What Is a Fifth Wheel and Shall You Get One?

www.rvtalk.net is reader supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

In the world of ‘home on wheels’, there are a whole lot of vehicles. Each type has its own set of unique features, functions, and benefits. A fifth wheel is one such type that is the primary choice of millions of RVers. What is a fifth wheel? How does it get this name? Can it be your perfect mobile home?

If you are a newcomer to the RV world, all these names and terms may seem a little confusing. It’s hard to make a purchase decision when you can’t spot the differences. We’re going to give the answers with detailed explanations.

What Is a Fifth Wheel?

It’s a towable RV type that requires a large pickup truck, or a vehicle equally strong, because of the distinctive hitch variety it uses. What is the 5th wheel meaning, then? It refers to a hitch that connects a cargo fitment to the back of the towing vehicle, normally a truck, pickup truck, or tractor.

Have you ever seen highway trucks towing another vehicle or freights in a carriage? This hitch they use is a typical example of the fifth wheel design. In these days, the 5th wheel definition refers to mainly U-shaped coupling on the back of a heavy-duty towing vehicle. A towing vehicle compatible with a fifth wheel trailer has a ‘king pin’ that locks into the hitch to create a highly safe connection.

5th wheel hitch
A U-shaped 5th wheel hitch.

As this hitch is used for large tractors, trucks, and semi-trucks, it’s highly durable and lasts for a long time. This hitch is located on the vehicle’s flatbed.

A fifth wheel is a full-size trailer that has all facilities to be your mobile home. Due to its heavy weight, it requires an at least one-ton vehicle to tow it. These trailers have enough space, both for sleeping and storage, for a small family. You can even extend that space with multiple slide-outs.

There are many fifth wheelers equipped with luxury amenities. If you are a full-time RVer or stay on wheels for months, you will hardly miss your home while living in a fifth wheel.

Why Do They Call It a Fifth Wheel?

why is it called a 5th wheel

So, it’s clear what is a fifth wheel, but why is it called a 5th wheel? There’s an interesting backstory that traces back to the time when recreational vehicles were not even a thing.

Back in the mid-1850s, some manufacturers designed this hitch for horse-drawn carriages. These hand-built hitches sat flush on the cargo frame, allowing its front axle to pivot on its own. The coupling, known as a fifth wheel, was somewhat revolutionizing as it brought stability to horse carriages and enhanced their maneuverability.

Later, in the early 1900s, an improved version of this coupling had been designed for automobiles. The fifth wheel framework these days does not resemble that of the old ones, but the name kind of got stuck.

Read more:

Is a Fifth Wheel Right for You?

You know what is a fifth wheel and how it gets this name, but is it the right RV for you? In fact, no one trailer is perfect for anyone. People have different choices and their daily life requirements vary from one another.

5th wheel camper
A fifth wheeler has many advantages.

Fifth wheels have their plus points. So, if you like these following features, you may consider buying one:

Makes Towing Easier

The hitch a 5th wheel camper uses these days is quite strong and durable to haul heavy weights. It assists with turning because it’s located on the truck-bed with the trailer hanging at the end of the truck. This unique placement helps with moving the RV according to the movement of the towing vehicle. It allows for comfortable driving and people inside the RV don’t feel excessive jolts and bumps.

Another advantage of this placement is that it makes the 5th wheel highly stable and spreads the weight better. It also performs better against wind sway as the RV’s weight is on the flatbed, not on the back hitch or tailgate. Even if you are driving at a high speed, you can rely on a fifth wheel coupling to keep the journey safe.

Large but Fuel Efficient

A fifth wheel can be between 20 and 40 feet of length. The size is perfect for accommodating up to six people. If you like to travel with your friends or family and go camping frequently, this is the perfect RV.

Unlike a big diesel-powered RV, a 5th wheeler does not consume much fuel, despite being quite large. Of course, the fuel consumption won’t be negligible, but much less than a diesel motorhome.

Fifth Wheel Price

A fifth wheeler is not like a motorhome. However, if you are willing to spend a good sum of money, you can get one with deluxe features. Its price actually depends on the size and the number of amenities it comes with.

If you want to travel with a group of four or five, you need to purchase a 40-foot unit. The price range will be between $50,000 and 150,000, depending on the features and number of slide outs.

fifth wheel trailer
The slide outs extend the storage space.

These units are also good for solo travelers as you can buy a 20-foot unit for $20,000 to $50,000. it’s a great choice if you are not into minimalist living yet and want to have one or two extra beds for overnight guests.

The Final Words

Hope you get the answer of what is a fifth wheel? This RV type holds the middle ground between trailers and large motorhomes. If you want to have a proper living and sleeping area and kitchen and bathroom, but don’t want to splurge on an expensive motorhome, a fifth wheeler is an ideal option.

It also provides a much safer driving experience than a travel trailer. Also, you can just unhitch the pickup truck and go for a ride in an area where driving a large RV is inconvenient.

About Peter Wade

Peter Wade is a co-ordinator and writer at www.RVTalk.net. His hobbies are coffee, RV camping and photography. He now enjoys exploring the U.S. by RV with his two dogs. After obtaining a MA degree in Public Relations and Journalism, he had 8 years of experience working for the R&D Department of Outdoorsy. Peter provides a unique look and insightful knowledge about the RV lifestyle, and fills his blog with everything from RV camping guides to reviews about necessary RV accessories. If you are an RV enthusiast and want to get the most-updated trends of the RV industry, Peter’s articles are the must-visit contents.

Leave a Comment