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What Type of RV Should I Buy?

by CampspotterNov 19, 2021

Choosing to purchase an RV is a pretty big decision. There are so many factors to consider when deciding what type of RV to buy. These factors can vary from person to person. Some important considerations include the frequency at which the RV will be used, the number of people who will be using the RV, the budget, and the places where you plan to camp. 

As we mentioned, there are so many factors to consider before purchasing an RV.  However, continue on for a list of what we think are the most important questions you should ask yourself when considering the type of RV to buy.

Considerations when Choosing a Type of RV

1. How often will I use the RV?

This is perhaps the first and most important question to consider when determining what type of RV to buy. Most people buy RVs for vacation usage, but some people plan to purchase RVs for full-time use. Deciding whether your RV will be used full-time, part-time, or occasionally is a huge factor in deciding which type of RV is best for you. Those going full-time may decide they need more space than those who will be living in the RV part-time or just using it for occasional trips. Still, deciding to live in your RV does not necessarily mean that you want to select something large, as the size needed tends to depend on several other additional factors. Keep in mind that if you decide to choose a motorhome, it will need to be driven regularly to avoid deterioration. However, it is always possible to just take it for a quick drive every six to eight weeks, even if you don’t have as many frequent trips planned.

2. Who will be living/vacationing in the RV?

Are you planning to hit the open road solo, or will it be you and a partner? Do you have children, and, if so, how many children? How old are the children, and do they require their own room? Whether or not the kids need their own room also depends on your traveling frequency, so these first two questions generally go hand-in-hand.

Lastly, do you have pets? How many pets do you have and how much space do you think they require to live happily? Surprisingly, many have found that dogs need much less living space when they have plenty of time to run and play outdoors. But indoor cats will likely need more floor space since they do not often leave the immediate home. 

3. How large of an RV am I comfortable driving?

This question also plays into the size of the RV you want to purchase. If you have decided that you need a medium or large-sized RV, you must be sure that you will be comfortable driving something of that size. If you are towing an RV, you must factor in the length of the truck plus the trailer. When driving a motorhome, you may want to tow another vehicle, or even “toys,” such as a boat or four-wheeler. This would add to the total driving length. While many newbies become used to driving a longer vehicle over time, it is still a rather daunting task for many people, especially at the beginning.

For motorhomes, consider test-driving RVs that you are interested in purchasing (or even renting a similar model via RVshare or Outdoorsy). How does it feel to be behind the wheel? Do you feel like you could become a pro with some practice? Or does it feel like something that you may never be comfortable with? These are incredibly important questions. 

For towable RVs, you may not be able to test drive (or rather, “test tow”) one from a dealership. However, as we mentioned about, there are many RV rental companies that may give you the experience of towing an RV. With towables, travel trailers and fifth wheels are incredibly different from each other. Travel trailers attach to a hitch at the end of the truck, while fifth wheels attach to a hitch in the bed of the truck. Both tow very differently and offer a different experience on the road. Be sure that you are comfortable with the length and average sway of your vehicle/RV combination before deciding on a type and making a purchase.

4. Where will you be camping?

The type of camping you plan to do and places that you plan to camp are also important considerations to make. Is height or clearance a factor? Do you want to be able to travel down any dirt road and set up camp, or are you planning to mostly stay in RV parks? Do you want to boondock on public lands or at Harvest Hosts locations, or do you plan to camp with full hookups most of the time? The places you want to camp will help to decide which type and size RV is best, and the type of camping you want to do will help to determine what size holding tanks and other amenities and features you may need. Be sure to take all of these things into consideration when deciding what type of RV to buy.

5. How much access to the RV do I need on travel days?

This question helps to sort the towable RV owners from the driveable RV owners. One of the biggest overall differences between the two is the amount of access the RVer has to the house while they are rolling down the road. For instance, in a motorhome, one has access to the bathroom and kitchen whenever they stop, allowing them to easily make food, get a drink, use the bathroom, or do whatever else they may need to do while in transit. With a towable RV, one must leave their vehicle to access their home on wheels to use the bathroom or fix a snack. In addition, with a towable RV, your truck must be large enough to fit any children and pets in the family, as it is generally considered unsafe for anyone to ride in the trailer while it is in motion (in addition to being illegal in certain states).

The frequency at which you travel (moving weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.) will play a large part in the amount of access you wish to have while moving. If you travel often, you may want to have access to your things, whereas those who move less frequently may not mind being separated from their things. Be sure to take all of this into careful consideration.

6. How much maintenance do I want to regularly perform?

Now that you have considered all the factors that play into the size RV that you need, you must consider maintenance work. RVs in general require quite a bit of maintenance, as you must keep all the house components (plumbing, electrical, propane components, etc.) in tip-top shape to allow them to function properly. In addition to this, motorhomes require mechanical and engine maintenance that trailers do not require. This includes changing the fluids in the RV and frequently checking over the drivetrain components.

Maintenance is also required for the truck that tows a trailer or fifth wheel, but it is generally easier to maintain a truck than a motorhome. In addition, if you are not performing the maintenance work yourself, you will likely be paying quite a bit more to maintain a motorhome than you would to maintain a standard truck. Furthermore, if you tow a vehicle, you will need to perform maintenance on both the motorhome and the towed vehicle, meaning double maintenance logs and service records.

