Gas or Diesel Motorhome: Which is Better?

Which is better, a gas or diesel motorhome? That’s one of the biggest questions RV buyers need to answer. It’s important to ask and answer before buying a motorhome.

“Should I get a gas or diesel motorhome?” It’s a question that will repeat itself through the ages as long as we have fuel.

Maybe electric or another option will be added to the comparison charts in the future. In other countries, propane is a cheaper fuel. It’s used in many hybrid cars although it is rarely used in the U.S. and Canada  For now, it’s gas versus diesel.

RVers love to argue about the best RV fuel. Gas versus diesel motorhomes is the topic of many campfire circles. But we can’t argue until we understand the features and benefits of each type.

Let’s take a look.

A gas-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gasoline powered motorhomes

Gasoline is the most used fuel.  It is easily combustible which allows for quick starts and fast acceleration.  It is also the leading contributor to pollution. According to AAA, nearly 1/5 of all emissions come from vehicles. Your engine determines which grade of gasoline you can use. You have regular (87), premium (91), and mid-grade (89).

A diesel-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Diesel powered motorhomes

Diesel is more fuel efficient. In traveling, you can usually go about 20 percent farther on a gallon of fuel than gas-powered vehicles. This is one reason why you will see most truckers with diesel engines. It also produces less carbon dioxide. But, it still creates nitrous oxide which causes smog.

There are six things to consider. I’ll go through them one by one.

A gas-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The mechanical basics

For those who might not know the difference between diesel and gas engines, it’s worth spending a little time talking about the basics.

Without being overly technical, the first and perhaps most notable difference is the thermal efficiency of diesel engines which refers to the work that can be expected to be produced by the fuel put into the engine. As mentioned above, a diesel engine is about 20 percent more thermally efficient than a gas engine. That means a 20 percent increase in fuel economy.

Diesel engines also run at a much slower RPM (revolutions per minute) than gas engines. Slower RPM translates to less wear and tear and a longer life cycle for the engine.

Further, increased thermal efficiency also translates to more power and torque. A diesel engine’s high torque application is very beneficial for hauling heavy loads.

Gas engines, on the other hand, deliver a much higher volatility point but a lower flashpoint. A spark controls the combustion of a gas engine. Diesel engines do not use a spark but what’s called a compression combustion engine.

Essentially, a gasoline engine is a spark-fired combustion and a diesel engine utilizes compression.

Now that you have some background on the differences between gas and diesel engines, let’s look at the pros and cons of each about RVing.

A diesel-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Costs of gas vs diesel motorhomess

The first consideration for many people shopping for a new RV is the price. Simply put, does it fit your budget?

On the whole, diesel-powered motorhomes are much more expensive than gas-powered motorhomes. For that reason, first-time motorhome buyers often decide to go with a less expensive gas-powered RV rather than a diesel or luxury unit.

However there are various degrees of quality within each type. Depending on what you are looking for, the best gas motorhomes on the market stack up against some lower-quality diesel units.

However, well maintained diesel engines have a longer life than gasoline ones and can still perform reliably after extensive mileage. This means diesel-powered motorhomes tend to retain their value longer and have higher resale values than gas-powered units.

A gas-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Differences in mileage

As mentioned above, the second factor to take into consideration is the fuel economy. After all, fuel is expensive and adds up over time. Here are the main differences in mileage between gas-powered and diesel-powered rigs.

Gas-powered motorhomes:

  • Depending on chassis, gas motorhomes will have between 80-100 gallon tanks (Class A) and 20-30 gallon tanks (Class B)
  • Average of 6-10 mpg (Class A), 10-14+ mpg (Class B and Class C)
  • Widespread availability at all fuel stations
  • Less expensive than diesel
  • Gas has an odor when burned; the smell can fill the cabin
  • Gas has a shorter shelf life due to evaporation

Diesel-powered motorhomes:

  • Depending on the chassis will have between 80-150 gallon tanks
  • Average of 6-18 miles per gallon with Class Cs and A motorhomes getting less, Class Bs and B+ RVs getting more
  • More expensive than gas
  • Diesel is available at most but not all stations but maneuverability presents a problem for most diesel pushers (Class A motorhomes)
  • Diesel has better fuel efficiency meaning less frequent refills at the pump
  • Diesel burns cleaner than gas
A diesel-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Maintenance

Gas engines are easier to maintain and repair compared with their diesel counterparts. If you have a general knowledge of gas engines, you can probably do the bulk of the repairs and maintenance yourself.

