When newcomers to the RV lifestyle start looking to purchase an RV, the first question is always, “Which style RV would fit my lifestyle?” As many long-time RVers know, it’s the most debated topic in the RV world. Well, that is with the possible exception of the grand ol’ “gas vs. diesel” debate, but we’ll save that one for a later blog.
I’ll try to cover all major forms of RV and provide an objective look at each one. I have my own favorite, of course. I’ll try to keep that bias out of the article (if that’s possible). I’ll talk generally about trailers and motorhomes, discussing class A, B, C, fifth wheel, travel trailer, and maybe even pop-up within the two main categories.
The main draw to trailers is they can feel most like home of any RV. The amenities inside tend to be more home-like than many other styles of RV as well. Many larger 5ers have nice island kitchens to appeal to the full-timer who likes to cook. In the living room, you’ll find residential-style furniture.
A 42-foot long fifth wheel with five slides can be well over 400 sqft. If you find one that has front living, usually it’ll have opposing slides with one couch in each slide. This makes for a large roomy feel. Even front bed 5ers generally have a homier feel without captains chairs and steering wheels.
Larger families may find that towing a bumper=pull bunkhouse with a Nissan NV 2500 (or other combination of large bumper-pull trailer/high capacity van) is the safest way to travel with their little tribe. Passenger vans afford seatbelts and safety reinforced shell as opposed to the large awkward seating of a motorhome.
For the weekender with limited towing, there’s the pop-up. It’s a nice, lightweight way to get into RVing. When looking at a pop-up, make sure it has A/C. This will allow you to camp even on the hottest of summer days when it’s too hot to even sleep. Without an A/C, you might as well be in a tent. Remember, if it rains while you’re camping in a pop-up, you’ll need to set up the camper when you get home to let it dry. Otherwise, you will have a moldy wet canvas on your next outing.
Generally, a truck and trailer are cheaper. If you get a brand new, top of the line truck and a brand new, top of the line 5er, you’ll spend about $200,000. An equivalent motorhome will cost you up to twice as much. Even after purchase, insurance, upkeep, and maintenance costs are cheaper than a motorhome.
The biggest problem with choosing a trailer is finding a suitable truck and equipping it properly to handle the load that it will be bearing. Remember, the most commonly uttered words out of an RV salesman’s mouth are, “It’s half-ton towable with a load-leveling hitch!” Salesmen lie, but that’s no news.
Chances are, unless you need a heavy truck for work, or you’ve been thinking about RVing for a while, you’re not going to be able to just grab your daily driver vehicle and go pick out a trailer. Your best bet is to visit FifthWheelST and use their calculator to pair a truck to your ideal trailer.
After you pair up your new rig, you’re going to have to learn to maneuver it. Not only is that right hand turn from a stop sign kind of tricky, but having a trailer makes it much more difficult to back into a campsite. Having a fifth wheel makes this task slightly easier than a bumper-pull, but it remains quite a bit trickier than backing a single vehicle.
Trailers are notorious for what I call “Chinapops.” Whether they be pop-ups, bumper-pulls, or 5ers, it’s pretty much industry standard that they come with Chinese-made tires that are just barely rated for the trailer dry weight. In general, it’s good practice that you drive from the dealership straight to the tire shop to get some decent rubber. The consequence can be a blow out that causes costly damage.
Once you get to your site, you’re going to have to set up. Setting up some trailers will make you miss camping in a tent. You’ll first have to get the trailer level. While Andersen Levelers can ease that job quite a bit compared to other levelers, you’ll usually still have to manually extend stabilizer jacks. Some higher end 5ers have hydraulic leveling jacks, but even those controls are outside. Do I even have to mention unhooking the truck?
Isn’t it nice as a driver to be able to ask the passenger for a sandwich and not having to stop? This is always the number one argument for motorhomes. Believe it or not, passengers enjoy the privilege of going to the privy while driving. This can be a big bonus to the “we made it in 4 hours 27 minutes” type of driver.
While fifth wheels have a huge storage compartment that sometimes looks like something that could make a nice bedroom, a motorhome is built on a commercial truck chassis. This allows for many more storage compartments in what many RVers refer to as “the basement.” They may not be as big as the one in the fifth wheel, but there are many more of them.
