The Different RV Types

One of the first things a future RVer must decide is which type of RVs they will purchase. After that decision has been made, the rest is easy.

No matter how you plan on using it, there is an RV for you. Modern RVs are designed to provide you with both comfort and shelter whether it is for recreational use, traveling or camping.

There are different RV types that you can choose from. RVs come in both towable and motorized varieties, each with it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Motor homes can be found that use either gas or diesel for fuel. Hybrid, propane and other alternative fueled motor homes have also begun trickling into the market as well.

Below is a brief description of each of the available RV types.

Towables

For the explorer in you, Towable RVs offer maximum flexibility. Once at camp, you can unhitch your tow vehicle from the RV and make your way into the surrounding communities.

With so many different towable RV sizes to choose from, you can use almost any vehicle to tow, including your family car, truck, SUV or van. Towables are generally also the cheapest option for budget conscience family fun.

Different types of towable RVs are Fifth Wheel, Travel Trailer, Popup Camper and Truck Camper.

Fifth Wheel

A fifth-wheel travel trailer is constructed with a raised front section that gives it a two-floor layout. Almost all of the standard amenities of home are included, some even come equipped with dishwashers and washing machines. A Fifth-wheel RV requires a tow vehicle with a special fifth-wheel hitch.

  • Size: 21-40 ft
  • Costs: From $13,000 to $100,000 new
  • Sleeps: Up to 12
  • Terms used for fifth wheel RV: 5th wheel, Fiver, Toy Hauler

Pros

  • Large size allows for spacious, open floor plans
  • Frequently includes large picture windows at the rear
  • Slideouts on newer models increase the space even more when parked
  • Desks, entertainment centers, and even fireplaces are common features
  • Provides the most storage space of any RV due to it’s size
  • Easier and more stable when towing
  • Easier to maneuver, especially when backing up
  • Tow vehicle can be used for side trips or to explore the local communities

Cons

  • Driving and living quarters are separate. You must stop in order to access the living quarters.
  • The height can cause problems for clearance around trees and when off the highway
  • Requires a tow vehicle and a special fifth-wheel hitch
  • Load weight of the RV must be matched to the tow vehicle and fifth-wheel hitch. Upgrading a fifth-wheel sometimes means upgrading the tow vehicle
  • Towing a third trailer is prohibited in some states and could damage the RV
  • Larger models can be difficult to maneuver in town or other tight spaces
  • Depending on the weight and options, a non-commercial driver’s license might be needed
  • The large size requires large storage when not in use. It might be difficult to find a storage facility or spot in the yard

The fifth wheel is a towable RV that connects to the tow vehicle using a special fifth-wheel hitch. The hitch is generally situated directly about the rear wheels of the tow vehicle.

Placing the hitch over the axle forces several feet of the trailer to hand over the tow vehicle. This configuration places about a quarter of the weight of the trailer on the tow vehicle. The result is a much more stable ride as well as slightly easier maneuvering than a travel trailer. The improved weight distribution always the fifth-wheel to be built up larger than a travel trailer, providing higher ceilings, more amenities and greater luxury.

My current RV, a JayCo Eagle, fits our family perfectly. With 4 kids, it fits us perfectly. And we have squeezed a dozen sleepers in with no problems.

Toy haulers are a specific type of fifth-wheel RV. With a toy hauler, the rear of the RV is converted in a garage for storing and transport of smaller vehicles like ATVs, GoCart and motorcycles. The rear of the toy hauler generally features a large door that folds down to double as a ramp.

On newer models, a toy haulers garage is designed to double as sleeping quarters with the addition of retractable bunk beds.

