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What Newbies Want to Know About...
Recreational Vehicles (RVs)

by:Bob (Ram) Muessig

Times change.People do, too, from the time they’re born until the day they die.As people age, their needs become different, and many actively seek out an alternative to what they have grown accustomed to during the earlier years of their lives.After being tied down to a 9 to 5 job for thirty or 40 years, folks want to escape, to be free of the mundane.

It follows naturally, then, that they are attracted to the “alternative lifestyle” as recreational vehicle owners (RVers), and in ever-increasing numbers due to the tremendous influx of “baby-boomers” reaching early retirement age.RVers are those people traveling and living in recreational vehicles on a full-time basis.The reasons for this choice are many, but one stands out above the rest - freedom.

“Freedom from what?” you ask.Good question.How about freedom from property taxes, lawn care, house maintenance and repair, the routine of life in the city or suburbs, the same old change of seasons, the same old neighbors, the same old neighborhood, or simply the bitter cold of winter and the oppressive heat of summer. Mind you, these are great reasons for “getting away from it all”, but they’re not the only ones.The reasons are as many as there are people.

In 1994, RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) statistics revealed that there were approximately eight million RVs on the highways in the United States alone.This comes out to be about one RV for every ten households.By the year 2000, the RVIA projects over twenty million, or roughly about three for every ten households!I believe that estimate just ain’t gonna make it, for today there are approximately 9.3 + million on the road and we don’t have much time left in this decade.

Even so, the growth in the number of RVs in such a short span of time is tremendous, indeed, and many RVers are already complaining about the lack of available campsites.For example:In 1996, over 17,000 RVers competed for a measly 4000 sites in Florida alone.Of course, this is normal during the winter months, for visitors are usually from the northern portions of the country and are trying to escape from the cold, snow, sleet, and ice.In South Texas, these visitors are referred to as “Winter Texans”.In Arizona, they’re simply called “Snowbirds”.In addition, many local residents of these warmer southern areas call them a nuisance.  Remember the bumper sticker "If it's 'tourist season', why can't we shoot 'em?"

Call ‘em what you will, but these annual visitors contribute millions of dollars each year to the economy and the growth of the communities in which they reside during the winter months.Many seek jobs, full or part-time, some for pay, and many as volunteers in churches and hospitals, thus increasing the quality of life for the year-round residents.

The average age of the typical RVer is coming down, mainly due to the number of younger people getting involved.Just a few short years ago, most RVers were approximately 65 to 72 years of age.Today, that average age has dropped to well below sixty.One would expect, considering the trends, that the average age will dip into the fifties within the next decade.

How the ages of RVers breaks down and what kinds of RVs they own is rather interesting.Recently, a straw poll of RVers produced the following results.The majority (52%) of all RVers are from 62 to 68 years of age.This is, of course, the group which lives full-time in an RV, traveling whenever and wherever the will, the wind, and the urge decide to take them.These are also the same people who own up-scale, top-of-the-line Class “A” motor homes, or the larger fifth-wheel trailers with two or three slide-out rooms.Mid-size trucks (as opposed to pickups) are also becoming quite popular with this group for safety reasons.The trailers are getting larger and heavier, so the need for heavier-duty tow vehicles becomes increasingly important.It’s not how much your tow vehicle will pull that truly counts, but how much it’s able to stop.

Approximately 30% of all Rvers range in age from 48 to 62, and these folks live in their RVs on a “part-time” basis, usually from six to seven months of the year.Most often, they maintain homes to which they return during the summer months and the holidays.Usually, one finds these people driving less expensive Class “A” or Class “C” motor homes, moderately priced fifth-wheel trailers, or travel-trailers pulled by pickups.

Vacationing Rvers make up about 10% of our RVing population and are often found utilizing smaller Class “B” rigs or pulling smaller fifth-wheels, travel-trailers, or pop-up tent-trailers.This group ranges from 42 to 54 years of age and, more often than not, still has children living at home.Smaller travel-trailers and pop-up camp trailers seem ideally suited for families on vacation, and the cost of these smaller units is much lower, making travel much less expensive.

