Trailer Versus Motorhome: The Driving Experience

Nov 11, 2014

A travel trailer or motorhome can offer quite similar camping experiences, yet very different driving experiences! After recently transitioning from a 26′ vintage Airstream trailer to a 27′ class A motorhome, we’ve been asked by a few folks to compare and contrast the driving experiences.

The truth is, only YOU can know what kind of RV you’ll enjoy the most, so do your research, spend a lot of time in and around them while shopping, and test drive several types if possible. There’s no “one size fits all”, and the RV industry reflects that all too well with their seemingly endless configurations!

While we know we’re far from experts, having driven and lived in an RV for only a year prior to making our switch from trailer to motorhome, we’re happy to lend a little of our knowledge by describing the major differences between the two RV’s we’ve lived in, as well as what we know about some of the types that we haven’t. We hope sharing our experiences can help others make the decision easier about the right mode of transportation for their lifestyle!

trailer-vs-motorhome

Trailer Towing

We lived in a vintage bumper-pull trailer for our first year as nomads. Even with a narrow (7’2″), relatively short (26′), aerodynamic Airstream paired with one of the best weight distribution and sway control systems available for our particular trailer, there were lots of white-knuckle moments while towing. That’s just the nature of pulling something larger than you, attached only by a ball hitch on your bumper. We don’t have the exact statistics to back it up, but in our time on the road we’ve seen a lot more accidents involving bumper-pull trailers than fifth wheels and motorhomes, largely because they’re so simple to use with almost any truck, and are typically cheaper and easier to come by, so there are more of them on the road. These factors mean the proper precautions often aren’t taken to 1) learn to drive them and/or 2) properly outfit the trailer and vehicle for safe towing.

In addition to your vehicle’s towing capacity, the trailer tongue weight, total trailer weight, a sway control and weight distribution hitch, safety chains, a breakaway switch, a hitch lock, and balanced weight loading are all critical items to check or have before towing a bumper-pull trailer. We also highly recommend the use of a remote tire pressure monitoring system like this, which alerts you to tire pressure and heat changes, and may gain you additional time to react before a dangerous tire blow-out occurs – an especially dangerous proposition with a single-axle trailer, but still scary and potentially damaging even with additional axles. These are a smart safety precaution that’s recommended with any type of RV though, motorized or towable.

Oops! Photo coutesy of St. George News

Every trailer owner’s nightmare – Photo courtesy of St. George News

We can’t speak personally for the driving experience of a fifth wheel, having never owned one, but they’re very popular because the tongue weight of the trailer is over the truck’s rear axle instead of at the back of the vehicle’s frame, so some potential for the trailer to sway is decreased. This increased stability also means fifth wheel trailers can handle more weight and be larger overall than a bumper-pull trailer. I wouldn’t take that to mean that a fifth wheel is any more safe than a bumper-pull, as either type of trailer (or a motorhome!) can be very dangerous in an unexperienced driver’s hands or if something goes wrong while driving.

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An example of a fifth wheel trailer, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

A bumper-pull trailer, unless top-of-the-line like an Airstream or other luxury trailer, also usually costs less than a fifth wheel, especially when you factor in your more limited choices for a tow vehicle. You usually have to buy a bigger truck in order to tow a fifth wheel and have a special fifth wheel hitch installed in the bed. Alternatively, most pickup trucks and many SUVs come with a bumper towing package standard. Some smaller bumper-pull trailers can even be pulled with a car!

It’s possible, depending on the trailer, to get away with a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle for towing a bumper-pull trailer. We grew tired of finding city street and garage parking for our full-size pickup, and bought a used V8 Jeep Grand Cherokee instead. Being that our Airstream weighed less than 5,000 lbs and the Jeep is rated to tow 7,500 lbs, we were well within the safe towing capacity of our vehicle. We enjoyed the ease of driving a mid-size SUV around to sightsee and run errands after disconnecting our trailer, compared to the larger, more cumbersome truck. That’s purely personal preference, though, and the trade-off was less stability while towing and less storage space after giving up the big truck bed.

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Our original tow setup – the truck was too large to drive and park easily in cities

 

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Our next configuration – the Jeep was much easier to drive and handle in close quarters, though we lost a good deal of storage space and some stability while towing.

When pulling a a fifth wheel, the truck and trailer operate more as “one” since the connection point is further forward in the bed of the truck. With the increased height of a fifth wheel over a trailer, though, high winds may become challenging because there’s more vertical wall surface area. Fifth wheels have been known to blow over in high straight-line winds, due to their height and higher centers of gravity.

Deans_RV_storm_damage
While we try to avoid it, occasionally we have to drive in the dark and that’s never much fun. We find night driving a LOT easier (so far) with a trailer than a motorhome, though. The headlights are usually brighter on a vehicle, blind spot visibility is better than driving a big boxy motorhome (though that’s not always the case with bigger trailers than ours), and being lower to the ground makes it easier to see the lines on the road and any hazards in your path. With the trailer it was still very hard to see curbs and road signs near our rear corners as we made turns in the dark. In general, it’s just not a good idea to drive an RV at night unless absolutely necessary.

Things we enjoyed more about towing our trailer than driving a motorhome:

  • Only one engine to maintain and gas tank to fill
  • Better gas mileage (11-14 mpg versus 6-8 mpg)
  • The bells and whistles of our vehicle’s cockpit were much nicer compared to lower-end motorhomes – heated seats, great air conditioning, a better sound system, a sunroof, quieter while driving, easy to get in and out of with driver and passenger doors.
  • Narrower profile made it easier to navigate on tight roads and in the city
  • Less planning required for gas stops and tight areas – it’s easier to back up and turn around in a pinch. In a motorhome with a towed car, you cannot back up with your car still attached!
  • It’s quicker getting into back-in campsites on arrival – don’t have to detach anything first to back into your site (though we did have to loosen our weight distribution hitch, so it’s negligible).
  • Braking the trailer was more responsive than braking a towed car because the brake controller (we had the Prodigy P3) is more sensitive, and is hardwired to the vehicle and trailer, so it’s much harder to have a failed communication.

