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RV Types – An In-Depth Guide

The goal of this post is to give you a good understanding of the different types of RVs out there, as well as what makes them unique, and what purpose they each serve.

If you re-read it a few times, and refer back to it in the future, you’ll find yourself becoming more and more clear on exactly what you’re looking for in an RV, which will save you a lot of wasted time researching online, and wandering around dealerships.

When it comes to dealing with amateur sellers or professional salespeople, you won’t be easily manipulated into handing over your hard-earned savings for something you don’t actually want or need, becasue you’ll know exactly what you’re looking at, and whether or not someone’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

Due to the size of this topic we’ve broken it into 2 parts and seperated the larger RVs from the smaller ones and put the smaller ones into their own post here:
Small Campers – An In-Depth Guide

What are the different RV types?

Class A Motorhomes

Also known as:

  • Coach
  • Motorcoach

Generally referred to as simply “Class A”, these are the largest and most luxurious class of RV on the market. They are built on their own custom designed chassis and look a lot like a bus with their big near-vertical face on the front end, and large windows.

They generally range in length somewhere between 26 and 45 feet, giving them plenty of space for their various amenities and living areas.

Inside a Class A Motorhome you’ll usually find a master bedroom, a full bathroom, a well-equipped kitchen, and a comfortable sized living area.

A lot of Class A models will have built-in “slide-outs”, which are big sections of the RV that extend out one side of the vehicle, once it’s parked of course, and provide extra usable living space. Some slide-outs can increase the usable area by a significant amount, allowing you to truly experience the comforts of home, while still living the nomadic life.

If you’re talking luxury, Class As are the pinnacle of the RV world and they come fully equipped with some of the most high end comforts of home, like hardwood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, entertainment systems, and even washers and dryers. You’ll even find some with heated floors and seats.

These are generally powered by either a gas or diesel engine, usually situated at the front end, but some of the diesel models have the engine at the rear, which provides a quieter and smoother ride.

Side view of a large Class A motorhome in an empty parking lot.

Class A – Pros & Cons

Pros

  1. Space and comfort: Being the largest class of RV, Class As have more living space than most, which makes them ideal for long trips or living the full-time RV life. They usually have separate, residential-sized bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens and will have a very decent sized living area. Who doesn’t love more space?
  1. Luxury Amenities: These large motorhomes usually come fully equipped with some seriously high-end luxuries, like full-sized kitchen appliances, entertainment systems, and nice big comfortable furniture.
  1. Storage: As you can imagine, the large motorhomes have plenty of much needed storage space, not only inside, but also underneath in the “basement” storage area accessed from the outside.
  1. Towing Capacity: Yes, these monstrous vehicles can even tow a car or boat, giving you the freedom to get around town in your own car without having to worry about where you’re going to park the bus. Even taking your own boat out for some fishing is still possible even when you live out on the road in a Class A Motorhome.

Cons

  1. Cost: Class As are definitely the most expensive RV of them all. Not just in upfront cost, but also extra running costs like fuel, maintenance and insurance.
  1. Size: I realize we did just tout the large size as an advantage but a vehicle this size does have its drawbacks. Driving these things around town, and navigating pokey little campgrounds and RV parks, can be very tricky if you’re not used to driving large heavy vehicles.
  1. Fuel Efficiency: Needless to say, the heavier the vehicle, the more power it requires to move it, and the less fuel-efficient they are. This means you’ll be spending a lot more on fuel.
  1. Licensing: We just mentioned the extra difficulty in driving and maneuvering one of these large vehicles around, but something else to consider, depending on where you live, is whether or not a special license is required to drive it.

Summary

Overall, Class A Motorhomes do offer a more luxurious and comfortable RVing experience than other classes, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for everyone. So keep reading for more info on some other classes.

