Fifth Wheels Vs. Motorhomes: Pros and Cons

You’ve already made the decision to invest in the RV life, but now comes the hard choices: which vehicle are you going to choose? You may get a traditional motorhome, which comes with all the bells and whistles. You may prefer to get a trailer you can tow to your truck or SUV, such as a fifth-wheel.

You could spend hours researching the two types of vehicles, and you very well should! Only you can decide whether a fifth-wheel or a motorhome is a better match for you financially and lifestyle-wise. That said, we can help out a bit with this article, which will outline the differences between a fifth-wheel trailer and a Class A motorhome as well as the pros and cons of each.

You can then use this information to make the best educated decision between the two types of vehicles.

Understanding the Differences Between a Fifth-Wheel Camper and a Class A Motorhome

To contrast the differences between a fifth-wheel trailer and a motorhome, we must first define each of these.

We’ll do that by delving into the myriad features of each. Then we’ll explain the differences between the two vehicle types, breaking these up into a pros and cons list.

Fifth-Wheel Camper

The fifth-wheel camper is named such because it is compatible with fifth-wheel hitches. You will need a heavy-duty pickup truck to transport a fifth-wheel, as these may be up to 40 feet in length (with smaller ones about half that).

The biggest fifth wheels have room for six passengers (or fewer) and some even include bi-level floor plans. The general cost for these vehicles is between $18,000 to $160,000 depending on the manufacturer, the size, the age (new or used), and the amenities.

Speaking of amenities, fifth-wheel trailers certainly do have ‘em in spades. Most of these trailers boast a picture window that allow passengers to look out and enjoy the sights on their road trip. With extra slide-outs (sometimes up to four), living room and bedroom walls may be able to stretch three extra feet.

While that’s great enough, fifth-wheel trailers also typically come equipped with furnishings like storage spaces, an entertainment center, cooking amenities like a refrigerator and stove, a dining room, a full bathroom with a shower and toilet, and large plush beds.

Class A Motorhome

Then there are the Class A motorhomes. There are three classes of motorhome: with Class A the largest and heaviest, Class B the most lightweight, and Class C a combination of the two.

Unlike a fifth-wheel, where you hitch the trailer to your truck, you drive the Class A motorhome itself. Their tough chassis may be made from commercial trucks or commercial busses, just to give you an idea of the size and scope of a traditional Class A. These are often likened to 18-wheelers, and with good reason!

The average wheel size for this motorhome is 22.5 inches wide. Generally, the price of these vehicles starts at $50,000 and may be as much as $800,000 and up. Compared to other classes of motorhomes, the fuel economy of a Class A is very poor.

You can fit more passengers in these vehicles than a fifth-wheel, at least six and sometimes even eight or 10. The motorhome may include three beds depending on the model, and the beds are always spacious, as they are a double, a queen, or a king.

Regarding amenities, Class A motorhomes are known for being luxe. You’ll feel like you’re staying in a hotel with the high-quality features included in most models. With slide-outs for extra space, classy kitchens, closed-off bedrooms, and roomy bathroom nooks, there is certainly a lot to love!

In the next section, we are going to outline the pros and cons of fifth-wheel trailers and Class A motorhomes. This is so you can get a good idea of which may be better for your unique needs. Remember, both vehicle types will have their pros and cons, so one isn’t necessarily better than the other. This detailed, bulleted list is designed to be impartial so you can make your own decision.