Motorhome Driving

The transition to a motorhome sure takes some getting used to! We went from driving a “normal” sized vehicle and towing all of our stuff in something larger behind us to driving something “oversized” and filled with all our stuff, while towing a smaller vehicle behind us. Whereas the trailer was a constant presence in our rearview mirror and always the primary thing on our mind, our vehicle being towed behind the motorhome goes virtually unnoticed for the most part when we’re driving, because we can’t see it except in our backup camera and can barely feel that we’re towing it. The lack of visibility makes it harder to tell when you’ve completely passed someone or how much space you need behind you to fully clear something (speed bumps, railroad tracks, etc). A backup camera that’s pointed far enough behind you to see the cars you’re passing definitely helps.

dash

Thank goodness for backup cameras! It lets you see what’s going on way back there.

 

Initially, a class A motorhome just feels BIG, and ours is even on the small side at 27′. The increase in width was the primary change that really took some getting used to. At 8-1/2′ wide, it was almost a full foot and a half wider than our 7’2″ wide Airstream. That’s a big portion of those narrow country roads that we didn’t take up before, but definitely do now!

At 12′ tall in our new motorhome, we have to think a lot more about clearances than we did at our 9′ height previously. We purchased an RV GPS for this purpose, and now check apps like Allstays that show low clearance bridges and tunnels. We still aren’t used to how many low-hanging tree limbs we hit or those moments of panic as we creep slowly under low electrical lines!

We were drawn to, and test drove, some smaller motorhomes while we were shopping around, including a couple class B vans and some smaller class C’s, and found them to be more intuitive when it came to how much space we took up on the road and maneuvering turns. Several even felt as comfortable as a minivan or big SUV to drive. None of them had the space and cargo carrying capacity we want right now (especially with our three dogs), but we can see ourselves strongly preferring something that small in the future, especially if our travels take us where roads are tighter and fuel more expensive.

For a single person or couple who doesn’t have many pets or children (or they’re small), take a look at the new class B’s and C’s, and the smaller class A’s like ours. There are some really innovative models out there! We’d love to not need to tow a car too, but for now while we travel a lot for work, transport our dogs around, and have friends and family visit often, it’s a nice convenience.

Photo courtesy of motorhome.com

Winnebago Trend, photo courtesy of motorhome.com

Photo courtesy of www.leisurevans.com

Leisure Vans’ Unity, photo courtesy of www.leisurevans.com

The scariest thing we’ve encountered so far in driving a motorhome is definitely high wind. Holding the wheel at a 30 degree angle to keep from being blown off the side of the road is not our idea of a good time, but sometimes you can’t pick your driving days based on the weather, and it becomes a good arm workout instead! Being passed on both sides by semi trucks that create a wind tunnel around you also isn’t the most fun experience in the world, with so little clearance on either side. We did make a useful upgrade of adding a steering control device to our new Class A, which you can read more about here.

Rain isn’t too much of an issue unless it’s a torrential downpour with standing water on the road. It was scarier with our trailer, because the tandem axle wheels had a tendency to slip and trailers can go into a spin and jackknife pretty easily. A motorhome is very heavy and relatively stable with such a wide and long wheelbase and dually back wheels (just don’t do anything stupid – it’s still not a tank!). We haven’t had the misfortune of driving in snow yet, but will report back when we have (any RVer knows that it’s inevitable despite the best planning). We’ll do our very best to avoid anything frozen on the ground if we can help it!

We haven’t been big fans of the braking system in our towed vehicle so far, mostly because it’s not as responsive and reliable as braking a trailer. It’s a wireless system, for one, which can easily experience interference from over 30′ away, and the braking device in the vehicle is a manual mechanism that pushes the brake pedal, which is prone to shifting out of position and needing adjusted. It’s a bit more nerve wracking to depend on that kind of mechanism in an emergency braking situation, compared to the hard-wired electric braking control of a trailer. We’ve had to pull over a few times after descending a long hill, hitting a big bump, or having road vibrations knock the braking system out of alignment, rendering it unusable.

The engine noise in many motorhomes is much worse than a car or truck towing a trailer, unless you have a very loud diesel truck you’re pulling with. Ours is a gas motorhome with a front engine, which means the engine is mostly under our feet in the driver and passenger area. At high RPM’s going up a hill, we really can’t hear anything else over the noise of the engine. If that bothers you and you have the extra money to spend, look for a diesel pusher instead with a quieter rear engine. Our priority was to be in an RV under 30 feet, which doesn’t exist (at the time of this article) in a diesel pusher. For now, we’ll happily deal with engine noise on hills to be in a smaller RV at an affordable-to-us price point.

We’ve already identified a few things we enjoy more about driving a motorhome over towing a trailer, though:

  • The HUGE windshield offers much better views of the landscape as we drive.
  • We can take turns working and driving more easily with a larger passenger area and the option to work at the dinette and spread out a little more. That means we can get our work done quicker on driving days, giving us more time to enjoy where are are when we arrive.
  • There’s lots more room for the dogs and us to spread out en route.
  • It’s great to be able to climate-control our living space while we drive instead of having to fix how hot or cold it is inside after we arrive somewhere (it wasn’t unusual for it to be over 100 degrees in our trailer when we drove long distances in warmer months).
  • Knowing immediately that something fell over or out of a cabinet, or that the fridge came open before things roll around for a few hours and make an even bigger mess is great! So is not losing all our perishable food because the fridge door came open several hours earlier and we had no idea.
  • Having access to our living area while driving also means we can make fewer bathroom and food stops. It’s awesome to be able to use our bathroom or make food while underway, though it’s not recommended for safety reasons (but let’s be honest, we all do it at times!) and you could feel a little seasick in the process.
  • We feel safer when overnighting or street camping in cities – we can easily move somewhere else without ever getting out of the RV if we feel like it isn’t a safe place to be – or for any other reason, which may include security or law enforcement paying a visit.
  • Much faster set-up and tear-down on driving days – which is often multiple times a week for us – and why we grew tired of the more tedious nature of trailer towing. Before, it would take us an hour or more to unpack/pack, unhitch/hitch, level ourselves using blocks, and manually stabilize the trailer. Now, we can leave more things sit out on counters or the floor while driving because there’s far less bounce and vibration in the living area. Leveling and stabilizing is usually as easy as pressing one button for the automatic hydraulic jacks, another button for the slide (if we even decide to do that), and disconnecting/connecting the car takes under 5 minutes. A fancy power awning sure is handy too when the wind picks up and you don’t want to go outside!

Pretty fast setup – in the span of about 10 minutes we disconnected the car, backed in, put down our auto leveling jacks, extended the awning, and we’re ready to relax!

That’s the basic overview of our driving experience so far! We’re interested to see how we feel after a few more months of motorhome driving in various locations. Our next blog will be about the differences in living space and day-to-day use – stay tuned.

If anyone else has anything they’d like to add, especially experiences in any of the types of RVs we haven’t owned, please feel free to comment below!

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44 comments

  1. Comment by Randy P.

    Randy P. Reply Nov 11, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Exactly the kind of article I was looking for… we just camp in a Fleetwood popup camper but your post did a good job of the differences. Enjoy your travels

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 11, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks, Randy! We’re so glad that you enjoyed it. 🙂

  2. Comment by Amanda

    Amanda Reply Nov 11, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    I love this comparison. We’ve been towing a trailer for over two years and have considered switching to a motorhome at some point in the future for many of the reasons you listed. One thing we haven’t had an issue with is the stability of towing. We’ve gone over all sorts of terrain, crossed many crazy mtns in Colorado, and driven through countless windy desert road, and never, ever had a problem with swaying or feeling unsafe. In fact, more often than not on windy stretches of road it was the 5th wheels driving near us who seemed to be struggling the most. I attribute this to our super duper Hensley Hitch which provides way more stability than a simple ball hitch. I can’t imagine towing a trailer without it. Also, it may be that because our truck is longer than your jeep, and our newer Airstream heavier than your vintage version, we don’t have the tendency to move around as much. For us, the move to a motorhome would be more about giving ourselves a bit more interior space, along with the ability to tow a smaller vehicle instead of always having to drive the large truck. I look forward to hearing how you continue to enjoy your new rig, and maybe even meeting up and seeing it in person!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Thanks, Amanda! I’m sure a lot of our issues stemmed from it being a 50-year-old trailer with different construction, less width and weight, and a smaller vehicle. I don’t think the Hensley would have worked on our old girl – we had a shorter tongue than the new trailers, and after some research, went with the standard bar-type weight and sway system since that’s what fit best.

      The extra space to spread out when we work has been our favorite thing so far. We don’t miss sitting on the couch or having to put everything away to eat or relax. Having extra space for indoor entertaining is our second favorite upgrade – we can comfortably seat 6 now, whereas 4 was a tight squeeze before. Good luck with your decision. It was very hard to walk away from our silver baby, but knowing she’s in loving hands made a big difference.

      Hope to see you guys this winter! We’re headed your direction. 😀

      • Comment by GR

        GR Reply Dec 5, 2014 at 9:48 pm

        We also are pulling an Airstream, 1969 31′ Sovereign with a Ford Expedition. We had a load leveling hitch the first 3 years, and, as you said, white knuckling semi passings or 2 lane passings on a windy day. THEN, we bought a used Hensley Hitch and our world of towing changed! It pulls straight as a string. Our extra length does add to the driving experience but having a dedicated bedroom is a must! We love our Queenie!

        • Comment by Kristin

          Kristin Reply Dec 5, 2014 at 9:58 pm

          Thanks for the reply! If we’d had a Hensley, we likely would have had a better experience too. We couldn’t make it work with our specific trailer tongue and Jeep combination (it had air ride and automatic leveling), but with something like your Expedition with a longer and wider wheel base we would have definitely invested in one. Happy travels! 🙂

  3. Comment by Wolff

    Wolff Reply Nov 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    This will be our very first Motorhome, we originally were looking at Class C’s, but with two large golden’s, it just wasn’t going to work out. Months and months of research . . . then we went with a Class A gas . . . . wait a minute, we test drove it with a front mounted gasser, loud with the “doghouse” hump between the seats, and power up inclines very weak.
    Let’s look and test drive a Diesel Pusher . . . . . holy cow! Quiet rear engine, we can hear each other up in front!
    Mountains? Hills? Inclines? No problem – torque!
    So . . . minds are made up . . . we are going with a 36 foot, 310 HP Cummins, and beautiful air ride.
    Yeah, the price is quite a difference between Gas and Diesel Pushers, but we figure this will be our first and last RV, and will be hour full time home.

    Congratulations on your upgrade. See you are still towing . . . . we will be bringing our Harley with us, but no tow . . . Blue Ox lift on the back.

    See ya out there!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 11:21 am

      That’s a lot of dog in a motorhome – I definitely understand wanting a bigger RV for them. Two of ours are small and the third is 60 lbs, so we’re doing pretty well in our 28′ with one slide – especially compared to an Airstream with no slide!

      We don’t mind the lack of power or noise so much since we can fit into some pretty tight campsites and parking lots. There’s always a trade off. 🙂 I couldn’t imagine getting gas with something much longer, though, and would switch to diesel at that point. As it is, we can barely fit at two pumps in a standard station with our Jeep towed behind us. We kept the Jeep because we take our dogs a lot of places with us in it, and also because we do some travel away from the RV for work and to sightsee.

