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A Class A motorhome with slide-out extended floors
Bavaria Motorhome.ogg
Interior and exterior shots of a motorhome. Video.

In North America the term recreational vehicle and its acronym, RV, are generally used to refer to a vehicle equipped with living space and amenities found in a home. A recreational vehicle normally includes a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and a living room. In other countries the terms caravan or camper van are more common, and the vehicles themselves vary, typically being smaller than in North America.

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 and motorhomes.) RVs can also be rented in most major cities and tourist areas.

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



Most modern dictionaries give one of the meanings for the word caravan as "a camper equipped with living quarters". They in turn give one of the meanings for camper as "a recreational vehicle equipped for camping out while travelling". The earliest caravans were used for practical purposes rather than recreation, such as providing shelter and accommodation for people travelling in search of an audience for their art, or to offer their services to distant employers, or to reach a new place of abode.

In Europe, wagons built to live in, rather than just to carry persons or goods, were developed in France around 1810. They were used in England by showmen and circus performers from the 1820s, but Gypsies only began living in caravans (vardos) from about 1850.[1]

The covered wagon that played a significant part in opening up of the interior of the North American continent to white settlement from about 1745 was a type of caravan. A well set up wagon provided its occupants with living quarters as well as a means of transportation for themselves plus their supplies and equipment.[2]

In Canada, the earliest motorhomes were built on car or truck bodies from about 1910.[3] By the 1920s the RV was well established in the US, with RV camping clubs established across the country, despite the unpaved roads and limited camping facilities.[4]

In Australia, the earliest known motor home was built in 1929. It is now in the Goolwa Museum, where it has been partially restored, It is recognized by both the National Museum of Australia and the (Australian) National Motor Museum as being the first motorized caravan in Australia.[5]

Between the late 1920s and the early 1960s some South Australian railway maintenance gangs working in country areas, where they were required to live on site, were accommodated in caravans built by the department instead of the tents they had previously used. These caravans were built like short railway carriages, about 6.1 metres (20 feet) long, but had wooden wheels with solid rubber tyres and ball bearings.[6]

In the U.S., the modern RV industry had its beginnings in the late 1920s and 1930s (shortly after the the advent of the automobile industry), where a number of companies began manufacturing house trailers or trailer coaches, as they were then called. Oftentimes, these started out as mom and pop operations, building their units in garages or back yards. (One of these early manufacturers, Airstream, is still in business today.) Though tied to the mobile home industry in the early years, when few units were longer than 30 feet long, and thus easily transportable, the 1950s saw a separation of the two, as (what are now referred to as) mobile homes became larger and more immobile, and thus largely became an entirely separate industry. During the 1950s, in addition to travel trailers or trailer coaches manufacturers began building self-contained motorhomes. [1]


For types and classifications outside North America, see campervan.

There are different classes of vehicles generally labeled as RVs:[7]

Luxury Bus Conversion
A small class B campervan
A newer class C motorhome
A truck camper
Class A motorhome 
Constructed on either a commercial truck chassis, a specially designed motor vehicle chassis, or a commercial bus chassis. The addition of slide-outs, first appearing in 1989, dramatically changed the industry, as they allow a wider room than would fit on the road.[8]
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 peak or Luton body.
A pop-up camper
A European Caravan
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.
Popup camper 
Also known as a folding trailer or tent camper, a light-weight unit with pull-out bunks and tent walls that collapses 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.
A Teardrop Trailer
Fiberglass mini 5th wheel
Teardrop trailer 
A compact, lightweight travel trailer that resembles a teardrop, sometimes seen being towed by motorcycles.
A hybrid travel trailer
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.
Luxury motor coach based on Volvo VN780
A newer 5th-wheel (conventional)
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 larger travel trailer -- usually 35 - 45 feet long -- 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. Though designed to remain stationery for extended periods of time, park models differ from mobile homes, in that they are usually still sporadically moved (often seasonally). Also, unlike mobile homes, park models are not intended for permanent residence.
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.



The RVs

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 make the Terra Wind - an amphibious Class A RV which costs between $850,000 and $1.2 million.[9] 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.[10]

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

The Parks

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 and Disadvantages

An RV allows the user to bring the comforts of the modern household, such as indoor plumbing, electricity, climate control, cooking facilities, and so forth, into remote or wilderness areas where such services might be unavailable or hard to obtain. Other advantages 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, as well as meeting any dietary restrictions or preferences. At the same time, an RV provides a more organized living space and better protection from the weather than a tent. There is also no council tax if you choose to live in a RV and no home mortgage.

