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Fifth Wheel: Is This RV The Right One For You?

Fifth Wheel: Is This RV The Right One For You?

Fifth wheels have to be the most impressive looking out of all the RV family. With the growing trend towards remote working and exiting the cities for the great outdoors, it’s time to look at fifth wheels more closely and find out why they are one of the most popular choices when it comes to buying an RV.

RVs are more than just a great way to travel around without the hassle of searching for somewhere to stay at every place you stop at. When you decide to hit the road in a camper van or with a travel trailer in tow, you’ll find a whole community of like-minded folks across the nation ready to make friends and point you in the direction of the nearest breathtaking burst of beautiful scenery.

With so much information about fifth wheels out there, it’s nice to provide a space where everything you need to know about fifth wheels can be found in one spot.

In this post we will cover:

  • Fifth wheels in more detail
  • Fifth wheels vs Travel Trailers
  • What Tow Vehicle Will I Need For a Fifth Wheel?
  • Which is Best for Camping and Long Trips: Fifth Wheels or Travel Trailers?
  • What Tow Vehicle Will I Need For a Fifth Wheel?
  • Fifth wheel vs. Gooseneck?
  • Towing Your Fifth Wheel
  • Fifth Wheel Lengths, Weight, Size, and Prices
  • Fifth Wheel Inspiration on Instagram
fifth wheel RV class
[ Fifth Wheel image by @thorindustries via IG ]

Fifth Wheels In More Detail

A fifth wheel is a type of travel trailer RV. That means it’s towed by a (usually high-powered) vehicle usually with something called a jaw hitch. Now, if you don’t know what a jaw hitch is, don’t worry because there’s an infographic about them further down.

Fifth wheels are very similar to travel trailers, however, many factors set them apart from that category of RVs.

Unsure of whether you should be skipping over to look at another type of RV? Here are the main differences between fifth wheels and travel trailers in easy to understand sections you can read first.

Fifth Wheel Jaw Hitch

  • The name of the hitch is fifth wheel, from which the trailer gets its name.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers require a fifth wheel jaw hitch (there are other kinds of hitch apparatus, but the fifth wheel style hitch is the best known).
  • The hitch is connected to the truck’s bed (only flatbed trucks − If your truck has a canopy, it will have to be removed).
  • Towing is made more stable due to the load-bearing fifth wheel hitch
  • Challenging to back up and practice is recommended.

Tow Bar Bumper Hitch

  • Common travel trailer hitch consists of a traditional ball and a couple hitch attached to the vehicle’s bumper.
  • Any 6-cylinder, large size vehicles, such as a van, truck, or SUV, can tow a travel trailer using one of these hitches.
  • It’s still safe to tow a travel trailer using a bumper hitch as long as you keep within recommended weight and length guidelines.
  • Challenging to back up and practice is recommended.
fifth wheel tow
Image credit: TJ’s Truck Accessories Fifth Wheel (top); Preis.de (bottom)

Fifth wheels vs Travel Trailers

Fifth Wheel

jayco fifth wheel
Jayco Eagle HT Fifth Wheel
  • Height: Because of how they’re attached to the tow vehicle, fifth wheels are higher off the ground.
  • Levels: Fifth wheels are available in multi-levels. These will contain a double-story or “upstairs” area.
  • Space: More square footage and much more storage.
  • Weights: Most typically heavier than a travel trailer.
  • Length: Fifth wheels have a clear advantage over travel trailers with length. They can be the same length in feet as a travel trailer, but drive as though they were shorter because of the jaw hitch design’s hook into the truck’s bed.

Travel Trailer

jayco travel trailer
Jayco Eagle HT Travel trailer
  • Height: Travel trailers are lower to the ground, making them better suited for the elderly and those with disabilities.
  • Levels: One level with some travel trailers having extendable rooftops.
  • Space: The narrow, more streamlined shape means less square footage and less storage.
  • Weights: Because they weigh less than fifth wheels, travel trailers can use less gas per mile, depending on conditions.
  • Length: Not as easy to park, backup, and drive, especially for beginners, because it takes time to get used to the anticlockwise rotation of the trailer.