While with the trailer you may have a removable mode of transportation, that is usually a big, fuel-guzzling truck. With a motorhome, you can have a towed vehicle, or “toad”. This makes it quite a bit cheaper in fuel costs to get out and explore your destination once you are there. Some class C models can get 20 mpg themselves, although these are usually smaller, older models built on a Toyota chassis and may have trouble towing a full sized toad.
Compared to trailers, motorhomes are quite nimble and easily maneuverable. It isn’t necessary to take turns quite so wide because you aren’t dragging something behind you with a pivot point in the middle. Backing into a campsite is a breeze by comparison, not only because there is no pivot point to worry about, but also because you can always see where the rear end of your rig is in your mirrors. Many times while backing a trailer, you’ll have to swing out the trailer to one side or another to the point that you as a driver are blind to where the rear of the trailer is actually located. Many times, this makes it almost a necessity to have someone directing you on the ground as you back a trailer, whereas in a motorhome you are less likely to need a second person, especially if you have a backup camera.
Many larger families find they would rather have the roominess of a large motorhome while driving down the road than opting for being cramped up in a truck or large van while traveling. This would probably depend upon how much you plan on traveling.
Motorhomes are easier to set up and easier to move. Again, this is a major plus if you plan on traveling often. If you get in late at night, the leveling controls are often right next to the driver’s seat. No need to get out in the weather to set anything up. You can use the leveling controls right there inside and go straight to bed if you want. You can worry about hooking up to services in the morning when you are rested, or when the weather has improved. You can do this almost anywhere you want to layover for the night, because almost every motorhome has an onboard generator as well, an option on trailers that is many times reserved for toy haulers.
The expense of a motorhome is prohibitive for some. Even if you have to buy a truck to tow with, most of the time if you compare like quality and age motorhomes to truck and trailer, you’ll be spending nearly twice as much on a motorhome. For example, assume you have found a used motorhome that is $50k. If you look around a bit, many times you can find a truck of similar age for $10-15k that will pull a trailer of a similar size and quality as the motorhome that you can find for an additional $10-15k. That’s $10-15k for a truck and $10-15k for the trailer vs the $50k for the motorhome. Of course, this is not always the case, and there are deals to be found, but in general, motorhomes will be quite a bit more expensive than a comparable trailer rig.
In addition to purchase price, ongoing costs are more expensive in a motorhome. Remember, you are now maintaining a truck that was built for commercial use. Oil changes are more expensive, sometimes using as many as 22 quarts of oil. Wheel bearings, brakes, compressed air systems, and hydraulic systems are all examples of systems that will be costlier to maintain than on a trailer rig.
Once you purchase your motorhome, if you want to be as mobile when you get to your destination as one would be in a trailer rig, you’ll also have to purchase a toad. Not only is insurance more costly on a motorhome than a trailer rig, but you’ll also have to maintain insurance and maintenance on the toad.
Upgrading your motorhome is also quite costly. If you either want a nicer living space or a more powerful, reliable powertrain, you have to upgrade your entire rig. If you have a trailer rig, you can trade in your RV and truck separately according to your needs, which makes upgrading either more convenient and attainable.
Finally, the issue that most people complain about regarding a motorhome. Breakdowns. Many are concerned that if their rig ends up in a shop, they will have to stay in a motel while repairs are being made. While you may be more comfortable in a motel, many repair shops will work with you to provide at least minimal hookups for you at night so you can stay in their parking lot at night. This still means that you’ll have to be away during the day while they are working on your rig, so you may rather a hotel stay.
Running a business out of an RV takes space. This is the main reason I prefer toy haulers. I have a 12×8 space in the back of my 5er that I can use for inventory storage and office space. This did require the addition of a third air conditioner to service the garage area so that I can work in the heat of summer.
I have seen some bunk houses that I may consider upgrading to at some point. Some have two bedrooms that my family can make great use out of. My boys can share the larger bedroom and I can convert the smaller one into an office area. While I have considered this option many times, I am concerned about getting larger boxes out of the regular RV doorways. With a toy hauler, I can just drop the back ramp and offload the biggest boxes I can pack up.
If you want to know more about running a business out of an RV while on the road, come join us in our Facebook group. There are lots of people there who are ready and willing to help you get on the road to success.