Should I Buy an RV or a Camper Trailer?

illustrated rv and camper trailer sitting by a lake

Whether camping for the weekend, heading to a national park, or taking a month off to travel around the country—no matter what your summer adventure looks like, you’ll feel like you’re living in the lap of luxury with an RV or a trailer. Compared to roughing it with a tent and sleeping bag, traveling in an RV or with a camper trailer can make a big difference in your comfort and in how much you enjoy your summer travels.

Looking to upgrade your adventure game and purchase an RV or a camper trailer? Without a doubt, buying an RV or a trailer is an investment. Before you whip out your checkbook or sign on the dotted line, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons of buying an RV versus purchasing a camper trailer.

The Difference Between an RV and a Trailer

illustrated rv and camper with mountains in the background

The term “RV” stands for “recreational vehicles” and encompasses a broad range of vehicles. Technically, a trailer is a type of RV, but in practice this distinction is just a technicality. In the United States, the term “RV” is synonymous with “motorhome.” With this context, the difference between an RV and a trailer is that RVs have engines and can be driven while trailers lack engines and must be pulled by another vehicle.

Beyond that important distinction, though, RVs and trailers share multiple similarities and differences. Let’s explore what makes an RV an RV and a trailer a trailer.

What is an RV?

RVs, or motorhomes, are self-propelled through their own engines and don’t require another vehicle to move them. RVs come in a variety of different sizes, from van-like vehicles to gigantic motorhomes that can function as a semi-permanent or permanent home. RVs are classified into three distinctions depending on their size and usually have more living space than trailers do.

  • Class A RV–Bearing lots in common with buses, Class A RVs are the largest RV type and can come in sizes up to 45 feet in length. They can be equipped with full kitchens, bathrooms, and can even expand when parked in an RV park.
  • Class B RV–The smallest type of motorhome, most Class B RVs are van-based and are up to 24 feet in length. These RVs pack a punch but are a comfy way to travel.
  • Class C RV–In between the size and functionality of Class A and Class B RVs, Class C RVs vary the most out of any class, as they can be as small as 21 feet in length and as long as 41 feet in length.

How much is it to buy an RV?

The average price of an RV heavily depends on its class, floorplan, and type, as thanks to data from Camper Report we can see that RVs cost up to and beyond $300,000. In general, though, you can expect to spend $100,000 for a new motorhome. Used motorhomes are cheaper, but just like with other used vehicles, the prices for used motorhomes vary even more widely than new motorhomes.

What is a camper or trailer?

The defining feature of a trailer is that they have no engine and must be pulled by another vehicle (including even a motorhome). Unlike RVs or motorhomes, trailers are known by a range of names, including:

  • Trailers
  • Campers
  • Camper trailers
  • Fifth-wheel trailers
  • Pop-up campers
  • Foldable campers
  • Truck campers
  • Camper shells

While some of these terms are indeed interchangeable, others–like truck campers–refer to a specific type of trailer. In any case, because they do not need an engine or the required safety features required to drive, they can come in a particular wide variety of types and sizes.

How much is a camper trailer to buy?

Trailers and campers are more cost effective than full motorhomes. In most cases, you can get a new trailer for less than $50,000, with the cheapest campers coming in at around $10,000.

Owning an RV Pros and Cons

illustrated rv sitting next to a lake

There are benefits and downsides to owning a RV/motorhome . Here are some of the biggest ones to think about.

The Benefits of Owning an RV

The biggest benefit of owning an RV is convenience. Thanks to its motor, RVs/motorhomes don’t need to be towed (but can certainly tow a vehicle for day trips into town). Setting up your RV and getting ready to move to the next destination takes much less time and effort than towing a trailer. Thanks to their spacious living quarters, RVs can fit more people, so you can bring your family along on your next adventure or even easily host an informal dinner party with other travelers at your campground.

Owning an RV could have potential tax benefits, as well. The majority, if not all, of RVs fulfill the IRS requirements of what constitutes a house, so if you own one of these, you can declare it a second house for the sake of taxes (which might result in a deduction).

The Downside to Owning an RV

Due to its large size, driving an RV can be incredibly intimidating for even the most experienced driver. It can take a few trips before owners feel completely comfortable not only driving down the highway but also maneuvering into your campsite safely.

