RV Basics

If you're in the market for an RV, you're in luck: Today’s recreation vehicles (RVs) come in a variety of sizes and styles — one for every taste and budget — giving you more choices than ever.

Different RV models, layouts, features and prices give people many options and price ranges. RVs run the gamut from economical base camps for outdoor activities to deluxe “luxury lodges” on wheels. Most RVs come equipped with central heat and air conditioning, kitchens, bathrooms and beds. Other amenities range from expandable “slideout” rooms and “basement” storage space to new high-tech features like satellite dishes, surround sound and global positioning systems.
Essentially, RVs fall into two main categories—towables (folding camping trailers or "pop-ups," truck campers and travel trailers) and motorized (Type A, B and C motorhomes).

Towable RVs
A towable RV is towed by a motorized vehicle (auto, van, SUV or pickup truck) and can be unhitched and left at the campsite, allowing for convenient local travel and exploration. Towable RVs don’t require permanent on-site hook-ups. There are five types of towable RVs (folding camping trailers, truck campers, conventional and fifth-wheel travel trailers and travel trailers with expandable sleeping areas).

Note: It is absolutely essential your tow vehicle is properly equipped and capable of safely and securely towing your RV. Ignoring this represents a serious risk not only to you and your family, but to everyone else on the road. At a minimum, you must know the tow capacity of your tow vehicle (see your owner's manual or selling dealer). But there is much more to safely towing an RV than this. Surf the Internet (start here) and talk to a reputable RV dealer (not necessarily the one selling you your RV).

The following are towable RVs:

Folding Camping Trailer — For back-to-nature enthusiasts, this lightweight unit -- also known as a "pop-up camper" -- easily unfolds to provide sleeping, cooking, dining and, in many models, bathroom facilities for up to eight people. Its collapsible sides fold for aerodynamic towing by a family vehicle, even some compact cars. Popular with families and many first-time RV owners. Models are typically available from $4,000 to $13,000 new.

Truck Camper — A camping unit loaded onto, or affixed to, the bed or chassis of a pickup. Most models have kitchen, dining, sleeping and bathroom facilities. Its versatility and rugged build make it popular with outdoor enthusiasts. Truck campers sleep up to six people and typically sell from $4,000 to $26,000 new. 

Travel Trailers — Towed behind the family car, van, SUV or pickup, travel trailers sleep four to eight people. They provide such comforts as kitchens and bathrooms, as well as sleeping, dining and living facilities, electric and water systems and modern appliances. There are three major types. Conventional travel trailers typically range from $8,000 to $65,000 new depending on size and features. The largest of the towables, fifth-wheel travel trailers feature a raised forward section with hitching point or “fifth wheel” fixed to the bed of a pickup truck. They typically sell from $13,000 to $100,000. Travel trailers with expandable sleeping areas have ends that extend for roomy sleeping. Also known as "hybrids" and expandables," they sleep up to 8 people and typically sell from $9,000 to $18,000 new.

Motorized RVs
Motorized RVs, more commonly referred to as motor homes, are built on or as an integral part of a self-propelled motor vehicle chassis. They provide kitchen, sleeping, dining and bathroom facilities conveniently accessible from the driver’s area:

Type A Motorhome — The living unit is entirely constructed on a specially designed motor vehicle chassis. Amenities include electricity, heating, air conditioning, water, propane gas, state-of-the-art appliances and electronics and luxurious living and sleeping areas. Generally the largest of all RVs, Type A motorhomes sleep two to six people and typically range from $58,000 to $400,000 new.

Type B Motorhome — More commonly referred to as van campers, Type B motorhomes are panel-type trucks to which RV manufacturers add sleeping, kitchen and/or bathroom facilities. Most have electric and water hook-ups, fresh water storage and a top extension for added head room. Type B motorhomes sleep up to four people. Models are typically available from $41,000 to $74,000 new.

Type C Motorhome — This popular family motorhome is built on an automotive-manufactured van frame with an attached cab section. The RV manufacturer completes the body section containing the living area behind and above the cab. This design allows for the usual RV kitchen, dining, bathroom and living facilities along with more sleeping room than other types, as the area over the cab accommodates a double or queen-size bed. Type C motorhomes sleep six to 10 people and typically range from $48,000 to $140,000 new.

Sport Utility RVs (also known as "Toy Haulers") can be either motorized or towable and have a built-in “garage” for motorcycles, ATVs and other sports equipment. They are available as travel trailers and fifth-wheel travel trailers and sleep up to 8 people. They typically sell from $21,000 to $58,000 new.

Deciding the best RV for you
To determine what type of RV is best for you and your family, there are many factors you must consider, the least of which are: how much bed space will you need; how will you use the RV; what distances will you travel with it; the tow capacity of your tow vehicle; and, of course, your budget.

Obviously, you will need to do some homework before purchasing an RV. Attend an RV show or visit an RV dealer to comparison shop. View different models, vehicle types and floorplans. Renting an RV is an ideal way to “try before you buy.” Various RV buyers’ guides and Internet sites provide helpful tips on purchasing and owing an RV. Learn about RV financing and insurance options.

To learn more about RV travel, you can watch a free “getting-started” streaming video at www.GoRVing.com. You can also surf the website for green RVing tips, lists of Go RVing dealers and campgrounds in their area, as well as RV shows, publications, rental sources and clubs.