Finally, there is a group of younger families coming into the RV lifestyle.These are, for the most part, people in their 20s to early 40s with young children.You’ll find them driving Class “B” motor homes or mini-vans, pulling pop-ups, or carrying tents.


While there are actually many types of RVs in all configurations, they may be broken down into the following categories...

1.Class “A’ motor home - built on a bus or heavy truck chassis - self-propelled - diesel 
                     or gas.  Some folks build their own out of a regular bus (bus conversion)

2.Class “C” motor home - usually on a light truck chassis or heavy van chassis

3.Class “B” motor home - usually known as a “van conversion” - some have pop-up roofs

4.Fifth-wheel trailer - must be towed by pickup or mid-size heavy-duty truck

5.Travel-trailer - towed by all but heavy-duty trucks - pickups may utilize canopies

6.Pop-up - tent-type trailer - towable by nearly anything - almost

7.Slide-in Camper - used on pickups - slides into bed of truck and is tied down


Prices vary greatly.Campers and pop-ups may sell for as little as $1000, while up-scale, high-end motor homes may command prices of a million dollars or more!The actual cost depends entirely on the custom options selected and how well the rig is appointed, with the cost of construction materials weighing in heavily, as well.For now, let’s examine these types of RVs and find out just what they really are.

First on our list is the Class “A motor home.This type of RV is completely self-contained, in that it has a living area, dining area, kitchen (or galley), bedroom, and a bathroom. If you’ve got the bucks to spend, you may also choose to have “slide-out rooms”, computerized levelers, and closed-circuit cameras (for backing) built into your new Class “A”.The Class “A” also has a fresh-water holding tank as well as holding tanks for black water (sewage) and gray water (bath and kitchen).Included too, are propane tanks and electric power (supplied by a generator set) for cooking, refrigeration, heating, air-conditioning, and miscellaneous appliances.Some of the high-end coaches also have built-in solar panels to provide auxiliary power and help keep the batteries charged.Engines, for motive power, may be either gas or diesel, front-mounted or pusher (rear-mounted).One major drawback to owning a large motorhome is that a secondary means of transportation (car, etc.) must often be towed behind it, allowing trips to the store, etc.The Class “A” motorhome is a highly popular choice among full-time RVers.

Next, is the Class “C” motor home.The differences between the “C” and the “A” are few, in terms of how they are equipped, but one difference is major indeed.The Class “A”s are usually mounted on heavy-duty truck or bus chassis, with the driver’s compartment being an integral part of the living space, while Class “C”s are usually mounted on lighter, smaller truck or van chassis.The driver’s compartment of the “C” is completely separate from the living area and most likely will have additional sleeping quarters (a bunk) above the driver’s cab.All other accouterments are basically the same.Prices, however, are usually considerably less than those of the Class “A” motor homes.

Class “B” motor homes are more commonly referred to as “Van Conversions”, and may not have all the amenities of the larger RVs and they are often not completely self-contained.Fresh water storage capacity is quite limited.Most of the available space is used for sitting or sleeping.Therefore, the appliances in these rigs are very small, making the “B” relatively unsuitable for extended living.

The fifth-wheel trailer, on the other hand, is ideally suited to full-time living.These rigs may be up to forty feet in length and have up to three slide-out rooms which greatly increase the amount of floor space available for day-to-day living.In fact, some of these “fivers” boast an incredible sixteen-foot wide living room with a couch, two recliners, and a big-screen TV and entertainment center!

Other amenities in these behemoths may include king-size beds, Jacuzzis, ceiling fans, side-by-side refrigerator / freezers, ice makers, dishwashers, washers, dryers, trash compactors, and more.Many are pre-wired at the factory for satellite dishes, generator sets, and dual air-conditioners, and nearly all have telephone jacks in the kitchen, living, and bedroom areas, should you find yourself in a park where phone hookups are available.Power requirements for these rigs are normally from 30 to 50 amps, and these services are readily found at most RV parks.Prices range from around $15,000 for the smaller models to over $100,000 for the larger ones, depending on how they’re equipped.