But the biggest downside to investing in an RV/motorhome is the overall cost. As we’ve already discussed, expect to spend six figures on a new RV. Plenty of financing options exist, but an investment that size requires serious thought and consideration.

The initial purchase price is also only part of the overall cost of owning an RV. The larger your RV, the more fuel it’ll require. While some RVs can get better gas mileage than trucks and SUVs towing a trailer, you’ll still spend a decent chunk of change on gas during your travels. The average RV gets 10 miles per gallon of gas, though diesels get better gas mileage. Add the cost of insurance and maintenance (which is often much more than a trailer), and you’re likely committing to a hefty expense each year.

Plus, some homeowners associations and neighborhoods don’t allow RVs to park on the street for extended periods of time, so you’ll need to find alternative storage for a very large vehicle (but we can help).

Owning a Trailer Pros and Cons

illustrated camper sitting outside with mountains and next to a lake

Just like with RVs, trailers have their own benefits and downsides of ownership. Here are a few of the most important ones when it comes to trailer ownership.

The Benefits of Owning a Trailer

As we’ve already mentioned before, camper trailers are more cost effective than motorhomes. This means that a new trailer is significantly cheaper than a new motorhome, yes, but there’s another wrinkle to trailer ownership. Since trailers aren’t themselves drivable vehicles, that means their depreciation curve is totally different. Functionally, that means that you’re more likely to find a used trailer at a great price point than a used motorhome–as it means they are better at maintaining their value.

In addition to the lower acquisition price, trailers also require less maintenance and typically are more cost-effective when it comes to insurance, parking prices, and campsite fees. Thanks to their compact size or smaller nature, trailers are also easier to store during the off-season (although fifth-wheel trailers can be as long as 40 feet).

The Downside to Owning a Trailer

While providing a more comfortable environment than your average tent and sleeping bag, trailers can require a learning curve when it comes to getting them set up, especially if you invest in a pop-up or foldable camper. You’ll find most of them aren’t quite as luxurious as their RV counterparts, both in the sense of square footage and amenities (such as air conditioning or a functioning bathroom) within the trailer itself.

You’ll also need to own or have access to a vehicle that’s capable of towing a trailer, whether you have a heavy-duty, powerful truck that’ll work with a fifth-wheel trailer or a vehicle equipped with a hitch. And while motorhomes are inefficient to say the least when it comes to gas mileage, you’re not out of the woods if you choose a trailer. Expect to see between 7 to 10 fewer miles per gallon when pulling a trailer.

RV vs Camper: What to Choose

Ultimately, the determining factors that will help you decide between purchasing an RV and a trailer are:

  • How frequently you think you’ll use it
  • How much space you need/how many people you plan on including in your trips
  • How much you can comfortably spend

If you plan on taking trips that last weeks at a time, an RV might be a better bet. If your adventures last no longer than a weekend, a trailer might be perfectly comfortable for your travels.

Types of RV and Trailer Storage

Storing a new RV or trailer can be tricky. Regardless, there are a few main types of RV and trailer storage available, whether you choose self storage or are able to do so at your own property.

  • Uncovered vehicle storage–The simplest type of RV storage, uncovered storage is just what it sounds like: a parking spot large enough for your vehicle that is uncovered and open to the elements. This is sometimes the only realistic option for the largest Class R RVs.
  • Covered vehicle storage–Similar to uncovered vehicle storage, covered vehicle storage spaces are outdoor parking spaces. But the difference is in its name: covered spaces feature some sort of covering, from a cloth awning to a more stable wooden or steel roof.
  • Indoor vehicle storage–For optimal protection against the elements, indoor vehicle storage best protects vehicles against extreme temperatures and weather conditions like hail, strong winds, and rain.

Whether you decide to invest in a brand new RV or choose to purchase a pre-owned camper trailer, choose your nearest Compass Self Storage location to help you store your RV in a secure facility where you’ll be able to access it for your last-minute camping adventure or much-anticipated road trip vacation. We can help store your RV and our experts can also help provide tips on how to prepare your RV or trailer for storage.

Find your nearest Compass storage facility today to reserve your space to store your RV!