Disadvantages of RVs include poor 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. Larger models may not be able to travel on smaller roads due to weight, height, and length restrictions. Also, beyond a certain size/weight point a heavy vehicle license is usually required by the driver.


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.

Notable manufacturers

RV Lifestyle

The RV lifestyle is made up of those interested in traveling and camping rather than living in one location, as well as by vacationers. Some travel nearer the equator during the winter months in their RV and return in spring. This is sometimes referred to in the USA as snowbirding. There is also a large segment of younger people who participate in the RV lifestyle. Those who live in an RV are known as fulltimers and live H.O.W. (Houses On Wheels) in comparison to those who live primarily in a house and are known as slabbers or part-timers. There is another subculture of the RV lifestyle known as workampers, these are people that work at the campgrounds/RV parks they stay at for site and perks.

In Australia these retired travelers are called "grey nomads" (see below). They usually travel north in winter in their RVs to catch the warmer weather and return south for spring and summer. Some "grey nomads" have sold their homes choosing to travel on a continuous basis.

While many RVers may be retirees, other individuals and families are choosing RV travel as a way to see parts of the world while maintaining their incomes via technology available from the RV (such as internet, phone, fax, etc.).

Some choose to park in locations without camping sites for a variety of reasons, including saving money, more choice of location, isolation, privacy, adventure, more self-sufficiency and to be nearer a target location.

There is a growing community of Burners (Burning Man participants) who have taken recreational vehicles and modified them so as to fit their beliefs. The conversion of old school buses to this end is popular. Some take old diesel vehicles and burn biodiesel or waste vegetable oil in them in order to make them more environmentally friendly than conventional RVs.

Grey Nomad

A grey nomad is someone who is 55 or older and is taking a long term camping trip around Australia. Although they may travel in lots of different kinds of rigs such as motorhomes, caravans, camper trailers and tents, grey nomads can be characterised by their sense of adventure, humour and their camaraderie.


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 community of RV owners. Its stated 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. Good Sam Club is currently owned by the Affinity Group Inc., which also owns Trailer Life Publications, Motor Home Publications, Camping World, Woodalls RV park directories, etc. Members receive discounts at affiliated RV parks, and Good Sam affiliated parks enjoy a good reputation.

Campground Membership Clubs

Over the years, there have been several membership-only campground clubs, some offering good values on a network of well-located, well-run campgrounds, some not offering nearly as much. Some of the latter cost thousands of dollars to join, plus annual membership fees. Some RVers who want to join a club after checking out its campgrounds, have searched for the ads of current members wanting out. A club membership that originally cost its owner perhaps $7500 to join has, in some cases, changed hands for $500 or $600.


RV Ratings

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

Kelley Blue Book for Recreational Vehicles

This pricing guide is a separate publication from the standard Kelley Blue Book for cars, although from the same people. In USA, call 1-800-BLUE-BOOK, extension 41. This pricing guide may also be available at libraries or credit unions.

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.

The guide also covers aspects of RVs that would be invisible or all-but-impossible to ascertain by the normal RV buyer, such as an RV's ability to withstand sudden bursts of wind at freeway speeds, based on criteria including suspension design, surface area, weight, and center of gravity.

RV Park Ratings

The following two printed publications each offer unbiased ratings & detailed listings on thousands of USA and Canadian parks. Each publication has a network of agents that visit each park and rate it and prepare a report on space sizes, full or partial hookup availability, pet restrictions, tree coverage, wi-fi, etc. The parks in each book are listed by state or province, then the town within the state. In addition, each provides maps of each state showing which towns have rv parks or other services associated with them. In practice, the RVer plots out the general planned route, then spots nearby towns that would be an appropriate driving distance, then compares the various parks in that area.

The Trailer Life book tends to be the most comprehensive. Woodalls will often have less-known and often less-expensive RV parks that Trailer Life may have overlooked. While both book share similar cover prices, Woodalls is often sold at significant discount, and Woodall's also offers significantly lower-priced editions covering only East or West, making their books very attractive to people who don't camp that much. Many serious part-timers and full-timers will buy both, either alternating publication bought each year or buying two books each year, comparing each publication's read on a given RV park.

Both books are part of the umbrella company, Affinity Group Inc., but operate in competition with each other.

