Recreational vehicle

Recreational vehicle

In North American English the term recreational vehicle, and its acronym RV, are generally used to refer to an enclosed piece of equipment dually used as both a vehicle and a temporary travel home. They are also called motor home and motor caravan (or motorhome and motorcaravan).

RVs are intended for everything from brief leisure activities such as vacations and camping, to full-time living, for which they are often parked in special trailer parks. (However, many trailer parks are reserved just for mobile homes, not to be confused with RVs/motorhomes.) RVs can also be rented in most major cities and tourist areas.

Furthermore, they are also used as mobile offices. When used as mobile offices they often include customizations such as extra desk space, an upgraded electrical system, a generator, and satellite Internet.


There are different classes of vehicles generally labeled as RVs: Class A motorhome : Constructed on either a commercial truck chassis, a specially designed motor vehicle chassis, or a commercial bus chassis.

Bus Conversion : A commercial passenger bus that has been converted into an RV. Highly customized with luxury components, bus conversions are typically the largest motorhomes available.

Class B campervan : Built using a conventional van, to which either a raised roof has been added or had the back replaced by a low-profile body (aka coach-built).

Class C motorhome : Built on a truck chassis with an attached cab section, which is usually van based, but may also be pickup truck based or even large truck based. They are characterized by a distinctive cab-over profile, the "cab-over" containing a bed or an "entertainment" section. Also referred to as "mini-motorhomes". In the UK, the cab-over is known as a Luton.

Truck camper : A unit that is temporarily let into the bed or chassis of a pickup truck. These are much favored by hunters and other backwoods travelers, particularly in North America.

Folding trailer : Also known as a pop-up or tent camper, a light-weight unit with sides that collapse for towing and storage. Suitable for towing by many vehicles.

Travel trailer : A unit with rigid sides designed to be towed by some larger vehicle with a bumper or frame hitch. Known in British English as a caravan.

Teardrop trailer : A compact, lightweight travel trailer that resembles a teardrop, sometimes seen being towed by motorcycles. Hybrid trailer : A blend between a travel trailer and a folding (tent) trailer. One type has rigid sides and pull-out tent sections (usually beds) while another type's top section of walls and its roof can be lowered over its bottom section to reduce its height for towing.

Fifth-wheel trailer : Designed to be towed by a pickup or medium duty truck equipped with a special hitch called a fifth wheel coupling. Part of the trailer body extends over the truck bed, shortening the total length of vehicle plus trailer combined. Some larger fifth-wheel trailers, usually over 40 feet (12.2 m) in length and 18,000 pounds (8,200 kg) in weight, are pulled by small semi-trucks, such as a small Freightliner. Park model (Vacation/Resort Cottage) : This is a standard travel trailer that is not self-contained. It is designed for park camping only, and while it is easily moved from site to site, as a normal trailer is, it is not capable of "dry camping" as it does not have any water storage tanks and must be used with hookups. It is not a mobile home. Toterhome : An uncommon term indicating a motorhome built around a semi truck chassis (such as a Freightliner). This type of motor home allows the pulling of large and heavy trailers. Toy hauler : A motorhome, 5th-wheel, or travel trailer, it is designed to be part living space, and part garage for storing things such as motorcycles and ATVs.


A minimal RV typically contains beds, a table, food preparation and storage areas. Larger models add full bathrooms, refrigerators, living areas, master bedrooms, etc. Some RVs are very elaborate, with satellite TV and Internet access, slide-out sections, and awnings, and either storing a small car inside it or providing the option of towing it behind the RV. RVs can cost (new) from less than US$10,000 to $1,500,000 or more. Very high-end Class A motorhomes, for example, can cost between US$100,000 to $650,000 new. Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International manufacturer the Terra Wind - an amphibious Class A RV which costs between $850,000 and $1.2 million. In 2006, Featherlite Luxury Coaches debuted the Featherlite Vantare Platinum Plus, a motorhome featuring marble floors, a built-in treadmill and other luxury features valued at US$2.5 million.

Many RVers stay at RV parks, most of which feature electrical, water and sewer service (full hookups), as well as cable television and wireless Internet. One can also get partial hookups in the same parks. Amenities often include swimming pools, gamerooms and even destination-resort activities such as horseback riding. Others prefer staying at locations in remote rural areas (called boondocking), and still others at public campgrounds with minimal facilities.

Also many RVers stay at city parks, county parks, state parks and national parks. The United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also offer camping, often at no cost to the camper.

