RV Types Explained: Motorhomes

New to RVing? Not sure what people mean when they say ‘Motorhome’, ‘Class C’, or ‘Conversion Bus’? Then this post is for you!

During my search for the perfect-for-me RV, I spent a good four to five months poking through information on the internet, and looking at (and gleefully crawling around inside) various types of RVs. In the end I decided on a travel trailer, but I did learn some basic information about the other types of RVs. This is not a definitive or complete guide by any means, just a brief overview of what I learned, which I’m sharing here to help anyone else who is curious about RVing, or in the early stages of RV shopping. I’m going to try my best to explain it in as unbiased a way as possible, so you’ll just have to excuse the somewhat dry language. Let’s get to it.

‘Motorhome’ is a term typically used to describe any sort of RV that has an engine in it, they drive themselves versus being pulled behind another vehicle. In this category we have three basic classes, and they are known by the letters A, B, and C. General advantages of motorhomes include being able to go straight from driving to the living quarters without having to step outside – a plus when stopping for quick bathroom breaks or during bad weather. Also many feel that getting a motorhome parked is easier than a towable, since you can disconnect anything you’re towing behind a Class A or C before backing the motorhome up.

On the other hand one common disadvantage to all motorhomes is having the engine and living quarters all together means that if the RV needs to go to the shop for any reason related to the driving parts, the occupants generally have to rent a hotel room until the fixes are complete.

Class A: One of the two most popular kinds of RV for extended use. Class A motorhomes are vaguely bus shaped with flat noses, and come in lengths from medium to long (I’ve seen them up to 45′, yikes!). There is usually a good deal of living space, and most have storage underneath the floor of the living area in an area known as the ‘basement’ (typically, reaching stuff stored in the basement requires going outside and accessing it from hatches on the side of the RV). Slide outs (commonly called ‘slides’ – literally parts of the wall that slide out to create more room) are also very common on these RVs, and many people who drive Class A’s choose to tow a vehicle behind them for easier transport around town.

Because Class A RVs tend to be larger and are a favorite for full-timing, there are manufacturers who make high quality ones specifically for this purpose that come with all of the amenities of home, are outfitted with larger holding tanks, and are made of more sturdy materials that will last longer than typical vacation quality ones. Whether vacation or full-timing quality though, I’ve never seen a Class A that didn’t have a bathroom and kitchen.

Given their size and large number of the comforts of home, Class A’s are at the more expensive end of the spectrum, particularly for units designed for full-time living.

An offshoot of the Class A is the Conversion (or converted) Bus. This is a regular bus that was originally used to transport passengers, but was at some point converted over to function like a Class A motorhome – with a kitchen, plumbing, bed, etc. Normally this conversion is done by the individual owner – Conversion Buses aren’t mass produced, and you wouldn’t be seeing them at a dealership. A Vintage Bus in terms of RVing just means that the bus that was converted was an older, or vintage model.

Class B: The smallest of the motorhomes, Class B’s are built on a van chassis are are still, mostly, van shaped – possibly being a little wider or longer, but usually with added height to allow occupants to stand up.

They hold the advantage of being able to go and stay in more (smaller) places than the larger motorhomes and are much easier to maneuver and park, since they are essentially the size of a van. Gas mileage will also be much better, but there are of course disadvantages. Some don’t come with bathrooms or kitchens, and even if they do, the size of the holding tanks for fresh and waste water will by necessity be smaller. Space and storage will be very limited, and amenities will be much fewer.

While it might not seem possible to travel extensively in something as small as a van, there are still people (usually solo RVers, occasionally couples) who do it, but it is less mainstream than those who full-time in the larger RVs. Slides on this type of motorhome are rare, and usually only found on the larger high end models. Prices for Class B’s vary widely depending on size, manufacturer, and how close they still remain to being a true van. For one with kitchen and bathroom facilities, expect to still spend a fair bit of money.

Conversion Vans are sometimes very similar to Conversion Buses, in that an individual altered a manufactured van to function more like an RV. Other times, they’re manufactured to work like a regular van , but they might have blinds, and a bench seat in the back that can convert into a bed for overnight stays.

Class C: Falling somewhere in the middle, Class C’s have a van or truck chassis, but the living quarters are wider and longer than a Class B. A distinguishing characteristic of these motorhomes is that they usually have a section that extends over the cab, typically containing a bed. Typical lengths are 21′ to 35′. Used more often for full-timing than Class B’s, but less than Class A’s, there are some higher quality class C’s out there meant for the task, but they’re less common.

While a vehicle can usually be towed behind a Class C, those who own smaller ones often opt not to. Sometimes they’ll have a basement for storage, sometimes not. Sometimes they’ll have a slide or two, sometimes not. But, like the Class A’s they’ll nearly always have a kitchen and bathroom of some sort, with the size of the holding tanks relating to the size of the model in question.

When looking at entry level (vacation/occasional use quality) models, Class C’s are usually the cheapest of the three classes of motorhome when measuring by length, but this isn’t always the case.

So there it is, a basic description of the three different kinds of motorhomes. If you’re curious and have any other basic questions about motorhomes, feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer, someone else may, or I can help you find additional information .

On the other hand, if you own one of the types of RV listed above and have other information to add, please leave a comment. I’m trying to make this a helpful reference, and would love to hear your input.

A post explaining towable RVs will be forthcoming, I will also be covering both vehicles for towing RVs and towable vehicles for Motorhomes. I plan to put this information and more together on my website as a guide to help folks who are new to RVing. If anyone has other topics they’d like to see covered I’m all ears

For part 2 of this post, explaining towable RV’s, click here.

Images courtesy of shawnzrossi, thedailyenglishshow, and Dr. Warner (by order of appearance)

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One Response to RV Types Explained: Motorhomes

  1. Carolyn December 23, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Good descriptions of Class A, C and B motorhomes.

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