Glossary: Key Terms to Know About Your Motorhome and RV

camper van on rural road

Class B motorhomes, RV’s and camper vans are fantastic for traveling and experiencing the thrill of a road trip. With so many gadgets and accommodations offering ease and comfort during your travels, it easy to understand why van travel is enjoyed by so many.

It doesn’t take a motor head to handle a motorhome; however, having a strong base knowledge of some of the in’s and out’s of your recreational vehicle can be really handy! Below is a glossary of motorhome key terms that you should be acquainted with:

12 Volt-DC: The motorhome’s main electrical system. This 12-volt current supplies the lighting, stereo, water pump, heater fan and other equipment. Very important, since you’re 12 Volt-DC is what keeps your motorhome self-contained.

120 Volt-AC: Also can be referred to as a “shore power” (see below). This can be hooked up to your RV or motorhome to act as a generator.

Awning: A canvas extension that goes over the patio area to provide cover from sun or rain.

Axle Ratio: Number of revolutions necessary to turn an axel one time.

Axle Weight: The amount of weight carried by a single axle and the amount of weight transmitted to the highway by the axle.

Backup monitoring system: A system which allows the driver to see what’s going on behind the motorhome via a camera attached to the vehicle’s rear. The display monitor is typically located aside the driver’s dashboard.

Basement model: A motorhome with a large compartment for storage below the living quarters.

Boondocking: A term commonly used by motorhome enthusiasts to mean camping at sites that don’t have conveniences such as water, electricity and sewer hookups. This can also be referred to as “primitive” or “dry” camping. When boondocking, the reliance for power comes from batteries or solar panels.

Box: The living space of a class A motorhome.

Breakaway System: An emergency device used to prevent a towed vehicle from dislodging from the motorhome. These can be part of the motorhome’s braking system or sold as a separate accessory.

British Thermal Unit (BTU): Air conditioners and furnaces use a BTU rating –the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

Bus conversion: A bus that is converted into a motorhome. The interior of a new or formally commercialized bus can be remodeled to accommodate motorhome travel.

Cab-over-bed: Mostly common in type C motorhomes. A cab-over-bed is a space above the driver’s and passenger’s seats for sleeping or storage.

Captain’s chairs: Chairs that often swivel and which are located in the cockpit or mid section of an RV or motorhome. The ability to swivel creates comfortable seating when dining or resting.

Chassis: The steel frame that holds the steering and suspension systems, engine and running gear. The chassis is where the body section of the motorhome is mounted.

Chassis battery: Also known as the SLI (starting, lights, ignition) battery. This battery is used to start the motorhome and power the 12-volt DC components of the drivetrain.

Cockpit: The front of the motorhome where the driver and passenger sit. Most controls to the vehicle are located in this area.

Converter/Charger: The converter or charger converts 120 volts AC to 12 volts DC. It can recharge 12-volt batteries.

Crowned roof: A roof of a motorhome that is curved instead of flat. The curved shape is usually stronger and allows for better water runoff.

Curb weight: The weight of the vehicle empty, without passengers or payload.

Curbside: The side of the motorhome that is closer to the curb.

Delamination: A failure of adhesive within the laminated assembly (components such as the roof, sidewall or floor).

Diesel engine: A more powerful and durable engine compared to gasoline engines. Diesels are more common in type A motorhomes and bus conversions. Very little repairs before the 250,000-mile mark.

Diesel puller: A motorhome with a diesel engine in the front.

Diesel pusher: A motorhome with a diesel engine in the back.

Dump station: A location where you can dump holding tanks for free. Located around the country at public sites such as rest areas or service stations.

Fit and finish: In reference to the quality of construction in a motorhome, such as the manufacturing of blinds, upholstery, cabinets and drivability.

Flat towing: Towing a vehicle behind a motorhome with the intent to unhook it for local driving or sightseeing. It is very important to make sure the vehicle you plan on towing can, in fact, be towed.

Full-hookups: A campsite with water, electricity and sewer systems.

Full-timer: People who live in motorhomes all year long.