      This may not be our last RV, so a pusher was just more than we wanted to take on financially and size-wise for now. We tend to want to change it up pretty often, and will likely go even smaller if we don’t have as many dogs someday and want another RV. Our next big dream is to learn to sail and live on a boat for a while, then travel overseas by train. 😀

      Safe travels and hope to cross paths soon!

      • Comment by Allie

        Allie Reply Nov 14, 2014 at 5:45 pm

        We don’t full time, but we do travel with two large (and very fluffy) dogs in a 25′ Class C. I never thought anything of it until one time we stepped out of the RV at a campground and an old guy with tiny dogs and a huge Class A looked at us in astonishment and said “Holy cow! Those big dogs came out of that little camper?!?” Pretty darn funny.

        Like I said, we don’t full time and have offices we are chained to, so three weeks is the longest we’ve gotten away for so far, but I could keep going no problem – even with the big dogs and no slides. My husband….maybe not. But he’s not as into camping/travel as I am, unfortunately.

        • Comment by Kristin

          Kristin Reply Nov 14, 2014 at 8:50 pm

          Thanks for the comment, Allie – that’s great that you’re enjoying traveling with your dogs! We could probably go smaller if we didn’t use it as an office all the time too, but it can get pretty uncomfortable and claustrophobic doing the 40 hr workweek in a small RV with three dogs. If we spent more time out and about, sightseeing or were camped somewhere with consistently nice weather and could work outside, we could probably also do something smaller. Preserving mental health and a happy relationship with your significant other really matters in this lifestyle..haha! 😉

  4. Comment by Jeanette

    Jeanette Reply Nov 11, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    We have a 29` gas Class A. We purchased a heavy-duty insulated heat shield blanket to replace the original doghouse insulation and it’s *much* quieter and cooler in the cab now. Cheap and easy enough for anyone to do! I highly recommend it.

    Thanks, as always, for posting such helpful info. Keep it coming!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 11:14 am

      That’s a great idea, Jeanette! We’ll check and see if that’s something we can do in ours. Thanks for reading and we can’t wait to see you guys back on the road again!!

  5. Comment by Jon and Audrey

    Jon and Audrey Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 12:23 am

    We looked at *everything* before we bought, and we wound up with a 30′ Class A Gas. We really do love the layout and living space that 5th wheels bring. We almost bought a 5er that had dual slides in the back, with the kitchen across the back and no island¹ – we kept thinking “With a big IKEA table² and a bunch of chairs – this’d be the PERFECT space for lots of tabletop gaming!”

    Ultimately, it came down to the thought, “If we’re going to see the country from the front seat of an F250 or RAM 2500, we might as well keep the 38 MPG MINI and find accommodations through AirBnB…” The wardrobe space in our Hurricane is a little tight, and so is the bath, but otherwise, I think we’re in the right coach for now. We’ll see where we are in a year or 18 months…

    ¹ http://www.campingworldofdenver.com/fifth-wheel/2000/forest-river-spinnaker/348961
    ² a BIIIG IKEA table…a little over 7′ long with all the leaves in it. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/30116264/

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for the comment and great ideas, guys! I wish there were better options for towing a big trailer or just quieter small Class A’s, but the tradeoff of having the interior space we need but being so much smaller overall is worth it to us. Like you said, you can always change it later! We loved traveling in our trailer for the year we had it, but really wanted a new experience, so here we are. Experimentation is half the fun, right? Someday we’re thinking we’ll travel internationally via AirBnB. We’ll probably try our hands at sailing first, though. 😉

  6. Comment by Karen

    Karen Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for continuing to share all of your research and experiences here. It’s been quite beneficial to us, as we begin to consider our options in the next year or so for part-timing with our 20-lb. pup.

    We are still thinking along the lines of a used mid-sized Class C, with primary draws of a walk-around bed and regular shower and bath (not wet-bath). I still love the Born Free, and have heard some good things about Lazy Daze and Dynamax for also being well constructed, as well as Winnebago. The stickler seems to be price on those with a walk-around bed, as they are typically in a slide. We’re not opposed to a slide anymore, as long as there aren’t heavy appliances in it. And, if there’s a slide, we want to make sure the RV is still functional if the slide needs to be in.

    As for driving, we’ve discovered after our last spontaneous trip west that we will, for the most part, be sticking to more flat lands than curvy mountains. 😉 So, if we end up with a small toad, it shouldn’t be as much of an issue.

    So many things to consider, but we actually need to start getting into each type, to get the real feel. All in its time. 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences and all you’ve learned of what works for you and your fur-kids. 🙂

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Thanks, Karen! The walk-around bed and not-a-wet-bath was important to us too, and one of the major reasons we didn’t go with the Class B’s or C’s (though the Unity Class B has a murphy bed that might be considered walk-around). We also didn’t want to convert and sleep on a couch every night. For shorter trips that’s fine, but two people on a foldout without a real mattress just isn’t great long-term.

      We really liked the Winnebago Era with a power foldout couch in the living room, but the slide had to be out to use the bed, so that was kind of a bummer. We often aren’t in places (usually overnighting) that we can deploy a slide, and it would be terrible not to have a bed if something went wrong with it mechanically.

      Spend lots of time in them at the dealer, and visit the manufacturer if you can. That will tell you a lot about the quality! Our trip to Born Free RV in Iowa was amazing and gave us lots of new questions to ask on subsequent tours. They’re not far from Winnebago.