Class B Motorhomes

Also known as:

  • Campervan
  • Van camper
  • Conversion van
  • B-Van

When it comes to self-contained motorized RVs, Class Bs are the smallest class. Also known as campervans, these compact motorhomes are generally built on a standard van chassis. Usually the full-sized ones, although some are built on the “compact” van chassis. But despite their small size, they do manage to fit in all the basic necessities and amenities needed for comfortable camping. This requires some ingenious design work by their creators, in order to really optimize their use of space.

When we say “basic necessities” we mean things like a small kitchenette, a compact bathroom, and usually some form of bed and couch combo, ie. a bed that folds out to a couch.

Some models will even have a raised roof section for extra headroom, or even a dropped floor.

Some of the newer models manage to fit in some of the more modern luxuries and high-tech amenities, like solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, and some pretty sophisticated navigation systems.

Class B motorhomes typically range in length, anywhere from 17” to 23”, which makes them much easier to drive and park than the bigger Class As.

Similar to the Class As though, they are usually powered by gas or diesel engines, depending on the chassis type, and again, the diesel models generally get much better mileage (ie. fuel efficiency) aswell as a longer lifespan.

Side view of white camper van
Coachmen RV Nova

Class B – Pros & Cons

Pros

  1. Maneuverability: Despite that word being really hard to spell, for me anyway, it’s a big advantage the Class Bs have over some of the bigger classes. Their size allows for much easier navigation through traffic and are much easier to park because they fit into a standard parking space. This means it’s easier to get around town and better for winding your way through camp sites and RV parks.
  1. Fuel Efficiency: As mentioned earlier, campervans get the best fuel mileage out of any other motorized class, which means more savings and better travel costs.
  1. Versatility: This is a big one that not many people realize, but one way this class can save you a lot of money is by the fact that when you’re not traveling or camping, your campervan can be used as your regular car for your daily driving needs. Which, for some people, means you don’t necessarily need to buy a 2nd vehicle.
  1. Low Maintenance: Being built on a standard van chassis means they are easier to work on, and simpler to repair than the bigger models that have more customized options that require specialized mechanical knowledge and skills.

Cons

  1. Limited Space: The words “small” and “compact” kind of speak themselves. Needless to say space is at a premium in a Class B. There’s not as much room for moving around and storage is limited. For this reason, they’re best suited for 1 or 2 people and some creativity is required when organizing your storage space.
  1. Less amenities: Generally Class Bs are well designed and therefore well equipped considering their size, but they simply cannot offer the same level of luxury and amenities that the larger RV classes can.
  1. Cost: Even though they are smaller and get better mileage than the bigger RVs, manufacturers and dealers don’t price them the same way they price normal everyday vehicles and they can be surprisingly expensive. Especially a brand new one, and especially the more high-tech models. Their “space per dollar” ratio is not as good as the bigger classes.

Summary

Class B motorhomes (aka campervans) are ideal for people who place high value on things like mobility and simplicity, rather than space and luxury. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a bit of both with a campervan. You just need to determine your own balance of convenience vs comfort before you put any significant money on the table.

Class C Motorhomes

Also known as:

  • Mini-motorhome
  • Cab-over motorhome
  • Cutaway van camper

You would think that when they were coming up with the class system for motorized RVs, if A was the biggest, then naturally C would be the smallest, and B would be somewhere in between… right?

Well, for some reason, as mentioned in the previous section, the smallest ones are Class B, and Class Cs, being a mid-sized RV, fall somewhere in between.

I didn’t make that decision, and I’m sure there is a logical reason for it out there somewhere but anyway… now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on, shall we?

Class C motorhomes do offer a good balance of size, convenience, and amenity options.

They’re usually built on either a van or truck chassis, and are easily recognized by their extended front-end that cantilevers over the top of the cab area. This added rooftop space usually houses an extra bed or storage compartment, which we will cover in the “pros” section further down the page.

The average length of a Class C sits somewhere between 20” to 33” and inside you’ll find a comfortable living area, a full kitchen, a bathroom, and separate sleeping areas.

They share similarities with Class Bs in that they can often have some kind of fold-out bed/couch, and with Class As in that they can often include slide-outs. Both of which serve to maximize the living space when parked for the night.

