Types of Recreational Vehicles
Class A Motorhome
The kings of the leisure road, class A motorhomes are generally the most luxurious, fully self-contained recreational vehicles available. Class A rigs come in a variety of configurations, but all are constructed on a specially designed truck or bus chassis, powered by either a gasoline or diesel engine. Most have the appearance of a bus, with a flat front end, generally with a front-mounted gas engine or rear diesel engine (a diesel pusher). Some are conversions from new bus bodies. Most Class A’s are priced from about $58,000 up to about $400,000. Custom-built luxury models, with a dizzying selection of accessories and special features, can cost more than $1 million.
Like a one-bedroom condo on wheels, Class A motorhomes feature loads of living space, with private sleeping for two, and sofa beds for another four or six people. Class A’s are the most popular of motorized RV’s, and almost all have a bathroom with shower, galley (kitchen), dining table and living room area. A “wide body” is a motorhome that is wider than the standard 96 inches, providing more interior room. However, be aware that a few states require special permits for wide-body vehicles, and most states limit vehicle width to 102 inches. This width doesn’t include slide-outs, which are generally available on most RV model lines. One slide-out is common, but some rigs have as many as five to make the interior living space especially roomy and comfortable while parked.
Many motorhomes even come with basements. It may sound impossible, but an RV basement refers to a separate storage area between the chassis and interior floor, not unlike the baggage area on a commercial bus. Very useful. Other convenient features include front seats that swivel around to face the living area, loads of cabinets and side tables, entertainment systems, versatile interior lighting and skylights. You choose the level of luxury -- from basic to over-the-top.
Class B Motorhome
A Class B motorhome is a full-size van with specialized equipment for camping. Commonly called camper vans or conversion vans, the Class B is a versatile way to have an RV that easily doubles as an extra family vehicle. Some are no larger than a standard van, made by Ford, GM or Dodge, while others are stretched and customized to add more space and RV features. A popular trend is to utilize the larger, taller Dodge Sprinter commercial van platform with Mercedes turbo-diesel power.
Depending on the manufacturer, a variety of innovative features are available, including a bathroom, shower, flat-screen TVs, microwave ovens, and many of the other features found on larger motorhomes. Even slide-outs are becoming available on some camper vans. While smaller than a Class C motorhome, many people find the Class B suits their needs quite well. Giving up a bit of space means better drivability, better fuel economy and easier parking.
Class C Motorhome
The Class C motorhome is a built on a front-engine truck chassis, with the front end, cab and front doors of a van, pickup or larger truck. The most common feature is an over-the-cab space for sleeping or storage. They are often referred to as “mini-motorhomes,” despite the fact that they can reach more than 40 ft. in length. Most, however, are between 21 and 32 ft. long. Slide-outs have become a common option for Class C motorhomes, adding to the interior space while camping.
Gas engines are most common, although a greater variety of excellent diesel engines have entered the market in the past several years. All Class C’s have front-mounted engines, and rear-wheel-drive, most frequently on chassis built by GM or Ford. A new trend are RV’s with a heavy-duty front cab and front engine layout like an over-the-road big-rig truck. These long-haul specialists are even powered by the same heavy-duty diesel powerplants that truckers rely on for hundreds of thousands of miles, and towing capacity is among the highest of all RV’s.
While a “mini-motorhome” doesn’t have the same spaciousness of a Class A unit, many of the Class C’s are quite accommodating, cleverly using every bit of space. For example, the dining table may double as an extra bed, and the sofa in the rear becomes the primary double or queen-sized bed. The over-the-cab area is often a sleeping berth for two, perfect for children. Bathrooms are naturally tighter than a Class A, but vary by model, of course. Shop carefully to decide what works best for you.
While a Class C is more car-like to drive, and easier for some, keep in mind that the front seats are usually lower than the floor level in back. This means that the seats may not swivel around, and therefore would not be used when the vehicle is parked.
A relatively new type of motorhome is the SURV, or Sport Utility Recreational Vehicle, also known as a "toy hauler." This is essentially a motorhome with a garage. That’s right, part of the floorplan is devoted to a room for carrying motorized fun machines such as ATVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles, jet skis, dune buggies or other toys. A large door on the side or rear, with integral ramp, provides easy access. The garage space will usually have an easy-to-clean vinyl or metal floor, tie-down hooks and perhaps some utility cabinets and storage. Some even have an optional fuel tank for dispensing gas to your toys. The rest of the motorhome then has the expected amenities, such as a bathroom, galley and sleeping quarters.
When the vehicles are off-loaded, many SURVs have beds in the “garage” area. Some are cleverly mounted on tracks that move the mattresses to the ceiling, out of the way. Just push a button, and a single bed or bunk beds move down and provide as many as four additional sleeping spots while the toys are parked outside.
