Styles of RVs and how to tell them apart

What’s a recreational vehicle?

Class A motorhome

Although the term can be loosely stretched to include just about any vehicle that is used for recreational purposes, a recreational vehicle (RV) is generally a transportable, motorized or non-motorized vehicle that contains, at the very least, a bed for sleeping. Most RVs, however, also contain a kitchen area, bathroom, dinette and often an area with a couch or other lounge chairs. Recreational vehicles are highly mobile, unlike mobile homes, which are intended to be pulled once to a location where they will serve as a home. RVs are generally between 10 and 45 feet long, with most in the 15- to 35-foot length.


What’s the difference between a Class A, Class B and Class C motorhome?

Class C motorhome

A Class A is constructed on a specially designed motor vehicle chassis. Class A’s are the “Big Boys” of the motorized RVs and are the most favored motorhome of full-timers. A Class B motorhome is a compact unit that looks much like a regular van. These are popular because they can often be parked in the family garage or driven around town as a second vehicle. Per square foot, however, a Class B usually costs more than a Class C. A Class C motorhome (below left) is built on an automotive-manufactured van frame with an attached cab. The motorhome manufacturer completes the living section and attaches it to the cab section. A Class C motorhome is easy to identify: In most cases, a full- or queen-size bed is over the cab.


What’s a fifth wheel travel trailer?

This is much like a conventional travel trailer except it is built with a raised forward section for a bi-level floor plan. Fifth wheels, which are very popular with full-timers, are pulled behind a pickup truck with a special hitch. They are very stable to tow and spacious inside.

What’s a travel trailer?

The travel trailer was the first popular RV. It’s pulled by a car or truck, comes in many lengths, weights and designs, and is the biggest-selling RV.

What’s the difference between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel trailer?

Fifth wheel trailer

First, the travel trailer is perhaps the most traditional recreational vehicle, having been around far longer than motorhomes, fifth wheelers or other RVs. Generally, travel trailers are also the least expensive RVs (except folding camping trailers) and can be pulled by most vehicles. The more powerful the tow vehicle, the longer (and heavier) travel trailer that can be towed. Fifth wheel trailers can only be pulled by a truck, whereas travel trailers can be pulled by cars (and even a motorcycle, in their smallest versions). On the road, however, a fifth wheel trailer is more stable to pull and more easily controlled in windy conditions. Because the front section of a fifth wheel trailer hangs over its tow unit, the overall length of a tow vehicle and the trailer is shorter with a fifth wheeler than the same-sized travel trailer.

What’s a truck camper?

A truck camper is a recreational vehicle designed for part-time RVing. The living area is placed on the bed of a pickup truck. It’s amazing how many features can be packed into these very comfortable units. Access to the living area from the cab is seldom possible, however. This slide-in camper can be easily removed from the truck at the campground or back home, allowing travel in the truck without the weight and/or inconvenience of the camper unit. Truck camper prices typically range from about $2,300 to $20,000 (plus the cost of the truck).

What is a folding camping trailer?

Pop up trailer

Also called “pop up trailers,” these are great for family summer vacations when the weather is mild. They are also the least expensive RVs and can be pulled by smaller cars (even subcompacts) than those required for regular trailers. As their name implies, folding camping trailers fold up for rolling down the highway. Once at the campsite, however, these compact units are easily expanded into remarkably spacious RVs with most of the conveniences found in bigger units, including a porta-potty and shower in the largest. Smaller units usually include one or two queen- or king-size beds, a sink and ice box, and a little bit of cupboard space. Folding camping trailers are often the first RVs a young family buys, and provide many memorable vacation memories for children.