Class Cs come with a wide variety of features and amenities, which means you‘ll find a variety of luxury levels, ranging from a more affordable set-up with just the basic amenities all the way to a high-end set-up with more luxurious features like solid-wood countertops, walk-around queen beds, and spacious showers.

As with the other motorized RVs, you have various gas or diesel powered models, depending on the chassis type, and in the future you will start to see more and more electric powered models.

Class C – Pros & Cons

Pros

  1. Amenities: It’s hard to not be too repetitive here, but as you’ve likely figured out by now, Class Cs offer a good balance of comfort vs functionality. They have more space and can accommodate better features than some of the Class Bs, but when compared to Class As it’s the other way round. But the important features to note are things like a fully equipped kitchen, separate toilet and shower, and better sleeping areas.
  1. Ease of Driving: As we touched on earlier, even though they are bigger than the Class Bs, they are still more maneuverable and easier to drive around town than the Class As, especially for an inexperienced RVer who still wants the size and comfort.
  1. Extra Sleeping Space: Commonly called the cab-over design, not to be confused with the same word used to describe certain types of truck cabs, the overhead section allows for more sleeping space without increasing the overall length. This is ideal for families or groups traveling together in the one vehicle.
  1. Value for Money: With a better “space per dollar” ratio than a Class B, and a lower price tag than a Class A of the same age and condition, they are an easy choice for someone looking for that perfect balance of cost vs comfort.

Cons

  1. Size: Again, that word I have trouble spelling… manuvr… manouver… drivability! As these are generally built on larger chassis, they don’t fit into a standard parking space, so street parking is harder to find.
  1. Fuel Efficiency: With a bigger engine than a campervan, the Class C will generally cost you more in fuel expenses than most other RV types, besides the Class A, of course.
  1. Limited Storage: I realize this is a bit of a stretch, and it maybe obvious for some, but a common mistake some groups make, is that they’ll buy something with enough beds, but they’ll forget that more people means more luggage, so although a Class C can sleep more people, the extra luggage on board can bring the space-per-dollar ratio down to that of a campervan.

Summary

Class C motorhomes are an easy choice for families or small groups who need that extra space and comfort than what a campervan can provide, but who aren’t quite ready to go all out on a bigger and more expensive option, such as a Class A.

Before laying hard earned savings on the table, you’ll need to determine what your specific needs and wants are, in regards to how you want to travel, and the aim of this whole post is to help you do that as much as we possibly can.

Travel Trailers

Also known as:

  • Camper trailer
  • Towable RV
  • Bumper pull trailer
  • Pull-behind camper
  • Caravan (mainly UK & Australia)

Travel trailers, also known as caravans in some countries, are basically just a non-motorized RV, that you tow around behind another vehicle such as a pick-up or an SUV, or depending on the size, a normal everyday car.

Because of the huge range of shapes and sizes, they can be as bare-bones basic as a small campervan, or as luxuriously high-end as a monster-sized Class A, but by far, the most significant and defining feature of a travel trailer is the ability to completely separate it from your primary vehicle.

Once you park it up at your campsite, you can simply unhitch it where it stands and leave it all set up in place, leaving you free to use the tow vehicle to go driving around and exploring.

The average length of a travel trailer is hard to put a specific number on, as you will find them anywhere between 10” to 40”, and therefore the range of layout options and floorplans varies greatly too.

Larger models can sleep up to 10 or 12 people and will often have several slide-outs to make room for all the extra beds, bathrooms, and kitchen space, as well as things like dining tables, chairs, couches, and even things like fireplaces and large TV screens.

Travel trailers require a tow vehicle with enough towing capacity for the job, depending on the size and weight of the trailer.

Smaller travel trailers can be towed by most SUVs on the market, and also some larger cars, while the big trailers require something with a bit more grunt, like a pickup truck or some kind of heavy-duty vehicle.