The most popular RVs are travel trailers, in a variety of sizes and weights. Travel trailers are hard-sided, and ready to inhabit as soon as you arrive at your destination. Many can be towed by ordinary cars, SUVs, minivans or pickup trucks – the kind that you may already have in the driveway. So called “lightweight” travel trailers weigh between 2,000 and 4,000 lbs., have a length as small as 12 feet, or up to 24 feet, with prices starting around $8,000. Of course, accommodations will be tight in a compact trailer, although perfectly suitable for short trips.
For more room, look to a medium or large travel trailer, with lengths up to 40 feet and overall weight up to about 9,000 lbs. A V8-powered SUV or pickup truck with higher towing rating will be needed to pull these larger trailers. Amenities inside vary from plain and utilitarian to downright luxurious. Some manufacturers are extremely creative in designing compact features, convertible beds and ingenious floorplans for maximum living space. Slideouts are a popular option for adding even more room without adding length to the trailer. Most trailers are equipped with a bathroom, galley and storage cabinets.
A fifth-wheel trailer connects to the open cargo area of the tow vehicle, which must be a pickup truck, of course. This arrangements results in a two-level trailer, as the area that extends over the bed of the truck is usually a reasonably sized bedroom. Fifth-wheels are generally more stable than similarly-sized travel trailers, as the pickup-bed-mounted hitch reduces trailer sway and reduces the overall length of the truck and trailer.
Lengths of fifth-wheel trailers vary from 20 to 40 feet and weights range from about 8,000 to more than 20,000 lbs. Fifth-wheels generally boast the most interior space and tallest interior height of any RV. Slideouts are a common and popular option to increase interior space. Those who travel extensively in RV’s, and full-timers, often find that a fifth-wheel and comfortable heavy-duty pickup are the best ways to travel.
Advantages over a similarly equipped motor home is that your towing pickup truck can be used year round for other purposes when you are not RVing. You can also disconnect your trailer from the truck at a campground so you can drive to local attractions more easily. It’s generally easier to have a pickup serviced than an RV also. Fifth-wheels can actually be roomier than a motorhome, and have similar amenities, including luxury features if that’s what you like. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is that your passengers don’t have access to all of those amenities while you are underway, as they would in a motorhome.
SURV Trailer (Toy Hauler)
A hugely popular new trend in fifth-wheels and travel trailers is the “toy hauler,” also known as SURV trailer (Sport Utility RV) or SUT – Sport Utility Trailer. These generally have a garage area at the rear of the rig, perfect for motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis or other motorized toys. A built-in ramp eases loading or unloading, and tie-downs help secure the motorized cargo. This garage area can be separated from the living space by a wall with a door, so that if you travel without your toys, you can still utilize the cargo space from inside the rig. Or, when the vehicles are parked outside the trailer, the garage space can be used as a bedroom. Some even have beds that cleverly fold into the sides or slide up against the ceiling.
Another type of SURV trailer has an open platform at the front of the trailer for the toys. When buying an SURV trailer, make sure your towing vehicle can handle the fully loaded weight of the trailer, with all its equipment and potential toys.
One of the lowest priced RVs is the folding or pop-up trailer, a great little get-away camper for as little as $3,500. Weighing between 1,500 and 3,500 lbs., even a small car may be able to pull a pop-up trailer. Compact size, light weight and aerodynamic, low profile make a pop-up easy to tow and easy to park in the campground. Then, that little 12-foot-long and 4-feet-high trailer cleverly expands into a practical and functional tent with a hard floor, built-in amenities and cushioned bed. Some may have a shower, toilet, sink, kitchen features, dining table, heat and even air conditioning. Maximum expanded length is about 25 feet, with a comfortable interior height of up to 8 feet.
A big advantage of folding pop-up trailers is their low center of gravity and compact size while towing, meaning they are easier to take into remote areas that may be inaccessible to larger trailers or motorhomes.
A new trend is a hard-sided convertible trailer that looks and tows like a pop-up, but features hard sides that slide into position when expanded, creating a rig that becomes more like a travel trailer while camping.
For part-time RV enthusiasts who already have a pick-up truck, sometimes a truck camper is the perfect compromise. For a fraction of the price of a motorhome, you can add most of the RV features to the back of your two- or four-door pickup truck. And, when you’re not camping, just slide the camper cap off and you’ve got your open-bed pickup ready for a trip to the lumber yard.
Flexibility is the strongest point of the truck camper. With four-wheel-drive, a truck camper can generally go a lot farther off the beaten path than most other, larger RV’s. You’ll likely have a small sink, toilet, stove, refrigerator, some storage cabinets, and a bed positioned over the truck cab. Many even have a shower, TV and microwave.
Outdoor enthusiasts love the maneuverability and convenience of a truck camper, especially for short trips. Some feature a pop-up roof design for additional headroom, while keeping a lower profile while driving.