The Ultimate Fifth Wheel Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know
Written by Carolyn Jackson
Table of contents
16. What are Other Costs Associated with Fifth Wheel RVs?
Welcome to our guide on fifth wheel RVs! RVs are a fantastic way to make memories with friends and family, and to travel to breathtaking places all around the world. An RV is a multi-purpose, heavy piece of machinery and if you are considering purchasing or renting one, there is a lot of information you need to know beforehand.
We have gathered all the information you might need to know about RVs in our Ultimate Guide to Buying an RV, and then we break it down by each RV type in our Guide to Buying a Motorhome and Guide to Buying a Travel Trailer. This guide is specifically on fifth wheel RVs, their benefits and all the information you would want to know before getting behind the wheel.
What is a Fifth Wheel?
A fifth wheel is a type of RV that is towed by a vehicle using a jaw hitch, which is built into the bed of a truck. A fifth wheel is very similar to a travel trailer, the difference is how they are towed and the vehicles you can use to tow them. Think a travel trailer might be more your speed? Check out our guide to travel trailers, too.
What are the Benefits of a Fifth Wheel?
As we discussed in the Ultimate Guide to Buying an RV, there are a lot of types of RVs to choose from, each excelling in different aspects. Fifth wheels excel because they are inexpensive but do not compromise on quality and they are easier to tow than a traditional travel trailer. In addition to their innovative towing solution, 5th wheels offer more underneath storage than many other RV types, making long trips or full-time RV living a breeze. Perhaps the most persuasive benefit to a 5th wheel is the ability to unlock the tow vehicle from the RV and travel to your destination with ease.
Fifth Wheel vs. Travel Trailer: What are the differences?
The hitch is the main difference between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel. For a travel trailer, you need a more traditional ball and couple hitch, which attaches to the bumper of a vehicle. This means most 6-cylinder, larger vehicles (think van, truck, SUV) are suitable to tow a travel trailer. However, a fifth wheel requires a less standard jaw hitch, which is connected to the bed of a truck. This makes towing more stable due to what is called “load-bearing hitch”, and is easier for one person to maneuver. Both travel trailers and fifth wheels can be challenging in their own way to backup, but you know what they say, practice makes perfect.
Levels and Space
Fifth wheels are higher off the ground because of how they are attached to the two vehicles. This allows more square footage and a lot more storage than travel trailers. Fifth wheels often come in multi-leveled floor plans, meaning there might be an “upstairs” area for sleeping or storage, which travel trailers often lack. The travel trailer is lower to the ground, making it more accessible to those with disabilities
Weight and Length
A fifth wheel is typically heavier than a travel trailer. The extra pounds are ok though because the support from the jaw hitch is more forgiving to heavier loads as opposed to a ball hitch connected to a bumper. Remember, however, the lighter the vehicle, the lower the fuel cost. One more advantage of the fifth wheel is length. Although it might be just as long in feet as a travel trailer, because it hooks into the bed of the truck instead of behind the truck, it drives as if it was shorter, which makes it easier to maneuver, park, drive, and backup.
Long Trips and Camping Abilities
The fifth wheel edges out the travel trailer here because it has larger storage tanks (fresh water and waste) and has extra space for batteries. The fifth wheel edges out the travel trailer in tank capacity in every category, translating to longer trips, less worry for you, and less supply stops.
- Fresh Water: 60-75 gallons
- Grey Water: 55-85 gallons
- Black Water: 40-55 gallons
- Fresh Water: 40-60 gallons
- Grey Water: 30-40 gallons
- Black Water: 25-35 gallons
Tow Vehicles and Fifth Wheels
A tow vehicle is extremely important to consider before purchasing, renting or using any fifth wheel RV. A fifth wheel can only be towed by a flatbed truck that is equipped with a jaw hitch in the bed. These hitches can be purchased as an addition to a standard flatbed truck, but require skill and time to install. You cannot tow a fifth wheel with an SUV, van or any other family vehicle. The jaw hitch cost anywhere from $150 all the way up to $1,000+, depending on the quality, size and weight it can tow. They are sold at many outdoor living stores like Camping World or even at stores like Amazon and Walmart.
