12 Things to Know about Class B RV’s
- The Wide Appeal of the Class B RV
- Small Motorhomes Through the Years
- What Makes an RV a Class B?
- Class B RV’s are Packed with Amazing Features
- Benefits of Class B’s
- Class B Manufacturers
- Seven of the Most Popular Class B RV Models
- Typical Class B Floor Plans
- Available Option in Class B Vans
- To Rent or Buy?
- RV Dealers vs. RV Consignment
Smaller motorhomes have a long history in America. They began their lives as basically a wooden shack strapped to the back of a truck and have evolved into luxury homes complete with working Jacuzzis and chef-worthy kitchens.
Automobile aficionados and camping enthusiasts spurred the growth; as Americans migrated westward.
Early in the twentieth century, the military saw practical uses for these ingenious vehicles during deployments. That’s when the motorized camper’s popularity really began to take off.
Through the years the popularity of smaller motorhomes has had its ebb and flow. Currently, the Class B RV is enjoying a renaissance, and growth in the domestic small RV manufacturing industry has really taken off. Class B motorhomes or converted vans are a sought-after item for both retirees and Millennials alike.
Whether you’re young or old, the ingenious Class B RV is an affordable way to live on the road full time or see all the places you haven’t had time for during your working years. They are family-friendly, easy to drive, and come with as many or as few luxuries as you desire.
Let’s go through the history of the “small camper on wheels.” You’ll find your interest in the modern Class B RV that began decades ago has evolved into the magnificent rigs available today.
The Wide Appeal of the Class B RV
Since you’re reading this article, you’re obviously in tune with the “RV lifestyle.” Maybe you began as a camping enthusiast and have now decided to move into a more stable camp dwelling with convenience built-in. The Class B RV also provides off-roading capabilities not doable for a car + travel trailer. They are easier to maneuver and park and can go just about anywhere you want to go. When you’re ready for city life they adapt just as easily here too.
All these qualities make it the go-to RV for travel enthusiasts of all ages. People who like to venture off by themselves or with their families can both find a Class B RV that suits them perfectly without breaking the bank.
Small Motorhomes Through the Years
At the turn of the 19th century, cars had become more common. Various automobile publications showed photos of cars with attached trailers. They were equipped with rudimentary beds and kitchens. This evolved into the first RVs when manufacturers began building wooden enclosures directly onto the chassis of cars. And just like that, the motorhome was born.
The first known RV was built in 1910 on a truck base. It was almost thirty feet long and boasted a working toilet, a built-in cooler for food, and a sitting area. Later during the Jazz Age, people got more creative, adapting cars to fit their travel lifestyles. Combined with wooden structures, tents were added to cars to give more living space. Some of these were outfitted with kitchens, bathrooms, and the newly invented refrigerator. A typical example of one of these would be the traveling gypsy motorhome which we’ve all seen examples of in early motion pictures.
In the 1930s manufacturers launched the first mass-produced travel trailers. One instantly recognizable example of these is the popular teardrop-style trailer, still in use today in various models.
During WWII, manufacturing halted because the materials were needed for other more important purposes. The military bought thousands of expandable trailers with showers on both sides of the foldouts. However, when the war was over, revolutionary types of “house cars” changed the industry completely.
Famous icons like Howard Hughes began using RVs as dressing rooms on his movie sets, as electricity was now included in motorhomes providing greater convenience.
During the 1950s, motorhomes became longer and much more elaborate. Plumbing systems, full kitchens, and comfortable interiors became the expected standard during this era. A lot of experimentation took place, too. Double-decker motorhomes, terraces, multiple bedrooms, and carpeting were added to some inventive models.
The first RV categorized as a Class B appeared in the late 1960s. The Xplorer was designed and built by Ray Frank, the man credited for taking the “house car” into true motorhome territory. It was built on a van chassis just like our modern-day Class B vans. It was truly unique and its only competition at the time was the VW Microbus and its tented roof. The VW became popular with hippies and is now considered iconic due to its instantly recognizable shape.
Larger Class A motorhomes enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1980s. In the years that followed, RVing became more and more popular but not everyone could afford such giant rigs. Manufacturers began offering smaller options and more elaborate travel trailers to meet the growing demand.
The onset of ruggedly-built vans with higher roofs provided an opportunity at the turn of this century for a more compact RV model to emerge. And emerge it did! The Class B motorhome or conversion van launched in earnest and has become one of the most popular models in RV history.
What Makes an RV a Class B?
Here are the most basic facts about the Class B RV that everyone should know. The technical definition of Class B is a converted van. It begins as a sturdy van chassis “shell” and an RV interior is built onto it. The driver’s portion is in the front with the bare frame behind it, ready to be customized. There are loads of Class B manufacturers offering everything from bare-bones van conversions to the tip-top of ultimate luxury. You may choose something in between. It really depends on you and your RV lifestyle.