Travel Trailer

The travel trailer is a towable RV type that connects to a standard ball hitch mounted on the tow vehicle. These RVs come in a great variety of floor plans and sizes

  • Size: 12-35 ft
  • Costs: From $8,000 to $65,000 new
  • Sleeps: Up to 10
  • Terms used for travel trailer: Conventional trailer, Bumper pull trailer, Travel trailer coach, Tagalong trailer

Pros

  • Open, and usually spacious, floor plans
  • Slideouts on newer models increase the space even more when parked
  • Smaller models are towable by most vehicles with a standard tow hitch
  • Low profile reduces clearance issue, even when using the roof as storage
  • Tow vehicle can be used for side trips and to explore local communities

Cons

  • Driving and living quarters are separate. You must stop in order to access the living quarters
  • Limited space and storage makes it less practical for longer trips or large families
  • Towing a third trailer is prohibited in some states and could damage the RV
  • Larger models can be difficult to maneuver in town or other tight spaces
  • Least stable of all RVs, towing can be difficult
  • Most difficult of all RVs to back up
  • The large models require large storage when not in use. Most storage facilities can handle the size, but it might be difficult to find a spot in the yard for storage

A travel trailer is built similar to a conventional trailer with added walls. Scaled down on amenities compared to the larger RVs, the travel trailer still packs many of the comforts of home. One of the classics in travel trailers and, perhaps, the most recognizable is the AirStream.

Teardrop trailers are, as the name suggests, generally teardrop shaped: pointed in the front and rounded in the rear. In reality, teardrop trailers come in many different shapes.

These travel trailers are small, some even small enough to pull with a motorcycle. Due to the small space, they offer little more than a bed and sometimes a small cooking area.

Most often, the bed is convertible to a small dining area. This is the travel trailer of old, but they are making a come-back. Almost unchanged in appearance on the outside, companies like Shasta, have updated all the interior to modern standards.

Expandable travel trailers are designed to expand and collapse either horizontally or vertically. Horizontal expansion is similar to a popup camper in that the beds can be pushed out from the RV.

With a vertical expandable RV, the basic layout of the TV is set in place, then a shell is placed over it for the roof. This shell can be lowered and raised, providing a shorter RV during travel, but full headroom when parked.

Popup Camper

A popup trailer is a small towable that collapses into a very low profile. It’s small size makes it light and, thus, able to be towed by light vehicles, including most family cars, SUVs, light trucks and if designed for it, motorcycles.

  • Size: 8-24 ft
  • Costs: From $5,000 to $13,000 new
  • Sleeps: Up to 8
  • Terms used for popup trailer: Camper trailer, Folding camper, Tent trailer

Pros

  • Least expensive of all RVs
  • Light weight means it can be towed behind almost any vehicle
  • Tow vehicle can be used for side trips and to explore local communities
  • Generally shorter than the tow vehicle, clearance is not a problem
  • Can be stored almost anywhere a standard vehicle can is stored
  • Some models include fresh water tanks and a porta-potty

Cons

  • Very limited amenities, usually a bed, air conditioner, small refrigerator, single burner cooking
  • Living area is closed during transportation and is inaccessible even at rest stops
  • Limited space and storage makes it less practical for longer trips or large families
  • Little to no insulation makes camping uncomfortable in extreme cold and extreme hot weather
  • Towing a third trailer is prohibited in some states and could damage the RV

A popup camper folds down for easy, lightweight towing. When opened, it’s canvas sides extend to reveal one or more queen-sized beds. Newer models include slideouts that provide additional space at the campground.

Popup campers outdoor lovers who want to sleep in a tent, but be off the ground. The first RV that I remember my parents owing was a popup and I still tend to refer to all popup campers by the name of the manufacturer of that one: Scamper.

Truck Camper

The truck camper is a portable unit designed to be loaded onto the bed of a pickup truck. Truck campers are easily loaded and unloaded from the bed of the truck. The truck can still be used to tow other trailers, including boats, ATVs or other vehicles.

