Motorhome Buying FAQ: RV Engines

“I Wanna Pull With My Motorhome, So I’m Gonna Need A Diesel, Right?”

A Run-Down of the most common motors you’ll find in today’s RVs.

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Whether a motorhome burns gas or diesel fuel isn’t necessarily the tell-all indicator of whether it can pull a lot or can’t. There are gassers that can pull their weight with the rest of the diesels and diesels that don’t actually pull any more than most gassers. What REALLY matters more than the type of fuel is torque, suspension, and whether the hitch reciever of the motorhome itself can take the tongue weight of whatever you want to pull without the back bumper ripping off.

CLASS Cs

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A gas-powered class C is built on a chassis of a light (or “light-duty”) truck… think of a pickup like a Ford F-350 or a Ram 3500. You’ve probably seen a lot of these in the form of commercial vehicles that look like big, white vans. As a rule of thumb they’ll have a hitch rating of 2.5 tons (5000 lbs). There are plenty of power variants. You’ve probably noticed some are “Ford E-350” and some are “Ford E-450”, some are Chevrolet, Mercedes… For our purposes, we’re going to call these “standard class Cs” as opposed to “super class Cs” which are built on a different chassis and frame altogether.

“GASSERS”

The Ford “E” series of commercial vehicles differentiates itself from the Ford “F” series of pickup trucks, but will use the same size engine (most often a variant of the Ford “modular” truck engine) and their “F” counterparts; so the E-350 will have a 5.4L Triton V8 and the E-450 will have a 6.8L Triton V10, which is a mainstay of Ford’s “medium duty” commercial trucks on up to the F-650/750 Super Duty.

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The Ford Triton (or Modular) engine is in many ways the industry standard. You’ll find it on 80% of Class Cs as well as most Class As. It’s prevalence has made it pretty familiar with mechanics and you won’t have a problem finding someone to work on it should you need. There are engines that are quieter, and engines that are more powerful, but overall it’s a good engine, and there’s reason it’s the go-to for RV manufacturers. Sure, it burns through a tank of fuel faster than we ideally plan for it to, but then again so do ALL of them, even the Chevys. 🙂

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Then there’s the Chevy Vortecs. I know engine preferences run as deep and hot between truck guys like the feud between the Hadfields and McCoys, but in the authors opinion these are a bit of a step up from the Ford Modulars. I’ve found they’re a little quieter, ride smoother, are very responsive, and it’s true that they ARE objectively more powerful from the factory (not that the Ford DOESN’T get ‘er done, though!). The Vortec that you’ll see in a standard class C is the 6.0L V-8, which some people will call the “small-block”.

DIESELS

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It’s not uncommon to find a standard class C like this Georgie Boy with the Ford Power Stroke 6.0L. This is a turbo diesel V-8 with 325 hp and 570 ft-lbs of peak torque. It’s basically a VT365, used on the International Navistar, that’s been modified to meet stricter emissions requirements. It’s got a lot of power, yes, but this Georgie Boy’s hitch receiver is rated for 5,000 lbs, having more to do with the fact it’s built on the E-450 chassis than anything… proving that even IF it’s a diesel, you should do your homework and check what the manufacturer specifies the vehicle should pull before you assume anything. What you DO get out of a diesel is longevity, more power, better handling on hills and tricky highway situations, and they sound a lot manlier.
(Address 6.0 concerns? Something to do with spark plugs?)

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CLASS As

Now we get to the big boys, the buses! For gas engines you usually have one of two choices

Ford 6.8L Triton V-10
We’ve talked about this one. You’ll find this in the majority of class As. It’s a good motor that gets the job done. You can plan on getting 362 horses and 570 Ft-Lbs of peak torque out of it. In a class A you can plan on pulling 5,000 lbs from the hitch receiver.

Chevy/Workhorse 8.1L Vortec V-8
Also called the “big block” by folks, this is a great motor with a lot going for it. Usually put into higher-end luxury gas motorhomes on a Freightliner chassis, but also found on super class C motorhomes. Peak output on the 8.1 is 325 hp and 450 Ft-Lbs of torque. In a class A expect to pull 5,000 Lbs, in a super C expect to pull 10,000. Here’s another example of how just the engine size and type doesn’t give the final say in how much the motorhome pulls… there’s more to it!

SUPER CLASS Cs

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A “super class C”, like the popular Gulf Stream Conquest series is often built on a Chevy Kodiak truck or an International Navistar truck chassis. These are “medium-duty” trucks that do anything from light freight to garbage disposal in your neighborhood. Maybe your neighbor has the pickup version because it looks tough! You see a lot of Freightliner super class Cs out there too with a Diesel Cummins.
The appeal of these is that they pull MORE and they can give you the spacious feel of a Class A inside. Our Kodiak (with the Vortec 8.1L) we have for sale as of this writing has a hidden hitch receiver rated for 10,000 lbs, and the Navistar motorhomes can pull 15,000.

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