Galley: The kitchen area of a motorhome.

Generator: The generator supplies the motorhome with 120-volt AC power when the vehicle is not plugged into an external power source.

Genset: An abbreviation for “generator.”

Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR): The maximum amount of weight allowed on a single axle assembly when the tires meet the ground.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): The maximum weight of the vehicle (includes passengers, liquids and cargo).

Holding tanks: The tanks that hold water gray water (shower, sink, lavatory). Various holding tanks may also hold black water (toilet waste) as well as freshwater (water used by the occupants).

Hookups: Electricity, water and sewer services that are offered at a campsite and can be accessed by connecting to the motorhome’s 12-volt AC power system. This can include cable and internet connections as well.

Inverter: Converts a 12-volt direct current to a 120-volt alternating current.

Laminate: Refers to panels or various flat layers that are bonded to create a homogenous structure. Laminate is how the motorhome’s wall, floor and roof are constructed together. In higher-end motorhome construction, laminate manufacturing is commonly used.

Leveling system: Systems used to level the motorhome while it is parked. After reaching your campsite, you may want to level your motorhome to help stabilize things such as drains, your refrigerator and other items. Leveling systems can be automatic or portable.

Liquid weights: The ratio of pounds per gallon for water, gasoline, diesel fuel and liquid propane.

Micro-mini: A small type C motorhome.

Motorhome: A self-contained vehicle that propels itself. They typically contain a sleeping area, kitchen, eating space and sanitary facilities.

OEM: An abbreviation for original equipment manufacturer.

Partial hookups: A campsite that offers only water and electricity.

Pass through storage: Accessible exterior compartments that span the full width of the motorhome.

Pilot/Co-pilot: The driver and the passenger.

Polystyrene insulation: A thin layer of insulation within the construction of the coach. There is expanded and extruded insulation.

Pull-through site: A campsite that requires the driver to drive through to access the camping space. These are easier than back in sites, which can be difficult to maneuver into.

Shore power: This refers to electricity powered by an external source.

Slide out: An additional feature to a type A or C motorhome that extends the living space by about 3½ feet.

Snowbird: Those who travel south in the winter in their motorhome. Popular winter destinations are California, Florida, Arizona and Texas.

Subfloor: An area below the floor for storage.

Supplemental breaking system: A separate system that helps control a vehicle being towed. The combination of the coach and towed vehicle creates a greater demand for a stronger breaking system.

Tow bar: A tool that connects the car or other towed vehicle to the van, allowing it to be transported with all four wheels on the ground.

Tow-dolly: A short, two wheeled trailer that is attached to the motorhome to transport a car with two of the vehicle’s wheels off the ground.

Trailer: A device that allows the vehicle to be transported with all four wheels off the ground. This is the way to ensure the least amount of wear to a towed vehicle.

Tubular steel roll bar: A steel cab component that increases the stability of a coach.

Type A motorhome: The largest type of recreation vehicle. Everything needed for living is accessible on a type A. The house structure is built on a bare, specially-made chassis.

Type B motorhome: Conversions built on automotive van chassis. These are the smallest, self-contained motorhomes. They can contain eating, sleeping and bathroom facilities. Easy to park and drive compared to other motorhomes. Class B’s have the best fuel economy. They can have raised roofs to create greater interior space, and they have smaller holding tanks than type A’s.

Type C motorhome: Type C motorhomes are smaller versions of a type A. They can be built on truck chassis. These are easier to park and drive than type A’s. Many have cab-over bunk sleeping areas. In between a type A and type B.

Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW): The weight of the vehicle with full fuel. Does not include fresh water, cargo or dealer-installed accessories.

Vacuum-laminated: A method in coach construction that adheres portions of the motorhome, such as the walls.

Welded tubular steel: A sub frame between the chassis and the coach.

Wet-weight: The weight of the empty motorhome with full fuel, liquid propane and water. This number is used as an indication to how much weight can be added to the vehicle.

Wheelbase: The distance between the center and the front wheels on the motorhome.

Wide body: A motorhome that is wider than 8 ft.