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The Ins and Outs of Big Family RVs

Dear Friend,

Choosing an RV for extended large family travel involves more than just interior decor and layout.

For example, there are many different classes of RVs that you can choose from. These range from small pop-up pull behinds to large “Class A” buses that extend over forty feet long.

The classes of RVs can be roughly broken down as follows:

TOWABLE RVs

1. Pop-ups – These are small pull behind campers with a hard bottom and a top that is cranked up to full height once you have reached your destination. The sides are made of tent material. Living conditions are fine for overnight excursions in good weather. For my family of wussies (and I am King Wussie) it is a no go. Way too small and Spartan.

2. Travel trailers – This is what most people think of when they imagine a trailer. It hooks to a car or truck hitch and pulls behind your vehicle. These are either all hard sided or they may be hybrids (regular hard-sided trailers with tent pop-outs to add extra interior space when needed). We have been using a hybrid for several years and it has served us quite well. However, for our extended excursions we want something much larger and more sophisticated. Travel trailers are generally built very light so that they can be pulled by larger cars or light pickups. The light weight means that a great deal of the interior is essentially plastic and cardboard – not exactly the most durable of materials for my army to live in.

3. “Fifth wheel” trailers – These are also pull behind models. However, they are generally much too heavy to be pulled by anything but a heavy duty diesel pickup truck. In any case, they must be pulled by a truck due to the way they are hitched to their towing vehicle.

Fifth wheel RVs tend to have the most up-to-date interiors. Some fifth wheels, called “toy haulers,” These vehicles have a rear garage area designed for storage of motor bikes and four wheelers. This garage area can also be utilized as a large bedroom, with beds that electrically come down from the ceiling. making this space multi-purpose – ideal in a structure with limited room.

My family are wanderers. The journey is our destination. We plan to spend many hours on the road. Once we wore the rubber right off the tires on our hybrid camper, and had to sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot over a weekend in Canada in order to get new ones. Therefore, driving comfort and safety take a very high priority position in our thinking.

TOW VEHICLES

Some light travel trailers can be towed by your everyday driving vehicle. However, all larger towables must be towed by heavy duty pickup trucks, as these are the only vehicles with the towing capacity to handle these large RVs. Generally, diesel truck models tow better than the gasoline engine models.

If you do not own a tow vehicle, I strongly suggest that you pick out your towable RV FIRST. Once you know what you will need to tow, you can spec the truck that will handle your RV. Do not trusty RV salesmen to tell you what vehicle will tow a certain RV. Unfortunately, many of them either lie or just don’t know what thjey are talking about. Some of the better guides to picking out a tow vehicle can be found the Changin’ Gears website at http://changingears.com/rv-sec-tow-vehicles-ratings.shtml. NOTE: Towing is serious business. If you aren’t sure what you are doing then you need to get educated. Remember, that’s your family in the back seat.

The passenger capacity of your pickup is the maximum number of people that you can take with you, as most States and Provinces do not allow passengers to ride in a trailer when on the road. For all factory spec pickups, the maximum passenger capacity is either five or six passengers.

You can buy a “bunkhouse” model fifth wheel that sleeps an army, but you are strictly limited by the pickup itself to transporting six people in total. That means no nanny and no friends on our trips. It also means that everyone is squeezed into that truck cab for up to eight hours a day. Gotta pee? Stopping these things is not always easy or convenient.

I did discover a truck customizer in Texas who will cut out the back wall behind the rear seat on a crew cab pickup and install a fiberglass third row seat that sits in the bed itself. It took me years to find that guy. And I don’t live anywhere near him. And what will that kind of modification do to the resale value of my pickup? I don’t know. An interesting option, nontheless.

MOTORIZED RVs

This leads us to the motorized RVs, generally referred to as “motorhomes.” These are RVs that can be driven under their own power, and thus do not need to be towed. These also come in several classes.

4. The Class Bs are basically very nice, dressed up conversion vans, and generally include a bed and a portable bathroom with shower nozzle. These are tight living for a couple, but some get decent gas mileage. These are way too small for my crew. These vehicles often run in the $80K price range.

5. The Class Cs have pickup or van fronts attached to an RV box behind. The cab is open in back to the living area. Passengers CAN ride in the living area while the vehicle is driven, which is nice. If you have an on-board generator (which many do), the kids can watch TV, videos, play video games, pop popcorn, surf the Net or even fix a sandwich for their dad, all while dad is dutifully driving.

Class Cs also have the advantage of often having an extra bed in the area of the RV box that hangs over the roof of the truck/van front cab (called the “cabover”). That extra bed is handy for kids and yet is out of the way, not stealing space from the living area. Class Cs typically have one bedroom in the back, with a full-sized shower and restroom. A few have rear multipurpose rooms that serve as a den/playroom/office in the daytime, but have a pull out sleep sofa that converts the space into a bedroom at night.

Many class Cs are powered by a large gasoline engine, such as the Ford V-10. Others have more powerful diesel engines. Prices can range from $100K on up.

6. A small subclass of the Class Cs motorhomes are called the “Super Cs.” These typically have a medium duty truck front, and a larger, higher quality finish interior, more akin to the Class A models described below. One advantage of the Super Cs is that they often have the cabover bed design, which Class As do not. Super Cs typically also have large diesel engines, giving them the deep power to cross mountain ranges on long journeys. These diesel engines are in the front of the vehicle, which can lead to more cab noise than with a rear-engine Class A bus. Also, Super Cs are built on a commercial medium-duty truck frame that is used extensively in the business truck market. This means that these trucks are generally reliable and tried-and-true designs. However, it also means that they are not designed for driving comfort. The addition of air-ride shocks, air-ride seats in the cab, and sound insulation under the hood can make a big difference in the driving experience of these vehicles. Super C motorhomes often run in the $150K to $300K and up price range.

7. The next type of RV is the Class A. These are the top of the heap in RVing. These run from the low end, big boxes with a V10 gas engine in front, to true buses with big diesel engines in the rear (rear engines are much quieter than front engines). Typical designs have only one bedroom, and maybe a pullout sofa in the living area. Without a cabover, sleeping space is more limited than with a Class C, but these models often have multiple slideouts (areas on the side of the vehicle that electrically extend when the vehicle is stopped, creating instant interior space. Slideouts can make a huge difference in living area, and are highly recommended for a large family. In fairness, slideouts are also often available on fifth wheels and Class Cs model RV
s. Class As run in price from $100K plus for smaller, more basic class A gas engine models, to well over $1 million for superior quality bus models.

RV VALUE

As you can see, the best value for the dollar by far are the pull behind models. Motorhomes can cost from double to five times or more than the towables for the same living space. So why would anyone by a motorhome? For the experience. For the ability to not just tale your home with you, but to actually live in your home while you travel.

If you are a destination traveller, and the majorit of your time is spent parked in campgrounds, then towables make rhe most sense. The nicer fifth wheels can proivide you with a calibre of interior finish that approaches that in the finer Class As at a substantuially reduced price.

If you are gypsies like my family, and just can’t hold still, then perhaps you need to consider a motorhome. Just save up your money, and make sure your life savings weren’t invested with Bernie Madoff.

Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into the RV Blog. But when you learn as much as I have on this subject, and realize how little info is out there, for larger families in particular, I figured that somebody’s got to get this message to the world.

If you have further questions on this subject, or want to add your two cents worth, just post a comment to this post.

I find that RVers are some of the kindest people I have ever met. Trying RVing won’t just introduce you to your continent. It will also warm your heart.

All the best,

Hugh

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