Which is better, a travel trailer or a fifth wheel?
This question is asked every day in RV dealerships all across the country. What is the answer to this question you may wonder? The answer is actually different for every individual that walks in the door!
A travel trailer is a camper that is pulled on the rear bumper or receiver hitch of a tow vehicle. The front A-frame of the camper attaches to either a 2" or 2 5/16" ball on the rear of the vehicle. In contrast, a fifth wheel camper will attach to the tow vehicle in the bed of the truck either using a conventional fifth wheel hitch or a goose ball.
With that established, let's discuss a few of the main differences between the two types of units. The first one that normally comes to mind is towing. Which one pulls better? A fifth wheel attaches inside the bed of the truck normally right above the rear axle. This puts all the tongue weight of the trailer right above the axle. This creates a very smooth ride with limited amounts of sway while traveling down the road. A travel trailer hooks on the bumper a few feet behind the rear axle. This normally produces a bumpier ride with more sway. There are hitches that can greatly reduce the amount of sway, but they will not totally eliminate the problem. As a result, when it comes to the towing it really can depend on how far you are going and how comfortable you want to be while getting there. If you are only going an hour up the road it may not matter to you as much, but if you and the family are heading "out west" it may be the most important factor to which style of unit you choose. Additionally, the two types are very different when it comes to backing. A travel trailer backs like a conventional trailer, with the trailer almost immediately reacting to movements of the truck. A fifth wheel, however, reacts slower but typically can back at much sharper angles than a travel trailer.
Hitches are another topic of discussion when it comes to determining which type of unit is the best fit for your needs. Travel trailers in most cases require some sort of load-leveling hitch. These hitches slide into the rear receiver of the tow vehicle and are easily removed when not in use. Most load-leveling hitches will also have some sort of sway control. The price of load-leveling hitches with sway control varies depending on quality and amount of sway control the hitch provides, with prices ranging from $250 to $800. Conversely, fifth wheel hitches are located in the bed of the truck and are either hooked into universal rails or a gooseball hole. Fifth wheel hitches are normally much heavier and more difficult to install. They will normally cost anywhere from $800 to $2,500 installed depending on the features available on the hitch, with install fees varying depending on the truck and style of hitch needed. Furthermore, there are also adapters available to hook a fifth wheel to a gooseneck ball in the bed of a truck, if your truck is already equipped. These will be in the neighborhood of $500.
Your tow vehicle also becomes a major factor in determining which unit is the better fit for you. Fifth wheels are exclusively pulled by trucks. with the size of the truck being a major factor. RV manufacturers are coming out with more and more fifth wheels that are towable by 1/2-ton trucks, but the majority require a 3/4-ton truck or larger. Unfortunately, the cost to own and maintain these trucks can be more expensive than the normal household vehicle. On the other hand, travel trailers are built in many different sizes and can be towed by a large array of vehicles. The vast majority of travel trailers are 1/2-ton truck towable, with only the very largest requiring a 3/4-ton or bigger. Since travel trailers are pulled from the rear of the vehicle they can also be towed by SUVs or even some cars depending on the size of the trailer being towed. Since not all households own a large truck, this an advantage of the travel trailer because no special vehicle has to be purchased, and this has lead to travel trailer sales far surpassing fifth wheel sales nationwide. Also, when towing a travel trailer the entire bed of the vehicle is still available for storage where only a small portion of the bed is available when towing a fifth wheel.
As far as the size of the units themselves is concerned, fifth wheels generally are larger units ranging from 25'-44'. These units normally have higher ceilings throughout giving them a more home-like feel. Also, since these units are normally longer this allows for more slide rooms. In addition, while travel trailers can still be deluxe it is far more common for a fifth wheel to have a deluxe package with more features such as residential appliances, hydraulic jacks, better furniture, etc. Fifth wheels can vary greatly in price from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on size and features. Travel trailers are normally shorter, lighter weight units ranging from 15'-36'. These units normally have less slide rooms and not as many luxury features like fifth wheels. However, these units are often more affordable overall and still give you all the comforts of home while on the road. These units will normally be priced anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000.
The hitching process of hooking and unhooking is also worth considering. In the past a fifth wheel was hands-down much easier to hook to a truck. With most fifth wheel set-ups, the driver can simply look over their shoulder through the rear window and guide it into the hitch. This is in contrast to a travel trailer, where it can often take several attempts lining up with the ball under the coupler, with the driver having to get in and out each time to check. With back-up cameras equipped on many vehicles now the process of hooking up to a travel trailer has been greatly simplified, although generally fifth wheels are still considered easier.
So, which one is better--a travel trailer or a fifth wheel? You decide. Based on your expected use, towing desires, truck type, and general wants and needs, you can now determine which style is best suited for you. If you're still wanting some guidance then call, email, text, or stop by and we will be happy to help!