What’s the Difference Between a Fifth Wheel and a Motorhome?


As people get more into camping, and the prices of campers and motorhomes go down, we see a lot more people on the road headed to the campsite. Anyone driving around has seen motorhomes and

What is the difference between a fifth wheel and a motorhome? A motorhome is a recreational vehicle that has the camper portion and the driving cabin built into a single body making them one unit. A fifth wheel camper gets towed behind a truck where the hitch is mounted in the center of the bed of your truck instead of the normal hitch on the back. This gives more weight distribution, so it will give you more stability. Fifth wheel campers will typically have a bedroom that will extend out over the hitch giving you more sleeping space.

What Is A Motorhome?

A motorhome, or RV as most people call it is a camper, that has a motor drivers cabin built into it. This means that you can get in and drive your rv, while it is actually still attached to your sleeping, kitchen and bathroom area. RV’s are different than most campers because you do lose some space do to the the whole cabin compartment for the driver and co-pilot. This can be beneficial because it is basically like driving an oversized van depending on how big of a motorhome you buy. Motorhome’s generally come in the lengths of 18 feet to 36 feet, and can also have as few as zero pop-outs, to four pop-outs for extra living space. A drawback to a motorhome is not being able to setup camp and leave at will without breaking your camp down. In order to leave, you would have to break down camp and hookups and then you could leave. You would also have to find RV parking wherever you go.

What Is FifthWheel?

A fifth wheel trailer, is a camper that is towed behind a truck, but instead of the truck taking all the weight on the trailer hitch, the fifth wheel hitch is actually mounted in the center of the bed, usually over the back axle. This gives the truck a more dispersed weight distribution, and gives an advantage of backing your camper up, giving you a wider range of motion in turning. Since the hitch is mounted in the bed of your truck, you will almost always have a bedroom area that extends out over the hitch area giving you more space to sleep. The benefits to having a fifth wheel is that when you get to the campsite, you can detach your truck, and have an extra vehicle to drive around if needed for sight seeing. The towing of a fifth wheel can be a little difficult because you have to watch your turning because you have the length of your truck, and the length of your camper to worry about which can be up to 50ft.

Is One Better For Short Trips?

To answer this question you have to take a look at a few different things. Do you store yoru RV or fifth wheel at home, or storage? How long have you owned a camper or RV, and are you comfortable with it? Typically, for shorter trips, it really will not matter whether you have an RV or fifth wheel trailer, but in my honest opinion, a motorhome is the better option. You can pull your rv out, pack it up and drive away. It also depends on what you want to do on your trip, if you just want to drive out, setup camp and relax, I really think the motorhome is your best bet.

Is One Better For Long Hauls?

For longer hauls, a motorhome is typically going to be your best bet for comfort. You can pull over, and run to the bathroom, or someone could get up and walk to the bathroom while you are on the road. You can also have someone get up and get you something from the refrigerator, which you cannot do without pulling over with a fifth wheel. People will be a lot more comfortable for long hauls in your motorhome. There is normally a bench seat, couches, and dining room table that people can sit at. For these reasons, the motorhome is going to give you and your passengers a lot more comfort and space to move around than they would be sitting in your truck.

Drive Where You Sleep

One great thing about a motorhome is that you can sleep in the same place you are driving, so you don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on your truck overnight. Most Walmart and other retail store parking lots will let you stay overnight, or several nights in your motorhome. Depending on your needs, and whether you have kids or an expensive truck, you might see this as a benefit. If you really do not care about leaving your truck overnight, then it might not a game changer for you.

Having A Car For Sight Seeing

This topic is really where the difference of a motorhome, or fifth wheel is very important. When you have a fifth wheel camper, you will get to the campsite, and detach your trailer from your truck. Unless you get a super long campsite, you will not have room to park without doing this. The benefit to this is once you detach your truck, you have a truck to drive around. If you want a car for sight seeing and you own a motorhome, you would have to purchase a separate car, and a car dolly for your motorhome. If you do not do that, you will have to pack up your rv, put the pop-outs back in before you can drive it around to different sights. Almost all motorhome owners that I know, have a separate car for towing behind their motorhome. This adds some complexity to towing because now you have a car to worry about behind your already long motorhome. There also might be DMV regulations, on how long your tow length can actually be.

Is Towing A Fifth Wheel Hard?

Towing a trailer will almost always be more difficult than having a motorhome. This is because of the length. Since the trailer is usually much longer than a motorhome, you might have your camper sway back and forth in between lanes, so it takes more concentration to keep it in between the lines. Also depending on what truck you drive, you could have towing issues with speed and hills. Your turn radius will not be as sharp when towing a fifth wheel, but if you are an experienced driver that has towed trailers before, it should not be a problem. A fifth wheel trailer is typically easier to tow than a “tow behind” camper that fits on your hitch. A fifth wheel will also give you better weight distribution which helps with towing.

How Do I Decide Which One Is Better?

To decide which one is better really depends on what your needs are, and if you have a truck, and if you have any experience towing a camper or boat. In order to have a fifth wheel camper, you must have a truck because the hitch has to be mounted in the center of the bed, so if you have an SUV with a trailer hitch, this will not work. If you are looking at something that is self contained, can drive where you sleep, and have plenty of room for kids, family and pets, the motorhome is a much better idea, and I would go that route. When making a decision, its always best to plan out what amenities you want, your budget, and what you want to do with it.

Final Thoughts

There are some pretty big differences between a motorhome and a fifth wheel camper, as well as some similarities that might make it harder than you might think to choose between when trying to decide what to get. Fifth wheels can be harder to pull, and require you to have a truck, while motorhomes are self contained, but you do not get that extra vehicle when you are out. Picking a camper should be based on your budget, what you want to do with it, and what type of experience you have. No matter what you decide, you will be happy with either one!

Recent Content