When you hear the term RV or recreational vehicle, there is probably an image that immediately pops into your head. The image is probably completely different from person to person, but each one of them are equally right. Some might think of their favorite musician’s tour bus, some may think of the green behemoth Robin Williams drove in the 2006 movie RV, and others have memories from their own lives that come to mind.
RVs come in all shapes and sizes, offering a range of features, advantages, and disadvantages. In this article, we’ll go over the differences between the five major types of RVs: Class A, Class B, Class C, towable trailers, and fifth wheels.
Let’s dive in!
Class A holds the title for the largest of the motorhomes, with the smallest ones starting at around 25 feet, and the largest stretching to 45 feet long. If you need plenty of room to move around and don’t want to tow a massive trailer behind a truck, then a Class A motorhome is for you.
The most prominent examples of this class of RV are tour buses, so you can feel like a rockstar on a nationwide tour driving one of these. While this class can vary from a simple, barebones home attached to a bus engine and chassis to a rolling mansion, there are a few features that you’ll typically see from this class.
Class A motorhomes will usually have a large slide-out section along the length of the vehicle. When you get off the road to settle down for the night, the slide-out provides more space to move about the cabin. Depending on the size of the RV and how high-end it is, there may be multiple slide-outs on one side or even on both sides to more than double your square footage. This makes way for areas like a full-sized bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, dinette, and living area.
This class of motorhome is the most expensive to buy, the most expensive to repair, and the most expensive to insure. If you already have a pickup truck or large enough SUV, you may want to consider looking at a towable trailer first, which can be equally large and lavish but without the added costs of buying a whole new vehicle. If you want to see if a Class A motorhome is truly right for you, you could try renting one first through a service like Outdoorsy.
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The keen-eyed reader may be wondering what happened to the Class B motorhomes in this list, but fear not, we’ll get to those. Class C motorhomes are closer in their build and size to Class A than Class B motorhomes.
Class C RVs are built on the chassis of a large truck, such as a Ford E-Series, and feature a cockpit for the driver and passenger with seats that will typically swivel around towards the cabin when the vehicle is stopped. There is usually an overhang that extends above the cab (known as an overcab) that can be used for sleeping or storage.
In the cabin, you can expect to find a kitchen and bathroom. Beyond that, what you get depends on how large the motorhome is and how the manufacturer chooses to use that space. In a shorter model, that bunk area above the cockpit may be the only bedding, with the driver and passenger’s seats serving as the only chairs. Bigger models may feature a separate bedroom, a dinette, a sofa, and even bunk beds.
This class of RV will typically be smaller than the Class A motorhomes, but still rather large. As such, you can expect them to cost less than Class A to buy, repair, and insure, but some larger or more premium Class C motorhomes can buck that trend. If you have some experience working on cars or trucks, maintaining one of these RVs may be less out of reach for you.
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Sometimes called camper vans or conversion vans, Class B motorhomes are vans that have been customized, either before or after purchase, to be used as a home.
Sometimes this means raising the height of the roof so you can stand in the back of the van, sometimes it means replacing the roof with a camper pop-up, and other times it is just a regular van filled with everyday essentials like a bed and a cooking space. Part of the beauty of this class of RVs is the freedom you have to customize your ride to fit your lifestyle. You can make minimal changes so you can use it as your daily driver on the weekdays then take it on adventures on weekends, or you can get it fully kitted out for full-time living.
Some of the most common options to use as Class B motorhomes are Ford Transit Vans, RAM ProMasters, Mercedes Sprinters, while those who love a retro aesthetic may look to the VW Sambabus or Vanagon.
Van life can be a great way to get into RVing, especially for those who don’t have a vehicle capable of towing but don’t have the room or resources for a larger Class A or Class C motorhome. Having the versatility to use this as your day-to-day car can make a Class B motorhome a more practical option. The fact that anyone who knows how to work on a car can work on a van and the minimal learning curve in driving a van (as opposed to a tour bus) make campervans an attractive, accessible option to those who want to get into RVing.
This class of RVs includes a wide variety of options to choose from as long as you own a car with a trailer hitch, a tow ball, and an engine strong enough to haul them.
On one end, you have massive, 35+ foot long trailers that feature all the amenities of a Class A motorhome and need a half-ton pickup to haul. On the other end, you have popup campers that are basically tents on wheels that you could pull behind a crossover, hatchback, or even some sedans. The size of your camper trailer will influence your overall costs to purchase, maintain, and insure it.
While you will find teardrop trailers in the 10-15 foot range that have room for a bed and maybe a small kitchen you can access from outside, most towable trailers will fall in the 15-25 foot range and feature a small kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area, and a seating area where you can eat. You can find plenty of great options with everything you need that can be towed behind your average midsize SUV. Having a pickup truck will open up more options for you though if you want larger, more luxurious towable trailers.
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Inside, fifth wheels are similar to larger towable trailers, with many of the same features as a Class A motorhome. The difference is in how you haul them: instead of attaching at the bumper, fifth wheels attach to a specialized receiver hitch that locks the trailer in place. The receiver hitch is typically bolted into the bed of a pickup truck. The fifth wheel hitch provides great stability and allows you to utilize more of your truck’s power to tow heavier trailers.
It is possible to tow a fifth wheel behind an SUV, but you will have to buy a specialized trailer that will attach to your car’s tow ball. This hitch trailer has its own heavy-duty axle to support the front end of the fifth wheel. If you’re looking into buying a trailer, we wouldn’t recommend buying a fifth wheel unless you already have a pickup truck that can tow it.
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