Travel Trailer – Pros & Cons

Pros

  1. Versatility: Due to the huge range of sizes and layouts it’s much easier to find something that suits your specific needs.
  1. Detachable: Unlike the motorized RVs, aka motorhomes, a travel trailer can be left at the campsite while you drive around and explore in your primary vehicle.
  1. Cost Effective: Not only are travel trailers priced much more affordably than a motorhome, they also save money in other ways such as:
    1. Maintenance – They’re not motorized so they don’t breakdown like a normal car, which means less mechanical repair costs.
    2. Fuel Efficiency – Because you can leave the trailer behind, you burn though less fuel in your tow vehicle while it’s not attached.
    3. Insurance – Depending on your state, the legal requirements regarding insurance an RV are different than those of a motorhome which means, in some cases, it’s just 1 less monthly bill you need to pay.
  1. Home Away From Home: Travel Trailers are really just a portable home, but plenty of people simply park them somewhere permanently and live in them like a regular house.

Cons

  1. Towing Skills: If you struggle to park a normal car at the grocery store, then you may need some training and practice before you take your trailer out on the open road. Reversing can be particularly challenging, especially for a beginner.
  1. Dependence on a Tow Vehicle: You’ll need a capable vehicle to tow your home-away-from-home, which is an extra cost that some people forget to take into account. This also means you’ll need to know the weight of the trailer when it’s fully loaded, not just the empty weight.
  1. Reduced Mobility: Towing something behind you presents a whole new world of maneuverability considerations when driving through cities or winding through campsites, or even just getting it in and out of your own driveway at home.
  1. Set-up and Pack-up Time: If you’re moving to a new place every day or so, then compared to a motorized RV, you will need to allow for a little bit more set-up and pack-up time, as you will need to unhitch, level, and stabilize the trailer at each new campsite.

Summary

Travel Trailers offer all the same features and benefits as any other RV, and are a great way to experience the RV lifestyle, especially if you already own a capable tow vehicle, and hopefully this post is helping you get a better idea of what will work best for your own personal situation.

Fifth Wheel Trailers

Also known as:

  • 5th wheel/wheelers
  • Fifth wheel/wheelers
  • Goose-neck trailers (although, technically, gooseneck trailers are a different type of trailer with a similar hitch style)

Fifth Wheels are another towable RV that are larger and more spacious than most other types. The larger models are up there, in size, with the Class A motorcoaches, sometimes even bigger, while the smaller fifth wheels are comparable to the size of a largish travel trailer.

Due to their larger size and weight, a normal car or SUV won’t do the job. They have unique style of hitch which requires some kind of pickup truck.

They don’t hook up to your tow vehicle the same way as a normal travel trailer. They have more of a truck style hitch which is much more beefy and requires a purpose built secure connection point mounted in the bed of your pickup truck.

We won’t go into the full science and geometry of how and why, but basically, it allows the trailer to pivot and turn easier than the usual tow ball and hitch on a standard trailer.

Because this type of hitch sits up on the bed of your pickup truck, the front end of a fifth wheel sits much higher than the back end, which results in a multi-level floor plan.

Don’t think of it like a 2 story building where one level is directly above the other, instead just imagine the length of the floorplan in 2 halves, or sections, and the front section is raised up higher than the other end, with built in stairs providing access between the 2 levels.

The raised front section usually houses the master bedroom or the bathroom, and from there the steps lead down to the main living area and other usable space.

They come in all different sizes but they generally sit on the larger end of the scale, ranging anywhere from 20” to 40”.

Their larger size allows for even more luxuries than most of the other RV types, and you’ll find things like full-size refrigerators, king-size beds, washer/dryers, and even fireplaces and big screen TVs.

