Finding a Fifth Wheel Trailer or Toy Hauler to be a Full-time Home!

May 2019 – We’ve been on the hunt for a new fifth wheel trailer to replace our current one as our full-time home for a few years now, and in the last week or so we’ve been closing in on what we want.

Search for a new fifth wheel trailer RV-min

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It’s been a long and wild ride, but I know a lot of our readers have been going through the same roller coaster of emotions — from elation to frustration — in the search for an RV, so I thought I’d share a little about what we’ve seen and been thinking about in our own quest.

Banana bread served in an RV-min

An RV home can be very warm and inviting and cozy.
Warm banana bread in on a cold morning…what could be better?

We love our life on the road and we have a cozy home, but our zippy and fun RZR out back has sent us on a wild goose chase for a way to bring it along and still enjoy all the comforts of home. Triple towing is a tricky business, so buying a toyhauler seemed like the obvious solution at first and our search began there.

Luxe Fifth wheel toyhauler from The RV Factory-min

The Luxe toyhauler is very high end.

We started our search without a budget in mind. We wanted to see what was available regardless of price, so we visited The RV Factory where the semi-custom Luxe trailers are built.

These trailers have 3.25″ wide walls with graphite infused styrofoam insulation, and they feature 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5″ wheels and disc brakes along with gorgeous cabinetry and top of the line everything.

Luxe RV fifth wheel toy hauler frame with disc brakes-min

Disc brakes are standard on the Luxe

These are such high end trailers that all the drawers have dovetail joints.

Dovetaile joints on drawers in Luxe Fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min

Dovetail joints on the drawers…sweet!

The interior of the finished toy hauler they had on display at the factory was bright white and sumptuous. During our visit, we ended up chatting with a Luxe owner at the factory who was getting a few minor repairs taken care of. He’d owned his trailer for six months and was very happy with it. We just weren’t sure we wanted to tow a trailer this heavy.

We submitted our ideal toy hauler floorplan to both New Horizons and Space Craft (we also submitted it to Featherlite which we discovered is no longer building toy haulers). Both companies expressed concern that our truck, even with its dual rear wheels and 4.10 rear end, might not be able to tow one of their trailers if it exceeded 40 or 41 feet in length.

Our design was likely in the 42 to 43 foot range, but despite several phone calls and one two hour long in-person meeting, we never got far enough in our discussion with either manufacturer for them to put the design in their CAD software and draw it out.

This made us look more closely at the mass market toy haulers which are all in the 42 to 45 range. They are a bit lighter than the high end rigs, if less durable, of course.

White interior Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV-min (1)

Clean and crisp white Luxe toy hauler interior

Luxe fifth wheel toy hauler RV White interior-min (1)

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By far, the most ruggedly built trailer for its weight that we saw was the Aluminum Toyhauler Company fifth wheel trailer. These folks come to the toyhauler market from the stackable race car end of the trailer world. The ATC fifth wheel toy hauler has a truly massive cargo carrying capacity, but it lacks some of the other toy hauler features most RVers take for granted. When we visited the factory in September 2018, the ramp door didn’t convert to a patio. It may now.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer-min

Aluminum Toyhauler Company (ATC) makes a rugged but lightweight rig

The ATC is purpose built for outdoor enthusiasts who expect their equipment to hold up under harsh conditions. All the interior cabinetry is aluminum and custom made in-house, and the whole trailer can be power washed inside and out. There are no slideouts but future models may include them. They have a basic open box model that you can modify to your own needs, and they’ll install a garage wall if you’d prefer an enclosed garage.

ATC Toyhauler fifth wheel trailer interior-min

ATC prides itself on having no wood in the rig — that way nothing can rot, no matter how wet ‘n wild it gets!

Another interesting tour was the Sundowner factory tour at their plant in Oklahoma.

These aluminum trailers are also really well built although they are using Lippert axles in the current builds (they used Dexter until a few years ago). Coming to the toyhauler industry from the horse trailer world, they are designed around a gooseneck hitch. The beauty of the gooseneck hitch is that the bed of your truck doesn’t have a big ol’ fifth wheel hitch hogging up all the space when you’re driving around unhitched.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV-min

Sundowner makes beautiful gooseneck hitch toy haulers

Sundowner builds its own entry doors and ramp door, and like ATC, their ramp door didn’t convert to a patio at the time of our visit. But it may at a later date.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Garage-min

Looking into the garage of a Sundowner toy hauler

When a trailer is designed to use a gooseneck hitch, the height of the trailer is kept quite low. The Sundowners are around 11′ tall as compared to 13′ 6″ for most conventional mass market toyhaulers. This makes them more aerodynamic but also means the bedrooms are not standing height. They are more like the bedrooms in a truck camper.

Gooseneck trailers are designed this way because the arm of the gooseneck hitch is quite long, and the higher the trailer roof is, the longer this lever arm becomes and the more the roofline will sway from side to side as the trailer goes down the road, putting all kinds of lateral stresses on the frame.

Sundowner does a lot of custom and semi-custom work, and they will happily design a trailer that is 13′ 6″ tall and has standing height in the bedroom, but that is not typical of their designs.

One interesting thing with both the ATC and Sundowner trailers is that because they are coming from the stackable car trailer and horse trailer markets, their trailers sit quite low to the ground and the ramp doors have a shallow angle. This is great if you are driving your muscle car or sports car into the garage because the back end of the car won’t drag as you drive in. But it is less important for the folks with a rock climbing RZR that can drive up onto anything.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Interior-min

The cabinetry and finish work in the Sundowner is top notch and many different woods and fabric are available.

Sundowner Toyhauler RV Bedroom-min

The gooseneck hitch means the ceiling is low in the bedroom, but that
doesn’t mean it can’t be romantic!

We also visited several mass market trailer factories in Indiana. At the time we were most interested in the Keystone Raptor and KZ Venom. We saw a beautiful Keystone Raptor 421CK at a dealership in Wyoming prior to going to Indiana. It was the first toy hauler we had ever walked into and said, “Wow. We could live in this!” However, the garage was only 11′ long and we’d decided we needed at least 12′ to fit our RZR and bicycles.

KZ RV Fifth wheel frame with flooring installed-min

A KZ fifth wheel gets its flooring

The thing about toyhauler garages is that the patio doors and railings take up anywhere from 8″ to 16″ at the back of the garage when they are folded up against the closed ramp door. Also, there is a slope at the back of the garage floor that is about a foot long. It is there to extend the ramp angle of the ramp door so the ramp angle isn’t too steep. These two things combined can eat into the garage length by quite a bit. The 13′ garage might may have only 10′ 8″ of flat floor space, and that was typically what I saw with my tape measure in the various garages we looked at.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer under construction-min

KZ fifth wheel walls and front cap get started

Also, if there is a side patio and some of it is built onto the garage sidewall, the garage will lose about 8″ of width where the side patio folds into the trailer.

Likewise, if there is a 2nd bath or half bath in the garage or living area, some of the garage floor space or living area floor space will be lost to the bathroom.

It makes a big difference in the livability and usability of both the garage and living space if the door to that half bath opens into the living area or into the garage. Whichever way it is, you don’t want to block the bathroom when you’re parked!

Some Heartland Road Warriors now have a moveable partition around the half bath that becomes a wall when you’re parked but folds out of the way when you need the extra inches for your toys.

KZ Durango. You don’t realize how huge the openings are for the slideouts til you see it like this!

Most toy haulers have a loft area above the garage that runs the full width of the trailer along the wall that separates the garage from the living area. It’s worth some thought to decide if you’d prefer the loft area to open into the garage or into the living space. It may also be possible to modify the loft wall on one side or the other post-purchase so you have access from both sides.

KZ RV Fifth wheel trailer being built at the factory-min

The sidewalls of the main part of the trailer are quite minimal!

We also visited the Highlander RV plant which is the Open Range toy hauler brand.

Highlander Open Range fifth wheel toyhauler RV-min

The Highlander toy hauler from Open Range

Open Range is owned by Jayco which is owned by Thor. The Highlander toy haulers come in at a lower price point than most. Jayco is known for employing Amish people on the assembly lilnes, and they really do. We saw their buggies in the parking lot and driving around the area.

Highlander Open Range Toyhaulers with Amish buggy in Indiana-min

Lots of Amish people work on the RV assembly lines

Amish buggy in Shipshewana Indiana-min

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From what we saw, all fifth wheel trailers and toy haulers are in a very similar way that aims towards a specific price point. I don’t know that there is much quality difference from one mass market brand to the next since it seems the same overall manufacturing methods and materials are used in all the brands. Certain features are given different names in the marketing literature to distinguish each brand, but it often boils down to the same basic things.

I was astonished when our guide pulled out an 8′ wide roll of a material that looked like aluminum foil and said it gave their trailer an extra R-14 of insulation throughout. All I could think is that there are aspects of RV manufacturing that are pure smoke and mirrors, and to me this was one of them.

This metal foil has been used to produce great insulating R factors in certain scenarios, but it has to have at least two inches of air on either side of it, among other things, for the insulating properties to work. When it is installed in such a way that is is flush up against the other layers of material in the wall or ceiling, that big R-factor vanishes.

Hydraulic lilnes for auto-leveling and slide-out mechanisms on fifth wheel trailer-min

“So, which hydraulic line goes to the curbside slideout? ’cause I think it’s leaking!”
Not all of what we saw inspired confidence.

Some of what we saw made it obvious why customers often have so many problems with their RVs, but our visit to the MORryde plant was an immersion in quality, much like our factory tours at Trojan Battery and B&W Hitches in the past. They had a cool toy hauler out front with their logo on it that was used for trade shows.

MORryde trade show toy hauler-min

The MORryde tradeshow toyhauler

On the Independent Suspension assembly line, MORryde’s signature RV product, we saw axles marked “NH” and “DRV” for New Horizons and DRV. Those trailer brands offer the Independent Suspension as an option. How cool is that?!

fifrh wheel ready for MORryde IS upgrade at the factory-min

An unpainted DRV waits for a MORryde Independent Suspension upgrade.

We had been visiting dealerships on a regular basis for several years prior to our Elkhart visit, and we continued to look at toy haulers after we finished our factory tours in Indiana. Road Warrior (Thor/Heartland) was a brand we looked into, and the 427, which is now the 4275, was a possibility in part because of the side patio and MORryde ramp door.

Unfortunately, my favorite floorplans were the older Road Warrior 427s that had a big sliding glass door going out to the side patio and a tiny fireplace/entertainment system that didn’t block the door. As the model years went by for the 427, the door with the big view onto the patio got smaller and the fireplace and TV got bigger.

Grand Design Momentum 399TH Toyhauler slide patio-min

The Grand Design Momentum 399TH has a nice big sliding glass door heading out to the side patio.

One thing that is very enticing about a toy hauler is the ability to put a workbench in the garage. Most bigger toy haulers nowadays have a 2nd bathroom with the door going into the garage, which limits the wall space for putting in a workbench if you are toting a big RZR.

Fuzion Toy Hauler Fifth wheel garage-min

Will a small 30″ workbench fit between the two doors in this Fuzion 429?

At first, the idea of two bathrooms didn’t excite us because it is a mammoth waste of space for a couple. But then we realized that with a 2nd bathroom you get double the black tank capacity because most designers place a black tank below each toilet to let gravity do its magic of filling the tank as the toilet is used. Some of them drain the little half-bath vanity sink into the rear black tank too.

It is my understanding that the DRV Fullhouse uses a macerator on the toilets to pump the fluids from both toilets to a single black tank, so adding a 2nd bathroom doesn’t double the black tank capacity in those trailers.

The more we did our own soul searching about what we really wanted in our new trailer, the more we realized that we couldn’t go backwards when it came to tank capacities. Our current Hitchhiker has 70 gallons of fresh water, 78 gallons of gray split between two tanks (50 for the shower and vanity and 28 for the kitchen sink) and 50 gallons of black.

Reducing any of these numbers would impact the way we live since we rarely get water or sewer hookups. Unfortunately, although most toy haulers offer over 100 gallons of fresh water, which is awesome, many have a bit less than 50 for the black tank unless they have a 2nd bathroom.

