RV’s can be towed or they can have their own engine. Motorhomes drive on their own where as there are different type of towable RV’s that need other driving vehicle to pull them.
Many people are confused about fifth wheels and mistake them for travel trailers. And thus many people have this question in mind “are travel trailers and fifth wheels the same”? In this post lets figure out their basic difference and lots of other things about fifth wheels in general.
Fifth wheels and travel trailers are two different types of RV’s. Both are RV types that need to be towed but they have basic difference in the way they are towed. The hitch used for connecting them to the towing vehicle uses different mechanism. There are lots of other differences between the two which also results in the price difference between them.
Main difference between the two
A trailer RV is basically any RV that is towed using a car or truck and does not have engine of its own. For a normal person who hasn’t used any camper previously it could be little difficult to identify the difference between the two. Both of them will not have any engine of their own and need to be towed using a car or truck. Lets discuss all the basic difference in their operation and performance.
1. Fifth wheel hangs on the bed of a truck
Fifth wheel basically need a truck with a bed over which its part would hang. This is not the case in case of travel trailer where it is attached at the rear end of the car. So, basically you would be sacrificing some part of the truck as it will be used by the hitch connections. The overall length of the fifth wheel plus the truck is thus reduced. With such a overlapping connection the 5th wheel is little better in terms of stability.
2. Hitch difference
A travel trailer is connected to the car or trucks bumper on the other hand a fifth wheel has to be connect to the bed of the truck. Travel trailer uses a ball and coupler hitch where as fifth wheel is connected using a jaw hitch.
Fifth wheel due to its unique connection remains more stable as compared to hard sided travel trailer. Travel trailer uses a traditional hitch that will be little difficult to use, where as fifth wheel hitch is easier to connect and is also specially designed.
Easier towing: Modern 5th wheels are easier to tow, but backing up both of them remains a challenge. But, with practice you can always master backing up, or taking turn or u turns. The hitch control is also better in case of 5th wheels. The towing hitch used for fifth wheel is little bigger and will take up space in the truck bed. Remember a goosneck hitch is different as compared to fifth wheel hitch. Goosneck is used in case of industrial trailers where as fifth wheel hitch is used for recreational RV towing.
3. Interior – multiple level
A fifth wheel generally has multiple level interior. What this means is your bedroom and living area will not be at same level. While this type of interior may have its own advantages, but some people do find it difficult to move around. With this kind of different level floor you get good privacy and it gives a complete different feel. The noise from one area to another also remains insulated. Travel trailer are normally designed and you wouldn’t find such multiple levels in them.
4. Tow vehicle seating capacity is reduced in Fifth wheel
Obviously when your trailing RV will be hanging on the truck bed, the seating capacity would be slashed half. The truck to be used for towing will also not provide for much storage. The travel trailer towing car will continue to provide the full seating capacity. Remember, traveling in a moving fifth wheel and travel trailer is prohibited by law in almost all states so there is no question of that.
5. Overall length reduction in fifth wheels
Although it will eat up you towing vehicle seating capacity, the overall length is reduced due to such an arrangement. Now, what this helps in is “it is easier to move or turn in fifth wheel because of this”. Moving around in car or truck with a 30 feet long camper is not easy and therefore whatever length reduction happens in case of fifth wheel is always good. This kind of towing also makes its more stable to tow.
6. Price is higher in case of fifth wheels
Even though it may feel that they almost are similar, the prices in case of fifth wheel are pretty high. They almost cost double than a normal travel trailer. While you can get a travel trailer in as less as $8000, a fifth wheel wouldn’t come that cheaper. On an average you will be spending minimum $50,000 to $75,000 to get a basic brand new fifth wheel.
7. Roof Height is higher in fifth wheels
Travel trailer are smaller in terms of ceiling height. A fifth wheel will have higher height as compared to normal travel trailer. With roof height being higher, the 5th wheels gives better living space.
Comfort : Overall the living space is comfortable and feels great. The reason why fifth wheel have higher ceiling is because the hitch itself is mounted higher and thus lifting it increases the overall height. But having such bigger heights isn’t going to be an advantage always, it makes little difficult to travel at places where height restriction come in place.