Advantages of RVs include not having to move one's things in and out of motel rooms, not having to rent multiple motel rooms, sleeping in a bed one is comfortable with. Also, preparing food oneself saves money compared to eating in restaurants, and better meets any dietary restrictions or preferences. At the same time, an RV provides more organized living space and better protection from the weather than a tent.

Disadvantages of RVs include low fuel economy for the motorized RV or tow vehicle, lack of maid service as experienced in motels (maid service is available at a few high-end resorts), and the challenge of driving or towing larger RV models for the novice.

There is a stereotype that people who live in RVs full-time do so because they are poor and cannot afford more conventional housing. However, an increasing number of people are opting to sell their homes and live in their RVs, which can cost as much as their home did. Some return to home ownership after several years while some few bounce back and forth between owning a home and going RVing full time. For these, mostly retirees, RVing is a life style choice not a financial decision.

Similarly, RVs — specifically, trailers which strongly resemble travel trailers, but usually with fewer amenities — have been used to temporarily house victims of natural disasters. A notable example is Hurricane Katrina, after which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ordered large numbers of such trailers to house victims of the storm in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Some people craft their own RVs out of cars, vans, school buses, and buses.


Perhaps the most widely known brand of recreational vehicle is Winnebago, a product of Winnebago Industries, Inc., of Forest City, Iowa, USA. In fact, many people still refer to recreational vehicles — especially motorhomes — using the generic term, "Winnebago", even though there are many other major RV manufacturers. The company, under a group of Midwestern investors, was a pioneer of the RV industry in the early 1960s.

Historical manufacturers include Cayo RV Corporation of Benton Harbor, Michigan, USA, Veseley Corporation famous for their Apache brand plastic sided pop-ups, and for a short while General Motors, whose recreational vehicles still attract a sizable following of collectors.

Caravan manufacturers in Europe include: Hobby,Swift Group,Explorer Group,Bailey,Hymer. Caravan manufacturers have enjoyed increased sales in recent years due to a rise in popularity of caravanning in Europe.


Family Motor Coach Association:

The Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) is an international organization of families who own and enjoy the recreational use of motorhomes. Since 1963 FMCA has issued more than 390,000 memberships to families who look to the association as their source of information about all facets of motorhome ownership and travel. FMCA is a member-owned association that maintains its headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, and employs a full-time office staff. FMCA is governed by volunteer officers who are elected from within the ranks of the association.

Good Sam Club

The Good Sam Club is an international organization of RV owners. Its primary goals are to make RV'ing safer and more enjoyable, and to save members money through Club-endorsed benefits and services. It claims over a million members.


There are at least three sources of rating information about recreational vehicles.

RV Comparison Guide

By J R Consumer Resources,, this publication provides buying tips and construction information. It rates motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers.

The guide may be purchased either in hard copy or as a downloadable PDF file.

RV Ratings Guide CDs

Published by the RV Consumer Group,, these guides are available as searchable databases on CD-ROM for both Apple Mac OS X and for Microsoft Windows. The ratings cover RV models back as far as 1993.

A unique aspect of this product is the ability to search for RVs, and their ratings, by intended usage. Each RV is given a rating for uses such as family vacationing, snow birding, and full timing. This is important because an RV that will suffice for short family vacations may not stand up to the constant usage of full timing. Conversely, a family might save money by getting an RV appropriate to short vacations rather than getting a more costly full timer's rig.


Australian English: The term "recreational vehicle" may refer to a sport utility vehicle (SUV or 4x4).

British English: The term "recreational vehicle" may refer to a sport utility vehicle, Dune buggies or ATVs. Terms covering some of the vehicles classified as "recreational vehicle" in North America are camper van or motorhome (see below) and caravan. The term RV is used for imported North America vehicles.

French language: The French-made English term "camping-car" is used, and term has also spread to Japan.

German language: A "recreational vehicle" is called "Wohnmobil". wohnen means live or reside; ".

Spanish language: A "recreational vehicle" is called "autocaravana". The word "caravaning" is also (albeit rarely) used to mean "traveling together as a group" in British English, leading to a different meaning. In Mexico the word used to describe this kind of vehicle is "Casa Rodante" (Rolling House).

Elkhart, Indiana, USA

Elkhart, Indiana, USA is known as the "RV Capital of the World" because it is home to many RV manufacturers, including Berkshire Hathaway's Forest River, Heartland RV, the Damon Corporation, Four Winds International, Hy-Line, Keystone, Monaco, Sun Valley, and Travel Supreme. Many other manufacturers, including Newmar, Dutchmen, Gulf Stream, and Jayco, can be found in the nearby towns of Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, and Wakarusa. In 2005, these locales experienced a boom because of the large number of trailers ordered to house Hurricane Katrina victims.