Trailer Life RV Parks, Campgrounds & Services Directory

Contains listings for more than 11,000 rv parks, service centers, and attractions, with primary emphasis on the parks. Each park receives a triple rating from 1-10 each for Amenities, Cleanliness and Visual Appeal. The book offers full-color maps of each state and province in a block at the beginning of the book. These maps are not quite in alphabetical order, requiring the user look first at the state of interest in the text portion of the book to locate the correct map page number. The State section of the book is in proper alphabetical order. Following the states is a separate Canadian section listing campgrounds in each province of Canada.

Woodall's North American Campground Directory with CD

Each park receives a dual rating from 1-5 each for Facilities and (on site) Recreation. The book consists of their East and West editions in essence, glued together. Thus, if you are looking for California, you must look beyond the half-way point to find where the alphabet begins again with Alaska. (Likewise, the page numbering begins again.) Travelers to Canada must likewise perceive whether the province in question is in the East or West, then look in the appropriate section, either the tail end of the East section or tail end of the West section. The maps are in black and white, instead of color. However the map for each state or province is located at the start of the listing for that state or province, making accessing of the map quite straightforward.

As for the CD ROM, looking up a park using the CD software takes within 1 second of the time necessary to use the book, given that both the book and software icon are within arm's reach (stopwatch tested). The advantage to the CD is that you can restrict your search to, for example, "50 Amps" (shore power) and "Pets Welcome." The "Places to Camp" section of the CD, like the book, is quite complete. However, "Places to See & Do" will not substitute for a web search or even a brochure of a travel destination: For example, a search of Tucson, AZ returned only two places, one 158 miles away and one 331 miles away. Tucson has many, many things to see and do, several world-famous, and all within 50 miles or so.

Other Meanings

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.

Other Languages

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" or "Wohnwagen" (trailer type). Wohnen means live or reside; [11]".

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 Guatemala, Mexico and other Latin American countries the word used to describe this kind of vehicle is "Casa Rodante" (Rolling House).

Finnish language: A "recreational vehicle" is called matkailuauto. The term can be translated as "Travelling car" (Matkailu = Travelling, Auto = Car).

Elkhart, Indiana, USA - The RV Capital of the World

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, Dynamax Corporation, HEARTLAND RVs, 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.


