As you could tell from my last post, I’m super pumped about planning out my epic RV adventure! But a big question has been looming on my mind since I made the decision to go for it: Should I buy a motorhome or a trailer?
I know, I have about 1.5 years to make this decision. But I need to start thinking about it and planning now! (Ms. Practical, remember?) So, in that vein, I’ve done some research (the first chapter of A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV goes over all the different options. Get it on Amazon!) and made a list of pros and cons to help me decide whether I should buy a motorhome or trailer.
Should You Buy a Motorhome or Trailer?
When I thought up this plan years ago (with absolutely no idea what I wanted or what it would take), I was adamant about getting a motorhome. There was no struggle in my mind about whether I should buy a motorhome or a trailer. A trailer wasn’t even an option! I was specific about it too; I wanted a class C motorhome.
But now, I realize that it’s stupid of me to not explore all of the options (and I’m so glad I realized that before taking the plunge!). So, it’s time to analyze the pros and cons of each. I still have plenty of time to make the decision (buying something on impulse is never the answer), and after this initial attempt at analyzing the options I’m definitely going to do a lot of shopping around. But it’s smart to have a basic idea of what you need in place prior to looking. I think it’s similar to buying a house in that regard.
I wanted a class C motorhome for a few very specific reasons. First, I could put the litter boxes in the loft above the cab. Planning for the cats is incredibly important to me. But then, I found out that you could get a motorhome with a drop-down floor/storage area and put the litter boxes in there! There are tons of options for RV traveling with cats! Maybe I shouldn’t limit my search to a class C!
However, there was one additional reason why I wanted a class C. In general, they come in smaller sizes, and I’m a terrible driver. I would rather shove us all in a 20-foot class C than try to drive a 30 -foot class A. I figured a smaller model would also be more maneuverable and easier to take up winding mountain roads or through cities.
My favorite reason for going with a motorhome is that you always have everything with you. I guess that could be considered a con as well…do you really want to pack up everything you have just to go to the grocery store? That sounds awful. But I figured that if I had a small motorhome, it would be easier to stay in non-campground places and traditional parking lots if need be. The truck/trailer rig would be impossible to find parking for unless I stuck to truck stops and Walmart parking lots. I’m assuming it would be a little easier with a small motorhome, but I could be wrong about that.
The biggest downside to buying a motorhome over a trailer is the cost. Motorhomes (all classes) are crazy expensive. New ones cost more than my house! That’s not ok. It’s better to buy used anyway, because motorhomes depreciate the way that cars do. Why buy a brand new one when it will lose so much value as soon as you drive it off the lot?
But unfortunately, used ones are crazy expensive too. Unless you want to get something made in the 1980s, it’s going to cost you at least thirty thousand dollars. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of change.
The initial cost isn’t the only cost you have to be concerned with. The maintenance costs of owning a motorhome are much higher than that of regular cars. They require specialized mechanics and specialized parts. And of course, because there are so many moving parts, there’s a lot that can go wrong. That means you need to budget a ton of money for maintenance.
Another downside of having a motorhome (and not towing a car along – which I wouldn’t do because that takes away the advantage of mobility that I already described) is that you can’t take it everywhere. I can’t imagine driving even a small one in a super urban area such as downtown Chicago or LA. Even the thought of driving it on a busy city freeway seems overwhelming to me. If I were to get a truck/trailer, I could drop the rig and take the truck to these areas.
I’d like to say that a huge advantage of opting for the truck/trailer set up is the cost, but unless you already have a truck, the prices are pretty similar. A decent trailer is going to cost around twenty grand, and a used pick up truck that has the proper towing capabilities will be between ten and twenty thousand dollars (you definitely don’t want to buy a beater for this endeavor!). Nicer motorhomes do cost more than nicer truck/trailer set ups, so if you want an upscale living environment, this route is probably cheaper.
I think the truck trailer set up really saves you money in the maintenance costs. It’s far easier to find a mechanic who can fix a truck than it is to find one who can fix a motorhome. Your truck maintenance costs will be similar to what they are now. In addition, a trailer comes with far less mechanical problems than a motorhome does. There’s just less that can go wrong with a trailer.
The biggest advantage (in my mind) to the truck/trailer set up is that you can drop the trailer and you get all the maneuverability of a normal car. My struggle with that is the idea that you will always need to find someplace to drop the trailer – and that means paying for campsites (or boondocking, when available). But would the convenience of being able to run to the store without bringing everything with you be worth that price? Would the ability to explore winding roads and drive through caves be worth the cost of a campground every night?
I guess we wouldn’t have to pay for a campground every night. Rest stops, truck stops, and even Walmart parking lots are still available for the one night camping thing (I do love that rural Walmarts tend to let RVers crash there overnight). You can’t drop the rig in any of these places and get the maneuverability of a car though. I think they frown upon that.
The biggest con (to me) of the truck/trailer set up is that I’m a terrible driver. I’m terrified of towing a huge RV behind the truck! Thankfully, I have a partner in crime who enjoys driving (and is good at it) so maybe this won’t be such an issue. And perhaps he can teach me while we are on the open road (with no one around!).
The biggest con for most normal people is probably that the trailer will need a separate power source. In a motorhome, the engine helps power all the electronics, but you don’t get that perk with a trailer. You are dependent upon the electric hookups at a campground, batteries, or some other method of powering the trailer while boondocking. With a motorhome, running the engine will keep the batteries charged so that you can use your basic outlets. It’s like having a built-in generator (which some trailers might have already).
Another con is setting everything up all the time. I like things to be easy. I don’t want to worry about hitching and unhitching things every night. Though, I guess we could stick to unhitching if we are going to be at a spot long term – that would make things easier.
I’m also unsure about how it would work to have cats in the trailer. Would it be safe for them to travel in the trailer or would we have to have them in the truck with us? These are important questions that need to be answered.
There are other options that I haven’t discussed here, but I already know that they won’t work for me. A Class B motorhome is too small for my menagerie. A converted van would be too small as well (though probably ideal if it were just me and my partner). I would never want to live full time in a pop-up or other small camper – that just sounds miserable.
So…Should I Buy a Motorhome or a Trailer?
As you could probably tell, a lot of this post was me thinking out loud about the pros and cons of each option. I’m still undecided. And that’s where you come in! Did you buy a motorhome or a trailer? Please tell me what the deciding factor was on what you decided to buy!
Hey folks! Transparency Disclosure- Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. That means I’ll receive a small commission if you decide to click on it and buy something. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything extra!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.