With more options, RVs are bringing a younger set aboard

Times Staff Writer

Half a century ago, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz traveled hill and dale in “The Long, Long Trailer.” The nation hasn’t been the same since.

The 1954 MGM film, in which a honeymooning couple encounters a mountain of problems, gave the audience a good look at the pros and cons of vacationing on wheels.

Now the baby boomers who as children laughed at Ball’s antics are buying recreational vehicles in increasing numbers, boosting U.S. ownership to record levels.

The $12-billion RV industry, whose products range from basic fold-up trailers to plush million-dollar-plus motor homes, is thriving, especially in Southern California, the country’s largest RV market.

Buyers ages 35 to 54 are driving the gains, according to a University of Michigan study. The survey showed the average age of RV buyers has fallen from the early 60s to 49. The study also found that nearly one in 12 families that drive has an RV — that’s nearly 7 million households.

RV rentals have boomed since 9/11, as many travelers explore destinations closer to home. And rentals continue to be popular for beginners like Lucy and Desi. Many people advise novice RVers to rent rather than buy for their first experience and allow at least a week to see whether they enjoy the lifestyle.


Types of RVs

There are two basic types: units that can be towed by a car or truck and self-contained vehicles that have an engine. Most rentals today are mini-motor home or motor home units, but trailers are sometimes available.

The least expensive towable RVs are folding camping trailers (priced from $3,600), which can sleep four comfortably and, in most cases, can be pulled behind the family car and unfolded at the campsite. Some have toilets.

Truck campers, which slide onto the bed of a pickup, have living and sleeping units that can accommodate up to six people; prices start at about $4,500. Truck campers can tow motorcycles or a second vehicle, such as a boat, on a trailer.

The mini-motor home can resemble a van, with convertible multiuse furnishings such as seats or dinettes that unfold into beds. Or it can be truck style, with a bed installed over the cab and additional beds that fold out from a sofa or dinette in the living area. Unlike a van conversion, a mini-motor home has a toilet, sink and shower. Prices start at about $42,000.

A full-size motor home usually has at least one queen- or king-size bed, a full bathroom and an additional sleeping area converted from a sofa or dinette. Prices begin at about $45,000.

Self-contained RVs do not need external hookups every night; the propane-fueled stove, refrigerator and heater operate wherever the unit is parked. Holding tanks keep a supply of fresh water and can store sewage from the sinks and toilet for two or three days before needing to be emptied.

Campground directories list campgrounds in national and state parks, and those provided by the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

When shopping for an RV, visit dealers in the area and attend local RV shows advertised in newspapers and on TV.

Helpful resources

Go RVing: Get a free 16-minute video on types of RVs from this organization, which is a coalition of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn., Recreation Vehicle Dealers Assn., National Assn. of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) and leading state RV and campground associations. Go RVing has travel tips and lists of nearby RV dealers and campgrounds. 15887 Crabbs Branch Way, Rockville, MD 20853; (888) GO-RVING (467-8464), .

Recreation Vehicle Dealers Assn.: Get information on buying or renting an RV. 3930 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030; (703) 591-7130, . Also contact the affiliated Recreation Vehicle Rental Assn. (same address, phone and website).

Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn.: RV manufacturers, shows and clubs. 1896 Preston White Drive, Department M, Reston, VA 20191; (703) 620-6003, .


RV rentals

Besides the companies below, many RV dealers also rent units. Check your local phone book and compare prices.

Altman’s Winnebago, 22020 Recreation Road, Carson, CA 90745; (310) 518-6182, .

Cruise America, 2233 E. 223rd St., Carson, CA 90810; (800) 327-7799, .

El Monte RV, 12818 Firestone Blvd., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670; (800) 367-3687 or (562) 404-9300, .


Campground directories

Kampgrounds of America Inc.: KOA, P.O. Box 30558, Billings, MT 59114; (406) 248-7444, .

National Assn. of RV Parks & Campgrounds: A trade association that represents the commercial RV park and campground industry in the United States. 113 Park Ave., Falls Church, VA 22046; (703) 241-8801, .

National Recreation Reservation Service: Reserve a campsite through this service, a joint program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. P.O. Box 140, Ballston Spa, NY 12020; (877) 444-6777, .

Woodall’s Campground Directory: Woodall Publications Corp., 2575 Vista del Mar Drive, Ventura, CA 93001; (800) 323-9076,