Recreational Vehicles come in many shapes and sizes. They range in size from a small teardrop trailer that can be pulled by a motorcycle to a gigantic house on wheels with a King sized bed, granite countertops, and a fireplace in the living room!
When choosing between the different classes of RVs or Motorhomes, it’s beneficial to understand what are RV Classes and how are they different. It’s also helpful to know the amenities, costs, drivability, and pros and cons for each type.
What Are RV Classes? RV Classes are a way to describe the three drivable types of motorhomes. Class A motorhomes are built on a commercial bus chassis, Class B motorhomes built on an oversized van chassis, and Class C motorhomes are built on a large pickup truck chassis.
Towable RVs called RV Trailers don’t have classes. All towable RVs are all considered trailers. However, they all have different characteristics that should be evaluated to understand all of the RV options available today.
And, there is a new type of vehicle that has emerged onto to RV scene, and that is a School bus conversion also known as a skoolie. There are four different school bus classes, A through D, which we will cover in this article too.
A Class A motorhome looks like a big commercial bus with fewer windows, a fancier paint job and antennae on the roof. These motorhomes are the most luxurious of all the classes. They range in size from 25 to 45 feet or more, and some can sleep up to eight or ten passengers. Since these motorhomes are so big and heavy, they are the least fuel efficient with some getting as little as five or six miles a gallon.
Class A Motorhomes are great for folks who spend a lot of time on the road. They are like having your home on wheels and include features such as a king sized bed, two or more bathrooms, a full sized refrigerator, and a washer and dryer. Since these motorhomes are built on a commercial bus chassis, there is plenty of space underneath for storage.
Many Class A motorhomes have 3 to 4 slideouts which make the space inside even larger. You can take a typical Class A RV and expand it from 8 feet wide to 15 feet wide if the slideouts are across from each other.
Class A Motorhomes have either gasoline or diesel-fueled engines and they are known as pushers or pullers. A pusher means that the engine is in the back and so the driving cab is cooler and quieter. It is also built with a larger engine on a heavier chassis and can handle a massive load and can tow more. In a puller, the engine is in the front and it allows better floor plan options because the engine is under the front end.
Class A motorhomes are great for full-time travel. They are the most expensive of the classes but the convenience and comfort they provide are perfect for folks who are on the road for long road trips. These RVs can’t go everywhere though. They are meant to stay on paved roads that are wide and in good condition. Therefore, some campgrounds and or campsites may be inaccessible. Also, once you get set up at a campsite, it’s not convenient to leave again to run errands or go sightseeing. Many Class A RVers choose to tow along a vehicle to get around. In addition to the initial expense of the RV, the costs of repairs, insurance and fuel are also the highest of any other motorhome.
Class A motorhomes range in price from as low as $125,000 to over $400,000. There are many amenities that can add to the price of a Class A RV such as engine type, engine location, electronics, interior finishes and much more.
- Large interior living spaces
- Many options and luxury amenities
- Plenty of cargo storage
- Difficult to drive
- Need a second vehicle to see the surrounding area
- Expensive to purchase, repair, operate and insure
While Class A motorhomes may be impractical for many, they are a perfect option for extended road trips or full-time time travel. They are very popular with retirees and those living on the road full time.
Class B motorhomes are also known as camper vans. Class B RVs are the smallest of the RV classes. They are easy to drive and since they are smaller and lighter they can go many places that Class A and C motorhomes cannot reach. Although they are more mobile than the other classes, they have much less room inside.
Class B RVs have a small kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area but everything about a Class B is designed to use as little space as possible. Since these RVs are smaller, they get better gas mileage than the other RV classes. Some are even 4 wheel drive so you can reach the beach, go offroad and boondock or just trek to the best campsites.
What Class B motorhomes sacrifice in spaciousness they make up for with convenience and economy. Class B RVs fit in regular parking spaces, are fuel efficient, and you don’t need a separate vehicle to run errands or sightsee. They are also easy to drive since they are the size of a large van. And they do not require a special license to drive them. The price for a Class B RV ranges from $35,000 up to $125,000.
These RVs are perfect for 1 or 2 travelers who are on the go, like to live a minimalist lifestyle and stay outside of the vehicle most of the time. I don’t think living in a Class B with children is a sustainable lifestyle.