A downside of a gas engine is that it runs at higher RPMs meaning it will always be working harder than a diesel engine. Running at higher RPMs allows for a smoother, quieter ride with faster acceleration but more frequent upkeep is required.

Diesel engines are considerably more expensive to maintain and require specialized training to service. Diesel engines run at a lower RPM meaning slower acceleration and lower top speeds but less strain on the engine and you can drive more miles between servicing.

A diesel-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Oil 

All engines require oil. Diesel-powered engines use a lot more oil than gas-powered engines but the oil only needs to be replaced once a year or every 12,000-15,000 miles (depending on the chassis). You’ll need to change the oil in a gas engine every six months or less.

In a gas engine, if you know how to change oil you can do it yourself. Diesel oil changes are more complicated, so you’ll probably have to take it to a professional mechanic to do the work.

A diesel-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Speed and towing ability of gas vs diesel RVs

Gas-powered engines typically have higher horsepower and less torque so you can accelerate and maintain higher speeds. However, having less torque adds more strain on the engine while towing and climbing inclines.

Diesel-powered engines are designed for higher torque at lower speeds but are not as fast as gas engines. More torque means slower acceleration speeds but greater towing power and ease in steep inclines.

As you can see, there are some pros and cons to both styles of engines but ultimately the decision for you boils down to personal preference and your budget.

Are you planning on carrying a toad? Do you frequent the Rockies and the Northwest Mountains? Having the power to climb hills with a load lends to diesel-powered engines.

Or are you planning on RVing without a toad and in relatively flatter areas such as Florida and Louisiana? In that case, a gas-powered engine would work well for you.

A gas-powered motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gas or diesel: The bottom line

Simply put, the bottom line on gas or diesel comes down to your particular situation and preference.

YOU are the most important factor when it comes to the best RV fuel option. 

All the miles you drive, where you drive, how you manage your fuel usage, cost of ownership, how long you plan to keep your RV, resale value, and your RV maintenance habits affect you more in the long run. Hopefully, if you already own an RV, it meets your needs. 

We are RVers! We aren’t like everyone else already and neither does our fuel use have to be like everyone else’s. Whether we choose a motorhome that uses gasoline or one that uses diesel, the RV itself should match our travel needs. 

Every RVer’s bottom line is different. If you don’t plan to travel as many miles or aren’t concerned about resale value then a gas-powered RV might suffice for you.

Worth Pondering…

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space.

Born To Be Free, words and music by Mars Bonfire

7 Pro Tips for Backing up a Motorhome

Ah, the fun part of driving an RV—RV parking

Whether your motorhome is a smaller Class B, a Class C, or a large Class A rig like ours, backing up a motorhome can be a concern for every RVer. Backing up a Class B van is undoubtedly far more manageable than backing up a Class A motorhome, but backing up a motorhome of any size or type probably isn’t high on anyone’s list of things to do just for fun.

We travel in a 38-foot Class A diesel pusher, so I understand the challenges that come with backing up a larger rig. Although after nearly three decades on the road, it’s something we’ve done hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do you back up a motorhome?

In a word, carefully! But seriously, backing up a motorhome, even backing up a large Class A motorhome, is like anything else we learn to do well—it requires practice and more practice.

If you’re just learning how to back up a motorhome, find a large, open, empty parking lot and spend some time getting a feel for the following tips. As you begin your practice sessions, be sure not to position yourself near objects that could cause damage to your motorhome or anything in the area. You want to give yourself as much freedom as possible as you master these tips about backing up a motorhome.

