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Choosing an RV
written by Michael D. Faw

Choosing an RV can be tough, but understanding the pros and cons of each style can make the process a little less difficult.
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Motorhomes are the top choice for some RV buyers.

Pitching a tent under the stars is fun, but foul weather can ruin a tent camping trip quickly, making participants downright miserable. Hotels, on the other hand, are noisy, expensive and often located far away from desired outdoor destinations. Many outdoor types are finding that an RV (recreational vehicle) offers the best compromise. RVs can serve as a mini home away from home or (in the case of larger motorhomes) a near replica of home.

RV types include truck campers, 5th wheels, folding camper trailers, travel trailers and sport utility RVs or “toy haulers.” There are also three classifications of RV motorhomes (A, B and C). If you are seeking flexibility, towable RVs will permit you to leave the unit behind while you drive away and go exploring. Many towable units are also smaller than the larger full-sized motorhomes that some RV users find intimidating to drive.

So what is the best type of RV for you and your family? There are many options, unit designs, and floor plans to consider. Start by determining how much space you need. Consider how you’ll use your RV. Research current RV features and determine what features you desire most. Finally, visit a dealer and walk through as many RVs as possible.

Drive or Tow?

One important decision all RV buyers face is to drive or tow. Motorhomes tend to cost more than towables because you are buying an engine, chassis and axles with wheels. On the upside, you don’t have to worry about hook-up hassles and possible strain on your car or truck’s engine, brakes and suspension.

In motorhome classifications, Type A are the large units, and these can cost from $40,000 to more than $500,000. You generally do not need a special license or CDL to drive the larger units, but check state requirements when in doubt. Motorhomes also include the Type B van campers and the slightly bigger Type C with additional space over the cab. You’ll find many designs, lengths and features in this category.

“Winnebago, for example, has more than 12 motorhome models, and each has different floor plans and layouts,” says Kelli Harms, public relations manager for Winnebago. “One decision buyers face is having the galley (kitchen) in the front or mid-coach. Motorcoach beds are usually found in the rear. We permit buyers to select from several different options and modules to make the RV more personable for them.” Buyers can also choose different wood finishes, interior colors, floor coverings, and fabric styles in some motorhomes, and also in the towable units.

Travel Trailer
RVs help place you close to the outdoors action, and can make life there very comfortable.

Towable RVs range from the lightweight pop-up campers with canvas sides to full-size conventional travel trailers spanning up to 35 feet. Also in this category are truck campers that slide into an open truck’s bed, and 5th wheel versions that attach to a special hook-up mounted in the truck’s bed. It’s important to match the load weight to the tow vehicle’s towing capacity. Some RVs will also require the use of special bars, bigger hitches and hitch balls, and possibly electric brake hook-ups. The dealer where you buy or rent a unit can help you determine the needed adjustments.

Packed With Features

Today’s RVs are a far cry from earlier campers and motorhomes, and consumer demands have led to RVs that include everything you have at home -- or so it seems. Expect to spend at least several weeks or months looking at RV models and inspecting floor plans before you open your wallet. You’ll also have to decide whether to tow or drive. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

“RV shoppers should realize that motorhomes come in many lengths,” said Harms. “Find the one that’s right for you and your family -- one with the desired floor plan, features and required space. Bunk beds are great with families, and some RV models have numerous DVD players where occupants can watch movies in bed. The first step, however, begins with selecting the right floor plan for you.”

When you need space for storage, most RVs now have multiple storage areas and often have pass-through compartments to store -- and access -- larger items. Some models also offer easy-to-access compartments that house like units, such as water and electric coming in under the same opening so all “services” are easy to access and check.

If you want the comforts of home, you’ll find full-size furniture in many models, including couches that become cushy beds, as well as comfortable queen-size beds. Beds are a big purchase point for many RV buyers. If the mattress in the unit you are considering feels hard when you lay on it for a test rest, it will only become harder during the night as you attempt sleep. Ask for a mattress upgrade, which many dealers can do for free, or for a minimal charge.

Is staying warm or cool high on your priorities list? Many RVs have air and heating systems complete with thermostats. Yes, you can also get a mini-heat pump on some units. The good news is that a top notch heating unit with proper insulation and construction can turn some RVs into 3-season units. And if you really like luxury, you can even buy an RV with an electric or gas fireplace.

Folding Camper
Folding or pop-up campers are well known for being easy to tow, lightweight and affordable.

When it’s time for food storage and cooking, you’ll find items in many RVs that rival your home’s systems (only slightly smaller). Today’s RVs often have refrigerators and freezers that power with electricity, and can then convert to propane power when the electricity is not available. Many travel trailers and RVs now have two propane tanks, thus no down-time while you search for a place to exchange or fill a tank. To keep things running smoothly, many units also have a deep-cycle, 12-volt battery to keep appliances, lights and other systems operating normally. Lack of power and convenience is a problem of the past!

If you need space and think RVs mean crowded conditions, think again. With extensions, or slide-outs, rooms can grow larger and space can be expanded. Most movable room extensions are electric powered and expand out on the sides to give much more interior room. While one or two are standard, there are models with up to five slide-out areas.

Need water or a hot shower? You are fully covered in many RV units. While plumbing was always an issue with earlier RV models, today’s changes and innovations for water storage and containment have created trouble-free plumbing service. You’ll find more drains, and possibly meters that reveal how much clean water, gray water and black water is being stored in each appropriate tank.

Electrical management was an issue with older RV units, and fuses would blow when circuits were overloaded. Better wiring and designated circuits have reduced these problems. Most units still power under 30- or 50-AMP systems, so plan accordingly and shop carefully for any extension cords or plug-in adapters.

“If there’s any feature in your home you can’t live without, you could find it in an RV,” continues Harms. “This includes stackable washers and dryers, a dishwasher and many TVs.” Winnebago offers some motorhome models with four TVs, including one for outside use. TV antennas are standard on many RVs, and cable hookups can be found in some units. A few RV models have satellite dishes and internet access options.

On the Road

According to the Recreational Vehicle Institute Association, nearly half of the recently surveyed RV owners indicated that they planned to travel more this year than they did the previous year. More than 8.2 million US households already have RVs, and this number is expected to grow in the years ahead. There are several strong reasons for the growth.

Aging baby boomers who are retiring and seeking travel is one strong factor. RVs also offer savings when compared to airline tickets, motel rooms and the cost of eating out. Some cost saving estimates range from 15% to 75% when compared to flying and using motels. A motel room generally starts at $100 to $200 for basic rooms, without the holiday weekend spikes. RV campsites with electricity and water cost $18 to $30 per night. Using an RV can also reduce health concerns, cleanliness issues, and permits increased privacy. RVs are now more fuel efficient, financed easily, and often you can rent to try before you buy.

Another plus for many RV owners is that the lanterns, cook stoves, and other assorted camping gear that they already own can serve double duty around the RV. Camping gear is known for being compact and lightweight, and these are big factors to consider when you load an RV for travel.

RV campgrounds are also often found near outdoor destinations, often by lakes and in forests. This often means more fishing and hunting time, and less travel and drive time. Today’s many RV models offer the options to go wherever you want without giving up the comforts of “home.”

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