fifth wheel type of trailer has been used in the trucking
industry for almost 100 years because it is a safe way
of carrying heavy loads. It's safe because the hitch configuration
allows the trailer to be attached over the truck's rear
wheels, and typically up to 20 percent of its hitch weight
to be exerted on the front suspension of the towing vehicle.
Because of its forgiving nature to road and driving conditions,
commercial truckers use the fifth wheel hitch configuration
to carry extremely heavy loads. A fifth wheel trailer
will stick to the tow vehicle through thick and thin.
In many adverse handling situations, a fifth wheel trailer
will actually enhance the ability of the tow vehicle to
stick to the road. Whether in tractor-trailer rigs or
in travel trailers, the fifth wheel configuration is popular
because of its safety and handling capabilities.
A fifth wheel trailer is especially popular with fulltimers
because most of these RVers want to go as big as the towing
vehicle will allow. The fifth wheel is easy to connect
and disconnect from the truck. It's relatively easy to
back up. Its tendency to sway is much less than that of
a trailer coach. Because it can easily carry more height,
it allows for more storage space - something every fulltimer
Now that we've gone through a litany of praises for the
fifth wheel trailer, let's look at the big picture with
a bit of objectivity. Fifth wheel trailers are not for
everyone. For one thing, you must have a truck to pull
a fifth wheel. You cannot hook it onto a van, a sedan,
or a pickup with a canopy. You cannot generally pull another
car behind it. You cannot generally pull a boat behind
it. You cannot generally let the family ride in it as
you go down the road. These are very important limitations
for some people.
Because of the number of retired people who have taken
up fulltiming, many large and small RV builders are specializing
in fifth wheels from 30 to 45 feet in length. Some of
these manufacturers have become very rich turning out
crackerboxes of that size. Right now there are dozens
of brands being produced that will not last 5 years without
serious deterioration and severe frustration for the users.
In addition to this problem, there are quite a few relatively
good manufacturers who are cutting corners on quality
in places where the cuts are not easily seen because they
feel they need to compete with the crackerbox makers.
Some manufacturers also cut corners to reduce the overall
weights and hitch weights of their large models to make
them towable by pickups.
That brings us to the most serious issue with fifth wheels
— size and weight. The towing and carrying capacities
of pickups have increased greatly over the years, enabling
them to pull larger and heavier fifth wheels than ever
before. The question is now, "Should they?" Loss of control
may become a serious problem for ordinary pickups, with
their relatively short wheelbases and low curb weights.
In other words, we may begin to see more of the dangerous
"tail-wagging-the-dog" behavior that is already common
with trailer coaches.
Perhaps the answer is to use a larger tow vehicle.
For example, if you buy a 40-foot trailer with four
slideouts and all the luxuries of home, a medium-duty
truck (MDT) should pull it safely and reliably. But
do you really want to drive and park a nearly 60-foot
long, 8' 6? wide, 30,000-pound truck-and-trailer combination?
An obvious common-sense solution for most RVers is
to simply choose a smaller, well-built trailer that
can be towed safely and reliably by any large pickup.
For pointers on selecting the proper truck to tow your
trailer, see the How to Tow Safely Guide.
This introduction to fifth wheel travel trailers should
be just the beginning of your research into techniques
for choosing and using. We encourage you to begin your
studies with the RV Ratings Guide
We hope that you, as a member of RV Consumer Group,
will contribute by sharing your experiences and observations.
Making RVing safer and better always begins with you.