What is a Fifth Wheel? A Helpful Answer with Pictures.

If you are new to the world of RVs, campers, and trailers than all the terms that people throw around can get confusing. We’ve been there, so to help you out here’s a helpful answer for one of the many types of RVs out there. 

What is a Fifth Wheel? A fifth wheel is a camper trailer that connects to a truck via a hitch mounted in the center of the truck bed. Where this connects the fifth wheel has a cab that comes over part of the truck bed so you have extra room for storage or even a potential bunk. 

Fifth wheel are a broad category of RV so there is a lot to talk about with them. Stick with us as we cover the ins and outs of these expansive vehicles. 

Benefits of a Fifth Wheel

The benefits of a fifth wheel come from its nature as a large recreational vehicle that is not one unit but has a safe connection between the towing truck and the fifth wheel unit. In this manner, fifth wheels are beneficial for their: safe and easy towing, large storage capacity,  and tow vehicle doubling as local transportation.  

Safe and Easy Towing

The placement of a fifth wheels hitch is right above the truck bed generally above the axel of the truck. This placement makes the fifth wheel very stable. While a travel trailer is hanging at the end of your truck the fifth wheel is on your truck.

This makes it much easier for your RV to move with you as you turn, and allow for more ease of travel for those inside the RV.

Additionally, since the weight of the RV is on the bed of the truck and not the tailgate or back hitch you have a better spread of weight from the Fifth wheel onto the truck you are using to tow it.

This will allow for some heavier capacities than those of other travel trailers.

Large Storage Capacity

Of all the RV options out there fifth wheels have the best storage. This comes from the cab over the bed of the truck and the lack of need space for the engine and other motorized components needed in motorhomes.

As such if space is going to be an issue for you in another vehicle than a fifth wheel may be the best option for you.

There are plenty of uses for this extra storage. Lots of this storage can be seen as useful for your personal belongings but you can also use this space for water, and fuel storage. That way if you plan on taking long trips you can fill up the tank once and keep going. 

Another benefit to having more storage is the potential to have more space for beds. The more beds you have the more bodies you will be able to sleep. If you have a large family having the correct number of beds can be hard to find.

Fifth wheelers often have large sleeping capacities. Part of this comes from the cab above the truck bed which is often a bedroom of sorts.

Otherwise, there are fifth wheelers with bunk beds which are packed full of sleep space in a small area.

The extra storage capacity of a fifth wheel can also be factored into having a toy hauler as part of your fifth wheel. Toy haulers are campers that have a garage in them that allow for a small UTV, or another off-roading vehicle, to be carted around in the back of the trailer.

More space means more flexibility since fifth wheels have the largest storage areas they are going to have the largest flexibility for you. 

Tow Vehicle Doubling as Local Transportation

If you aren’t going to be using your RV all that often then it isn’t very beneficial to have a separate unit. It’s nice to have some other place to move into to, but the reality of two vehicles is two times as many repairs. 

Having a fifth wheel means that you can keep repair costs down to just your truck. Keep the truck in shape and your fifth wheel should pretty much be good to go.

This means you only need maintenance done on one vehicle. Additionally, since you can drive this truck around at home you don’t have to worry about getting another car.

Condense those expenses into one place and use the fifth wheel for vacation while having your tow vehicle be your local traveling vehicle. Overall this is beneficial financially, especially, if you are doing some of the mechanical work yourself, as you only need to know how to work around the engine in your truck not the engine in a whole other motorhome, which can be difficult to get into sometimes.  

Disadvantages of a Fifth Wheeler

While fifth wheelers are incredibly useful, they are not perfect. Their limitations include: needing a truck, separate driving and living compartment, require large storage area when not in use.

Needs a Truck

Just as needing a truck can be an advantage if you like trucks not liking trucks can lead to a fifth wheel’s need for a truck being a disadvantage. If you are not going to be using the truck for anything other than hauling around your fifth wheel than you are losing one of the main advantages of a fifth wheel. A motorhome may be a better option for you than. 

Fifth wheels don’t just require any truck. Fifth wheels are going to require you to get a truck that can tow the fifth wheel of the weight that you have selected.

The heavier the fifth wheel the larger the truck. Generally, you are going to need a medium duty truck capable of 7,000 pounds. For heavier fifth wheels you may even need to get a 1-ton truck.

Separate Driving and Living Compartments

A motorhome has the convenience of being able to ask for a water bottle from the refrigerator or being able to eat the food that was freshly made in the back of the RV.

A fifth wheel is not going to have that luxury. So if you are driving you are isolated from everyone else in the RV. When you are traveling with your family this can be frustrating. you want to spend time with them but someone needs to drive.

This means if you plan on eating together you won’t be able to hit the road as you do so. Instead, you’ll need to stop and have a break for food, or whatever it is you planned on doing together as a family and then getting back on the road. Not the most time-efficient approach to traveling long distances.

The final thing I would mention here is that people can slip in and out of the passenger side seat when you have a motorhome. This makes it easy for others to sit by the driver and then slip out and take care of what needs to be done. It’s nice to have some people to talk to when you are traveling long distances.

Requires a Large Storage Area When Not Used

Finally, with any large vehicle that is going to be used for extended periods of time you are going to need to find a place to store it. Whether we are talking a camper or a boat you have to be able to store it somewhere.

Fifth wheels have the additional struggle of getting it to where you need it stored. motorhomes are something that stays in one piece.