Fifth-Wheel Pros

  • Fifth-wheel trailers generally have a better fuel economy than Class A motorhomes, even though it’s not great. The average fuel economy of your truck or SUV may decrease with the addition of the trailer, but be sure to check your make and model for more specific fuel economy information. You can also contact the manufacturer.
  • In the event of a car accident, you’re generally safer than if you were in a motorhome. This is especially true for rear fender-benders and other rear damage. In these incidents, it would be the fifth-wheel that takes the brunt of the damage, not your truck or SUV. If you were involved in a head-on collision or a T-bone, the truck or SUV would be struck. That said, since you have airbags, you’re better off in these vehicles than a motorhome in such an accident.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers, even brand-new ones, are almost always cheaper than a Class A motorhome.
  • Not only that, but insurance for these vehicles will almost never cost as much as it does for a motorhome.
  • These trailers may come equipped with work areas. If you have a freelance job where you can work from anywhere, this workspace is especially great to have. It means you can go out on the road for months on end without having to miss any paychecks.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers can maintain a warm or cool temperature better than Class A motorhomes. There’s no engine heat migrating to the cabin, and since the windshield isn’t nearly as massive, it won’t fog up with condensation.
  • The floorplans available from many fifth-wheel trailer manufacturers are often unique and take up every last square inch of space available. This allows you to find the setup of your dreams even if you can’t necessarily customize your own.
  • Ceiling height in fifth-wheels is often better than those found in motorhomes. This is good news for taller passengers, who now don’t have to stress about bumping their head as they go about their day in the vehicle.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers generally include kitchen islands, which make food prep a breeze. Not only that, but these islands add to the aesthetics of the kitchen as well.
  • It’s more affordable to get your fifth-wheel professionally maintained. An oil change should cost $50 or less.
  • Fifth-wheels are often lauded for their residential furniture, and that’s fair. This furniture is absolutely beautiful and sitting on it is like a dream. It can be difficult to combine beauty and comfort when shopping for a couch for the home, so to get in a fifth-wheel is a nice surprise.

Fifth-Wheel Cons

  • You get decent privacy on these vehicles with the slide-out walls. When it comes time to go to bed, though, the adult’s bedrooms and children’s bedrooms may be close, which can mess up sleep schedules the first few nights.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers lack awnings, so you can’t sit outside your trailer without the sun beating down on your face. Also, in bad weather, these aren’t as sturdy as motorhomes, although they’re adequate in keeping you safe.
  • While these trailers are known for their roominess, they can’t compete with the space offered in motorhomes. Even the biggest fifth-wheel is still going to be smaller than the average Class A. There’s no way around that.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers often don’t let you house as many passengers as a Class A would. You can still get a good amount of people in there, but the more people you have on board, the tighter and tinier the trailer can feel.
  • It can be tricky to maneuver with a fifth-wheel. You have to remember that you now have a trailer towed to the back of your truck or SUV, which means you have to relearn how to drive with this new addition. This is different than learning how to drive a motorhome, as that’s a new experience. With a fifth-wheel, you may rely on old driving techniques out of habit that no longer work.
  • It can be harder to back up in a fifth-wheel, although not necessarily more so than in a motorhome.
  • If someone wanted to steal your fifth-wheel trailer, they’d just have to unhitch it and it’d be theirs. Motorhomes cannot be stolen in the same way (although they’re not theft-proof).
  • Also, fifth-wheel motorhomes lack stairs in most cases. If you have a friend or family member who has a hard time getting around, this can be a hindrance.
  • A few fifth-wheel trailer models do include an on-board generator, but most do not. Instead, you’ll have to buy a portable generator, which can be pricy. You also have to figure out where to stash this heavy item, which can be a headache. Oh yeah, and in a power outage, you’ll have to go hook it up and power it on. It’s much easier to steal one of these portable generators as well.

