RV: Which Type is Right For You?

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October 6, 2008

Last week’s blog was devoted to understanding some of the criteria to use for choosing an RV. This week I want to look at the pros and cons of different classes of RVs. Although last week I mentioned that solo women tend to buy motorhomes, that’s not an absolute rule. Many also buy trailers. Especially now that we’re trying to improve our mileage, it seems easier to make lighter trailers than lighter motorhomes.

This week I’m having a little trouble writing the blog entry because I don’t want to be too simplistic for you nor do I want to omit any basic questions. At RV.Net there is a wealth of specific information for you under the “Rigs” category. Each type of RV is covered. Check out the entries for the type of rig you have or want.

Perhaps the most important lesson to glean from my blogs is that you don’t have to feel limited any longer by detailed discussions about technical topics. If you are traveling solo, you MUST learn everything you can about your rig. If you are traveling with a partner, you SHOULD learn all of it. As we’ve mentioned before, you never know when you’ll have to apply this information.

Here’s a mini lesson on types of rigs. There are two basic types of rigs. According to one of the informal polls I’ve done, RVers were about equal in their choice of motorhomes vs. trailers.

1. Motorized RVs have the driving compartment within the vehicle. They are constructed on a motor vehicle chassis.

2. Towable RVs rely on a separate vehicle with a driving compartment.

Motorized RVs: This is the rig most people think of when they hear the expression “RV.” Generally it’s called a motorhome, ranging in length from under twenty to more than forty feet. The price can vary from a few thousand dollars for an old well-worn rig to almost a million for a luxurious, customized vehicle. Motorhomes are easier to drive and park, plus they afford greater safety since if there is an emergency or anything suspicious in the middle of the night, the owner just turns the key in the ignition and leaves. The trailer owner must go outside to get into the tow vehicle.

*  Class A: The Class A motorhome is often rectangular in appearance. The driver and passenger seats can swivel around and become living room furniture when the rig is parked. The amenities are self-contained bathroom, kitchen, dining area, living room, and bedroom. Class A’s handle more like a car (a very large car for the 30-40 feet rigs) and when you remove the towed car, they back up like a car so the driver doesn’t have to learn new skills.

The larger motorhomes usually tow a car behind, affectionately referred to as the “toad.” Although mileage is poor on the motorhome, the toad gets excellent mileage and is used for local transportation and sightseeing. One great choice is a 4-wheel vehicle for exploring primitive roads at your destination.  If you choose to tow a car or dinghy behind your motorhome, check at Motorhome Magazine online for its comprehensive Dinghy Towing guide on what cars are towable with all four wheels on the ground. Solo JJ likes to travel toadless. Check out her blog for inspiration.

Although the motorhome has steps to mount from the outside, once inside there are no further steps, making it easier for a handicapped person to get around. In addition, it is easier for the handicapped person to get in and out of a passenger car than a large truck. Often the side of the motorhome is adapted to place a lift enabling someone to be raised via a seat or the whole wheelchair can be lifted up.

Many motorhome owners cite an advantage is that a passenger can get up to prepare lunch or go to the bathroom while the vehicle is in motion. In fact, that is a great danger. While tootling down the highway at speeds up to 65 mph, every passenger should be securely seated.

One disadvantage to the larger Class A is having two engines to pay for and maintain. Another concern is that despite the number of stuffed bears they use, people who live in their motorhomes cannot disguise the fact that they have a steering wheel in their living room. For those who are looking for luxurious accommodations on the road, it is generally more expensive to purchase a motorhome and toad than a large fifth wheel and truck.

*  Class B: The Class B is built on a van chassis with a raised roof. Class Bs are smaller, compact, and very easy to drive. They contain the same lifestyle amenities, but usually on a smaller scale. New ones are expensive, particularly compared to a similar-sized Class C or Class A. The Class Bs have less sleeping space for additional guests than other small rigs or trailers.

They are not usually the first choice for full-time living, but some of our readers have used them for as long as nine months at a time. Miles per gallon is excellent. According to their Web site, Roadtrek’s smallest model gets 22mpg; next level larger gets 18-20; largest model still gets 15-16.

