what rv should i buy?

The Ultimate Guide to The Different Types of RVs

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This is an excerpt from my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-Time RVing. You can check out the best-selling book here.

When I first started RV shopping in 2014, I kept seeing the term “fifth wheel”.

I had NO idea what it meant.

An RV with five wheels? Isn’t a fifth wheel bad? Kinda like being the third wheel on a date?

It took an astonishingly long time for me to grasp that a gooseneck trailer and a fifth wheel are the same shape—but one is for towing livestock and things and the other is a luxurious home on wheels.

(Here are 31 more RVing terms new travelers should know!)

There are endless options when it comes to buying an RV and pros and cons to each. In this super long post, I’ll cover all the major types of motorhomes, trailers, and campers you can buy to hit the road.

There are endless options when it comes to buying an RV and pros and cons to each. Here is the ultimate guide to each different kind of RV. Click To Tweet

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. They aren’t as mobile as their name implies.
    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.

class-a-motorhomes what rv should I buy

A Quick Look at Class A’s

Average Length: 27-50 feet

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 loved our Class A Winnebago Brave. With opposing slideouts, it felt HUGE. And at 33′ it was still small enough to be manageable to drive and not limit us on access in national parks.

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 special 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, but many can sleep up to 10 people. (Choosing to host that many people for a sleepover is up to you).

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 a 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.

Class A’s are gas pullers or diesel pushers (engine in the front versus engine in the back). 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 large class A motorhome or a fifth wheel.

should-i-buy-class-c-motorhome

A Quick Look at Class C’s

Average Length: 23-35 feet

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 (compared to trailers and campers. Generally C’s will be the cheapest motorhome option though!)
  • 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

This post is an excerpt from my latest book, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-time RVing Across America. This book answers all your full-time RVing questions from how to get mail and internet on the road to how to pick the right RV for you.

Available on Amazon

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, they might not have a full bedroom. Your bed might be above the cab of the rig or in the corner.

In general, you can expect fewer 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 a lack of availability of 50 AMP sites at RV parks.

The biggest difference between the A & C is the driving areas. You will step down into a C driving area, and you will have driver and passenger doors in addition to the 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 lengths, 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.

Our first motorhome was a 29′ class C. It was a little too long to drive around with a tow car but it was the perfect size for two people who wanted to go on adventures. You can see inside that first motorhome and see our little renovation here.

class-b-motorhomes

Photo Credit: Kristin Snow

A Quick Look at Class B’s

Average Length: 15-25 feet

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
  • The smallest amount of storage space in a motorhome
  • They can often be as expensive as Class C’s

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 engine 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 the most beautiful RV interiors I’ve seen are inside B’s.

B’s will include a bathroom and kitchen, but with fewer 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. Yes, plural. TVs. It is the 20th century after all.

We recently toured Canada for three months in a Leisure Travel Van (considered a B+ motorhome because RV class names are just made up) and recorded this video tour:

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 hookups or an electric fireplace. Some will be toy haulers (which I’ll explain in a second!).

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. Like literally Prevost and other high-end motorcoach brands literally sell rigs that cost $2 MILLION. Get outta here.


should-i-buy-a-fifth-wheel

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

A Quick Look at Fifth Wheels

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 (and available 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.

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: an electric 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 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 few 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. (Update: Every year, this paragraph becomes a little more untrue as RV manufacturers step up their design game on all their products. Way to go guys!)

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 serviced at RV-specific or engine-specific mechanics. Because of their weight and size, fifth wheels are best used for slow travel, where you spend weeks or months in a single place.

Unofficially, fifth wheels are the most popular RV for full-time travelers because of their space and price. Grand Design specifically makes the best fivers on the market right now.

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)

Height: 9-12 feet

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 than 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. 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.

One of the biggest drawbacks to towable RVs 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 the fridge trying to find something to eat, and in general keep myself entertained while traveling. This is a huge plus for motorhomes, especially if you travel with kids!


truck-campers

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

A Quick Look at Truck Campers

Average Floor Length: 6-12 feet

Height: 10-12 feet

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 the truck to handle the weight
  • Many RV parks don’t allow truck campers (but these rigs are most often seen boondocking anyway)
  • All of your travel will be in a truck

Campers: Truck Camper

Little known secret: Before we bought our first RV, we considered a truck camper. We decided against a truck camper when we realized it would actually be more expensive to buy a camper and a truck than to buy a Class C motorhome. We opted for more living space in the motorhome.

Fitting in the bed of your truck, 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

Length: 10-27 feet (open or “popped”)

Height: 8-9 feet (open)

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 to the lifestyle.

teardrop-trailers

Photo credit: Teardrop Trailer. Follow them on Instagram.