There are several other pros and cons to consider when it comes to Class B motorhomes:
- Lower Cost
- Better Gas Mileage
- Great Mobility
- Very little storage space
- Minimalist features such as a small bathroom, kitchen, and living area
- Can only accommodate one or two people
Class C RVs are midsized RVs that range from 19 to 36 feet long. They are easily recognizable because of the bunk area that extends out over top of the driving cab. Class C RVs have many of the same amenities as the Class A RVs but at a lower price point.
Class C RVs offer a more living space than the confining class B motorhomes and many of the same amenities of the class A RVs. They have a bathroom, an adequate kitchen and plenty of places to sleep. Some of the larger models feature a master bedroom suite in the rear while most others have a queen-sized bed toward the rear of the RV. Couches and dinette tables convert into beds and the overhead compartment above the cab can be used for storage or additional sleeping quarters.
Class C motorhomes can be every bit as challenging to drive as the class A, but they are usually more easy to manage in restricted campsites. Travelers can also tow a separate vehicle for sightseeing and errands. The fuel costs are slightly better, as is the maintenance and insurance; however, these are still relatively expensive to operate when compared to class B RVs. Class C RVs range in price from $50,000 to $125,000.
There are two other types of Class C RVs, however. One type is a compact Class C RV and the other is a C+RV, also called a Super C Motorhome.
Compact Class C RVs are under 22 feet long yet contain most of the features of a larger Class C RV. Because of their smaller size, they are much easier to drive and they can handle tighter turns on curvy mountain roads since their wheelbase is shorter. They can also go where larger RVs can’t. For example, they can travel into certain National Parks where the maximum RV length is only twenty feet.
Compact Class C RVs can sleep up to 4 people. Two adults can comfortably sleep over the cab and two kids can sleep on the dinette that converts into a bed. Most come with a full kitchen including a sink, fridge, range, and convection microwave oven. And although they do come with a full bath, it is usually a “wet bath” which means that the shower, sink, and toilet are all in one room. Also, compact RVs don’t have much storage space.
Compact RVs are great for minimalists who just need a little more space than a Class B RV. They are also a great choice to rent if RVing for the first time.
C+ or Super C RVs are the exact opposite of Compact RV’s. They are big, luxurious Class C RV’s that compete against the larger Class A RVs. Many of these Super C RVs have diesel engines that can also pull a tow car behind them. They look like the front end of an eighteen-wheeler truck combined with the body of a Class C RV. And they are also designed for extended trips and full-time RVers. These RVs come with many of the features found in Class A RVs but at a lower cost.
They don’t have as much storage space as Class A RVs but like the Class As you will probably need a tow car since they are big and inconvenient to run errands or sightsee.
As with the Class A and Class B motorhomes, Class C motorhomes have their pros and cons:
- They are spacious yet economical
- Maximize sleeping space
- Better fuel efficiency than Class A RVs
- They have limited towing capacity
- Storage space is small
- The larger ones can be difficult to drive
Another type of RV that has become more popular recently is the school bus conversion known as a skoolie. These are drivable RVs that aren’t a Class A, B, or C. The most significant advantage that a skoolie has is it is wide open in the back and if you are creative and enjoy remodeling you can design your skoolie just the way you want to. This picture on the right from SmartCampervan.com shows the level of luxury that can be attained in a school bus conversion.
The drawbacks of a skoolie are that it needs to be remodeled before you can go RVing with it. They can also be hard to drive and they bounce a lot. There is also a significant amount of tail swing since the back of the school bus is so far behind the back wheels.
There are four types of school buses on the road. School buses have classes all their own.
TYPE A: A Type “A” school bus is a van conversion or bus constructed utilizing the front section of a truck which includes the left-side driver’s door. It’s also known as a short bus. The engine compartment is in front of the driver cab. The type A bus includes two classifications: Type A-I, with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) less than or equal to 14,500 pounds; and Type A-II, with a GVWR higher than 14,500 pounds and less than or equal to 21,500 pounds.
TYPE B: A “type B school bus” is a conversion or body constructed and installed upon a van or front-section vehicle chassis, or stripped frame, without a driver side door. The gross vehicle weight rating is more than 10,000 pounds, and it’s designed for carrying more than ten people. Part of the engine is beneath or behind the windshield and beside the driver’s seat. The entrance door is behind the front wheels.
