Let’s get down to the basics
Summer is here and that means it’s time to hit the road for epic road trips that leave you wishing you had another few weeks of vacation time to spare. If you want to get your whole crew on the road before fall hits, there’s no better way than with an Outdoorsy RV rental.
However, we know RVs can be a little intimidating—especially if you’ve never driven one before. After all, they’re bigger vehicles than what most people are used to driving, there are a few different types of RVs, and there’s a whole new world of RV terminology to learn.
While we always recommend taking your time to research your RV options, we’ve put together this quick guide to give you a brief intro to the basics of RVing. We know there’s a lot to learn, but don’t worry—owners love their RVs and are always happy to share their knowledge and passion with new renters.
So, let’s dive in.
What are the different types of RVs?
Class A, B, and C RVs
Since Class A RVs are the largest RVs on the market—up to 45 feet in length—you may think Class C would be the smallest, but actually, Class B RVs are the smallest. Class B RVs are almost always built on a van chassis—these are the vehicles that straddle the line between “RV” and “large van.” Class C RVs fall somewhere in the middle, ranging from 20 to 34 feet in length.
To tow or not to tow?
You may have noticed from browsing our platform that there are two main options for driving: an RV towed behind your vehicle on a hitch, or an all-in-one that’s driven, not towed—what most people think of when they picture an RV.
At Outdoorsy, we refer to RVs that are towed as “trailers,” though they can be as large as RVs.
Towing has some advantages; primarily that you can drive your own vehicle—assuming it has a hitch and the proper tow capacity—and you can leave your RV in the campsite and just drive a smaller vehicle around during the day, which is great for multi-day camping.
There are a few different types of towable trailers, just like there are a few different types of RVs. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a vehicle with a hitch, you won’t be able to rent a trailer. The different trailer types include:
- Fifth-wheel trailer. These trailers are designed to be towed by pickup trucks, usually with a sleeping space that fits over the bed of the truck.
- Travel trailers. These are towed behind a vehicle—usually a truck or large SUV—provided that vehicle has a hitch, of course. They vary in size and weight: the lighter and smaller the travel trailer, the more likely a standard-size SUV or truck will be able to pull it.
- Pop-up or “folding” trailer. These are lighter and smaller campers. They have sides that expand or a roof that rises, usually with canvas walls. They’re a good way to gain more indoor living space without much extra weight. These are often called “small campers,” as well, and can be towed by smaller vehicles.
- Toy hauler. This is for the adventurers out there. If you need to bring mountain bikes, paddle boards, and kayaks with you on your trip, then you want a toy hauler—an RV or trailer with extra storage space for large equipment. Some toy haulers are almost all storage with little living space, so make sure to peek at interior photos before booking.
- Utility trailer. This is a more spartan version of a toy hauler and has no living space—it’s just a trailer or moving vehicle-type trailer solely designed for holding gear.
(Pro tip: The RV owner can probably help you determine if his or her vehicle will fit and should know what kind of hitch you need—just ask.)
Useful RV terminology
When renting an RV, you’ll want to know a few basic terms to ensure you end up with the kind of vehicle you need for your summer adventure.
- Auxiliary battery. Want to run the lights and equipment in your RV while the vehicle is off? Then you’ll need an auxiliary battery, which allows the car to be off while providing power inside. These are often powered by solar, which helps you stay off-the-grid for longer.
- Black/Grey/Fresh water. Black water is the term for dirty water from your RV’s restroom. Each RV with a toilet has a black water capacity, which is the number of gallons your black water tank can hold without being emptied. Grey water is waste water from your sink and shower. Fresh water is clean, ready-to-use water.
- Boondocking. This is a slang term for camping without hookups, generally outside of a developed campsite area.
- Camper van. If you’re all about vanlife, you want a camper van—a cargo or large passenger van converted for living, which usually includes a sleeping area, dining area, and small kitchen. Sprinter vans and the popular “Westfalias” fall in this category.
- Cassette toilet. Smaller RVs and trailers may come with a cassette toilet, a self-contained toilet than can be removed from the vehicle and emptied.
- Dump station. This is a dedicated area at campsites and RV parks where you can dispose of black or grey water. As black water is dirty and may be harmful to the environment, you should never empty it anywhere other than a dump station.
- Leveling jacks. If you want your RV to sit evenly on uneven ground, you’ll need to adjust the leveling jacks under each corner of your RV.
- Sleeping capacity. This is the number of people your RV can sleep. Keep in mind that larger doesn’t always mean a higher sleeping capacity; bunk beds can fit more people than you’d think in a small space.
- Tongue weight. Related to the tow rating, this is the actual amount of weight your RV will push down on the car’s hitch.
- Towing capacity. This is the measurement of how much weight a car can tow. This number can almost always be found in your owner’s manual. You cannot tow a trailer that exceeds your vehicle’s towing capacity.
- Tow hitch. This is the metal apparatus on the front of the trailer that connects to a vehicle. Whatever vehicle you tow it with will need to have a back hitch as well. Receiver hitches are the most common and have five different types, each rated to carry a maximum amount of weight. Remember that you cannot tow more weight than your car’s manual recommends, even if you buy a hitch capable of pulling more. Ask the owner what type of hitch their trailer has to ensure compatibility with yours.
- Truck camper. These are campers that fit in the bed of a pickup truck. They often have canvas walls or tops that pop up and out, and are small and utilitarian. They’re ideal for singles or couples.
We know learning the difference between types of RVs can be a little confusing, but we hope this general overview helps you get started on your journey toward feeling comfortable about browsing your options.
What in the world of RVing would you like to know more about? Have questions about other RV terminology? Air out your questions on our Facebook page.
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