Choosing a Manufacturer
Class B Motorhomes: These are the smallest motorhomes and are built on a van chassis. We don't see many full-timers using these because they are relatively small. However, they are a great option for mobility and they are much easier on the gas budget than their bigger competitors.
Class C Motorhomes: Built on a truck chassis, these motorhomes are recognizable by their "cab over" profile. They are coming with more options including slides, diesel motors (called "super c") etc.
Gas or Diesel?
RV THAT YOU DRIVE (Class A, B, or C):
- Anytime you stop (or for passengers, while you are driving), you have full access to your home - bathrooms, refrigerator, TV, etc. Especially nice if you are traveling with children, and safer if you have to stop in a less than desirable place.
- If you buy a smaller RV (probably 24 feet or less), you can use it for your primary vehicle as well and not tow an additional vehicle.
- You can tow different kinds of vehicles, trailers, etc behind your RV
- Generally easier and safer to set up
- May be easier for some drivers to maneuver than a big towable RV
- Larger motorhomes can be quite expensive
- If you have to have the engine serviced, your home has to go to the shop (although we have lived in ours
- In most cases, you will want another vehicle with you to drive around town (towed vehicles are called "TOADS" in RV lingo! Not all vehicles can be towed with all their wheels on the ground. You may have to use a trailer to tow a car, or you may have to purchase a vehicle that can be towed "wheels down". Many Jeeps, SmartCars, and others can be put into a neutral mode so they can be towed directly
How you plan to use your RV, what other vehicles you already own or plan to take on the road with you, and other personal factors will play into the decision of which type of RV you buy. Here are a few of the considerations, pros and cons we considered when we made our decision:
DRIVE: Class A, B, or C
This is the fun part, and really based on personal preference and use. I recommend going to some RV shows, if at all possible, or visit some RV dealers to walk through as many models as possible to get an idea of the layouts. If you happen to be out camping and see an RV you like, most likely the owner would be happy to show it to you. We've toured several strangers' RVs! The three features I thought I didn't need but now I LOVE in my RV are the half bathroom (in addition to the main rear bathroom), central vacuum and the combo washer/dryer. Sometimes I wish our RV was shorter (for more mobility) with slides on both sides for more width.
The most common RVs we see full-timers living in are either a Class A or Class C motorhomes, since they are larger and have more options.
Class A Motorhomes: These are the larger motorhomes that look like a bus. They are built on a bus chassis. They generally run in length from just under 30 feet and can be as big as 45 feet. They often have "slides" that move out to make the motorhome wider when you are parked. They generally feel the roomiest because they have higher ceilings than the other motorhome styles. If you purchase a new Class A, the less expensive options are probably around $80,000 and can go up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even millions for some really whacked out models!). Class As are available with both diesel (called "diesel pushers) or gas engines.
Most full-timers we have seen who tow are pulling a fifth wheel. Travel Trailers tend to be entry level, are much smaller, and have many less features than a fifth wheel. We have been inside several fifth wheels, and in general, they have awesome options when it comes to floor plans and features. You do need a fairly large pickup truck with a special hitch for the fifth wheel in the back of it to pull it with. They can be challenging to drive with and to attach / unattach from the pickup truck.
RV THAT YOU TOW (Fifth wheel, Travel Trailer):
- Much less expensive than comparably sized motor home, since there is no engine
- Seemed to us that there were more variety of floor plan options, especially for families with children
- If you already own a large truck, you may not have to buy another vehicle
- Most require a very large truck to tow them, that will be your primary vehicle for getting around town
- No access while driving, or while stopped without getting out of the safety of your vehicle
- Can be tricky to drive with these, especially the very long ones, and set up is more difficult.
- Believe it or not, some RV parks are "snobbish" and won't allow any fifth wheels or travel trailers in their parks (or motorhomes over 10 years old, for that matter
Size, layout, and options
Tow: Fifth wheel or Travel Trailer
Which of these you choose depends on your budget, what you are comfortable driving, what you are going to tow, and how much room you need. One thing we have discovered is that while we love how roomy our 36 foot motorhome is, there are many parks, especially national and state parks, that we cannot stay in because there are length limits. 28 foot is a common maximum length for many parks, either due to the size of the sites, or the roads getting to the park.
DRIVE OR TOW ?
If you google this topic, you will find many forums where people hotly debate which is better. Diesel engines definitely have more power, especially in the mountains where the oxygen is thin and the inclines are steep. However, we found that a Class A with a diesel engine was about $50,000 more expensive than a similar Class A with a gas engine. We have towed both a 16 foot trailer with two Harley Davidsons in it, as well as our Jeep Grand Cherokee with our gas engine. We can't do more than about 30 miles an hour in the Rocky Mountains towing either, but we have made it up every mountain! We have friends that have an older gas engine Class A motorhome and tow a very large trailer with a car, motorcycle, and lots of tools in it back and forth to Wyoming every year, through the mountains, and have no problems. .
There are many types of RVs, many manufacturers, and a seemingly endless array of layouts and other options to consider when choosing an RV. While some considerations are similar for those who use their RV part-time for vacations and those who full-time, we will concentrate on options we think are most common for full-timers. Don't get me wrong - we have seen people full-timing (or doing extended multi-month trips) in everything from very small pop-up tent trailers, conversion vans, old school buses, and even cargo trailers that have been turned into living space. If you are seeking freedom, it can be done on any budget! Here, however, we will focus on the more typical options for full-timers.
As is the case with any vehicle, choosing to purchase new or used should be considered. New RVs will depreciate similarly to cars, boats, and other vehicles. But there are similar benefits to buying any vehicle new as well - warranties, choosing your own options, that "new" smell, etc. Once you've decided to go new or used, we found there to be six main decisions we had to consider when deciding which RV to purchase:
1. Am I going to drive my RV (and possibly tow a vehicle), or do I want to pull my RV with a vehicle?
2. RVs that you drive: Choosing between Class A, Class B, or Class C
3. Gas or diesel engines: Power vs Price
4. RVs that you tow: Choosing between a travel trailer or fifth wheel
5. Choosing a manufacturer
6. Size, floor plans, and other options to consider
We were completely overwhelmed with the number of options when we started looking for our RV. What we decided to do was to first research and narrow down to a couple of manufacturers. Once we did that, we then decided within those, what model and options we wanted. The resource I found most useful was the buying guide from RVReviews.net. They have it in ebook and paper format, and it gives an amazing amount of information. They have two guides - one for motorhomes, and one for fifth wheels and travel trailers. I'm a bit of a cheapskate, but after researching on-line and not finding all the information I wanted for such a big decision, I found this investment (around $60) to be very well worth the money.