RV Shopping – Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer?

So you’ve settled on a towed RV rather than a self-propelled motorhome version; that’s a fantastic alternative for lots of RV enthusiasts for a variety of reasons. The cost of the unit itself is usually much lower – even if you add in a decent-sized hauler. A stock Ford F-250, for example, benefits from economies of scale that just don’t apply to Class A motorhomes, and that translates into the price.

Plus, when you arrive at your campsite with a towed unit, whether it’s a 5th wheel or a travel trailer, and you unhitch, level and hook up the utilities, you’ll still have a run-around vehicle. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel just to go down to the 7-11 to pick up a quart of milk.

What’s the difference?

The most obvious difference between the two types of RVs is the overhang that fifth-wheelers have. A chunk of the front end of the 5th-wheel protrudes over the truck bed, which has both advantages and disadvantages.

Which is better? There’s no single answer to that. Your choice will depend on your budget, how you use the RV, what you like to do when you get to the campsite or other RV destination, and, of course, what kind of vehicle you will use to tow it.

Advantages of Travel Trailers

➢ You don’t need a truck to haul it. Trucks are great, but you can haul it with an SUV or even a sedan with at least six cylinders. Check your car manufacture specs for towing capacity.

➢ You still have access to the entire truck bed, or rear of the SUV. The overhang on 5th wheels means you lose about 4-5 feet of truck bed access.

➢ You can use a truck bed topper and you have lots of storage in a pickup truck.

➢ If your towing vehicle breaks down, any vehicle with a big enough engine and a hitch can haul it.

➢ You could rent a U-Haul to take it home, if you really needed to.

➢ No modifications are necessary to the truck bed.

➢ Travel trailers tend to be lower to the ground, which makes them easier to enter and exit. ➢ Lower profile means less wind resistance and therefore, better fuel economy than 5th Wheels.

➢ Travel trailers tend to be a bit lower in cost - about +/- 5 percent less than fifth wheels.

➢ Travel trailers can be very small indeed. If you’re on a tight budget, you can get a very serviceable basic, no-frills travel trailer for much less than the lower-end fifth-wheels.

Advantages of Fifth-Wheels

➢ The dedicated sleeping space in the overhang translates to more enjoyable living space in the RV itself.

➢ Less trailer sway/fishtailing (though modern innovations in hitch design have helped to alleviate trailer sway in recent years).

➢ Insurance premiums will tend to be higher, thanks to the usually higher purchase price.

➢ They tend to be more comfortable and available in more luxurious models than travel trailers.

➢ More maneuverable in tight spaces

➢ Easier to hitch and unhitch.

➢ Normally greater wastewater storage tanks.

➢ Ceiling height is friendlier for tall people.

Special Considerations

Fifth-wheels require extra attention to load planning and weight monitoring. Adding too much weight, or poor weight distribution on any towed vehicle can cause hazards like tire blowouts. Fifth-wheels seem to be especially prone to this phenomenon – perhaps in part because fifth-wheel owners tend to put more stuff in the RV.

Also, properly insuring the towed RV is critical. We always recommend having a detailed conversation with an agent who specializes in RV insurance to ensure you are properly protected against damage and liability. Simply click RVInsurance.com for a quick quote or call 1-866-646-1755.

Hitches. Fifth-wheels have special hitches, called “goose-necks.” To use them, you’ll have to modify your towing vehicle with special equipment. Often, standard automobile insurance policies from general carriers won’t cover that equipment. They may not even realize that these hitches exist. But if your truck is stolen or totaled and you have to file a claim, you’ll need to replace the goose-neck connection, as well as the truck. In that event, you’ll certainly want to be covered for it.

Personal effects. Fifth-wheels are usually bigger, and their owners often store more things than they do in travel trailers; this is particularly true for full-timers who live in their RVs for extended periods of time. For this reason, you may want to own some extra coverage for personal effects, which are generally those items that are not permanently installed in the RV.

Large trucks. Are you using a big truck to haul your trailer or fifth wheel? You may need to make some insurance coverage adjustments. For example, you may need to purchase some additional liability coverage, since those trucks can cause a lot more damage and can be much more lethal to other drivers and their passengers than standard-sized rigs. A specialty RV insurer like RVInsurance.com can get you an appropriate level of coverage.

Replacement Value. Fifth wheels tend to have more depreciating items. That means after a few years, the fair market value of your RV will be much lower than what it will actually cost to replace it if it’s destroyed. For that reason, full-replacement value coverage is critical for fifth-wheels.

Full-timers’ Coverage. Are you planning on living full-time in your RV? You’ll need additional insurance coverage to reflect that fact. Not living in your RV full-time? You’ll want the option of paying a reduced premium for the months your RV is in storage. Either way, your best bet is usually with a carrier that specializes in RV insurance, rather than going through a general automotive carrier.

Accessories and Upgrades. Do you have upgrades or customizations? Permanently installed accessories? Chances are you’ll want coverage on the whole RV, not just the chassis and frame. Choose a carrier that insures everything permanently attached to the RV as part of the claim.

Need insurance for your pop-up camper, fifth wheel, or Class C motorhome? RVInsurance.com insures all types of RVs and we'll shop our multi-carrier agency to find the best rates for you. Get a quote here or by calling 1-866-646-1755!