What Motorhome Should I Buy?
Buying a motorhome, also called an RV (recreational vehicle), is a complicated decision. There are several different classes of motorhomes available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. However, the inclusivity of traveling in a motorhome is hard to beat: traveling with your own personal bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living space is both thrilling and comfortable! This is the top attraction for motorhome owners. After touring a middle-of-nowhere park, you can then spend the night right where the motorhome is parked, with the conveniences of a traditional home at your fingertips. Motorhomes are also easier to drive, navigate and park than a truck towing a camping trailer, which is especially convenient at campgrounds with no pull-thru parking. Backing up a trailer is tiresome for even the most accomplished of drivers. This is important to factor in when a lot of your time "RVing” means spending time at campgrounds and other crowed or undeveloped places without lighting, asphalt or space to turn around or pull a trailer through.
Clearly motorhomes are appealing to major population of adventurers, but a little research is needed to ensure that you are purchasing the right one for both your budget and the amount of use your new home will see. There is a fair amount of variation in the motorhome world. They come in all sizes, from the size of a typical minivan to large diesel coaches that are bigger than a school bus.
Safety is always a top concern when considering motorhome ownership. Rollover crashes are probably the most prevalent motorhome accidents. And the safety regulations for motorhomes are more relaxed than in traditional vehicles; so even though it is lovely to lounge on a couch or cook some food while traveling, the chance of getting hurt in a crash is much greater. If you plan on traveling with small children take this into consideration. A majority of rear seating in motorhomes is not recommended to use with car seats. A truck travel trailer may be a better fit for families with young children so that they can be kept in proper restraining seat belts. Common causes of motorhome crashes are mainly comprised of inexperienced drivers, overcorrection when steering, tire blowouts and under-inflated tires. But while advanced safety features are rare in motorhomes, changes will soon be forthcoming.
Many Class C motorhome manufacturers get their powertrains and platforms from the Ford Motor Company. Ford has announced that its next generation F59 chassis will feature automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, with additional safety measures to be added in 2020.
If you plan on owning your motorhome for several year it may be worth waiting a year or two to buy an RV with these advances.
With all the general discussion of motorhomes done, let's get down to classifying different types of motorhomes. The three core types of motorhomes are categorized with either A, B, or C. Within each class is a wide range of sizes and prices:
Class A: Medium to large purpose-built RVs (meaning that they were built specifically to be homes with a motor). They are usually the RVs with the flat front and large windshield.
Class B: These "camper vans” are a van body with all the basic amenities built into it. They are typically smaller and the most expensive per square foot.
Class C: These RVs typically have a normal van or truck cab but the main body is basically an RV shell. Most feature an over-the-cab sleeping area, and are small to medium in size.
Winnebago, Jayco and Thor are some of the most widespread and well-known motorhome brand names; however, there are many other, smaller brands, which are also excellent choices. Some feature top-of-the-line technologies while others are cemented in traditional designs.
Brand name alone, however, isn't the final decision left to shoppers. Floor plans (yes, floor plans!), length, amenities, interior decor and palette, seating and entertainment are just some of the variety of options a shopper will sift through when choosing the right motorhome. Hopefully the guide below will help streamline key information needed to bring home the right motorhome:
Class A Motorhomes
These amazing homes on wheels offer the widest variety of both size and price of any type of motorhome. Full of clever space-saving organization, Class As can go from basic to featuring legitimate luxury on the road. Many have side extensions that slide out when parked creating more interior space. The amount of available lengths and floor plans for Class A RVs is so great that picking out the right option can often feel overwhelming.
While the motorhome manufacturers create the exterior and interior, most mid-level RVs use a Ford chassis coupled with a gas-powered V10 engine. Those RVs that are on the large end of the spectrum are often built on chassis by big rig companies like Freightliner or Spartan.