So the decision for us became a trade-off between living space (giving up part of the living area and/or garage to accommodate a second bathroom) and black tank capacity. Argh! Big black tanks do exist. The Arctic Fox 35-5Z has 65 gallons of black tank capacity with just one toilet.

The Keystone Raptor 421CK floorplan that we loved (except for the 11′ garage) was replaced with the Raptor 423 which has a 13′ garage. But it has just a 44 gallon black tank which contributed to taking it out of the running. Also, the designers took 2′ out of the bedroom to increase the garage length from 11 to 13 feet, and they turned the bed so it was “north/south” or parallel to the driving direction instead of being perpendicular to it.

Trailer designers are constrained in overall square footage for their designs by the RVIA (RV Industry Association). This group increases the maximum allowable square footage a little bit now and then, but for right now the limit is 430 square feet.

This seems to be a bit of an arbitrary number, but it is an important one. When you see very long trailers with very shallow and short slide-outs, it may be due to this maximum square footage. Turning a perpendicular bed that’s partly in a slide-out into a “north/south” bed that’s parallel to the curb with no slideout eliminates a few square feet. The designer can then use those square feet somewhere else in the trailer, like lengthening the garage.

We spent a lot of time lying on these “north/south” beds and opening and closing the small wardrobes in the driver’s side slideouts. This type of bedroom was not as appealing as the perpendicular bed with the big closet in the front cap, but it is the predominant design these days, probably due to the square footage constraint.

Grand Design Momentum Toyhauler Bedroom-min

Many toy haulers have a “north/south” bedroom where the bed runs parallel to the road rather than perpendicular. You can walk around a queen but a king goes almost to the curbside wall.

The biggest challenge in our search is that most dealers stock only a few toy haulers of whatever brands they carry. So there were several floorplans we wanted to see that we still haven’t seen, even after two years of traveling around and a visit to the factories in Elkhart Indiana. The KZ Venom 4012TK is an open floorplan U-kitchen design much like the Raptor 421CK/423 that I’d love to see. Maybe someday!

I’d also like to see a DRV Fullhouse, specifically the LX450. Until we began our search, I didn’t realize that even though DRV is not an independent company any more, they still allow some customizations to be made to their trailers. Working with a good dealer — we heard that Rolling Retreats in Oklahoma was outstanding — you can ask for all kinds of customized things and some might be granted.

I was very surprised when I found out that the factory would be willing to remove the 2nd bathroom and the dinette cabinetry in the Fullhouse LX450. I had other ideas for those spaces that would work better for us. But I have yet to see a Fullhouse toy hauler in person — they always seem to be at least 400 miles away and never in the direction we’re headed. And ordering any trailer without seeing something pretty similar in person first makes me uneasy.

The other thing that made the search particular frustrating is that all the folks selling toyhaulers also had regular fivers on their lots. So, although we couldn’t see the KZ Venom toy hauler we wanted to see, the dealer had the KZ Durango Gold 380FL available. We walked inside and instantly fell in love with the huge rear bedroom with its 2nd entry door on the driver’s side. This didn’t help our search for a toy hauler!

Where Raptors were sold we often saw Montanas, which are also Keystone products, and Mark fell in love wih the storage space in the massive pullout shelf under the raised living room in the Montana 3790/91. This was yet another reminder that If you don’t have a 13′ dedicated garage and you’re willing to go up to 40′ or longer in a trailer, you can get a really spacious rig!

And where Momentums were sold, Grand Design Solitudes were also on display. We both fell totally in love with the massive bedroom and walkin closet of the Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The twin vanity sinks and gargantuan closet were wonderful, and the big bright windows opposite the bed along and the window over the bed’s headboard were fabulous.

I’d never been in a fifth wheel where I felt I could spend happy daytime hours in the bedroom, but in that rig I surely could.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Fifth wheel trailer RV bedroom-min

The Grand Design Solitude 373FB has a gorgeous bedroom suite with an enormous bathroom and walk-in closet

Grand Design Solitude 373FB Bedroom-min

Good morning sunshine — the Grand Design Solitude 373FB bedroom has a wall of windows!

So, the toy hauler idea went out the window because we began to think we’d triple tow with something like this beautiful Grand Design Solitude 373FB. The only problem is that it is 41′ 4″ long and that would put us over the limit for triple towing in every state except for South Dakota where the limit is 75 feet!

Back to the drawing board we went where we revamped our search to be for smaller trailers. Suddenly, at long last, we were able to see an Arctic Fox 35-5Z after wanting to see one for a long time. This is a really well made trailer built on Northwood Manufacturing’s own in-house constructed frame with a traditional floorplan.

The great thing about Northwood Manufacturing / Arctic Fox is that they are the only trailer manufacturer left that offers a long list of options. All the others pump out identical trailers one after another except for a very few items the customer can choose such as dual pane windows, an onboard generator and exterior paint.

Arctic Fox 35-SZ fifth wheel trailer RV living room-min

The Arctic Fox 35-SZ is built on a custom in-house frame and offers lots of choices for options

At Arctic Fox you can choose to have either one air conditioner or two. You can get an electric fireplace under the TV or you can have wooden cabinets in that space instead. You can opt for a 10 cubic foot propane/electric RV fridge, which gives you an extra foot of counter space and upper and lower cabinetry to boot, or a 12 cubic foot RV fridge or an enormous 18 cubic foot RV fridge. You can also get a residential 110v AC electric fridge.

This is awesome because there are some RVers, like ourselves, who would prefer to have more cabinet and counter space and let the veggies and beer fight it out for themselves in a smaller 10 cubic foot fridge.

Also, since we dry camp all the time, we power our 8 cubic foot fridge with propane 24/7. When we’re not using propane for heat and are just using propane to power the refrigerator, the hot water heater and the stove, we go through a 30 lb. (7 gallon) tank of propane every three weeks. In our experience, it is not always so easy to find places to fill our propane tanks, especially in certain parts of the country.

If we were to go from our current 8 cubic foot refrigerator to an 18 cubic foot fridge, we would more than double the amount of propane our fridge uses. We would probably go through that same 7 gallon tank of propane in about 9-12 days instead of 21 days. If the trailer’s LP tank compartment allows 5″ of extra height, then we might be able to switch to using the taller 40 lb. (10 gallon) tanks instead and we might make the propane last a little longer. But those big tanks are unwieldy to carry around.

Lastly, RV propane refrigerators are expected to last only about 8 to 10 years. A replacement 8 cubic foot fridge is around $1,400. A replacement 18 cubic foot fridge is $3,700. That’s a huge difference!

Even if you have an extended RV warranty (which is an excellent idea – here’s why), the warranty contract will cost a lot more to purchase if your rig has a big expensive refrigerator in it than it would if the fridge were a smaller cheaper model. After all, the warranty company has to calculate their potential costs if things in your rig (like the refrigerator) fail.

KZ allowed buyers to order trailers with smaller RV fridges and opt out of the electric fireplace until last fall, and that is one of the reasons we were so interested in the KZ trailers.

Grand Design Solitude 373FB fifth wheel trailer-min

Many Grand Design Solitude trailers have a TV that lowers into a cabinet revealing a nice big window behind (on the right in this pic). This is fantastic for folks who don’t watch TV during the daytime.

Perhaps the biggest thing for us, though, is the tank capacities. Small tank capacities certainly rule out a lot of brands! The Grand Design trailers have excellent tank capacities, especially the toy haulers with a 2nd bathroom where you can get as much as 157 gallons of fresh, 106 of gray and 106 of black. Wow!!

Double vanity sink in bathroom of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

No more lines for brushing teeth!

So, last week we were back to looking at toy haulers. We went to a dealership where we saw a Fuzion 429 which had a very cool walk-through kitchen layout with the sink set on an outside corner with long counters running along either side. There was tons of cabinet space and it had and an interesting country style decorative motif.

But the slide-outs were so shallow we would be challenged to replace the furniture if we ever wanted to because the fronts of the theater seats and sofa were all set on rollers to roll in and out with the slide room. The fronts of replacement furniture could be set on casters, perhaps, but it might look a little funny.

I’m not keen on being married to an RVs furniture just because it is on rollers.

One thing I’ve noticed with most of the Thomas Payne theater seats is that if I sit with my back touching the backrest, my feet can’t reach the ground. They’re about 2″ short. This is really uncomfortable! I’m 5’4″ but have fairly long legs for my height, so I imagine that most women would be in the same position. So, for me, replacing the furniture at some point is a likely scenario.

We prowled around other toy haulers, and as I stood in the kitchen of one and thought about where I’d put my dishware (I’d already resigned myself to storing pantry goods in the 18 cubic foot fridge because that’s where the bulk of the kitchen shelving was), I realized there was no cabinet in the kitchen for plates or glassware. Those would have to go in a drawer in the kitchen island or in a cabinet outside of the kitchen area.

A similar thing had happened when I stood in the kitchen of another toy hauler a few months earlier and opened the slim upper cabinet door above the sink. The shelf in there was big enough for just one coffee mug — as long as it didn’t have a handle — and no more.

Space is at such a premium in a toy hauler that the designers have to be super creative to make a living area that has both comfortable seating and sufficient usable storage.

Ironcially, Mark had skimmed through Craigslist before this last dealership trip, and he found a 2011 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America for sale. We walked inside it and knew we’d found our rig. It was just like the one we’d lived in for the last 12 years but with some important differences!

Woo Hoo!!

This Hitchhiker had factory installed 8k lb. Dexter axles with 17.5 inch wheels and disc brakes. This was huge!

Every new trailer we’d looked at so far, including most of the toy haulers, would require an upgrade to disc brakes and in many cases an upgrade to bigger axles too, and none but the highest end manufacturers offered those things as a factory installed option. Almost all the trailers had tandem or triple 7k lb. axles and 16″ wheels. Many were Dexter brand, which is terrific, but the cargo carrying capacities were really skimpy almost across the board.

One lovely 38′ fifth wheel had a mere 1,800 lbs of cargo carrying capacity. This would have to include fresh water, solar and battery add-ons and all of our belongings. Several toy haulers had just over 3,000 lbs. of cargo carrying capacity which leaves little room for food, clothes, lilnens, appliances and kitchenware once the 1,200 lb. toy is loaded and the 850 lbs. of fresh water and 450 lbs of fuel are put in the tanks (water is 8.3 lbs per gallon).

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV Living Room-min

Hitchhiker Discover America – Looks familiar!

Besides the big axles, this old Hitchhiker’s 17.5″ wheels were a massive plus too. Bigger tires on fifth wheels are much less prone to problems caused by grinding the tread into the ground when making tight turns. Blow-outs are all too common with fifth wheel trailers, and although bad tires are often to blame, it’s also possible that the steel belts eventually fall apart under the twisting lateral loads induced by tight turns.

How funny this was, though. We’d come full circle and were right back where we’d started trailer-wise, more or less.

It was only after we began making calls to line up folks to replace the stained carpets and do a detailed cleaning so we could get our soon-to-be new-to-us home back on its wheels as soon as possible after the closing that we realized the handyman projects on an 8 year old trailer were feeling more like work than like fun!

That wasn’t what we wanted!

Totally stressed out, we walked away from the deal at the last minute. We felt better immediately.

Hitchhiker Discover America 349RSB fifth wheel trailer RV-min

There are some incredible deals to be found on the used market for highly regarded brands of yesteryear.
But buying used has its challenges too.

This whole process can be both exhilarating and depressing. Just like buying a sailboat or a house.

Our offer for our cruising sailboat Groovy was the 5th offer we put in on a boat over the course of a year. One deal went so far south we had to get the California Boating and Waterways agency involved. On another deal we paid $1,300 to get the boat surveyed (like a house inspection), and backed out when we got it hauled out of the water and saw the forest of seaweed growing on the hull.

But our persistence and careful approach paid off. In the end, Groovy was a much newer, cleaner and far cheaper boat than any of the others we’d made offers on!

In the RV industry there are very few structurally well built and cleverly designed new trailers out there, and going with a used one that was well built and beautifully crafted in its day years ago opens a whole new can of worms. For those who love renovating, it’s a great way to go. But not everyone does.

On our way home we decided to take one more look at some new fifth wheels just to change our mindset, so we pulled into a dealership and asked to see a line of trailers we hadn’t seen before.