7. How much money do you have to spend?

Budget is an enormous factor in determining what type of RV to buy. Generally speaking, motorhomes cost more than trailers. However, age and wear also play a factor. This means that a used motorhome may cost less than a newer travel trailer. However, a motorhome may still be a cheaper route for those who do not own a truck. If you wish to have a towable trailer, you may have to purchase a truck and a trailer, which can cost more than the price of a motorhome. Yet, if you have a truck already, purchasing a trailer may cost much less than purchasing a motorhome. With trailers, standard travel trailers also tend to cost less than fifth wheels, and toy haulers tend to be the priciest of the three. These all play into the budget factor, which looks different for anyone looking to purchase an RV.

8. What will my travel budget be like?

In addition to budgeting for the upfront cost of an RV, you will want to consider your budget for ongoing RV costs, such as gas, insurance, and maintenance. Generally, motorhomes cost more for all three of these considerations. However, the amount of gas needed to drive a truck towing a large fifth wheel may be comparable to the amount of gas needed to drive a diesel motorhome and vice versa. Still, it generally costs more to insure a motorhome than it does to insure a trailer. In addition, maintenance costs are more expensive for motorhomes, as discussed above. Travel budgets look different for everyone, and it’s important to consider your average total monthly travel costs, which will be greatly affected by the type of RV you buy.

9. What sort of vehicle do you currently have?

As mentioned above, those who already own a truck may be more eager to purchase a travel trailer or fifth wheel. Keep in mind the overall wear and tear that towing may add to your truck, though, as well as the towing capacity on your particular truck. We will cover this more later, but not all trucks can tow all travel trailers, depending on the weights and towing capabilities of the truck. Those who do not own a truck and wish to purchase a travel trailer or fifth wheel will also have to invest in a truck to tow their RV.

If you plan to buy a motorhome, do you want a towed vehicle as well? Do you have a vehicle to tow, or do you need to buy one? What accessories do you need to tow your vehicle? Can you flat tow it, or do you need a tow-dolly? If you have decided to purchase a trailer, what materials do you need to tow it? Factoring in what you already have can play into your total budget for your RV. Be sure to total up these costs and add them to your budget.

10. What features are most important to me?

Once you have narrowed down the size of RV you need and the type of RV to buy, you are ready to shop. However, these two considerations can still draw up a wide variety of individual RVs. Within the motorhome category, you can find class As, class Bs, and class C motorhomes, each with their own unique features and differences. Furthermore, there are so many versions of each motorhome type, each equipped with its own features and layout. Consider several options when making your choice, and tour plenty of RVs to get the overall feel of the layout that you are after.

If you are choosing a trailer, do you prefer a travel trailer or a fifth wheel? Do you want a bunkhouse or would you rather have a larger living room? Be sure to look at many units before selecting the one that is best for you. To avoid missing anything, make a list of all the features that you are hoping to find in your next RV. This will help you to make the best decision when the time comes.

Harvest Host RV being pulled by red truck in the mountains

Towable vs Driveable

As discussed previously, there are so many different types of RVs to buy, with the full list consisting of motorhomes (class A, class B, and class C), travel trailers (including modern, vintage, and Airstreams), and fifth wheels/toy haulers. Other considerations within each RV category include purpose, size, color, layout, and brand differentiation. All of this can be quite overwhelming for a first-time buyer, even after answering all of the questions above. Selecting your perfect rig is a decision that requires lots of research and planning, and you may still be stuck deciding between a towable and a drivable rig. Here, we’ve outlined the types of RVs to help you choose the perfect RV for you and your family.

Types of RVs to Buy

There are three main types of RVs, listed as follows:

Fifth wheel: a type of travel trailer that attaches inside a truck bed. Characterized by its “gooseneck.”

Motorhome: a type of RV that is driven, instead of towed.

Travel Trailer: a type of RV towed by a truck or SUV. Typically, this includes any towable RV besides a fifth wheel.

Sub-Categories

Within the three main categories of RVs, there are several sub-categories, listed below:

Airstream: a popular brand of travel trailer characterized by its shiny aluminum exterior.

Camper: another name for an RV. Some people use the term camper to refer only to certain types of RVs, but it technically refers to any vehicle that can be camped in.

Class A Motorhome: the largest type of motorhome. It is similar to a bus in shape and size.

Class B Motorhome: the smallest of the three types of motorhomes, also called a camper van.

Class C Motorhome: a medium-sized type of motorhome with a bed over the cockpit.

Diesel Puller: refers to a type of diesel motorhome that places the engine in the front of the RV.

Diesel Pusher: refers to a type of diesel motorhome that places the engine in the back of the RV.

Fiver/5er: a slang term referring to fifth wheels.

Toy Hauler: a type of RV (usually a fifth wheel or a travel trailer, but occasionally a motorhome) with a back “garage” area with a ramp, for the storage of “toys,” such as motorcycles, four-wheelers, dirt bikes, boats, etc.

Pop-up Camper: a type of travel trailer made from canvas that pops up and expands. Also known as a PUP.

Truck Camper: a type of RV that attaches to and sits over the truck bed.

Vintage Camper: any type of RV (motorhome, trailer, etc.) that is twenty-five years old or older. Many of these have been restored to like-new condition.

Skoolie: a type of RV that began as a school bus and has been converted into a mobile home-on-wheels. These can be smaller school busses or full-sized ones and are typically fully customized to have all the same features as a standard motorhome.

Airstream RV marked outside with mountains in the background at campground.

Looking for more great RVing tips? This excerpt, “What Type of RV Should I Buy?” was taken from the Harvest Hosts Beginner’s Guide to RVing, a totally free resource for new (and seasoned) RVers. Grab your free copy here and start your RV adventure today!