What RV Should I Buy?
» » » What RV Should I Buy?

What RV Should I Buy?

posted in: RVing | 4

Everyone’s first question before they start RVing full-time is the same: “What RV should I buy?”

There’s no single right answer to this. Different RVs are better for different people.  In this blog, I break down each different type of RV and the pros and cons to each. To keep things simple, let’s say there are three distinct categories for RVs.

  • Motorhomes
  • Trailers
  • Campers

Now within these three types, there are quite a few different options. There are Class A motorhomes (and B’s and C’s). There are travel trailers and fifth wheels. Then there’s always pop-up campers and truck campers. Or if you’re really fancy, there are bus conversions and motorcoaches.

It starts getting confusing, doesn’t it?

Let’s look into how we define those three main categories:

  • Motorhomes
    Motorhomes are exactly what they sound like: homes with motors. This is the key distinction (and just so you know for later, if you want to tow a car, this is the type of rig for you). Please don’t confuse motorhomes with mobile homes. They are completely different. Mobile homes are what you see riding on the back of “oversized loads” going down the highway.
    Options: Class A, Class C, Class B, Buses, Motorcoaches
  • Trailers
    Trailers are motorless RVs that must be towed by a truck or some other heavy-duty vehicle.
    Options: Fifth Wheels or Travel Trailers
  • Campers*
    Campers are everything that doesn’t quite fall into these two options and are more designed for “weekenders” (i.e. people who don’t use an RV as their primary residence, but use it purely for pleasure). Campers are typically smaller than trailers and more lightweight. You’ll need to own a truck or just a large SUV for these.
    Options: Truck Campers, Pop-Ups, Teardrops or “tiny trailers”

Now that you know the main types of RVs, let’s break down your options one-by-one so you can figure out which rig is right for you.

*To be honest, I made up the category of campers to simplify things. Campers is my catch-all term for RVs that don’t easily lend themselves to full-time travel. Most campers are technically trailers, but since they are not designed for full-time use, campers is a more appropriate term.

class-a-motorhomes what rv should I buy

A Quick Look at Class A’s

Average Length: 27-50 feet

Average Height: 11 feet-13 foot 6 inches (industry maximum)

Average Cost (new): $70K-$1M+

Pros:

  • Ample living space
  • Kitchen amenities: stove, oven, microwave, refrigerator
  • Bathroom amenities: toilet, separated shower
  • Sleeps 4+
  • Inclusive
  • Gas or diesel options available

Cons:

  • Expensive upfront costs
  • Motor maintenance*
  • Insurance costs
  • Length limits ability to travel certain place
  • Need to tow a car for easier local travel

Motorhomes: Class A

Class A’s are your classic motorhome. Heath and I have owned and loved our Class A Winnebago Brave for almost a year. When it comes to motorhomes, Class A’s are your largest option. Generally speaking, they will have the highest-powered motors and offer the most space.

Class A’s typically range between 27-50 feet long. Most A’s will have at least one slide-out. The bigger the rig, the more specialty features you can expect. Our 33-foot rig with two slides (also referred to commonly as slide-outs or pop-outs) has a king-sized bed, a huge couch (that folds into a bed), dinette that seats four (and converts into a bed), a twin-size loft bed, and a removable coffee table.

Our rig sleeps five total, which is average for a Class A.

Layouts for Class A’s will differ based on manufacturer and model. But 99% of Class A’s will include a kitchen (refrigerator, sink, stove, oven, microwave), a bathroom (toilet, sink, shower), a dining table or dining table/couch combo, and a bedroom.

Depending on the year, some models might not have showers, and ovens are typically considered a “specialty” feature. But overall, it has everything your home would have*, including two A/C units. Because it includes two A/Cs (one for the living area, one for the bedroom), Class A’s run on 50 AMP power.

Most often, Class A’s are gas, but there are diesel options. Overall, they are the most expensive type of RV and offer a great deal of space.