When you are looking at fifth wheel RVs, you probably either already have a truck at home or know you need to purchase or rent a flatbed truck to tow your RV. Here are some things to keep in mind about your tow vehicle if you are using a fifth wheel RV:
A standard flatbed truck bed is 8 feet, but with the increase in interior space, beds have been steadily decreasing in length over time. When towing a fifth wheel, truck bed length will affect both the cost of your hitch setup and your towing experience on the road.
Long beds – 8 ft plus
- Best turning clearance
- Best stability
- Most cost-effective
- Fixed Hitch
Short Beds – 8ft and under
- Easier to park and maneuver
- Larger cab
- Sliding Hitch
Extra Short Beds – 6ft and under
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver independently
- Easy for a daily driver
- Sliding Hitch + Sidewinder
Diesel truck or gas truck? Gas costs less upfront because gas vehicles cost less, gas itself costs less than diesel and maintenance of a gas engine is usually less. However, diesel should be a consideration because it will save you money in the long run. Diesel engines have large towing capacity because of their bigger torque outputs, making them ideal for hauling a fifth wheel weight an average of 2 tons. Diesel engines also tend to last longer and have more maintenance-free miles on them.
How many tons do I need? ½ ton, ¾ ton or 1-ton truck? The difference between these payload capacities is like the difference between a Ford F-150, F-250, F-350. The best way to determine if a specific truck will meet your towing needs is to check the sticker on the truck’s driver side door for the vehicle’s weight specifications and towing capabilities. Check for GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating), which is the maximum combined weight of the loaded truck, plus the fully (wet) loaded trailer. Then, subtract that number from your GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight),l which is the combined weight of your truck, fuel, passengers, and cargo when your vehicle is loaded and ready for towing. The difference between the GCWR a the GVW is the maximum loaded trailer weight your vehicle can tow.
This is not to say you should be prepared to haul more weight. It is always better to have more payload than you need than not enough.
To Dually or Not to Dually?
You do not need a dually (dual rear wheels) to tow a fifth wheel, but there are some benefits to having them. If you plan on frequently towing a large fifth-wheel trailer, a dually is an excellent choice for a more stable ride. However, if you plan on towing a smaller fifth wheel, or if you’ll only be towing your trailer on occasion, then sticking with a single rear wheel truck will provide more day-to-day driving comfort.
How Much Does a Fifth Wheel Cost?
On average, a new fifth wheel can typically cost anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 depending on the size, weight, floorplan, materials, features, and amenities. Fifth wheels can be as low as $30,000 and as expensive as $200,000 depending on what you are looking for. Based on data from GoRollick, the average price of a travel trailer is $76,000.
If you’re wondering about how much it costs to own an RV, we breakdown the costs in our total cost of RV ownership article. Of course, you can get a used fifth wheel for much cheaper. Like cars and any other vehicle, RVs start depreciating as soon as they’re driven off the dealer’s lot, so a fifth wheel that’s a few years old could be about 20% – 30% less than its original purchase price.
Learn about new vs. used fifth wheels here where we break down the pros and cons of buying new vs. used RVs.
Fifth Wheel Manufacturers – Where Do I Start?
There are so many different RV manufacturers and brands in the industry, it can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve rounded up some of the top travel trailer manufacturers and brands to help you narrow it down.
Best Fifth Wheel Brands and Manufacturers:
- Forest River makes simple, durable and easy-to-use fifth wheels with fiberglass walls and luxurious features. Forest River, Inc. is one of the largest manufacturers of quality RVs that offers a variety of models and floorplans.
- Keystone RV offers high-quality, durable, and spacious fifth wheels. Keystone RV is the #1 manufacturer of recreational vehicles in North America. The Keystone Cougar is an awesome fifth wheel brand with tons of unique features at a great price.
