Selecting the Right RV

So you're thinking about joining the ranks of millions of campers and RVers, but as you learn more about RVing you're becoming a little overwhelmed by the various types of RVs available. Soon you begin to wonder just what type of RV - fifth wheel, pickup camper, Class A - will best suit your RVing and camping needs. Unfortunately, shopping for an RV is not as easy as shopping for a new outfit. You simply can't waltz in and say to the salesperson, "I'll take the green suit in a size 10." No, RV shopping means doing some homework and gaining as much knowledge as possible. But luckily, RV shopping is also a lot of fun! As you begin your shopping, try thinking of RV types as either motorized or towable. Within each of these categories you'll then find subcategories, such as Class As, Class Bs and Class Cs for the motorized units; and conventional travel trailers, fifth wheels, fold-down tent campers, pickup campers and park models for the towable units. Each type of RV has features that are attractive to some RVers, and less attractive to others. It's really not a matter of a towable is better than a motorized, or vice versa, rather, it's a matter of individual choice. To help you in your search for the RV that's right for you, keep in mind the following highlights of each of the RV types. MOTORIZED Class A Today's motorhomes are almost as varied as the RVers who own them. There are a wide array of different types of Class As available - from basic, entry level units to high-line luxury models. But no matter what your preference, or your pocketbook, there's certainly a motorhome to fit your needs. Class As can be defined as an RV that is built on, or as an integral part of, a self-propelled motorized chassis. It provides at least four of the following permanently installed living systems: cooking, refrigeration or ice box, self-contained toilet, heating or air conditioning, a portable water system including water tank, faucet and sink, separate 100-125 volt electrical system, sleeping facilities and LP gas supply. The conventional Class A is one whose living unit has been entirely constructed on a bare, specially designed motor vehicle chassis. Bus-styled motorhomes look like bus conversions, but are actually more affordable than true conversions as they are produced on a conventional Class A chassis. Bus-styled motorhomes usually offer an aerodynamic, low profile design, resulting in greater fuel efficiency, better handling and additional storage. The living quarters of the Class A are built on a heavy-duty chassis, and usually offer an array of amenities. Its large size allows occupants to move about the unit freely. Except for its larger physical dimensions and extended stopping distance, both of which the driver must compensate for, the Class A responds much like a car; and learning to drive one comes easy to most. One of the biggest disadvantages of the Class A is getting around while camping. Most owners find it too cumbersome to drive the motorhome for shopping, sightseeing or running errands. As a result, many motorcoach owners tow a small car behind their rig to be used for excursions outside the park. Class C Technically, Class C motorhomes, also referred to as mini motorhomes, are defined as RVs that are built on, or as an integral part of, a self-propelled motorized chassis. Like the Class A, it provides at least four of the following permanently installed living systems: cooking, refrigeration or ice box, self-contained toilet, heating or air conditioning, a portable water system including water tank, faucet and sink, separate 100-125 volt electrical system, sleeping facilities and LP gas supply. But what differentiates the Class C from the Class A is the unit's attached cab section and its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 6,500 pounds or more. On the Class C, the RV manufacturer completes the body section containing the living area and attaches it to the cab section. Today's Class C motorhomes offer many of the same comforts, conveniences and even living spaces as their larger Class A counterparts. For those RV enthusiasts looking for a unit that can accommodate family camping at an affordable price, the mini motorhome may be the answer. Class B For those looking for a vehicle that can be used for taking off to parts unknown and still double as a primary mode of transportation, maybe it's time to take a look at van campers. Not only are these units versatile they are also an economical and efficient way to travel. The van camper is defined as a panel type truck to which the RV manufacturer adds any two of the following conveniences: sleeping, kitchen and toilet facilities, 100-volt hookup, fresh water storage, city water hookup, and a top extension to provide more headroom. The primary advantage of the van camper is that it provides a fully self-contained motorhome for getaway trips, but retains the versatility of a large family car. Van campers are capable of the same yeoman duty that a large station wagon might offer during the week, but then adapts easily in order to fit into a more recreational environment. TOWABLES Trailers are designed to be towed by a motorized vehicle, and is of a size which does not require a special highway movement permit. It is designed to provide temporary living quarters for recreation, camping and travel use, and does not require permanent on-site hookup. Trailers can be broken down further into the following