In the camping world, a fifth wheel trailer refers to a type of RV that gives you many of the same benefits of a larger model without being a “house on wheels.”
If you’re currently in the market for an RV and also looking for more flexibility than a motorhome, then a fifth wheel may be the perfect fit.
Here’s what you should know about the fifth wheel and how you can decide if it’s what you should buy.
1. What is a fifth wheel trailer?
A fifth wheel trailer is a larger trailer that requires a fifth wheel hitch to tow it.
Fifth wheels are quite heavy and require a full-size, one-ton truck to tow them.
They have a unique hitch that requires the coupling to be in the bed of the truck.
In addition to their hitch, one of the things that make them unique compared to other RVs is their weight.
Because they’re heavier, they often have a lot more room, luxury amenities, and sleeping spaces.
You could see a fifth wheel trailer with multiple slide-outs and space that expands even further once you’re set up.
If you’re a larger family, or you just like your space when out in nature, then this could be the perfect solution for you.
2. Why is it called a fifth wheel trailer?
The term “fifth wheel” can often be confusing.
The name is derived from old horse-drawn carriages in the 1800s, which actually had a fifth wheel.
This wheel sat horizontally and allowed the front axle to pivot.
The present fifth wheel set up isn’t at all like the old one in those horse-drawn carriages, but for some reason, the name stuck.
Today’s fifth wheels utilize a sturdy u-shaped fifth wheel hitch, which allows weightier loads to be pulled from the bed of a pick-up truck.
These hitches tend to feel much stabler than traditional ball hitches and cut back on the trailer’s sway.
3. How do you install a fifth wheel hitch?
To install a fifth wheel hitch, you must first have a vehicle that can tow a fifth wheel trailer.
This is a full-size, one-ton truck like a Ford F350.
Before you commit to either purchase (the truck or the fifth wheel trailer), make sure you review the towing capacity figures of your vehicle as well as the weight ratings.
Then, make sure you have a high-quality fifth wheel hitch.
It takes a little bit of time and mechanical knowledge to install, but it isn’t too difficult.
If you’re uncomfortable using basic tools, then you may want to outsource this to a professional.
Here are the steps to install the fifth wheel hitch into the bed of the truck:
Remove the spare tire as this likely sits under the bed of the truck
Position the front base rail of the fifth wheel hitch
Mark the first drill location and drill a pilot hole to help guide you through the rest of the installation
Check the positioning of the pilot hole under the bed of the truck before continuing to drill the rest of the holes (you may need to enlarge the bolt holes already present)
Bolt in the under-bed brackets to start securing the fifth wheel hitch to the truck bed
Bolt down the front of the fifth wheel rail
Measure the fifth wheel hitch height
Attach the fifth wheel legs and position the fifth wheel rear rail
Repeat the drilling and bolting process for the rear rail
Install any remaining bolts
Torque all hardware
Ensure the bolts are secure and tight before using the hitch to tow a trailer
4. What can I do with a fifth wheel trailer?
Fifth wheel trailers are perfect for any camper looking for flexibility.
They provide comfort and luxury in a larger interior, which makes them the ideal option for a camper looking to engage in full-time travel.
You’ll have all your necessary amenities including a full-sized kitchen, bathtub, washing machine, and more.
In short, the sky is the limit with your fifth wheel.
You can take it on a short trip or a long trip and have everything you need.
5. Is a fifth wheel right for me?
Wondering how you’ll be able to tell if a fifth wheel is right for you?
A fifth wheel is likely a good fit if you know exactly how you want to use your space.
The floorplan options of a fifth wheel are endless, and because you’re towing the fifth wheel, you don’t have to factor in where the driver and passenger seat will be.
Often, the amenities offered in a fifth wheel are much less than they would be in a motorhome because they don’t come with their own engine (you must hook it up to a truck).
Finally, fifth wheels are great because they’re flexible.
If you want to make a run to the grocery store once you’re at the campsite, you’ll be able to with just your truck.
No need to lug the entire fifth wheel with you!
With a fifth wheel trailer, you maximize the amenities and minimize the hassle.