*If you’re looking for a rig with a washer/dryer set and a dishwasher, you’ll need a diesel engine and plenty of money. I’ve only ever seen both of these amenities in a motorcoach (imagine a tour bus or a Class A with a Greyhound bus chassis).

should-i-buy-class-c-motorhome

A Quick Look at Class C’s

Average Length: 23-35 feet

Average Height: 10-11 feet

Average Cost (new): $50K-$120K

Pros

  • Living space
  • Kitchen amenities: stove, oven (in larger models only), microwave, refrigerator
  • Bathroom amenities: toilet, shower
  • Sleeps 3+
  • Inclusive

Cons

  • Expensive upfront costs
  • Motor maintenance
  • Insurance costs
  • Length limits ability to travel certain place
  • Need/want to tow a car for easier local travel
  • Less living space than Class A (even if rigs are the same length) because of the separated driving area

Motorhomes: Class C’s

Class C motorhomes have a very distinct silhouette. While Class A’s have giant windshields, Class C’s have a loft above the cab. This loft is typically a bed or a storage option.

Class C’s are generally shorter (in height and length) and smaller than Class A’s. C’s will have a kitchen and bathroom, but depending on the length, might not have a full bedroom. Your bed might be above the cab of the rig.

In general, you can expect less or smaller features in a C compared to an A. For example, no oven, a significantly smaller shower, and a kitchen table for two instead of four.

C’s will run on 30 AMP power. Among other things, this means your C will have only one A/C unit. This also means you’ll have better electric options when traveling. We often are forced to use 30 AMPs on our Class A because of lack of availability of 50 AMP sites at RV parks.

The biggest difference between the A & C are the driving areas. You will always step down into a C driving area, and you will have driver and passenger doors in addition to a main door. Because you step down into this area, the cab isn’t “livable” space, while it typically can be in an A. This means that even though many Class A’s and C’s are the same length, A’s have more living space.

Engines between these two classes are very similar and sometimes even the exact same. If you trust my RV salesman, supposedly Class A engines get better gas mileage, even if they are identical engines. (What am I saying? He probably made that up.) C’s are great for fast or moderate-paced travel, regardless of gas mileage. Depending on the length of your C, you’ll likely want to tow a car.

class-b-motorhomes

Photo Credit: The Snowmads. Follow Jason and Kristin on Instagram.

A Quick Look at Class B’s

Average Length: 15-25 feet

Average Height: 9-10 feet

Average Cost (new): $40K-$125K

Pros

  • Typically have the best engines (often built on Mercedes chassis)
  • Small and easy to maneuver
  • Great for fast-paced travel
  • Sleeps 2(+)

Cons

  • Small living area for more than two people
  • Fewer amenities
  • Motor maintenance
  • Insurance costs
  • Smallest amount of storage space in a motorhome
  • They can often be as expensive as Class C’s (but less size)

Motorhomes: Class B

Class B’s are smaller than A’s and smaller than C’s.

“That’s weird. Why aren’t the motorhomes named based on size?” I DON’T KNOW. It would only make sense for B’s to be the medium sized rig. But this is how it is.

Class B’s are your smallest motorhome option. But don’t discount these bad boys based on their size. Many B’s are up to 25 ft long.

B’s are generally luxury vehicles. Most are built on Mercedes chassis, so you’ll have a diesel engines known for lasting. This means they can be pricey since you’re paying for a diesel engine, but in addition to the strong engines, some of most beautiful RV interiors I’ve seen are inside B’s.

B’s will include a bathroom and kitchen, but with less amenities than larger rigs. You probably won’t find an oven in B’s and you might have a wet bath (meaning a combined shower and bathroom). And unlike A’s and C’s, Class B’s generally will not have slide outs.

There will most likely be a bed, a couch that transforms into a bed or even a murphy bed. Unlike Class A’s and C’s which typically have a private bedroom, B’s are more open, like a studio apartment.

Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it yet, all RVs—motorhomes, campers and trailers—built in the past few years come with flat screen TVs. It is the 20th century after all.

A Quick Look at Super C’s

So now you know what A, C, and B’s are, and that they are named in a totally weird order. Just to make things crazy, let me teach you about Super C’s.

Why Super?

A Super C is a Class C (same basic silhouette), BUT they have an 18-wheeler engine. Oh yeah. These big guys can haul. They are a great option if you’re planning a lot of mountain travel, or if you want to tow a large vehicle behind your rig, like a truck.

According to my husband, these are the “sexiest” RVs. I don’t want to know what that means. But if you’re looking for a solid engine—and you can afford to pay top dollar for it—Super C is a great option.

Super C’s will have all the amenities of a Class A or C, but because of their hefty price tag (you’re paying for a diesel engine), they usually include extra features like washer/dryer hook ups or a fake fireplace.