Different Types of RVs - There are so many different RV types and they're called different names all over the world! Which makes it a little tricky for those of us not in the US (i.e. NZ! :-)) This article lists out all the different variations. Fifth wheel

Fifth Wheel – Pros & Cons

Pros

  1. Space & Luxury: More spacious and luxurious than most RVs and include residential-quality interiors, multiple slide-outs and increased living space.
  1. Stability & Handling: The fifth wheel hitch provides superior stability and handling when compared to some of the other towable RV types, which makes for a smoother, safer ride.
  1. Separate Living Areas: The multi-level floor plan creates a good separation of living areas. Meaning the bedroom and bathroom are away from the main living area.
  1. Towing Vehicle Usability: As with the travel trailer, the tow vehicle can be unhitched and used for your everyday driving needs.

Cons

  1. Requires Pickup Truck: Fifth wheel trailers require a pickup truck with enough towing capacity and a special fifth wheel hitch mounted in the bed of the truck.
  1. Size: Being among the largest RV types out there, they can be more difficult to handle on tight corners and small campsites.
  1. Fuel Efficiency: They’re big and heavy so your tow vehicle will burn through the gas at a higher rate.
  1. Cost: Being the biggest and most luxurious RV type available, they are typically the most expensive too.

Summary

Fifth wheelers offer a spacious and luxurious RVing experience and are often the first choice for full-time RVers, but they require a large tow vehicle and have more associated costs.

Toy Haulers

Also known as:

  • Toy Carrier
  • Sport Utility Trailer
  • Adventure Trailer
  • Gear Trailer

Toy Haulers are a sub-category of travel trailers and fifth wheels, but they have a very distinct difference that warrants putting them in their own category.

Designed with the adventure-loving RVer in mind, they combine the usual living accommodations of an RV with some kind of garage space for hauling “toys” like ATVs, motorcycles, mountain bikes, kayaks, or sometimes just a small car for getting around in.

The living area still has all the amenities of a typical RV, like bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, living room, etc. But the defining feature of a Toy Hauler is the large open space at the rear that serves as a garage big enough to park the above mentioned toys while traveling.

This garage space will usually have a reinforced floor, tie-down points for securing your toys, and a large rear drawbridge-style door, hinged at the bottom, which when opened, serves as a ramp for easy loading and unloading of vehicles.

Some toy haulers go a step further in terms of versatility by having the garage space convert into additional living space once the toys are unloaded. This can include options like fold-down sofas, drop-down beds, and even a 2nd bathroom or outdoor kitchen in the garage area.

Some add-ons available are the ability to use the ramp section as a balcony or patio, by locking the ramp in a horizontal position and adding removable handrails and outdoor furniture, like a table and chairs. Some will even include canvas walls and roof for the balcony/patio area, giving you even more indoor space or just protection from the weather while enjoying some fresh air.

Coachmen Adrenaline 21LT toy hauler
Coachmen Adrenaline

Toy Hauler – Pros & Cons

Pros

  1. Versatility: Their biggest advantage is their ability to transport large recreational “toys” while still having the benefits of full living amenities as well as optional extra living space when unloaded.
  2. Accessibility: The ramp door makes loading and unloading your recreational equipment easy.
  1. Extra Amenities: The garage space in a toy hauler often comes with extra amenities, including optional bathrooms, kitchens, beds, sofas, or entertainment systems.

Cons

  1. Weight: When fully loaded, toy haulers can be much heavier than a typical RV so you’ll need a pretty robust tow vehicle to handle it.
  1. Fuel Efficiency: Due to this extra size and weight, you will definitely burn through more fuel than usual.
  1. Cost: The big advantages of a toy hauler also mean bigger price tags, partly due to their more reinforced construction materials.
  1. Limited Living Space: Yes, you can fit extra amenities in the garage space, but the garage itself generally means the over all usable space in the main living areas are reduced in comparison to a normal similar sized towable RV.

Summary

Toy Haulers are an excellent choice for the more adventurous RVer who specifically wants to bring along their outdoor toys or a spare vehicle to drive around in once parked. With their unique garage space and ramp-style door, they offer a unique blend of practical usability and comfortable living conditions.

To read part 2 of this guide which focuses on small campers, go here:
Small Campers – An In-Depth Guide