If you are looking into getting a camper, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time camping, you’ll likely be faced with this question: fifth wheel or motorhome? But what’s the difference?
Fifth wheels are trailers that connect to the bed of the truck through a fifth-wheel hitch. Motorhomes are one solid unit that has a cab directly connected to the living space. The core difference between a fifth wheel and a motorhome is the connected versus disconnected driving and living spaces.
What is a Fifth Wheel?
A fifth wheel is a towable rv requiring a pickup truck. It connects to the truck bed using a fifth-wheel hitch. This connection allows the fifth wheel to move behind your truck smoother with less sway than a travel trailer while still having your living space separate from your driving space. The master bedroom is typically located at the front of the RV over the hitch.
Due to how it connects to the vehicle, you are forced to use a larger truck, and don’t have the option to pull with an SUV.
Related Reading: Travel Trailer vs. Fifth Wheel
What is a Motorhome?
Motorhomes come in three classes A, B, and C. Each motorhome is built around the same concept of having the driving space of the RV connected to the living space. The ratio between the amount of the vehicle dedicated to living or driving space determines its class.
Class A motorhomes are heavy on the living space while light on the driving space. This leads to what looks like a luxury bus that has a couple of sections that will hold the kitchen, bathroom, and entertainment sections away from the driving area in the front of the motorhome.
Related Reading: 21 Pros and Cons of a Class A Motorhome
Class B motorhomes are light on the living space and heavy on the driving space. These end up looking like an oversized van. Sometimes they are even called camper vans. There is often little room for amenities but they are convenient to travel long distances and are generally not a challenge to use for local travel either.
Class C motorhomes are the Goldilocks class of motorhomes. There is a closer to equal balance between the emphasis put on driving space and living space in Class C motorhomes. These motorhomes look like class A motorhomes but you can tell this difference due to their over cab beds. This covers the cab with part of the chassis of the living space.
Related Reading: 21 Pros and Cons of a Class C RV
Layout: Separate Living and Driving Space
A major benefit to having a separate living and driving space is the vehicle that you have that you can separate from your trailer when you need something for localized travel. When you have reached your destination it’s not going to be possible for you to drive your motorhome or tow your trailer behind you everywhere you go. It’s just not going to happen.
For a fifth wheel, this means as soon as you reach your desired destination you can drop off your rig and travel around in the truck you were using to tow the trailer. This is a major benefit. All you will ever need to worry about is your trucks engine and small lighter maintenance on the fifth wheel trailer itself.
Motorhome owners, however, will need to tow a smaller vehicle behind their motorhome. This is so common that 80% of motorhome owners approach the problem of localized travel in this way.
The defect to this is that a motorhome owner must now tow a car behind their motorhome making them even longer than they were previously. This means the theoretical benefit of not having to tow anything, that is sometimes promoted as a pro for motorhomes, isn’t the truth.
An additional defect comes in the form of having two engines that you need to keep in drivable condition. This can be a major frustration as motorhomes, in particular, have some rather difficult to reach engines that some mechanics refuse to work on.
This also means that you will have to worry about keeping up with the engine of both the small vehicle you are towing and the motorhome itself. This can be two times the work whereas the fifth wheel is just the truck engine.
The benefit to having two different driving vehicles in the motorhome scenario versus the truck and fifth wheel scenario is that you are more likely to get better fuel economy out of the small car you are towing behind a motorhome than the larger truck that you are using to pull your fifth-wheel trailer.
Layout: Connected Living and Driving Space
Opposite a separate living and driving space is, of course, a connected one. There are several benefits to having a connected living and driving space such as extra security, convenience, and extra seating space.
Security: In motorhomes, you have the added measure of security from not needing to step outside when you want to pick up and leave. One of the worst things about a fifth wheel is when it is pouring rain outside and you have to get going so you move from your dry house to the drenched outdoors and then have to soil your seats in the truck because of how wet you are.
In a motorhome, you don’t have to worry about going outside. You stay indoors and fire up the engine to get going easy. Inclement weather is not the only benefit here. Any situation where you need to pick up fast and going outside would be either dangerous or uncomfortable is rectified by not having to go outside.
Convenience: When you are driving in a motorhome you get to have those you are driving near you. This allows the transfer of materials from the back to reach the front. So, food, water, and conversation each can be shared from both parties. Mainly this means someone can hand the driver a sandwich from the back preventing them from needing to stop to eat food.
Extra Seating Space: One of the difficulties of driving a fifth wheel is that while driving you can still be limited to the number of seats in the truck. Certain states may let you ride in the fifth wheel while moving but most do not. This means everyone needs to be up and buckled in the tuck’s seats.
Once you get over five people in your family you are going to have a problem. the motorhome having a connected living and driving space often allows for a larger number of seats for passengers. These seats can often time be more spacious and comfortable than those you’d have in a truck.
The main defect of having a connected living space is the lack of a localized travel vehicle as mentioned above. Additionally, some motorhomes opt-out of having a cot over the cab which is something you will commonly find in the space above where the fifth wheel connects. As such fifth wheels often have larger sleeping capacities than motorhomes do.