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 either remain attached to the side of the RV or be 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.
Battery Disconnect 
A solenoid which is wired first in the 12v system that, when activated, opens or closes and turns 12v power on or off to that system. Found mostly on Motorhomes which will incorporate 2 disconnect systems, 1 for the House batteries and 1 for the Chassis Batteries. usually controlled by either manually opening or closing the solenoid by turning it or moving a lever, or electronically operated via a remote switch mounted inside the RV. with a disconnect turned off, that battery circuit is 'dead' and no power will be available from the batteries. Generators and starter motors usually bypass these systems due to high power demands.
Battery isolator 
A rectifier or solenoid switch based module of a recreational vehicle that provides charging power from the engine to the house battery and vice versa. (A one-way version of this may be mounted on the engine and provide power only one way, from engine to house battery.) The isolator also prevents power use by the circuits drawing on the house battery from also draining the engine or vehicle battery. Some RVs provide a momentary-on switch that flips a relay to form a temporary high-current connection between the two sets of batteries, enabling the driver to use the house batteries to help start the engine should the engine batteries prove weak. RVers that lack such a switch will often carry a set of high-current-rated jumper cables to stretch between the two batteries to accomplish the same end.
Wastewater from the RV toilet. Body waste. Called blackwater because, if left in the blackwater tank long enough, it turns black.
Blackwater tank
The tank that stores the blackwater. The tank is full when a) the LED indicator says it is, and/or b) the water no longer goes down when the the toilet is flushed. (One should always empty the blackwater first upon discovering the toilet is not draining.) At this point, the operator of the RV will connect a sewer hose from the blackwater tank to a suitable sewer connection at their camp site or a dump station for emptying. This connection cannot simply be left open: If the water is allowed to constantly drain off, the solids tend to remain behind, eventually producing what is termed "the brown pyramid of death." It can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to replace the blackwater tank in this eventuality. Ensure the tank approaches full; then empty it all at once, followed always by the graywater.
Blackwater tank flush 
A pipe built into the blackwater 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. The tank should be flushed with water upon every second tank draining, with normal use. The tank should also be sprayed any time the sensors appear erratic.
Brake Controller 
A device used to control the electric brakes on the trailer. Taking power from the tow vehicle's battery, it is activated by sensing voltage to the brake lights. upon this signal it sends power, through the 7way plug at the rear, to the electro magnets inside the trailer's brake drums, activating the brakes. Usually adjustable to control the amount of braking power applied as well as incorporating manual operation to allow the trailer brakes to be activated independently from the tow vehicle brakes. Some models also incorporate G-force sensors which will apply the trailer brakes when it senses a deceleration.
Chemicals (for wastewater tanks) 
A variety of commercially produced chemicals that are added to the blackwater and graywater tanks to control odours. Commonly referred to as "blue" or "green," the latter being designed to be less harmful to the environment. "Blue" chemicals may or may not kill the bacteria in the tanks and may or may not have an adverse effect on septic systems. Some "green" wastewater tank chemicals contain enzymes that are supposed to control odors and help breakdown the organic materials in the wastewater. Many chemicals are available with either a strong masking scent or odor-free. Lower-priced RV toilets may require the masking scent.
City Water Hookup 
A fitting on the outside of the RV, allowing a water hose to be connected to provide fresh water from an external, pressurized, supply. The quality of such supplies are variable. Many RVs have built-in water filters. Some owners carry a simple external filter they use when the need arises.
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.
Diesel pusher 
A motorcoach with its engine in the rear, instead of the front. For many years, all such coaches featured diesel engines. Later, some manufacturers began placing their conventional gasoline engines in the rear, as well. In both cases, the generator is displaced to the front of the coach. The most notable benefit of this scheme to the travelers is noise reduction. When traveling, the RVers sit in the front, with the engine typically 20 to 30 feet behind them, instead of roaring between them. When the RVers disappear into the back bedroom at night, the generator, typically 25 to 35 feet in front of them, becomes virtually silent. (To them. Not so much to any tent campers in the general area.)
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:
  1. A supply of potable water storage within the RV
  2. Enough house-battery power to supply basic camping needs (low voltage lights, water pump, control portion of refrigerator, etc.)
  3. A means of recharging the house battery(s), such as solar panels or generators
  4. 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 the user of an RV dump station cleans up any spills.
Dumping, dumping tanks 
The act of emptying the waste tanks. Tanks should always be emptied in sequence, with blackwater first, graywater second. This enables the soapy graywater to wash the blackwater out of the sewer hose strung from RV to receptacle, leaving the hose (relatively) clean.
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 proportional to the rate of slowing of the vehicle.
Engine battery(s) 
Batteries in a motor home dedicated to the operation of the vehicle's engine, as opposed to the living quarters, they being supplied with their own separate "house batteries." Engine batteries have thin plates with lots of surface, a design that ensures they can deliver the high-amperage currents needed to start a motor vehicle. These thin plates, however, are quickly destroyed when the battery is deeply discharged, making them unsuitable as house batteries.
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.