But since a fifth wheel is separate from the engine of the tow vehicle you have to have a place to store it where you can back it into that way you can unhook the towing vehicle from it. If you don’t have the storage space for a fifth wheel it may be best to look into other options.

Especially given that the cab takes up a lot more space than a normal hitch would take up.

The extra space that a fifth wheel provides while on the road is, unfortunately, something that you have to have to space to store at your home. 

Why are they called Fifth Wheels?

Fifth wheels get their names from their original design. Fifth wheels were created in the 1850s where they were attached to the back of horsedrawn carriages. They were attached by adding a horizontal wheel to the cargo. As a result,  the cargo was kept incredibly secure and well attached to the cart. 

It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that these cargo devices where adapted to be added to motor vehicles, but by the time that they were the name had already stuck so well that it stayed despite it being attached to something new. 

How Much Do Fifth Wheels Cost?

Fifth wheels generally cost between $35,000 and $90,000 new.  This price changes based on how big and how many amenities that you want your fifth wheel to have. The more you amenities and the larger the fifth wheel the higher the price. 

For instance, for a fifth wheel that is about 30 feet long. As such, you are looking at a price between $20,000 and $50,000. And that is without any special amenities or other costs that you’ll have to put on into your RV. Keep in mind you will have to spend money on things like insurance for the RV. Which are not inexpensive. 

 A quick estimate for fifth wheel insurance would be a $900 to $1,100 cost per year for insurance on a fifth wheel. This covers a fair range of fifth wheels, but some more luxurious fifth wheels will have even higher costing premiums. 

For a fifth wheeler that is 40 feet long, you are looking at a much higher price range of $50,000 to $150,000. These fifth wheelers will have many more options, with extra amenities and multiple slide outs.

They will also have large sleeping options, and the potential to serve as a toy hauler as well, but this flexibility comes at a high price as seen in the estimated price range.

For more information and estimate check out cost helper cars article on fifth wheelers. 

Interior Amenities of a Fifth Wheel

If you are looking into getting a fifth wheel you need to know what is available to you. While a fifth wheel can technically have just about anything a house can have there are some more tried and true selections that you will see among the list of amenities offered that you may want to look out for in your fifth wheel buying exploits. 

Kitchen

When it comes to the kitchen you have both practical and aesthetic options. There are several kitchen appliances that you can get as extra amenities within you fifth wheel, but generally expect to get a three range stove, a microwave, a fair amount of storage space, a single sink, and a counter-top. 

You can often find things that stretch these appliances further or add more appliances. Such as a double sink, adding a disposal system, extra counter-tops or a greater number of stove tops to work off of. 

Bathroom

Your bathroom is going to be small. You are not going to be able to stretch out much in it and generally, you have a shower, toilet, and sink. Anything fancier and you are going to have to find the right floor plan to accommodate more. 

There are quite a few floor plans that include baths or shower bath combos that will provide some more space but the generally spacious bathrooms aren’t found in fifth wheels unless you seek after them. 

Sleeping Area

Generally, sleeping areas have few perks that can be added to them. You are able to modify this a lot yourself, so really it is up to space. A queen size mattress is the standard mattress that you will find on a fifth wheel.

This often will only provide enough room to roll onto as well. So any extra space to walk around the bed or add a king mattress is an extra amenity.

 Further things to look for when considering sleeping areas are the number of beds for other guests there are in the fifth wheel. Nine people is pretty high whereas sleeping 6 people is pretty standard.

To get above six people you will want to look for bunk beds and bunkhouses that you can use to provide sleeping areas for others. Several options also have couches that transform into sleeping areas.

Living Area

The Living area has the greatest diversification that you can provide. From the TV that is in the fifth wheel to the look and layout of the sofa’s in the break room you have a lot to choose from here so look into the floor plans that you can use to get the right option for you and those that you will be traveling with.

There are multiple floor plans that provide areas for game rooms and other novel separate sections of the fifth wheel that can be used for privacy and other activities.

Generally, you’ll find these areas often use slide outs to grant more space for expansion.

Cleaning Appliances

Finally, you won’t often have cleaning appliances in your fifth wheel but there are quite a few options out there for certain fifth wheels. You can have an internal vacuum, or add a washer and dryer if you need those for you travels.

Overall, a fifth wheel is built to serve you. So whatever you need, there is a way to get it, but it will always cost something to get it.

Gooseneck vs. Fifth Wheel – What’s the Difference?

The difference between these two come from the type of hitch that you use to attach the trailer to the truck. A gooseneck uses a ball on the hitch which is going to attach to the coupler of the trailer.

Whereas, the fifth wheel has a kingpin that which connects to a king pin funnel on the fifth wheel hitch.

To simplify, the options are very similar in location but the way that the actual pieces connect are different. Look into this further through this how stuff works article. 

Related Questions

What are alternatives to a fifth wheel? The two main alternatives to a fifth wheel are a travel trailer and a motorhome. A motorhome is a vehicle with the engine built into the vehicle itself. Whereas, a travel trailer is similar to a fifth wheel where it is separate from the engine but it attaches to the hitch at the back of a truck rather than the bed of the truck. 

What is a fifth wheel toy hauler? A toy hauler is a garage that can hold a UTV or other off-roading vehicle. A fifth wheel toy hauler is a combination of the garage with a fifth wheel. This way you can carry your family on vacation and keep your off-roading vehicle with you. 

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