While I understand that backing up a motorhome can be intimidating for many reasons, I’m confident that you’ll become more at ease with the process with practice and the mastering of these tips. Even if you’re backing up a Class A motorhome, the more you understand about the process, the easier it will be.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 1: Take a mental picture

Before backing up a motorhome, stop the RV and get out and walk the site while making a mental picture of the area you’re about to back into. Make a mental note of any and all obstacles. Since your motorhome is tall, think in three dimensions looking for trees, poles, and any other obstacles.

Extra pro tip: Know in advance how to pace off your rig’s length. For example, I know that I pace off exactly 12 steps plus two feet (two of my feet) to equal the length of our motorhome. As a result, I can enter walk into any site and know if we’ll fit, even before bringing the rig into place.

While backing into the site, if you’re unsure about anything at any point, get out and look (known by the acronym GOAL by professional drivers).

Hollywood Casino RV Park, Bay St. Lewis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 2: Use ALL of your tools when backing up your RV

When backing up a motorhome, it’s important to use EVERY tool at your disposal: All mirrors, both flat and convex, your windows (yes, if your driver’s window allows it, you can stick your head out while stopped), a spotter (if available), and your backup or side-view cameras (again, if available).

The helper/spotter must be aware of your plans (where do you want to actually stop/park the motorhome), be in your mirrors all the times and both have established signals to help each other. A Walkie Talkie is an awesome tool for this.

If things are really tight and you don’t have a spotter, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. If it’s just too tight, consider approaching from the opposite direction or even request another site altogether. Usually, approaching a site that requires backing into is easier from one side rather than the other.

A note of caution about spotters: A well-intentioned helpful stranger with whom you have no real rapport or understanding can back you into something (especially an obstacle that’s high up that they may not think to look for, like a tree limb). While they may mean well, you’ll be the one who’s left to deal with the damage. So choose your spotter carefully.

For example, if you’re backing up a Class A motorhome, you may not want to choose a neighbor with a Class B van to back you if there are folks a few campsites over with a Class A motorhome. Experience appropriate to the rig you’re backing up is most helpful.

If you have a traveling companion, formulating a language that you both understand well before backing up a motorhome at a campsite can be very helpful. Hand signals should be clearly understood and walkie-talkies are often even better. Be sure to take that partner along with you for parking lot practice.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 3: Don’t be driven by pressure

Never let pressure, nerves, or anyone else drive your RV for you. That means that if you’re trying to maneuver in a tight spot and you’re not 100 percent sure that you’re clear of that power pedestal or tree or picnic table… stop! Don’t continue moving just because stopping and getting out and look (GOAL) may block the campground roadway or make other campers think you don’t know what you’re doing.

First of all, they’re strangers so why should you care what they think of you as you’re backing up your motorhome. Second, anyone who’s had experience backing up a big rig and in particular backing up a large Class A motorhome knows that it can be a delicate process especially when the space is tight. They’ll also understand that nothing is more important than avoiding contact with a fixed object or other obstacle.

We’ve seen accidents where drivers were too embarrassed to simply stop, get out of the rig, and evaluate the situation. And all because people were watching them!

It’s ultimately far more embarrassing to succumb to pressure, appear cavalier, and hit something that causes damage to your rig, someone else’s rig, and/or the campground pedestal than it is to GET OUT OF YOUR RIG and size up the situation from outside the RV and THEN resume backing up your motorhome safely.

Butterfield RV Resort, Benson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 4: Beware of reverse off-tracking when backing an RV around a corner

When backing up a motorhome around a corner (or any other time you’re not rolling perfectly straight back) beware of something called reverse off-tracking. It’s a seldom-discussed related danger when backing up that you need to be aware of it.

When backing up a motorhome with the wheel turned to the right, the left side of the rig sweeps out to the left basically moving diagonally/sideways. Even though you’re sitting right there in the driver’s seat on the left side, it’s easy to forget about that sweep. This could allow you to strike an obstacle with your left side, right down below or behind the driver’s seat unless you remember to monitor the convex mirror and/or out your left window.