Lo and behold, the first rig we walked into was fantastic. Holy cow! It had almost everything we wanted and the few things it didn’t have were upgrades that would be fun and exciting to do. Who woulda thunk?!

Home sweet home

Home sweet home.

Is our search over? We don’t know, but we’ve got a hunch it is. We’re giving this latest idea a few weeks to simmer and we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, have faith that your ship — or RV — will come in. It’s out there somewhere. It just takes a ton of online research, dozens of walks through dealership lots and, more than anything, some heartfelt soul searching to find it.

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Related blog posts:

Triple-Tow or Toyhauler? How to Haul a RZR in the Full-time RV Life!
What Are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?

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What are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?!

What features are most important in a fifth wheel trailer you’ll be living in full-time? That’s a big and interesting question, and Trailer Life Magazine recently assigned me the very fun task of surveying the fifth wheels on the market today and selecting twelve models that would make a good home on the road.

The results of my review are featured as the cover story of the October 2017 edition of Trailer Life Magazine.

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017

Trailer Life Magazine, October, 2017. Article by Emily Fagan

As I mentioned in my blog post about what to look for in a full-time RV, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, choosing a rolling home is an incredibly personal decision. There is no ideal rig for all RVers. The most important thing is that you walk inside, look around, and say, “Ahhh, this is home!”

But you’ve also gotta look at the nuts and bolts underneath the rig, and that’s what this blog post is about.

Whatever fifth wheel you buy, there is no need to break the bank. Obviously, higher quality trailers cost a lot more than lower quality trailers do, but life on the road is a thrill no matter what kind of rig you live in, and if you can’t afford the top of the line, you’ll still have just as much fun as those who can.

Also, sometimes going with a used trailer, especially at the outset, beats buying new. There are lots of used fifth wheels of all ages for sale all over the country.

We have met a couple and a single fellow living full-time in older fifth wheel trailers that cost them less than $5,000. They were very happy with their rolling homes and were thrilled to have the freedom of a life on the road.

Likewise, we met a couple who had lived in a popup tent trailer for four years, a couple who had lived in a tiny half-ton pickup camper for two years and we met a young pair of mountain bikers who had just moved out of their tent home of the last 18 months and into a 17′ travel trailer a few weeks before we camped near them.

If you can’t afford the latest and greatest, it is still very possible to be a full-time RVer and live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!

However, my Trailer Life assignment was to look over the many brand new fifth wheels on the market, find twelve models that spoke to me, and highlight some of the things that I think are important when shopping for an RV that will be lived in 24/7/365.

You can read the article here: Full-timing Fifth Wheel Trailers in Trailer Life Magazine

For reference, we have pics and specs and a description of the fifth wheel trailer we live in at this link.

LEARN BY DOING

If you haven’t done much RVing yet and you are planning to move out of your current home and set off on a life of adventure on the road, the best way to figure out what features you need and want in your full-time fifth wheel is to get some practice RVing first.

I can’t state strongly enough the value of buying a cheap little RV and going and having some fun on weekends and vacations before jumping into the full-time RV lifestyle. This is especially true if you’ve got a year or more to go before you will actually start full-timing.

Nothing is better than hands-on experience, and you can use the little rig as a trade-in on your full-time RV. The minimal amount of depreciation is a great investment in your own personal education in the RV lifestyle! Here is a blog post about that.

So what DO you look for in an RV when you are replacing your sticks-and-bricks house? After all, the the most important factor is no longer Location, Location Location! Different folks look for different things, but here’s what we look for whenever we check out a new fifth wheel at a dealership (which we do frequently!).

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017-min

A survey of fifth wheels for full-timing by Emily Fagan
Trailer Life Magazine Cover – October 2017

CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY

The first thing we look at is the trailer’s Cargo Carrying Capacity. This is the amount of weight the trailer is designed to carry safely and legally. Trailer manufacturers are required to post a sticker on the exterior of the front end of the trailer on the driver’s side that indicates what the CCC is.

Surprisingly, there is a lot of confusion about exactly how the CCC is calculated and whether or not the fresh water or the propane in the tanks is considered cargo or part of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW). The official definition, according to certain RV standards groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is:

CCC = GVWR – (UVW + propane weight)

That is, the Cargo Carrying Capacity is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less the sum of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight and the propane weight.

However, it is much more common for manufacturers to calculate CCC as simply the GVWR less UVW and not count the propane weight as part of the equation. This is also known as the NCC (Net Carrying Capacity).

NCC = GVWR – UVW

The propane weight is only 40, 60 or 80 lbs, depending on whether the two propane tanks are 20 lb., 30 lb., or 40 lb. tanks, so it is not that important whether it is included in the calculation of CCC or not, and it is easy to see why the terms CCC and NCC are often confused and used interchangeably.

In addition to stating the CCC on a sticker on the trailer, the manufacturers are also required to have a sticker indicating how much the fresh water in the trailer weighs when the fresh water tanks are full. One gallon of water weighs about 8.35 lbs. or 3.785 kg.

Fresh water is officially considered to be cargo, so if the trailer is towed with its tanks full, then the CCC available for everything else (food, clothes, tools, barbecue, bikes etc.) is reduced by the weight of the fresh water weight as stated on the sticker.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

This detailed sticker shows the weight of the fresh water tanks when full (830 lbs in the fresh water tanks and 100 lbs in the hot water tank) PLUS it shows the weight of the Black and Gray waste tanks (1,569 lbs.) AND it shows the cargo carrying capacity of the trailer with water tanks both full (1,372 lbs) and empty (2,302 lbs).

If the trailer doesn’t have the official CCC stated on a sticker, it’s usually possible to find the GVWR and UVW values on a spec sheet and simply subtract UVW from GVWR. This simple calculation of GVWR – UVW is the easiest way to compare the carrying capacity from one trailer to the next, so that is what we like to go by when we are making a direct comparison.

So how much should the Cargo Carrying Capacity be for a fifth wheel trailer that’s used as a full-time home? In our experience, the nearly 3,500 lbs. of CCC on our trailer is barely enough. Because we boondock all the time, we travel with our fresh water tank and hot water tank full and our gray and black tanks empty so we can stay a maximum length of time at our next destination.

Other folks may find they can get away with less, but to us, if you are shopping for a big trailer to live in full-time, a CCC of less than 3,000 lbs. is going to be insufficient in the long run. If you are shopping for a fifth wheel toy hauler, then you’ll need 3,500 lbs. for your stuff plus more for the weight of your toy(s).

Interestingly, the manufacturers often provide a lot more storage space in their fifth wheel trailers than the CCC of their trailer can reasonably support. Our cabinets and shelves aren’t even full, and we are still at the maximum limit for CCC in our trailer.

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

A much simpler sticker on another trailer shows a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.
By implication this does not include any water weights because all liquids in the tanks are cargo.

So, just because a trailer you are looking at has voluminous shelving, a big pantry, and two huge closets, you won’t necessarily be able to fill all that space and still remain at or below the CCC of the trailer.

Another surprise is that smaller trailers frequently have larger carrying capacities. This can be seen in a single product line when a manufacturer uses the same frame for several models. The smallest and lightest model built on that frame will obviously have more carrying capacity than the largest and heaviest one.

We also saw it in dramatic fashion when we compared a tear drop trailer and a toy hauler on a dealership lot once (blog post here).

One caveat to keep in mind if you overload your trailer is that you risk being found liable if you are in an accident with a fatality and it is discovered your rig was over its weight limit. This is true both if the truck is too small for the trailer and/or if the trailer itself is loaded beyond its capacity.

FOUNDATION – FRAME, AXLES, TIRES. SUSPENSION, LANDING JACKS & BRAKES

The foundation underlying a fifth wheel trailer consists of the frame, axles, tires, suspension, landing jacks and brakes, and although this is not the glamorous part of the trailer, it is arguably the most important.

It is possible to upgrade some of these components to improve the overall unofficial GVWR and CCC of a trailer and to improve its stopping power as well. The axles, tires and suspension can all be replaced with beefier parts, and if the trailer has electric drum brakes, these can be upgraded to electric over hydraulic disc brakes (described in detail here).

RVers are encouraged to weigh their rigs on a regular basis to ensure that they are staying within the official GVWR for their unit. We weigh ours every year or two. Escapees offers the very thorough SmartWeigh program at several of their RV parks across the country, and we describe our experience with that program at this link: “Making Weight” With Your RV.

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with Escapees SmartWeigh program

Weighing a fifth wheel trailer with the Escapees SmartWeigh program

It is important to note, however, that just because you’ve got bigger axles, better rated tires and beefier suspension, you won’t “officially” have a new GVWR. The trailer will support its payload better, but in the case of a horrific accident, if the GVWR value is referenced and your trailer is somehow found to have been over that weight, you may be considered liable.

Frame

The next thing we look at in a trailer is the frame and axles. Almost all trailers are assembled on frames built by Lippert Components. A few manufacturers build their own frames in-house.

Axles

Most fifth wheels are also built on Lippert axles. The highest end fifth wheels are built with axles made by Dexter. They advertise the fact and consider it to be a premium feature. In some cases Dexter axles are an option, and some buyers simply replace their axles after making their purchase.

Both of our Lippert axles have failed. The first time was in Nova Scotia. We could tell because our tires began wearing very strangely and very very fast. We limped to Maine to have the rear axle replaced with another Lippert axle.

New RV axle installed on fifth wheel trailer-min

We replaced one of our trailer axles in Bangor Maine.

Fortunately, our extended RV warranty saved the day financially, but the time lost and overall frustration of having a big failure on the road was not fun. (Blog post about that experience here).

The second time was when our front axle failed in Arizona, and again, the tell-tale sign was bizarre tire wear on the trailer tires. This time we decided to replace both axles with the Dexter brand. Unfortunately, our extended RV warranty did not bail us out on this occasion, but the $3,000 expense of having both axles replaced and correctly aligned with Dexter axles was well worth it, as our tires have been wearing very evenly ever since.

Suspension

In addition to axle failures, our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension failed upon our approach to Arizona from New Mexico. We had the entire suspension overhauled, and fortunately our extended trailer warranty covered the repair (blog post about that experience here). This experience made us realize just how important the suspension is on a trailer.

New fifth wheel trailer suspension installation-min

We replaced our failed fifth wheel suspension system in Arizona.

Most fifth wheel trailers come with a conventional leaf spring and gas shock suspension system. However, some fifth wheels come with an axle-less rubber suspension system from Mor/Ryde. Many people love and swear by the soft ride of this suspension. Over time, however the rubber does wear out and needs to be replaced (as do conventional shocks).

Tires

The weight rating on the tires is an important aspect of the overall GVWR rating of a trailer, and upgrading the tires is an easy way to boost the GVWR and increase the CCC. Of course, the legal rating for the trailer will always depend on how the trailer was built at the factory, but by upgrading the tires you can quickly give the trailer much needed support if you are approaching the limit.

Tire ratings vary on most fifth wheels between E-rated (10 ply) tires for lighter trailer to G-rated (14-ply) for the heavier ones. Some of the heaviest trailers have H-rated (16-ply) tires but those require wheels that can handle higher air pressure.

Check the tire ratings on a prospective full-time fifth wheel as well as the axle brand and axle weight ratings. If they are already big and beefy, you will save yourself needing to upgrade them later. On the other hand, if you love the trailer but those things are a little skimpy, budget in an upgrade when you contemplate the purchase price and its impact on your bank account.

We upgraded the E-rated (10-ply) tires that came on our trailer with G-rated (14-ply) tires. When we swapped axle brands, we stayed with the 7,000 lb. axle rating because we had upgraded our trailer’s electric hub brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and the bigger 8,000 lb. axles required different brakes.

Brakes

Most fifth wheel trailers come with electric drum brakes. The stopping power is so-so. More expensive brands of fifth wheels offer electric over hydraulic disk brakes as an option. You can also replace the electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes at a later date.

We upgraded our electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and what a massive difference in stopping power! The upgrade costs about $3,000 or so, but we felt it was worth every penny. Our blog post about that upgrade is here.

Fifth wheel electric over hydraulic disk brake conversion-min

We upgraded our standard electric trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes in Texas

If you think you might upgrade the entire under carriage of your trailer — axles, brakes and tires — because you are at the outer limit of its CCC, you might consider going to the next size axle. We did our upgrades piece-meal as things broke or ore out, but if we’d done it all at once we might have gone with 8,000 lb. axles and corresponding brakes.