The most-used chassis for a Class B motorhome are the Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, or Ford Transit. These are the most well-built, solid frames on which to build a safe and durable RV. The Transit and ProMaster options come with either gas or diesel engines whereas the Mercedes Sprinter is only available as diesel. The Class B will have dual rear wheels unless it is a Ram ProMaster that has only single rear wheels. It is now common to see a 4×4 option in Class B RVs as well.
When you see a Class A or C RV, or even a travel trailer or fifth wheel, you can immediately see what makes the Class B RV unique. The Class B is most often a luxurious, compact rig that gives you every modern need and convenience in one petite, mighty package. They are built on a rugged van chassis and range from 20-24 feet from bumper to bumper. The width is generally less than 8 feet.
Less elaborate models with pared-down amenities are built on a regular passenger van frame. They may have a slide-out or bump out to expand living space as they’re much smaller than the Mercedes frame luxury Class B vans are built on.
These sleeper vans or camper vans don’t boast as much sleeping space or living space as the larger RVs, but they offer the freedom and flexibility of a much smaller rig. You don’t need a special operator’s license to drive them or worry about if your turn radius is wide enough.
The Class B RV comes in various price points that most can afford. Of course, the prices swing wildly depending on the number of amenities you are looking for. It is recommended that for full-time RV life you get as many as you can afford to make full-time RVing as comfortable as possible. Those who only want an occasional road trip can make do with fewer pleasantries.
At the high price range, a luxury, custom-built Class B RV can cost over one hundred thousand dollars. But what you get for your money is an amazingly safe, sturdy, durable “traveling apartment” complete with a full chef’s kitchen and luxe toilet facilities. The vehicle itself is of the highest quality with a superior engine and high-tech capabilities built right in.
The Class B is, without a doubt the most efficient, budget-friendly way to spend a retirement seeing the continent to your heart’s desire.
Class B RV’s are Packed with Amazing Features
The smaller Class B is fully-loaded with amazing features any RVer would envy. Not an inch of space is wasted, and like anyone who loves travel knows, this is very important. Bump-outs on the sides, rear, or ceilings give even more options. It also means people of a certain height won’t have to crouch their way around inside it.
The average length of a Class B van is between 17-19 feet. The weight is about 7,000 pounds. (There is also another class B type called B+ that looks like a cross between a class B and a Class C RV. They feature a bit more headroom and storage area while still giving you the lower fuel cost of a camper van.)
The mileage advantage is one of the big reasons people consider a Class B van. They don’t weigh as much as their bigger counterparts so it won’t cost you near as much in gas as a Class A would, for example. While these larger Class A rigs can get as low as 5 miles per gallon, the Class B RV can get as high as 25 miles per gallon. Of course, this depends on how well you maintain the van’s function and the age of your Class B, but it isn’t far-fetched to see great gas mileage like this.
The Class B can sleep more people than you would think, depending on the floor plan. The average is 4 people. For a couple or family with small kids, it’s ideal. However, the spaces are more cramped than they would be in a larger RV. If tight quarters don’t bother you, you’re good to go.
Most things inside a Class B van serve more than one function. Due to the square footage constraints, they have to. Your couch may serve as a bed at night, or your dining table may also be a convertible sleeping area.
Let’s Talk Perks
Basically, the Class B RV is the easiest way to take your camping game to the next level in style. Some of the available luxuries will make you feel like a movie star if you decide to go that route. Fully-operational modern conveniences like ovens, microwaves, glass stovetops, drop-down televisions, Wi-Fi, waterfall showerheads in roomier-than-expected shower stalls, LED mood lighting and stereo systems are just some of the delights on the Class B menu.
You can also expect your high-end Class B van to have real leather seats, rare wood cabinets, plush seating, chrome fixtures throughout, and maybe even tile shower walls. Those with bump-outs may feature a tented back porch that extends living space tremendously or a ceiling bump-out that keeps the van from feeling cramped.
Off-grid technology makes boondocking much more pleasant. Some Class B’s will have solar panels and fresh/wastewater holding tanks for comfortable off-grid living. If you like going off-grid and don’t want to get a higher-end Class B, it’s easy enough to wire for solar options and settle for a portable camp toilet rather than a built-in full bathroom.
The multi-functionality of Class B doesn’t detract from its appeal, even though all the features are packed into every inch of available space. Let’s face it if you’re living the RV life you are going to be outdoors having fun and seeing things instead of “living” inside the RV. That makes the Class B motorhome the best choice for outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
More Class B RV Benefits
This class of RV drives pretty much like a car does and can also be stored like a car. If you can drive a car or van you can drive a Class B. They are also just as easy to park. If you live in a gated or deed-restricted neighborhood you won’t need to work out a special parking spot or pay extra for that with a Class B van.
