What Is the Difference Between a Trailer & a Motorhome?

Recreational vehicles or RVs populate the nation's highways in larger numbers when the spring and summer driving seasons get underway. These vehicles provide the amenities of home while the family travels to its destination. Non-RV owners may refer to these vehicles as trailers or motor homes and may use the terms interchangeably. However, there are differences between the vehicles.

  1. Trailer

    • Trailers are vehicles fitted for people to live in. An engine-powered vehicle, such as a truck, is needed to tow the trailer. Trailers may also be referred to as travel trailers. Most trailers are connected to a frame-mounted hitch. A second variation of the travel trailer is the fifth wheel type. This trailer has a forward portion shaped like a goose neck. A hitching pin is on the underside of the goose neck. A heavy-duty hitch is located in the bed of of a pickup truck or a flatbed truck.

    Trailer Characteristics

    • One advantage of a travel trailer is use of the tow vehicle for errands at the destination. Unhook the tow vehicle from the trailer and a person can drive around town without making special considerations for parking. Travel trailers cost less than motor homes and hold their value longer because there is less depreciation. For example, Giant RV has 2012 model-year travel trailers retailing from $13,020. Used travel trailers price range from $10,000.

      The disadvantage of the trailer is the extra length of the tow vehicle and the trailer. Non-drivers cannot be in the trailer while it is motion. Specifically, the tow vehicle must have a factory trailer towing package to tow the trailer with the most efficiency. This adds to the expense of the RV/tow vehicle package.

    Motor Home

    • A motor home is a vehicle that has living accommodations like a trailer. However, motor homes are powered by their own engines. The engines can be either gasoline or diesel. Choices vary between manufacturers. Motor homes range from Class A models, which resemble buses, to Class C units, which are built on heavy-duty van chassis. In the case of Class C models, the motor home manufacturer builds the living space, and a vehicle manufacturer like Ford or Chevrolet builds the van cab and chassis.

    Motor Home Characteristics

    • The motor home has the living space contained in one unit. Therefore, while the driver drives, non-drivers can enjoy the amenities of motor home while en route. The motor home affords the option of towing a small car for errands at the destination. The disadvantage of a motor home -- depending on your view -- is it costs more than a travel trailer. Motor homes depreciate faster than travel trailers because a lot of the value is tied up in the engine. Giant RV has new Class A units retailing over $200,000 and used Class A units retailing from $51,000. Except for Class As, most motor homes have less living space than a travel trailer.

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