A1 Coupling And Hosehas a satellite location also in Wakarusa Indiana which supplies and maintains inventory for Monaco Coach corp.


Awning : On most newer RVs, the manufacturer includes a fold-out awning. The awning is attached to the door-side of the RV and is often about 75% of the length of the RV. The newer models are of a roll-out/roll-in design and have legs that can remain attached to the side of the RV or unfastened and placed on the ground. Another type of awning used by RVers is a portable pop-up canopy or tent (like an E-Z UP) that provides a temporary solution to people who want to be outdoors and enjoy shade. The frame usually incorporates an accordion style truss which folds up compactly. Some of these awnings have side curtains that can keep out wind and bugs. Black water : Wastewater from the RV toilet. Body waste. Called blackwater because if left in the blackwater tank long enough, turns black. Black water tank flush : A pipe built into the black water holding tank that is connected to a source of pressurized water via a hose that is used to help flush solids from the holding tank at a dump site. If using a black water tank flush system in a campsite, the use of a back-flow preventer on the end of the hose to prevent sewage from flowing into the potable water system is recommended. Chemicals (for wastewater tanks) : A variety of commercially produced chemicals that are added to the blackwater and graywater tanks to control odors. These chemicals may or may not kill the bacteria in the tanks and may or may not have an adverse effect on septic systems. Some wastewater tank chemicals contain enzymes that are supposed to control odors and help breakdown the organic materials in the wastewater. Commonly referred to as 'blue' or 'green', the latter being designed to be less harmful to the environment.Dry Camping: camping without hookups.Fresh Water: The RV'S water supply when "Dry Camping" or on the road. Converter : An electrical device that is usually supplied built-in the RV by the manufacturer. The converter takes AC power from a campground electrical hookup (shore power) or generator and converts that power to 12 volts DC for use in the vehicle. Converters also charge the house batteries. Dry camping (boondocking) : Is camping in a campground or any area without water, electricity and sewage hookups, including parking lots or driveways. In the USA, most campgrounds operated by the US Department of the Interior (BLM, National Park Service, National Monuments, National Wildlife Areas, National Forests) and most state and county campgrounds do not have full hookups for water, sewage or electricity. Dry camping is made more comfortable by having:
# A supply of potable water storage within the RV
# Having enough house-battery(s) power to supply basic camping needs (low voltage lights, water pump, control portion of refrigerator, etc.)
# Having a means of recharging the house battery(s) such as solar panels or generators
# Having enough wastewater tank capacity to contain the wastewater for several days of camping Dump station : A place where RV waste-water tanks are emptied. Usually a small concrete pad with a 3 to 4-inch brass fitting embedded into the concrete. The fitting accepts a sewer hose from the RV. Sewage dumped into the station goes into a sewer or a septic system. The brass fitting usually has a pivoting cover to keep rocks and other objects out of the dump station piping. Dump stations are usually situated so that an RV can be driven next to the receptacle. Dump stations often have running water for rinsing the RV's sanitary pipes and for cleaning up the dump station pad. This water should not be used to fill an RV's potable water tank. RV etiquette demands that when using an RV dump station, you clean up any spills. Dumping, dumping tanks : The act of emptying the waste tanks. Electric Trailer Brakes : On travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers, usually over a certain weight, a supplemental system of stopping the rig is needed. Within the towing vehicle's cab is a trailer brake device that uses the towing vehicle's 12 volt DC current to apply a current to electrically-operated wheel brakes on the trailer's wheels. The braking device senses the slowing momentum of the vehicle, usually with a small pendulum, to send a current to the trailer wheel brake actuators to help stop the rig. The current sent to the actuators is porportional to the rate of slowing of the vehicle. Fifth wheel coupling : The fifth wheel coupling or hitch provides the link between a fifth-wheel trailer and the towing truck. Newer fifth-wheel hitches are pivoted in two dimensions to ease hitching up and to give the truck and trailer more freedom of movement together. Some models are called sliding-fifth-wheel hitches because the entire hitch assembly can be rolled from its forward towing position to a more rearward position for backing up and maneuvering in tight situations. This allows the driver of a fifth-wheel trailer more leeway in making sharp turns and not having the front of the trailer impact the cab of the truck. Generator : A gasoline, diesel or propane-powered device for generating 120 or 240 volts AC electrical power for use when boondocking or dry camping. Generators are rated by their electrical output, usually