Landing Jacks

Conventional electric landing jacks on the front of the trailer are less expensive than hydraulic self-leveling jacks, and they are more commonly found on the more affordable brands of fifth wheel trailers. Hydraulic leveling jacks appear on higher end fifth wheels as standard features or as an option.

We have been happy with our electric landing jacks over the years, and even though we did have to replace them at one time, it was a relatively easy DIY job that Mark was able to do while boondocking in the desert!

Operating the electric landing jacks on a fifth wheel trailer-min

Without a hydraulic leveling system, on extremely unlevel ground we put blocks under the landing legs.

The disadvantage of electric landing jacks is that the side-to-side leveling of the trailer has to be done by sliding something under the wheels to prop up one side of the trailer, and sometimes we have to prop up the front end of the trailer too. We carry 5′ x 1′ x 1″ strips of a sliced up heavy duty rubber mat for this purpose. We used to carry 5′ long 1×8 pine boards. Lots of folks carry the plastic leveling platforms.

Hydraulic leveling jacks can do most or all of the leveling without the need for anything being placed under the tires. Just hit the button and watch the trailer level itself. In the most off-level situations it may still be necessary to prop up one side of the trailer with something under the wheels.

Leveling boards under a fifth wheel trailer-min

Usually all we need is one or two mats under our wheels. In rare cases we have to stack higher!

Another great benefit of hydraulic leveling jacks is that if you need to jack up one side of the trailer to work on the tires, wheels or suspension, you can use the hydraulic leveling jacks instead of a portable jack placed under an axle. It’s safer and easier.

The only disadvantage of hydraulic leveling jacks is simply that they are complex and might fail. Occasionally (though extremely rarely) the legs have been known to fall down while the trailer is being towed. Of course, technology improves with every year, so these kinds of problems are less and less common.

“FOUR SEASON” – INSULATION and R-FACTORS

Lots of trailers are billed as “Four Season,” but in reality, you can’t compare living in an elevated box with 2″ to 3.5″ walls with living in a house that stands on a foundation and whose thick walls are built with layers of drywall, Tyvek, plywood and siding.

That being said, “Four Season” coaches are generally better insulated than others. Just don’t expect to be totally warm and cozy and free of condensation when there’s a blizzard and temps stay below 0 F for a few days!

Fifth wheel trailer RV in snow blizzard-min

We have experienced several blizzards in our trailer,
but RVs are not really made to be “four season” the way that houses are.

RV Insulation

Some folks have toughed it out in an RV through real winters in the northern states, but the majority of full-time RVers spend their winters in mild climates where overnight temps in the teens are a rare and cold exception. We have tips for keeping a rig warm during the winter months and keeping it cool during the summer months in these blog posts:

Winter RVing tips – Staying Warm!

More Winter RVing tips – How to heat an RV in Winter Weather

Installing a vent-free propane heater in an RV

Summer RVing tips – How to Beat the Heat and Stay Cool When It’s HOT!

There are various ways to insulate an RV and there are pros and cons to the different types of insulation that RV manufacturers use.

Some higher end fifth wheels are built with conventional wooden studs and fiberglass insulation as this may provide greater insulation.

Wooden studs are less apt to conduct warm air to the outside than aluminum framing is. On a cold winter morning it is easy to see where the aluminum framing is on an RV if you go outside because you can see the outline of the aluminum framing on the trailer wall.

RV windows dripping with condensation in winter-min

Condensation forms inside our windows on a particularly moist and freezing winter day.

However, fiberglass insulation has been known to fall down off the studs over the years, leaving the tops of the walls uninsulated. Usually, the front and end cap and the areas between the roof trusses are all insulated with fiberglass insulation as well.

Most fifth wheels are insulated with styrofoam, and the styrofoam used varies in quality. The use of “blue board” polystyrene styrofoam made by Dow Chemical was one of the big selling points in the NuWa Hitchhiker brand of fifth wheels like ours (NuWa no longer builds trailers). We’ve also heard this product referred to as “Blue Dow” foam.

When we did a factory tour at NuWa before we bought our trailer, we were told that the folks there had tested the strength of the blue board by driving a truck over a piece that was suspended by its two sides, and it didn’t break. We were also each handed a piece and challenged to break it. We couldn’t.

Interestingly, it may be this very strong styrofoam in the walls that kept a Hitchhiker fifth wheel intact recently when it rolled over at 60 mph on the interstate (blog post about that here).

Besides providing strength to the fifth wheel frame, Dow blue board foam has a very high R-factor.

A few high end fifth wheels are built with this kind of insulation nowadays. Most, however, are built with a weaker and less insulating kind of styrofoam.

R-Factors

When looking at the insulation R-factors that are advertised by the RV manufacturers for the walls and roof of a fifth wheel, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the number may be for the most heavily insulated part of the wall or roof. RV windows, doors and roof hatch vents have very low R-factors for insulation, and that is where most of the heat is lost.

How much heat is lost through RV windows? Just look at what percentage of a fifth wheel wall is actually windows!

Also, some fifth wheel slide-outs are built with thinner walls and less insulated roofs than the main body of the fifth wheel. Ours is. Again, what percentage of the fifth wheel’s walls and roof are part of the main structure and what percentage are slide-outs?

EXTERIOR WALL and ROOF MATERIAL and MAINTENANCE

Exterior Walls

Fifth wheel trailers are built with various materials as the exterior surface of the walls and roof. Lower end trailers have an exterior fiberglass finish of filon. This is what was on our first full-time travel trailer. It doesn’t shine and is a little harder to keep looking spiffy.

Waxing a fifth wheel trailer front cap-min

Maintenance, like washing and waxing the massive exterior of a big RV, is just part of the lifestyle.

The next level up is a fiberglass gelcoat exterior. This is shiny and can be maintained to a glossy finish by waxing the trailer twice a year. Unfortunately, the pretty swirly stickers that give fifth wheel trailers their colorful look will begin peeling off after about 4-5 years.

The highest level finish for a fifth wheel trailer is automotive paint. This is an extremely durable finish and the swirling paint patterns will never peel off. It is also very expensive (figure on about $10k) and is found only on the highest end fifth wheel trailers.

Roofs

Most fifth wheel roofs are “rubber” roofs. These usually come with a ten year warranty, and they are pretty much ready for replacement at the end of ten years! Fiberglass roofs are more durable. If you are going to install solar panels on the roof, you may need to be a little more careful with a fiberglass roof to be sure you don’t crack it when you drill into it.

Rubber roofs can be made of EPDM or TPO. As EPDM roofs begin to age, they start shedding a lot of dust, and every time it rains this creates streaks down the sides of the trailer. Cleaning the roof often helps reduce the streaking, but it’s very hard to eliminate the problem all together once the roof begins to deteriorate a few years into its lifespan. TPO roofs do not have this problem.

CAMPING STYLE

Other than these basic structural features, the rest of the decision is pure fun fluff stuff. The most important thing to ponder when you’re shopping for your new rolling home is how you anticipate living and traveling in it. What is your camping style? That is, how do you want to camp and where will you travel?

Roads are bigger and straighter in the western states than in the eastern states, so bigger rigs are easier to travel in out west.

Many privately owned RV parks accommodate “big rigs” across the whole country. However if you are more into “camping” in natural settings, the sizes of campsites in government run campgrounds vary a lot.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Some RVers love boondocking. Others don’t.
Knowing your own personal camping style helps a lot when it comes to buying a full-time rig.

States Park campsites are often quite large and frequently come with hookups, but they can be pricey too and there are rarely discounts for seniors or for long stays. Campsites in the National Parks and National Forests are often very small, often have no hookups, and may therefore be slightly cheaper, especially for holders of the Federal Lands Senior Pass.

Holding Tank Capacities

So, will you be dry camping a lot or will you get hookups most of the time? This makes a difference in what kinds of holding tank capacities you’ll need.

If you’ll be getting hookups most of the time, then there is no need for big holding tanks. However, if you’ll be dry camping a lot, then big holding tanks will mean you can stay put a little longer before you have to go to an RV dump station .

Our fresh water tanks and hot water heater are 70 gallons combined, our two gray water tanks are 78 gallons combined, and our black tank is 50 gallons. This has worked well for us dry camping every night for the better part of ten years.

We do carry 25 gallons of fresh water in the back of our truck in jerry jugs, but we don’t often need to use that water since we typically stay in places for less than two weeks before moving on, which is about how long our holding tanks last.

One nice feature if you are going to boondock a lot is to have an easy way to refill the fresh water tanks. We have a gravity fed fresh water intake that we can fill from a fresh water hose or from our jerry jugs.

Refilling RV fresh water tanks-min

We have a gravity based fresh water intake on the side of our trailer.
Unfortunately, it is rather high up (and it doesn’t need to be!).

The handy thing about this is that with our trailer the ratio of fresh water capacity to gray and black capacity means that we run out of fresh water before we fill up the gray or black water tanks. Being able to top off the fresh water lets us camp in one spot a little longer before we have to pack it up to go to an RV dump station.

“SOLAR READY” and SOLAR POWER

If you are going to be dry camping a lot, you may want to consider installing a solar power system, and there are a few things to keep in mind about that as you shop for a full-time fifth wheel.

We have a ton of info about solar power on this website. An index of links to our many articles is here:

Solar Power for RVs and Boats

Solar power doesn’t have to be a big, expensive and difficult thing to add to an RV (here’s an article summarizing several types of RV solar power systems).

A portable solar power suitcase that includes a pair of solar panels and a solar charge controller and cables to connect to the batteries all in one package is a nifty way to have solar power available without installing a permanent system on the roof and in the RV basement.

Simply set up the panels on the ground and connect them to the trailer batteries whenever you need to charge the batteries up. The “suitcase” feature makes it easy to stow the system when not in use.

However, most folks who live in their RV full-time and also boondock frequently prefer to install solar panels on the roof permanently and install a solar charge controller near the batteries and install a big pure sine wave inverter too.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel roof-min

Full-time RVers who dry camp a lot usually end up installing solar panels on the roof.

If this is in the back of your mind, you might get excited when you see a fifth wheel (or other RV) advertised as “solar ready.” Unfortunately, in many cases this is a very misleading term. A solar power system that will let you live without electric hookups for days on end will be at least 200 watts and more likely 500 watts or more. The cabling necessary to carry the currents these panels produce is generally 8 or 10 gauge wire.

If a rig is billed as “solar ready,” find out how many watts the prospective solar system could support and check out the size of the cable that goes to the roof. “Solar ready” may simply mean that a skinny cable has been run from the batteries to the roof to support a 50 watt panel. This is great if the batteries are fully charged and you are leaving the rig in storage outdoors for a few months. However, it is not sufficient to live on comfortably.

Also, if you plan to install a full-timer solar power system, check the battery compartment. How many batteries are there? What size are they (Group 24? Group 27?)? How many batteries can you add in the compartment?

Fifth wheel battery compartment-min

We had the battery compartment customized to support four golf-cart sized batteries.

A good sized battery bank for boondocking for long periods is four 6-volt golf cart sized batteries (Group GC2). If the battery box in the fifth wheel you are looking at can’t hold that many batteries, think about where else you might put them and whether there is ample support (they are heavy) and venting (wet cell batteries need to be vented).

Of course, a basement compartment can be beefed up with a piece of angle iron welded onto the frame and/or vents and conduit going to the battery boxes.

We have a series of articles explaining how RV batteries work, how to charge them, different battery types on the market and more at this link:

RV Battery Charging Systems

ACCESS TO SYSTEMS THAT MIGHT NEED REPAIR

While you are crawling around the basements of prospective new rolling homes, try to find all the major components that might fail and might need to be replaced.

If you are a DIY RVer, this is critically important. However, even if you are going to hire out the repair jobs to various RV shops around the country, their jobs will be much easier and cheaper if the systems are easy to access.

Easy access water pump under sink of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

It isn’t “pretty” but it sure is nice to have easy access when it’s time to replace the water pump!
Mark replaced it so fast he’d finished the job before I got pics of his work!

For instance, see if you can find the water pump, hot water heater, power converter, inverter (if there is one), etc.

