Age-Old Questions: Coach Class? Gas Versus Diesel?
By Steve Froese, F276276
Two of the questions I often am asked are, “What type of motorhome should I buy?” and “Should I buy a gas or diesel RV?” So, I thought I’d share some insight.
Let’s start with the first question, including a reminder about available motorhome types/classes:
- Type/Class A — Except for some “Super C” motorhomes and other variations, Type A motorhomes offer the most living space you’ll find in a motorhome. (Conventional travel trailers and fifth-wheels — may offer even more living space.) Type A motorhomes range from approximately 29 to 45 feet long and may sleep between two and eight people. They provide amenities comparable to what you’d find in a small apartment, along with custom options that can be incorporated during the initial build or as aftermarket additions. Most Type A motorhomes require that owners have or develop a comfort level with driving large vehicles.
- Type/Class B — Type B motorhomes are the smallest class. They also are known as camper vans and resemble a family van. Type B motorhomes range from about 18 to 24 feet long, seating and sleeping up to four people. Type Bs are easy to drive and park and use less fuel than Type A motorhomes. They make dry camping easy for adventurers looking to travel off the beaten path but offer a smaller living space than Type A or C motorhomes. Since Type Bs are smaller, and sometimes less expensive, they make a nice choice as an entry-level RV. They lack the storage and space you see in bigger motorhomes and travel trailers, but they are popular with couples and small families who don’t need the luxuries offered in other classes.
- Type/Class B+ — These are similar to Type B motorhomes, except they are a bit bigger and usually offer upgraded conveniences. They’re a hybrid between Type B and Type C motorhomes, usually consisting of an expanded body that makes them appear similar to small Type C RVs. With the larger body, they have more room for amenities such as a larger bathroom/shower, appliances, and counter space. They may also accommodate more people than a standard B-class RV.
- Type/Class C — These are the middle ground between Type A and Type B motorhomes. They look like a larger version of a van camper, with an overhead cabin above the driver and passenger seats for extra sleeping and/or storage accommodations. Type C motorhomes range from around 19 to over 30 feet long and are offered in a wide variety of sleeping configurations. Type C motorhomes provide more space than Type B units and can come with many of the luxuries you’d expect in a Type A motorhome. The Type C also offers the space over the driver and passenger seats, giving owners more storage or another sleeping spot for travelers. With the overhead bunk included, Type C motorhomes can have a large sleeping capacity.
- Super C — One of the newer classes of motorhomes is the Super C. These motorhomes are largely a hybrid between a Type A and a Type C, and, as is true of Type A units, the most luxurious are built on a diesel chassis. Picture a Type C RV on a large Type A chassis and you should be able to imagine a Super C. Since Super C motorhomes utilize high-end truck chassis, they can be just as luxurious as many diesel pushers. They tend to offer very high-end furnishings. Many consumers prefer this class of RV due to the comfort and luxury appeal. They are available in a variety of sizes and sleeping capacities.
And now the second question: gas versus diesel. Following are some things to consider when comparing gas-powered motorhomes to diesel-powered units:
- Mileage: Diesel motorhomes are better on fuel than their gas counterparts. This is mainly because diesel engines having higher torque and efficiency than gas engines. This results in more energy getting to the wheels with diesel power.
- Service and maintenance: This one is a double-edged sword. While a diesel engine and chassis generally are more reliable than a gas version, the cost to repair a diesel unit is higher. However, with a Type A or Super C diesel chassis, you may find that you have better access to repair facilities, since these vehicles usually can be serviced by heavy-truck dealerships. These facilities tend to be open either 24 hours or very late at night. This brings peace of mind should you require service in the evening or on weekends. Heavy-truck and engine dealer service networks throughout North America typically are equipped to handle RV repair work. And although the labor rate and the price of parts tend to be higher, dealerships often have the parts in stock, or they generally are able to source them quickly. Many Type B motorhomes are built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter diesel chassis and can be repaired at an authorized dealer or Mercedes-Benz facility. Should you encounter a mechanical breakdown with a diesel RV, you are likely to be closer to a repair facility that can help you, and you should be back on the road faster. In my opinion, this is worth the extra dollars spent.
- Suitability to task: Some gas-powered Type A and C motorhome chassis are underequipped for the task at hand. In other words, the coaches may be overly heavy for the chassis and engine design, leaving the unit underpowered in certain circumstances and with very little extra weight capacity for cargo and towing. Conversely, diesel chassis and engines are designed and built to handle the demands of the coach built on them. The frame rails and chassis components are heavy-duty, and the engines and transmissions normally have plenty of power for pulling up hills. The frame design also allows for ample basement storage.
There are other comparison factors as well, such as coach grade. Diesel coaches tend to have higher-grade furnishings and workmanship than gas units (for instance, the use of real versus faux wood). The presence of air brakes and suspension on diesel coaches is another factor. Of course, this all adds to the price tag of the RV.
I have just hit the basics here, so I recommend you visit your local dealerships and peruse different RVs. Generally speaking, the floor plan and sleeping capacity will play a major role in determining which motorhome is right for you. I have focused on motorhomes here, but you may even decide that a travel trailer is better for your family.
In summary, if you plan to purchase a motorhome and intend to keep it for a long time, consider spending the extra money on a diesel coach, as you will save money on fuel and the coach is likely to last longer than a gas model. Under these circumstances, the extra outlay to purchase a diesel coach generally results in a positive return on investment (ROI). However, if you are new to the motorized RV market, I suggest starting with a gas-powered unit and working your way up to a diesel — unless you can make the financial investment at the outset. I realize that gas motorhomes work just fine for many people. By considering the points above, the hope is that you will have a better idea of what may work best for you.