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Filed under: The RVs We Drive

….. and, We Selected a Large Fifth Wheel (…and why!)

September 21, 2011 by · 5 Comments 


Our current RV is a fifth wheel, following a long list of previously owned travel trailers, motorhomes and folding tent trailers.  Truthfully, we enjoyed each and every one of them and have many fond memories of our travels and adventures in what ever we were pulling or driving.

As Nancy and I matured (nice word for getting older :)), we began to value indoor space more than we had in our younger years.  Amenities like central air conditioning, larger holding tanks, opposing slide rooms, bigger refrigerators, additional counter and cabinet space, comfortable living area seating, spacious bath areas, and yes – even a central vacuum, washer/dryer and electric fireplace began to become more attractive.  Bottom line?  We wanted SPACE and residential amenities without a brick foundation!!  Of course, all of this comes at a “price” and fuel mileage towing a 15,000 pound fiver is not anything like Patti is getting with her Winnie (We “average” 10-12 mpg pulling with our class 8 Volvo).

Our last travel trailer (TT) came close to offering these amenities with twin slide rooms and a rear bedroom boasting a king bed, but it was still lacking in some of the “residential” features we now wanted.  Perhaps our vision of actually using the RV for long term travel and living quarters pushed us in the direction of a fifth wheel over another TT.

Of course, you must remember that there are “different strokes for different folks” and each family must carefully weight the features offered with any RV, including affordability, before making a purchasing decision.  A walk through or around any campground shows us the diversity of the RV camping population.

Let’s go over just a few of the comparative features (both UP and Down) that we considered before purchasing our fifth wheel RV.

UP – A 30’ long fifth wheel is the actual outside cabin length – exclusive of the pin box, meaning there is another 3’ of interior space over a travel trailer having the same overall length.  The pin box attaches to the tow vehicle 2’ to 3’ forward of the rear of the connection point used for a travel trailer.  The result is up to 9’ of less overall length of your towing unit for the same interior space!

UP – Fifth wheel trailers typically have high ceilings in the center of the trailer.  This gives a feeling of “openness” that is more appealing to claustrophobically inclined campers.

UP – Higher ceiling height can translate to slide rooms that also have higher ceilings – nice for tall folks that want to stand up from the dining table.

DOWN – Fifth wheel campers typically have less overhead clearance for low bridges and tunnels found on rural roads and may present a high frontal wind resistance at Interstate speeds.

UP – Fifth wheel trailers do not require weight equalizing hitches and bars or anti-sway control devices.

DOWN – The truck bed mounted hitch does reduce cargo-carrying space for tall items.

DOWN – With a fifth wheel trailer, you may trade the “bounce and sway” of a travel trailer for a “chuck and bump” ride unless a full floating pin box or hitch is selected.

UP – I find that connecting a fifth wheel trailer is easier than a TT.  They are also easier for me to back up.

UP – Cargo carrying space is generally increased with massive bedroom size basements and front cave compartments that can accommodate large, tall, and long gear.

DOWN – Finding what you need in all that space when everything is tightly packed together can be a real issue.

UP – Access to electrical and plumbing compartments is typically easier as they are located in the front basement compartment.

UP – You have a nice covered storage space under the outside front overhang for grills and lawn chairs when the awning is rolled up.

DOWN – Parking at home when not out camping.  You need a significantly BIG driveway and no community parking restrictions.

DOWN – You must be more selective choosing campgrounds.  Campsites must be long enough to accommodate the rig.  Tight turns and trees get in the way.

DOWN – U Turns are nearly impossible.  Be sure your GPS sends you down the right road.

UP – Huge picture windows allow for a fantastic view.

DOWN – Washing is a time consuming process.  Waxing is not something you want to do yourself.

UP – Extremely large capacity fresh water and waste water holding tanks allow you to stay in “no hookup” campgrounds for several extra days.

I used the word “typically” a lot in describing a fifth wheel.  Actually, a fifth wheel trailer can have most any cabin design and length.  Fifth wheel RVs are not exclusively behemoth sized rigs – some can be smaller than the typical (there I go again :} ) family sized travel trailer.

Large 5th wheel trailers offer residential style amenities and space

An extremely important rule to adhere to when purchasing a fifth wheel RV is the tow rating of your pick-up truck (actually this is true of any towable).

Now, I do not want to incite the wrath of every RV salesperson or owner that is not following the tow vehicle rules.  But guys, I can promise you the following advice is from long-time experience towing trailers.

RV salespeople have been known to disregard the actual capability of a currently owned tow vehicle (TV) when it comes to closing the sale of a large fifth wheel.  Comments that tend to make a buyer believe a 1/2 ton single rear wheeled short bed truck can handle a large fifth wheel trailer are not in the best interest of your safety or even others on the road.

It is not about what the truck can pull, but more importantly, what the truck can maneuver and stop.  All of the added horsepower and overload springs in the world cannot compensate for the tow vehicle’s lack of weight and overall frame strength.  You simply must follow the manufacturers tow ratings for your truck.  These ratings apply to the total loaded fifth wheel weight, truck cargo, and passengers.  DO NOT let a salesperson convince you that a TV with a 10,000-pound maximum tow rating can safely handle a fifth wheel trailer with an unloaded (empty) weight right at the 10,000-pound limit.  If a large fifth wheel trailer is in your sights, be sure you have or purchase a heavy duty tow vehicle designed to exceed the loaded weight of your fifth wheel.  For heavy fifth wheel trailers (over 10,000 pounds) I am a strong advocate of “dually” tow vehicles.  In fact, I strongly recommend at a minimum a TV in the 3500 (one ton) weight class and a diesel engine.  Yes, they are more expensive than a lighter duty vehicle and the dual rear wheels can cost you fuel mileage and look “funky”.  But, having towed travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers with both types of trucks, the added stability and road control – especially in emergency situations – is considerably greater with a dually..

As regular readers may have noted in my previous articles, we tow with a BIG truck (class 8).  I have learned the importance of having enough TV weight to persuade a heavy fifth wheel trailer to go where I want it to go, not where it wants me to go.

OH!  One more thought….. when friends ask us how many people our fiver sleeps we respond, “Two – any more than that can get a hotel room.”  Actually, we are joking as we often take a couple of grand-kids with us.

BTW – have you cracked the Redwood RV baby boomer code for their fifth wheel trailers (6-4-2)?

Entertains 6; Seats 4 for dinner; Sleeps 2

For a wide perspective of fifth wheel trailers for sale you might want to visit Camping World RV Sales.

A home without a brick foundation and room for the golf cart or even a "Smart-For-Two" automobile.



5 Responses to “….. and, We Selected a Large Fifth Wheel (…and why!)”
  1. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Randy,

    Thanx, for one of the best articles you’ve written.. Makes one think you know what it is you’re talking about !! Once saw a 5th wheel attatched to a NEW Ford P-U, UPSIDE-DOWN IN THE MEDIAN of
    I-20 !! BIG 5TH, small Ford P-U !! Wonder how much the profit & commission were on that trailer ??

    Smooth roads, clear skies & balmy breezes !!!!!

  2. butterbean carpenter says:

    P.S. I LIKE YOUR RIG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. d2reid says:

    We also graduated from tents in our teens to truck camper, pop-up, travel trailer…. : )
    Our biggest UP is the total amount of sq feet of living area.
    It’s more like being in a 1 bedroom apartment than being in an RV.


  4. Dana T. says:

    Love your Tow Vehicle!!!

  5. Michael Outten Jr says:

    Very Nice Camper! Can you recommend a Nice model for a Popup or Hybrid Camper?

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