When traveling to national parks they fit into the narrowest camping sites or by the edge of a lake. You can navigate any parking lot with ease, too. Add a rack on top and take bikes, canoes, or kayaks with you quickly and efficiently.
Driving duties can be shared by all legal drivers traveling with you. There is no special driver’s permit needed to operate it. The Class B is an extremely safe vehicle to ride in thanks to its solidly-built frame. There are seatbelts in all legally-designated spots and reinforced walls adding to passenger safety.
You don’t need to wait for your next big travel adventure to use your Class B van. They are perfect for weekend festivals, tailgating, rallies, and trade shows. Drive it to the beach, the mountains, or into a big city for a day of fun. When you need a break from sightseeing, simply crawl in for a much-needed break.
It’s easy to see why the Class B RV is steadily increasing in popularity. They are high-quality; easy to handle and have the conveniences everyone wants when they’re away from home. When you arrive at your travel destination there is no complicated set-up checklist to go through. Just park and relax.
Class B RV Manufacturers
There are many Class B manufacturers in the United States today, with more popping up all the time. That also speaks to how popular this class of RV has become and will most likely remain in the future. If so many manufacturers are hopping on the bandwagon with huge investments they are betting on it being profitable well into the future. That also speaks well of investing in one. It is likely to hold its value well if and when you decide to sell or change RV models.The American manufacturers are located all over the country so it’s easy to visit one near you for more information on models and customization options they offer. For our complete guide, click here.
7 of the Most Popular Class B RV Models
1. Winnebago Revel Class B RV – Winnebago still enjoys the best name recognition among a wide demographic. They have also been making RVs for decades and by now know what works and what the people want. This model boasts a full-size power-lift bed, a combination gear/wet bath closet and loads of living space make this rig one of the most sought-after in the country.
2. Winnebago Travato Class B RV – Yet another soon to be classic from this iconic firm. Available in four unique floor plans, this rig sleeps up to four people comfortably. Two of the floor plans have moveable twin beds that can slide away giving more living space in daytime hours.
3. Airstream Interstate 19 Class B RV – This company’s popular retro-style is still a hit with travelers of all ages. This model is the slightly smaller version of their bestselling diesel Class B, the Interstate. This smaller design is perfect for retired couples or people traveling solo. It has just the necessities and is a great choice for low maintenance off-grid experiences.
4. Coachman Galleria Class B RV – If you’re a couple or solo traveler and want a bit of extra elbow room, this is a good choice for you. It features a turbo diesel engine and it’s built on a sturdy Mercedes Sprinter frame. Luxury amenities include an efficient furnace/water heater by Truma and Amish-built maple cabinetry.
5. Pleasure-Way Tofino Class B RV – One of the most affordable options, this model has a list price of around seventy thousand dollars. But don’t let the small price fool you. The van is perfect for low-maintenance travelers who emphasized travel as an experience rather than luxury camping.
6. Roadtrek Zion Class B RV – This RV is perfect for adventure enthusiasts or outdoor sports aficionados. A center aisle is designed for storing kayaks or other sports equipment safely while on the road. It has a complete bathroom, refrigerator, spacious center galley, and dreamy bed. That sounds pretty good when you’ve been playing hard all day.
7. Leisure Travel Van Unity Luxury Class B RV – you may not even recognize this as a van. The luxury is dialed up to 11 on this beauty. It has a few more feet in length than a lot of Class B’s and they are put to good use. It’s available in several floor plans ranging from small bedroom/larger living space to small living space/larger bedroom. It goes without saying the comfort factor is off the charts.
Typical Class B Floor Plans
As stated earlier, the floor plans vary widely to suit every RV travel taste and style. Normally, the kitchen will be a “mini” version of what you have in your home. But that doesn’t mean it’s a useless doll kitchen. Class B RV manufacturers take great pains to make sure everything in their vans is practical and usable in everyday life. Another thing you can count on is the excellent quality of every appliance that gets installed in a Class B. No rinky-dink products here!
Some Class B RVs include a wet bath. This means you can expect a toilet. Other models also have a molded shower stall. Some models have both. You can have whatever you want to live with. Just remember the more room used for this is less room for all the other areas.
Sleeping areas have gotten very creative in both placement and functionality. Look for tuck-away Murphy beds that hide beneath dinner tables, twin beds that pull into view when you need them, and banquette seats that push together at night. Keep in mind the Class B van is for the most part designed for two sleepers and only in some cases 4 adults.