Open your driver’s window when maneuvering back into a site for just this reason. You can stick your head out to look straight down and along the left side of the rig if needed. That’s especially important when items are low and/or close along the left side like a picnic table or fire pit. The open window also allows you to hear better including instructions from your spotter.

Of course, you can’t as easily look down along the right side or stick your head out the right window. That makes the right front corner one of the most vulnerable spots when backing into your site.

When backing up a motorhome with the wheel turned to the LEFT, the situation is even more insidious because now your RIGHT side (which is, by definition, your weak side because you’re sitting on the left) is sweeping across toward the right, basically moving sideways/diagonally as you back up.

Taking that mental picture in advance will allow you to know that there’s a picnic table, fire pit, or other obstacle down there. On that note, keep in mind that a mental picture won’t take into account obstacles that move like a youngster riding a bike or chasing a ball or a dog that’s off-leash.

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Important note: Monitoring the right convex mirror is the key in this case but not an absolute because it can’t see everything. When I’m backing up with the steering wheel turned fairly hard to the left with my right side reverse off-tracking toward my weak right side, that’s when I’ll often ask my spotter to watch my right front corner near the entrance door. Not doing that is a common cause of damage to the side of an RV in the area close to the front end. It’s also a good way to yank the front bumper off, too, by getting it hooked on the bumper of a car that’s down low and out of sight.

Having a spotter there is sometimes even more important than having them behind me. I can see behind the RV pretty well in the backup camera but I’m blind down low near the entrance door where that picnic table or car may be lurking waiting to damage my right side.

Smokiam RV Park, Moses Lake, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 5: Whenever possible, back to the left when backing up a motorhome

This means positioning yourself whenever possible with the spot you’ll be backing into on the left side of your RV. We do this because the left side is our strong side due to the fact that our vehicles have the steering wheel and driver on the left. In countries where the driver sits on the right, the right side is the strong side.

It’s easy to remember that the left is your strong side because you sit over there allowing greater visibility in both the left-side mirrors and out the driver’s window. As a result, backing up a motorhome or any large vehicle to the left is always easier than backing up to the right.

There will, of course, be times when the campsite you’re backing into may only be accessible from one side. For instance, if you’re on a one-way street through the campground and/or the sites are at an angle. But when you have the option, approach the site from the direction that will allow you to back to the left.

Bentsen Palm Village, Mission, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 6: Line yourself up while still driving forward

Always, always, and always (did I say always?) pull forward more than you feel is necessary. Watch professional truck drivers—they always pull up much more than needed and have themselves positioned where they want to be—before backing up.

You absolutely want your rear most wheels past the apex of the turn. I’m referring to the curb cut/opening that you are trying to back into.

Again, watch truckers—they will always pull their trailer wheels past the opening they want to enter. The rear wheels of your RV are the same. They MUST be past that area to allow you to back in quickly and professionally.

Take control! The road is only so wide and you really can’t or at least don’t want to go on the site on the other side. Most campsites require you to back into a space on the driver’s side. If you are too far over to the right when you start to cut your front wheels you’ll be driving on somebodies site!

The most common difficulty newer drivers have is steering while backing. Sawing the steering wheel back and forth too much or too far is a common challenge to overcome.

When you pull up and past your driveway/campsite entrance, position yourself so you are on the wrong side of the road. It won’t hurt! Put your 4-way flashers on and be sure nothing is coming towards you and steer over to the opposing lane and past your driveway. Now, when you start to back into your driveway/parking spot you’ll be able to quickly do so, without cutting your front wheels onto someone’s site.

That wasn’t so bad was it?!?

Have a good helper that knows your plans, pull forward past your entry point and start from the wrong side of the road.

Everything will fall right into place—quickly and professionally!

Sundance 1 RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 7: Pay attention to your right quarter vision when backing up an RV

You may have noticed that when you pull up to a stop sign where the cross street is angled about 30-60 degrees from your position with the left turn being shallow and the right turn being sharper, you’re unable to see down the road to the right. That’s because the vast majority of RVs don’t have a continuous row of windows down the right side, like a car does.