Fresh water tank
Storage tank for fresh water when "Dry Camping" or on the road. This water should be used or drained periodically to ensure it stays fresh, and the manufacturer's instructions for "winterizing" the coach should be followed if this tank or any piping within the RV is subject to freezing.
Full Hookup
A campsite featuring water, electric, and sewer connections.
Full Timer
In RV parlance, a person who lives 100% of the time in their RV. Typical full timers would include retired couples who have sold or rented out their immovable domiciles, favoring a life on the road. (USA insurance companies specializing in RV insurance normally set the threshold between full time and part time at five or six months, depending on the carrier, so, from the standpoint of insurance, someone spending as little as five months and one day on the road in a single year might be considered full time, paying an increased premium.)
Gasoline pusher
See Diesel pusher
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. (In North America, organized campgrounds will have "quiet hours," typically stretching from 7pm or 9pm to 7am or 8am in the morning, during which generators cannot be run.)
Gravity Fill 
An external fill point for filling the fresh water tank. made up of a large diameter hose that runs into the tank and incorporates a hole in the side of the RV which allows water to be fed, via a water hose, into the tank using gravity alone. A smaller diameter 'vent' hose is usually installed along side to allow air to escape the tank when filling. Some motorhomes offer both a gravity fill and pressure fill, the latter having an automatic cutoff. The gravity fill may add more water than the pressure fill, making topping off with gravity fill a good option before a long dry-camping session.
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. RVers who have ignored the LED warnings will receive a secondary indication of a full graywater tank when the lowest drain backs up, usually the shower. This can become of particular importance for RVers with washing machines. They should ensure the sewer hose is connected and the graywater valve open before turning on the washer and wandering away from their coach. RV washer/dryers use large amounts of water, and that water will go somewhere.
Graywater has the important role of washing out the sewer hose, as RVers empty the blackwater first, then the soapy graywater in sequence. Problem: While the blackwater tank must be kept closed until full, many campers normally keep the graywater tank open when connected to a sewer pipe. RVers soon learn to monitor the blackwater level and, as it approaches full, they close the graywater valve to store water for when it becomes necessary to empty the blackwater and flush the hose. Otherwise, the operator must literally send fresh water down the (sink) drain until sufficient water has been collected, around a quarter tank, for a good whoosh.
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.)
Holding Tanks 
Tanks built in or mounted under the floor, used for storage of blackwater and graywater. Separate tanks are used for blackwater and graywater, often adding an extra tank for the shower or washing machine, if equipped. Tank level is monitored by an LED display inside the RV and all tanks drain to a single external hook up point for dumping. Usually found on American RVs where almost every RV in production incorporates holding tanks.
House batteries 
The batteries, usually 12 volt DC, that are installed on or within an RV and dedicated to operating lights, appliances, etc., within the living area. 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), known in this context as "engine 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 without damage. For best RV battery life, users should 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.
Hub & Spoke 
A travel pattern of many RVers that reduces their overall fuel expenses and carbon footprint, as well as the frequency (and bother) of breaking camp. RVers will drive/tow their RV from, for example, Phoenix, AZ, to Tucson, AZ, 115 miles (186 km) away. They will then spend a week or two exploring Southern Arizona using their tow vehicle or towed vehicle, leaving the heavy RV parked in their campground. The "hub" is the campground, the "spokes" are the routes fanning out from their campground that they take on their various day-trips. Some RVers extend the hub & spoke pattern one more level by carrying bicycles, Segways, or other low-carbon conveyances on their day-trip vehicle to tour/explore their various day-trip destinations. Again using the above example, a pair of full- or part-time RVers might break camp and move the 115 miles (185 km) between Phoenix and Tucson, averaging 8.5 mpg (3.6 kpl) , but then travel 300 miles (482 km) in the ensuing fortnight in their towed car, a hybrid, averaging 40 mpg (17 kpl). Add another 50 miles (80 km) together on their two Segways, at the equivalent of 275 mpg (117 kpl) each, and the overall fuel economy for the leg of their trip involving Tucson works out to 21.7 mpg (9.2 kpl) overall.
An inverter/charger, most often called an inverter, both charges the 12 volt house battery(s) and inverts the 12 DC power from the house battery(s) into AC power at the standard household voltage and frequency for one's country. Inverters are not usually supplied in low-priced RV's by the RV manufacturer. Inverters are rated by their 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. (Some high-end motorhomes even use airbags that automatically raise the motorhome into a level position on its own tires, eliminating leveling jacks completely.) 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 supplied to and derived 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.
Part Timer
A person who spends several months per year, but less than full-time in their RV. (USA insurance companies specializing in RV insurance normally set the threshold between full time and part time at five or six months, depending on the carrier.) In the RV pecking order, full-timers come first, as they are the most committed. Part timers still command significant respect as they still exhibit significant commitment to the life style. A "vacationer" spending two to four weeks per year in their RV is not considered a part timer in RV parlance and rests on the lowest rung of the RV life. They are still treated with complete kindness and respect, of course, as even full-timers understand that some people are forced by circumstance to engage in unavoidable, extraneous activities, such as working and raising a family. Besides, today's one-week renter may be tomorrow's full timer.