TYPE C: A Type “C” school bus is constructed utilizing a chassis with a hood and front fender assembly. The engine is in front of the driver and the entrance door is behind the front wheels. A “type C school bus” also includes a cutaway truck chassis or truck chassis with cab, with or without a left side door, and with a GVWR higher than 21,500 pounds.
TYPE D: A “type D school bus” is a body installed upon a chassis, with the engine mounted in the front, midship or rear, with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000, designed for carrying more than ten persons. The engine may be behind the windshield and beside the driver’s seat; it may be at the rear of the bus, behind the rear wheels, or midship between the front and rear axles. The entrance door is ahead of the front wheels. A type D school bus is the largest type and has a maximum length of 45 feet.
A fifth wheel is a towable RV that connects to a hitch inside the bed of a pickup truck. The hitch, which is called a jaw hitch, is located directly above the rear axle of the pickup truck. The location of the hitch is vital because it allows about 15 to 25% of the weight of the 5th wheel to be supported by the rear axle of the pickup truck. Since some of the weight of the 5th wheel can be transferred to the pickup truck, it’s possible to build huge 5th wheels to maximize living and storage space.
For RVers looking to get the most bang for their buck, a 5th wheel is a great choice. 5th wheels are spacious inside and the floor plans are the best of all the RVs. If you are looking to get a recreational vehicle with more space for living and storage, then a fifth wheel offers the most square footage for your needs. Fifth wheels can range in price from $40,000 to $140,000.
While it is easier to tow a 5th wheel than all the other types of towable RVs you must have a pickup truck with enough horsepower and towing capacity to haul it. Very often, purchasers of 5th wheels also have to buy a new pickup truck, which can make purchasing a 5th wheel an expensive proposition. However, once you set up the 5th wheel at your campsite, you will have a vehicle to explore the get around.
- The tow vehicle doubles as local transportation
- More comfortable and safer to tow than a travel trailer
- 5th wheels are easier to back up than travel trailers
- They offer the best floor plans
- Needs a pickup truck with a special hitch in the bed
- 5th wheel height creates problems for going under overpasses or trees
- Requires a large pickup truck to tow it
- Larger models can be challenging to maneuver in tight spaces.
Very often RV purchasers find themselves weighing the pros and cons of a 5th wheel versus a class C RV. Check out our article called Class C RV vs 5th Wheel – Which is Better and Why? for a detailed look at this question.
Travel trailers also known as travel campers or camper trailers are RVs that are pulled by the bumper of another vehicle. Travel trailers range in size from the tiny teardrop trailers to massive trailers up to 40 feet with slideouts. They are constructed on top of a standard trailer frame and are equipped with many amenities. They can be pulled by any number of vehicles since they are pretty light for their size. These RVs connect with a standard ball hitch receiver. In addition, sway bars can be installed for more stability. They can be pulled with any truck, van or SUV that is rated to the handle the weight capacity.
One of the main advantages of a travel trailer is its low cost. When compared to 5th wheels they are much less expensive and you don’t have to buy a new tow vehicle with a very high tow capacity. Travel trailers are very economical and with the addition of a front sway bar, they are safer than ever to tow behind you.
On the downside, driving while towing a travel trailer can be difficult and will take some practice. Backing up with a trailer is extremely difficult and turning is difficult too. For those trailers with extended living quarters in the back, the tail swing can be an issue. And you need to make sure you don’t overload the travel trailer or it may be too heavy to tow safely. Also, you will need to keep your trailer level while camping and when you store it. Check out our article, How To Level A Travel Trailer on a Slope for some useful tips about how to do this.
- A travel trailer is less expensive than other RVs
- Once you set up camp you can use your tow vehicle to drive around
- Travel trailers can be towed by a wide variety of vehicles
- Very difficult to drive in reverse
- Driver must be aware of turning short and tail swing
- Leveling your travel trailer can be a challenge
Folding Trailer or Pop Up Camper
The folding trailer, also known as a popup trailer, tent trailer or tent camper is a small, light-weight towable trailer that folds or collapses into a smaller more aerodynamic size. There are three types of folding trailers called hard side popup trailers, tent campers, and telescoping or hi-lo popup trailers. It’s amazing how many designs there are. But the folding trailers small size, light weight, and low cost make it a trendy option for budget-conscious campers towing behind light vehicles such as cars, SUV’s, and mini pickup trucks. Some of the smallest models can even be pulled behind large motorcycles.