The mirrors won’t do the required job here either because the flat mirror only sees into the distance mostly straight back along the RV and the convex mirror doesn’t see very far into the distance and mostly downward preventing you from getting an all-inclusive view of objects above ground level such as tree limbs.

That area, generally about 30-60 degrees off your right side is often mostly blind and you need to be aware of that and aware of what’s potentially lurking there. The left side is easier than the right because you can simply look out the left window at almost any angle especially if you’re able to stick your head out. Again, this is part of the reason the left side is your strong side and the right side is your weak side.

When you in this situation, you again can ask your spotter to watch the right side rather than the back at least until you clear any potential conflicts on the right. Then, the spotter can return to the rear of the motorhome to finish backing all the way into the rear of the site.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion: You can handle backing up a motorhome

These are seven tips I think will be helpful to you when backing up a motorhome. So now you’ve got some extra ammunition to make your RVing experience a little safer, easier, less stressful, and less likely to result in damage to your RV or anything else.

With a bit of practice, you’ll surely find yourself more at ease when backing up a motorhome—and safer and more confident, too.

Worth Pondering…

I’m still learning.

—Michelangelo

Why are RVs So Popular?

RV sales have been steadily rising for the last decade but the numbers were supercharged by the pandemic

Recreational vehicles are hot these days, but for how long?

The truth is the RV business has been hot for almost 10 years. In fact, RV manufacturers are up over 24 percent from last year.

Class A motorhome at the dealer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As of March 2021, 11.2 million U.S. households owned RVs, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). That’s up 26 percent since 2011.

What’s even more striking is that 9.6 million additional households say they are considering buying an RV in the next five years, says Monika Geraci, communications director at RVIA.

Travel trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The reasons? Wanting to spend more time outside, to take advantage of teleworking policies, and to travel safely despite pandemic risks, she said.

“People have just rediscovered the great outdoors, and that really spills over into the RV industry.”

Fifth-wheel trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A record 57,971 RVs were produced in October (2021) or 5 percent more than the previous record hit just the previous month in September. The October production figure is a 22 percent jump from RVs that rolled off the line the same month a year ago.

Class A motorhome interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s more, the industry estimates that this year will see a 40 percent spike in the number of RVs produced—or 602,200—compared to 2020 and 19 percent more than the last record in 2017, when the industry produced 504,600 RVs.

Related: RV Sales Continue to Soar and Here Are the Reasons Why

So, what is driving this prolonged hot trend in RV popularity? It turns out that the reasons people are turning to RVing are as many and as varied as the people themselves. Let’s explore some of the most popular reasons folks of all ages and backgrounds are jumping on the RV trend.

Class A motorhome at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The changing financial climate

There is no question that recent economic concerns have played a huge role in the increased interest in RVs. Americans at every stage of life from retired empty nesters to millennials are looking for ways to downsize their lifestyle and reduce their living expenses. With more and more RVs now coming equipped with full-size appliances and furnishings crafted by the same big-name brands that populate home living rooms around the country, it has become easier and easier to see an RV as a true home on wheels.

Travel trailer at campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some have turned to RVs as a more economical way to travel the country and explore new places without the high cost of airfare, rental cars, and hotel stays.

Others have gone all-in by trading in their permanent address for a full-time nomadic existence. This option has become increasingly popular with millennials looking for a low-cost alternative to a pricey mortgage and sky-high utility bills. Some RVs offer interior features like fireplaces, theater-style seating, LED televisions, and ceiling fans, just like a traditional home.

Airstream travel trailer at campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An increase in remote work opportunities

Another key factor behind the rising popularity of RV life is the growing shift away from a static office-based work environment and into a more flexible, remote work system. This new style of work means Americans are no longer tethered to a particular location by their employer; they are now able to earn a steady income from anywhere they wish to be. As a result, more and more Americans are ditching the time clock and the crowded cities in favor of a more relaxed and peaceful RV lifestyle.