in watts. A minimum generator size for a small RV would be 1500 to 2000 watts. To run an RV air conditioner, a minimum of 3000 watts is usually needed. Larger RV's with multiple air conditioners require generators with 6000 and more watts of capacity. Generators also charge the house battery(s). Generators are common in North America but very unusual in Europe, where their noise would be an unpopular intrusion to the rural calm of a campsite. Grey water : Waste water from the sinks and showers. It is not truly "clean", but it is not as "dirty" as "blackwater". It is called graywater because it looks gray from detergents in the water. High voltage : Refers to shore power, generator power or power from an inverter, which is AC at the standard household voltage and frequency of one's country, used to run air conditioners, television and stereo systems, microwave ovens, electrical refrigerators, electric space heaters and electric water heaters. It also powers AC outlets in the RV for electrical devices such as toasters, hair dryers, computers, printers etc. (Strictly, "AC" only means that the polarity reverses many times per second, but in an RV it may be assumed to mean high voltage.) House batteries : The batteries, usually 12 volt DC, that are installed on or within an RV. Known in the UK as 'leisure batteries'. Usually there are multiple batteries combined in a parallel circuit which keep 12 volts but increase the amperes, but there may be a single house battery on some smaller RV's. The house battery(s) are separate and isolated electrically from the vehicle battery(s) that are used to start and operate the motor vehicle part of the RV (motor of a motorhome, car or truck for tow vehicles or campers). RV batteries differ from car or truck batteries in that they are 'deep cycle' batteries. This means that RV batteries can be drawn down further before recharging than car or truck batteries. For best RV battery life, do not draw down the charge below 50% before recharging. Deep cycle batteries that are well maintained and cared for can last 10+ years. RV batteries that are poorly maintained and abused will last only a year or two. Batteries are rated in amp-hours; multiplying this figure by the battery voltage yields watt-hours, which indicates the length of time a known load can be run. Inverter : An inverter takes the 12 volt DC house power from the house battery(s) and inverts that to AC power at the standard household voltage and frequency for one's country. Inverters are not usually supplied in RV's by the manufacturer. Inverters are rated by the output, in watts. There are two categories of inverters. The least expensive are called 'modified sine-wave' or 'quasi-sine wave' inverters. The more expensive versions are 'sine-wave' or 'full sine-wave' inverters. The modified- or quasi-sine wave inverters work well for most RV uses, but most inverter manufacturers recommend the use of full sine wave inverters to power televisions, VCR players and recorders, DVD players, computers, printers, fax machines and other electronic devices. Like a generator, inverters must be sized to accommodate the anticipated electrical load. Most inverters in RVs are rated at 1500-2000 watts. This is enough power to run a microwave oven or run a TV, DVD and computer but not at the same time as the microwave. The number of watt-hours that can be provided; how long a given load can be run; depends on the battery, after allowing for the slight inefficiency of the inverter. Heavy electrical loads like air conditioners, space heaters, water heaters and refrigerator/freezers cannot be powered by an inverter as the house battery(s) do not have enough watt-hours and would be run down quickly. King-pin Support : A king-pin support is used on a fifth-wheel trailer to give the front of the trailer more stability. It is usually a tripod that attaches to the king-pin of the fifth-wheel trailer hitch. Most are adjustable with a hand crank. Landing Gear : On a fifth-wheel trailer these are two jacks that are usually coupled together and are motor driven that lift the front of the fifth-wheel trailer up so that the truck can be driven under the front and hitch-up. Once hitched up, the landing gear jacks are raised to their stowed position for traveling. Leveling Jacks : Installed under the RV, help to get the vehicle level once it has a place to stay. Many newer class A motorhomes and some fifthwheel trailers have computer-controlled leveling jacks that at the touch of a button, automatically extend and level the RV. On trailers, the manufacturer often installs rear leveling jacks that are either lowered by hand crank or a motor to give the rear of the trailer more stability. Low voltage: Low voltage refers to electricity from the house battery(s), typically 12 volts DC. This electricity is used to run lights, the water pump, the control portion of a refrigerator, the igniters for cooktops, smoke and gas detectors, fans, jack and slide-out motors and often the blower and control circuits of a built-in propane furnace. Pink water : Refers to water to which 'pink' antifreeze has been added. This is done in cold climates to keep the internal plumbing pipes and tubing from freezing. Pink is used to imply that it is not toxic. Normal antifreeze is colored green or blue to show that it is a toxic chemical. Refrigerator: Most RV refrigerators are "Absorption Cycle", rather than "Compressor Cycle" appliances. These operate by the direct application of heat to the refrigerant, without the use of a pump, unlike most domestic refrigerators. In recent years special 12VDC operated compressor type refrigerators have been developed and are being used in some RVs.
