rv types: motorhomes

motorhomes pros & cons

When we got serious about selecting our RV, we set out to get an education on all things RV. It was only natural that while we were learning and discovering all the various options, we began to make decisions based on our likes and dislikes, as well as what fit our needs.  We learned about the different RV types and classes, and what differentiated one from another. Another thing we learned about is pricing, and options that affected the price.  The section on RV trailers and towables is found here.

Here’s a brief overview of the types of RV’s trailers in the market:

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Motorhomes

What is a RV motorhome? A RV (or recreational vehicle) is a small cabin on wheels. If you add an engine, and drivetrain to this cabin on wheels, it becomes a motorhome. 

The various sizes and styles of motorhomes are broken into three main classes and additional sub classes. 

CLASS A

This is the “classic” motorhome.  They look like very large boxes with wheels.  The shape is a perfect rectangle.  Subcategories for Class A motorhomes include:

Luxury Motorcoaches

On the largest, luxury end of the spectrum are large Class A luxury motor-coaches.  Built on commercial bus frames, these massive RV’s run upwards of 45′ in length and can set you back $2.5 million USD.  For that you get all the amenities and creature comforts including hot tubs, saunas, full bars, heated flooring, high end appliances, integrated entertainment systems, multiple bedrooms and lounges. 
Many of these are used by entertainers and professional athletes traveling from city to city.  This is conspicuous consumption at its finest!

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Diesel Pushers

One  step down is the “Diesel Pusher” or DP.  DP’s are the mainstay of the motorhome industry.  If you can afford one, you’ll likely buy one. The diesel engine located in back provides much needed power and torque while keeping the driving area quiet since the engine is not located directly underneath.  Many DP’s qualify as luxury motor coaches in their own right, while most are very well appointed, but not overly-extravagant. 

They range in size from 35′ to 45′ and offer the most creature comforts in the motorhome class.  Large master bedroom suites with their own bathrooms; walk-in closets; full laundry facilities; commercial quality ovens and kitchen appliances; multiple air-conditioning units; and well appointed living areas.  With the ability to transport and sleep upwards of seven to nine people, you can take the whole family on an adventure.

Class A Gasoline Engine

Next on the list is the gasoline engine Class A.  These are much more reasonable to buy than a diesel pusher.  With the lower price comes: smaller overall size, less engine power, and fewer amenities.  The gas-engine class A’s use a 7.0 liter Ford V8 engine (pre 2020 models use a less powerful V10 engine) and sit on Fords F53 chassis.
Gas engine Class A’s are perfect for couples, people who prefer the smaller sized motorhome (lengths range from 27′ to 35′), and those just starting out in their RV journey. Each manufacturer has a “starter” model with the bare essentials for those getting in on a budget.
One major downside of this style of motorhome is the fact that the engine sits in front, directly below the driver and passenger.  Most complaints about this are the heat and the noise generated by the engine.  It can get quite uncomfortable on a hot summer day with the added heat emanating from the engine compartment and the floor.

When we began our RV selection process, the Winnebago Vista 27PE (below) was on our shortlist. The price was right, it was small enough to not feel gargantuan, and had the Winnebago quality and reputation behind it.

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Winnebago Vista 27PE - Entry Level Class A Gas Motorhome

Class C

This is the everyman’s RV.  The timeless motorhome style has not change much in over 40 years.  Built on Ford, Dodge and Chevy van fronts, the Class C provides everything needed in an RV without a lot of fluff.  Now, having said that, the industry is quickly evolving and responding to customer demand for larger outfits and variety in options. To that end they have rolled out the “Super C” in recent years.  We’ll look as a couple of Class C varieties here:

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Classic Class C

Chances are if you went on a camping trip as a kid in the 70’s or 80’s that included an RV, you were either in this or in a pickup truck camper.  The Classic Class C has what you need:  a bathroom, shower, kitchen with all the features, master bedroom, second above cab sleeping area, dining table  and storage. Some models offer bunkbeds and others even convert to ‘toy haulers’.  

The cockpit is straight from a Ford 350 Econoline van or the Chevy 4500 equivalent. Another thing that makes these so popular is the ease of repair and maintenance of the Ford engine.  DIYer’s have no problems getting into the Ford engine to do their own repairs, and Ford service centers are located all over the country for factory certified service, if needed.   The gas-powered motor provides appropriate powered torque and speed to get you on the move.  Starting in 2021, Ford has moved from the V10 Econoline to the new 7.0 Liter V8, F350 engine on the updated F53 chassis.
On the downside, the Class C’s sit lower to the ground than their larger Class A cousins, and may not put out enough power for a fully loaded RV.  The overall appearance of the Class C is a bit staid, and dated. 

