RV vs. Motorhome: What is the Difference?


Most people know the term RV, which stands for recreational vehicle. Some also know the term motorhome, but not all RVs are motorhomes. So, what’s the difference between an RV vs. motorhome?

Here’s what I know from owning one:

An RV is any type of recreational vehicle, including those with motors such as a Class A, B, or C. But RVs can also include non-motorized campers such as travel trailers and 5th Wheels which would not be classified as a motorhome. 

But what’s the difference between all the different kinds, and why do the terms sometimes get thrown around interchangeably?

There’s a lot of vocabulary to learn when it comes to RVs and living on the road. S o let us jump in!

What do all the different names for RV’s mean?

RV stands for a recreational vehicle. There are Class A motorhomes, which are the longest, Class C motorhomes, Class B Vans, travel trailers, which get towed, and fifth wheels, which attach over the bed of a pickup truck.

The different names of an RV somewhat tie into both size and features.

Sometimes RVs are also called Rigs or Big Rigs for larger RVs. Big Rigs, for example, got its name because it is usually 35 feet or over in size.

But honestly, that term is used more often with 18-wheel trucks than with RVs.

We can generally split these all into two separate types of RVs.

RV with Engines

Do note that there are a few more types, such as bus/van conversion, that are not mentioned.

Class A motorhome: (29 to 45ft) Can be powered by gas or diesel. This is considered a luxury RV with plenty of space. It’s considered the largest of the RVs and is a home on wheels.

Class C motorhome: (21 to 41ft) This is the golden spot between an A and B class RV. This also usually has an over-cab and is more comfortable to drive for most people. The over-cab tends to be used as a bed space or extra storage.

Class B motorhome: (21 to 24ft) This RV is much like a minivan and is the smallest of the engine RVs. It’s easy to drive and is very fuel-efficient compared to Class C. This RV is good for small groups going on a trip.

RVs without Engines

Fifth wheel: (25 to 40ft) Similar to travel trailers. Very stable when towing, and it has slide outs for kitchens, living areas, and bedrooms. This has its perks of still being able to use your car for side trips.

Travel Trailer: This requires a separate vehicle to tow it. This is similar to a camper but with more convenience and space. They’re more insulated as well!

Pop-up Camper: Folds down for storage and travelings and can pop up into a large living space.

Each of these names just gives you a better insight into what the RV is like. What type of RV you choose will depend on your lifestyle and what your goals are on the road.

Let’s talk a little more about what is better in terms of a travel trailer or a motorhome.

Which is better, a travel trailer or motorhome?

A Class A or C motorhome is better than a travel trailer when it comes to size, features, and the ability for passengers to ride in it while in motion. However, travel trailers are less expensive and don’t require as much mechanical maintenance.

A few facts play into this decision, but overall, the choice of which is better will be based on your lifestyle and wants. While a travel trailer may be a perfect fit for one family, it may not fit your needs at all.

Let’s dig deeper with this basic list we made for you:

Upfront Cost: The motorhome will be more expensive, starting at 50,000, and going up to $1,000,000 or more. By comparison, a travel trailer will be cheaper, closer to 25,000 on average, or less depending on its length and features.

Gas: A motorhome will have less gas mileage than a travel trailer. However, a travel trailer will make you slower by an average of 10 miles per gallon. A motorhome will get around 15 miles per gallon, but it depends on the size you get. A travel trailer will get approximately 30 miles per hour.

Space: This depends on if you go with a Class A or C. Class A will have plenty of space as to where a Class C tends only to hold about two people because it only has room for one bed. A travel trailer provides more space than a Class C while being budget-friendly.

Maintenance: The maintenance of a motorhome will be more expensive because you need to pay for car parts on top of normal expenses. Not to mention you’ll have to make sure all parts on the inside, such as waste and plumbing, are working right. Overall the maintenance of a travel trailer will be cheaper.

All these things are huge factors in the decision process, but there is still more. Like how much are you going to use your RV?

Will it be cross-country or for weekend trips?

Cross-country is better suited for a home on wheels. Meaning anything above a Class C is best for this type of traveling. If you are planning short trips, the travel trailer might be best for you.

Not to mention that you have to take the time to think about how comfortable you want to be and how safe you want to feel. Having a travel trailer means you have to get out of the car to get to anything in storage.

Getting out of your car might not seem like a problem now but think about driving at night and needing to pull over to grab something or go to the bathroom. You’ll be exposed to any element such as snow or rain, and you might have to deal with strangers in the dark.

You can simply get out of your seat with a motorhome and walk to the back to do your business. No getting out of the car and being exposed to people or the elements.

After all, if you ever plan to sell your RV, you might want to consider value.