Truck camper at campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technological advancements

The last decade of technological advancements has expanded access to reliable, inexpensive network connections in nearly every area of the country. While the work is by no means complete, the groundwork has been established and there is at least some degree of connectivity available in all but the most remote of locations. Let’s have a look at some of the best options.

Related: Meet the RVs: Find the Right RV Class for Your Travel Style

Travel trailer at campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mobile hotspot device can come in the form of an independent device provided by your cellular provider or it can be incorporated right into your mobile device, depending on your phone model and service provider. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all offer inexpensive, reliable devices that are capable of providing a high-speed internet connection for multiple devices almost anywhere.

Class A motorhome at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A public Wi-Fi signal is provided by most RV parks and campgrounds. This is a solid option if you are going to be staying in a community or campground and it will help save your cellular data for more remote locations.

Teardrop trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A satellite internet service is by far the priciest of the internet connectivity options but it provides the most reliable and widely available service. Satellite internet service works by mounting an independent satellite receiver unit to the rooftop of your RV which is then programmed to receive satellite signals from the satellite internet provider of your choice. The provider choices have been fairly slim but as the popularity of RV living grows, the pool of providers is expanding, leading to a much higher quality of service overall.

Newmar Service Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some RVs now come equipped with the new WiFiRanger Sky4 Wi-Fi router and signal booster as part of the standard equipment package enabling RV owners to enjoy a reliable, fast, and best of all secure internet connection using an available Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, or LTE signal.

Related: Meet the RVs: The Towables

Building motorhomes at an RV factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pandemic related health concerns

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic at the start of 2020, followed by the subsequent quarantines and travel restrictions, has made many Americans more reluctant to hop on a crowded airplane for a cross-country flight. This health-related hesitancy is likely to remain for some time to come. RV travel allows vacationers to control every aspect of their environment at every step of the journey.

Fifth-wheel trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no need to wonder who was staying in the hotel room before you or how well the surfaces were cleaned and sanitized before your arrival. There is no need to wonder if the rental car steering wheel or door handles were cleaned after the last use or who was riding in the back of the taxicab or shuttle before you. With RV travel, you have the assurance and peace of mind knowing that you and your family are the only ones to use your space.

Motorhome at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Social distancing is a cinch with RV travel. With thousands of RV parks, campground sites to choose from, you can easily select the level of social interaction you are comfortable with on any given day.

Class A motorhomes at the Freightliner Custom Chassis Service Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A growing “YOLO” mindset

If the challenges and the triumphs of the last year have taught us nothing else, they have opened our eyes to the uncertainty of life. This epiphany has fueled the growth of the “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) mindset. RVing offers the financial freedom and the freedom of movement that allows Americans to truly get out there and experience everything that life has to offer right now instead of putting it off until some better time that may never arrive.

Related: RVs Move America

Motorhome at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

The biggest driver of the recent surge in the popularity of RV ownership is a combination of many of the factors discussed above, all coming together to create a newfound urge to live life to the fullest while we have the chance.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

―Marie Curie (1867-1934), physicist and chemist

RV Sales Continue to Soar and Here Are the Reasons Why

Do you ever drive past an RV dealer and wonder who is buying them? Turns out, lots of people!

While COVID-19 rattled much of the travel industry, it has been a boon for the recreational vehicle market. Over the past year, the RV industry has experienced high demand and sales that have not been witnessed in a long time. Pent-up wanderlust amid the pandemic has breathed new life into the industry. After being cooped up at home for long periods of time amid the virus scare, people can experience the much-needed freedom and fun with RV vacations.

Motorhomes at an RV dealer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international travel has inspired an increasing number of Americans and Canadians opting to explore their own backyard when picking a vacation spot. This rising number of people hitting the road for their vacations is bolstering sales of recreation vehicles which hit a record high in September, the latest month reporting.

Teardrop trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the trade group, RV Industry Association (RVIA), the rising demand for the #VanLife and increased interest in a life on the road have boosted RV sales in recent months.

