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The Pros And Cons Of Fifth Wheel Trailers

Future RV owners often ask more experienced campers, “What’s the best type of RV?” They quickly learn that it’s an impossible question to answer.

For instance, I can come up with a list of fifth wheel trailer pros, cons, and other considerations, but ultimately the “best type of RV” really depends on a person’s lifestyle and RV budget.

For us, the answer came in the form of a towable RV. Over 100,000 miles later, we have a pretty good idea of what makes fifth wheels great (and sometimes not so great) for RVing.

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fifth wheels
Photo: Wikipedia
Flickr: j2davis2005, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The pros of fifth wheel trailers

  • More living space.

Even a small fifth wheel feels larger inside than a motorhome of the same length. That’s because a fifth wheel interior isn’t cluttered up with a cockpit (steering wheel, dashboard, et cetera). In addition, ceilings are generally taller in fifth wheels, giving even the shortest rig a spacious feeling.

  • Great for going off the beaten path.

A small to moderately-sized fifth wheel trailer and truck combo bends in the middle. When the tow truck has a good hitch like the PullRite Superglide, this combo can also pivot at the attachment point.

The extra maneuverability allows a fifth wheel to safely travel to off-road places that other RVs cannot venture into. Another cool mod you can make to fifth wheel RVs (and something I don’t think you can do to motorhomes) is flipping the axles. This hack gives you better clearance on bumpy mountain roads.

  • Towing a fifth wheel is easier than hauling a trailer.

Placing a fifth wheel hitch inside the center of a pickup truck bed allows for easier driving maneuvers. Backing up, turning, and lane changes are also easier than attempting these things with a trailer behind you. Finally, the dreaded “trailer sway” that happens when side-forces and a poor tow connection overtake a trailer is a non-issue for fifth wheel owners.

  • Ample storage space.

A fifth wheel’s storage space is comparable to a motorhome and exceeds towable trailers. This is a big bonus especially when you’re adding a rooftop solar electric system, because you’ll have more battery storage options.

  • Low cost of ownership.

Even the most luxurious fifth wheels generally have a lower cost of ownership when compared to their closest competitor, a Class A motorhome. The biggest reason fifth wheels are cheaper to own is that you don’t have a secondary on-board engine and drive train to maintain. Fifth wheel tires are also cheaper than motorhome rubber.

The cons of fifth wheel trailers

  • You must have the right tow vehicle.

Fifth wheel trailers require medium to heavy duty pickup trucks to pull them. This is a significant cost to overcome if you need to buy one. The good news is that while it’s expensive to maintain these hefty trucks, they’re not nearly as costly as maintaining a motorhome and towed vehicle.

  • Hitching up and driving takes practice.

Motorhomes are pretty easy to set in motion when compared to a fifth wheel. Hitching and unhitching is an elusive art to newbies, and although hauling a fifth wheel is easier than towing a trailer, it still has challenges that can only be overcome with regular practice.

  • You can’t make sandwiches when you’re in motion.

The biggest downside of a fifth wheel trailer is that you can’t access living quarters when the RV is in motion. But if you’re that hungry when you’re driving, it’s probably time for a break anyways. Pulling over for a few minutes solves the problem.

  • Lack of on-board generator in smaller models.

Smaller fifth wheels (and also trailers) generally lack enough space for an on-board generator. This makes some dry camping situations unbearable because unless you have a really great solar electric power system, you can’t easily run the air conditioner or heater without pulling out your generator from the truck bed.

All RVs have good points, but these are the fifth wheel trailer pros and cons that we discovered over the last nine years. We chose our first Northwood Arctic Fox fifth wheel mainly because we wanted to own a heavy-duty truck and didn’t want to maintain two vehicles.

We also liked that it could go off-roading to more places than a motorhome. Now that we’re on our second fifth wheel we are certain it was a good choice for us but it may not be for others.

In the end, everyone needs to take careful stock of their lifestyle, camping preferences, and of course their budget, to find the RV type that works best for them.

SEE ALSO: Choose the Best Full Time RV in Three Easy Steps



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9 thoughts on “The Pros And Cons Of Fifth Wheel Trailers”

  1. I chose a 35’ Travel Trailer with 3 slides. I have a specialized need in that I travel to astronomy events with a large telescope that won’t fit inside the living area or underneath in the garage.

    I agree that the 5th wheel is more spacious, manuverable and probably more liveable. When I traded in my first TT that was 24’ with no slides, I bought a 3 year old Keystone Cougar High Country for $21,000 plus extended warantee. I was looking at the used 5th wheels, but they seemed to be about $15,000 more.

    There are always trade offs.

  2. Surely a passenger getting out of their seat to access something in the back of an RV is illegal? If a copper here in Australia saw that, both the driver and passenger would incur a fine and the driver would also get demerit points.

  3. I agree that you lose storage space in your tow vehicle with a fifth wheel. We have owned all sorts of RV’s in our travels. From bumper lulls to fifth wheels and currently a class C . We are going to sell the class C and go back to a fifth wheel. I find more space and storage in a fifth wheel. From indoor storage to the large storage compartments under the unit. My husband does most of the driving but I don’t have an issue pulling a fifth wheel. They just pull better. No sway and easier to manuver. The inside has more room than the bumper pull trailers. We also can put what we need in the bed of our truck. I sure it’s a matter of preference but for my retired husband and I, I prefer a fifth wheel.

  4. My wife and I have had three trailers, three fifth wheels and one brand new decked out motorhome which we sold in one year! Having had them all, I would have to agree that all have some good points and some bad points. Each person has to really think through their type of travel and determine which set of compromises they are most willing to live with. As for us, after we sold our Class A we bought a brand new fifth wheel trailer and new GMC Duramax 3500HD to pull it with. We are once again Happy Campers! One important note to consider, DO NOT assume that you can just get up and walk around your motorhome while it is in motion! Things happen fast and if you have to hit the brakes quickly your wife, husband, dog etc. could be launched through the window at 60 mph!! YES, it has happened and many injuries happen due to such events. It isn’t worth it just to make a sandwich or to grab a Coke from the refer.

  5. Just traded a new 2017 travel trailer for a 2016 5th wheel for many of the reasons in this article. Set up is much easier and faster with the 5th wheel with the auto leveling system.
    Mel

  6. My son can carry 2 kayaks on top of his truck, & in the truck bed, my handicapped scooter, a16 in bike and power wheels car for our granddaughter. His 5th wheel is 36 ft. We pull a 35 ft 5th and carry my handicapped scooter and walker, with room to spare in the truck bed.

  7. I’ve owned both, 29′ Arctic Fox tag along and now a 33′ Hitchhiker 5th wheel. The Arctic Fox was an excellent rig but 900 lbs of weight on the bumper hitch, need stout suspension with air pads, turning radius was large, and there was sway. 5th wheel could almost hit 90 degrees, especially true backing rig. Ceiling height was substantially lower than 5th wheel, i was living in a large box. Yes you have full use of truck bed, but with 5th wheel you still have use of much of the bed, just can’t pile as high or store long objects like a canoe due to the additional turning radius. I absolutely prefer the 5th wheel, it pulls better, safer, don’t have the additional length of the trailer tongue and backs into spaces easier. 33′ is marginal for many spaces and RV parks, esp. any government parks. If used for just for recreational purposes I would get a 29′.

  8. Another Con is 5th wheels are very tall, not good for offroad either, unless you’ve got a lot of bed rail clearance.

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