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I'm always getting these types of mobile homes mixed up. Could someone please explain the difference between the following?

  1. A mobile home. Is this any home that can be towed by a car? Is this commonly used in both dialects?
  2. In the US: recreational vehicle sometimes called an RV.
    Which of the two names is more common in the US? Are British people familiar with this term? If not, what's the most common name for this type of home in the the UK?
  3. A caravan, either the colourful gypsy caravan, or the British English one. I don't think Americans use this term. What would it be called in the US? Is it No.4?

  4. A trailer is this also another name for a "recreational vehicle"? What's the difference?

  5. In Italy the term ‘il camper’ is used for most types of holiday homes driven by motor vehicles. Do British people and Americans use this term? What is the difference between a camper and a caravan? Is one term more outdated than the other?

  • What about the term roulotte?:google.it/… – user5267 Nov 15 '16 at 11:03
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    Usually called an RV, rarely called a "recreational vehicle". A trailer has no motor of its own. It is attached to a pickup truck or powerful SUV. Yes, camper is used in AmE; it has fold-out tents and awnings. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 15 '16 at 11:36
  • I'd also be interested in the Australian version. Don't they pull a Fifth wheel with a Ute? – Chenmunka Nov 15 '16 at 14:40
  • @Chenmunka - is "roulotte" used in AmE or BrE as far as you know? – user5267 Nov 15 '16 at 16:13
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    @AbsoluteBeginner: No, not as far as I know. – Chenmunka Nov 15 '16 at 16:18
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I can give you a British English definition as I own such vehicles...

A caravan is a trailer towed by a car:

Caravan

A camper van (or campervan) is a van of ~1 ton converted for sleeping & cooking. These are typically VW Transporters or Mazda Bongos. There are still huge numbers of lovingly preserved VW campervans on the roads (I have a classic T2 and a T5):

Campervan

A Motorhome is a purpose built vehicle, larger than a campervan. These are coachbuilt onto a commercial chassis. The chassis are usually Peugeot or Fiat. They come in varying sizes but are rarely more than 3tons:

Motorhome

You will find people "in the scene" who get very picky about how their vehicles are described. Some people will get upset if you refer to their motorhome as a camper for example.

We British do recognise the term RV as being an American equivalent. However, in Britain, when applied to British vehicles, the term is usually only used for the very large:

Large RV

  • Excellent answer, so for instance calling a caravan a "camper" is completely wrong?. – Mari-Lou A Nov 15 '16 at 10:41
  • @Mari-LouA: Calling a caravan a van for short is acceptable. Calling a caravan a camper may irritate a purist. Most users of all of these vehicles are pretty laid back though - only being pedantic about terminology when discussing their prides and joy with the like-minded. – Chenmunka Nov 15 '16 at 10:45
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    As far as I know a "trailer" is always a generic term for anything that you attach to the back of another vehicle (when you say the term in isolation at least to a British person they'd think of something more like towbarswales.co.uk/wpimages/wpa23d1f21_05_06.jpg ). But I sometimes hear Americans talking about "trailer parks", so presumably where the context is clear it can be used to specifically refer to what we Brits would call "caravans". In British English there's also a "static caravan" which is a caravan that CAN be towed but is designed to stay in one place most of the time. – Muzer Nov 15 '16 at 12:59
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    You missed mobile home, which are often not very mobile at all. – TRiG Nov 15 '16 at 14:30
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    @JackAidley: Mobile Home is widely used in British English. However, as TRIG suggests, they aren't very mobile. Often found in seaside resorts as weekend retreats. – Chenmunka Mar 27 at 13:46
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In American English...

A mobile home is a generic term for a purpose-built "vehicle", designed to be lived in and transported around. It may be either self propelled, or a towed trailer (hence the scare quotes on vehicle). A mobile home necessarily includes sleeping quarters, a toilet, and (usually) a bathing facility. They also have specialized connections for hooking up to gas, water, or electricity points. The important connotation here is something able to be easily moved, and suitable to live in long term.