We once met a fellow with a beautiful brand new travel trailer, and Mark spent an hour with the guy trying to find the power converter. It was hidden behind a fixed wall somewhere and they never did find it!

CREATURE COMFORTS and LIVABILITY

When you give up the luxuries of hearth and home in a stick-built house to wander around the country in an RV, you want to be comfortable. Even though you may be just fine with “roughing it” when you go camping on week-long vacations, it is different when you don’t have a “real” home to go home to.

For us, the move up from our vacation-purposed popup tent trailer to our full-time 27′ travel trailer was such a big step that the travel trailer looked truly luxurious. It had a sofa, dinette and bed in the living area, all of which were good places for relaxing. It seemed just dandy. However, after spending many long hours in it during our first winter, we realized that we wished we had true recliners to relax in. That simple desire is what spurred us to hunt for (and find) our fifth wheel trailer!

Beds

If you have been sleeping in a king size bed at home, switching to a queen bed on the road may be a big challenge. It was for us! It’s a shock to find out the love of your life has so many arms and legs!

Beds in RVs are often slightly smaller in one dimension or another than their residential counterparts, and those lost inches do count. For your reference, here are the standard residential bed sizes, width by length, in inches:

Queen: 60″ x 80″
King: 76″ x 80″

Here are some of the sizes that we’ve seen in fifth wheel trailers, width by length:

Queen: 60″ x 74.5″ (shorter than residential)
King: 70″ x 80″ or 72″ x 80″ (narrower than residential)

We have never seen a full width king size bed in a fifth wheel trailer except in a custom design. This is something to keep in mind if you think you might upgrade your trailer’s factory installed king mattress sometime down the road. Will the new residential king mattress, which is wider than the old mattress that came with the rig, fit on the platform without being squished?

Floorplan and Functionality with Slide-outs Closed

One of the things that we tend to think about when we stand in a beautiful, spacious fifth wheel trailer on a dealership lot is how functional the rig will be when all the slide-outs are closed. Some folks never go in their trailers without opening the slide-outs, but we do it all the time at rest stops and at the grocery store.

Ask the salesman to close the slide-outs on your prospective new full-time fifth wheel and find out which things in the kitchen, living room and bedroom you can no longer access.

NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer Flooplan-min

The open floorplan of our ’07 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel trailer.

Can you get into the fridge for a beer? Can you access the pantry for goodies to make a sandwich? Can you microwave something or boil water in a teapot on the stove? Can you wash the dishes after lunch? Can you use the bathroom? Can you get into the bed? Can you sit on a chair in the living room or at your dinette?

These may sound like goofy questions, but when you live in an RV full-time it is surprising how often you may want to use the rig without having to open the slide-outs.

If you roll a shopping cart loaded with groceries up to your front door at the supermarket, can you put them all away without opening the slide-outs? If you visit a friend and park your rig in front of their house for a few days, can you access your clothes and bed so you don’t have to stay in their spare bedroom?

Fresh bread baked in an RV oven-min

We can bake bread when the slides are closed.
Not crucial, but it’s nice to have access to the entire kitchen.

We are fortunate with our fifth wheel’s floorplan because we can access almost everything without opening any of the slide-outs. The only things we can’t get to are the two recliners in the back of the rig and our dresser drawers (opening the bedroom slide 6 inches is enough to get into those drawers). We have actually lived in our trailer with the slide-outs closed for several weeks at a time. It’s skinny, but it’s doable.

Unfortunately, the super popular island kitchen floorplan designs generally don’t allow for full use of the kitchen when the slide-outs are closed. However, there are loads of open floorplan designs that were popular a decade ago, like ours, that the RV designers may eventually revive. After all, there are only so many possible floorplans for a fifth wheel trailer!

Residential Refrigerator vs. RV Fridge

RV refrigerators that run on both 120 volt AC power and propane gas are being replaced in many fifth wheel trailers with residential refrigerators that run exclusively on 120 volt AC power. With some fifth wheel brands you can order the rig with either type of refrigerator. In other cases you can only order it one way and you would need to do the replacement yourself after you’ve bought the rig.

RV refrigerators are wonderful because you can dry camp in your RV for months or years on end and have refrigerated food the whole time. All you need to do is keep the propane tanks filled. Our 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator uses about 30 lbs (or 7 gallons) of propane every three weeks.

RV refrigerators have a few negatives, however.

One downside to RV refrigerators is that they are not self-defrosting. You need to defrost them. After decades of living with a frost-free refrigerator, it is a shock to go back to the olden days (if you were around then) of having to defrost the RV fridge every month or so.

However, my amazing hubby Mark has perfected the art of defrosting and he can now pull it off in about 20 minutes. So, it’s not that bad a chore if you stay on top of it (and if you have a wonderful partner who is willing to do it for you!). See the blog post about quickie fridge defrosting here.

Defrosting an RV refrigerator-min

Mark has simplified the refrigerator defrosting process so much it takes him only 20 minutes. Lucky me!

Another disadvantage is that they don’t modulate the temperature in the fridge with much precision and they aren’t particularly well insulated or energy efficient. We keep a small thermometer in the fridge so we have a feeling for what’s going on. The temp inside varies greatly depending on whether the wall behind the fridge is in the sun or shade and whether the temp inside our rig is 40 degrees, as it is on some winter mornings, or 90 degrees as it is on some summer afternoons.

Our fridge is usually on level 4 or 5 (the coldest two settings) because we like our beer to be ice cold. However I do sometimes find my yogurt has frozen a bit on the edges.

RV refrigerators also have a shelf life. It is about 8 years!

We found that out the hard way when our RV refrigerator died and we had to get it replaced. Luckily the replacement was straight forward and was covered by our extended RV warranty (blog post about it here).

New RV refrigerator is fork lifter through the trailer window-min

Our new RV refrigerator is slid through our dining room window on a fork lift.

The biggest surprise when we got our RV fridge replaced was we found out the warranty companies expect those fridges to last only 8 years. Of course, they figure that into the cost of the warranty, as they should. So, even though we were shocked that ours died, our warranty company wasn’t surprised at all.

Perhaps the most damning thing about RV refrigerators is that they run on propane and they have been known to catch fire and torch entire RVs. A burning RV burns to the ground in seconds because of the propane tanks and manufacturing materials. There was a rash of RV refrigerator fires about a decade or so ago which is part of what pushed the industry towards building RVs with residential electric refrigerators instead.

However, RV life isn’t totally rosy with residential refrigerators either, especially if you want to boondock or dry camp for extended periods of time.

While a residential refrigerator may be a highly efficient Energy Star appliance, it may not have a solid locking mechanism to keep the doors closed in transit or rails to keep the food on the shelves while in transit (check on that). And it will require a lot of power to run while the rig is not plugged into a power pedestal.

A 12 to 14 cubic foot residential refrigerator requires a little over 300 kwh per year to run. This is about 0.8 kwh per day, or, very roughly, about 80 amp-hours per day.

In the winter months when the sun rides low in the sky and is up for a short period of time, an RV will need about 400 to 500 watts of solar panels and 450 amp-hours of batteries just to run the refrigerator. This is about what it takes to run everything else in the RV! An 18 to 22 cubic foot refrigerator will require even more.

This is not to say that it is impossible to install a big enough solar power system to run a residential refrigerator — we’ve had readers contact us to say that they have done it and they’re loving it! — but the expense and weight of the batteries and of the solar panels is something to consider before signing on the dotted line for that beautiful new fifth wheel trailer with its residential fridge.

Also, even if boondocking is not your style, be sure that the battery bank and the inverter that support the residential refrigerator when not hooked up to electrical power are sufficiently big enough to keep the fridge running as you drive. We have heard of 1,500 watt inverters just not making the grade with a big residential fridge (2,000 watts was needed). Or, just turn the fridge off and keep it closed until you get where you are going. Of course, residential refrigerators are not designed to be turned on and off frequently.

Lastly, the fabulous thing about a big, shiny, 22 cubic foot stainless steel residential refrigerator is that it can hold a ton of food. There will be no more turf wars between the beer and the veggies (gosh, would we ever love that!).

However, all that food weighs a lot, and big fridges often become storage places for old containers of food you’ll never eat. If you are buying a full-time fifth wheel that is skinny on its Cargo Carrying Capacity, then a huge refrigerator that can hold lots of food may push you into possession wars between food, tools and clothes in the closet.

On the bright side, a residential refrigerator is much less prone to failure than an RV fridge, and in the rare event that you have to replace one, it could easily cost thousands less than an RV fridge.

I Like the Fifth Wheel But I Don’t Really Like That Couch!

While it’s ideal to find a rig that has furniture you totally love, a fifth wheel trailer is just a box — floor, walls and ceiling — and any residential furniture can be put in that box. We have replaced both our dinette chairs and our recliners in the course of living in our fifth wheel all these years, and last week we replaced the couch!

Storage benches in RV dinette add comfort and storage space-min

The old chairs were elegant, but these cushy benches are much more comfortable.
Plus they give us more storage space!

Here are blog posts about some of the changes we’ve made to our furnishings:

Add Storage and Seating Capacity at your RV Dinette!

Can You Sell Old Stuff on Craigslist in the RV Lifestyle? Replacing our Recliners!

We also replaced our mattress with a fancy Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

RV DEPRECIATION

After all this discussion of what to look for in a fifth wheel trailer for full-time living, it is important to remember that the brand new fifth wheel you buy today will be worth about half of what you paid for it ten years from now. If it is well maintained it might be worth a smidge more. If it isn’t, it may be worth less.

What’s worse, the fact that it was lived in full-time rather than kept in a garage and never touched will turn many prospective buyers away or make them hit you up with a low offer.

RV Depreciation over time

Hmmm…. An RV’s value declines with time.

On the flip side, going RVing full-time is a dream, and it’s hard and maybe even unfair to put a price on your dreams.

If you have the funds and you can spend a lot on a rapidly depreciating fifth wheel trailer without crippling your finances later in life, definitely go for it.

What could be better than casting off on a dreamy new lifestyle in a dreamy new RV?

No matter what you buy, negotiate hard. You are in the driver’s seat — until you are in the driver’s seat! Many mass-market manufacturers anticipate selling for about 70% of MSRP. Others are closer to 80%.

If you go custom, well, you’re be paying for the very finest of the finest. So, the focus will be on getting exactly what you want rather than haggling over the price. With a custom rig you get what you ask for… so be knowledgeable and smart about what you ask for!

If you aren’t sure of you future finances, and you aren’t sure if you’ll like the full-time RV lifestyle, and/or you aren’t sure if you’d prefer a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome as your house on wheels, consider getting a cheaper model or a used trailer to start.

We understand this dilemma well. We would LOVE to have a new trailer now. After all, ours is ten years old and shows a lot of wear. But…

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

The rig you live in is just part of the equation of putting together that champagne lifestyle of full-time RV travel. The real reason most folks run away in an RV is because they want to get out and see something of this continent, get to know the different regions of our country and of our neighbors’ countries, and knock a few travel destinations off their bucket list.

Appalachian Mountains RV Trip Coast to Coast Magazine Summer 2017-min

Our cover photo for our Coast to Coast magazine article about the Appalachian Mountains
Summer 2017 issue

The options of places to visit are limitless, and we’ve got 10 years worth of travel tales on this website that tell the stories of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been since 2007.

I’ve also written a lot of articles for Trailer Life Magazine showcasing different parts of the country that make for an enjoyable RV destination.

Georgia On Their Minds Trailer Life Magazine September 2017-min

The Antebellum Trail in Georgia is a terrific RV route for folks heading north/south through Georgia.
Trailer Life Magazine – September 2017. Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

A few of these feature articles have turned up in Trailer Life over the past few months and can be read at these links: Georgia on Their Minds, The Quaint Side of Canada, and Downeast Maine. Images of the first two pages of each article are below.

I also have a bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life that showcases a beautiful photo of a gorgeous spot along with a few words about what makes that place special. My most recent columns have focused on: The Rocky Mountain Beach Town of McCall Idaho and a Forest on Fire – Fall Colors in Colorado.

Trailer Life Magazine is a monthly national magazine and it offers not only mouth-watering photos and stories of places to take your trailer, but it also devotes a lot of pages to technical issues that trailer owners face.

