Buying an RV: Motorhome vs. Fifth Wheel

Buying an RV: Motorhome vs. Fifth Wheel

When buying an RV, many families are overwhelmed by the number of options available. Just like your home or your vehicle, there is a style and size to suit your individual needs and preferences. This comprehensive list will help you determine which model will best serve your family. It is important to remember that neither a fifth wheel or a motorhome is superior to the other, but rather, each supports a different type of lifestyle. Although you may use this article to help create a pro/con list for your family, it is not intended to say that either one is better overall.

If you are a first-time RV buyer, you’ll want to review common RV lingo to help you understand the terminology. Then, you should decide what you will be doing with your RV. Will you be taking it out for short weekend trips, or do you hope to one day live in it full-time traveling the country? Once you have an idea of your ideal usage, take a look at some of the other factors below to help you decide between a motorhome and a fifth wheel:

What is a Fifth Wheel?

A fifth wheel is a large camping trailer that attaches to the back of a large towing vehicle, like a pickup truck. While it isn’t a full-blown house on wheels, a fifth wheel does offer many of the same perks as a motorhome, in a smaller size.

Benefits of Buying a Fifth Wheel

Affordability

For many families buying an RV, the very first concern is the cost of the investment. While there are many areas to take into consideration, the fifth wheel is almost always at a lower price point. Although this is for many reasons, one of the leading contributing factors for the difference is because the cost does not include the price of the tow vehicle. Consider the following charges:

Initial Cost

The initial cost of a comparable motorhome will always be higher than the fifth wheel. To give a comparison: a new low-end fifth wheel costs somewhere in the ballpark of $30,000 versus a new low-end Class A costs about $85,000. However, this does not include the cost of purchasing a new tow-vehicle, either. A new truck to tow your fifth wheel can easily make up the price difference if you don’t already have a truck.

Insurance Cost

The cost to insure a fifth wheel is lower than the price to insure a motorhome. This is because not only is the cost of replacing a motorhome higher but also because the motorhome is driveable you’ll need to include collision coverage and there are more moving parts on a motorhome.

Maintenance

An RV needs repair and maintenance work just like your daily driver and your home. In many cases, the cost to maintain a Class A motorhome is higher than a fifth wheel simply because the Class A has the engine to include. However, if you want to compare apples-to-apples for buying an RV: an oil change for a motorhome typically runs about $200-$300, versus your average tow vehicle is under $100.

Comfort

In many aspects, the fifth wheel is more comfortable than a Class A motorhome. Let us consider some of the deciding factors:

Residential-Style Furniture

If you’re looking for full-size furniture, the fifth wheel might be your best option. Although many motorhomes have incredibly comfortable furniture, much of it is downsized or altered to fit additional storage solutions. In a fifth wheel, manufacturers generally use typical residential furniture in their models. However, this could be a negative if weight is a concern since the furniture is heavier.

Kitchen Counter Space

Families that enjoy cooking and preparing meals in their RV kitchen often enjoy that fifth wheels come with a kitchen island, whereas motorhomes do not. Although the kitchen island offers more counter space, be aware that during traveling when the slides are in, the kitchen island often makes it difficult to maneuver inside of the fifth wheel, a problem that does not exist inside of a motorhome.

Ceiling Height

We suggest that you walk through both options before buying an RV. If you are tall or become claustrophobic in tight spaces, you’ll love the taller ceilings of the fifth wheel. Although many motorhome models have closed the gap between the height difference, in nearly every case, the fifth wheel offers a substantially higher ceiling.

Living Space

Overall, the square footage of most fifth wheels with pop-outs is significantly larger than that of a Class A motorhome. The fifth wheel is not meant to travel with the pop-outs engaged, enabling them to extend much further, offering more living space when the vehicle is parked. Pop-outs on motorhomes are shallower, therefore does not increase the square footage by a significant amount.

Air Conditioning

Due to the lack of a windshield mixed with the head of an engine, it is easier to maintain a consistently cooler temperature in a fifth wheel.

What is a Motorhome?

A motorhome is an all-inclusive recreational vehicle, complete with living accommodations, an engine, and the vehicle cab.

Benefits of Buying a Motorhome

Ease of Use

Maneuverability

If you can back up your daily driver, you can probably back up a motorhome, even into tight spaces like camping spots. If you have a fifth wheel, we recommend practicing backing up the trailer for a full afternoon before taking it on the road. You will likely need to back up your fifth wheel at some point throughout your trip, and when that time comes, you’ll be thankful that you’ve at least had a little practice. However, at every campground, you’ll always see at least one fifth wheel struggle for 10 minutes until they get their RV parked. Alternatively, a motorhome is more like an extended car and will back up into small spaces with ease. However, you should remove any towed vehicle before doing so.

Preparation Time

The Class A motorhome makes it very easy to just “get up and go.” In most situations, you can simply disconnect from any hookups at your current campground and pack up your belongings before heading out to your new destination. A fifth wheel requires lining up, removing the stabilizers, as well as a few other steps along the way.

Experience

View

Many families buying an RV want to vacation and explore new areas of the country. If you are a fan of taking in the scenery along the way, you’ll enjoy the world-class view of the large windshield of a motorhome. Although many fifth wheels now offer a bay window, it simply cannot beat enjoying breathtaking views throughout the journey. A motorhome makes the travel much more enjoyable.

All-Inclusive

Although it is undoubtedly safer for all passengers to remain buckled and seated throughout the journey, many families enjoy that they can run to the bathroom if they need to, or grab a quick snack from the fridge without taking time off of the road. Additionally, there is no need to shift people, pets, and items from the cab of a vehicle into the living accommodations.

Seating for Everyone

Although a fifth wheel typically has more square footage of living space once the slides are out, motorhomes have more while on the road. Additionally, if you have a larger family, you may want to consider if your tow vehicle can actually hold the whole family comfortably throughout your travel. Most tow vehicles conveniently buckle-in five family members or six in a squeeze. A motorhome will keep everyone, but also offers enough room to put toy boxes, snacks, and other necessities within reach. Additionally, if you travel with pets, motorhomes provide more room for your pets to move around, rather than walking across laps.

Security

It is more difficult to steal a locked up motorhome than it is for someone to hook up a fifth wheel and drive away with it. However, the more commonly stolen item is the portable generator often used by fifth wheels. Motorhomes have built-in generators, making them much more difficult for someone to take.

Test Drive a Motorhome or Fifth Wheel

Before making your final decision and buying an RV, it is essential to test drive your RV options. Schedule a test drive at Utah’s most trusted RV dealership today. The experts at Recreation RV Sales are here to help you narrow down your options and find something that suits your needs without breaking the bank. Check out our pre-owned RV inventory then call us today at 801-572-0525.

Sources:Outdoorsy, Expedition Motor Homes

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