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.
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 12V DC 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 12V DC (three-way). Three-way (powered) RV refrigerators draw too many amps to be powered by the house battery(s), but may run on 12V DC power while the vehicle engine is running, a generator is running or the RV is connected to shore power. Newer models use 12V DC 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.
Sewer hose 
An RVer cannot spend too much money on a proper sewer hose, but can easily spend too little. A cheap, thin-walled hose that has developed small holes either through abrasion or UV damage since its last use does not leak, it sprays: The top of a full blackwater tank may be three feet or more above the level of a failing hose. That's a lot of pressure. Particularly be wary of free starter kits given upon RV purchase; even motorhomes approaching half-million dollars in cost may be supplied with a paper-thin hose that starts spraying in less than a week (personal experience). A proper hose, well maintained, will last for a long, long time, reducing what could be an onerous task into an abstract, odor-free procedure of pulling a couple valves in sequence, in which the only fluids ever witnessed are, upon disconnecting, a few drops of soapy graywater, fresh from the sink or shower.
Shore power 
Electricity that is available to an RV from a power company. The minimal 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 incorrectly, and the fact that appliances work does not mean that it's wired correctly. A simple 50-to-30 amp or 30-to-15 amp converter from a major supplier may be assumed safe. A special adaptor, picked up at a card-table booth at an RV show that enables the user to plug into two 30 amp circuits at once to get 60 amps for their 50 amp coach may "smoke" the campground's equipment, if not the user.)
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.
Operators of RVs that offer some warning when shore power has been left connected should ensure that their power cord is always laid out and connected first, with water and sewer lines purposely laid to cross the power cord. Because the RV has no way of "knowing" that the operator failed to disconnect either water or sewer, this scheme will ensure that warning is given unless all three lines have been properly put away before the owner is ready to drive off.
The term, "shore power," was borrowed from the boating industry; no water is involved, at least if all pipe connections are fastened down thoroughly.
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.
A fixed awning attached to the top of a slide room and the side of the RV. when the room is opened, the awning opens with it, covering the roof of the slide room. Mainly used to keep debris such as leaves and snow from building up on the roof of the slide room. It will open and close with the room by use of spring tension which is applied when rolled out and recoils when the room comes in, closing the awning up.
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.
Tag Axle 
Particularly heavy 40 to 45 foot motorhomes are supplied with two rear axles, a drive axle and a passive, weight-bearing (tag) axle. Veteran RV-spotters use the presence of a tag axle (as well as large tire size) to separate out the truly expensive motorhomes from those that just look that way. The presence of a tag axle indicates an interior with features like stone floors, heavy, solid wood cabinetry, and a MPG gauge that quickly sticks at 1.4 when going uphill.
The tag axle is lowered automatically at around six miles per hour, taking up half the load of the rear, heavier end, of the motor coach. The axle is raised below six miles per hour to allow better maneuvering: Were the axle to remain down, turning sharply, as is done at low speeds, would drag the tires of the tag axle sideways across the pavement as the coach pivoted on the drive wheels, just in front of that axle. Coaches when driving in RV parks can often be seen with their tag axles up, causing many helpful observers to tell the coach owner there's something wrong with their coach. On the other hand, some tag-axle owners have saved money on tolls by pointing out to the toll-taker that their coach may have three axles, but, as can be plainly seen, they're only using two of them.
Tow ball weight 
Also called tongue weight, this is the downward force exerted on the tow ball by the RV trailer coupling with weight-distribution devices, if any, deactivated.
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, less common in Europe, it becomes a virtual necessity for owners of motor coaches stretching 40 or 45 feet, difficult to maneuver in a supermarket parking lot.
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.
Weight distribution hitch 
A system of springs and levers that transfers part of the tow ball weight onto the front wheels of the towing vehicle and, to a lesser extent, the RV 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
A UK term to refer to staying overnight without a designated camping area.
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.

See also


  1. ^ "History of the Vardo (Gypsy Caravan)", ValleyStream Media, 2009
  2. ^ "Inside a pioneer covered wagon", Robin Flinchum, PageWise, Inc, 2002
  3. ^ "From Past to Present 1901 - 1910",, 2003
  4. ^ "RV History", RV/MH Heritage Foundation, retrieved 2009
  5. ^ "Pop Kaesler's Motorhome", Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia, retrieved 2009
  6. ^ "Heritage Caravan", History Trust of South Australia, 2003
  7. ^ "Go Rving RV roundup". Go RVing Canada.. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  8. ^ "The Era of the Slideout Room" Retrieved 23 October 2008
  9. ^ "CAMI", Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International's Terra Wind.
  10. ^ "Press Releases: World's most expensive RV debuts for $2.5 million". RV News & Newsletter. July 11, 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  11. ^ "German RV Reference". A.Ebert. Retrieved 2007-08-30. 

Further reading

  • Freeman, Jayne (2005). The Complete RV Handbook. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-144339-5. 
  • Moeller, Bill (2007). The Complete Book of Boondock RVing: Camping Off the Beaten Path. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-149065-8. 

External links


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