The Pros & Cons of Motorized Versus Towable RVs
How do Motorhome RVs compare to Travel Trailers & Fifth Wheels?
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As a follow-up to our post on identifying and remembering the 5 most common types of RVs, we began a 3-part series looking at the Pros and Cons of the most common types of RVs. We began with the Pros and Cons of the 3 motorized types of RVs. Today, we’ll be wrapping up the series by looking at the Pros and Cons of Motorized vs Towable RVs.
You should keep in mind that we are looking at the topic of this series from the perspective of the Full-Time RVer as we travel full-time in our own RV. Still, the information below will apply if you are planning to part-time or even just rent an RV for a single trip; you may just weigh certain considerations differently. If there is anything you would like a little more detail on, ask away in the comments section and we’ll be happy to answer based on our experience.
An often cited benefit of motorized RVs is the fact that they are "all-in-one". There is only one unit to worry about when it comes to maintenance. Conveniently, there is only one unit to worry about when it comes to moving. When moving, you don’t have to hitch anything up, but rather just turn on the engine. You can literally roll out of bed and into the cockpit and go (go ahead, drive in your PJs if you like)! Keep in mind this is only true if you forgo towing a vehicle. With Class Bs, and some of the smaller Class Cs, you don’t need to tow a separate vehicle, but this will not be a practical option if you’re in a larger Class C or most Class As.
Another plus when it comes to traveling in a motorized RV is the constant access to everything in the RV. When you are driving down the road, you have access to your bathroom as well as your snacks. Sometimes the weather or temperature is changing as you are traveling and you also have access to your full wardrobe. If we arrive at a spot for the night and it’s raining or cold, we don’t have to step outside to get to our bed, we just turn around and walk back to it!
Making just one purchase, is also a potential benefit of going the motorized RV route. For many towable RV units you will need a truck to safely tow the RV. Unless you already have a truck, that will be an additional purchase. If you choose a Class B or small Class C you can get away without towing an extra vehicle (this is the route we have taken and so far we love it). If you do choose to tow a vehicle you don’t need a truck, as an SUV or sedan will work, but you will have to research what vehicles can be towed and how.
In our small Class C we have been able to cut down on extra driving that we did to get to and from what we wanted to see, and where our Travel Trailer was set up. In situations where we had to set up our Travel Trailer outside of a city or area, we were usually an hour to an hour and a half out.
As amazing as it is to have an RV that is “all-in-one” this can have its downsides, particularly if you are full-time traveling. If you need some maintenance or a repair, and you’re a full-timer, you have to leave your house behind for as long as the maintenance or repair takes, even if it’s on the vehicle part. For those in a Class B or a Class C with no vehicle in tow, you will need to figure out another way to get around in the meantime, because you're also leaving behind your vehicle.
Fuel and fuel economy are also a potential negative. With our Travel Trailer, and rather fuel efficient GMC Canyon (Duramax Diesel), we would get about 13-15 mpg towing and 28-30 mpg when not towing.
With our Trend we get about 14-15 mpg on the interstate, but when exploring an area we still just get 14-15 mpg, rather than the 28-30 mpg we would when exploring in our truck.
Finally, the price point of Motorized RVs are substantially higher. Towables are much less expensive, although you may have to factor in the cost of a truck if you do not already own one. If you are looking to full-time RV, I would like to mention that at the beginning, many of you will undoubtedly believe you need much more space than you do. Acquiring that space is much more costly in a motorized RV. Plus, with that space in a motorized RV, will come the need to also have a tow vehicle for getting around in and exploring.
In our opinion the number one benefit of going with a towable is price, especially if you already have a vehicle with the capacity to tow the Travel Trailer or 5th Wheel you want. There is a very high probability that the first RV you purchase (whether for full-timing or occasional trips) is not going to be the one you ultimately want. You can research, but there really is no substitute for actually getting out on the road, in an RV, to pinpoint your preferences and desired features. At their lower price point, Towables are a great way to get your feet wet.
Space is another plus. You will have more options that give you both interior space and exterior space in the Towables category than you will in the Motorized category. On top of that, you will have additional storage space in the bed of your truck. If you are looking to sleep multiple people or provide multiple people with their own space, you will also find more options (like floorplans with bunks) in the Towables category than in the Motorized category.
Last, if the vehicle you are pulling your towable with is a 4 x 4, then you have 4 x 4 capability. On the motorized side of things, this is something you’ll usually find in smaller, more expensive, Class Bs. This is something to keep in mind especially if you plan on going with a Motorized RV and no toad (the vehicle your motorized RV tows). With our truck being a 4 x 4, we were able to coax our Canyon and Travel Trailer into some pretty epic boondocking spots. We’ll have to see how the Trend fares in that department as it has very low ground clearance and no 4 x 4 capabilities.
With a towable you have to keep up with the maintenance of two things. You have your towable RV unit as well as your vehicle to worry about. However, if you are in a large Class C or Class A with a toad you would be in the same situation.
Convenience is the major downside to Towables. Whether in a 5th Wheel or a Travel Trailer, you will not have access to your bathroom, your belongings, or your snacks when rolling down the road. To access any of those things you will need to pull over and climb into the RV. Moving is also not as convenient in a Towable as it is in a Motorized RV. We have absolutely LOVED the ability to literally turn the engine on and drive away in seconds. Jon certainly loves not having to hitch anything up whatsoever, especially since the rain and temperature extremes always seemed to show up right on time for “Driving Days”.
The learning curve for driving with a Towable RV is also steeper than the one for learning to drive a Motorized RV. Unless you are getting a Class A, you will probably not have much difficulty adjusting as many Class Bs and Cs feel like driving a van or moving truck. With the exception of small travel trailers and teardrop campers, the maneuverability on the road is far superior with a Motorized RV than with a Towable RV.
One thing that really got to us with our Travel Trailer was that we had a pretty long length on driving days with no space to show for it. We were roughly 44 feet long (truck + camper) without the luxurious amount of space you'd have in a Motorized RV of equal length.
If you have any questions, or need to bounce around thoughts on the best RV for you, leave us a comment below and we’ll be happy to answer. And if you’re ready to experience RVing yourself, we highly recommend renting an RV through Outdoorsy based on personal experience renting a second RV for a family trip.