Which is Best for Camping and Long Trips: Fifth Wheels or Travel Trailers?

Because you never know in advance at which campgrounds your family will want or need to stay, I want to do a quick dive into campgrounds before comparing fifth wheels and travel trailers.

There are thousands of campgrounds stretching across the land−and not all of them are good. Some have welcoming hosts, showers, electricity and gas hookups, laundry facilities, and Wi-Fi. Others have bathrooms with doors that don’t close, water that you have to pump out by hand, and ankle-deep mud tracks passing as roads (to bog down your trailer wheels). 

During the busy vacation season, all the spots at great campgrounds might be reserved, especially if they are close to national monuments and places of wonderful natural beauty. 

So, now you’ll understand why fifth wheels are slightly better than travel trailers for camping and long trips if you’re heading out to somewhere you haven’t been before. It’s because fifth wheels have larger storage tanks for fresh water and waste. They also have storage for batteries if you end up in a place with no hookups. 

Because fifth wheels edge out travel trailers when it comes to tank capacity, it means you can have longer road trips and longer campground stays. It also means you will have less stress about where to get supplies if you end up in one of those campgrounds without grey or black water facilities.

Fifth Wheel

  • Freshwater storage: 60 to 75 gallons
  • Blackwater: 40 to 55 gallons
  • Greywater: 55 to 85 gallons

Travel Trailer

  • Freshwater storage: 40 to 60 gallons
  • Blackwater: 25 to 35 gallons
  • Greywater: 30 to 40 gallons
Fifth wheel RV classes
[ Fifth Wheel image by @brittanywinebarger via IG]

What Tow Vehicle Will I Need For a Fifth Wheel?

When it comes to fifth wheels, this really is the million dollar question. What tow vehicle you own is very important, and you need to consider its capabilities before borrowing, renting, buying, or even looking to purchase a fifth wheel. 

Fifth wheels can only be towed by a truck with a flatbed that has the correctly installed jaw hitch in its bed.

These purpose-made jaw hitches have to be purchased and installed in addition to your flatbed truck’s standard features. Hitches have to be professionally installed in the flatbed before towing can begin

Hitches: Gooseneck Hitches, Adapters, and Fifth Wheel Jaw Hitches

What is a gooseneck adapter you might be asking yourself? A gooseneck adapter allows the fifth wheel to be coupled with a flatbed truck that has a gooseneck hitch installed on it. The shank section of the gooseneck adapter drops neatly onto the gooseneck hitch.

The gooseneck adapter’s rails provide the platform mount with which fifth-wheel trailers can be towed. Alternatively, the gooseneck adapter can refer to a gooseneck hitch that has been specifically designed to be mounted onto fifth wheel rails, instead of an installation that includes under-bed brackets.

Fifth wheel vs. Gooseneck?

Fifth wheel hitches are better for recreational towing. Gooseneck hitches are better for commercial and rural towing. This is because fifth wheels provide a smoother, more stable ride. Gooseneck hitches are only chosen over fifth wheels when you are looking for a more minimally invasive installation for your flatbed truck.

Installing a fifth wheel will prohibit you using your flatbed for anything that requires a level bed, that’s because fifth wheels are far more difficult to take off and put back on. 

Fifth wheel hitches are more expensive compared to gooseneck hitches. Goosenecks are noisier within the truck’s interior and exterior. 

Fifth Wheel Jaw Hitch

fifth wheel hitch
Check it on Amazon
  • Uses a set of jaws and pivoting plate to connect itself to a kingpin or fifth-wheel trailer
  • The coupler is on the tow vehicle side
  • Comprised of jaws that wrap around the 5th wheel trailer kingpin and a hitch-head with a plate
  • Larger and more intrusive once installed
  • Quieter and all-round better for recreational towing

Gooseneck Hitch

gooseneck hitch
Check it on Amazon
  • Uses a ball to connect to a special style of vertical coupler
  • The receiver mechanism, or coupler, is on the trailer side
  • Comprised of a connection point ball serving as a connection point for the gooseneck trailer’s coupler
  • Unobtrusive and more compact
  • Noisy during towing

Can you pull a fifth-wheel trailer with a gooseneck hitch? Yes, but with provisos. The correct adapter must be installed and there must be sufficient weight capacity.

