"Going big" has always been the American way. We want bigger homes, bigger cars (as evidenced by the popularity of the SUV) and, of course, bigger RVs. Every year manufacturers introduce new brands and models that are longer and wider (either in terms of slideouts or actual width) than the previous year's. With class C's approaching 40 feet in length and some manufacturers now building class A's and large trailers with four slideouts, where will it all end? Perhaps it won't be long before class A motor homes and large fifth wheels will be required to carry "Wide Load" signs on their flanks — like doublewide manufactured homes moving down the highway with an escort from one location to another.
We'd all like our home-on-wheels to be roomy enough for all our needs and provide us with the amenities of a permanent home. What many RVers overlook, however, is the weight that's added to an RV every time inches and feet are added to its length — meaning that you may not be able to carry as much gear and personal belongings as you could with a somewhat smaller version of the same RV.
The larger and heavier the RV, the longer it will take to stop when you apply the brakes. Accidents have happened because some RVers don't know that you can't jump behind the wheel of a 40-foot-plus class A motor home and drive it just like the family car. Special skills are required. And because you can't take a huge class A or fifth wheel into the wilderness, the scope of your adventures may be limited.
The most dangerous aspect of large RVs, in our opinion, is that even though they may be built larger, they may not be built with a view to structural integrity. When the manufacturer adds a foot or two, his interest in reaching a wider market may take precedence over reinforcing the walls to support the extra weight. This problem of adding footage without proportionate increase of structural support has produced vehicles whose walls have completely disintegrated in rollover accidents — sometimes with fatal results for the occupants, and, at the very least, serious injury. Because federal law does not require it, these RVs are not tested for crashworthiness before they reach the marketplace.
Laws regarding size limitations for RVs traveling the highways vary from state to state and can cause RVers driving vehicles over 40 feet long or wider than 102 inches to incur fines and inconvenience. You'll need to check the legalities for every state in which you intend to travel.
Statistics, accident reports, and consumer feedback have shown that safe and worry-free travel in a large RV — particularly a class A motor home — takes greater preparedness than for an automobile, a scaled-down motor home, or a trailer. You'll need to know your limitations when it comes to driving or pulling a large vehicle. RV driving and handling courses are widely available and highly recommended. You'll need to study weight and balance issues carefully. You'll need to give extra scrutiny to the design, workmanship, and materials used in your RV. And you'll need to know the right questions to ask the dealer or manufacturer.
When you're planning to buy a motor home or trailer, RV Consumer Group makes it easy to compare brands and models based on their handling characteristics, durability, and how well they hold their value, (as well as other factors). Those who have used our RV Ratings Guide have found this publication to be an indispensable guide when searching for their dream RV. Many of our subscribers have literally saved thousands of dollars.
For more information on the effects of size on your RV choice, also see the publications RV Buying Trilogy - this book will show you when it's safer and more comfortable to go smaller and when those who have the budget can safely go a bigger RV. For those interested in towing, the downloadable publication, How to Tow Safely