Costs of Ownership
The difference in purchase price of a pull behind (pop-up, travel trailer, toy hauler, or fifth wheel) vs. a motorhome can be significant—or not. If you already have a tow vehicle that can handle your new pull behind and you are only purchasing an RV, then you can spend anywhere between $6,000 for a small pop-up to around $100,000 for a luxury fifth wheel. However if your purchase also includes a new truck that can tow the trailer, toy hauler, or fifth wheel, then you can plan on forking over a hefty amount for a heavy duty truck as well. Motorhomes typically range in price from around $75,000 to well over $200,000. So it's hard to say if one option is always cheaper than the other. You can spend almost as much on a truck/RV combo purchase as a motorhome purchase. Of course there are a lot of variables in this equation (RV size, brand, amenities), so not everyone's situation will be the same. Owning and maintaining RVs has costs associated with it, including insurance, gas mileage, and maintenance. With RVs, typically the bigger they are, the more expensive they are to own (makes sense, right!). With pull behinds, you will unfortunately see your normal MPGs go WAAY down to an almost depressing number. Depending on the size and weight of your RV, you could be getting anywhere from 7-12 MPGs when pulling your rig. All you can do is hope for a tailwind or lots of downhill routes. Motorhomes are even worse in the gas-chugging department. A normal MPG range for big rigs is 6-8 MPG. Diesel motorhomes offer better fuel efficiency, even though diesel is more expensive at the pump than gas. As far as insurance and maintenance go, bigger isn't always better! Large models are more expensive to insure, and they typically yield higher maintenance fees than smaller RVs. Just like with a car, the more bells and whistles an RV has, the more that can go wrong with it! Modest, more simple travel trailers, like this Bullet 243BHS travel trailer, are easier to care for and easier to fix yourself if something happens to go wrong. All you need are some basic tools, a little handy-man know-how, and your trailer will be good as new in no time! But on bigger, fancier rigs, you'll likely have to make an appointment at a local RV service center and let the pros handle it. And with a motorhome, if the transmission goes into the shop, so does your home. Hampton Inn, anyone?
When you travel with a pull behind, there is some set up required once you reach your destination. You have to unhitch the RV, level it, lower the stabilizing jacks, and hook it up to shore power and water. While this doesn't take a long time, it's a step that some people would rather not have to do (especially after driving for days to reach your destination!). With a motorhome, set up is 1-2 done! Most motorhomes, like this FR3 29DS Class A, have electric jacks for easy stabilizing, so that step is effortless. And hooking up the utilities is easy peasy. So if you're looking for quick, almost-hands-off set up (and take down), then maybe a motorhome is the way to go for you.
One thing that I love about motorhomes is the fact that you can walk back to the kitchen to make a turkey sandwich while cruising down the road at 70 miles per hour. While this might not sound like the safest thing to do, it's totally do-able, but not if you're traveling with a pull behind! I have to admit that while I love having access to my entire home away from home while going down the road, I choose my times to get up and wander carefully and I do it sparsely (because it's not the safest thing to do!). But not having to pull over for a restroom break, fast food stop, or to rummage through our kitchen for snacks and drinks not only saves us time, but it also limits the number of times we have to maneuver our rig through tight parking lots and congested rest area traffic. To keep passengers safe, many motorhomes, such as this Dynamax DX3 37BH Class C, are equipped with lap belts in the dinette and sofa. Consider whether this unlimited access is an important factor to you when shopping for an RV. If you like stopping every so often to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and chat with the locals, then 24/7 access to your living quarters may not be a deciding factor in your RV purchase. But if you're hellbent on reaching your destination in as little time as possible, then the unlimited access of a motorhome may be a better fit for you.
On the Road Again
When deciding between a pull behind and a motorhome, give some thought to how often you're going to be using your RV. If your travel plans consist of mainly weekend getaways or a few week-long trips during the year, then maybe spending as much on an RV as you would on a small house doesn't make much financial sense. If your RV is going to sit in storage or next to your house for the majority of the year, then you can probably make a pull behind work for your travel needs. However if you're planning to hit the road for months at a time or you're going to try your hand at full timing it, then maybe the luxury and conveniences of a full-blown motorhome are what you need. Don't get me wrong, pull behinds can offer all the luxury and opulence of a motorhome too. Just check out this Chaparral 391QSMB fifth wheel that features abundant storage space, a queen-sized memory foam mattress, ceiling fan, and an awesome entertainment center, all without the hefty price tag! For shorter or less frequent trips, a pull behind may be the smarter decision.
If the thought of driving a big motorhome makes you shiver with fear, compare it to towing a mid-sized travel trailer. Let's say you have a 20'-long Chevy Silverado that's pulling a 21' 8"-long Airstream Sport 22FB travel trailer. That's over 40 feet of heavy duty truck and trailer weight you have to maneuver around corners, in and out of parking lots, and into campsites. At this length, it's longer than most motorhomes. So driving a motorhome probably isn't any tougher than towing a pull-behind RV. Actually, a lot of people think that driving a motorhome is easier because it's all one piece, not two joined together. And with a motorhome, there's no fear of jackknifing in front of your campsite neighbors when you're backing up! So, which do you prefer, a pull behind or a motorhome? Share your reasons with us in the comments about why you chose one over the other.