A Quick Look at Buses and Motorcoaches

I’m going to avoid going into details on buses and motorcoaches for two reasons:

Buses: Most buses are projects. You buy an old bus and you have to build your rig yourself (or using a company). School bus conversions are becoming increasingly popular, but I know absolutely nothing about them. Want to customize your own RV? Buy an old bus.

Motorcoaches: Are you a millionaire? Are you planning to open for Taylor Swift on her next tour? No? You shouldn’t buy a motorcoach.


should-i-buy-a-fifth-wheel

Photo Credit: 188 Sq. Ft. Follow Kevin and Mandy on Instagram.

A Quick Look at Fifth Wheels

Average Length: 22-40 feet

Average Height: 12 feet-13 foot 6 inches

Average Cost (new): $25K-$100K

Pros

  • Amenities and layout most comparable to a house
  • Largest kitchen option for any type of RV
  • More privacy because bedrooms on opposite sides of rig (available on most two-bedroom layouts)
  • Sleeps 4-8
  • Price (more space for less money than motorhome)

Cons

  • Need to purchase a heavy duty truck
  • Outfitting truck bed for hitch
  • Difficult of backing into RV sites, making u-turns, backing up
  • Designed for a slower pace of travel (compared to motorhomes)
  • Interior steps—mostly a problem for those who have trouble with stairs or because climbing stairs will shake the entire rig which is incredibly annoying
  • All of your travel will be in a truck (versus in a “home”, like with motorhomes)

Trailers: Fifth Wheels

Ah, fifth wheels. First thing you should know: fifth wheels are huge. HUGE. And as far as amenities go, fifth wheels have the best options.

This type of trailer is called a fifth wheel because the neck of the trailer (likely where your future bedroom is) will sit in the bed of your truck, so the rig will be towed from the bed of the truck instead of the hitch. Because of this, fifth wheels have two levels (which means extra stairs inside), so there is a little more privacy offered here.

In every fifth wheel I’ve been in, there was: a fake fireplace, a couch, possibly a second couch or two recliners, two A/C units, a kitchen table with four chairs, an island, and a fully stocked kitchen. This is the closest you will get to living in a moving house and will offer the most space and nicest amenities for the best price (generally speaking). Heck, some fifth wheels have fold-out raised patios just because they are so fancy. Depending on how fancy you want to be, you can find a new fifth wheel for anywhere from 30K-100K.

I’ve been in a lot of RVs in the past two years and I must say, as far as interiors go, fifth wheels have the best design. While motorhomes still seem to be lacking in style, fifth wheels are aesthetically designed for a newer generation of RVers. I’m still waiting to find a rig that doesn’t look like the fabric patterns were picked by a color-blind man, but new fifth wheels do have your least unattractive options.

Fivers are nice (if you have a truck to tow it with) because you don’t have to worry about engine maintenance on the actual rig. Plus, when your truck has engine problems, you can take it to any shop, whereas most motorhomes can only be services at RV-specific or engine-specific mechanics. Because of their weight and size, fifth wheels are best used for slow travel, where you spends weeks or months in a single place.

should-i-buy-a-trailer

Photo credit: Nuventure Travels. Follow Lindsey and Adam on Instagram. 

A Quick Look at Travel Trailers

Average Length: 21-35 feet (Available lengths as short as 12 feet)

Average Height: 10-12 feet

Average Cost (new): $12K-$45K

Pros

  • Open floor plan
  • Sleeps 1-8 (depending on the length of your trailer)
  • Able to be towed on the hitch of your vehicle (compared to fifth wheels)
  • Price (even cheaper than 5th wheels)
  • Great for families (and typically a popular choice for families)

Cons

  • Need to purchase a truck or large SUV for towing
  • Difficult of backing into RV sites, making u-turns, backing up
  • Designed for a slower pace of travel (compared to motorhomes)
  • All of your travel will be in a truck (versus in a “home” like with motorhomes)

Trailers: Travel Trailer

This is your classic pull-behind trailer. Of the options listed so far, this is the least expensive option. You have a great amount of space in travel trailers and you can expect the same amenities as a fifth wheel. However, because it is towed behind your vehicle, they are often shorter and smaller then fifth wheel trailers. In fact, you can buy trailers like Casitas or Scamps for as short as 12 feet.

Kitchen, bathroom, dining area, bedroom—it has them all, but typically isn’t as classy as a fifth wheel might be. In my own shopping experience, I’ve found that travel trailers have the most layout options for bunk beds and room for kids. One trailer even had a room with four bunks, in case you have a large family.

