types of recreational vehicles

part 1 travel and exploration
part 2 types of recreational vehicles
part 3 equipment and paperwork

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The traditional tent

Traveling and camping can be done in many ways. The most traditional way is obviously with a tent. Americans seem to have a stronger bond with nature than the average European. Many enjoy their vacation in a traditional tent, as a true link to nature. Tents nowadays come in all possible sizes, and several systems have been perfected to make the installation as painless as can be.

But over the course of the years, technology has come up with various solutions to increase the comfort of traveling and camping. Specially equipped vehicles have been designed to improve the livability of even prolonged stays, and to make camping more comfortable. Just in the United States, there are more than seven million Recreational Vehicles on the roads ! They can be subdivided into Pop-Up Campers, Coaches or Motorhomes, Travel Trailers, and Fifth Wheels.

Pop-up camper

A more convenient version of the tent is the so-called pop-up camper, which is a small towable that extends into a tent. They are very reasonably priced, can be towed with almost every vehicle, and they are easy to tow and store. Setup and takedown may be a bit bothersome, the amenities and the privacy are somewhat limited, and it is not very stable in bad weather.

Pop-up camper 1
Pop-up camper 2

Motorhome Class A

The Class A Motorhome is the largest and most luxurious category of motorized RV's. It is a real coach, built on a special chassis, and equipped for either short trips, longer vacations or full-timing.

The average length of the Class A Motorhome is between 36 and 45 feet (11 to 13 m). The standard width is 96 inches (2,45 meters), but there are wide-bodies from 100" to 102", not including the slideouts. Since many years, almost every RV has slideouts or extendable parts, considerably increasing the living surface. A Class A Motorhome's weight varies from 15 to 25 tons and more.

The Class A houses 2 to 8 people very comfortably, according to the model and floor plan. It can be powered by a front gas engine, but the larger models are usually powered by a rear diesel engine, hence the name Diesel Pusher ! The price fork is very large and it can vary from 50.000 to more than 2 million $, but on average a good Class A costs between 300 and 500.000 $.

If you're looking for the ultimate in comfort, the Class A Motorhome is well suited. It includes all the amenities of a home, such as a large fridge, oven / microwave, TV, DVD (in most units there are two TV's), satellite dish, bathroom with shower, large batteries, large tanks for water and sewer, large propane tanks, a generator, and a considerable living space. These qualities make the Class A well suited for so called dry camping, where no hookups are available (connections for water, electricity and sewer). The "livability" in the Class A is exceptional.

Even while driving, the Class A is very comfortable. It has a soft and stable drive and is quite easy to drive, even with its great length and turning radius. The passengers have every convenience at their disposal and they can eat, drink, watch TV, play games, use the bathroom, or even take a nap during the drive.

The Coach is the better choice if you change campgrounds often. Handling the connections and setup during arrival or departure are very automated, and during the drive the interior remains completely accessible. Once in the campground the Class A motorhome loses some of its trump cards. Sometimes it is daunting to find a site or even a campground that is large enough to accommodate the coach, and for local sightseeing its dimensions are somewhat of a handicap. Which is why they usually tow a small vehicle, the so called toad, a corruption of "towed".

The Class A Motorhome is the absolute top in luxury and ease of use. Its downsides are the high purchase price, and considerable maintenance and insurance cost. If the budget poses no problem, the Class A Motorhome is the ultimate Recreational Vehicle.

Motorhome Class A Motorhome Class B
Motorhome Class A
Motorhome Class B

Motorhome Class B

The Class B Motorhome is actually built on a truck chassis, that has been adapted for motorhome accommodation. The raised roof allows standing upright, and the Class B offers many models and floor plans. The average length is between 16 and 23 feet (5 to 7 m), the width usually around 2,00 meters. There are wide-bodies up tot 2,40 m wide. This motorhome houses 2 to 4 people, and is powered by either a gas or a diesel engine. The average Class B costs between 60 and 100.000 $.

The Class B Motorhome can best be described as a small Class A. The manufacturers are very creative in using every available space, and the motorhome is completely self-sustaining with a fridge, sink, hot water, air conditioning, heating and comfortable sleeping areas. Many Class B motorhomes have a shower in the bathroom, and although smaller in capacity, they all have holding tanks for fresh water and sewer.

The advantages of a Class B are his versatility, reasonable price and ease of use. When not in use for camping they can be used as a second family vehicle. According to the model, a Class B can also tow a small camping trailer or other "toy", such as a small boat, jet skis or a small car.

With its compact dimensions and many possibilities, a Class B Motorhome is well suited for couples and families with small children. Nevertheless you won't see too many of them on American roads.

Motorhome Class C

The Class C (mini) Motorhome offers much of the luxury and comfort of the Class A motorhome, but then packaged as a smaller and less expensive version. It is built on a pickup truck chassis, and the average length is between 20 and 32 feet (6 to 9,75 m). The standard width is 96" or 2.45 m, but there are some wide-bodies around from 100" to 102", not including the slideouts.

This motorhome houses two people in the upper cabin (cab-over), two more in a double or Queen bed in the rear, and according to the model even up to eight people. It is usually powered by a gas engine, and the odd one is powered by a diesel engine. The price fork lies between 60 and 120.000 $.

