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Travel Trailers, RV’s and Fifth Wheels What are they made Of?

Have you ever noticed that the majority of the recreational vehicles out there appear identical?  Consequently, it can be quite difficult for an average person to comprehend how well they are constructed. A lot of research might be required to understand this, so we dug a little deeper into this subject and came up with the following article to throw some light on the different materials from which the RVs are constructed. As a matter of fact, when these RVs were first introduced, travel trailers did not have access to the modern technology available now nor the state of the art facilities which they are produced. So with that being said: What are travel trailers RV’s and Fifth Wheels made from?


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The Structure of a Travel Trailer is constructed with three main materials, Aluminum, Fiberglass, and Wood. Aluminum happens to be the best choice for the framing or the “cage” of the unit because it is lightweight, durable and rust free. Being lighter as well as cheaper not to mention rust free, aluminum is what has captured the market on framing. Moreover, steel tends to rust and corrode easily while exposed to natural elements. Exteriors are steadily moving exclusively toward fiberglass as a nicer fit and finish that tends to be very easy to maintain. Although you will come across aluminum RVs on the market at present, it can be rightly asserted that the future of the exterior or “shell” is fiberglass. Wood is still an essential element in the construction not only for its ability to insulate but also because of its availability, flexibility and is the easiest material to work with, adhere and fasten.


Features Determining the Quality of an RV:

You cannot judge the value of an object by its price. Although many campers appear good and are also quite expensive, they might not be able to live up to your expectations in the long run. Below, we have penned down some essential elements that should be featured by a standard travel trailer:

  1. Sufficient storage space
  2. The space that can be used
  3. Conveniently positioned TV sets
  4. Rounded corners on the counters
  5. Easy access to toilet facilities
  6. Dining areas able to accommodate at least 4 adults
  7. Mid-level microwave ovens

The Structure of a Standard RV:

As mentioned previously there are three essential materials employed in creating the structure of a standard RV, namely, aluminum, fiberglass, and wood.

Below, we will talk about all these materials in detail.


Among all these, aluminum happens to be the best choice since it is durable, lightweight, will not rust and is resistant to bugs.

Moreover, aluminum can also enhance gas mileage because of its resilience as well as being lightweight.

One of the notable features of the aluminum in trailers is the flexibility in shaping aluminum when necessary; not everything is squared-off during construction. Flexibility happens to be one more advantage in using aluminum.

Moreover, there is a  significant benefit in using aluminum in the affordable price which makes it appropriate for any first-time purchaser who is trying to find whether a full-time RV lifestyle is financially feasible. This also implies that in case the aluminum trailer becomes damaged due to some unavoidable reason, you can easily replace the damaged components without significant effort.

During the cold winter months, if you happen to be outside for a considerable period of time, it will soon be evident to you that dressing in layers will be much better. Having more layers will help you to remain more protected from the natural elements. The same is true in case of your RV as well.

Aluminum in campers usually consists of the aluminum framing on the inside along with fiberglass insulation, wooden enhancements plus dead air space underneath. This space will provide extra warmth, unlike the other insulation types.

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There is no doubt about the fact that fiberglass stands ahead in the competition for the exterior as compared to aluminum.

There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, it is very easy to maintain, fiberglass which is quite durable as compared to aluminum and other materials.

In case you are viewing your travel trailer as an investment, the resale value of fiberglass is going to be much higher.

Most first-time RVers start with a travel trailer and need to maintain a good trade-in value. It will also be appropriate in case you would like to save money on the gas mileage of your tow vehicle. The two important aspects of gas mileage happen to be weight as well as aerodynamics, and fiberglass RVs are usually much lighter as compared to the other RVs out there.

On top of this, the fiberglass models happen to be more streamlined in shape which offers superior ergonomics as well.

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According to many experienced full-timers, wood is not appropriate when it comes to travel given that it is vulnerable to water damage. However, the problem does not lie with wood, but with how well the travel trailer has been constructed using wood.

In case your RV is not assembled correctly, there will always be a possibility of moisture entering into the wooden frame causing significant damage. Make it a point to ask specific questions to the salesman while buying the RV.

Several of these questions can be as follows:
    • How was this travel trailer constructed?
    • What was done by the manufacturer to stop water from entering the roof or walls?
  • Did they make use of screws, staples or nails?

Wood will offer the power of insulation, will bend as required and then return to the original configuration over the course of time even if slight moisture was involved.

The main benefits of using wood will be its inexpensive cost, resilience to the elements as well as simplicity of maintenance.

Amongst the most significant drawbacks, mention may be made of its heavyweight, difficulty in terms of cleaning as well as vulnerability to permanent water damage. Wood is going to be suitable for any individual who has a constrained budget.

RV purchasers having lightweight towing requirements should try to refrain from using wood as the main construction material.

A Brief Note on Travel Trailer Construction:

In the past, the majority of the RVs are constructed from steel frames which are riveted or welded together.

What is more significant is the way in which the metal is safeguarded from different types of elements.

Frames can be undercoated similarly to the automotive industry, which adds durability and longevity.

The floor, walls and the ceiling of the travel trailers are framed using metal, wood and to some extent fiberglass as well.

Inside, wood is preferred by lots of companies because of its affordability, flexibility as well as durability.

Both high-end, as well as low-end products, are made from wood.

Although steel and aluminum are used for RV framing, they typically are applied to the midrange and higher products because of the additional expenses which are involved with the fabrication as well as the material.

You will find aluminum in almost every type of RV, while steel is usually applied to the motorhomes.

