Fifth Wheel VS Motorhome: 24 Pros and Cons to Know Before Buying


When you are looking into buying yourself a recreational vehicle there is a lot to consider. This just gets more complicated with all the types and classes of RV. Let’s make this simpler and compare Fifth wheels to Motorhomes.

For this article, we will focus on comparing Class A and C motorhomes to Fifth wheels. If you are interested in a smaller travel vehicle Class B motorhomes are a good choice but they aren’t really comparable to a fifth wheel, so for a more equal comparison, I’ll be cutting Class B motorhomes out of the equation.

Pros and Cons of Fifth Wheels

The following video shares the benefits of fifth wheels over motorhomes.

Fifth Wheel Benefits

Detachable Vehicle

When you are traveling a long distance you are going to need a vehicle for local travel around the town. Luckily, with the fifth wheel, all you have to do is drop off your house on wheels and then you’ll have your truck to travel around the town in.

This also allows you to run errands without needing to take your house with you as you do so. This is especially important if you plan on staying in one place for an extended amount of time.

When you stay at a campground for a long amount of time it is nice to leave your house in one place and then travel around the town in a separate car.

This is so necessary that even in a motorhome you will likely haul a vehicle behind you to serve the same purpose. So either way, you’ll need a second vehicle and in a fifth wheel, you have a hitch that’s designed for just that purpose.

Large Storage Capacity

Fifth wheels are masters at maximizing space usage. Every little part of the fifth wheel that isn’t being used by furniture or other amenities is used for storage space. Fifth wheels are known for having great exterior storage space with things like pass-through storage, as well as great internal storage from overhead storage bins and the like.

Large storage capacity doesn’t just apply to your goods either fifth wheels also have large water tanks. Fresh, gray, and black water tanks are all very sizable in the majority of fifth wheel options.

The larger these tanks are the less time you need to spend emptying out the bad and filling up the good. This is a large benefit as you are not using your RV productively if you need to stop frequently.

Quality Amenities

The flexibility of amenities in a fifth wheel is immense. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that anything your home can have your fifth wheel can get. The amenity options are immense and often serve as excellent selling points for these RVs.

For instance, a kitchen island is a rather regular piece in new fifth wheels. This is often coupled by four range stovetops and full-sized refrigerators in the kitchen.

Bedrooms will have queen to king-sized mattresses and there are plenty of options for beds outside of the master bedroom such as bunkhouses which will lead you to large sleeping capacities in your fifth wheel.

This often can be extended to quality furniture. You can find fifth wheels with reclining massage chairs if you want to. Seriously, you get to take the comfort of home with you in a fifth wheel.

You’ll find that fifth wheels have great recreational furniture options. Many of the chairs and couches that you would want to buy for your home are available for fifth wheels as well!

Toy Hauling Capabilities

A major benefit of a fifth wheel is that you can find options that will haul your smaller off-roading vehicles. UTVs, ATVs, and dirtbikes can be hard to bring along if you’re already pulling a trailer behind you. The same thing is true if you are driving a long motorhome. Either way, it will be a challenge.

Your best option, then, is to have a separate vehicle to take offroad. For that, you’ll need a toy hauler.

Fifth wheels that have toy hauling garages are going to be extremely long and heavy, which means you’ll need a strong truck to pull them. But if that’s not an issue for you, then these fifth wheels are great options.

The garage is at the back of the fifth wheel so you still have a sizable living space. The only difference is behind that back wall is a garage instead of the road.

Interior Space

One of the frustrations involved with having an RV is feeling cramped. If you are close to anyone who is really tall, like over 6 foot tall ask them how they feel in an RV. RVs often have ceilings that barely reach over 8 feet tall.

But don’t worry! Fifth wheels usually have ceiling heights that reach 11 feet high, so there should be plenty of room.

Additionally, fifth wheels have plenty of slide-out options giving you even greater space to use for whatever you want. Fifth wheels are designed to be like a home.

They often suffer in other departments because of it, but when looking at a fifth-wheel you are rarely going to find a better option for a house on the go.

Separation/Privacy

One major concern for parents on the road is the amount of separation you will get from your children. Can you keep things quiet for them after you have put them to bed? Fifth wheels are generally separated into sections.

Whether these sections have items that separate them or not depends on the floor plan of each fifth wheel, but given the general break up of the fifth wheel, it is easy to construct your own means of separation even without one formally designed for the floor plan.

You also have the separation of the truck from the RV if you wanted to use that as well.

Money Efficient

Fifth wheels are one of the cheaper options when compared to other RVs. In comparison to motorhomes, the main reason behind this is the lack of an engine within the unit itself.