Motorhome Pros

  • Motorhomes may be more appropriate for longer drives since these are made for road trips. It’s not that fifth-wheels cannot go on such treks, but the average truck or SUV may not be able to go as far as a motorhome without the need to replace parts or get other maintenance.
  • Remarking on the privacy issue mentioned above, there’s more privacy offered in motorhomes. The bigger, newer, and more expensive models may have separate bedrooms, some with slide-out walls or even sliding doors that allow you to get all the privacy you’d enjoy back at home.
  • When the weather starts to get bad, being in a motorhome offers top-notch protection. The sturdy walls, roof, and floors as well as windows and slide-out walls give you plenty of options to hide from the storm. Also, many motorhomes include retractable awnings. Although these shouldn’t be used in rain and heavy winds, on bright, sunny days, these also offer a form of protection.
  • Class A motorhomes have more space and roominess. Passengers will be able to stretch their legs, sit comfortably, sleep well at night, and generally feel like they’re living their best lives in their home on the road.
  • While fifth-wheel trailers typically have better floorplan options, we’re still listing Class A floorplans as a pro as well because these aren’t necessarily inferior. You just don’t get as many options, but not everyone cares as much about that.
  • Motorhomes generally let you bring more passengers, whether that’s children, other family members, or friends. There’s more room for them to sit, sleep, and enjoy adventures on the road.
  • While maneuvering a motorhome isn’t always easy, that just comes down to inexperience. Once you get in the vehicle and practice driving, you will eventually master turning, parallel parking, K-turns and other tricky driving maneuvers. Sure, these vehicles aren’t necessarily easy to squeeze into the average parking space, but it is possible.
  • Motorhomes are generally regarded as safer than fifth-wheel trailers. It’s certainly much harder to make off with one.
  • The included stairs make it easy to get in and out of this behemoth of a vehicle. These stairs will often have railings too for safe ascension and descension every time.
  • Class A motorhomes generally have better generator options than fifth-wheels do. That’s because these vehicles include on-board generators which are built into the RV. This reduces stress in the event of power failure, because you know you have a generator at the ready to power up the necessities.
  • While the residential-style furniture found in many fifth-wheels may look nicer, it’s just window dressing, as there is no extra storage space. Furniture in a Class A motorhome may be able to retract or has hidden compartments for storage so everything is organized.

Motorhome Cons

  • Many Class A motorhomes lack a crumple zone. If a front-end accident occurs, the crumple zone allows the RV to take most of the damage rather than the driver and front passenger. The engine may be protected at this time as well.
  • Also, a lot of these vehicles weren’t crash-tested before release and may not include airbags. To be sure if your motorhome has airbags, check the manufacturer’s website and contact them if it’s not clear.
  • Motorhomes have awful fuel economy, as mentioned. Since these are so bulky and sluggish, they suck up a lot of gas, especially compared to a fifth-wheel setup.
  • Even if you go used, you’ll probably end up spending more on your Class A motorhome than you would for a new fifth-wheel trailer. If you decide to buy a new motorhome, this is doubly true.
  • Speaking of costs, there’s also the insurance to think about. Insuring a Class A motorhome often does not come cheap, so this is an additional cost you have to consider when deciding between a motorhome and a fifth-wheel trailer. Keep in mind that you will have to insure your motorhome whether you buy it new or used.
  • Motorhomes include a workspace as well, most often with a flat-back dinette. That said, this isn’t as sturdy or reliable of a setup as the work areas included with fifth-wheel trailers, putting you at a disadvantage.
  • Blasting the heater or air conditioner could cause windshield fogging in your motorhome. This isn’t the case with a fifth-wheel because the vehicle and the trailer are two separate components.
  • Backing up in a motorhome also isn’t easy, although no more or less so than in a fifth-wheel trailer. This is a negative for both vehicle types.
  • As mentioned, the ceiling height in motorhomes often leaves something to be desired. It’s not necessarily bad, but for taller passengers, there is a constant fear of bumping their heads.
  • Most Class A motorhomes do not include a kitchen island. This is hardly a dealbreaker, but it’s going o the cons list regardless.
  • Maintaining your motorhome is going to be a costly venture. For instance, you may pay as much as $300 for a standard oil change. Compare this to the roughly $30 price tag for a fifth-wheel trailer oil change.

Conclusion

Making the decision to get a fifth-wheel trailer or a Class A motorhome is a toughie for sure. While we can’t point you in one direction over another (that’s up to you decide, dear reader), we hope this article did give you some information to think about as you mull over your options. Good luck!

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