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Filed under: The RVs We Drive

Travel Trailers vs. Fifth Wheels

July 6, 2014 by · 2 Comments 


Okay, you have decided your first or next RV will be a trailer.  Now that this decision has been made, there are many more features and options, like 5th wheel or conventional hitch type pull trailer, size and weight, make and model, and of course, the floor plan preferences. Before purchasing, you should know the differences between the two class selections, travel trailers vs. fifth wheels.

The Classic Tear Drop Trailer

The Classic Tear Drop Trailer

Fifth wheel trailers are the big boys of the RV towable class, in both available length and weight load.  They do, however require a truck to pull them, generally starting at the size of a three-quarter ton unit and going up from there.  As the trailer’s connection to the tow vehicle is directly over the truck’s rear axle, this RV combination generally rides and drives extremely well and is much easier than conventional trailers to back up.  Some of the larger 5th wheel trailers can be tall and therefore require special attention to overhead clearances.  You must make sure that your truck is adequate to handle the size trailer you are going to buy.  Your dealer can help you here with advice as to the size and specific rated capacity needed.

On the other side of the coin are the conventional travel trailers. These units are available in a wide variety of sizes, from a mini “Tear Drop” type to ones that mimic the trailer used in the 1953 Lucille Ball movie “The Long, Long Trailer.” As far as a towing vehicle, you are going to need a rear wheel or all-wheel drive configuration for the majority, save the smaller light units, probably less than 2,000 lbs. or so.  Travel trailers require more skill to back up and are less maneuverable than that of a 5th wheel type.  Hitch weight can be an issue here as around 10% of a trailer’s weight should be on the ball.  This weight is multiplied by the moment arm causing a heavier load on the rear springs.   This often requires the installation of a weight distribution hitch and possibly pneumatic lifters on the rear suspension of the car or truck.

5th Wheel Trailer

5th Wheel Trailer

Whether you choose a 5th wheel or a hitch type travel trailer, you will likely require an approved trailer braking system.  The weight requirements vary depending on the state or province where you reside.  There are states like California that specify anything more than 1,500 lbs. requires a braking system.  This being the case, using 1,500 lbs. is probably a wise move, regardless.  When you have made your decision and have reached this point in the buying process, you still have a lot of shopping to do.  Make, model, features, and floor plan are but a few of the decisions you have to make, plus making it fit with your budget.  This entire exercise can be quite educational and fun.  Best of luck finding the perfect trailer that meets all of your needs.  Enjoy!


2 Responses to “Travel Trailers vs. Fifth Wheels”
  1. I'm looking for an older model fifth wheel. Less than 25 feet. I've warned off slide outs as problematic in older fifth wheels. Plus we plan to move frequently and don't really anticipate the need for a slide out. I've been scanning the internet but have not found a single fifth wheel made after 2002 that does not have slides.

    We're attracted to the fifth wheel over the conventional travel trailer in part because the all seem to have a nice big bed permanently available and the idea of having to break down and put up a bed every day does not appeal at all. Plus a fifth wheel allows for a conventional mattress, not bench cushions doing double duty.

  2. Peter Mercer says:

    That’s a tough one. Most, if not all, 5th wheel makers produce only slide equipped units. You might end up having to find a good pre-2002 unit or possibly see if you could order a custom rig.

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