categories: Fifth Wheels This unit is constructed with a raised forward section that allows a bi-level floor plan. This style is designed to be towed by a vehicle equipped with a device known as a fifth-wheel hitch (also known as a gooseneck hitch.) The fifth wheel trailer's raised neck section rides on the bed of the tow vehicle (which is usually a pickup truck) where it connects to the special hitch. This overlap reduces the overall length of the two vehicles which contributes to improved traction and handling as a result of the forward-placed trailer tongue weight. The raised section also allows for their unique split-level floor plans which appeal to many Rvers. Travel Trailers Typically, the conventional travel trailer ranges from 15 to 35 feet in length and is towed by means of a bumper or frame-mounted hitch attached to the rear of a towing vehicle. In addition to all the normal livability items expected on any modern RV, trailers have the advantage of being able to be disconnected and left at the RV park while the tow vehicle is used for errands, sightseeing, etc. Owning a trailer, of course, requires a properly equipped tow vehicle capable of handling the additional weight and stresses placed upon it. Unlike the fifth wheel, there are many tow vehicle options available for the conventional travel trailer - including vans, sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks. Fold Down or Pop Up Camping Trailers Fold-down camping trailers are tents on wheels with collapsible walls made of canvas or fiberglass. Most have a portable dinette table, sectionalized tent, exterior storage trunk, and hydraulic lift. These trailers tow as small packages but expand upon reaching the campsite into roomy cabins on wheels. Once erected, they can extend to well over fifteen to twenty feet in length; depending on the model. Their low profile saves on gasoline, provides greater stability when towing, and decreases buffeting by wind and passing cars and trucks. Today's models provide just as many amenities found in most RVs. Galleys provide sinks, multi-burner stoves, and both ice boxes and refrigerators. Holding tanks, if they have them, are usually small. Sleeping facilities accommodate up to eight people. With this unit, you'll usually need to plan on using the bathroom facilities at the RV park or campground you are staying at although some models do offer a shower and/or bathroom. Park Models For those RVers and campers who like to spend the summer at their favorite campground near the lake, or for those who prefer to head South during the winter, park models (also referred to as park trailers) are often an economical and convenient alternative for long-term or seasonal camping. Park trailers are recreational vehicles used primarily as destination camping units rather than traveling camping units. When set, park trailers may be connected to utilities necessary for operation of installed fixtures and appliances. It's built on a single chassis which is mounted on wheels. At one time, these trailers qualified as eight-foot-wide RVs, but without self-contained features. They were normally pulled infrequently, perhaps to and from an owner's summer and winter haunts. Now, with admittedly some exceptions, many have evolved into miniature mobile homes, sometimes 12 feet in width. These units are manufactured according to stringent guidelines, which include requirements from the national plumbing and electrical codes. In some states, some models require professional delivery and some models are intended for one-time setup on a permanent site. Park models are also regulated by various state agencies and by the rules established by the individual RV parks and campgrounds that accept these trailers. For example, some parks and/or states prohibit 12-foot-wide trailers. Some parks may allow electric water heaters and others gas. Some parks have full sewer systems and allow house-type toilets, others require marine toilets with holding tanks. Before you begin shopping for a park model, take the time to research any restrictions and/or regulations the state or RV park may have concerning these units. Knowing this information up front will help you select the park model that best fits your camping needs. Pickup Campers This type of trailer is defined as a recreational camping unit designed to be loaded onto, or affixed to, the bed or chassis of a truck. It is designed to provide temporary living quarters for recreational camping or travel use. Sometimes referred to as pickup campers or slide-on campers, these units are among some of the older RVs. Because they can be loaded on and off a standard pickup truck with relative ease, these products enjoy considerable popularity among weekend RVers who must use their truck for work during the week. Families that already own a suitable pickup truck have the advantage over those who do not, since it is possible for them to become involved with the RV lifestyle on a smaller initial investment. Modern truck campers are truly luxurious, thanks to continues upgrading by manufacturers. As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to each RV type. If you're unsure as to which type of RV is best for you. take some time to visit with owners of all types of RVs - ask them what they like and dislike about their unit. Also keep in mind your camping needs. Then take the time to shop around and compare models, floor plans and price. You'll soon find the RV that's right for you.