That being said, you are likely going to need to tow a vehicle behind you anyway. For both a motorhome and a fifth wheel, this cost will remain about the same.

Simply breaking it down, you get a really large and well-used space in a fifth wheel starting at prices around $30,000. You’ll get some really good options for a fifth wheel at $70,000.

Frankly, a Class A motor home can’t compare to this price; though, a Class C motorhome is relatively similar in price to the fifth wheel.

Fifth Wheel Drawbacks

Separate Driving and Living Area

Probably the number one complaint about fifth wheels is that your driving and living areas are separated. This can create a multitude of problems. One of the major concerns is the lack of convenience.

If you are connected to the living area, then someone can hand you food, water, or whatever you need while you are driving. That’s not an option if you are in a truck and your passengers are in the fifth wheel.

Another major concern is security. If you’re in a dangerous or uneasy situation in a motorhome, you can hop from where you were just sleeping to the driver’s seat and get going.

That’s not an option in a fifth wheel. You have to go outside to get into the truck. This lowers the security of the RV.

Requires the Right Truck

Another big concern is getting the right truck for your Fifth wheel. Fifth wheels get heavy. The heavier they are, the more limited your truck options are. Additionally, whatever truck you have is going to be your local transportation when you drop your fifth wheel off.

This means that if you need a huge and powerful truck to cart your fifth wheel around in, you’ll be stuck driving that around town, even if it’s not what you prefer.

That’s not going to get you the best gas mileage for your local travel, so the option of a small car towed behind a motorhome might be much more appealing to you.

Requires a Large Storage Area

RVs all take up a lot of space and fifth wheels can get really long, which means you are going to need a storage space that covers an RV of that size.

This is one of those things that often gets overlooked when people are looking into getting an RV. If you are not careful, you can store your RV in a dangerous environment which will ruin the vehicle that you put a lot of time, care, and money into.

So make sure that you have space to store an RV before you buy one. This applies to both fifth wheels and motorhomes, but it’s a large enough worry that it’s notable on both lists.

Hard to Maneuver and Park

Fifth wheels are large and two separate vehicles. They are firmly connected but they are still hard to move around. Their turning is decent, but the big issue comes when you try to fit into small spaces. It can also be difficult to separate the truck from the fifth wheel.

There have been plenty of times where at a campground you’ll have to watch a guy with a fifth wheel take a good 10-20 minutes to finally get his vehicle parked.

Add in the time necessary to hook up specific parts of the fifth wheel, as well as refill and pump your different water tanks, and you’ll understand the struggle.

Not Great for Stopping and Going

The final negative that I’ll point out for Fifth wheels is their difficulty stopping and going. Fifth wheels are built to be dropped off an enjoyed as a home that can move around.

However, if you plan on taking frequent breaks or need to stop for whatever reason, then a fifth wheel isn’t going to be the best option.

In particular the difficulty of attaching the fifth wheel to the truck every time you separate the two can be a struggle.

Pros and Cons of Motorhomes

The following video shares a personal example of a family choosing a motorhome over a fifth wheel.

Motorhome Benefits

Connected Cab

One of the major perks of motorhomes is the connection between the driving space, the cab, and the living space. This allows for the exchange of whatever resources the driver might need from those in the back of the car.

Food, water, conversation and whatever else the driver needs can be passed upfront. This is overall convenient, but it also adds some security to the motorhome as well since in a dangerous situation you won’t have to worry about going outside.

This can be helpful if you’re dealing with bad weather or encountering some unsavory individuals.

This perk makes it easy to just get up and go with no fuss.

Driving Experience

One of the big reasons I’ve seen others promote switching to a motorhome is the feeling of the driving experience. We are talking about those nice cabs of class A motorhomes or even the iconic RV cab of the class C motorhomes.

There is something about being connected to others while still driving that makes the experience real. Add that to the feeling of having a whole home right behind you and the experience is amazing.

So if you enjoy the thrill of driving in the cab of a motorhome then this option is great for you. It’s not quite like the feeling of driving a truck that’s just connected to a hitched RV.

Maneuverability

Motorhomes are essentially long cars in regard to how you handle them. This means that once you get used to the extra length, you pretty much treat them like normal cars. You can move them into tight spaces fairly easily and line them up for any hitches or add-ons without much difficulty.

They are pretty easy to handle once you’ve been in the cab for a little while.

Can Stop and Go

Another one of the major ways that motorhomes outperform fifth wheels is in their ability to stop and go. Unlike the fifth wheel where you have to detach and reattach the cab from your living space, the motorhome will always be one piece.