- Dutchmen is one of the most well-known brands in the recreational vehicle industry. They offer quality fifth wheels and don’t sacrifice comfort for style. The Dutchmen Astoria series prioritizes turn-key features and comfort, sleeping up to 10 passengers.
- Jayco offers a variety of fifth wheels that are spacious, easy to tow and easy to set up. Jayco’s North Point model, which is a perfect fit for larger families, has a master suite, full kitchen, and three possible TV hookups.
- Coachmen is a division of Forest River and manufacturers the Chaparral fifth wheel, which is one of the most popular fifth wheels since its introduction over a decade ago.
These are just a few of the great fifth wheel brands out there. Some other brands include Gulfstream, Heartland, Crossroads,Winnebago and more. Now that you know a little bit about RV manufacturers and brands, let’s dig into some of the average specs you can expect to see in a fifth wheel.
Fifth Wheel Size, Weight, and Length and Price
Fifth wheels can vary a lot in size, weight, and length, but there are some standards you can expect to find if you are looking for a fifth wheel.
- Length: 30 to 40 feet
- Width: 8 to 10 feet
- Height: 9 to 12 feet
- Weight: 8k to 12k
Why is it Important to Understand the Width, Length, and Weight of Your RV?
When you are on the road and set off to enjoy the natural wonders the US has to offer, the best seat is often within a national park. However, these parks often have parking restrictions that apply to RV length. For this reason, it is crucial to know the exact length and width of your RV. Each national park has its own set of rules and regulations, but on average the length tends to be around 28 feet. Some parks allow for RVs up to 40 feet and some only up to 20 feet, so the regulations vary vastly from park to park. Be sure to do your homework before deciding on a place to camp so you do not end up in a sticky situation.
Fifth Wheel Weight
Weight is particularly important for fifth wheels because you need to know how much the rig weighs so you can ensure your town vehicle is capable of carrying it, both wet and dry. The weight of a typical fifth wheel varies greatly by brand, manufacturer, layout and quality. Weight and length definitely correlate with price as well, so just be aware of your budget walking into a dealership or doing research online.
Buying a Fifth Wheel: New or Used?
On average, a new fifth wheel RV can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000. While significantly less expensive than their Class A, B, and C Motorhome cousins, this is still a large amount of money. One way to cut down on the cost is to invest in a used fifth wheel RV.
Regardless of purchasing new or used, the price of your fifth wheel will still depend on the following aspects:
- Time of year
- Where you purchase from
- Who you purchase from
A used fifth wheel will vary in price based on the same factors as a new fifth wheel, however, there are some additional items to consider if you are looking at buying used:
- The seller – the more motivated the seller is to offload their vehicle, the more wiggle room you have for price negotiations
- The condition – if a used fifth wheel has water or roof damage, the price will dramatically decrease whereas if the vehicle is still in pristine condition, it could sell close to the original MSRP.
- The time of year – people usually do their traveling in the warm summer months, meaning they are more likely to sell once they have finished their planned trips in the fall. Use this as a negotiation tool and to search a wider array of inventory.
Pros and Cons of New vs Used Fifth Wheels
New Fifth Wheels
Pros: New fifth wheels are in perfect condition and come with a limited warranty. You may also be offered better financing and better deals if you are buying new.
Cons: They start depreciating the second you ride them off the lot and they come at a higher purchase price.
Used Fifth Wheels
Pros: Used fifth wheels will come at a cheaper purchase price and they may even come with newer upgrades from previous owners. Used fifth wheels are also more “broken-in” for a smooth ride and a comfier trip.
Cons: You can run into some hidden problems with any used vehicles and they may require more maintenance due to the previous ownership and age of the vehicle.
What Should I Look for if I Am Interested in a Used Fifth Wheel?
Make sure that the previous owners kept up on maintenance and servicing, as you want to make sure you are making a purchase that is towable and worth the money. This includes checking the tires, water, battery, and overall condition of the vehicle.
