell. The Newell Coach is custom-built from the ground up on their own chassis. They look a lot like a bus conversion, but they are built one-by-one to the owners specs, After a year of living in a Newell, I can tell you that they are built solid like a rock. It’s the closest way to actually own an apartment on wheels. In general, Newell’s are built for wealthy CEO’s and rockstars. New, they start at $1.5 million and up. Used, you never know! We were able to buy one for $75,000, with low miles and tons of bells and whistles. I doubt we would ever go back to anything else.
Toterhome - A Toter Home is a custom-built living unit designed to be pulled by a big rig tractor unit. These RV’s can be up to 52 feet long just like a semi. Some are smaller units, like a 16 foot living area, that can then pull a large trailer. These units are very popular in racing circles! Prices? It all depends on whether you own a tractor or if you have to buy one. A great place to shop for Toter is at www.RacingJunk.com. Be aware, that while cool, the Toter home is rarely finished to the level of a Class A or a bus conversion. The interiors are usually basic but can be customized.
The B+ - The last type of RV I want to talk about is the up and coming B+. Think of them as tiny Class C’s. They are generally under 30 feet in length, but are mounted on a van chassis. They offer convertible space that is oh-so-clever. My favorite is the Unity by Leisure Vans. This 25 foot RV is built on a 3500 Sprinter by Mercedes-Benz. It gets great gas mileage (up to 19 MPG) and offers the ultimate in convertible floorplans. Its claim-to-fame is its automatic Murphy bed, which comes down from the wall as a bed at night and up as a sitting area during the day!
While I can’t imagine full-timing in a B+, there are people who are doing it. If you are a single guy or gal, this could be the perfect apartment on wheels!
The B+ is not as common as many of the other Class vehicles. Prices start at $85,000 and go up. Winnebago is getting into this market as well, and offers a few choices with a bit lower price tag - without the creative spin.
Whew! That’s it. Now you know which types of RV’s are available on today’s market. If you haven’t done it already here are the steps you need to take:
Step #1: Read RV 101 - How To Choose An RV
Answer the questions and think through your lifestyle goals and needs. What’s important to you? What can you live without? Will you full time or weekend? What’s your budget?
Step #2: Read RV 101- Types of RV’s
With your answers from How To Choose An RV in hand, read through Types of RV’s and determine which one or two styles is the best fit.
Step #3: Proceed to my next article: RV 101 - The Great Debates - (5er vs Motorhome, Gas vs Diesel, New vs Used)
Step #4: Visit RVT.com and research the brand names in the RV class you are interested in.
Visit these brands' websites and any forums you might discover online. Do some research and find what people like and don’t like!