Last update on .

Trailer vs. Motorhome
Trailer vs. Motorhome

Buying your first RV involves a lot of decisions, the first of which will probably be deciding what kind of rig is right for you. While there are many different options, they can generally be divided into two different camps: Motorized (a.k.a. "motorhomes") and non-motorized (a.k.a. trailers and fifth wheels). Here's a quick rundown of some of the pros and cons of the two.

Advantages of a Trailer vs. a Motorhome

Price. Trailers don't have the expense of an engine, and so cost much less than equivalent sized motorhomes. If you add together the price of a new tow vehicle and a new trailer you may well get to the same price point as a new motorhome, but there's an important thing to keep in mind: almost all RVs have very limited warranties, often only 1 year. If you end up with a lemon of a trailer, you'll be out a lot of money, but it will be a whole lot less than if you end up with a lemon of a motorhome.

Day-tripping options. With a trailer, you can always unhitch and have a (relatively) normal-sized vehicle to explore with. With a motorhome, you will need to tow a car (or motorcycles or something) if you want to be able to venture out and explore without breaking camp and having to drive your large rig to visit the sites. Not to mention if your motorhome needs repair, you could be without a vehicle and a place to stay while it is repaired. 

Ownership costs. If you currently own a vehicle capable of towing a trailer, then you don't have another motor vehicle to service, maintain and insure. If a motorhome is going to sit unused for a long stretch, it will likely require more maintenance than a vehicle that gets driven regularly. Insurance on a trailer is also much lower than on a motorhome because it's not a motor vehicle. If you do end up buying a second vehicle for towing, it can at least also serve as a secondary vehicle, so can be useful even when you're not travelling.

Transporting a family. Motorhomes may advertise that they can sleep more than 2 people, but they are seldom if ever made to safely transport more than two, especially older models. Almost all seating past the first two bucket seats are only cushions on top of plywood boxes, which is not a truly safe transport option when barrelling down the highway at 65 miles an hour. Car seats for young children, in particular, will have nowhere safe to latch in. Purchasing a tow vehicle that seats 5 or more safely, on the other hand, is pretty easy.

Selection (especially in the used market). If you go to any RV show, you'll see dozens upon dozens of travel trailers, but generally very few motorhomes. You'll find a similar situation at typical RV dealers, except those that specialize in motorhomes. And if you're in the market for a used RV, you'll see more than four times as many trailers and 5th wheels on RVTrader.com than you will motorhomes. So if you want to have lots of selection when it comes to layout and price point, trailers win hands-down.

Advantages of a Motorhome Over a Travel Trailer

No towing required. This is probably the number one thing that puts people off of trailers and leads them to buy a motorhome. Towing can be intimidating even for the most confident driver, especially when it comes to reversing a large trailer. There's also a huge learning curve when it comes to matching tow vehicles to trailers, and buying a motorhome means you don't have to worry about any of that. You also aren't limited in what you can buy based on what your vehicle is capable of towing. Of course, if you plan to tow a car for day-tripping, then towing may still be in the cards for a motorhome, but those are almost always unhooked before you arrive at a site and need to back in, so that reversing while towing isn't an issue. 

Ease of setup and teardown. Motorhomes have a huge advantage here over trailers. For most motorhomes, setup pretty much consists of throwing down a couple of levelling blocks and putting out the slide if you have one. For trailers, on the other hand, there's the extra step of unhitching, which sounds quick but takes a good amount of time, especially when weight distributing hitches and sway bars come into play as they add extra steps to the process. The same is obviously the case for breaking camp, and if you're ever looking to make a quick escape, you're not likely to be doing it in a trailer.

No surprises when you open the door after a trip. The moment when a trailer owner first opens the door after arriving at their destination is one of ultimate suspense - what happened during the drive? Did the fridge come unlatched and will the food be all over the floor? Did the anchors holding down the microwave finally come free and was it launched across the trailer? In a motorhome, usually somebody notices the second a cabinet opens up and you can pull over and rectify the situation before it gets worse. (Of course, this barrier could be a plus if you don't want to hear the rattle of the pots and pans while you're driving!)

Stealth camping. In a smaller motorhome, you can often park on the street or in a parking lot and then retreat to the rear where you can quietly live with the blinds closed and nobody will be the wiser that you're not just parked there and staying in a nearby home. With a trailer, at the very least you need to get out of your tow vehicle and get into your trailer, which may be enough to give you away. 

Being off-grid for long periods. Most (although not all) motorhomes are built with RV house batteries that will charge off of the engine's alternator while driving. So if you've spent the night boondocking in one location and are travelling to another boondocking location, your batteries can recharge while you drive between the two. With a tow vehicle and trailer though, by default, the tow vehicle's alternator will reduce its output voltage once the truck batteries are charged, so the RV batteries will not charge much after that. While it is possible to arrange it so that your tow vehicle's alternator continues to charge the trailer's batteries while driving, some fancy electrical work will likely be necessary to make it so.

There's an RV out there that's right for you, hopefully this list of pros and cons will help you get the ball started rolling in the right direction! If you have any big advantages or disadvantages one way or the other that I've missed, please add them in the comments! 