With any trailer, you’ll need to own a truck and you’ll need to start practicing backing up with a trailer. Many RV parks offer pull-thru RV sites, but more often than not, you’ll need to back your trailer into its nightly home. If, like me, parking in reverse makes you sweat bullets, I wouldn’t recommend a trailer if you’re planning on fast-paced travel.

One of the biggest drawbacks to trailers of any kind is that on “drive days” you are stuck inside a truck all day. In our motorhomes, I can stretch my legs, watch TV, work at the desk or kitchen table, nap in bed, make food, stare blankly into fridge trying to find something to eat, and in general keep myself entertained while traveling. This is a huge plus for motorhomes if you ask me!


truck-campers

Photo credit: Mali Mish. Follow Mali Mish on Instagram.

A Quick Look at Truck Campers

Average Floor Length: 6-12 feet

Average Height: 10-12 feet

Average Cost (new): $15K-$45K

Pros

  • Easy to maneuver
  • Lightweight
  • Sleeps 2-3
  • Designed for travel anywhere
  • Designed for a faster paced travel

Cons

  • Few amenities
  • Need to purchase a truck
  • Need to outfit bed of truck to handle weight
  • Many RV parks don’t allow truck campers (these rigs are most often seen boondocking anyway)
  • All of your travel will be in a truck (versus in a “home” like with motorhomes)

Campers: Truck Camper

Little known secret: Before we bought our first RV (we chose a Class C, in case you were wondering), we considered a truck camper. We decided against a truck camper when we realized it would actually be more expensive than buying a Class C motorhome and less than half of the living space.

Truck campers are the most compact length option for full-time travel, unless you want to sleep in the backseat of your car.

Truck campers will have: a small kitchen (two-burner stove, sink, a fridge), a dining room table that can double as a guest bed, a bathroom (which is most likely a wet bath, meaning you shower where the toilet and sink are), and a bed. If you don’t mind occasionally waking up and hitting your head on the ceiling, a truck camper is a great option if you want to visit places off the map or fit down small roads.

pop-up-campers

Photo credit: Go RVing. Follow @gorving on Instagram.

A Quick Look at Pop-Ups Campers

Average Length: 10-27 feet (open or “popped”)

Average Height: 8-9 feet (open)

Average Cost (new): $10K-$25K

Pros

  • Easy to maneuver
  • Lightweight
  • Designed for travel anywhere
  • Price

Cons

  • Sleeps 1-2
  • Some of them do not have A/C
  • Few amenities
  • No bathroom or shower

Campers: Pop-Up Camper

Don’t live full-time in a pop-up camper.

Oops, sorry. There I go spouting my opinion.

My husband almost tricked me into a pop-up camper. Then I realized a HUGE deal breaker: no A/C (at least the one we were looking at).

Pop-ups usually do not have much kitchen space or a bathroom.  Some will have a mini fridge and a sink, but that’s not a guarantee! Overall, they are light-weight and easy to tow behind most SUVs, but I wouldn’t recommend them for full-time travel unless you’ll be in ideal climates or unless you really, and I mean really, like the camping and the outdoors.

However, if you want to just weekend travel for a while, pop-ups are a fairly inexpensive option to test out of the RV life without committing.

teardrop-trailers

Photo credit: Teardrop Trailer. Follow them on Instagram.

A Quick Look at Teardrops

Average Length: Less than 13 feet

Average Height: Less than 5 feet

Average Cost (new): $12K-$25K

Pros

  • Easy to maneuver
  • Lightweight
  • Designed for weekend camping trips

Cons

  • Sleeps 1-2
  • No A/C
  • Few amenities
  • No bathroom or shower
  • Outdoor kitchen

Campers: Teardrops

Again, teardropslike pop-ups—are not designed for full-timers. They are, however, super cute! Teardrops are becoming an increasingly popular option among RVers who want a retro camper-vibe. A typical Teardrop camper will have similar amenities to a popup camper, but less than a trailer.

What RV Should I Buy?

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors to decide on when picking your first RV. Buying an RV is a mix of extreme excitement and a lot of stress in making the right decision. If you’d like to read more about our experience in our Class C motorhome vs. our Class A motorhome, you can read that here.

What question do you have about buying your new RV? Drop us a comment below and we’ll respond to all of them. 🙂

Follow Alyssa Padgett:

Travel blogger

Film producer + Writer + Full-time Traveler. My husband thinks I'm funny.