The typical RV (absorption) refrigerator uses either propane or electricity as a heat source. Most operate on propane or AC (2-way), while some add 12VDC (three-way). Three-way (powered) RV refrigerators draw too many amps to be powered by the house battery(s), but may run on 12VDC power while the vehicle engine is running, a generator is running or the RV is connected to shore power. Newer models use 12VDC to control electronics that switch power sources automatically. Absorption refrigerators are very sensitive to being level and do not function unless reasonably level. However, newer RV refrigerators are less sensitive to being run out of level.
Anyone planning a long ferry ride with an RV should bear in mind that it is impossible to run the fridge while on board, where gas bottles must be turned off, and electricity is seldom provided. RV shower : Is a method of showering that conserves water, wastewater tankage and battery power in a motorhome, trailer or camper while dry camping. The total time for the water being on is typically under 2 minutes and often less. The RV shower is similar to a Navy shower. Owners of smaller vehicles seldom use the shower in the van, preferring to use the campground showers. Sanitary station : in Europe, black water is usually collected in a portable toilet with a detachable tank which is carried to the sanitary station. Sometimes referred to as a Thetford, Porta Potti or an Elsan (from commercial names), this tank has a small amount of 'blue' or 'green' added to it each time it is emptied, to manage odours. The sign for a sanitary station usually includes the word 'Chemical' in one form or another. Shore power : Electricity that is available to an RV from a power company. The basic service in USA campgrounds is a standard 2-prong w/ground 120 volt AC outlet with 15-20 amps. Most newer USA campgrounds with electrical hookups offer three outlets in the connection box: 2-prong w/ground 120 volt AC 20 amp; 3-prong RV 120 volt AC 30 amp; and a 4-prong RV 120/240 volt AC 50 amp (which can power 120 volt loads and the large 240 volt loads at the same time). A variety of plug converters are available from RV supply houses to convert from one type of plug to another. (High voltage can kill when wired wrong, and the fact that appliances work does not mean that it's wired right.) In the UK and most of Europe, 240 volt power is supplied through a 16 amp socket which is designed for outdoor use. In continental Europe, although the socket is rated at 16 amps, the circuit is often limited to a much lower current, sometimes as low as 3 Amps. Less modern campgrounds may use domestic sockets similar to those found in homes. Slide-Out : A section of the RV that can be expanded by pulling it outward from the side of the vehicle, thus making the interior space wider. Many modern North American RVs feature at least one slide-out section – this is typically to widen the kitchen and better accommodate the seating area. Newer and larger motorhomes and larger fifth-wheel trailers (over 30') often have three slide-outs: one in the kitchen, one in the living room and one in the bedroom. Solar Cell or Photovoltaic Panel(s) : Solar panels or photovoltaic cells can be installed on the roof of the RV. They produce slightly in excess of 12 Volts DC (12.8 to 13). The panel(s) are used to charge the house battery(s) when the RV is not hooked up to shore power or the vehicle's engine is not working or a generator is not present. Photovoltaic cells used on RVs are often 24" x 36" and produce 100 to 120 watts. Tow vehicle : The car or truck that is used to tow an RV trailer. Towed vehicle or "toad" : A car or other vehicle that is towed behind motorhomes for use when the motorhome is set up in a campground and connected to utilities. Also called a "dinghy". Fairly common in the US and Canada, but unheard-of in Europe. Umbilical Cord : The electrical cord that connects the RV trailer to the towing vehicle (car, van, SUV, or truck). This cord brings electricity from the vehicle's alternator to charge the trailer house battery(s). The umbilical cord also brings electrical current from the vehicle to control the electric brakes, stop and turn lights and night running lights on the trailer. White water : This is the fresh water directly taken from a clean-water source. It may or may not be potable water, i.e., drinking water. Wild camping: used in the UK to refer to camping at unofficial sites or at the side of the road. The legality of this varies from country to country in Europe, and it can be risky in some places. Winterize : The maintenance of an RV's water system to protect it from damage during cold winter storage. This involves making sure all water is removed from the hoses and tanks using compressed air or adding a non-toxic antifreeze to the system. Some modern RVs are equipped with automatic winterization systems.

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