Both gas and diesel powered engines are available on most motorhomes. Maintenance on gasoline-powered vehicles is less expensive than its diesel cousins. Diesel engines have advanced emissions systems that monitor the cleanliness of the engines. Some advantages of a diesel engine however, include better gas mileage, and are more powerful, giving an edge to those larger RVs chugging up and down twisty mountain roads or never-ending desert valleys. While engines an be attached in either the rear or the front of the motorhome, those with rear mounted engines are almost always diesel, and are called "pushers” because the engine is literally pushing the vehicle down the road. In terms of efficiency, these types of engines are most expensive, but also the most reliable, largest and plushest of the Class A motorhomes.
One benefit to the immense size of Class A motorhomes is that though large, they are also strong, and can therefore withstand some damage in a collision.
That strength does vary throughout the different RVs in this class, and crash safety standards are not the same as those on the van cab in other types of RVs. And yes, the two front seats have a standard should and lap seat belt, but the majority of the seating in the rest of the vehicle are only lap belts, many of which are placed in various directions throughout.
Modern safety features, as addressed earlier, are not common in most Class A motorhomes. Only the very high-end coaches will be using them. If you are a driver that is used to these sorts of features on your other vehicles you might want to entertain the idea of installing some after market collision warning systems.
Class A motorhome sizes range anywhere from 25 feet to nearly 50 feet; however the majority stays close to 30-36 feet in length.
These typically sleep six to eight people.
New Class As start around $90,000, and go up indefinitely from there.
- Because of their "slides” and boxy construction these have the most space per foot of any motorhome type.
- A wide array of options for size, price, and amenities.
- If properly maintained, the diesel pusher models usually have a long life.
- Most have ample storage space.
- Most are large and bulky, potentially awkward to drive and park.
- Often owners will eventually tow a car for the ease of traveling locally. However this cancels out the advantage of not towing anything.
- Smaller campsites might not fit the larger RVs.
- Low mileage rate.
- Not many seating choices with full lap and shoulder seat belts.
- Diesel engines and their commercial parts can be expensive to purchase and service.
- As the vehicle ages finding parts for it can become a chore due to the wide variety of framing options.
Class B Motorhomes
Class B motorhomes are a bit of a black sheep in the motorhome family. While both Class A and Class C motorhomes are burgeoning with a wide array of designs, styles and sizes, Class B motorhomes remain extremely similar to each other. This is because they are a coach that is completely built with the body of a traditional van. While this greatly limits the space of Class B motorhomes, the quality of these vehicles is always top-notch, and they are much safer to travel in than the other classes. Not only that, these vehicles are more than a foot narrower than most other RVs, and are much shorter to boot, making them much easier to maneuver. Luxury amenities like fireplaces and plush seating take a step back—everything is functional in this small space. But because the vehicle is coming straight from the manufacturer in a car body, the chance of leaks and wear-and-tear is much lower. Their safety features are also much more modern, similar to what we have in regular cars such as stability control and air bags. Some Class Bs are even available with forward-collision warning and blind spot monitoring, a plus when driving a larger vehicle. Class Bs can also come with full seat belts for multiple passengers, but the more seating in the vehicle means less sleeping space. Most likely there will not be enough sleeping space inside for every passenger, so pack a tent. These RVs aren't spacious by any means, but they are excellent for touring, and are often referred to as "traveling coaches.” Some more wealthy families will even use a Class B coach as the family soccer car or tailgating truck. It drives just like a minivan, and can fit into most regular sized parking spaces, not to mention an easy time at a campground.
20-24 feet with approximately the same width as a regular passenger van.
Two comfortably or four with some squeezing.
$85,000-$150,000 new, which is pricey per square footage. They do however retain their resale value better than other motorhomes.
- Driving and parking a breeze.
- Best gas mileage of any motorhome class
- Extremely durable—the full metal body direct from the manufacturer keeps wear and tear down.
- Better safety technology is available.
- Best resale value of any motorhome.
- Narrow interior; comfortably sleeps 2-4.
- Short on amenities (though you'd be surprised what they manage to squeeze in)
- High price to square footage ratio.
- Small variety of layout choices.
