Admittedly, there’s quite a lot of terminology and camping lingo in the RVing world, and, especially if you’re new to camping, it’s easy to become confused! Today we will be covering one of these commonly asked questions: What is a fifth-wheel?
In the most basic sense, a fifth-wheel is simply a special type of RV trailer. The fifth-wheel has no engine (it must be towed), but it gives RVers many of the same amenities as a motorhome. Moreover, a fifth-wheel has a different hitch than most RV trailers, and as such, a fifth-wheel typically requires a large truck to tow it.
Since a fifth-wheel unit typically has only four wheels, many people find themselves vexed by this question. However, the answer is quite simple (and it has nothing to do with the actual wheels of the unit!).
The “fifth wheel” of a fifth-wheel is just the hitch itself.
Therefore, because the hitch of a fifth-wheel is called the “fifth-wheel,” the entire unit has come to be called by the same name.
A fifth-wheel hitch gets its name from its backward-facing u-shape; however, the origins of the name can be traced back to the hitch’s original design, which was used for horse-drawn carriages in the 19th century. The original design (similar to the modern design) mounted the hitch on a horizontally pivoting wheel, allowing the entire contraption to turn right or left on its own. So, it is like a horizontal “wheel.”
The modern design functions in a similar way. In the modern design, the trailer slides into the hitch and is secured by a “king pin”—a mechanism that locks the trailer into the hitch, but still allows the trailer to move right or left as you turn.
There are a few reasons you might want to consider a fifth-wheel over a regular, towed RV trailer:
The price on many fifth wheels can vary greatly depending on make, model, and size. Certain amenities can also increase or decrease the cost of your fifth wheel camper. For standard models, prices usually range from $20,000 all the way up to $150,000. The cost of your unit is completely contingent on how fancy you really want to get and your budget (obviously). That being said, the large price range of the various types of fifth wheel RVs makes for tons of different layouts and added features.
Even with all its benefits, there are some downsides to a fifth-wheel:
On the whole, however, if you already have or plan to purchase a large pickup truck (or you wish to rent one) and you don’t mind the unit’s size, a fifth-wheel might be just right for you! Regardless, we hope that this brief guide has helped you to understand what a fifth-wheel is and why you might want to choose it over a traditional RV trailer.
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