Related: Meet the RVs: Find the Right RV Class for Your Travel Style

Travel trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a result of this growing interest in homes on wheels, the trade group reported that shipments of RVs reached a record high of 55,014 in September, an increase of 32.2 percent compared to the 41,600 units shipped during September 2020. This September was also the best on comparable record with shipments surpassing the September 2017 total of 43,598 units by 26 percent.

Fifth-wheel trailer at an RV park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the new report, the RV industry sets a new all-time high for the number of RVs shipped in any previous month and any previous quarter. The more than 55,000 RVs shipped this past month is a 1 percent increase over the previous single-month record set in March of this year. The record-breaking 152,370 RVs shipped in the third quarter (July-September 2021) inches past the previous quarterly record of 151,760 set last quarter (April-June 2021) and is also a 23 percent increase over the third quarter of 2020. It should be noted that the top three months for RV sales were all in 2021.

Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“With research showing more and more people are camping than ever before, RV manufacturers and suppliers continue to meet the sustained demand for RVs from consumers looking to get outdoors and experience the many physical and mental benefits of living an active outdoor lifestyle,” said RV Industry Association President & CEO Craig Kirby.

Related: Meet the RVs: The Towables

Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, I Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The latest sales figures showed that demand was split between towable and motorized RVs. Towable RVs, led by conventional travel trailers, ended the month up 33.4 percent against last September with 50,696 wholesale shipments. Motorhomes finished the month up 19.6 percent compared to the same month last year with 4,318 units.

Freightliner Custom Chassis Service Center in Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As travelers look for new ways to transport everything including the kitchen sink, the RVIA noted that demand for van campers is rising the quickest. Sales across the segment were up 108 percent on the previous year and reached 1,245 during September 2021.

The only RV category to decline in the period was mini motorhomes which fell just 7 percent to 1,816.

This data partially explains the demographic shift away from large, densely populated cities to smaller and mid-sized communities. Many of the cities on the receiving end are happy to see newcomers after decades of decline in their industrial base hollowed out over decades of deindustrialization largely resulting from globalism. And their transition is a loss for states like California and New York that are hiking taxes and driving more taxpayers away.

Related: You Might Be an RVer If…

The trend is also fueled by rising home prices and a shift toward a remote-work lifestyle.

Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the latest sign of this shift away from the more than decade-long shift of young people moving to big cities. Elkhart, Indiana, the “RV Capital of the World”, was the leading county in Realtor.com’s latest analysis of real estate markets. Elkhart County also topped the Wall Street Journal’s “Emerging Housing Markets Index” in Q3. The index claims to identify “the top metro areas for homebuyers seeking an appreciating housing market and appealing lifestyle amenities”.

Freightliner Custom Service Center in Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It should be noted that about 80 percent of the RVs manufactured in the U.S. are made in northwestern Indiana, centered in Elkhart and LaGrange counties.

According to a recent Go RVing RV Owner Demographic Profile study, 27 percent of all current RV owners are young families—those who are under 45 years old and have children living at home. This trend is driven by changes in technology that allow parents to work remotely and their children to learn online—as well as a desire to spend time relaxing together.

Newmar Service Center in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adventure is another motivator for young RV families and the study found that these families enjoy physical activities more than other demographics like mountain/rock climbing, motorsports (ATV, dirt bikes, motorcycles), water activities, hiking, and mountain biking. They often bring bikes, ATVs, boats, and kayaks along on their trips.

Related: Road Trip Inspiration

RVs parked at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other distinctions among young family RV owners include:

  • 57 percent of current owners in this demographic grew up with RVs
  • The median number of days they spend traveling in their RVs is 19 per year
  • They are drawn to festivals more often than other demographics
  • They are more likely to travel with laptops, iPads and tablets, video game consoles, home hubs and smartphones, and streaming devices
RV manufacturing factory tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most significant indicator of the longevity of this trend of RV ownership among young families is that 87 percent of current young family owners indicate that they plan to purchase another RV within the next five years.