A Quick Look at Teardrops

Length: Less than 13 feet

Height: Less than 5 feet

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.

For outdoor lovers like our friends Marc and Tricia, teardrops are a fun way to get really off the grid.

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. The best thing you can do is go RV shopping often. Try an RV show (Tampa and Hershey are too big ones!). Watch tours on Youtube. Rent an RV on Outdoorsy to test the lifestyle. The more RVs you see in person, the easier your decision will be.

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.

Trying to learn more before you buy an RV? Read this post on 3 HUGE Factors to Consider Before Picking your RV.

Ready to buy a used RV? Here are 11 Questions to Ask Before Buying A Used RV.

18 Responses

  • […] There is no one size fits all solution. (If you haven’t picked which RV is right for you yet, check out this blog where we break down the pros and cons to […]

  • […] still trying to figure out what type of RV will suit you and your family’s needs, you can read this post called “What RV Should I Buy”. This post breaks down the difference between Class A RV’s, Class C RV’s, fifth wheels, […]

  • […] There is a lot to consider when purchasing your RV. If you’re just starting to look into RV life, first I’d check out this in-depth guide into the types of RVs available. […]

  • I have been doing a lot of research while trying to decide what to buy. I have read all kinds of things good and bad. One thing that i keep coming back to is this. Someone said for a woman traveling alone, a travel trailer is a bad idea because you have to get out of it in order to hook up and that it is essentially safer to have a motor home. But I want a small travel trailer so I can use my Honda Pilot to tow it. I think I would rather rely on my Honda engine, not sure I want to worry about a motorhome engine. What’s your take on this?

    • I think making decisions based on fear of what might possibly happen one day is a good way to live a boring life. People love talking about when RVs catch fire or crash or get stolen, but that’s so rare and it’s such a waste of energy to worry about it. If you want a Casita, go for it! I know other solo female travelers who have been in casitas. They’re cute little rigs!

      Do whatever feels right for you. In all our years of RVing, we’ve never once parked the RV somewhere we genuinely felt unsafe or alarmed by other people. I have worried about bears tearing off the door and eating me alive though. That seems way more likely to me than being attacked by men.

      • LOL! I’m scared as hell of bears! When I read about the possible dangers, my first instinct was to dismiss it, thinking it couldn’t possibly be any different than just living everyday in the “real” world. I would think the norm would apply: ie always be aware of your surroundings and don’t do anything stupid. At least that has always been my motto. Thanks for the advice. I was doubting myself there for a while!

  • Hey – I’ve been reading through your site a lot and everything you guys have to say has been so helpful! My boyfriend and I are really starting to plan to start RV-ing full time but honestly keep going back and forth between what we want/what will be best for us. We’re both nurses so we’ll be traveling every few months (usually an assignment is 13 weeks long) and trying to go with the weather for the most part, but we have 2 dogs coming with us as well. As of now, we have no vehicle to haul a 5th wheel with (which ideally I think would fit us best), but we’re stuck trying to figure out if trading in one of our cars for a big truck would be worth it in the end for a typically less expensive, but bigger RV. Any input/advice for us? Thanks so much! You guys rock!

    • It sounds like a fifth wheel or TT would be good for y’all! And you can get a used one of those for a really good price. I would do what our friends Kevin and Mandy did and get a good truck (because you don’t want that breaking down!) and getting a used fiver that you can fix up and make homey. You can see their set up at 188sqft.com and they have four pets with them on the road!

  • I know a college age girl who worked as a raft guide one summer, and lived in a pop up trailer quite comfortably. A correction is needed here – these pop-ups don’t sleep 1-2; many can sleep 6+ and have fold outs. Even the basic ones (which start at $7,000 or so new, and are easy to find used for much less) will sleep at least four.

    I also met a couple that lived full-time in a 6′ by 12′ travel trailer, carrying their bikes in the back of their truck. They were minimalist in their footprint, kept their trailer impeccably clean and it seemed huge. They bought it for $900, rebuilt it (including wood cabinetry, and it seemed magical.

    • One thing to consider with a pop up is that some campgrounds in bear country will not allow pop ups for obvious reasons(bears can tear them up looking for food)

  • […] more information on motorhomes and fifth wheels check out this link which goes into further […]

  • […] list of the pros and cons of each, or a description of each. I found a very good example of that here and have benefited from it. I’m just thinking out […]

  • […] If you want to see a full overview of all the different types of RVs with pros and cons, price range and more, you can check out this blog post by my wife comparing each type of RV. […]

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