6. Why choose a fifth wheel trailer over a motorhome?
Both fifth wheels and motorhomes, RVs, and travel trailers offer their own benefits.
They each have a vast array of lengths, weights, floorplans, layouts, sleeping accommodations, and prices.
Here’s why you may choose a fifth wheel instead of one of the other options.
Stability: Because you require a pickup truck to tow it, a fifth wheel is inherently more stable than other travel trailers when driving.
Floor plan: A fifth wheel is split-level, which can either be a convenience or a burden.
Some people love having the privacy of a bedroom upstairs.
However, for older folks or young kids, having to navigate stairs is tricky.
Storage: Fifth wheels have a front pass-through with unparalleled storage.
If you need a place to stash lots of belongings, then the fifth wheel trailer is the way to go.
Bedrooms: Fifth wheels often offer one bedroom and then many convertible rooms.
If you want a trailer with many bedrooms, then you’re better off going with a different type of RV.
Height: If you need more interior headroom, then a fifth wheel is a better option.
However, you may also need to be more aware of overhead branches and low bridges outside while driving.
7. Can fifth wheels be converted to gooseneck?
A gooseneck is a type of hitch commonly found on farm and construction equipment.
If you have a gooseneck trailer hitch in your truck, then you can convert it to fifth wheel.
There are several different types of adapters available to make it relatively easy.
That said, while most fifth wheels can convert to the gooseneck system, it’s worth checking your RV owner’s manual or with your RV dealer.
The gooseneck hitch applies different forces to the trailer frame and may void your RV warranty.
8. Are fifth wheels easier to tow?
Yes, fifth wheel trailers are generally easier to tow than other travel trailers and RVs.
Even though they are larger and heavier than pull-behind travel trailers, the hitch weight of the fifth wheel is placed over the rear wheels of the tow vehicle.
This makes for a more stable towing platform.
When you compare this to a more conventional travel trailer, the hitch weight is located behind the rear wheels of the tow vehicles and the front portion of the fifth wheel overhangs the tow vehicle bed.
As a result, the overall length of the tow vehicle/RV combination may be shorter than with a similar length pull-behind trailer.
9. What do fifth wheels weigh and how are they measured?
The weights of fifth wheel trailers vary depending on the make, model, and floorplan.
Models can be found at around 6,000 pounds up to approximately 14,000 pounds (empty weight).
Fifth wheel measurements are commonly taken from pin box to rear bumper.
10. What are the benefits of owning a fifth wheel?
Fifth wheels are handy
If you’re looking for something easy, go with a fifth wheel trailer.
They allow turning, which means you can hitch it to a truck and eliminate the cumbersome maneuvering that you’ll experience with a bumper pull.
If you’re not someone who is comfortable towing or if you plan to drive in parks that are more difficult to navigate, then this will be an important factor in your decision-making.
Fifth wheels have a better safety record
Fifth wheel trailers are sturdier and safer than other trailers.
This is due to the high hitch point that reduces the trailer’s sway.
The hitch also helps to better distribute the weight of the trailer and offers a more secure anchoring point.
Not only will the safety record help to give you peace of mind for yourself, but it will also help you feel secure if you’re towing family, friends, or children around.
Fifth wheels use less gas
Compared to a large Class A motorhome, a truck towing a fifth wheel uses less gas.
Now, it will obviously use more gas than just the truck as it’s towing a large vehicle.
However, if you’re looking for something that’s comparatively better within the market for both your wallet and the environment, you’ve found it.
Fifth wheels can accommodate larger groups
Do you anticipate using this vehicle for your large family or groups of friends?
Fifth wheel trailers can generally accommodate up to 10 people, which makes them ideal for larger groups looking to enjoy the RV life.
Fifth wheels are great for solo campers
On the other hand, fifth wheel trailers can also accommodate solo travelers or sportspeople.
There are smaller models that can store equipment or supplies.
They aren’t too difficult for people to operate and maintain on their own.
11. What are the drawbacks of owning a fifth wheel trailer?
One of the major drawbacks of a fifth wheel trailer is its sheer size.
Fifth wheels are large and heavy.
While towing them is generally easier because of the type of hitch they use, someone who is not used to towing at all could quickly feel overwhelmed.