      Good luck with your search and ask questions of us anytime! 😀

  7. Comment by Kent

    Kent Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Wonderful discussion.
    originally we pulled a trailer with our Tundra and 3 years ago purchased a used 29 ft Class A gas rig with dual slides. We now live full time in it and have been traveling the country for past year, currently in the deep south. We have gotten used to driving it in all conditions except snow which we avoid mainly because we don’t like being cold. We tow a Jeep which easily disconnects in 10 minutes and are having a lot of fun.

    Keep up the posts

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 12, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks, Kent! A small motorhome pulling a Jeep? You have good taste! 😉 It’s nice to hear that you had the same experience we’re having in transitioning from pulling a trailer to driving a motorhome and that we will get used to it. If you’re ever in our neck of the woods let me know – I just subscribed to your blog and look forward to your updates!

  8. Comment by Ed McCormick

    Ed McCormick Reply Nov 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    We currently camp in a 37 ft. fifth wheel and have had everything from the tent to the travel trailer. The fifth wheel is great but takes a lot of getting used to when backing and unhooking. We are thinking about going to a motorhome in the spring and you had some very interesting comparisons, I think the advantage to be able to set up is huge with the motorhome. Towing a 37 ft. fifth wheel with a 20 ft.truck can be an adventure along with the fifth wheel being 12’6 in height. The wind on the highway even with the big rigs passing hasn’t been much of a problem,and with the weight of the fifth wheel and the 2500 HD truck we can pass just about anything on the highway except a gas station. I currently get about 7 mile to the gallon towing the fifth wheel.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 14, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks, Ed! It’s great to have some different things to compare, isn’t it? There’s no single RV that can do everything, but we enjoy the variety of experiences we’ve had so far and I’m sure you have had many too. The gas mileage will be about the same if you get a motorhome, so you’ll be ready for the gas station stops at least! 😉

  9. Comment by Ron iannazzo

    Ron iannazzo Reply Nov 13, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    I have had a class c MH since 93 drove it all over our great country! Till hurricane Katrina took it away from me in 05 . Just bought a new 26.5 Sunseeker buy Forest River . Wanted to wate for Fords new Transit van ,to see what the MH manufacturers would come up with ,the Transit van looks like a MB Sprinter van , I believe it will be less expensive than the MBsprinter . Should be able to make a class B or C MH with them ! Hope you get to test one !

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 14, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      Thanks, Ron! We’re really interested in the transit van too and look forward to seeing what manufacturers do with it. We were really into the Winnebago models on the Dodge/Fiat chassis, but we wish it was a diesel dually. Hopefully that one makes it to the states someday. The cargo carrying capacity just wasn’t high enough on that chassis for full-timing. We looked at the MB Sprinters too, but we were worried about getting it serviced and Ford has a much wider dealer network, so that would be more ideal. Hope we see some more exciting new class B and C models soon! 😀

  10. Comment by RWL

    RWL Reply Nov 26, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Nice article. I did the reverse. I am not a full-timer but I started camping first in a tent then a motorhome then finally a six year old Airstream trailer.

    You make some good points on differences I wanted to comment on a few too. My situation is different as my AS is 102″ (8’5″wide), I have a monster Propride hitch and super crew truck. I am single and have a 25′ Airstream with lots of space. I have found that the towing experience is greatly improved with the hitch. Previously I had sway and it was very uncomfortable driving something wagging around. Now anything can pass and it is straight as an arrow. It drives great even in tropical storm winds! I believe that is in part, credit to the curved shape of the stream.

    The overnight or quick campings I just leave mine hitched and attach the electric, etc. It is simple that way. I do find backing more of a challenge as I did not have a toad with the MH and we are talking 24′ versus 48 feet with a bend in the middle. Toad pulling detaching and prepping takes about the time as unhitching mine. The only thing that adds more time for me is if the site is not level side-to-side.

    Comparing both like you I have fewer positives for the MH but again, that is because of my situation. Being single I cannot benefit from doing things while rolling down the highway. Slides are nice but even they are simply more work and potential problem if on the move and not staying too long. Toads’ odometers spin too while traveling devaluing their later sale. I do like the climate control temp in the camper but I have not as of yet felt unsafe getting out of the truck to get into the camper. I also like the portability of the LP tanks and filling and, the cost of fuel when traveling. I had a Mercedes MH diesel that got around 15mpg. My current setup gets 12mpg but I have a lot more room and pay less for fuel.

    As far as road safety, I am not sure that motorhomes are safer than towables. As the case with Airstreams their curved roofline works on side winds too. Instead of a squared wall like that of a regular trailer, 5th wheel or motorhome, it deflects wind. Motorhomes blow around when in strong winds too.

    There are so many factors to consider.

  11. Comment by RWL

    RWL Reply Nov 27, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Great article. I made the opposite move- from a MH to a 25′ ’06 Airstream. My MH was a 24′. My thoughts on comparison naturally have a different consideration. I am a solo traveler usually so the benefits you mention of “while underway” do not apply and, I am not a full-timer. I have found that when overnighting or short stays, it is best just to leave the trailer hitched and hook up the utilities. It does not get any faster than that for any rig. With the MH I did not have a toad so it was simply back in and be done with it.

    The camping process is not bad. The unhitching process takes about 10 min. The leveling varies depending on the spot. Side-to-side leveling takes more time. In all I would say that I spend about 10 minutes more than the motorhome w/o toad, setting up. Probably the same time if dealing with a toad. As far as slides go, I tossed that idea around before buying the slide-less Airstream. As I looked at smaller RVs, most times “the slide” was a dinette or sofa, something more to set up service and, made little difference in space. It made sense in a way with the narrower MH but the wide-bodied Airstream 8′ 6″ width compared with the 7′ something width of the MH was already a nice increase. To me it depends on how long you are going to stay in a spot. Some campers are slide dependent because of layout and granted, slides do make it more livable overall in bigger rigs.

