In 2004, RV manufacturers jumped on the sports utility bandwagon with both feet. Some, like National RV, even suspended or limited production of other trailer lines to focus on the expanded market for this type of RV. A big surge in RV sales and profits has made it possible for manufacturers with dollar signs in their eyes to take advantage of a younger market with deep pockets and a yen for off-road adventure. We've been watching the proliferation of new brands and models of sports equipment haulers with interest and an eye to safety as manufacturers rush to meet production needs.
Sports Utility RVs (SURVs — more popularly called Toy Haulers) come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. While the first of the breed were trailers, there are now a few motorhomes that fit the description. All have a storage bay with anchorage for a small car, motorcycle, ATV, mountain bike, and / or other motorized and non-motorized land or water craft with attendant gear.
Some models have a hard wall between the living quarters and the storage area. Thus you don't have flammable spills or annoying odors from gas fumes creeping over into your living area. Occasionally, there is merely a curtain or flap to separate the storage bay from the house. Nevertheless, because the RV industry is unregulated, you will also find models with no partition at all between the garage and the living space. These are often fitted with fold-up seating or sleeping accommodations so that the bay can double as living quarters when not being used for your other recreational equipment.
With prices ranging from around $15,000 to $80,000 for the trailer and fifth wheel versions and $80,000 to $300,000 or more for the motorhome version, and lengths from about 20 to 40 feet, there's clearly something for everyone. However, at all lengths and price levels, there's definitely a wide variation in quality. Our concern is that many of these new vehicles have been slapped together to meet the demand.
Because SURVs must usually travel deep into the back country where off-road adventures take place, they are much more subject to wear-and-tear than "ordinary" RVs. Potential buyers need to make certain the model they select has walls that are sturdily-built and reinforced to avoid flexing as the vehicle bumps and bounces over rough roads. Look for heavy-duty one-piece floors that can sustain the weight of heavy items like motorcycles and ATVs. Floor covering should be easy-to-clean vinyl or linoleum that is well sealed at the edges with good-quality sealant to prevent flammable liquids and other spills from seeping under the floor.
Weights are, of course, a critical issue. No matter what the dealer has told you the RV can carry, it must be weighed fully loaded with everything you intend to carry (including the weight of people) to make certain you're not exceeding its GVWR or the GCWR of your tow vehicle. Overloading will put extra stress on your rig and cause tire wear and possibly tire blowouts. Overloading is also one of the major causes of RV breakdowns and accidents. So make sure the model you select offers sufficient payload to meet your needs. A number of vehicles currently rolling off the assembly line are deficient in this regard when you consider the weights of recreational toys.
We've written in the past about the dangers of water tanks located away from the axles, especially in the rear. With toy haulers, instead of a few hundred pounds of water in the rear, you have over 1,000 pounds of off-road equipment back there. When the storage bay is loaded, weight is added to the axles and removed from the hitch. The RV must be designed with a heavy hitch weight or pin weight or it will be too light when sports equipment is loaded, creating a seesaw effect that makes highway handling difficult and could lead to dangerous sway problems. Simply put, the farther back the wheels are placed, the heavier the hitch weight and the more stable the trailer will be if the load in the garage is placed over the axles. However, you must be certain that your tow vehicle and hitch assembly are adequate to handle the heavier hitch weight of the toy hauler when you travel with the storage bay empty. Fifth wheel toy haulers are less affected by balance problems because the axles are generally placed farther back than in trailer coaches, allowing you to position your load closer to or over the axles.
When considering a toy hauler purchase, you'll need to know your budget, how much trailer weight and hitch weight your tow vehicle can handle, what hitch you'll need (for trailer coaches, you'll need an articulating hitch), whether you'll use the RV for extended living or vacationing, what items you plan to carry in the garage, and what you need in the way of creature comforts. Safety and durability are still, to some extent, unknown factors when it comes to the majority of the new toy haulers. Undoubtedly, the next few years will see more new brands and models being produced, with some existing ones falling by the wayside. Will the toy hauler find an enduring place in the RV lineup? Only time will tell.
Our RV Ratings Guide rates the majority of the toy haulers. Be sure to check the ratings and specifications before making a decision to buy one.