Smaller fifth-wheels may be towed by light-duty pickups, while the larger ones require a mid-size truck for safety, both in towing and braking.The need for a secondary means of transportation now becomes one of personal choice, for the tow vehicle itself may be used for shopping or sightseeing while the trailer is left parked at the campsite.

Travel-trailers offer yet another option, in that a pickup is not absolutely necessary, nor is a heavy-duty truck.These towables may be pulled by vans, cars, wagons (of the Suburban type), or pickups.But now, the pickup may also have a shell attached to serve as additional storage space or for hauling tools, etc.Some folks insist on towing these versatile units with SUVs but that may be a dangerous practice.The short wheelbases are not suited for towing larger trailers, for they are highly susceptible to conditions such as sway.There is another article at this site that addresses “Trailer Sway”.

Next, there’s the pop-up.This small unit is most often used on short vacation trips, as opposed to full-timing, and doesn’t require a large tow vehicle to pull it.There are a few “hard-shell" A-frame units available, but most are of a “tent-type” construction with sleeping quarters extending out from either end and the living/cooking facilities in the center.These rigs are VERY limited when it comes to living space and they are not self-contained.It’s necessary to carry a “Porta-Potty” and a few gallons of fresh water.In addition, one might opt to take an extra propane bottle along and perhaps a small portable generator set.Don’t think about using one of these except for very short stays in cold climates, for the only thing separating you from the ice outside is a thin piece of canvas.There is little or no insulation.

Finally, we have the slide-in camper, which is tied down in the bed of a pickup truck.In spite of their small size, some offer living/dining area combinations, bathroom facilities, and bedroom space above the cab of the truck.These campers are extremely popular with those who enjoy hunting or hiking in remote places.


In order to answer this question, it first becomes necessary to ask some questions.Do you want to drive your RV or tow it?Are you planning to live in it on a full-time basis?The answers to these questions should give you a much better idea of where to start.

If you’re going to live in your RV on a full-time basis, you’ll probably be much better off selecting one of the high-quality, larger RVs rather than something small.Living space is always at a premium and so is storage, so you’ll want a rig that is large enough that you won’t feel cramped and will carry all your necessities.When you travel full-time, you’ll soon find out what you need and what you don’t.The general rule-of-thumb is - if you haven’t used it in six months, get rid of it.It’s only adding unnecessary weight and using valuable space.

Our first question will tell you if you should get a motorhome or a trailer of some type.Regardless of your choice, get some help when it comes to learning how to handle it.Remember, ALL RVs are longer, wider, higher, and heavier than cars and such.They are trucks!When the salesperson says “This coach is as simple to drive as a car!”, he is lying.There are major differences, and comparing cars to motor homes is much the same as comparing apples to watermelons.

Now...go the RV shows to get an idea of what is on the market in your price range.Once you’ve narrowed your choices down a bit, start asking questions.Talk to other RVers.Talk to owners of the type of RV you’re interested in.Use the Internet.There is a veritable plethora of websites that are specific to RVs.Here are a couple of places to look on the web.RVers ONLINE at and RV Safety at of links are available, too, so you can browse other sites to discover what they have to offer.

To give you some examples of what you’ll find on the web, try these...commercial sites, free sites, technical help, towing help, laws regarding wide-bodied RVs, laws regarding passengers in RVs, and general information.You’ll also discover sites like the RV Consumer Group that offers info on the best and the worst RVs, tire specs, RV manufacturers, chemical manufacturers, dealers, and campground directories.

To find out whether or not you like the RV way of life, visit one of the many rental companies’ websites.Renting can be a great way of getting some first-hand experience without coughing up the big bucks.Check out Cruise America for starters.

Now that we’ve examined many of the aspects of RVing, perhaps it’s time to take a look at some RV parks.Parks can be found all over the nation, from coast to coast and border to border.Our neighbors to the south and the north also have RV parks available and cater to the tourist trade.Take your time and look ‘em over.Find out about all the terrific things to do as an RVer.Then, let me be the first to say “Welcome” to the RVing lifestyle.Happy travelin’.

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