However, as noted, fifth wheel trailers are designed for stability and maneuverability, which makes them easier to handle on the road than a trailer of the same size with a typical ball hitch.
With practice, you should be able to handle driving a fifth wheel.
Another drawback is the fact that you’ll need a full-size truck to tow the fifth wheel because of how large and heavy it is.
Unless you own this one, this is another expensive purchase you’ll need to make before you can buy the fifth wheel itself.
As a result, this stops many RVers from going the fifth wheel route altogether.
12. What do insurance costs look like for a fifth wheel trailer?
One great thing about fifth wheel trailers is that they generally have lower insurance costs than motorhomes.
This is typically because fifth wheels themselves cost less than motorhomes.
Additionally, fifth wheels pose less of a threat for claims because they do not operate on their own or have advanced engine hardware.
All that said, you still need insurance for your fifth wheel, and it’s recommended to have insurance that covers all types of recreational vehicles.
13. What about the maintenance of a fifth wheel trailer?
Fifth wheels require routine maintenance just like all other RVs and have some specific requirements to ensure the hitch stays in proper working order.
Here’s what you should keep in mind as you maintain your fifth wheel.
Lubricate your fifth wheel hitch regularly with a specifically designed fifth wheel slider lubricant
Check for rust or damage on the hitch as this is the only thing securing your rig to the truck
Wipe away any old or existing grease that can build up on the fifth wheel fittings
- This can attract dirt and debris that can shorten the lifespan of the hitch
- Ensure that all grease is wiped away from the lockjaw, throat, and pivot points before winter comes as it can freeze and prevent mechanisms from working properly
Do regular RV maintenance both inside and out. Some basic examples include:
- Check tire pressure and torque settings on wheel lug nuts
- Clean and repack wheel bearings
- Inspect brake pads and drums
- Check electrical outlets, batteries, and wiring
- Vacuum AC vents and furnace ducts
- Clean fans in the refrigerator, converter, and stove hood
- Flush out and sanitize water tanks
- Descale and clean hot water heater
- Inspect torque on kingpin bolts
- Lubricate the kingpin and check the lube plate
- Wash and clean the roof of the RV
- Check all seals on the exterior (around vents, air conditioner, windows, doors, etc.)
- Treat slide-out seals and use a proper lubricant on the slide mechanism
- Clean air conditioner and fridge covers
- Lubricate awning, door hinges, and jacks
- Clean and maintain appliances, carpets, and upholstery
14. How secure are fifth wheel trailers?
If you’re concerned about security, fifth wheel trailers may not be for you.
In general, they’re a lot less secure than other motorhomes.
With a motorhome, if you camp out and find an intruder or bear in your space, then you can quickly turn on the motorhome’s engine and drive away.
With a fifth wheel, however, you’d need to exit the camper and enter the vehicle (truck), if it’s still attached.
Some people also worry about their fifth wheels getting stolen because all the robbers need to do is hitch it to their vehicle to steal it.
To prevent this, you’ll want to find a good lock to place on it.
15. What are some fifth wheel terms I should know?
Half-ton pickup: The term half-ton is used to describe a truck’s payload capacity or the amount of stuff it can carry in its bed.
A ton is 2,000 pounds, a half-ton would theoretically be able to haul 1,000 pounds.
However, modern pickups generally have a much higher payload capacity rating.
The half-ton tern is still used because of its familiarity with consumers.
Heavy-duty pickup: This type of truck has frames and components that allow them to tow and haul much heavier loads than their half-ton counterparts.
They would be considered three-quarter-ton or one-ton pickups.
Tow hitch: A component that is connected to a vehicle’s chassis that allows towing a trailer.
Fifth wheel hitches are located inside the truck bed.
Traditional tow hitches are usually located below the rear bumper.
Gross vehicle weight rating: A vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the total amount of weight that it can safely carry.
It not only includes the weight of a trailer or load but also encompasses fuel, passengers, and the weight of the vehicle itself.
That’s everything you should know about fifth wheel trailers!
We recommend that you rent various types of RVs first before buying, so you can get a firm understanding of what you like and want to use for the foreseeable future.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.