  • Size: 8-20 ft
  • Costs: From $4,000 to $30,000 new
  • Sleeps: Up to 6

Pros

  • One of the least expensive of all RVs
  • Easy to drive on both highway and around town
  • Truck can be used for side trips and to explore local communities
  • Truck can be used to tow trailers, boats or another RV
  • Can be stored almost anywhere a standard vehicle can is stored
  • Some models include fresh water tanks, small showers and a porta-potty

Cons

  • Very limited amenities, usually a bed, air conditioner, small refrigerator, single burner cooking
  • Handling can be compromised if the truck has inadequate suspension
  • Driving and living quarters are separate. You must stop in order to access the living quarters
  • Limited space and storage makes it less practical for longer trips or large families

A truck camper is not a vehicle in itself like the other RVs. Instead, it is an add-on living quarters designed to mount into the bed of a full size pickup truck. Once parked, the camper can slide out onto it’s own legs.

Motorized

A motor home integrates the driving area and the living quarters. Often more luxurious and larger, motor homes can be outfitted with everything you are used to having at home, including dishwashers, washing machines and full sized refrigerators. Motor homes are generally powerful enough to tow the family car (for use on side trips), a boat or a cargo trailer.

Different type of motorized RVs are Class A Motor Home, Class B Motor Home and Class C Motor Home.

Class A Motor Home

Class A Motor Homes are constructed on large bus chassis. The largest of all RVs, the Class A can offer all the amenities of home. These often includes full kitchens, entertainment centers, air conditioners, fireplaces and full-sized bathrooms. As with all motor homes, the driving compartment is integrated with the living quarters.

  • Size: 21-40 ft
  • Costs: $50,000-$500,000+
  • Sleeps: Up to 6
  • Terms used for Class A Motor Homes: Coach, Motor coach, Bus, Rig, Pusher, Diesel Pusher

Pros

  • Spacious and well-equipped, they provide a “condo” feel with all the amenities that a full-time or snowbird RVer will need
  • Significant storage capacity, often including a “basement”. The roof can also be used for storage
  • Slideouts on newer models increase the space even more when parked
  • Any experienced driver can easily make the adjustment to driving
  • Elevated driving position allow the driver to see far ahead on the road
  • Driving and living quarters are connected allowing passengers access to all amenities even while traveling
  • Large engines allow for towing a car, truck, boat, storage trailer or golf cart

Cons

  • The most expensive of all RVs
  • There is some indication that Class As have more structural and safety issues when in crashes
  • Generally designed for couples, sleeping space is limited compared to 5th wheel and travel trailers
  • The large size makes maneuvering into tight spaces much more difficult, including when in town
  • The height can cause problems for clearance around trees and when off the highway. This is made even worse when the roof is used for storage
  • Elevated driving position combined with the width can make is hard to judge clearance on the sides while driving and parking
  • Depending on the weight and options, a non-commercial driver’s license might be needed
  • The large size requires large storage when not in use. It might be difficult to find a storage facility or spot in the yard

Class A Motor Homes are generally bus conversions. The chassis and shell of a commercial passenger bus is used to build out the RV. One of the larger and most luxurious platforms used for Class A Motor Homes is the Prevost bus.

The term pusher is often used for the Class A Motor Home due to the fact that the engine is mounted in the rear of the RV, thus the motor is pushing the RV instead of pulling it. This arrangement provides space for larger engines. It also reduces the engine noise when driving and allows more flexibility in placement of doors and interior components.

Class B Motor Home

Class B motor homes are constructed on a conventional van chassis. They are generally built up, with raised roofs, but the living space is limited by the size of the body.

The smallest of the motorized RVs, the Class B still offers most of the amenities of home. These often include small kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. As with all motor homes, the driving compartment is integrated with the living quarters.

