Classes of RV
Folding campers (also called "folding trailer" or "pop-up camper"): The most common of these have fabric walls, so they may be called "tent campers". These are very popular because they are inexpensive to buy, lightest weight to tow, and have the least frontage area if that is a limitation for your tow vehicle. Additional benefits of these are that they have the capability to sleep a surprising number of people, even though they are small and inexpensive. An unmatched feature of these is that they provide much of the "connected to the outdoors" feeling of tent "camping", but with the benefit of having beds and not being on the ground. The downside to tent campers are that they take more time to set-up and close-up, and if the fabric is damp when it is time to go, you will have to open it up again to dry out as soon as possible to prevent mold and mildew. Also, if it is really windy and hard rain, they may not be 100% weather-tight. And since they are much like a large tent, there is very little privacy, either from the other people inside, or from nearby neighbors who can hear almost every word and noise you make, and you can hear them. Some people may feel insecure sleeping at night with only a thin piece of fabric between them and strangers and wild animals outside. RV parks and campgrounds are usually very safe environments to spend the night, but if you camp elsewhere, security could be a concern.
Hard-Sided Folding Campers
Hard-sided folding campers have the benefit of walls to prevent the problems of noises, security and harsh weather. Hard-sided campers come in a variety of sophistication and prices. The A-frame style by Chalet RV and Aliner are the simplest. Trailmanor offers more spacious models. Hi-Lo has a sophisticated system to raise the roof. And there are other brands.
This is the traditional trailer with a tongue hitch. They come in a full variety of lengths and floor-plans, and are a great value because of their simple design. They have a lower entry height than most fifth-wheel trailers, so there are fewer steps to climb, but the lower floor minimizes the capacity for under-floor storage compartments.
These are popular with full-time RVers because they have more storage capacity under the floor. They also usually provide a smoother ride in the towing vehicle with fewer sensations of sway, jerking and surging. Fifth-wheel trailers offer a variety of floor-plans, most having a private bedroom upstairs in the front.
Class A Motorhome
This is the style of motorhome with front end that is pretty much flat with huge windshields. The entire body is built by the RV manufacturer, and the chassis consists of medium-duty or heavy-duty truck components. This style of motorhome has the greatest capability for the manufacturer to design lots of large under-floor storage compartments.
Sub-classes of Class A motorhomes include Rear-engine diesel (also called Diesel pusher), Front-engine diesel, front engine gas, bus conversion, and truck conversion.
Front-engine gas engine Class A is the most popular class of motorhome. The gas engines and leaf spring suspension systems provide low initial cost and inexpensive routine maintenance. In the old days before electronic fuel injection, gas engine motorhomes were notorious for horrendous (think about 5 MPG) gas mileage and blown engines at 50,000 miles. But the modern engines have changed all that. It is rare to see motorhomes that cover many miles, so now gas motorhomes rarely need to have the engine replaced during the life of the motorhome. A reasonable expectation for life span of the gas engines offered in motorhomes is now close to 200,000 miles, and gas mileage above 8 MPG and up to 13 MPG is normal, depending on the terrain, amount of stop & go, and how fast you drive.
Rear-engine diesel is nick-named "diesel pusher" because the engine being in the rear seems to be pushing the vehicle. Diesel engines are usually mounted in the rear of larger motorhomes because the engine is so big that it is not feasible to mount it between the front seats. A bonus of this design is that the engine in the rear is almost imperceptible to the driver and passengers.
Most rear-engine diesel motorhomes are equipped with air suspension, which gives a better ride than leaf springs. There are a few rear-engine diesel motorhomes, especially those with smaller engines, that have leaf springs. Leaf springs are cheaper for the manufacturer, and will usually be less costly to maintain during the life of the motorhome, but they do not ride as smoothly as air suspension. Some motorhomes from bygone decades were equipped with a rubber torsion (Torsilastic) suspension, which had an outstanding ride, but new replacement springs may not be available anymore for some of these models. Depending on the size and make of the diesel engine, it was designed to have a life span of 200,000 to over 1-million miles, which far exceeds the typical use of a motorhome in its lifespan. Fuel mileage between 8 MPG to 13 MPG is normal, depending on the horsepower of the engine, terrain, stop & go and how fast you drive. The biggest benefit of big diesel engines is that engines with torque ratings over 800 foot pounds make mountain roads seem flat, whereas smaller diesels and any gas motorhomes will slow down substantially when climbing long grades. Mind you, a smaller engine won't fail to get you there, but you may find yourself being passed by most of the other traffic on that long grade. So if you plan to do a lot of traveling in the mountains and high altitude, a big diesel would be nice to have.