An RV is necessarily self propelled, and fully capable of being driven legally on highways or interstates. This is not to be confused with other recreational vehicles (e.g. ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, etc.); while that's what RV stands for, usage of the full words to mean a vehicle you can live in is extremely rare. An RV is a fully fledged mobile home.

A motorhome is the same thing as an RV.

A trailer is necessarily not self propelled, and must be towed by another vehicle, possibly requiring a commercial grade cargo truck to move. This term is rather generic, though, because trailers vary greatly in size and quality. Trailers are not necessarily fully fledged mobile homes, but we do sometimes use the term trailer home to indicate a large, nice, or more permanent trailer, which is a proper mobile home. The term trailer park refers to a dedicated piece of land for (many) people to lease and live on, permanently, with appropriate utility connections. Trailer is often - but not necessarily - used in a pejorative sense. People who live in trailer parks are generally viewed as poor, uneducated, and uncultured; they're trailer trash. Mobile home and RV do not permit this negative connotation, and if someone makes a point of telling you they live in a trailer home, then they're usually signalling that they are not trailer trash.

A camper is a specific kind of trailer. It is small, able to be towed by a standard car or truck, and used for traveling or camping outdoors. It is not suitable for living in permanently, and usually does not have toilet and bathing facilities. Campers may also have sections which expand and collapse, such as the top piece of the camper van in Chenmunka's answer. We don't use the term camper van, though; that specific vehicle is extremely rare, even unheard of.

A caravan is not something you live in. We use this term as a synonym of convoy, but with a more folksy or antiquated connotation, as opposed to the industrial or military one of convoy. It evokes imagery of an old fashioned line of carts traveling along and containing a troupe of performers, tradesmen, or pioneers.

One of the key differences between the British uses is that the American terms don't connote specific brands at all. We are also not picky about swapping different terms around; indeed, which one you hear used predominately depends on the regional dialect. Taking dialects into account, mobile home, RV, and trailer are roughly interchangeable. Yes, even though I just said RV and trailer technically are exclusive categories, it is possible to hear them used to mean the same thing (a generic mobile home), depending on where you are in the US.

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    I have to take issue with your description of mobile home. In the middle U.S., this is unequivocally a complete structure, with bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, hallways, all the full size one would expect in a permanent frame-built house. It is designed to be a permanent residence for a small family. The mobile part comes at a fair degree of difficulty of expense. The structure often has to be partially disassembled, then jacked or lifted by a crane onto a wheel base, where it can then be hooked onto a commercial towing vehicle, i.e. a semi-truck. – cobaltduck Nov 15 '16 at 15:07
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    I was born in the Midwest and that's simply false. If you told people there I live in a mobile home, the definition that springs to mind first is RV or trailer, not the technical term of art you're suggesting. – Esoteric Screen Name Nov 15 '16 at 15:14
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    I'm from the Great Lakes region, lived for a decade in California, and now live in the Great Plains. Everywhere I have lived, a mobile home is a prefabricated house —as seen in all the top hits of this Google Image search. They're mobile primarily in the sense that they are built in one location, and then moved to their eventual (probably permanent) installation. What is described in your first paragraph is a motor home. – 1006a Nov 15 '16 at 16:14
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    @1006a: I think there is more of a distinction between mobile homes and prefabricated houses. A mobile home generally has its own frame & suspension, and could be moved (even if it never is in practice). In many states, they require a license as a motor vehicle, and are generally found in mobile home parks, where the parking space is leased. Prefabricated houses are hauled on trailers, placed on their own permanent foundations, and for tax purposes are treated exactly as a stick-built house. And both are distinct from an RV, motor home, or camping trailer. – jamesqf Nov 15 '16 at 17:00
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    @jamesqf I imagine you're correct from a licensing (and sales) point of view; however, in casual usage I think folks use them fairly interchangeably. See, for example, this explanation of mobile vs manufactured vs modular homes (distinct regulatory differences, but "Mobile Home is often used interchangeably with the term Manufactured Home"; note also that this website's company is located in Washington State, so another geographic data point). – 1006a Nov 15 '16 at 17:20

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