You will need to install a fifth wheel to gooseneck type adapter plate into the gooseneck hitch, and this will require more components.

However, after the installation, you’ll be able to pull both types of trailers and it will eliminate the necessity for an intrusive permanent fifth wheel obstructing you from loading cargo onto your flatbed. 

Fifth wheel trailer aficionados say that a fifth wheel jaw hitch is the best one to choose. And the one I have linked below is one of the most popular ones I’ve found.

fifth wheel hitch

8-Foot Bed Puck System

This CURT 5th wheel hitch operates with a single, short-throw handle to promote ergonomic operation and easier coupling of your 5th wheel trailer.

Towing Your Fifth Wheel

Because you can’t tow a fifth wheel with a van, SUV, or standard family vehicle – unlike travel trailers, such as pop-ups and teardrops that can usually be towed by any vehicle with a bumper tow bar – it might be a good idea to price fifth wheel jaw hitches first. This is because they can cost anywhere from an accessible $150 to way passed $1,000 in price.

fifth wheel set up
[ Fifth wheel setup by Sara of @rowanriverblog Check her post on IG for details ]

Although fifth wheel jaw hitches are sold at many store outlets, they have to be professionally installed, which can add to the final costs. 

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when it comes to towing a fifth wheel:

1Flatbed Length and Hitches

It’s quite common to find more compact length flatbed trucks parked in garages now. Do they have any advantages when compared to standard flatbed trucks?

Under 6 feet

  • Lightweight and easy to maneuver 
  • Easy change over to daily driving
  • Best hitch is a sliding hitch w/ sidewinder
  • More expensive hitch installation costs

6 to 8 feet

  • Easy-ish to park and maneuver
  • Larger cab
  • Best hitch is a sliding hitch
  • Mid-range hitch costs

8 feet

  • Best turning clearance
  • The Best stability
  • Cost-effective to install hitch
  • Best hitch is a fixed hitch
  • Best priced hitch

2Diesel or Gas?

Gas-powered trucks cost less upfront. The fuel itself costs less, and so does the maintenance for a gas-powered engine. Diesel-powered trucks save you money in the long term. Trucks with diesel-powered engines offer a larger towing capacity. This is because they have a bigger torque output. It’s this additional power that makes them perfect for fifth-wheel hauling, as the average weight of one is around 2 tons. Additionally, diesel engines tend to last longer and have more maintenance and service-free miles on them.

3Fifth Wheel Tow Vehicle Payloads

How many tons does your truck need? There is a difference between tow truck payload capacities, and you need to know them before looking at fifth wheels.

There’s a super easy way to work out if your truck will meet your fifth wheel’s towing needs: having a look at the sticker glued onto the truck’s door on the driver’s side.

It’s always wise to be prepared to haul more payload as opposed to not having enough. 

fifth wheel informaion
[ Image credit: Trusted Auto Professionals Fremont Motors ]
fifth wheel truck
[ image by Craige-McGonigle via Unsplash ]

4Do You Need Dually?

Dual rear wheels (also known as a dually) are not necessary in order to tow a fifth wheel successfully. There are a few benefits of putting them on:

  • Dually is a good choice if you want a long-term stable ride.
  • You will feel the difference if you drive your fifth wheel frequently.
  • A single-rear-wheel truck is fine if you only drive your fifth wheel occasionally or own one of the smaller models.

Fifth Wheel Lengths, Weight, Size, and Prices

Nowhere can huge variations in price be found than in the world of RV, especially once you get into new vs. used territory.

First of all, why is it even important to understand the size, weight, and length of your fifth wheel? If you plan on traveling to see some of the best landscapes and vistas the country has to offer, you need to know that some national parks have RV parking restrictions. This is why it’s crucial to understand the dimensions of your fifth wheel. 

Lengths can range from 30 to 40 feet. Widths can be from 8 to 10 feet. These are standards dimensions, and don’t take luxury fifth wheels with hot tubs and multi-levels into account. Standard heights go from 9 to 12 feet, so watch out for some national park entrance arches when you enter.