The above shown Coachmen Leprechaun 260DS was the first RV that we said was THE ONE when we began looking at different types.  It hit all the marks for us:  the size was good (under 30′). This motorhome wasn’t too large or too small.  The engine was powerful enough and reliable.  This model had all the features we wanted and it had great storage underneath.  If we ever had to move to a Class C standard, this would be our choice.

Super C's

These began coming onto the market around 2018.  Instead of the chassis and drivetrain coming from a standard car maker, these motorhomes are mounted on a Freightliner Truck. 
It looks like a shipping truck, sounds like a shipping truck and drives like a shipping truck.  Super C’s became an instant favorite of many RV enthusiasts that combine the best of both worlds.  Inside you get all the amenities and qualities features and appointments of the larger Class A diesel pushers, while under the hood you get a Cummins diesel providing 350 horsepower and plenty of diesel torque.  

The large truck tires can withstand a beating that smaller tires can’t, and because of Freightliners Air-Ride suspension, you have much more command of how this drives.  Class A’s are susceptible to getting knocked around on the road by passing big-rig trucks and in high winds,  but the suspension on the Super C’s is much more stable.

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RV types motorhome class, Thor Tiburon Sprinter
Mercedes Sprinter Class C: 

If the Super C is the beefier upgrade of the standard Class C, then the Mercedes Class C’s are the refined, polished version.  Motorhomes built on the venerable Mercedes Sprinter 3500 chassis have been around since at least 2000, and many RVer’s prefer the smaller package, cleaner fit and finish and the superiority of the Mercedes Benz brand. 
These motorhomes do not exceed 26′ in length, but what they lack in size, they more than make up in quality and design.  Many boutique manufacturers including Leisure Travel Vans of Canada, make great couples-only RV’s with innovative uses of space and design to get the most out of a smaller package.  As you read on, you’ll learn why we chose this van as our choice for full-time RV living.

Additionally, a number of manufacturers also make RV’s on the smaller AWD Ford Transit and the Dodge Ram ProMaster chassis.

Class B

All Class B’s motorhomes are vans that have not cut or modified.   The main bed and extra storage is located in the rear while galleys are usually on the passenger side, with a wet-bath (toilet/sink/shower in one unit) is on the driver side.  Usually there is a small table directly behind the driver and storage crammed wherever possible. Space is limited,  but these are popular for those that want to get off the asphalt.  While most are designed for basic camping, many owners outfit their rigs for the extremes. You can add lift kits, off-road tires, upgraded suspension and snorkel exhaust upgrade. These are just a few of the ways you can turn your euro-sleek Mercedes into an extreme sport overlanding vehicle.

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MOTORHOME PROS AND CONS

PROS
Just like the travel trailers and fifth-wheels, there are many reasons to love and to dislike motorhomes.
Motorhomes are popular for many reasons.
All-In-One

Motorhomes have one thing in common.  You get everything you need to hit the road and camp.  You get the engine, the transmission, the cab, the tires, the house, the walls, the generator, et cetera.  Fill up the engine and off you go on to your next adventure.  It’s all there for you in one complete package. 

Immediate Access To Everything

More than any other reason, this is the best part of owning a motorhome.  You can just pull off the road, and have instant access to all the features and comforts of our motorhome is a luxury that you do not get when you own a trailer.  If you need to use the bathroom, just pull over and head to the back.  When you’re  hungry and want a sandwich or drink, there is no need to get out.  You just pop into the galley behind you, make your sandwich, then be on your way. 
Imagine getting caught in a torrential downpour rainstorm.  You decide to pull over and ride it out.  In a travel trailer, you must find a pull out space large enough for your truck and trailer; pull over, and then exit your truck and dash outside to the trailer.  Once there, you likely don’t have a generator that is already running (the motorhome’s generator can run while the vehicle is moving).  
Here’s another scenario. You’ve pulled over at a rest stop to take a nap for a couple of hours. Something unexpected happens.  You decide you must leave the area immediately.  In my motorhome, I can just move from the bed (or above cab sleeper) right to the drivers seat and drive off.

Ability To Tow A Vehicle

When you add a hitch package behind your RV, you can bring along a small car or SUV.  Many RVer’s tow other toys on a trailer including off-road carts, bicycles and motorcycles.  Having a car with you allows you the freedom to leave the RV at the campsite and head off to sight-see, shop or go on nearby excursions without having to take the entire RV with you. 

No "Toad"

As just mentioned, it is convenient to tow a vehicle, but many RVer’s either don’t feel comfortable towing another car, or they just don’t want to.  We fall into the second category.  With a motorhome towing a second vehicle and with the entire travel-trailer group, you must have a second vehicle attached to your main vehicle.  Towing brings about its own set of challenges, rules, requirements and instructions.  We decided to not tow a second vehicle behind our Thor Tiburon 24RW.  Our RV is nimble enough to drive in towns and cities, and is small enough to park almost anywhere and its small enough to give us access to many national park roads that our larger RVer’s can’t access.  If we ever need a second car, we just rent one in a nearby town for a day or week. 