Worth Pondering…

The minute I step foot in the motorhome, I feel at ease. I don’t have anything else to think about except taking care of my family.

—Actress Jennie Garth

The Ins and Outs of Renting an RV

You don’t have to buy a home on wheels to enjoy the experience of camping in comfort

Ever see that classic movie The Long, Long Trailer about newlyweds, played by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, hoping to make the honeymoon last as they travel across country in, well, a long, long trailer?

Class C motorhome at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their RV dreams didn’t go exactly as planned but RV travel has come a long, long way since then. Especially with the need for social distancing and a sharp rise in the number of people working remotely, the RV experience is appealing to travelers who never considered it before. From young couples looking for new experiences to parents eager to make memories with their children to seniors enjoying their retirement freedom, people are hitting the road.

Class C motorhomes at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can park your RV at a campsite in a national or state park or a 5-star RV resort. And, if you’re not ready to buy your dream home-on-wheels, no problem! Rentals are available for you. Want to know the ins and outs? Read on…

Airstream travel trailer at The Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where Can I Rent an RV?

Renters have two primary options: A major rental company that owns a fleet of its own RVs (e.g. Cruise America) or individuals who rent out their personal RVs when they aren’t using them (e.g. RVshare, the Airbnb of renting RVs).

Class A motorhome at Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Do I Have to Choose From?

You can rent everything from a tricked out van with no bathroom to a home on wheels complete with kitchen, living room, bathrooms, and all the amenities.

Fifth wheel trailer at Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Much Does It Cost to Rent an RV?

Simply put, as much as you want to spend—from a small RV rental to a luxury RV rental. Just to give you a ballpark, I found a drivable RV that sleeps 6 on RVshare.com for $179 a night or $1759 for 7 nights, including taxes and fees.

Class C motorhome at Palo Casino RV Park, Palo, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are There Additional Fees Besides Taxes?

Most of the rentals have a mileage charge and some have a generator fee. At Cruise America, for example, the mileage fee for a 400-mile trip in a standard motorhome was $140. A kitchen kit (your dishes, pots, and pans, etc.) costs $110 if you add that option, though you can skip it and bring your own; the same is true of a personal kit (very basic linens, towels), which costs $60 per kit. With those additions, a four-night rental with a base total of $620 inches up to over $1000 by the time you add standard fees and taxes. And then there’s the damage deposit, though with any luck, you’ll get that back.

Class A motorhome at Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Do I Know What to Rent?

That depends on your needs and your comfort level as a driver. Are you an off-the-grid adventurer happy to rough it or a family of five requiring a bathroom and a shower? More than two people would be cramped in a truck camper or souped-up van while a Class A motorhome can sleep 7 to 10.

There’s an awful lot to choose from out there, but basically, RVs break down into two main camps (no pun intended): towable and drivable.

Towable RVs at Gila Bend KOA, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Towable RVs

  • 5th Wheel: Requires a fifth-wheel hitch in your truck bed and a truck with sufficient towing capacity, a three-quarter-ton or more.
  • Travel Trailer: Attaches via trailer hitch and comes in different sizes, suitable for SUVs and pickups.
  • Popup Camper: Pull it behind just about anything. It expands (i.e., pops up) to give you more space once you reach your campsite.
Motorized RVs at JGW RV Park, Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Motorized RVs

  • Class A: Think “big-as-a-bus house on wheels”
  • Class B: Think “oversized van”
  • Class C: Think “cab over driver”

(Why the smallest RV is a Class B and the mid-sized RV is called a Class C, we have no idea. It’s just one of those mysteries of the universe.)

Fifth wheel trailer at Lost Duthman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise America’s fleet includes large, standard, and compact RVs, as well as truck campers, all of them attached to the truck or chassis cab you’ll need to pull them. RVshare offers both drivable and towable RVs which you’ll rent from the owners. (You’ll need your own vehicle for the towable ones if you drive it yourself; some owners will deliver to the campsite for a fee.)

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road.