One of the most important questions we’ve tried to answer over this past year is what kind of RV we want to live in. There are endless options and each one comes with its own list of benefits and shortcomings. Finally answering one query only brings on a new one. Class A or 5th wheel? Gas or diesel? New or used? Size? Brand? Layout? Budget?
And addressing each question has required us to educate ourselves on the many options available.
Happily, after much research, discussion and a couple complete 180’s, we’ve finally narrowed the field of options.
Now it’s just a questions of finding the right model at the right price.
Getting the Lay of the RV Land
There are A LOT of options for RVers. Too many options. And it can quickly become overwhelming, especially when you aren’t familiar with the terminology. We knew the best way to educate ourselves was to just dive in and start looking.
In order to check out as many coaches as possible, we decided to go to an RV show in Richmond, Virginia. These events are held throughout the country several times each year. You can find an updated list of them here. For us, it would be an opportunity to view an array of manufacturers and floor plans quickly.
But, as luck would have it, we never made it to Richmond. Finding ourselves stuck (and grumpy) in traffic halfway between our home and our destination, we made our way off the highway and programmed our GPS for the nearest RV dealer which happened to be Reines RV Center in Manassas, Virginia. This ended up being a great decision – in retrospect, even better than going to the RV show.
It turns out that management at Reines unlocks every RV on their lot on Saturdays, allowing customers to wander through them without a salesperson. We really loved the opportunity to take our time and look around without the pressure of a salesperson staring at us or giving us a sales pitch.
Interestingly, while we eventually did make it to an RV show, we found it to be quite an overwhelming experience. There were hundreds of guests trying to get in and out of the various coaches and salespeople trying to be helpful at every turn. It was impossible to simply stop and look around without being in someone’s way. We have heard people get great deals at these shows, but to be honest, I can’t imagine trying to make a big decision or have an important conversation about various contract terms in that environment. It was just too chaotic.
In any case, after that initial trip to Reines, we visited a couple other local dealers, read RV guides and spent hours on RV Trader and various blogs, all with the goal of figuring out what we wanted.
Based on our research, we quickly narrowed our choices to Class A motor homes and fifth wheels. While there are other options available (travel trailers, Class C motor homes etc.), we knew we’d be living in our rig full time and probably for many years. We wanted something that would feel like a home and be as convenient as possible. Based on our parameters, we zeroed in on these two options and then started weighing the pros and cons of each.
Class A’s – positives and negatives
The Class A’s main benefit is that everything is in one unit, which makes it easier for the passenger to move around the coach while on the road and it requires a bit less set-up once you arrive at your destination. Pulling into a campsite in the middle of a downpour is a lot more appealing in a motor home than in a fifth wheel. While you might need to run outside quickly to hook up some cords and hoses, at least you don’t have to detach your house from your truck and move yourself (and the dog) from the truck to the house before you can relax. We also noticed a difference in the ‘feel’ of the coaches as we walked through. In our experience, many of the Class A’s felt oddly more solid and sturdy than the fifth wheels we toured. It might have just been the particular coaches we toured, but it was noticeable to both of us.
The biggest downside of a Class A is the flip side of its biggest benefit – everything is in one unit. Therefore, if any part of the coach needs repair work, you lose everything. That’s especially difficult for us because of Dixie. Absent her, if the rig needed work, we could just check into a hotel and add it to the yearly cost of ownership, but with a dog, that option won’t always be available. Thus, every time the motor home needs service, we are going to be very stressed out.
Fifth wheels – positives and negatives
The upside of a fifth wheel is if your pickup truck needs work, you still have your home available. Additionally, we found many fifth wheels that felt more “homey” and spacious than equivalent sized Class A’s. We saw some fifth wheels with beautiful and practical kitchens – some even had full pantries and spacious islands. While kitchens in Class A’s are certainly use-able, the counter space is often a fraction of that available in high end fifth wheels and cabinet space is oftentimes lacking as well. Another benefit is the layout of the rooms. Often, the living room and bedroom are on opposite sides of the coach, an obvious perk when one person likes to go to bed earlier than the other.
Price – Less of a deciding factor
While fifth wheels are, across the board, much cheaper than motor homes, we quickly realized that in order to pull these behemoths, you need a really powerful pick-up truck. By the time you add the cost of a heavy duty pick up to the not-insignificant cost of the fifth wheel, you can quickly end up right back in the same territory as the Class A’s. We concluded that, given the size fifth wheel we’d be interested in buying, the price difference would basically be a wash.
Gas or Diesel
The next big decision we faced was whether to buy a gas or diesel model. Generally, diesels are considered superior because they are quieter and more powerful than gas models. The power can have a real impact when driving through the mountains and the volume of the engine can certainly effect the enjoyability of traveling in the coach. However, none of this really mattered for us. The real deciding factor was simply cost. Diesels cost A LOT more than gas models and we quickly concluded we could get more for our money by sticking with gas models.
Next up… Floor plans, floor plans, floor plans….