 

Boondockers Welcome Logo

Boondockers Welcome is a community of RVers that provide overnight stays with each other for free while traveling through an area. We help RVers to travel more economically and find options when campgrounds may be full. It’s a great and safe way to meet fellow RVers or for people curious about the RV lifestyle to learn from members, while also providing a safe place to park for one night or up to five nights.

Keep up to date with us and our hosts

Sign up for our newsletter and get notified when we have new, useful articles and see all our new hosts every week.

Comments

  • coyoteangel5259

    coyoteangel5259   

    had many of both.......buy a airstream trailer !
  • steve101

    steve101   

    Beyond the disadvantages you already mentioned for a trailer, two big reasons why I sold the 5th to move to a motorhome are: 1) When I was caught in a torrential thunderstorm and forced to pull over, I had to make back and forth trips from the truck to the trailer with my stuff and the animals causing everyone to be drenched and leaving a bunch of wet stuff to contend with in the trailer (Not to mention the hassle of moving the animals to the truck every time we switched camps.) 2) Even though having a truck to explore with is often listed as an advantage of trailers, I didn't find that to be true. Trying to go downtown in the truck often meant parking a mile away from our destination because we were too tall for the garage or too long for the street side spots, and navigating narrow city streets with oncoming traffic was often precarious. I would much rather tow a small car behind the motorhome and explore wherever we want without the concerns about being too big or the added maintenance cost of the truck when it wasn't needed.
    BWadmin

    BWadmin on 07/06/2020 12:47 p.m. moderator  

    All very good points, thank you for sharing!
  • OnTheRoad2Day

    OnTheRoad2Day   

    Pro's and Con's: Are you full-timing or weekending? We are full timers. We look at this as our home. Not necessarily an RV. So, we had to pic on what we perceived as our priorities. You'll have to determine your own. For us: Storage: We wanted storage. We have "stuff". We needed somewhere to put stuff. For the MH's we looked at, this we a challenge. It could have just been the models we looked at but storage was not the same. We looked at 40-45' MH's and 40-45' 5th wheels. The kitchen was also a driver. We needed pantry space (we like to eat). Be careful on a 5th Wheel with a front living unit. The storage is much smaller in many cases. Some will add storage under the bedroom but that just adds more stairs on the inside. Budgets: We looked at MH's but discovered there were a lot of ongoing costs (i.e. 6-10 batteries, 6-10 tires, expensive oil changes, horrendous towing bills). In addition, depending on what State you live in, a change of Driver's License may be required (including written and driving test. The same for a heavy 5th wheel). And then there is the expensive cost of the towing equipment if it breaks down. Pro's for a MH: They are easier to back and set up. They ride much better. But that MH comes with a price. MH's tend to be more expensive than a 5th wheel set up. Even with a new truck for the 5th wheel. Insurance: Consider the insurance costs. With a MH and Toad, you'll need motor vehicle insurance on both AND then full-timers insurance (if you full time). Insurance tends to be less on the 5th Wheel and tow truck. Fuel Mileage: Trucks with a 5th wheel will average 9-12 mpg when towing. MH's will average 4-9 mpg. When fuel prices are up, it impacts your budget. Used vs. New: One can buy used and save a lot of money. We bought a 1 year old and saved about 50%-60% over MSRP. Remember, buy your 1st unit the 1st time. Not the third time. And be sure to get an independent inspection completed by a third party. Not the dealer. Overall, it's going to really depend on how you use it and what you are willing to pay. Only you can decide that. If money is/was no object, we would have purchased an American Coach or Anthem MH. Top class but a lot of green. Personal Experience with the 5th Wheel: We've been in winds of 80 mph on 3 occasions. The RV will really rock and roll. If we know a storm is approaching, we'll make sure the water tanks are full for extra ballast. We also pull in the opposing slide to move the center of gravity into the wind. You won't always get notice. Most MH's are significantly heavier and may offer better protection in a side wind. When backing, you cannot see down one side or the other. You have to have cameras or an extra person to guide you. And you have to train them and have two-way communications. Good luck with your decision.
    BWadmin

    BWadmin on 07/07/2020 10:37 a.m. moderator  

    These are all great points! Thank you for sharing!
  • Patwoman

    Patwoman   

    Being a retired, single female and (soon to be) full time, boondocking RVer, I decided after 8-months of looking for a trailer that it made more sense for me to buy a used Class C motor-home for security reasons. If I encounter a problem; emergency bug-out (wildfire, severe weather, etc), threatened (2 or 4-legged) or get spooked out in the boonies, all I have to do is jump in the driver's seat and go. I live in a rural area in the mountains of Colorado and wildlife are my most visible neighbors. I'm not easily spooked but can imagine any of those scenarios. I've been charged by moose on my property and had a bear damage a wooden trash trailer. Of course I will still need a "toad" for touring and trips for supplies. I'm looking for both so I can flee our snowy winters this year. Just my 2-cents.
    BWadmin

    BWadmin on 07/28/2020 9:52 a.m. moderator  

    Those are all very good points! Thank you for sharing.
You must log in to comment.