The Class C Motorhome has most of the features of the Class A, but in a smaller design. It has a reasonable living space and is very convenient for weekend-trips or even an extended vacation. With the cab-over and rear bedroom, the Class C offers more (limited) sleeping than a Class A, which is ideal for larger families. Many Class C Motorhomes have a slideout in the living of dining room, and some even have a second slideout in the bedroom.

Like in a Class A, the passengers can eat, drink, watch TV, play games, use the bathroom or even take a nap during the drive. Compared to a Class A, the driving of a Class C feels more natural since it is actually a Family Vehicle. Many campers tow a small car, even if the towing capabilities are more limited than with a Class A.

For shorter vacations, larger families or a lower budget the Class C Motorhome is well suited, but the living area is limited. For longer vacations a somewhat larger unit would be indicated.

Motorhome Class C Travel trailer
Motorhome Class C
Travel Trailer

Travel trailer

A Travel Trailer is a non-motorized RV, developed to be towed by a pickup truck, a SUV or for smaller units even simply by a car. These RV's offer a lot of homeliness. According to the model and floor plan, Travel Trailers can house up to ten people, which makes them very useful for larger families. The average length is between 14 and 36 feet (4 to 11 m), towable with a pickup or full-size truck. The standard width goes up to 96" (2,45 m), not including any slideouts. The price fork lies between 30 and 120.000 $.

The Travel Trailer is probably the most versatile RV. The models vary from small units with minimal comfort to larger units with three slideouts, two bedrooms and all the comfort of a house. As with all towables the interior can only be used while camping. Unlike motorhomes, the internal facilities are not available during the drive.

Models, floor plans and features are legion. Options are slideouts, one or two access doors, full size beds and/or bunks, small or large refrigerators, range and oven, dinner seating, complete bathroom accommodations with shower, etc. It is ideal for weekend trips and longer vacations, and can even be adapted for fulltiming.

A Travel Trailer's largest advantage is that it can (usually) be towed with the vehicle that is available, and that there is no need to buy another one. The on-road stability of a trailer depends strongly on the towing vehicle, the towbar and a good partitioning of the load. It is rather susceptible to side winds.

Fifth Wheel

Recreative fifth wheels were derived from Horse Trailers. The Fifth Wheel is actually a semi, developed to be towed by a pickup or full size truck. It is the uncontested champion in living surface. The habitable volume is unequaled, since no room is lost for driving apparatus and the whole surface can be used as living space. It is therefore the RV of choice for many fulltimers.

The average length is between 21 and 40 feet (6 to 12 m). The standard width is 96" or 2.45 m, but some wide-bodies go from 100" to 102", not including the slideouts. Its weight can easily run up to 10 tons and more. This Recreational Vehicle houses two to six people, according to the model and floor plan. The price varies between 50 and 250.000 $ and more, according to the model and the equipment.

Fifth Wheels are constructed with a high front end, resting on the truck bed. That part contains the bedroom, which allows more room in the living area. With slideouts in the living, dining and bedroom, it is easy to imagine why they are so roomy.

Fifth WheelAll the comfort of a home is available with bedroom, bathroom, toilet, a complete kitchen, a nice living area, and even quite a bit of "basement area". All the rooms are equipped with cabinets. In the kitchen you'll find a refrigerator, freezer, gas range, range hood, electric water heater and a double sink. Sanitary equipment consists of a lavabo, pharmaceutical cabinet, shower, a separate toilet, and a washer and dryer can be installed.

In the living area there are two seats, usually recliners, or one seat and a computer desk, a sofa that can be converted to a queen-size bed, a low table, a TV, radio, CD, DVD, office desk and a ceiling fan. Gas heating and the indispensable air-conditioning are present.

A Fifth Wheel is towed by a heavy pick-up truck, that has sufficient towing and braking capacity for the combined weight of the two vehicles. Driving a Fifth Wheel is easier and more stable than towing a trailer. The hitch, installed squarely over the rear wheels of the truck, improves the road holding, optimal pulling power and an excellent maneuverability. The truck by itself can be used as a safe vehicle for all shopping and excursions.

Fifth Wheels have an extraordinary spectrum of features and equipment. If you are looking for comfort and equipment that is similar to a luxury coach, the final price tag (including the truck) will actually approach the cost of a Class A motorhome. But for a maximal living space, an easy drive and a reasonable price, a Fifth Wheel is simply ideal.

A few growing pains...

As coaches and trailers became larger and more complex to satisfy consumer's demand, the number of construction components increased dramatically. The modern coach now has more than 150.000 components !

Manufacturers continuously look for ways to cut costs and find the least expensive parts, and gradually the reliability of a new RV decreased. Even with an expensive and high end RV, it is not unusual to suffer a six month period of growing pains, during which the owner draws up lengthy lists of small or larger complaints. It takes several trips to the dealer or manufacturer to have these fixed, which usually is done under warranty. But the run-around and loss of time is what Americans very adequately describe as "a pain in the neck"...

Some of the better manufacturers do everything in their power to reduce this inconvenience to a minimum by a very detailed checkup upon delivery, but with so many components and sometimes inadequate labor quality, this is not an easy task. Many RV'ers therefore prefer to buy a used unit, in the hope that the previous owner has meanwhile solved most, if not all of the growing pains...

** Continue reading with part 3 **