Stop and Go Versus Long Stays
Motorhomes are mobile houses; they are built for travel with the added perks of living space amenities to ease the travel experience. Many full time rving takes place in motorhomes. Fifth wheels are houses that you can move; they are meant to be set down and lived in, but you have greater living options in the design of these RVs.
The most decisive difference between the use of these two RVs is whether or not you want to use the vehicle to travel and then stay in one place for a long time, or whether you plan on stopping for a little and then moving on quickly.
If you plan on stopping and going frequently than most likely the motorhome is the RV for you. Motorhomes have great take-off times. This means that as soon as you want to get going you can start your engine and leave. In a fifth wheel, you have to make sure you have your hitch attached correctly. Because of this, the fifth wheel and truck combo takes a longer time to initially get going than the motorhome.
Additionally, it is always a struggle to get a fifth wheel parked correctly; whereas, a motorhome is relatively easy to park and set up in a campground. This scenario gets further complicated when you need to park in a specific way to access the black and grey water dumping station, as well as the drinking water fill station.
It is for these reasons that a motorhome is the better pick for campers that are planning to constantly be on the move.
For those that are interested in staying in one place, however, will find that the fifth wheel is more suitable to their needs. This is most apparent through the relative size that you get out of a fifth wheel.
Fifth wheels are going to have the best options and the widest selection of options when it comes to the living space of an RV. This appears in things like a greater furniture selection, the option to have a toy hauling garage, and superior amenities like a really nice kitchen island and such.
Fifth wheels are going to have the best floorplan options as well as the largest amount of total room. It can be difficult for taller people to find the correct height of an RV. Fifth wheels can go up to ceiling heights of 11 feet. That is huge. You’ll have a lot more space to make your own in a fifth wheel that just isn’t there in a Motorhome. But the cost of this is less mobility.
The Flexibility of Fifth Wheels
The greatest asset of the fifth wheel is its flexibility. By this I mean the greater space that is available in a fifth wheel provides more options from both predesigned fifth wheels as well as a large amount of space available to modifying the fifth wheels.
When seriously considering getting a camper you want to look at all the options out there, and honestly, when it comes to motorhomes there aren’t a lot of options. You’ll see the same few floorplans that have three sections that breaks up driving space, living space, and sleeping space.
Fifth wheels have a wonderous load of options from full-sized furniture that you would see in your local furniture to a marble-topped kitchen island you have options and plenty of them.
One of the biggest options that a fifth wheel has is the opportunity to have a toy hauling garage. This option is almost nonapparent in motorhomes, so if you want to take your ATV or UTV with you for some offroading travel then you are going to need a fifth wheel that can handle it.
Finally, fifth wheels flexibility allows for things like bunkhouses that have bunk beds which just adds greater sleeping capacity to the trailers. When you are considering a road trip for several people you are going to need the right RV to sleep everyone and some of those options just aren’t available in motorhomes.
Superior Driving Experience of Motorhomes
When it comes to highlighting motorhomes one important aspect is the experience of driving a motorhome. It’s kind of hard to explain but driving a fifth wheel is just like driving a truck. In fact, it feels kind of worse as you now have to be cautious about the trailer that you are lugging behind you.
But a motorhome. A motorhome is something else. There is a certain appeal to sitting at the seat at this large almost bus-like RV. This is particularly apparent in Class A motorhomes. It almost feels like you are supposed to be giving this tour to your family as you sit at the front.
Class C motorhomes have the classic RV feel to them. I know that when I hear RV my first thought turn to Class C motorhomes. Regardless of the motorhome that you are driving though there is a power behind driving it.
This experience is only further boosted by the interaction that you and your family can have while on the road. Having your family there to talk to is one thing but having your family and your house behind you is a powerful feeling.
What if you have toys you want to bring along with you, such as dirt bikes or ATV’s?
Both motorhomes and fifth wheel are available as a toy hauler model, although fifth wheels are more more common to have this feature. The back wall of the RV will pull down to create a ramp for the toys.
Should I Pick a Fifth Wheel or a Motorhome?
Naturally, this depends on what you want to do with your family. If you want a stop and go vehicle that can hold a lot of seated passengers than your best bet is the Motorhome. If you want a house that you can move with high sleeping capacity than go for the fifth wheel.
This decision should not be made off of simply reading a single blog post though. Search the internet to find other blogs that support this same argument or similar arguments. Then compare what everyone is saying to what vehicles you can get that fit within the price range and other stipulations you have set for your RV.
Finally, RENT FIRST. I can’t stress this enough you are going to spend a lot of money on an RV. No matter what you get it’s an investment. So play it smart and rent your options first. It is well worth spending some money to test whether this is going to be the right RV for you.
In particular, this is important as the value of both motorhomes and fifth wheels drop by 20% in the first two years of owning it. So you’ll lose a lot of money if you end up needing to sell an RV that doesn’t fit your needs. Don’t risk it rent first.
Buying Your First RV?
Buying your first RV, whether it be a fifth wheel or motorhome can be a bit overwhelming.
What do you need? What will make your life easier? What are fun things to have on hand?
No worries! Check out “Everything you need for your first motorhome or trailer.”