8. Storage space is much higher in fifth wheels
Fifth wheels do offer bigger space. An average travel trailer would give you great living area, a compact bedroom, even smaller bathroom makes it little difficult to live very comfortably. Yes, you do get bigger and spacious travel trailer but length increases very much and more length is an issue for towing car. Other bigger RV’s like class C motorhome or class A motorhomes also have great storing space.
9. Fifth wheel aren’t that economical in terms of fuel usage
Travel trailer give good fuel mileage for your car as compared to fifth wheel. They can be more tough on fuel economy for your pulling truck. A lighter travel trailer packed with minimum amenities will be easy on car. A high profile fifth wheel styled and loaded with appliances and storage will weigh much more leading to reduced fuel economy of towing truck.
10. Amenities or features in fifth wheels are better
Fifth wheel can come with almost everything that a class A motorhome can have. That makes them luxurious and pricey too. A washer dryer, big refrigerator, oven, microwave, it can come with all amenities but the size and price increases. Travel trailer are modest forms of RV and they would come with all things unless you really want to go big.
11. Boondocking isn’t for fifth wheel
Boondocking or dry camping is suited when the RV is smaller and compact. A 5th wheel would normally be heavy and bigger and therefore boondocking isn’t for them. Travel trailer can come as small as 12 feet or even less and thus you can think of boondokcing with them. Pop up campers are most suited for dry camping.
12. Fifth wheel are easier for hook ups
Hookup at campsite are easier with fifth wheels. Most new people find this difference but if you have been camping in RVs in and out then it shouldn’t be a problem with travel trailer too. Most things with Rving become easier with experience. Maneuver and dealing with such mammoth vehicles is a challenge for first timers.
13. Uneven heating and cooling in fifth wheels
Multiple levels in case of fifth wheels makes them prone to uneven heating and cooling. A bedroom much higher as compared to a living area will mean the bedroom may get cooled faster. This uneven cooling may not be much felt after its taken full effect though. But, if you have been keeping the AC or heater on only for sometime then there will be difference. Its just a minor thing to worry about though.
14. Multiple slide outs in fifth wheels
Having multiple slide-outs can really improve the space and overall comfort in the RV. Fifth wheel can come with 2-3 or more slide outs where as with travel trailer you would be limited to 1 or 2 slide outs that’s a big advantage but yes it comes with a higher price also.
15. Built in generators in case of fifth wheels
Having built in generator inside your RV can be a big relief. It can come at higher price but it gives a completely different advantage. Travel trailer normally wouldn’t come with built in generators. Built in generator adds to the price of the RV and hence moderate travel trailer are not equipped with them in general. Built in generator are more common in case of fifth wheels.
16. Multiple bathroom options
With fifth wheels you can get multiple bathroom options. For a big family that can be a real plus. Travel trailers come with layouts that are compact and two bathroom is a real challenge with them. Its upto you though whether you want two bathrooms in your 5th wheel or not.
Summarizing the pros and cons of fifth wheels
- They are spacious and provide for comfortable living
- Good amenities and features
- They look modern and stylish
- On-board generators with fifth wheels
- Hookup is easy
- They are more stable and safe
- Hitch operation is relatively easier
- 5th wheel cost a lot
- Towing truck needs special arrangement
- Towing truck seating capacity is reduced
- Not so economical
Why are they called Fifth wheel?
Fifth wheel hitch is basically a “U” shaped component mounted on a towing vehicle to tow a RV. It got its name from its design. Initially their usage was for horse drawn carriages. The whole design gave a good stability and thus the towing mechanism got popular. Later as the development happened in motor industry the hitch design was adopted for vehicles and the name got carried on from then.
Should you go for fifth wheel
Whether you should buy a 5th wheel RV or not is upto you. For this you need to ask multiple questions to yourself and check out all the pros and cons they give. Going through below questions should help you decide.
- What kind of camping you would use it for? Boondocking often may need you to look at smaller travel trailer or pop up tent trailer.
- What budget you have for buying a new RV?
- How many people would be Rving in there?
- Do you need lots of features or you are okay with basic amenities?
- Do you have a good truck to tow a fifth wheel or not?
- Storage : can you store a big fifth wheel in your own space? else you will need to spend on storage area.