29 Jun Drive or Drag?
In this blog Wally Hofmann, one of Hofmann Architecture’s two founders, reflects on more than a half century of his own personal motorhome and trailer experiences.
Motorhome vs. towable trailer: What’s the difference?
Since the 1930s America has had a love affair with motorhomes and drag-along trailers. Naturally, RV newcomers to the RV experience often ask, “Which one is best – a motorhome or trailer?” The two options are fundamentally different in one very big way: the way you get to where you’re going.
When towing a trailer, passengers must ride inside of the tow vehicle. When driving a motorhome on the other hand, passengers are able to move about the living space even when it’s in motion. Although seat belts are provided in the seats of motorhomes and manufacturers place warnings against moving while in motion, most passengers move about freely. However here at Hofmann Architecture, we always advise wearing your seatbelt in a moving vehicle. Because a motorhome combines both the vehicle and trailer, it’s often viewed as a more desirable option that is reserved for only the well-heeled traveler. Afterall, a motorhome is usually more pricey than a trailer. The reality is they’re very different experiences, each with their own unique advantages.
Drive or drag? Which one is best?
In 1963, my father packed his five kids, his wife, his mother-in-law, and a housekeeper, into a blue Bonneville station wagon that towed a 25’ Travel-eze trailer. Together, we drove from Southern California all the way to the New York World’s Fair. In those days it was perfectly legal for passengers to travel inside the trailer (crazy, I know, but we all survived!). By 1970, we were a family of seven kids. Dad was a successful physician and able to purchase a 30’ Winnebago motorhome. Fast forward to 2010, I moved to Santa Barbara to join my son, Matthew, and we launched Hofmann Architecture. We each lived in an Airstream, –he in a 25’ Trade Wind and me in a 31’ Airstream motorhome– full-time for a year. My passion for RV living was instantly rekindled by his dream to live a simpler, more affordable and adventure-filled lifestyle. Just like my childhood, I loved every minute of it.
Wally’s 10 real world differences
Personally, I don’t have a preference between a motorhome or trailer because they both open doors to life-changing experiences and richer relationships. However, the question of whether to drive or drag should be thought out carefully by those considering a mobile lifestyle. Deciding on which RV type is best for you might come into clearer focus after considering these 10 differences:
1) Travelling Mobility – As mentioned earlier, passengers are able to move inside a motorhome while it’s in motion. But if you do, be careful! It’s much like a plane or train, where passengers can get out of their seats and move about the cabin, and even use the bathroom, without having to stop. Yet, as with all moving vehicles, be aware of the possibility for turbulence, sharp turns and sudden stops. It’s always safest to be seated with seatbelts worn.
2) Size and Maneuverability – Motorhomes are huge – they’re taller, longer and heavier than a trailer — which can make navigating them more challenging. The larger size can make it more difficult to park, drive down tight narrow streets, and keep on the road in high winds. In the 80’s and 90’s, Airstream manufactured an aluminum rounded, more aerodynamic motorhome equipped with a gas-powered 454 V-8 “muscle car” engine.
3) Liveability – When it comes to interior space the comparisons are a toss up. Both motorhomes and trailers have about the same interior living space. A motorhome allocates about 5 feet of length to the cockpit, which is not as usable when stationary. One interior option that Airstream factory models do not offer is a slide out. Most modern square box trailers and motorhomes have slide outs, which increases the living space when parked. However, slide out systems are susceptible to malfunction and water leaks.
4) Mechanical & Engine – Since a motorhome has a transmission, steering, and a large engine pushing up to 12,000 lbs of vehicle, there are bound to be mechanical issues. A motorhome owner should be prepared to spend for powertrain repairs.
5) Upfront Cost – A motorhome’s initial investment is greater than a trailer due to the expense of an engine AND transmission. Smaller truck-style motorhomes start around $50,000 to $150,000. A diesel pusher motorhome starts at $100,000 and can run into the millions. To make a fair comparison, of course, every trailer needs something to pull it. So, the cost of a tow vehicle should be considered. Yet, a tow vehicle will serve many purposes in addition to pulling a trailer. On the other hand, a motorhome serves just one purpose – transporting your home on wheels.
6) Cost of Ownership – A motorhome’s cost of ownership and use, depreciation, mileage (7-9 mpg), maintenance requirements will be a much bigger hit on your pocketbook. For starters, a new set of six tires will run around $3,000, and the owner should expect annual engine or transmission work to start at $1000. There’s simply more mechanical maintenance.
7) Access to Campsites – A well-equipped motorhome is going to be 35’ or longer. Unfortunately, many state and national campgrounds have size restrictions, so this can limit where you can park. Be sure to check out your intended destination requirements BEFORE investing in something that may not be allowed.
8) Simplicity – Trailers are simpler to own. They are a lot easier to maintain and operate. Even hooking up a trailer is a lot easier than it sounds. When you arrive at your destination, you simply unhitch your trailer and can use the tow vehicle for side trips. You can’t do that with a motorhome.
9) Access – The floor level of a trailer is closer to the ground than a motorhome’s, which improves the inside/outside access. The lower floor height allows for the option of adding an enlarged gull wing opening to create an enhanced indoor/outdoor experience, and connecting with a patio awning.
10) Family Friendly – Motorhomes are easier to take the grandkids on a vacation and it provides a much better experience for everyone. Let’s face it, many urban kids are bored these days — no wonder they’ve got their noses glued to the video games. By getting out into the Great Outdoors you are dramatically expanding your child, or grandchild’s, horizons.
Whether you choose to drive it or drag it, whatever you do, go outside and play!