This comes with some negatives too but the major benefit is that you don’t have to worry about getting everything situated. Do you want to hit the road? Great, detach everything at your rest stop and get going! It’s that easy.

Large Storage Capacity

Just like the fifth wheel, you are going to have a lot of storage that you can go ahead and use to your advantage. In particular, there is often space between the cab and the living space or around that area where you will have plenty of overhead storage.

There really isn’t a clear winner when it comes to storage between the 5th wheel and the motorhome since they both optimize space rather well. This aspect is great about both of them!

There is, however, a slight added benefit to the motorhome because it has a built-in engine so it is built to pull the weight of its chassis.

The truck that you have for a fifth wheel may not be built to pull your fifth wheel, so you may have to worry about that a little if you are using a fifth wheel.

Self-Contained

One major element that is nice about the motorhome is that everything is self-contained. This goes past the concept of security and having a connected driving and living space. One of the difficulties of a fifth wheel is that you have a truck and your fifth wheel which means all maintenance on the engine has to be done on the truck.

In a motorhome, you have to do maintenance on the motorhome itself. This can be difficult but it gives you a second engine if you are towing another car. Overall it’s great if you have your camper in one place to worry about and you can keep your car in another.

Seating Space

Finally, when you’re on the road, you can ride in the motorhome. That’s not always an option in a fifth wheel. As a result, there are plenty of seats in a motorhome for sitting that you won’t have in your car.

The seats are often more comfortable, too. So if you have a large family and need the extra seats, you may want to look into a motorhome.

Motorhome Drawbacks

Not Built for Localized Travel

One of the biggest perks of the motorhome is that you don’t need to tow anything behind you. Often this is great, but in reality, you will still want to tow a smaller vehicle behind you for local travel.

You don’t want to be driving your motorhome to the grocery store every time you go out. You’ll need to tow a small car behind you if you want to get around tighter streets.

Requires a Large Storage Area

Similar to the fifth wheel, you will need to concern yourself with the storage of your motorhome. There is a particular difficulty that you must worry about in a motorhome though, and that is the engine.

Fifth wheels don’t have engines, so the only thing you need to worry about is the generator. In a motorhome, you need to take extra caution to make sure that the environment that you are storing it in is suitable for the engine it has as well.

Motor Maintenance

A big complaint about motorhomes is that the engine can be really specific and difficult to get to. Some mechanics won’t even work on the engine of a motorhome, so you’ll need to find the right mechanic to work on the engine of your motorhome.

The fifth wheel has a major leg up in this department since all maintenance is done on the truck engine. With motorhomes, you have to find the right people to get the job done.

Limited Variability

There have been some big improvements in this field of recent but, generally, you get the same few floor plans repeated over and over again as you look through motorhomes.

In particular, there are few motorhomes that can haul toys, and the separation between rooms in a motorhome is not quite up to par with that of a fifth wheel.

Smaller Space

Finally, when looking at a fifth wheel and a motorhome you don’t have as much room in a motorhome as you do in a fifth wheel. Most of this comes from the more comfortable seating space and the connected cab to the living space.

The big issues here revolve around sleeping space. Fifth wheels usually have higher capacities than motorhomes. Some Class A motorhomes can compete in space, but they are also kind of rare as they need a cot above the cab which has only recently started to enter the Class A motorhome domain.

Final Summary

There is a lot to compare between these two RVs, but if I had to break it down to one concept, I would focus on how often you and your family are planning on staying in one place versus how much you want to move.

If you are going to be stopping and going frequently then your best bet is going to be a motorhome. They have a great take-off time, you don’t have to worry about a hitch to attach, and they are easy to park.

If you plan on staying in one place, because you’re on vacation or something, then your best bet is going to be a fifth wheel. That way you have a nice home that you can drop off that surpasses the home you would get from a motorhome.

So for those of you that want a place to live while on the road, a motorhome is great. Those of you that want a home that you can move, go with the fifth wheel.

For more information on motorhomes and fifth wheels check out this link which goes into further detail.

Buying: What You Should Know

  1. Take your time
  2. Negotiate and look for used options
  3. Look at all the available options

When you are looking to buy an RV, you want to take the time to research as much as you can. Become part of the online RV community. Ask questions and find videos highlighting different parts of the vehicles. You don’t want to enter negotiations unprepared.

Next, when you’re buying, actually negotiate. Some say that you can buy an RV for 30% lower than the asking price they have prepared. Use that to your advantage and take time during the negotiations to find the best option for you.

Consider all the options. I have only focused on two options in this post but there are many more out there. You don’t want to find that there was something that fit you better after you bought something already. That feels terrible.

To help you avoid buyers regret, the following video will key you into some of the shadier sides of the RV dealing business.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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