A travel trailer doesn’t have an engine, which means the cost doesn’t depreciate as fast as a motorhome, which has an engine.

Think of it as a car with an old engine. You’ll worry about how long it will last. Both will depreciate, but one will do so slowly and one you might be able to fix for a higher value.

But is one better insulated for harsh winter weather?

I have another recent article that talks about how you can live in a motorhome in the winter. I get into winterizing, if you need to winterize, and which RVs hold up best in harsh weather.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is a fifth wheel better than a motorhome?

A fifth wheel is better than a motorhome for turning radius, depreciation, ceiling height, slide-outs, floor plans, heating, and extras such as fireplaces and kitchen islands. However, a motorhome is better for large families since everyone can travel in the RV.

And let’s face it, a Class A or Class C RV is also going to be easier to drive and park. And a 40-foot 5th wheel towed behind a huge pickup may also be too large for many campgrounds.

A motorhome, in general, will usually win this but not always. There are certain times when a fifth wheel is better than a motorhome.

Let’s go over when the fifth wheel makes a better choice.

A motorhome is better for bad weather because everything is inside and you are completely protected from the weather. It’s also easier to have full security on a motorhome. Family space and storage are a plus on more people’s lists.

These two tie in a lot of categories, though.

For instance, they can both have an onboard generator, they both have good storage, are good at backing up, and can tow quite a bit. They both are good at giving a little separation between family at night.

Just like with most of these RVs, it boils down to what you want most. Whether floor plans are more important than a larger water tank or high ceilings interest you more than no stairs.

Motorhomes are excellent all-round, while a fifth wheel has its drawbacks in certain areas. The same can be said the other way.

No matter what you get, make sure it fits you and your family.

In the end, while my family of 5 almost bought a 5th wheel, we ended up getting a Class A, and never looked back.

Should I buy a Class A or C motorhome?

Buy a Class A if you want more space and home living on the road. Buy a Class C if you want an easy drive and don’t have animals.

Ultimately this depends on how many people are with you, whether you have pets, and how luxurious do you want your motorhome to be.

A Class A is larger and is easier on pets if you have any.

The living space in this motorhome can’t be beaten and has lots of storage. The Class A doesn’t have steps and is high on security while still being open!

The Class C is easier and more comfortable for people to drive.

It also tends to get better fuel efficiency as it’s smaller. However, that’s not to discredit the fact that Class A can get good fuel efficiency too.

Because of the Class A size, they have better slide outs, larger water tanks, and better ride quality than Class C.

Class A is better if you have kids and animals as everything is connected, and you can keep an eye on everything. It’s also the better choice if you want a true luxury RV as many Class A’s get well into the 6-figures.

The Class C is also cheaper and tends to save more on gas. Although truth be told, both get poor gas mileage, so don’t make that the deciding factor.

It really comes down to what you want from your RV. And how much time you’ll be spending in it. These days, it’s not uncommon for people to live in their RV full-time, or part-time.

I have a recent article that talks about whether an RV is cheaper than owning a house. What really surprised me was how much money some people really save doing that!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What are the different sizes of motorhomes?

Class A is the largest RV ranging from 29 to 45 feet, Class C is mid-sized ranging from 21-41 feet, and Class B is the smallest ranging from 21-24 feet in length.

The sizing of motorhomes can be a little wonky, and it doesn’t go in order from A, B, to C.  And as you see above, there’s a wide range for each type and a decent amount of overlap.

But it might help to look at what the average size of each is compared to the full range:

  • Class B – Average of 22 feet
  • Class C – Average of 29 feet
  • Class A – Average of 34 feet

The sizing also will determine the number of beds, toilets, and extras your RV will have.

A Class C will normally have a loft area with a bed above the driver’s area. This has 1-2 slide outs and smaller water tanks.

The Class A, on the other hand, is all one level with a larger water tank and more walking space. I have seen one with a loft bed above the driver’s area, but those are pretty rare.

The Class B will be like a van, so it has enough room for a bed and a little walking area. There’s not much more to it other than accessories.

Did I cover everything you wanted to know about RV vs. Motorhomes?

In this article, we learned a lot of vocab for RV living. We went over the features of each RV style and which would fit what lifestyle best.

RVs don’t have to be complicated, and when it comes to features, it boils down to how much you want to pay. If you want everything included, you’ll pay more and go with a Class A. If you want just a little, which has some excellent features, get a Class C or a travel trailer.

Overall, all motorhomes are RVs, but not all RVs are motorhomes. So make sure to do your research and figure out what you want most out of an RV. You might not need one with an engine, depending on what you’re going to do with it.

Travel safely by knowing more!

Cassandra & Jeff Campbell

Cassandra and Jeff Campbell travel on and off with their 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. They write extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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