Nova Scotia RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine July 2017-min

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is tops on many RVers’ lists
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

The technical editorial staff at Trailer Life is both very knowledgeable and very meticulous about ensuring what they discuss and review is accurate.

I have written a lot of technical articles for Trailer Life, from discussing RV roof maintenance to RV dump station tips to an article about the 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and one about the new puck based OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches.

Downeast Maine RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine June 2017-min

Downeast Maine is a hidden jewel north and east of famous Acadia National Park
Trailer Life Magazine – June 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

I have always been amazed at the extensive review process and discussion process that each of these technical article has undergone. Every little minute detail is reviewed for accuracy, sometimes spawning some lively debates.

There are a gazillion RV blogs out there that make for super fun reading and research and learning, but there is something to be said for a magazine that has been in print for over 75 years. Some people on the team have been with the magazine nearly half that time!

Trailer Life is hard to find on newsstands these days. New Camping World members receive a few issues as part of their membership (or they can get Motorhome Magazine if driveable RVs are more to their liking). If you get an annual subscription at the link below, you’ll see the article I’m working on about “first-timer” fifth wheels when it comes out!

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

Have you been shopping for a full-timing fifth wheel? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Boondocking in an RV-min

There are loads of fifth wheels on the market that would make a fine full-time home. Enjoy the search!

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Choosing a Trailer for Full-time RVing: Cargo Carrying Capacity

The other day we found ourselves at a fabulous RV dealership in Missoula, Montana: Bretz RV and Marine on I-90. This is a huge place that has a mammoth inventory of trailers and motorhomes that spills over several lots. What a great spot to go RV shopping!

We LOVE RV shopping and have been at it since before we started traveling full-time!

But what brought us here? Well, the 99 cents per gallon propane deal they are offering was one thing, and the free and extremely well laid out RV dump station was another. What a place!

Bretz RV & Marine Free RV Dump Station and 99 cent propane

A free dump and ultra cheap propane brought us to a very cool RV dealership in Montana

After we’d dumped and gotten our propane, we decided to have a look around the RV lots and check out some of the very pretty RVs. Bretz has an enormous selection of Airstream trailers, and we got a huge kick out of seeing a few up close. Beautiful!

Airstream Travel Trailer RV

How fun it was to prowl around these classic Airstream trailers.

I have written a little about what to look for in an RV for full-time living, and one of the things that a lot of new RVers don’t realize when they go shopping is how important it is to get a trailer with an adequate Cargo Carrying Capacity.

Cargo Carrying Capacity is the difference between what the RV weighs when there is nothing in it (the “Unloaded Vehicle Weight” or UVW) and what it weighs when you have loaded it down with all of your personal belongings plus food, water and propane as well as upgrades like solar power, washer/dryer, a big battery bank, a generator, a bike rack and bikes, etc., (the “Gross Vehicle Weight” or GVW).

It is important not to exceed the Cargo Carrying Capacity!

If you do, then you’ve gone over the trailer’s GVWR (“Gross Vehicle Weight Rating”) which is the maximum safe weight for the trailer when it is fully loaded.

On older trailers the GVWR is posted on a sticker that is placed on the outside of the trailer up near the front on the driver’s side. On newer trailers there is usually another sticker that indicates the Cargo Carrying Capacity.

Fifth wheel trailer cargo carrying capacity sticker

A sticker for the trailer’s weight capacities is usually on the driver’s side up by the hitch.

A few weeks after we moved into our 36′ Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer back in 2008, we took it to a truck scale. We reported on this blog at the time that it weighed 13,850 lbs. This was close to the trailer’s GVWR of 13,995, but not over.

Phew!! We had lived in it a very short time and had filled the cabinets only 1/3 of the way!

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

Right after moving into our new fifth wheel in 2008 we hopped on a scale to see what it weighed.

After we finished our sailing cruise of Mexico in 2013, we had to squeeze our lives back into our trailer, and we had a tough time getting rid of all the wonderful things we’d picked up from sailing.

So we had our trailer weighed using the Escapees Smartweigh Program at the Escapees RV park at North Ranch near Wickenburg, Arizona. Our trailer had gained 250 lbs. and now weighed 14,100 lbs. The weight on our rear axles was 11,250 lbs.

The trailer was built with two 7,000 lb. axles. It also came from the factory with E-rated (10-ply) tires that were rated to carry 3,032 lbs. apiece, or 6,084 lbs. per pair on an axle.

When it comes to GAWR (“Gross Axle Weight Rating”), the axles are rated according to the weaker component, whether it is the axles or the tires. So our GAWR was 6,084 lbs. due to the E-rated tires. However, by upgrading to G-rated (14 ply) tires that are rated to carry 3,960 lbs. each, or 7,920 lbs. all together, the weak link became the axles themselves rather than the tires. So our GAWR was now 7,000 lbs. due to the axles.

Either way, the 11,250 lbs. actual weight we had on our axles was well within both the original axle rating of 12,780 lbs for the pair (6,084 per axle x 2 axles = 12,780) and the new axle rating of 14,000 lbs for the pair (7,000 per axle x 2 axles = 14,000 lbs).

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

In 2013 we began to worry about the battle of the bulge.

Our Escapees Smartweigh weighing revealed that our old 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck was overloaded. After we upgraded to our new 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually, we went to a truck scale two more times to see how we were doing.

We knew the trailer weight was well within the towing capacities of the new truck, but we had had to replace a trailer axle in August 2015 and then replace the entire trailer suspension (ugh!) in October of 2015. Needless to say, we were concerned about the weight on the trailer axles.

When the trailer was weighed this time around, the weight on the trailer axles had increased to 11,600 lbs., 350 lbs. higher than two years earlier, but still well within the limits of the 14,000 lbs. that the axles and tires could carry.

Discussing the weight of a fifth wheel trailer RV

Mark gets the low-down on our truck and trailer weights.

We didn’t weigh the truck and trailer separately, so we don’t have a figure for the overall trailer weight yet. However, my suspicion is that the extra 350 lbs. on the axles means our 14,100 lb. overall trailer weight has increased by 350 lbs. to about 14,450 or so. This means the trailer is 455 lbs. or so over the its GVWR of 13,995 lbs.

Living light in a fifth wheel RV trailer

Despite having many cabinets that are only partially full, our trailer is over its weight limit!

Besides being overweight, we’ve learned something important from this.

The UVWR (“Unloaded Vehicle Weight Rating”) on our trailer is 10,556 lbs. Since 13,995 GVWR – 10,556 UVW = 3,439, this means the Cargo Carrying Capacity of our trailer is 3,439 lbs. That’s a little above average for most fifth wheel trailers.

However, if our trailer’s true weight is now 14,450 lbs., then the cargo we are actually carrying weighs 3,894 lbs (because 14,450 True Weight – 10,556 UVW = 3,894 Actual Cargo Weight).

Weighing a fifth wheel RV on a truck scale

A few weeks ago (in March 2016) we were back on the scales again.

So, what this means is that for us to live in our trailer comfortably over a period of many years, as we have done, we need a trailer with a Cargo Carrying Capacity of around 4,000 lbs. Other RVers may have different requirements.

Frankly, if we were to buy a new trailer, we would be looking for a Cargo Carrying Capacity of at least 5,000 lbs.

We dry camp 100% of the time, so we always tow the trailer with the fresh water tank full (since we will need a full tank when we set up camp). Water weighs 8.3 lbs. per gallon. So, our 70 gallons in the fresh water tank and 10 gallons in the hot water heater, weigh 664 lbs.

Our waste tanks are empty when we travel.

RVers who don’t dry camp at all can travel with as little as 20 gallons or so of water all together between the fresh water tank and hot water heater, or 166 lbs. of water weight instead of 664 lbs. like we have.

So, what does all this have to do with our RV window shopping at Bretz RV & Marine the other day?

Well, whenever we go RV window shopping, we routinely check the weight capacity sticker on every trailer we look at, because overall GVWR and Cargo Carrying Capacity are just as important to us as the kitchen and living room layout. And while we were checking out cool new trailers, we got a big surprise…

I LOVE little trailers, and I was smitten by a sweet tear drop trailer called the Little Guy Rough Rider.

Little Guy Rough Rider Travel Trailer

The Rough Rider – How Adorable!!

What a fun little trailer! It even has a cute saying on the back…

Little Guy Tear Drop Trailer I Go Where I'm Towed To

“I Go Where I’m Towed To” — Funny, that’s what Mark says!!

We also really liked a big Redwood fifth wheel.

Redwood Fifth Wheel RV with 5 slide-outs two doors

A beautiful Redwood fifth wheel trailer caught our attention.

It was a monster with two exterior doors and five slides. Wow!!

Redwood Fifth Wheel with five slides

This big beautiful baby has two exterior doors and five slides!!

Well, which one do you think can carry a heavier load — the little weekend trailer that is just a bed on wheels with a wee mini-kitchen on the back, ideal for summer camping, or the big “full-time,” four season fifth wheel trailer that might replace someone’s house??

Ahem, not the trailer you’d think.

The stickers on these two trailers gave the following:

Rough Rider Teardrop Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity: 1,925 lbs.
Redwood Full-timer Fifth Wheel Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity: 1,876 lbs.

Little Guy Rough Rider Travel Trailer Cargo Carrying Capacity

The weights capacity sticker for the teardrop trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,925

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

Weights capacity sticker for the big beautiful fifth wheel trailer: Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.

Wow!

Reeling from this sticker shock, we wandered around the RV dealership lot a little more and found a wonderful big fifth wheel toy hauler.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV front

Curious about cargo carrying capacities for toy haulers, we checked out this big trailer.

This triple axle behemoth had three slides and was built to carry big toys with motors, like ATVs, motorcycles, and other goodies.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV

Three slides and three axles — ready to go do some ATV adventuring in style!!

Like all toyhaulers, it had a big door in the back that would drop down to become a ramp so you could roll out on your ATV or motorcycle with ease.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV Rear

The back has a huge door that drops down to form a ramp so you can ride out!

So this big guy was built to haul a big load, right?

Well, not exactly. It has a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 2,302 lbs. That is just a little more than the Little Guy Rough Rider teardrop!

The sticker on this toy hauler makes it very clear that when the trailer’s fresh water tank and hot water tank are both full, then the Cargo Carrying Capacity drops to 1,372 lbs.

So, your clothes, food, generator, on-board gas tank, propane tanks and your big toys like your ATV or motorcycle can’t weigh more than 1,372 lbs. all together if you wish to dry camp. If you are going to get hookups, then your limit will be 2,302 lbs., still a very tight squeeze if your toys weigh a few hundred pounds.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

If this toy hauler is towed with empty water and waste tanks, it can carry 2,302 lbs.
If the fresh and hot water tanks are full and waste tanks are empty, it can hold just 1,372 lbs.

I’m not advocating one RV brand over another or knocking any particular RV brand with this info. Far from it! These specs and stickers come from random trailers that appealed to us and that happened to be on the dealership lot the day we were there.

When we have wandered through other RV dealership lots in different states at other times, we have discovered that many very popular brands have similar specs.

Florence Coffee Kiosk next to Bretz RV & Marine

Need a pick-me-up after looking at all those trailers and calculating all those numbers?
There’s a great little coffee kiosk next door to Bretz RV & Marine!

The important thing is that if you are shopping for a trailer that you are going to tow a lot, you should try to estimate how much weight you will put into it, including however much fresh water it will have in it when you hitch up. Then make sure the trailer you buy has sufficient cargo carrying capacity.

Unsure what your stuff weighs?

You can use a bathroom scale to get a rough estimate of what your clothes weigh by putting your laundry basket on it or weighing yourself holding your laundry basket and subtracting out your weight. You can also grab a bunch of clothes/jackets on hangers and do the same thing.

Likewise after a big grocery shopping spree — weigh yourself holding bunches of bags of groceries before you put it all away. Then look at what you already have in the fridge and pantry. The same can be done with pots and pans, dishware, tools, shoes, bikes etc. And don’t forget any upgrades you plan to do to the trailer after you buy it.

Or use our numbers as a guideline. We still haven’t filled all the shelves in our fifth wheel!

Happy shopping!!