Class C Motorhome
Class C is a motorhome with the cab of a passenger van, such as Ford E-series, Chevrolet/GMC G-series, Dodge B-series, Volkswagen Eurovan-series, and Mercedes/Freightliner/Dodge Sprinter-series. A benefit of a van cab is that some people are more confident in the familiar surroundings of an automotive-based cab area. It feels like driving a van, just bigger. The overhead area above the cab is a distinguishing feature of a Class C. It provides a "kids' bedroom" and play area that rivals a tree fort in popularity with the younger ones. Or it can be used for storage. Or it can be equipped with a large entertainment center with lots of extra cabinets. Class C motorhomes are available with gas and small diesel engines, depending on the brand and vintage. Remarks about fuel mileage and engine life span are share with the Class A motorhomes. Sub-species of Class C include the "Super C" which is based on a medium-duty truck cab and chassis. The benefit of these motorhomes is that they have higher towing capacity than the Class Cs that are based on van cabs, which is useful if you plan to tow something heavier than 5,000 pounds which is the towing limit for most Class A and Class C motorhomes. If you need even more towing capacity, look at a Truck Conversion, which the RV industry calls a "Class A" motorhome.
Class B Motorhome
Class B is defined by the RV industry as a van body with a raised roof. The exterior side walls may be modified somewhat, but the vehicle still has the basic dimensions and appearance of a van. Some RV manufacturers offer what they call a "B+", which is actually categorized by the RV industry standards as a Class C because the body behind the cab is completely built by the RV manufacturer. What RV manufacturers say distinguishes their B+ products from Class C is that the front roof cap above the van cab of a B+ is aerodynamic and does not have the large sleeping area like a traditional Class C motorhome. If you are searching for a B+ motorhome, the dealers and advertisements will usually have them grouped with the Class C motorhomes.
A Truck Conversion is usually a truck tractor with an extended frame and a custom-built motorhome body on the rear. Most of these are built from a high-end Freightliner, Kenworth, or Peterbuilt tractor. This type of vehicle is very useful for people who have the need to pull a very heavy trailer, such as a race car team, or a salesman who travels to demonstrate equipment mounted in a trailer. The RV industry calls these a "Class A" motorhome…go figure. So if you are shopping for one, you will usually find a Truck Conversion listed with the Class A motorhomes. That is probably because there are so few of these around, that it is not feasible to create a separate category of advertising for them.
A Bus Conversion is usually has monocoque frame/body structure from one of the major passenger tour bus manufacturers (Prevost, MCI, Van Hool, Eagle, GMC) that has been custom-built with all of the features of a motorhome rather than a passenger bus interior. This type of bus is called a "motorcoach" in the bus industry, to distinguish them from city transit buses, school buses and shuttle buses that were not designed for long distance, high-speed travel. These bus manufacturers' structures are extremely strong and durable, because they were designed to last over a million miles in commercial service. They also have excellent suspension systems for the smoothest ride and stable handling. Some people take a retired bus and gut out the interior and then build their own motorhome…not a task for the novice do-it-yourselfer! Be careful of buying somebody's home-built bus conversion, because the systems were not designed by engineers, they are usually make-it-up-as-you-go-along. Of course, there are some brilliant people who do a good job, but you still have a one-of-a-kind with no standards.
A Van Conversion is not a motorhome. In bygone decades, they used to be called Recreational Vehicles, but no more. Nowadays, a Recreational Vehicle is defined as having permanent sleeping accommodations, and permanent kitchen facilities (sink, stove and some sort of refrigerator or ice chest). A Van Conversion usually has a custom interior, maybe a folding bed, custom side windows, and maybe a raised roof…but none of the features listed above that make it possible to "live" in it.