    On the road the experience is different. I found that I was blown around on the road in the MH. I understand that some rigs change lanes at times just by gusts! When I first got the trailer I was amazed that it was so stable. Then, when I got new tires on the truck everything changed. I DID buy E rated tires but something was different. Sway was horrible. I ended up purchasing a mega hitch- pro-pride 3P. It looks like a train car connection but it makes the truck/trailer one on the highway as it pivots- really nice. Also, a few summers ago. I traveled down through Florida with a tropical storm with side gusts reported to be in excess of 50mph. The Airstream was great with that curved roof deflecting the wind from the side. Semi tractor trailers on the highway were running at angles to the cabs the wind was so bad! You are correct though that regular tow campers can be more dangerous if not mated correctly to the vehicle by specs.

    Costs? The MH got about 15mpg as a diesel but the fuel has gone up. I get about 12mpg towing but I have calculated that comparing fuel costs, a diesel has to get about 2mpg better to just break even with a gasser. So, 1mpg or so difference- a wash. There are some advantages though with a trailer- being able to get LP from anywhere with portable tanks, not having an odometer to track usage/age, overall costs on engine servicing are lower than special RV rates, having a vehicle to use at location. I understand a toad offers that option but then you also have the odometer gain on the toad and the servicing of it as well.

    It all depends on many factors obviously.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 30, 2014 at 1:58 am

      Thanks for the comment! I completely agree with you that I wouldn’t have an over 30′ motorhome either if I were a solo traveler. I’d probably go with a small Class B or C, mostly because I don’t like backing a trailer alone – that’s just a personal preference though! I’m sure with enough practice it wouldn’t be so bad. 🙂

      We wanted to make very sure our motorhome was livable without the slide out. We saw a couple class B’s we loved, but you had to put the slide out to use the bed (either a murphy bed or sofabed) and that would never work for us with as much as we overnight in parking lots and city streets. When we can put the slide out, it just gains us room to be able to walk around each other in the kitchen and hallway more easily, and room for the dogs to move around us without tripping us or getting stepped on. It’s not much space in the grand scheme of things, but it’s just enough to make daily life a lot easier with so many bodies moving around in there all the time! Not something of concern to a solo traveler as much. It drove us a little crazy trying to cook together in our Airstream kitchen because we couldn’t get around each other at all.

      Our trailer had a lot of trouble in the wind because it was lighter weight, narrower body (7′), and because of the smaller size and wheelbase of our tow vehicle. We couldn’t use a Pro-Pride hitch on ours due to its age, so we didn’t have the best towing experience in high winds and on bumpy roads. The motorhome does blow around a lot, but we try to avoid wind in excess of 20 mph whenever possible and usually give ourselves enough time to get places anyway that a day or two longer somewhere doesn’t usually matter. Other vehicles can be just as much of a danger in that kind of wind, even if you aren’t blowing around yourself, so it’s a good precaution.

      Alas, there’s no perfect RV. In a year we may be in something completely different – like a boat! 😉

  12. Comment by Ray

    Ray Reply Dec 3, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    We have a 35′ 07 Sea Breeze. We like the gas coaches, easy maintenance they have much higher ground clearance than a diesel coach so off grid areas are easier to get to, these days diesel fuel is much more than unleaded. I would stick to something less than 35′ feet when we get a new motorhome.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Dec 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Agreed, Ray! Those are all aspects of gas we really like too. We also like being able to just turn it on, pull in the slides and jacks, and drive, instead of having to let it warm up (except on really cold days, of course). Gas is easier to get work done on usually too, and parts can be cheaper since they’re pretty standard. We’d love the power of a diesel, but we don’t want to be over 30 feet, so our options are pretty limited..for now. 😉

  13. Comment by Wolf Alaska

    Wolf Alaska Reply Jul 7, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Remember, when you tow a car, you ARE towing a trailer. Only, it is a very bad trailer !

    I’ve run some estimated numbers and it only takes 4 million 800 thousand miles of towing a car to pay for the towing eqpt with fuel savings.

    In other words, it’s cheaper to drive the MH & the car. I think that is safer, too.

    Let’s Roll !
    Wolf

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Jul 7, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Haha – some valid points, but there’s still a few reasons we prefer to tow the car when we drive our motorhome. Since it’s smaller than the RV you’re towing it with, you barely feel it back there, which is the opposite of most travel trailers, which you really feel behind you. Towing a car isn’t terribly safe, but neither is towing anything, and we’d rather not have to figure out what to do with a car trailer or tow dolly when we get somewhere.

      We spent about $1,500 on our towing equipment, having bought it secondhand from a friend, and we made that back on our first cross-country trip alone. If you don’t do a lot of miles in the RV it wouldn’t be worth it, but we do 20-40k a year with ours, so that gas would add up quick unless we had an electric or hybrid (which can’t be flat towed anyway).

      Lastly, we’re one of those weird couples who loves each others’ company and wouldn’t want to drive separate and miss out on time together. Half the fun of our trip is experiencing things together, and we love to talk and point out things along the way sitting next to each other. There’s definitely no perfect set-up! 🙂

  14. Comment by Wes Simpson

    Wes Simpson Reply Sep 17, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    I just found your site enjoyed your comparison write up. We’re in our 50’s and getting our last of our 4 sons out of the house soon and then want to travel more. I started thinking RV travel about 3 months ago knowing not even the difference of an A, B or C etc. The only thing I said was 30 or under and wanted high tech very well appointed like a Mercedes luxury car. Well it was easier to find that on the big diesel pushers and got side tracked but back to earth now. We have found some nice B’s build on the Sprinter chassis. We like the way they look and drive but they are small. We feel 75% our travel will be one to two weeks with just the 2 of us. But we would like to bring some of son’s a few of them from time to time. That cannot work in most class B’s but we might consider a smaller travel trailer since those trips will be long week ends normally never more than a week and never too far from our main home.