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Go Cheap, Go Small, Go NOW!! Have Fun & LEARN in a Small RV

A few weeks ago we camped in Sedona, Arizona, with two good friends who own popup campers. We were reminded how much fun these little trailers can be and how much we learned in the two years we owned ours before we started RVing full-time in our first big trailer.

If you are thinking about RVing full-time sometime down the road, a year or more from now, the most valuable thing you can do in the meantime is buy a little rig and go play. There is no better way to learn about RVing than to go out and do it, and a small RV provides an awesome introduction.

You can trade in the little rig for a bigger one when you are ready to take the plunge and go full-time.

RV camping in Sedona Arizona

We camped in our fifth wheel with good friends who have two different styles of popup campers.

We owned our popup for two years and spent every possible weekend and vacation in it before we started full-timing. We towed it all over the place. It was routine for us to travel 300 miles with it for a long weekend or to tow it 1,500 miles on a week’s vacation.

Popup camper tent trailer RV

A popup tent trailer folds up small and opens up to be a nice sized rig with beds on each end.

Before we even knew what full-time RVing was, we had already learned a lot about the RV lifestyle from camping in our popup.

We dry camped in it most of the time, so we learned little things like exactly how much water we typically used in a day, and how to take a one gallon shower. We made all kinds of classic rookie mistakes as we tried to keep our battery charged, and we figured out how to “live small” and cook in a dollhouse sized kitchen.

The surprising thing is that our popup camper had many of the same basic systems as our current fifth wheel trailer that we now live in year round. It had DC lights, a propane RV fridge, 26 gallons of water, including a 6 gallon propane hot water heater, a water pump and a propane furnace. It had a shower and a two burner propane stove, and it could hook up to shore power for electricity and to a city water connection for water.

Popup tent trailer RV and campfire

Home sweet home!

It even had one thing our current RV doesn’t have: a king size bed!

There were two things it didn’t have. One was a toilet. When we bought it, we knew we’d be camping in campgrounds, and they always have toilets, so we decided that rather than give up precious space in the trailer for a toilet and have to deal with dumping it, we’d just use the campground toilets instead

It also didn’t have an air conditioner. We knew we’d be camping in places where we wouldn’t need one, so why pay for something we wouldn’t need?!

Toyota Tundra towing a popup camper

A popup trailer is small and easy to tow and fits in the garage!

The fun thing about running around in a little RV is that you can can go almost anywhere the Big Rigs go and get a taste of living a nomadic lifestyle without spending a fortune.

We took our popup camper to some wonderful RV parks and hooked up to electricity and water just like the big fifth wheels and motorhomes. We stayed in RV parks in San Diego (right on the water – wow!), and the Bay Area in California (in a cool wooded area not too far from the city), in the Moab Utah area where we bicycled in the red rocks, and in New Mexico, where we bicycled in the mountains.

Chalet and Popup tent trailer RV

Our friends have two styles of popup: an A-frame (smaller & lighter) and a tent trailer (big beds on each end)

Camping in these RV parks gave us a chance to wander around the loops and meet people that were experienced RVers. We’d talk with them about their rig, find out what they liked and didn’t like about it, and we’d get their advice for what to look for if we ever wanted a bigger RV (we had NO idea we ever would!) and we’d get suggestions for where to travel with our little popup.

We learned about full-timing, and we learned about work camping, and we discovered a world we’d never known anything about. We supplemented that education with online research and magazine subscriptions, but there is no better way to understand an RV’s systems than to use them, and no better way to understand the RV lifestyle than to live it.

Chalet folding trailer RV

This is a Chalet A-frame, and it has a twin bed, a dinette that folds into a full size bed and kitchen.
The beauty of an A-frame is it’s light enough to be towed easily by a minivan.

Lots of people email me expressing interest in going full-time and some express interest in boondocking too. These are big steps, and having as much first-hand experience as possible before you jump in is a really good idea. Online resources are great, but they are limited and only go so far.

If you haven’t done much tent camping, and you dream of camping in the wild, learning how to dry camp in a cheap, small, rolling box is a wonderful way to start. It’s a lot of fun, and it will teach you what to look for when you buy a bigger rig, and more importantly, it will help you decide if it’s something you enjoy before you make a big commitment and turn your life upside down.

Boondocking is basically glorified tent camping in a fancy rolling box.

If you are interested in solar power, you can learn all about it for just a few hundred dollars with a folding solar panel kit and an inverter. The batteries on a popup are right there on the trailer tongue. So, it’s easy to see what’s going on!

Before you go full-time, you can sell the solar panel the kit, either with the little trailer or without!

Popup Camper Moab Utah

Here’s a pretty campsite in Utah’s red rocks.

The transition to full-time RVing is a lot less stressful if you are an experienced RVer already. It’s not a requirement, and plenty of people jump right into living in an RV without ever having used one before, but I think that having hands-on experience is the best way to go.

The wonderful thing about getting a little “starter” RV and playing with it for a while before going full-time — besides all the fun you’ll have — is that the mistakes you make don’t cost much, and you haven’t got a lot at risk.

Popup camper Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

Here’s another a great camping spot — on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia

If you don’t like it, you can sell it.

If you DO like it but have some unexpected repairs, they won’t break the bank and you won’t be trying to live in it while it’s being fixed.

Best of all, you can go home after every excursion and take a long hot shower, wash your clothes in your own washing machine, and you can savor your photos and your memories in the comfort of your big living room, all things that will no longer be possible once you commit to the RV lifestyle full-time.

Another great thing about a little RV is that if you have a small budget you can use it to live your full-time travel dreams.

A few weeks ago we camped next to a couple in their early 40’s who are a river rafting and white water kayaking guide (him) and a mountain biking guide (her). They live in a 17′ travel trailer, and they absolutely love it.

They boondock full-time with the seasons as their jobs move between Colorado and Arizona. The trailer is a huge upgrade for them. They lived in a tent for a few years until this past October when they bought the trailer.

Summerland Travel Trailer by Springdale

A river rafting guide and mountain biking guide love living in this 17′ travel trailer.

We’ve known a lot of 40-somethings over the years who lived in much fancier digs, with granite counter tops and sleek cars in the driveway. But they weren’t happy with their lives. It was enlightening and motivating and inspiring to spend time with these two people who had decided fifteen-plus years ago, right out of college, that they wanted to spend their days doing what they loved, even if it meant having a very simple home.

We’ve also met people living in a popup tent trailer and a half-ton pickup camper.

So, for those who think a nomadic lifestyle is out of reach financially, it just depends on how you want to live.

Our friends Rich and Mary bought our popup camper from us when we went full-time nearly nine years ago. While Rich was setting up camp, he let me take pics of the process so I could show you just how easy it is to set up a popup tent camper.

Here are the steps:

First you crank it up with a cranking tool that comes with the trailer.

Cranking up a popup tent trailer at campsite

First, crank up the roof all the way.

Popup tent trailer roof cranked up for camping

The roof is fully raised but the bed slides are still inside the trailer.

Then you pull out the bed slides on either side. Each slide locks into place in the open position.

Sliding out a bed slide in popup camper trailer RV

Pull out the bed slide at each end. In many models one or both beds is a King.

Then you put the support struts in place. While traveling, these are latched under the bed sllides. Once the bed slide is opened, just hook the end onto a latch on the frame.

Support struts for bed slide in popup camper RV

Attach the supports for the bed slide.

Popup tent trailer roof bed slide out for camping

The bed slide is in place but the canvas tent isn’t propped up yet.

Then go inside and remove anything that’s hogging up space. Rich stores his solar panel inside while traveling, so he takes it out at this point.

Popup tent trailer RV solar panel

Bring out whatever is stored inside: solar panel, camp chairs, patio mat, etc.

This popup camper — a 2005 Fleetwood Colonial — has a slick lower half door that folds down to become the entrance step. There are lots of designs out there, but this is common in the old Fleetwood lineup.

Setting up the door in a folding tent trailer RV

Fold down the entry step.

Popup camper trailer RV Setting up the door

.

Now remove the door from its travel spot where it is suspended from the ceiling and put it in place using the velcro strips on either side. The door and its frame are one unit, so the hinging is solid, but it stands upright in place using latches and velcro.

Door in place folding tent trailer RV

Lower the door from the ceiling and press it into place along the velcro strip on the canvas.

Now open up the canvas above each bed. There is a special support rod that hooks in place that holds up the center of the canvas roof over the bed and gives it its shape.

Inside popup tent trailer RV queen size bed slide

Prop up the canvas over each bed with the support rod
You can hang things from the loop – a lantern, fruit basket, whatever.

Popup tent trailer RV queen size bed slide

The canvas over the bed slide is fully opened.

Now crank down the landing jacks. These give the camper floor a bit of rigidity as you move around inside. The interior isn’t huge — it’s just a 10′ by 8′ box or so — but you can walk around. Having the landing legs down keeps the floor solid.

Cranking down the stabilizer jacks in popup camper trailer RV

Lower the landing jacks.

Last of all, set up the gray tank. This is a bucket outside the back of the trailer! If you want to see exactly how much water you use to wash dishes, there it is!

Popup camper gray water tank

Set up the gray water tank (this popup camper doesn’t have a toilet).

The shower is a shower wand on the back of the popup camper. We just wore bathing suits and stood on interlocking rubber mats. If you are more modest than that, you can set up a shower enclosure.

We didn’t have any kind of solar gear when we owned our popup. We used a battery charger in our garage to charge the batteries before we’d go on a trip, and that was it. We learned really quickly how to be conservative with electricity.

Rich decided to install a second battery on the trailer tongue. He also bought a solar panel and had it wired so it could be connected to the batteries easily.

Another super easy alternative is to get one of the portable suitcase solar panel kits that is designed for RV use.

You can also run heavy gauge wire from the batteries to an 800 or 1,000 watt inverter located inside the popup and then run a power strip from the inverter to a handy place in the rig so you can charge your phone or laptop or run a small appliance.

Popup tent trailer with RV solar power

Put out the patio mat, raise the awning and set up the solar panel. Done!

What a fabulous rig!!

If you are looking forward to having big RV adventures on the road someday in the future, make that “someday” be today! Go out and get a cool little RV and have a blast.

Popup tent trailers like ours are a little heavier (the GVWR is 3,000 lbs.), so both we and Rich bought Toyota Tundra pickups to tow it. An A-frame popup is lighter, because there are no bed slides, so our friend Mark tows his with a minivan.

More info and links for specific popup camper manufacturers below.

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Going Full-time – How to Transition & Which RV Is Best?

Traveling in an RV is a blast, and living in one full-time is even more-so. The exhilaration of hitting the open road and discovering the hidden jewels the lie just over the horizon is a peak life experience, and being able to live this way day after day, year after year, is deeply fulfilling.

The transition from a conventional life to full-time RVing can have its ups and downs, however, and there are some pitfalls to avoid and things to consider as you go through the planning process. Just for starters, what kind of RV is best for living and traveling in?

This is the second article in our three-part series on full-time RVing and it explores some of the issues involved in getting from here to there. The other two articles are: Working and Living in an RV and Full-time RVing Tips – Mail, Domicile, Insurance, Saving $$?

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For easy navigation on this page, and to read a little now and come back for more later, click on these links:

Links to the entire series and its various chapters are here: Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips

Going full-timg rving motorhome class a towing a trailer which rv to buy

A classy Class A motorhome tows a matching utility trailer in the Arizona desert

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HOW DO “FULL-TIME” RVers TRAVEL?

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Full-time RVing includes a wide range of lifestyles, from folks who travel a lot to folks who stay home.

Part-time RVers

Many “full-time” RVers are technically “part-timers,” living in their rig for a few months a year and maintaining a home somewhere.  This is a great way to go if you can afford to have both a house and an RV, especially if you can leave your home under the watchful eye of a friend.

For most of these RVers, the travel routes are pretty much north/south.  After spending the first months of our first winter in southern Arizona, meeting people from Idaho and Montana, we were amused to go to South Padre Island Texas and discover many of the RVers were from Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Everyone we’ve met in Florida seems to be from Michigan or the Northeast!

As a side note, if you are looking to simplify your life as well as travel, splitting your time between two homes like this can be a little complicated, as you have either a house or an RV that is always vacant and will need some TLC when you leave it and return to it.

Heading down the highway in an RV

There’s nothing like hitting the open road!

