There is a lot of jargon in the RV world. We have an article on that to get you acquainted if you’re not initiated. One term that you’ve likely come across but might not have totally understood what it means is “fifth-wheel” of “5th-wheel.” This is a type of towable RV that requires a large pickup truck to tow because of the type of hitch it uses.
The Fifth-Wheel Hitch
The fifth-wheel hitch is a U shaped hitch coupling that fits in the back of the tow vehicle—usually, a pickup truck—and connects with the trailer. The spot where the trailer connects to the tow vehicle, in essence, acts as another point for the trailer to connect and rest its weight.
It’s also where the term fifth-wheel gets its name. Old carriages in the 1800s had an actual horizontal wheel, that allowed the front axle to pivot. The name’s use was continued with the modern day design for the pickup truck hitch.
It’s a similar design to the type of hitch that a semi-truck uses. This means it’s a very safe and sturdy hitch. It is one that can be used for large and heavy loads. The trailer has a “king pin,” which locks into the U-shaped hitch allowing you to safely pull the trailer.
Why Is a Fifth-Wheel a Good Idea?
The fifth-wheel design comes with quite a few upsides. A trailer with a fifth-wheel hitch design will feel more stable when towing. It should not experience much trailer sway. This is due to the fact that the hitch weight is over the rear axle (the drive axle) of the tow vehicle, meaning the weight of the trailer is better distributed across the entire rig.
Also, the strong fifth-wheel hitch design provides a more secure connection than a typical ball hitch. This stronger connection and high level of stability mean most fifth-wheel trailers can be built with strong, sturdy, heavier, and often more luxurious materials and features.
If you want a towable RV and you want a true luxury model, you want to buy a fifth-wheel. Many fifth-wheel models come with solid wood cabinetry, king-size beds, and full-size appliances. These amenities are not included in travel trailers often partly because of weight.
What are the Downsides?
The first stems from the sheer size of most fifth-wheel trailers. Fifth-wheels are large and heavy, and someone who’s not used to towing could feel overwhelmed. That said, because fifth-wheels are designed for stability and maneuverability, they’re still usually easier to handle on the road than a trailer of the same size with a typical ball hitch.
The other big downside is that you need a full-size or heavy-duty pickup truck to tow the fifth-wheel trailer. Because fifth-wheels RVs are often larger and heavier than a typical travel trailer, they require a more powerful truck. This also translates to a higher-priced truck, which can put fifth-wheel trailers out of reach for many RVers.
It’s important to match the trailer to the truck you own. If you’re shopping for both an RV and a tow vehicle, check out our article on the subject for more information.
What are your thoughts on fifth-wheels? Would you want one? Leave a comment below.