*  Class C: The Class C is a truck chassis with an RV unit built on it. The cab is over the driver/passenger unit. Again, the rig contains all the lifestyle amenities but often on a more limited scale than the Class A. The Class C is often used to tow a boat or motorcycle, and can tow a car. This type is the least expensive of the motorhomes. An informal survey indicates that solos prefer Class Cs. Since my own experience was driving a truck for years when we had a large fifth wheel, I was more comfortable with the truck feeling of the Class C rather than the Class A when I decided to buy a motorhome for solo travel. Some of the Class Cs now have slideouts that provide extra room when parked.

Next week I’ll review the different types of towables. Has this been helpful to you so far? Any questions or comments?

Safe travels,

Alice Zyetz

Leave a Reply


  1. john owens

    We own a 85 22 foot Lazy Daze. It is built on a checy chassis, a G30 to be exact. This is considered a van chassis. Im not an expert but I do not think a truck chassis enters the picture here. They start off as a van cut-away to be built into motorhomes, delivery vechicles, etc.

  2. Sorry for the long delay in my response. I’ve been caught up in celebration of the Jewish holidays and am only now getting back to the blog. I will publish the second half of the RV selection shortly–the towables. As for the question about which chassis the Class C is built on, the subject is still a bit muddy. I did some more research and still find some authors stating that the Class C is a truck chassis. Then I called Lazy Daze and all their new Class C’s are built on a Ford van chassis. “What about the older models?” I asked. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there then.” I promise I’ll get a more definitive answer on this subject for those of you who are interested. Once again, I appreciate your comments.

  3. Roxanne

    OK, I’ll bite. What is the real difference between a truck and full sized van? Friend of mine has an RV built on a Ford E350, so I know what it came from some sort of Van chassis. I’ve also driven a F350 Ford truck, they seem to have the same engine, tranny, certainly dash and seats. I didn’t notice a difference in ride or handling on the highway. Where is the difference and why does there need to be a difference? They both seem to be rated 1/2 ton, 3/4T, 1Ton. Is the suspension of a truck different cuz it goes off road more, shocks, brakes, frame, what? Why?

  4. erm…

    …excuse me…

    You might give some thought to pop-up truck campers such as the ones shown at http://www.wanderthewest.com/

    They’re fuel efficient and great for adventure travel.


  5. curtis troth

    Alice Z. What are you doing up sooo late? 2:27 AM??? Well anyway, I should have read your previous post before responding. My suggestion to you would be to take a few topics and give some options in RV’s as an answer. (Mountains are better pulled w/diesel engines-or full timing could be more comfortable in 3 or 4 slide outs in 5th wheel or motor home) Only examples mind you.

  6. Robert Grant


    Your statement that your Lazy Daze “was built on a Chevy” is meaningless. Chevy (the Chevrolet Division of General Motors Corporation) builds both trucks and vans. Every Lazy Daze that I have ever seen is built on a Van chassis as are the vast majority of Class C’s. You show a very superficial knowledge of RV’s for someone who is attempting to write articles which are intended to help people understand them.

  7. Meg

    Thanks so much for all the great information. It will help a lot when
    we decide to buy our first fifth wheel rv.


  8. Great comments. Thank you all. I’ll respond in order:

    1. Insurance. I haven’t ever checked into whether there is a difference now between insurance for a motorhome as opposed to trailer. I will follow up on that question. My first reaction is that motorhomes tend to be more expensive to buy than trailers, which would increase the insurance, plus you have the added cost of the motors that would increase the cost of the insurance. I will double check that with an insurance company to give you the expert’s response.

    2. Quality vs type. That is definitely a great topic. I’ll gather information on that. One problem in getting a realistic appraisal is that individual rigs differ so much. After we drove a used small fifth wheel for 3 1/2 years, we were ready for a larger one. We decided to get a brand new rig since we knew what we wanted and my husband wasn’t that handy. After much shopping around, we chose an Alfa Gold (top of the line) fifth wheel. We had many problems with the slideouts and the landing gear in particular. They paid but not for the aggravation and the time lost. We were not happy with it, but when we talked to other Alfa owners, we discovered that we were in the minority.