Even though steel is usually welded, you might even come across aluminum which is welded as well. Either way, these systems will deliver the goods for you.

In spite of the fact that metal framing will not be subject to rotting unlike the wooden framings, the encircling wooden paneling will nevertheless decompose in a moist area.

Currently installed items including windows which need weather stripping will be able to minimize leakage problems along with any other types of damage irrespective of the framing type.

There are even RV’s constructed with glass bodies which have been molded into a few pieces similar to a boat hull.

In all of these cases, the fiberglass body is going to serve as the primary framing element as well as the external skin while the manufacturer is going to add metal reinforcements with the purpose of serving as mounting points for the cabinets and so on.

It is a fact that a body made of fiberglass is going to be durable as well as corrosion-resistant; however, it might as well be a bit heavy in case it has been built with resilient standards.

Laminated versus Built-Up

RV construction can be categorized into a couple of categories, namely, laminated or built-up.

By built-up construction, we refer to the procedure of assembling the floor, walls or roof structure one by one at the time of the construction process.

For instance, the internal skin and wall framing are assembled as well as installed on the floor which is followed by the external skin as the ultimate step. This particular price is still used mainly for the lower-end travel trailers even though you will find it across the spectrum of RV quality levels and prices. At times, it can be easier to fix a build-up rig given that the parts are not fused together implying that it is quite easy to separate them for repair as well as a replacement.

By laminated construction, we usually refer to a procedure by which the internal framing, wall surface, RV siding, insulation as well as the external wall are joined with one another into one unit using a top quality adhesive. This particular unit, whether it is a wall, roof, camper siding or floor, is assembled layer-wise while the adhesive is placed between each layer.

The pressure is applied to the whole structure until the adhesive is dry and the bond following which the unit will be moved so that it can be installed as one single large segment. The pressure can be applied using pinch rollers: a vacuum process that makes use of a large press which applies the pressure while a vacuum is applied. The structure which is obtained as a result happens to be quite strong and lightweight not to mention durable as well.

However, the most important issue here happens to be delamination that might still take place in case the adhesives have not adhered properly or the assembly process is improperly done. It is quite difficult to repair this type of assembly given that it is almost impossible to re-laminate the walls.

Skin Deep

It is a matter of debate which one is better, fiberglass or aluminum. Both have drawbacks and benefits and are used on lower-end as well as higher-end travel trailers.

These materials are quite resilient as well as effective just like the RV skins. There is no reason to ignore a particular RV model in case it consists of wrong skin material while the rest of the features are able to satisfy your requirements.

Aluminum is available in two types:
    1. Large smooth panels which are usually found on the higher-end models
  1. Corrugated panel stocks which are assembled in interlocking segments and usually employed on lower-end RVs.

It is quite easy to repair the corrugated panels given that you can easily remove the panel and they can also be replaced easily.

Bodywork is possible in case it is painted; however, while using polished aluminum panels it is imperative to replace the whole section which might even require costly riveting as well as other expensive assembly procedures. You will come across fiberglass in several different styles which include smooth and corrugated.

Although the latter type is usually used on the inexpensive RVs. Smooth fiberglass can be found on all types of travel trailer construction in every price range.

The durability of fiberglass has been improved by the manufacturers so that they can last and appear attractive for a longer duration of time as compared to construction in the past.

It is possible to fully paint fiberglass including the graphics as well, referred to as “full-body paint”. Several lines of RVs also make use of fiberglass skin with either painted-on graphics or tape. In general, the more paint used the higher the price.

Roofing Materials

Different types of materials can be used for the RV roofs. Since the roof is going to endure the harshest of the natural elements like ultraviolet rays, heat, rainfall, and wind, it is vital to be resilient in nature.

Apart from being expensive, it is also very easy to repair aluminum which can last for a long time. Although aluminum is usually used for the comparatively inexpensive RVs, they are also sometimes employed on the higher-end products as well. There is one significant drawback linked to aluminum roofs which is that it can create dirty black streaks down the sides of the RV while the oxidation is washed off by rain.

We have also come across EPDM rubber roofs these days including the inexpensive models.

EPDM is quite resilient as well as flexible in nature and you can also work with it easily. Although EPDM can also produce some streaks on the sides of the RV, it is much less as compared to that of aluminum. It can be a challenge to glue EPDM to the substrate, and it might sometimes give way causing bubbles because of the rig’s aerodynamics.

A fiberglass roof will not suffer from any kind of streak during a downpour as compared to other roofing types. Moreover, it is probably the most costly type of roof that you can put on your RV.


After going through the above-mentioned information, the question might arise regarding which construction material to choose. It is important to bear in mind that the reputation of the manufacturer of your RV is of paramount importance when it comes to construction.

The most important deciding factor in the selection of travel trailers is the towing weight. You need to take a look at your truck’s towing capacity as well as the gross vehicle weight rating of the camper. Never purchase any rig which is heavier than what can be towed by your vehicle. Also, listen to the experts for valuable advice in the event you are unsure.

In case you would like the full-time RV life to be more than 10 years, it would be prudent to purchase a rig which is quite durable in nature.

If you go for cleanliness as well as resale value, we prefer fiberglass. However, it is important to look at several of the models available in the market to find out which one is the best for you. It is important to bear in mind that you will never find any particular RV that has got all the features you want; consequently, go for one which you are comfortable with.

As my salesman stated, “I might not find the coach that was has everything you are asking for but I will find one that will make you happy”.


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