Less Maintenance and Insurance

We have just one vehicle with six tires and one engine.  A fifth wheel towed by a truck with duallys (dual tires on each side of the rear axle) can have up to twelve tires and seven axles!  We’re insuring only one RV, and we’ll have much fewer things to maintain and insure.

Gas Mileage

Since you’re only moving one vehicle, your gas mileage is better in a motorhome.  Our Mercedes Sprinter can average 14 to 17 mpg; much better than the 5 to 9mpg that a diesel pickup gets towing a fifth-wheel.

CONS

For every reason above, there can be an inverse or opposite reason that can make it a negative:

Upfront Price

At the onset, the purchase of a motorhome will be more expensive than buying a trailer.  In addition to buying the house/cabin portion of the RV, you also are purchasing the driving vehicle.  The cost for a brand new motorhome can range from $65,000 for a small Class C with an American manufacturers engine, up to $2 million plus for a fully-loaded luxury motor-coach.
You can get a starter travel trailer for $20,000, while a pop-up trailer can cost even less.
Now, the caveat is the trailer still needs to be towed by a truck.  If you already have a truck, you’re set, but if not, you would need to buy that as well, which brings the overall cost of the trailer package in to the realm of the motorhome price.

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You Gotta Take It With You

If you’re only driving the motorhome, this is your one and only vehicle. If you need to or want to go somewhere, your only choice is to pack up the motorhome and drive.  Those who tow a second vehicle and those in trailers have a second car at the ready.  They can leave the camper behind at the site and head out in their car.  You, on the other hand must break camp and pack it all back into storage before you can drive off.  This can get old real quick.
We have chose this route and use a variety of ways to get around the no second vehicle limit since we can rent cars, use taxis, Uber, Lyft as well as public transportation.  Additionally, we bring along two electric bikes that we use to make quick stops into nearby towns for groceries or other shopping.

Selection

 There are more trailers and fifth-wheelers manufactured and sold each year with fifth-wheel deliveries to RV dealerships outpacing motorhomes 60% to 40%.  You see this especially when you go to an RV show (pre-2020) or on a dealers lot.  The volume of trailers vastly outweigh the quantities of motorhomes.  When it comes time to buy a motorhome, your options are less than your neighbor buying a trailer.  In our case, we found zero RV’s that met our criteria anywhere near where we lived.  Eventually we purchased our unit on the other side of the country!

Drivability

If you’re in a Class A motor-coach, it will likely drive like a box. You will you get knocked around on the freeway like a rag doll when you get caught in the wash of an 18-wheeler.  Because it is a huge rectangle hurtling down the road at 60 mph, a Class A motorhome has no aerodynamics.  The suspension was designed for a commercial van, so unless you spend extra dollars upgrading the anti-sway bar system, the struts, shocks and airbags, you will have major issues with the drivability.  And while they do have powerful engines, these engines underperform especially if you pack too much weight on the RV.

Repairs

When something goes wrong (and it will), you must take the whole motorhome into the shop. That means both the car portion of it, as well as the house portion.  If you need the wiring between the genset and the inverter upgraded, you have to take it to the shop.  What if there is service work to be done on your diesel DEF system?  To the shop.  Flat tire?  Shop.  If your motorhome is in the shop, so is your bed and your refrigerator.  Especially if you’re a full-timer, you will need to make sleeping arrangements if your repair facility needs to keep your rig overnight.

Financing

Since many owners finance their RV’s with 10 to 20 year loans. The amount of interest paid can be significant if you’re holding a loan for that long, so it pays to shop around and find the best deal from the dealer, your bank or credit union.

Why we  chose a motorhome

There are many, many pluses and a few minuses to owning a travel trailer or fifth-wheel trailer for your RV. What works for some, will not work for others.  For us; we decided against the popular truck-towing-a-trailer option.  We will cover it more in depth in our buying decision page, but ultimately our goal is to travel nimbly and as minimally as comfortable for us.  In the end we don’t want to always be towing a second vehicle.  We just want to get up and go, and having to always deal with a trailer takes away that ability.  Secondly, we really like the idea of always having access to the house side.  We can just pull over in a parking lot or or side street and hop in the back to use the bathroom, make something in the kitchen, or even lay down for an afternoon nap if needed.

Up Next: RV Selection (Part One)

After seven months of RV Shows, Youtube videos, blogs and magazines,  we narrow our search from “motorhome” to the one we bought.