Expect every inch in your Class B van to be utilized. What isn’t used for cooking, dining, sleeping, or bathing is used for storage. Many nooks and crannies will be available for the hopefully miniature versions of things you need to bring like cleaning supplies, cookware, etc. In the nicer conversion vans, LED lighting will help you see where to put things.
You will notice overhead storage, cabinets, drawers, and shelves wherever there is a free few inches of space. After a while, you will learn how to make the most of it and it won’t be a big deal. Storing larger items is possible with a roof container or rack. Class B’s don’t have underbelly storage areas like other RVs do so plan and make sure to bring multipurpose items whenever possible.
Great Things in The Class B Motorhome
This small but mighty conversion van may not be ideal for a large group of people but it is exactly the compact RV that a small family or couple should utilize. You won’t have room for a long list of amenities but the ones you do have will be both practical and provide convenience.You will find enough kitchen, bathroom, and living space to enjoy life on the road without feeling like you’re sacrificing all your comforts. Talk to other Class B RVers before you buy to find out which features they use and enjoy most.
Available Options in Class B Vans
1. Fuel Efficiency – There is no RV more efficient than the Class B. Even avid travelers on modest budgets can explore the country without using their life savings in the process.
2. Outdoor Living Space – Most Class B conversions have an awning, either manual or electric, that expands from the side or read to give a shady living space.
3. Hideaway Beds – Murphy beds or twins that serve as banquette seating in the daytime can fold out or be pushed together for comfortable sleeping at night.
4. Off-Road Capability – front-wheel drive or even 4×4 options give those with extreme wanderlust opportunities to go off-road without losing the comfort of an RV.
5. Functional Kitchen – Albeit smaller than your home kitchen, the Class B cooking facilities are sufficient to cook simple meals. You won’t have to suffer through bologna or peanut butter sandwiches just because you travel in a van.
6. Toilet Facilities – Most later model Class B vans have at the bare minimum a working toilet with a holding tank. Some have showers with grey water tanks.
To Rent or Buy?
Before you buy, find out which options are available on the market. Research the various models and features. Visit sellers and dealers; sit in the driver’s seat, lie down in the beds. Once you know the models and makes that best suit your RV lifestyle, you’ll be able to evaluate the rent or buy options.
Visiting an RV Show is another great opportunity to experience a wide variety of models at once. There are a great many regional shows during the year. Find one near you and spend the day doing hands-on research.
But in the end, experiencing things first-hand is always the best way to know if a model RV is perfect for you. Renting one for a long weekend or two-week road trip will give you the best possible data for making your investment decision. If you have family or friends who already own a Class B RV, ask them for a rental period agreement and hit the road in earnest. When you come home, you’ll have real experiences good or bad on which to base your purchase decision. Check out our buying guide for more helpful tips.
Now, you have another decision to make.
RV Dealers vs. RV Consignment
Whether you know it or not, different purchase options exist for Class B RVs. There are the dealers who represent various manufacturers, offering models with few or numerous amenities. But what you might not know to look for are pre-owned RVs available for purchase through your local RV consignment dealer.
While brand new RVs are glossy and have that “new” smell, consigned RVs are an option that can save you thousands at closing. If you are planning a long road career with full-time RV life and don’t want any hassle whatsoever, you might want to go ahead and purchase a new RV from a dealer. You’ll get all the latest bells and whistles custom-installed just for you. Be aware the price tag will also match.
If however, you are willing to buy used you’ll get an RV that’s been inspected, appraised, repaired, or refurbished in most cases and road-ready. Most RV consignment dealers won’t put any RV on their lot they can’t personally endorse. But here also you should research to make sure the consignment company has a good reputation.
Buying an RV on consignment doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate on price either. Most sellers are willing to consider any reasonable offer. The key is to do your research ahead of time and make an offer, not an insult.
If you need financing, reputable consignment dealers can help you here, too. They have working relationships with banks they trust and can get you good terms. And lastly, here are some tips for buying a used Class B RV.
The strong, nimble Class B RV is a wonderfully practical conversion van for travelers under 5 people per trip. It can be as stripped down or elaborate as you wish, with as many or as few comforts as you need to enjoy yourself on the road. Prices and options are available for any budget, and they can easily be driven by most experienced drivers without any special licenses required.
The Class B RV is perfect for weekend trips or full-time RV living. With modern technology built right into the latest models, remote careers from the edge of a lake or a mountain top are now accessible to all.
Whether you choose the sparsely outfitted converted van for budget-friendly travel or the luxury home on wheels, the Class B RV is a modern choice for travel enthusiasts of all ages.
Now that you have all the information you need to select your travel vehicle, here’s wishing you all the best in your upcoming adventures.