Always buy a used fifth wheel from a dealer rather than a private owner, so you can be sure you are getting your money’s worth. This will also ensure you are aware of any damage etc.
What are Reliable/Safe Sites to Purchase a Used Fifth Wheel On?
GoRollick works with hundreds of Certified Dealers across the country who are committed to providing you an upfront, transparent price and a great price. You can start your search here. In addition, you can visit your local dealer lots for used inventory. You can also research a used fifth wheel on the following sites:
- NadaGuides provides a tool to estimate prices
- ChanginGears describes determining a fair market price and provides a checklist for inspecting a new or used RV
- Craigslist, which connects with you private sellers
Want more info? We break it all down here in our RV Buying Guide: Buying a New RV vs. Buying a Used RV.
Ready to search inventory? Check out GoRollick’s nationwide network of used inventory.
Use our guide How to Take Advantage of Powersport and RV Manufacturer Incentives on Your Next Vehicle Purchase to get the most bang for your buck. When you’re ready to buy, check out our list of the latest available incentives.
MPG for Fifth Wheels
Fuel mileage depends on a number of factors:
- Towing weights, wet and dry
- How fast you drive
- The terrain
- Fuel type
- Mother nature and those dreaded headwinds
- How you maintain your vehicle
- And perhaps most importantly, the type of tow vehicle you are using
Although it is challenging to estimate MPG for a fifth wheel because of the variation in size, weight, length, and tow vehicle, a good average would be somewhere in the 9-12MPG range.
Pro Tip: For a 20,000 mile cross-country road trip, you can expect to spend about $5,000 to $10,000 on gas. The typical RV family drives less than 5,000 miles a year with their RV, so sometimes fuel consumption is not a major budget consideration.
Gas Vs. Diesel: Depending on which type of tow vehicle you use, your gas prices can vary. Diesel is preferred by long distance travelers because it is much more fuel efficient and has a greater energy value than regular gasoline, but it also has a higher upfront purchase price.
Use gasbuddy.com to help you find the cheapest gas prices near you.
Financing a Fifth Wheel RV
Fifth wheel are a more economically priced RV, but that doesn’t mean that are cheap. Most people will need to take out a loan in order to purchase one. If you do take out a loan, you want to make sure you get the best possible loan rate, so that you owe as little interest as possible. Searching for good loan rates and negotiating pricing can be daunting. Luckily, we have a Definitive Guide to RV Loans that goes over everything you need to know about how to finance an RV.
Concerned about your credit and how your score might affect your ability to finance or purchase a fifth wheel? Educate yourself on how to use the tools in your shed to still get the best rate possible with our Guide to Bad Credit Loans.
How to Buy a Fifth Wheel
Now that you know everything you need about fifth wheels, you probably have a good idea of which vehicle you want to look into. If you are feeling ready to search inventory, start with GoRollick’s nationwide network of new and used inventory. GoRollick works with the best dealers in the country who are dedicated to price transparency and a great buying experience. With GoRollick you can get an upfront price and a special offer on your next RV, plus savings on after-purchase products. Then when you’re ready, you can shop at one of our Certified Dealers.
Post-Purchase Considerations for Fifth Wheel Ownership
Once you purchase a fifth wheel, the fun really starts! Trips, tailgates, parties, and memories that will last a lifetime. Your fifth wheel is an awesome piece of machinery, but it needs some love and care to make sure it lasts as long as possible for you and your family.
Fifth Wheel Storage
Summer is definitely a more popular time for families to get out and use their RVs, which makes winter a more common time to store your vehicle. Over the winter, many places will experience extremely cold temperatures, harsh winds, and wet conditions. To ensure your RV makes it to the summer in the best possible condition, be sure to invest in storing your vehicle properly while you are not using it.
There are a few options for fifth wheel storage:
- Covers: An RV cover can cost $50-$300 or more, depending on size, materials, and fit. If you are using a cover you can store your fifth wheel in your driveway, garage, or backyard (depending on HOA restrictions).
