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The ABCs of RVs: A Glossary of Common RV Terms

As professional travelers we had to adopt certain accepted terms from the RV world in order to correctly describe the vehicles. Here are a few of the terms you'll need to know to get along in the RV world.

July 2004 -- As professional travelers we had to adopt certain accepted terms from the RV world in order to correctly describe the vehicles. Here are a few of the terms you'll need to know to get along in the RV world:

Airbag: In RV terms, a sort of shock absorber positioned at the forward and rear axles of a motor home.

Arctic Pack: Also spelled Arctic Pac and Arctic Pak, an optional kit to insulate RVs for winter camping.

Auxiliary battery: Extra battery to run 12-volt equipment.

Basement model: An RV that uses large storage areas under a raised chassis.

Bunkhouse: An RV area containing bunk beds instead of regular beds.

Cab-over: Part of a type C mini-motor home overlapping the top of the vehicle's cab, usually containing a sleeping area, storage, or entertainment center.

Camper shell: Removable unit to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity): The maximum permissible weight of all pets, personal belongings, food, tools, and other supplies you can carry in your motor home. This is the GVWR minus the UVW (see below).

Cassette toilet: Toilet with a small holding tank that can be removed from outside the vehicle in order to empty it.

Cockpit: The front of a motorized RV where the pilot (driver) and copilot (navigator) sit.

Coupler: The part of the trailer that hooks to the hitch ball.

Crosswise: A piece of furniture arranged across the RV from side to side rather than front to rear. Curbside: The side of the RV that would be at the curb when parked.

Curb weight: The weight of an RV unit without water in the holding tanks but with automotive fluids such as fuel, oil, and radiator coolant.

Diesel pusher: A motor home with a rear diesel engine.

Drink holders: Fitted wood or plastic devices attached to the dashboard area designed to hold cups or cans steady while the RV is moving.

Dry weight or unloaded weight: Manufacturer's weight estimate with no passengers, fuel, water, or supplies.

Entry level: A price deemed attractive for first-time RV buyers.

Garden tub: A bathtub angled into the bathroom so plants can be put on the wide edges against the corner walls.

Gaucho: Sofa/dinette bench that converts into a sleeping unit; a term less used now than formerly.

Generator: Small engine fueled by gasoline or propane that produces 110-volt electricity, built into many RVs but also available as a portable option.

Gooseneck: A colloquial name for fifth-wheel travel trailers.

GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating): The maximum permissible weight that can be carried by an axle with weight evenly distributed through the vehicle.

GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating): The maximum allowable weight for the combination of vehicle, tow vehicle, passengers, cargo, and all fluids (water, fuel, propane, and so on).

GTWR (Gross Trailer Weight Rating): The maximum allowable weight of a fully loaded tow vehicle.

GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight): Total weight of a fully equipped and loaded RV with passengers, gas, oil, water, and baggage; must not be greater than the vehicle's GVWR.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating): The amount of total loaded weight a vehicle can support; determined by the manufacturer, this amount must not be exceeded.

Hard-sided: RV walls made of aluminum or other hard surface.

High profile: A fifth-wheel trailer with a higher-than-normal front to allow more than 6 feet of standing room inside the raised area.

Hitch: The fastening unit that joins a movable vehicle to the vehicle that pulls it.

Hitch ratings: The maximum amount of weight the hitch can handle-Class I up to 2,000 pounds, Class II up to 3,500 pounds, Class III up to 7,500 pounds, Class IV up to 10,000 pounds, and Class V up to 14,000 pounds. A fifth-wheel hitch can handle up to 25,000 pounds.

Holding tanks: Tanks that retain wastewater when the RV unit is not connected to a sewer. The gray-water tank holds wastewater from the sinks and shower; the black-water tank holds sewage from the toilet.

Inverter: A unit that changes 12-volt direct current to 110-volt alternating current to allow operation of computers, TV sets, and such when an RV is not hooked up to electricity.

Island queen: Not Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani, but a queen-sized bed with walking space on both sides.

Leveling: Positioning the RV in camp so it will be level, using ramps (also called levelers) under the wheels, built-in scissors jacks, or power leveling jacks.

Pop-up: Foldout or raised additions to an RV that add height for standing room.

Porta-Potti: Brand name for a portable plastic toilet frequently used in folding camping trailers without facilities.

Self-contained: An RV that needs no external connections to provide short-term cooking, bathing, and heating and could park overnight anywhere.

Shore cord: The external electrical cord that connects the vehicle to a campground electrical hookup.

Slide-out: A unit that slides open when the RV is parked to expand the living area.

Soft-sides: Telescoping side panels on an RV that can be raised or lowered, usually constructed of canvas or vinyl and mesh netting.

Solar panels: Battery chargers that convert sunlight to direct current electricity.

Street side: The part of the vehicle on the street side when parked.

Tail swing: The rear motion of a motor home built on a short chassis with a long rear overhang when the vehicle turns sharply; in simpler terms, the reason we knocked down that road sign when we came out of the driveway.

Telescoping: Compacting from front to back and/or top to bottom to make the living unit smaller for towing and storage.

Three-way refrigerators: Appliances that can operate on a 12-volt battery, propane, or 110-volt electrical power.

Tow car: A car towed by an RV to be used as transportation when the RV is parked in a campground; also called a dinghy.

Turning radius: The distance across the diameter of an arc in which a vehicle can turn.

UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight): The weight with full fuel, water, LPG, driver, and passenger weights.

Wide body: Designs that stretch RVs from the traditional 96-inch width to 100 or 102 inches.

Winterize: To prepare the RV for winter use or storage.


In addition to the verbiage in this section, you've got to learn a few numbers to talk the RV talk since most (but not all) RV manufacturers use as model numbers an abbreviated code that can give you basic information about the vehicle -- 28 RQ, for instance, will often mean a 28-foot vehicle with a rear queen bed, and 34 D may mean a 34-foot diesel pusher.