How did we choose our rig? That’s a good question with a long answer. We’ll take a couple of posts to go over what we did. The first answer is lots of research. Lots of research. We looked at numbers and floorplans until our eyes crossed. We started by reading up on the different types of RVs.
• Class A – self-propelled unit built on a bus frame. Many people call them motor homes. These can be pushers (rear-engine) or puller (front-engine). Slides are common on Class As as a way to expand the space. It’s fairly easy to pull a vehicle behind (called a “toad,” like towed). What we found was that none of these can hold a large family. You might be able to put a family of 5 or 6, but not a family of 9. That’s primarily a function of having to deal with the engine and transmission; they take up a fair amount of space. We’ve seen Class As anywhere from 25 to 45 feet long.
• Class B – also a self- propelled unit built on a van frame. I haven’t seen any slides on Class Bs in my research. These are also not for large families. Think of something like a van-based ambulance. These run about the length of your average full-sized van: about 25 feet.
• Class C – again a self- propelled unit. The front end is usually a van or medium-duty truck, and the rear section is custom-built. It’s basically a hybrid Class A/B. I’ve seen slides on Class Cs, although they’re not usually as big as the ones on a Class A. We’ve seen some good-sized rigs, but again, nothing for our family. We do know several folks fulltiming in this class. We’ve seen Class Cs as long as 35 feet.
• Travel Trailer or TT – a trailer with a flat front end, designed to be pulled using a traditional bumper hitch. Slides are common on travel trailers to give you extra space. Lengths vary widely, from 12 to 42 feet or so.
• 5th Wheel, or 5W, or 5er – a trailer designed to be pulled by a pick-truck or larger vehicle using a fifth-wheel hitch in the bed of the truck. This type of trailer has a distinctive bump up at the forward end, for the bed of the truck to fit under the trailer. Slides are also common in 5W, again to give you extra space. The average rig is about 8 feet wide, but having slides can double that in the living room. Again, lengths vary, but 5W are generally longer than TT, although the overall length of the tow combo is shorter, since 4-6 feet of the 5W trailer rides over the bed of the truck.
• Pop-up Trailer – a trailer that collapses down and folds up. The upper walls are usually cloth or mesh. The lower walls are built similar to 5W or TT. Although we know of a couple of families fulltiming in pop-ups, we didn’t think it was right for our family, primarily due to size considerations.
• Hybrid Trailer – this is a relatively new type of trailer. It looks similar to a travel trailer, but has pop-up or pop-out sections in place of slides, making for a lighter rig than a similarly-sized TT.
• Slide-in – a camper box that slides into the bed of a pickup truck.
There’s a type of rig called a toy hauler, which gives you a garage space at the rear of the rig for things like motorcycles, race cars, or ATVs. I’ve seen toy hauler floor plans in Class As, Cs, travel trailers and 5th wheels. The Ticknor family with 11 kids is in a toy hauler. We considered the same floorplan until we happened upon the rig we ended up with.
There’s also a large number of people who have converted buses of varying types. Most common is the school bus conversion, also known as the “schoolie.” We’ve heard that some RV resorts will not allow schoolies, probably based on previous bad experiences. Sometimes conversions are done as an ongoing project, and rigs may pull into a campground or park in various stages of construction. Most parks and resorts want to keep a certain image, and a vehicle under construction usually doesn’t meet that image. Some insurance companies won’t insure them, either. We’ve seen some very nice schoolie conversions, and with a smaller family, we might have considered it.
Another common conversion project is an old commercial bus. I’ve seen conversion blogs for city buses as well as old Greyhound units. Neoplan made double-decker passenger buses (not like the classic UK style), and at least one couple has converted one of those. There are a couple of companies that sell conversion packages, and at least one does custom slides you can add to your bus. Commercial bus conversions are a great idea if you’ve got the skills and capabilities. The mechanicals are designed to run a million miles or more, so the engine and transmission are very solid. You’ll get exactly the floor plan that you want, and if you do the work yourself, you’ll know the quality of the workmanship.
We didn’t really give consideration to a conversion project, although if a completed conversion in our price range had come along, we might have looked into it. I’m not mechanically inclined enough to pull it off, we didn’t think we had the time to do the project (or a place to store the rig during the project), and we didn’t have the funds to hire out a customization.
One thing we found as we talked to people who use different types of rigs is that 5th wheel rigs tend to tow better than travel trailers. It’s a physics thing. Rather than all of the weight being behind the tow vehicle, some of it is over top of the rear axle. It affects weight distribution. While you can get weight-distributing hitches for travel trailers, we decided to go to a 5th wheel floor plan. We knew that we were going to have to buy a new tow vehicle; our current Chevy Express van can’t pull any of the rigs that are large enough for our family, and none of the 2011 vans can be configured to pull 15,000 pounds. If we were going to buy a truck, we should probably go to a 5th wheel floor plan.
Once we decided on a basic type of rig – a fifth wheel – we needed to figure out what floor plan we wanted, and we needed to come up with a tow vehicle. Those decisions will be in upcoming posts.