- Renting garage space: Renting an RV storage space can cost $20-$100 a month outdoors and around $45-$450 a month indoors. If your fifth wheel can fit in your garage, you won’t have to worry about renting a space!
Check out our RV Storage Checklist: How to Store Your RV for the Winter for further guidance on fifth wheel and RV storage.
Where Can I Park My Fifth Wheel?
If you are a full-time RVer and want to find a place where you can park your fifth wheel vehicle for an extended time, your best bet is to call the place you want to be and speak with their customer service representative to see if they will allow you to stay longer. Although some parks don’t advertise extended stay options on their website, most would be happy to have a filled spot, especially in the slower travel months.
The best option is to find a place that will allow you to pay a monthly rate instead of a daily one. Usually, this would cost a few hundred dollars, which will likely include basic hookups like electricity, water, and possibly even sewer, cable, and WiFi.
If you are just passing through and need a place to stay overnight, there are some surprising options for you to consider parking on the road. Truck stops, casinos, Walmarts, and even schools are often willing to let large RVs park in their lots overnight with permission. If you park in one of these locations, be sure to follow all instructions on where to park as well as any other rules that are in place. When you leave, make sure to leave it in better condition than you found it.
The most common RV parking scenario would be setting up camp for a few nights or weeks at a campsite in an RV park or national park. We laid out the Top 10 Best RV Parks in America for you so you can make your cross-country trip as enjoyable and Instagrammable as possible.
Full-Time Fifth Wheel Living
Full-time living from a fifth wheel RV is a great option for small families as they are diverse, accommodating and fully livable when parked. They also offer the great benefit of being able to use your tow vehicle for smaller day trips and excursions.
Some features you should look for:
- Wifi Booster
- Outside grill or speakers
- Solar prep
- Spare tire carrier
- LED lights
- Storage space
- Roof Vents
What Do I Need to Know if I Am Interested in Full-Time Fifth Wheel living?
If you’re looking to get into full-time RV living, we have a great Beginner’s Guide to Full-Time RV Living: 8 Ultimate Tips for Life on the Road that is chock-full of all the information you need.
Tips for Full-Time Fifth Wheel Living:
- Layout matters, not size!
- Look for slide outs to offer more living space
- Buy a generator
- Buy a battery charger
- Get solar panels
- Be mindful of the restroom
- Use little water
- Buy 6-gallon water tanks to fill for backup
- Keep it organized
- Keep things you need on the road in the car
- Get a portable garage for protection
Worried about the long hours you might spend in the RV getting from place to place? Check out our Top 10 RV Games to Play with your Family to get some ideas on how to pass the time.
What are Other Costs Associated with Fifth Wheel RVs?
The most significant cost of owning a fifth wheel other than the initial purchase price of the rig will be the tow vehicle and hitch. If you need to purchase a tow vehicle that could run you an additional $30,000 to $80,000.
Other than those two initial costs, there are some costs you will have to be mindful of if you own an RV:
- RV Parks and Campsites
- Off-Season Storage
Additional costs that are associated with a fifth wheel would be utility and power sources such as propane, batteries, generators, and inverters.
Learn more about the Total Cost of Owning an RV here.
Finding the right deals to make your investment worthwhile can be tough. Luckily, we have some tips to help you get started. Check out How to Take Advantage of Powersport and RV Manufacturer Incentives on Your Next Vehicle Purchase and Best Motorcycle, ATV and UTV Deals and Incentives so you can make the most of your fifth wheel purchase.
That’s a wrap on everything you need to know about fifth wheel RVs! If you have the ability to use or purchase a flatbed truck, the rest is pretty standard for fifth wheel RVing. These vehicles are a great, versatile and affordable option for RVers with families, full-time RVers, and people who want to get their feet wet in the RV world.
Not convinced on Fifth Wheels? Learn all about Travel Trailers and Motorhomes, too. When you’re ready to add some toys, check out our 10 best motorcycles and 5 best ATVs.