Weight: Weights for fifth wheels are also important. You need to know how much your rig weighs on its own to ensure your tow vehicle can carry it, both wet and dry (fully loaded with water and waste water, or not). 

Depending on manufacturer, materials, model, layout, and structure, fifth wheels can vary in weight quite dramatically. The weight of the fifth wheel and its length will be linked to the price you pay as well. This will give you a better idea of what price tag you’ll be looking at when you go online or walk into a dealership.

5th wheet and truck
[ image by Joel Holland via Unsplash ]

Dealership or Used Fifth Wheel?

A new fifth wheel can cost you anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 on average, depending on brand, model, amenities, size, and length. And while this is significantly less than same size motorhomes (because you aren’t paying for the engine), it’s still a lot of money. 

If you decide the best way forward is to look at second-hand fifth-wheel trailers, you’ll be surprised to know that pristine or revamped fifth wheels can cost the same as a new one, only without the financing option. Do your due diligence before even driving to go and look at a used fifth wheel for sale by owner, as the likelihood of you being very disappointed by its condition when you get there to view it is quite high.

Miles Per Gallon for Fifth Wheel RVs

Fifth wheel MPG depends on a few factors:

  • What type of tow vehicle will you be using?
  • When your tow vehicle was serviced last
  • Headwinds
  • Terrain
  • Speed
  • Wet and dry towing weight

On average, you can expect a fifth wheel to reach a respectable 9 to 12 MPG.

fifth wheel RV
[ Fifth Wheel and picture by @the_roaming_roths via IG, showing their 2019 Jayco North Point 377RLBH ]

Fifth wheel inspiration on Instagram

One of the first places I turn into for inspiration in Instagram, and thanks to that platform I’ve found some serious eye candy, especially when it comes to fifth wheels because of the high ceilings and spacious interiors, I wanted to share here some of my favorites:

1@brittanywinebarger

I have shared this amazing fifth wheel remodel when we talked about all the different classes of RVs, but I had to share it again, Brittany did such an amazing job with this remodel, for more pictures and to read more about Brittany’s designs check her IG feed.

fifth wheel ceilings
[ Fifth wheel interior image by @brittanywinebarger via IG ]
modern renovated bathroom
[ Fifth wheel interior image by @brittanywinebarger via IG ]

2 @theflippingnomad

If we are talking fifth wheels and inspiration there’s no way I could not share the work of Cortni from the Flipping Nomad, her renovations are so breathtaking and the different styles she achieves for her customers are so different and lovely! Check some of her work below!

farmhouse fifth wheel
[ Farmhouse remodel by the @flippingnomad via IG ]
modern farmhouse camper
[ Modern Farmhouse remodel by the @flippingnomad via IG ]
modern rv fifth wheel
[ Amazing modern fifth wheel by the @flippingnomad in collaboration with @gmc and @keystonervcompany ]

3 @twinning_in_our_5thwheel

I’ve shared a full interview and feature we did on April and her fifth wheel remodel here. Her renovation is so cute and the bunk beds she created for her twins is so fun!

fifth wheel remodel
[ 5th wheel remodel by @twinning_in_our_5thwheel via IG ]

Wrapping things up

There are dozens of fifth wheel manufacturers and models out there from which to choose, and that’s not even taking the expansive used RV market into consideration! The problem with all the choice out there, is that selecting the ideal rig for you and your family can get a little overwhelming.

When you look at a fifth-wheel up close, the reason why it’s such a popular choice for both full time and part-time RV life will be easier to see. Ultimately, it must come down to your personal lifestyle, requirements, and preferences. 

Of course, the number of holding tanks, length, and weight are three key areas you should pay attention to before hitting the RV buyers circuit. 

When you have a clear picture in your mind about the most important criteria, you can relax and think about what layout, colors, and amenities you want. 

I hope this had made your selection a bit easier. 

If you want to read about other kinds of RV classes, check out this post where I describe all of them along with their Pros and Cons.

joy + ken

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