Due to the nature of these designs, it is difficult to store anything in them. Supplies and equipment must be carried separately. The folding joints and canvas sections can wear out and may eventually develop leaks. And tent style trailers expose occupants to more of the elements. Other basic necessities, like toilets and kitchen facilities, are often minimal or not present at all.
- Popups are very lightweight and can be towed behind smaller vehicles such as small trucks, SUV’s, vans, cars, and even motorcycles
- Popups are one of the least expensive RVs
- The tow vehicle doubles as local transportation
- No height clearance issues because they fold down
- Sleeping in a popup is also like sleeping in a tent
- They have limited space and amenities
- It’s difficult to store things in a popup and if you do you can’t access anything until the popup is set up
- Popups don’t last as long as other RVs
- Sleeping in a popup is like sleeping in a tent ( could go either way)
Toy Haulers are travel trailers or 5th wheels that have a garage in the back so you can bring along a large “toy” such as a motorcycle, ATV or snowmobile. They combine the features of a travel trailer or 5th wheel and a sports utility trailer. The garage area is used for storing sports vehicles and most have floor mounted D-rings for securing your Toys. They also have a folding rear wall that doubles as a loading ramp. The front of the toy hauler is set up with a living space like you would find in any travel trailer.
Toy haulers range in length from 25 to 40 feet or more and can sleep anywhere from 2 to 8 people. Depending on size and amenities, you can find toy haulers that range in price from $15,000 to $60,000. For RVers who enjoy motorsports, a travel trailer or 5th wheel that combines living quarters and a garage is a perfect choice.
- The toy hauler is multifunctional
- You can outfit the garage portion for toys or even a workshop
- It has all of the conveniences of a travel trailer or 5th wheel
- The smell of oil and gas can enter the living area
- You sacrifice living space for garage space
A Truck Camper doesn’t really fit into any of the categories listed above. Truck campers are loaded directly onto the bed of a pickup truck and then secured in place. They range in length from 18-21 feet and can sleep from 2 to 4 people. The great thing about truck campers is if your pickup truck is 4 wheel drive you can go anywhere and boondock. For example, you can drive out onto the beach and camp or get to very remote destinations where other RVs just can’t go. And it’s much cheaper to buy a truck camper than it is to convert your Class C RV to 4 wheel drive. They can drive over any type of terrain the truck can handle and cost between $8,000-$20,000.
Believe it or not, truck campers can come with bathrooms. Some have no bathroom, others are equipped with potty storage and the upper-end campers can have a full bath. Slide outs are also available on some models but this will increase the weight, and the price, of the truck camper.
Some folks buy a truck camper and plan to tow an ATV or boat behind them. Just take into account the fact that the truck camper may hang past your bumper hitch preventing you from towing anything.
There are 6 major full-size truck manufacturers with models that are capable of carrying campers. They are:
- Chevy Silverado
- GMC Sierra
- Dodge Ram
- Ford F-Series
- Toyota Tundra
- Nissan Titan
- They can go where other RVs can’t go
- They are very inexpensive – especially if you already own a pickup truck large enough to handle the camper
- Easy to store since they are smaller
- Minimal amenities compared to other RVs
- If you overload the camper the pickup truck suspension may suffer
- Very limited storage space
1. Should I buy or rent an RV?
If you are new to RVing, you may want to consider renting an RV before you buy one. I cover all of the details about owning an RV in my article called The Pros and Cons of Owning an RV if you want more info. But the bottom line is, it’s definitely better to rent an RV before you buy one. This will allow you to see what you like and don’t like about an RV so you can make a better-informed decision before purchasing your new RV. If you plan to rent an RV, Outdoorsy is a great place to find the RV of your choice to rent.
2. What other equipment or supplies will I need if I buy or rent an RV?
Not everything you need is included when you rent or buy an RV. So, you will need lots of RV Camping equipment and gear. But some equipment is essential and other stuff is not that important. Check out our article 21 Must Have RV Accessories for a New Camper or Travel Trailer so you will know exactly what gear you need to have a successful RV camping trip.
What is your favorite type of RV and why? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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