You know those funny-looking towable RVs with the part that hangs over the bed of the truck? That’s a fifth wheel RV. These RVs are often pretty big, have slide-outs, and are quite popular for seasonal or full-time camping due to their interior and exterior features. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Fifth Wheel?
- Fifth Wheel RV Details
- Features and Advantages of Fifth Wheel Trailers
- Fifth Wheels vs Travel Trailers
- Tow Vehicle Requirements
- Is a Fifth Wheel Right for You?
What Is a Fifth Wheel?
A fifth wheel is a type of towable RV that hitches into the bed of a truck, as opposed to the rear bumper. RVs that are mounted to the bumper are called bumper-pulls or travel trailers. 5th wheels are typically larger, have more storage, and more stability in towing than travel trailers. This is due to their weight resting over the rear axle of the truck rather than the furthest point at the back of the vehicle.
The raised portion of the fifth wheel that hangs over the bed of the truck is usually used for the bedroom. A couple of steps lead up to this raised area, creating a multi-level living space inside the RV that is not typically found in travel trailers or motorhomes. This raised area allows for a spacious storage compartment in the bottom front area of the RV.
Why Is It Called a Fifth Wheel?
The name “fifth wheel” comes from the original design of this trailer, dating back to the 1800s. A 5th wheel, or “fiver,” is connected to a truck with a U-shaped coupling hitch in the bed of the truck. This coupling has an internal “wheel” that allows the trailer to pivot on its own – hence the name “fifth wheel.”
How Is It Towed?
The unique towing point of the fifth wheel makes it what it is, so let’s take a look at how this works.
The fifth wheel itself has a unique hitch attachment called the pin box. This is a big metal box on the front of the RV that is connected to the frame. There are a variety of pin box styles. The most common pin boxes have what’s called a king pin. The king pin is the part that latches into the jaws of a fifth wheel hitch in the bed of your truck.
Pin boxes can be replaced or adapted to make the connection via ball receivers, which either connect directly to a gooseneck ball in the bed of the truck or a raised ball hitch.
The hitch in the bed of the truck is attached to rails mounted to the truck frame or a gooseneck ball hitch installed in the bed. There are a variety of 5th-wheel hitches to choose from – all with different towing features.
All towing setups have pin latches to lock the king pin or other attachment mechanisms in place. They also have safety break-away lines that will trigger emergency brakes in the event of RV and tow vehicle separation.
Fifth Wheel RV Details
Fifth wheels come in a wide variety of lengths, styles, floorplans, price points, and more. Here are some of the details you’ll find.
Fifth wheels can range in length from 19’ to 45’ or longer! The most popular lengths that you’ll find are 36, 38, and 40 feet.
Fifth wheels are taller than travel trailers. The raised portion can bring the front of the vehicle up to 12 or 13 feet, plus several more inches due to air conditioners, skylights, and other roof-mounted gear.
Many 5th wheel RVs will slope back from the bedroom area to the tail, giving a slight aerodynamic quality. If the fifth wheel is a toy-hauler with a garage in the back or has another raised area in the rear of the vehicle, it may have a “full-profile” where it is full-height all the way back.
Fifth wheels can have anywhere from 0-6 slideouts. Slideouts may be found in the living area, kitchen, closet, or bedroom. You typically do not find this many slides on other types of RVs.
Since 5th wheels come in a huge variety of sizes, they also have a huge variety of weights! You can pull the smaller 5th wheels with smaller trucks, but the larger ones require duallys (or even heavy-duty trucks) to pull safely.
Fifth wheel weights range from 2,900 lbs (the Scamp 19’ fifth wheel) to 20,000 lbs or more. Depending on their weight, they will have either one, two, or even three axles to support them going down the road.
Keep in mind that while you can have up to 6 slides on a fifth wheel, each slide adds more weight in terms of walls, floor, windows, and mechanics.
In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to upwards of $100,000 (or more) for a new unit. Used units can, of course, be purchased for less.
Price is going to vary based on size, features, build quality, and number of slide-outs.
Fifth wheels can be great for families. The sleeping capacity of these campers can range anywhere from 4 people to 9 or more! Larger 5th wheels even have separate bedrooms.
Some fifth wheels are designed to have a toy garage in the back. This means there is a ramp door that makes up the back wall that can be lowered down to drive in ATVs, bikes, or other camping gear and toys. They can come in full garages, where the entire space is utilized, or small garages, where a smaller garage area fits under a raised rear living room or bedroom.
When it’s a full garage, it will often be separated from the living area with a doorway and can double as a bedroom. Some even have bunk beds on rails that can be raised and lowered as needed. Just note: this garage area is often less insulated than the rest of the RV.
Features and Advantages of Fifth Wheel Trailers
Fifth wheels have many advantages compared to other trailer or motorhome types.
First of all, fifth wheels are great choices for full-time RVers. This is for many reasons, one being storage space! They have a ton of interior and exterior storage space, and that’s always great when you live in your RV full-time.
Also, 5th wheels come standard with all the creature comforts of home. Some even have a washer and dryer.
Since they can have many slides and have no driving area, there are a wide variety of floorplans available with fifth wheel RVs. You can choose a layout with the living room in the rear, middle, or front of the trailer. You can choose a huge kitchen or a smaller kitchen, or between rear and front kitchen fifth wheels. Or, you can choose a floorplan with separate bedrooms for the kids (or an office for you).
Only One Engine
Another advantage is they don’t have an engine. With a fifth wheel camper, your vehicle and your home are separate. If you ever have a mechanical failure with your engine, you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to stay.
Fifth Wheels vs Travel Trailers
Fifth wheels are generally larger than travel trailers in just about every aspect, but not in all cases. Because of their larger size and ability to have more slide-outs, they are able to have a wider variety of floorplans, too. Most of the time, you’ll also be able to find greater tank capacities in these RVs.
Although larger, 5th wheel RVs are considered easier and safer to tow and maneuver. The hitch point in the bed of the truck makes towing this larger weight much more safe and stable. However, you need to make sure your truck is up to the task.
Looking for a more in-depth explanation of the differences between 5th wheels and travel trailers? Check out this article: Fifth Wheel vs Travel Trailer: Which RV Is Better?
Tow Vehicle Requirements
The tow vehicle you select for your fifth wheel is entirely dependent on the weight of your camper. The smaller fifth wheels, like the Scamp 19’ Deluxe, can be towed with just about any pickup truck. But for the larger models, you will have to get a larger (and typically more expensive) truck.
Always do your research on the towing and payload capacity of any vehicle you plan to use as a tow vehicle. Do not max out the truck weight limits. Although the truck may state it can tow a certain amount safely, it’s best not to get close to that number. It will cause more wear and tear on your truck. And, going larger allows you peace of mind that even with a fully-loaded camper in the mountains, your truck can handle it!
Is a Fifth Wheel Right for You?
If you’re looking for an RV with lots of storage space, a ton of floorplan options, and is separate from your engine, a 5th wheel may be for you!
Keep in mind that you will typically need a larger truck for this type of RV, and those are often as expensive as the RV itself. If you’re planning to full-time RV or have a large family, we definitely think going with a 5th wheel is a smart choice.
Fifth wheels offer a lot of storage space, living space, and a great towing experience. These RVs are great for full-timers and weekenders alike! With so many floor plans to choose from, there really is something for everyone.
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