    Same with Monaco. I thought I was going to have a chance to meet the CEO and interviewed several Monaco owners by e-mail. Some loved their coaches; others were frustrated with them or the service they got. But I will look into the issue further.

    3. Are Class Cs built on a truck chassis or van chassis? I will double check the newer ones. I know that my old Lazy Daze is definitely built on a Chevy and it drives like a truck and feels like one. My information refers to truck chasses, but I haven’t looked into the more recent models.

    4. Can’t drive off when hooked up. You are sooo right. Usually the safety issue arises when you are dry camping for the night in a Wal-Mart lot or a truck stop, for example. When you are hooked up, you’re generally in a campground and the safety issue is moot.

    5. Bradley, I haven’t forgotten about you. I think the camper is a great option. I am planning to write about the slide-in camper next week because I’ve categorized it as a towable since it doesn’t have a motor in it per se.

    6. You are so right about deciding on the criteria for your choice. See my previous entry. Thanks for adding the point about the topography of the roads you would be traveling on. If you love traveling on the narrow, curvy mountain roads, there’s usually a limit to the size of the vehicle allowed.

    Keep those comments coming.
    Alice Z

  9. curtis troth

    A person or persons need consider their amount of RV usage per year to know what RV’s for them. If a weekender compared to a full timer- there is a world of difference in space, mileage, comfort, ease of parking,etc,etc. Not to mention how many people will be joining you on the road, in the camp ground or resort, or traveling w/you. Will you travel on flat ground?, or mountains. All of the above makes a big difference on which type of RV is right for you.

  10. Bradley Cutter

    You have written an interesting and informative article on the basics of R.V.s, however, I take great exception with your statement “There are two types of rigs.”, …”motorhomes vs. trailers”. As I wrote pertaining to your previous article, truck campers are a very viable type of R.V. They are highly suitable for singles, couples and families. They can go anywhere a motorhome or trailer can go, plus many more destinations, with or without four-wheel drive. I would again invite readers to check out truckcampermagazine.com and look in the archive section for the article “Do MORE and Spend LESS with a Truck Camper”, dated 26 Jan 07. As a disclaimer, I have no interest, financial or otherwise in truckcampermagazine.com. I am just a subscriber and owner of a truck camper and would like to have truck campers given their fair share of the media spotlight.

  11. James Marxen

    This is the third article where I seen “in an emergency, you can drive off in your motorhome”. What happens to the electrical, sewer, water and other connections that are usually hooked up? Has anyone actually done this to see what damage needs to be repaired?

  12. Robert Grant

    We think that a big advantage of a motorhome is the ability to get up from your seat up front and walk back to make lunch or go to the bathroom or take a nap after you are safely parked in a rest area or picnic area without having to leave your vehicle as you do with a fifth wheel or travel trailer. You do not have to go outside in the heat, cold, or rain and you do not have to get into a hot or cold trailer to have your lunch, etc.

    I don’t think most people would relate to your reference of a class C as a “truck chassis with an RV on it”. While a few are (mostly what are referred to as “Super C’s”) the great majority of Class C’s are based on a Van Chassis and therefore drive more like a car and have more of the feel of a car than a truck.

  13. Rob

    How about an article on quality of RVs versus type. To my way of thinking there is too much hype and not enough substance. This type, that type, comes with slides, telescoping this and that and the latest…..it has a VERANDA. Basically the problem in today’s RV world is shoddy workmanship, sub-standard materials and regulations that let companies put these stick and staple, plastic palaces on the road. Maybe if we all started insisting on better quality we’d get RVs that were both safer and longer lasting. Let’s start with fire resistant materials or at the least get rid of those that act as accelerants. Type Shmype another fluff article.

  14. Bob

    Another cost for a class A over a trailer is insurance. My motorhome costs about 8 times the insurance on a trailer. It has been 7 years since I had a trailer so the cost might not be as great now.

    Even allowing for insurance and higher fuel use, I still prefer the Winnebago.