Definition of a 5th Wheel Trailer

Definition of a 5th Wheel Trailer
Sometimes when the wilderness beckons, the desire to rough it doesn't. A good towable camper can meet both needs. Just leave it at camp when you're off exploring.

Fifth-wheel units are a popular choice in the travel trailer market. They get the name from their hitch design and how it connects to the towing vehicle. You need a pickup to pull these trailers, and deep pockets to buy one, but you get a lot in return.

Design

Fifth-wheel trailers have a goose-neck hitch that hooks to the bed of a full-size truck. These hitches are similar to the trailer attachment systems that tractor-trailers use to haul heavy loads. When they're properly installed, fifth-wheel hitches are in the truck's bed, between the cab and rear axle.

The hitch consists of a horseshoe-shaped plate with metal rails underneath that attach to the truck's frame. The front of the trailer extends into the truck and its downward-facing "king pin" locks into the hitch, while still allowing it to pivot when turning.

Function

An overloaded ball hitch will snap off, but fifth-wheel hitches are made to pull heavy loads without a problem. Because the trailer's weight is pressing down between the towing truck's cab and rear axle, there's less stress on the hitching system.

When you enter a fifth-wheel trailer, you'll notice it's similar to a conventional trailer. The primary difference is its bilevel design. Interior steps access the area over the truck's bed.

Considerations

Because fifth-wheel trailers are typically larger and heavier than other travel trailers, they put bigger demands on towing vehicles. You'll need a full-size pickup to pull one, and its maximum recommended towing weight should exceed that of your trailer.

Heavy-duty consumer trucks are rated to tow up to 9,000 pounds. If you get an optional towing package, which includes a transmission and oil cooler, you're good to go.

You can get a new Dodge Ram 3500 Heavy Duty for $29,335. The new Ford F-350 Super Duty costs $30,000 and a new Chevy Silverado 3500 HD is available for $25,515. These are base prices, so additional options will increase the cost. If you buy a late-model used truck, you'll pay anywhere from a bargain $13,000 to a high of $30,000.

Pros

The hitching system of fifth-wheel trailers has a better center of gravity than ball hitches. This improves stability and eliminates the swaying of conventional trailers. In fact, they're so easy to tow that many owners forget they're doing it.

You'll also find that these trailers are top-of-the-line in every way, with solid wood cabinets instead of particle board, full size appliances in place of compact ones, crown molding, a bay window, leather recliners, a king-sized bed, an electric fireplace, a full-size bathroom and so much more. You get all this and the ability to sleep anywhere from four to 10 people.

Cons

A powerful truck, with an aftermarket hitch, is needed to pull fifth-wheel trailers, and their large size may not fit your driveway or camp site. Fifth-wheel trailers also cost more than most entry-level buyers are willing to pay, with new prices ranging from a bare bones $28,000 to a fully loaded $86,000. Used fifth-wheel prices can go as low as $4,000.

Article Written By Dan Eash

Dan Eash began writing professionally in 1989, with articles in LaHabra's "Daily Star Progress" and the "Fullerton College Magazine." Since then, he's created scripts for doctor and dentist offices and published manuals, help files and a training video. His freelance efforts also include a book. Eash has a Fullerton College Associate of Arts in music/recording production and a Nova Institute multimedia production certificate.

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