    I’m still torn on a smaller class A vs the B’s. I guess pro and cons both ways. I’ve really yet to find an A we really like we thought the Tiffin Breeze 28 foot (30) really but they are discontinuing it according to Tiffin. I liked a smaller diesel pusher but it’s not been a good seller you have to get to 33 to 35 foot to find one and that’s over my 30 foot. I’m open to gas but most lack so many items. We like the residential refrigerator and prefer the full electric coaches. It’s not a must just a like to have.

    Regards,

    Wes & Christine

  15. Comment by aj vosse

    aj vosse Reply Oct 5, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Gosh… quite some read but enjoyable and informative. If ever I go down this road I know which will be the better option!! 😉

  16. Comment by Ma Rek

    Ma Rek Reply Nov 9, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Hi, great article and even better discussion here. I have very vague question, but please bear with me. Me and my girlfriend are from Europe and love to travel. We spent more than a year living in a tiny van travelling from New York City to Argentina, so we’re no strangers to small campers. We’d like to travel again soon in a year or two, only this time it will be with a kid (or possibly two), so we postponed my dream of driving to Mongolia and decided our next trip will be mostly USA, maybe also some time in Baja California. We’re thinking about a year would be appropriate for travelling to Alaska, national parks in the West, down to Baja and maybe the East Coast if we have time left (not necessarily in this order).

    This time we’d like our camper to be slightly more “luxurious”. Ideally I’d like to have a separate space for our daughter, so she can go to bed early and we can still hang out in the seating area. I’d also like to have a fixed bed for us, so we don’t have to unfold it every night. Coming from Europe also means we’d have to buy the camper after we fly in, as quickly as possible.

    I looked at the options and here is where I am now:

    1) I pretty much ruled out a slide-in camper (too small) and Class-A RVs (too big, thirsty and expensive).

    2) Fifth wheel seems to be the most spacious, but also complicated (we’d have to get a truck with the proper coupling). Possibly safer on the road. I have never driven with a trailer (I’d probably take classes here in EU).

    3) Travel trailer seems like the cheapest option and also pretty spacious. Negatives were mentioned earlier, I am mostly concerned about safety on the road, plus we’d be probably moving a lot, so a lot of decoupling maybe. We’d also need to purchase a truck to tow the trailer with. Plus side would be to have a truck we could use to do trips on the rougher trails.

    4) Class-C RV seems to be the optimal choice. Apart from poor gas mileage (do you have any diesel versions?) they offer reasonable space (kids could sleep above the cab), should be relatively easy to drive. American RVs seem to have good ground clearance, so we could possibly visit some of the dirt roads that we like and do some wild camping (which we love).

    Generally we’re looking for wild camping or using cheaper spots (not looking for $50 full hookup campgrounds), a little bit of easy dirt roads, moving every few days.

    I’d love to hear from other families what their experience is or any recommendations anybody might have. I’m in the daydreaming phase now, we still have a year or two to go, but it keeps me occupied until we save enough money 🙂 Thanks!

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Nov 14, 2015 at 6:25 pm

      Hi there! What an exciting journey you’ll be taking – good on you for taking your kid(s) on such an epic adventure! Doing all that in a year sounds like a bit much, but it may be possible – just don’t dilute your experience by seeing a lot of things but not having time to really experience them. We did a lot of that in our early days of RVing and regretted it.

      For instance, you need about 3 months to just do Alaska, and even that was rushing it. The ferry there and back from Vancouver might be a better choice than driving for you, as driving puts a lot of wear and tear on the RV, requires about two full weeks (if you drive fast) to go each direction from the States, and fuel is very expensive both on the way and once you’re in Alaska. You can take the RV up on the ferry instead (but you need to make reservations pretty far ahead, and it’s not cheap either) and you can be there in just 3-4 days. You can always drive one way and do the ferry the other as well. If we were to do it again, we would leave the RV behind in storage, take a cruise ship one way up to Alaska, take our time riding the train around the interior of the state, and sight-see without having to drive so much. The best sights were right off the rail line and coast, and driving felt unnecessary and in many ways a distraction and stressor that took away from the experience. We’ll be writing a longer post on that later on. 🙂

      I might also rule out a truck and trailer for you, from the sense that it sounds like you’ll be doing a lot of moving and driving, and with kids especially, it’s nice to have access to your living space while underway. Being able to take a kiddo to the bathroom, grab something out of a refrigerator, or put them down for a nap is much more convenient and time saving than having to pull over to do any of those things. Our pets do better having room to stretch their legs and move about the space on long drives, so while I don’t have first hand child raising experience, I would imagine the same goes with kids. Also, if you don’t need to have a car as well as the RV (you can always rent a car in the city, or a Jeep to go explore some trails), it will be easier to sell just an RV than both a truck and trailer when the year is up.

      There are some great diesel Class C RV’s in the US, and that sounds like a good option for you. I would stay under 32-34 feet if possible to fit in more of the beautiful national and state park campgrounds (most are older and not equipped for larger RVs) and to be able to get into the back-country camping areas. Under 30 feet would be even better for that. Check out Winnebago, Itasca, Holiday Rambler, Jayco, NeXus, Born Free (our favorite class C), and especially anything on the Mercedes Sprinter diesel chassis. They tend to get better gas mileage than a Ford or Chevy and are more comfortable for long drives. The new Ford Transit diesel chassis is really nice though, and there’s at least one new RV here being built on it in 2016, the Winnebago Fuse, and there should be more in coming years.

      Feel free to reach out with more questions via our contact page here on the site. Best of luck with the trip planning and saving, and hope to meet you when you’re here in the States!

      • Comment by Ma Rek

        Ma Rek Reply Nov 15, 2015 at 1:18 am

        Kristin, thank you for the tips, a ferry to Alaska is an interesting option, we haven’t considered that. I’ll definitely have a look into the diesel motorhomes. Thanks!

