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Buying A Recreational Vehicle: RV Classes Explained

Buying a Recreational Vehicle: RV Classes Explained

Author: Chris O’Neill

There's a lot to learn when considering RV ownership. To help you get started with your search, we'll outline the three major classes of recreation vehicles below, and share some of the pros and cons of each.

Class A

Class A motor homes are the big ones. These are typically large, bus like vehicles with vertical or gently sloping front windshields. Despite being the largest recreational vehicle class available, you still don't need a commercial driver's license, in most cases, to drive a Class A RV. This usually comes down to weight though, and the laws differ by state, so you should check with your state's DMV to be sure. Class A RVs are all about luxury and space, as these are the biggest, most expensive RVs you can get. They typically sleep six to ten people and often have pop-out sections that expand their floor plans even more. The Class A's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, as its size makes it impossible to maneuver in tight spaces. As a result, Class A RV owners are greatly limited in where they can go with their RVs.

Buying and maintaining a Class A RV requires a big budget. New examples typically start in the six figure range and can exceed half a million dollars fairly quickly. Gas and diesel variants are available, with diesel models commanding a premium. On the lower end of the market, a fairly modern, used Class A RV can be had for under $100,000.

Class B

Class B RVs are often referred to as camper vans. Oddly, Class Bs are the smallest of the three RV classes, despite falling in the middle alphabetically. These are typically built using a Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as their base. The main benefits of a Class B is its efficiency and its maneuverability. Most Class B RVs will fit into a normal-sized parking spot, and can even be used to run some errands in a pinch. This makes them great for outdoor-focused trips and for spontaneous adventure. On the other hand, while most Class B RVs come with a sink, toilet and even a shower, they typically offer fewer amenities than their Class C and Class A counterparts.

Another benefit of the Class B is its price point. New examples typically sell in the $100,000 range, while gently used examples can be had for as little as $50,000.

Class C

Class C RVs can be viewed as hybrids between Class As and Class Bs. Class Cs are built upon chassis cabs, typically from Ford, Ram, or Mercedes-Benz. A chassis cab is a van or pickup cab with a bare chassis to the rear, upon which a living space is built by a third-party up-fitter like Winnebago. Class Cs offer more space than a Class B while still being smaller and more cost effective than a full-blown Class A, making for a great balance overall, although their designs are typically less sophisticated than the alternatives.

New Class C RVs start around $80,000 and can reach upwards of $150,000, while used examples can be had for far less.

Tow Behind or Travel Trailer

Tow behinds and travel trailers connect to your vehicle via a traditional trailer hitch. The obvious benefit compared to a fifth-wheel camper is that you don't need a pickup to tow one, as they don't require a special connection. Compared to a traditional RV, a tow behind enables you to disconnect once you've reached your destination, allowing you to use your vehicle however you please without being tethered to an RV living space. Tow behinds are the simplest solution for anyone looking for a mobile living space, and they typically cost the least out of all of the options mentioned above. Their main drawback is their lack of durability and the added challenges they present due to needing to be towed behind a vehicle. While a large, traditional tow behind is displayed here, tow behinds come in all shapes and sizes and can be tailored to a variety of needs.

Fifth Wheel

A fifth wheel is typically similar in size to a large tow behind, but connects to the bed floor of a pickup via a special connection integrated into the truck bed. The benefit of the fifth-wheel camper is that it's easier to maneuver than a basic tow behind, and most pickups can tow more weight via a fifth wheel than they can via a traditional bumper-mounted hitch.

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Published Nov 16th, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions About RV Classes

  • What is a Class A RV? +
    Class A RVs are the largest, most luxurious, have the most interior space but cost the most to purchase and maintain. They typically sleep six to ten people but since they are so large, they are hard to maneuver in tight spaces.
  • What is a Class B RV? +
    Class B RVs, sometimes called camper vans are the smallest of the three primary classes and are known for their efficiency and maneuverability. While most Class B RVs come with a sink, toilet and even a shower, they typically offer fewer amenities than their Class C and Class A counterparts. Class B RVs are perfect for one to two people but not for a larger group.
  • What is a Class C RV? +
    Class C RVs have a van or truck cab in the front and a living space in the back. They have more space than a Class B but are smaller than a Class A making them a great balance overall. Class C RVs can be viewed as hybrids between Class As and Class Bs.
  • Can you drive a RV with a car license? +
    Yes. You don't need a special driver's license to drive most RVs. If the RV weighs under 26,000 pounds, you can drive it with a regular driver's license.
  • What is a tow behind or travel trailer? +
    Tow behinds and travel trailers connect to your vehicle via a traditional trailer hitch. Compared to a traditional RV, a tow behind enables you to disconnect once you've reached your destination, allowing you to use your vehicle however you please without being tethered to an RV living space.
  • What are the differences between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel? +
    • Travel trailers range from 12 to 35' feet in length. A smaller cabin space means you can tow with a less powerful vehicle such as an SUV or mid-sized truck.
    • Fifth-wheel campers generally have an overall length from 25 to 45' feet. Given their size, you'll need to ensure your vehicle is powerful enough to tow. Of course, this extra size means a larger, interior living space too.

    Most fifth wheels are easier, more stable and safer to tow than a travel trailer because of where the gooseneck hitch point is located. This means an improved turning radius, lower sway and more even weight distribution. In terms of average cost, a fifth wheel can range from $25,000 to $100,000 whereas the average cost of a travel trailer is between $15,000 to $50,000.

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