  • Size: 16-22 ft
  • Costs: $40,000 to $100,000 new
  • Sleeps: Up to 4
  • Terms used for Class B Motor Homes: Camper van, Conversion van, Van camper

Pros

  • Bathrooms, sleeping, dining area and kitchens are standard amenities
  • Enough headroom for most thanks to the raised roof
  • Easy to drive, even in the city
  • Can be used as a second vehicle when not exploring the roads
  • Can be stored almost anywhere a standard vehicle can is stored
  • Least expensive motorized RV
  • Much improved gas mileage compared to other motorized RVs
  • Driving and living quarters are integrated. Living quarter and amenities are accessible even while driving
  • Can be parked in smaller campsites
  • The RV itself can be used for side trips or to explore local communities
  • Most models have enough power to pull a boat or small trailer

Cons

  • Limited space and storage makes it less practical for longer trips or large families
  • Very limited sleeping space
  • Limited seating for travelers
  • If you are tall, you might still have to duck when inside the RV

Class B motor homes are generally van conversions. The chassis and shell of a passenger van is used to build out the RV. The roof is then raised to provide extra headroom. Often times, the floor is lowered as well.

Class B motor homes are generally called “Class B” when referring to a factory built unit that is intended to be an RV from the beginning. If the RV started it’s life as a passenger van and was then turned into an RV, it is generally referred to as a “conversion van”.

Class C Motor Home

Class C motor homes are constructed on a conventional van chassis. The shell of the van is not used and is replaced with a wider shell. Although not the largest of the motorized RVs, the Class C offers amenities similar to those in the larger motor homes. As with all motor homes, the driving compartment is integrated with the living quarters.

  • Size: 21-35 ft
  • Costs: From $48,000 to $140,000 new
  • Sleeps: Up to 8
  • Terms used for Class C Motor Homes: Mini-motor home

Pros

  • Class Cs are considered safer than Class As because of how the cockpit is constructed
  • Larger living space including kitchen, dining, sleeping and bathrooms than Class B RVs
  • Some models include fireplaces, entertainment systems and extra storage
  • Slideouts on newer models increase the space even more when parked
  • Smaller living space makes the unit easier to heat and cool than the larger Class A
  • Any experienced driver can easily make the adjustment to driving
  • Driving and living quarters are connected allowing passengers access to all amenities even while traveling
  • Most models have enough power to pull a boat, small trailer or the family car
  • The smaller size allows for better gas mileage than the larger Class A

Cons

  • Generally designed for couples and small families, sleeping space is limited compared to 5th wheel and travel trailers
  • The larger models make maneuvering into tight space much more difficult, including when in town
  • Not ideal for side trips or to explore local communities
  • The large models require large storage when not in use. Most storage facilities can handle the size, but it might be difficult to find a spot in the yard for storage

Class C motor homes are generally van conversions. The chassis of a passenger van is used to build out the RV. The shell is replaced with a wider, custom shell to provider larger space for the RV amenities. In size, and often shape, these RVs resemble moving vans.

The most recognizable feature of the Class C is the extra space that extends over the driving quarters. This space is normally used as a twin sized bed but can be configured for extra storage space.

A few manufacturers are building larger Class C motor homes by using a semi truck chassis. When built from a semi chassis, these RVs can rival the size and luxuriousness of a Class A motor home. Although manfactured by many different companies, the most recognizable of the Class C is the Mini Winnie by Winnebago.

The Final Thought

So which RV types is right for you? That all depends. You knew I’d say that, right?

  • For larger families, you should look carefully at Fifth Wheel RVs.
  • For couples or very small families, you should look carefully at Class C Motor Homes.
  • For the tent campers, you should should think about the Popup Campers.
  • For the budget conscience, make sure you look into Travel Trailers.
  • If you just can’t live without your toys, Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer Toy Haulers are for you.

While deciding on the right RV types to choose from, your primary concern is going to be budget. But you can’t stop there. You need to also consider your family situation, too. For large families, towable TV types are more likely to be your pick. They are more cost effective than motor homes and offer more sleeping space. If money and family size aren’t issues, then motor homes are you best bet as they offer all the amenities of home while on the road.

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