If you decide to purchase a Class B, there are really only three from which to choose. The previous decade had the majority of Class B motorhomes built using Mercedes Sprinters. But recently both the Ram Promaster and the Ford Transit have also become popular foundations for some creative and beautiful custom motorhomes.
The Sprinter has the longest body length available. It offers a four-wheel-drive option, a choice of two different diesel engines, and has a wider variety of safety features than any other motorhome. Being the most popular of motorhome vans means that there is a greater array of floor plans. But because it's a Mercedes, servicing one can be expensive (it does have a fussy emissions system), and especially challenging in rural populations.
The Ram Promaster is a much more budget friendly option of Class B. Because of its front wheel drive it has a lower profile and is therefore easier to get in and out of the cab. Being a Ram means there are many dealers out there, and servicing the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 is both fairly easy and inexpensive due to the fact that thousands and thousands of other Chrysler vehicles have the same engine. The Promaster is shorter and therefore easier to park, and it also has a wider interior than the Sprinter. However, the unsophisticated dual clutch transmission is jerky jerky when shifting.
The Ford Transit is the most recent Class A motorhome design. Its smooth ride is powered by either the powerful 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 or a five-cylinder diesel engine. The far reaching fingers of Ford dealerships makes the Transit available in less populated areas (where one usually goes camping!) However, so far only a few motorhome builders have competently equipped the Transit's design.
Class C Motorhomes
Class C motorhomes are the budget friendliest option. The van's cab ends after the front doors and the rest of the vehicle is only metal framework. RV manufacturers build the remaining structure and interior using the frame as the foundation.
A "loft" bed is often situated above the cab, but increasingly that is being removed, along with the "bulge” it creates over the cab. These redesigns are now called "Class B+" motorhomes, although structurally they still belong to Class C.
The Ford E-Series cutaway chassis has been an industry staple for many years, and now luxury, compact Class Cs are being built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. These smaller but decadent Class Cs are a popular way for Class A owners to downsize while maintaining the amenities they love.
Class C motorhomes also include "Super C" motorhomes, which are built on thicker truck platforms. These Super Cs have tougher frames, more powerful engines and can tow traditional vehicles with ease. But with the additional brawn also additional cost and size.
Class Cs do have a fun range of available lengths and floor plans, but they typically do not enter the land of luxury reserved for Class A RVs.
Vary from 22-35 feet.
Traditionally four to eight.
$70,000 to $200,000.
- Least expensive motorhome class.
- "Sleeping loft," adds sleeping space without adding to length.
- Many options of floor plans.
- Class C motorhomes under 25 feet both drive and park with relative ease.
- Cab space can feel crowded
- Reasonably priced options have a limited selection
In the end, buying a motorhome is usually one of the most complex, not to mention expensive purchases that a person can make. These vehicles have the upkeep of both vehicle mechanics and the framework and functionality of a house, including things like lighting, kitchen appliances and septic tank systems. Many times motorhomes of any class will have low mileage. But don't let that fool you into thinking that all the parts and components are ready to hit the ground running. Time can still deteriorate such parts as tires and hoses, which add up quickly and are expensive to replace. A thorough inspection of every inch is not only beneficial, but necessary before taking the motorhome off of the lot. Be knowledgeable of all the demands of maintaining a motorhome beforehand; when the time comes to hit the road and relax you can be confident that every different system is working in concert. Encountering unexpected breakdowns or complicated mechanics is never fun while traveling the road less taken.
Don't forget that unlike regular cars, the rear seats in recreational vehicles do not have the same federal safety standards that protect occupants in case of a collision. Rear seats may have seat restraints connected to the motorhome's framework, but often these benches are wooden and can collapse in an accident. This false sense of security could be life changing if not properly addressed beforehand. Also be aware that installing car seats in the rear section of a motorhome is not recommended due to their various configurations. A camper trailer towed by a truck or SUV is a safer alternative to a motorhome if you will be traveling with young children. There is also the question of what kinds of car cover, or rather motorhome cover to have for such large vehicles, but that is a question for another day.