  17. Comment by Doc

    Doc Reply Jan 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Have had a class A for years, several, and backing up with a toad connected (assuming you have a back up mirror) is no problem at all. Where might you have heard you cannot do this?
    Good article nonetheless.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Feb 25, 2016 at 4:20 am

      Thanks, Doc!

      As for the backing while towing, our tow bar manufacturer, Blue Ox, explicitly said not to back up – that serious damage can be done to the bar and the towed vehicle. From our research, it looks like the main issue is that the wheels of the towed go the opposite direction you need them to when backing, so you end up pushing it, instead of it backing the direction it should. That’s obviously really bad for the tires and puts a lot of stress on the tow bar, hitch and the base plate on the towed. You can back up a short distance in a straight line, or with someone in the towed steering (maybe), but that’s still not a great idea. Others here have said the same: http://forums.motorhomemagazine.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/thread/tid/25249855/print/true.cfm

  18. Comment by jonathonbarton

    jonathonbarton Reply Feb 29, 2016 at 8:35 am

    On the Blue Ox model I have (BX7370 with AutoStop) the reason not to back up is even simpler. The brakes in the car are applied via a cable run from the towbar – when the weight of the car pushes against the towbar, the cable tightens and applies the brakes. Backing up with the brakes applied on the toad would be…baaad. =)

  19. Comment by Karen

    Karen Reply Apr 27, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Now that it’s been a while longer, what could you say if you were given the chance to start over and pick either the trailer or the motorhome? In the end which is the best decision? It is a big purchase and decision, we are absolutely torn over which way to go. We will be retiring and using it to go down to the beach to visit our vacation rental properties there and stay in the camper when we are booked up. But we will also want to drive across country and visit friends and family in it.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply May 18, 2016 at 10:22 am

      Hi Karen! That’s a tough question, and a really tough one to answer. Our friends at Ardent Camper just switched from a trailer to a motorhome and wrote a great article here: http://www.ardentcamper.com/blog/towables-versus-motorhomes.

      For us, the motorhome makes more sense because we are constantly driving somewhere, and we got tired of hitching and unhitching, but also wanted to be able to access the living space while in motion. We like spending overnight stops at Walmarts and such in a motorhome better, because we feel safer that if something were going on outside, we could hop in the driver’s seat and drive away without going outside. We can also park on city streets much more easily. It’s totally up to your travel style and personal preferences in the end, but if you have specific questions about aspects of either, let me know! 🙂

  20. Comment by Sheri

    Sheri Reply May 28, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    We are about to go down this same road. It just seems that the class A would be the dream, but it seems that on a lot of site I read where there is a lot of maintenance or repair being down to the class A. I’ve read some on TT, but it does not seems to be as complicated. Do you any responds or experience in this? We are not rich, so I’m afraid the repairs on a motorhome would be more than we could afford.

  21. Comment by Betsy

    Betsy Reply Oct 3, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    How about the differences when it comes to utilities (sewage & electrical especially)?

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Oct 10, 2016 at 10:07 pm

      Hi Betsy! Sewage and electrical on a Class A or C motorhome, or even a fifth wheel, can sometimes be a bit more complex than a smaller bumper pull trailer, depending on how it’s designed. Since the connections are usually in the storage bays on a motorhome, there’s a bit more variation in the type of connections used there. The electrical systems are usually more complex in the motorhome, since you usually have an on-board generator. I wouldn’t let any of that worry you, unless you want or need to go as simple as possible. You’ll likely want to look for something with adequate storage for your sewer hoses, power cord, and a surge protector, if it doesn’t have one built-in already. That’s our biggest challenge now with our Class B: where to store the “outside stuff” with no storage bays! Let me know if you have any additional questions!

  22. Comment by Heather Vandenberg

    Heather Vandenberg Reply Mar 4, 2017 at 1:17 am

    I’m so glad I found this blog! My husband and I are looking at buying either a 23′ bumper pull (Trail Runner) or a Class C motorhome. One of our biggest issues that have us really conflicted is the fact that from what we’ve read motorhomes aren’t really intended for use with car seats? We have a 5 & 7 year old who both are still in a child safety seat and, the reading I’ve done has said that because the seats aren’t bolted to the body of the vehicle like they are in a truck or car it isn’t as safe? Just about everywhere I’ve read suggests a bumper pull or 5th wheel, so that the kids are in their safety seats in a vehicle. Which we could easily do, we have a F350 crew cab with both a tow hitch and the set up for a 5th wheel, trailer brakes, the whole nine yards.
    Driving either the Class C or trailer/truck combo isn’t an issue for us, my husband has had a class A license for 10 years now. He’s hauled everything from permitted loads to fuel (that was nerve wracking)..
    I’m just really conflicted now, I can see either option being potentially dangerous in the right circumstances.
    We walked into the RV dealerships thinking we wanted one thing and, walked out considering something completely different.
    I’m hoping I can pick y’alls brains about your experiences. Sorry for the book..

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Mar 14, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Hi Heather! Thanks for reading 🙂

      We don’t have kiddos ourselves, but my understanding is that a vehicle like a truck is much safer than having them in a motorhome, at that young of an age especially. The dinette seats are okay for adult passengers for shorter trips, but not recommended for kids. Typically the sides of a class A or C RV are fiberglass, and only the cab area has airbags, roll bars, and other safety features you’d find in a standard vehicle. Another danger is flying objects, furniture, etc in the RV living area. Everything you have stored back there becomes a projectile in a crash. I’d say start with a trailer, unless you don’t mind driving separately behind the motorhome with a second vehicle. A bumper pull versus a fifth wheel is mostly a matter of personal choice – I’d spend some time in some and see what feels good to you, and how you see yourselves using it. Let me know if you have any additional questions!

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