Full-time RVers With a Home Base

A lot of full-timers don’t actually travel 12 months a year.  Some rent or own a site in an RV park somewhere for part of the year, using this location as a home base and roaming around as the spirit moves them. 

Seasonal RV park rates are reasonable, and some parks include a storage area for boats and ATVs or even an alternate RV like a “weekending” or “summer travel” truck camper. Some of these parks also allow you to spread out to do repairs on the RV and clean it up after a season of travel. 

Some full-timers split their time between two RV parks where they have sites they rent or own. Many RVers work camp in a northern location in the summer and in a southern location in the winter.  These types of full-timers have a strong sense of home and community because they return to the same places year after year.

Full-time RVers Who Travel All the Time

Many full-time RVers wander all over the place, more or less in perpetual motion.  Some camp in state parks and forest campgrounds or boondock most of the time, and others stick to RV parks which have more amenities.  Some belong to campground membership programs, giving them a primary resource for finding places to stay, and also giving them a rich social life as they make friendships within the programs and plan their stays to coincide with their friends’ stays.

Full-time RV Residents

Some full-time RVers stay in one park year-round. A few of these folks are retirees who no longer wish to travel but want to remain in their RV. Others are younger working people that have a full-time job in the area that keeps them rooted in one spot.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GO FULL-TIME? TRANSITIONING TO A LIFE ON THE ROAD

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Starting a full-time RV lifestyle is an absolute thrill. Leaving the bonds of a conventional life to live in total freedom made both of us feel vibrantly alive. Years ago I wrote a blog post about why we decided to go full-time, called Why Do It? I outlined the many reasons we decided to leave our old lives behind and try a life of adventure on the road.

Going full-time sounds great, but there can also be some bumps in the road on the way to your dream RV lifestyle, and that’s to be expected. The whole process may go swimmingly and you may live happily ever after. But more than likely you will experience some heartache on the way. We did. It’s part of what happens when you deal with important things like Lifelong Dreams, Personal Growth, Enrichment and Fulfillment.

Downsizing

The downsizing process can be intense, especially if you are emptying a large house that you have lived in for years. Keeping your dream alive and priorities straight during this (sometimes) stressful time is really important. When we downsized a second time as we moved off of our boat and back into our RV, I wrote a post On the Road to Your Dreams, Stay the Course to help me keep the big picture in mind.

Vintage station wagon towing trailer

Ready for adventure!

For a lot of people, downsizing all the way into an RV is a really liberating experience. After the hard part of sorting through everything, there is an uplifting sense of relief and unburdening that happens when you let most of it go.

Retiring and Going Full-time Simultaneously

Many people begin full-timing at the start of retirement. This means they are going through two major life transitions at once. Simply changing from the workaday life to one of an agenda-free retirement is a shock to the system. Downsizing into an RV and moving away from old friends and life structures at the same time can become a little overwhelming.

Retiring early is a super idea, but there is no badge of honor for going full-time. In some cases it might make sense to enjoy retirement for a little while first. Going on some shorter duration RV travels before you jump ship all together might accomplish the same travel and freedom goals without giving up the security of everything you know right away.

Life Partners

At the same time as all of this, you are dealing with your life partner in a whole new way. You are together much more than you used to be and are suddenly dependent on each other in ways you’ve never been before. Learning how to operate the systems in the RV, navigating unfamiliar roads in a hugely oversized vehicle in traffic, and getting in and out of RV sites with an audience watching can put a lot of stress on a relationship.

Loving couple in the moonlight

What a marvelous night for a moondance…

To diffuse the tension a little, revel in acquiring new skills, whether it’s learning to read a map or learning to take directions from your spouse as you drive. Respect and patience go a long way as you both adjust to new daily patterns, and in the darkest hours, remembering why you fell in love in the first place always helps. Any scratches that appear on the RV as a result of your joint learning curve can always be repaired!

Build Up and Let Down

There is a huge build-up to the Day of Retirement, and even if you are 30-something and are starting full-timing, there is an even bigger build-up to the Day of Driving off to a New Life in an RV. Some kind of let-down is only natural.

There is also the shock of reality. The RV life depicted in blogs (including this one), books and magazines (including articles I’ve written) may not reveal some of the more mundane and even yucky aspects of life on the road. For us, this lifestyle is almost entirely one of wine and roses, but roses do have thorns and you have to learn to deal with them.

You may be ecstatic when you cast off in your new life, and you may be Living The Dream right from the get go. But if not, don’t panic. There’s an adjustment phase and a learning curve that most new full-timers go through.

Full-time RVing

It takes time to figure out your travel style and what works best for you.

Pacing Your Travels

It’s really common for new full-timers to drive thousands of miles to dozens of destinations at a breakneck pace the first year. We sure did. Heck, you’re excited! You’re free! You run around like crazy! And then you drop from exhaustion.

Learning to slow down and to alternate the sightseeing days with the chore days takes time. Allowing yourself to have a few down days of doing nothing so you can absorb all the thrills you just had during some exciting sightseeing days may make you feel guilty at first. But a life of full-time travel can’t be lived like an endless vacation. You’ll wear yourself down to a frazzle!

Embracing A Hobby

It can be exhausting to spend all day everyday either reading travel literature, sightseeing, or writing in your journal or on your blog about all you did and saw. There needs to be something more to life than scrambling from one tourist destination to the next.

Picking up a hobby can help immensely. Our travel lives changed dramatically when we decided to learn photography and learn to write and maintain a website. These are activities that are beautifully linked to our travel adventures, but they are hobbies in their own right too.

Making music, bicycling, hiking, geocaching, running, yoga, kayaking and learning to make videos are other hobbies that fit a traveling lifestyle well and will ensure you feel like you are living a life that is bigger than just being a tourist.

Making music on the road in an RV

Making music is a fabulous pass-time on the road

What If It Doesn’t Work Out?

Even after dodging that mini minefield of possible obstacles on your way to living the RV Dream, you may decide the lifestyle just isn’t for you. What then? Is the fear that this might happen enough to keep you from giving it a try? I hope not!

You already know how to live a conventional life, and that life will always be available to you. There may be expenses involved in returning to it, but at least you won’t look back later and say, “I shoulda…I coulda…I woulda” Instead, you’ll say, “I did it! I lived my dream, even though it turned out not to be a dream I wanted.” More than likely, the experience will lead you to a dream you do want.

Jumping in with both feet

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout the whole transition process is that this is just a phase of your life. It is definitely not for the rest of your life Without a doubt, your full-timing adventure will end some day, and you will probably move on to another lifestyle that doesn’t include living in an RV.

So, set aside any fears you have, and live your dream. The full-time RV lifestyle may not last forever, but the memories will.

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WHICH RV MAKES THE BEST FULL-TIME RIG?

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The most popular full-time rigs are Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels. Class C’s, Class B’s and travel trailers are less common. However, it is possible to travel fulltime in just about anything. Some of the happiest people are those that are debt-free in a smaller rig.

All that really matters when you select an RV for full-timing is that it feels like home to you.

The first time we boondocked in Quartzsite Arizona, we found we were neighbors with 150 Alpine motorhomes (worth as much as $400K) on one side, and a guy living out of the back of his pickup truck on the other side. 

Outside of Phoenix we met a couple who were living in a tiny truck camper with no slideouts on the back of a half-ton gas pickup. They had lived in it for two years and they were loving their simple life.

Half-ton pickup truck camper RV

Do you need a huge Class A to have fun full-timing?
Heck no! For two years this has been home for one couple we met.

In Florida we spent some time with a couple in their sixties who had sold their house and been happily touring the country fulltime for the past four years in a popup tent trailer.

The most seasoned veterans on the road have owned a variety of rigs.  The average owner keeps an RV for just three years, and, having purchased three rigs in our first four years of RV ownership ourselves, we were ahead of the curve for a while! 

If you haven’t done much RVing yet, the best way to get your feet wet and figure out what kind of RV you like and what features are important to you is to get a small and inexpensive one and take it on some long road trips:

Go Cheap, Go Small, Go NOW! Have FUN and Learn the RVing Lifestyle in a Little RV

In the end, the bottom line for buying your new rolling home is:

When you walk inside, do you smile and say, “Ahhhh…home sweet home!!” ?

Also, keep in mind that your first full-time RV probably won’t be your last. You can see our progression of trailer upgrades and truck upgrades throughout our full-time RV travels here:

The Rigs We Have Used for our Full-time RV Lifestyle

Some thoughts about different styles of RVs for use in long term travel:

Both motorhomes and trailers have their pros and cons, and certainly either one makes a fantastic home. These notes are intended to give you some food for thought if you haven’t developed a preference yet. They are not meant to imply that one style of RV is superior to another.

We live in a fifth wheel trailer and have always owned trailers, because we like the look and feel of them, they are simple in their design, and they are fairly easy to understand and repair. Afterall, a trailer is just a box on wheels. We tow our trailer with a big beautiful Ram dually truck. Our hitch is a B&W Companion OEM 5th Wheel Hitch that uses the new in-bed puck system from Dodge Ram (we have a pictorial installation guide for the B&W hitch here).

Motorhomes are inherently more complicated than trailers because they combine the propulsion and the living quarters all in the same vehicle. Higher end Class A motorhomes also feature more complex systems in an effort to make them more like a residential house. Trailers, even high end fifth wheels, are usually outfitted with simpler systems.

Class C Motorhome RV

There’s a big beautiful world out there… Honestly, any rig will be fun!

We have not lived in a motorhome, but our 44′ sailboat was very similar with a combined propulsion/house design and many of the exact same components as are found in a Class A diesel pusher.

Simplicity equates to less time spent on maintenance and repair and less overall expense for everything from initial purchase to insurance and motorhome warranty, to registration to maintenance and repair.

Small rigs:

  • Popup tent trailers are easy to tow, they fit in the garage, and they offer a lot of space for a small package. However, they can’t easily be used to stop for lunch at a rest area or overnight at a Walmart
  • Truck campers and vans make for tight living but can be parked anywhere, from National Park campgrounds to tiny urban roads in the congested northeast.

Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels:

  • Travel trailers are cheap but can require a bigger truck than you might think to tow efficiently in the mountains (ours did).
  • Fifth wheels are easier to back up and hitch up than travel trailers but generally require a big diesel truck.
  • Fifth wheels are a lot taller and heavier than travel trailers (so you get fewer miles per gallon), and it’s easy to swipe everything off the roof by accident when driving under a low overhang.

Fifth Wheels and Motorhomes:

Driving

  • The comfort and view from the driver’s and passeneger’s seats in a big Class A motorhome are far better than in a truck.
  • Tooling around town in a car and getting parked is much easier than in a big ol’ long bed truck.
  • If you are driving a motorhome and need something in “the house,” the passenger can just walk back and get it.
  • Sometimes the huge windshield and large interior space of a Class A motorhome can make for hot driving and you need to run the generator and house air conditioning while driving to cool it down.
  • Gas stations are tough to maneuver in with any large RV. You can gas up a truck when it is unhitched from the trailer. Motorhomes don’t have that option but do have bigger tanks and need gas less frequently.

Fuel Mileage

  • Gas mileage on a truck towing a trailer may be slightly better than on a large motorhome towing a car (especially if the truck has an engine tuner)
  • Gas mileage around town on a car (if traveling with a motorhome) is better than on a big truck (if traveling with a trailer)
  • Depending on how much you drive hitched up versus unhitched, the total fuel bill for a motorhome-car combo may be the same as for a fifth wheel-truck combo (our driving split is 50-50, towing vs. not towing)
Motorhome towing an antique car

To get around town, most full-timers tow a car or “toad” behind their motorhome.
Sometimes the toad becomes a handsome prince and is towed on a trailer rather than its own four wheels.

Maintenance and Repair

  • Larger Motorhomes require a “toad,” or car towed behind, if you want to get around town easily. That’s two engines to maintain — motorhome and car — and the car tires wear as they are towed.
  • Motorhomes are more more complex vehicles than fifth wheel trailers, so they take more time and expense to maintain and repair.
  • A truck with a dead engine can stay overnight in the repair shop while you live in your healthy trailer somewhere else. A dead motorhome engine may leave you looking for a hotel room and eating out if the repair shop won’t let you stay in it there.
  • With a truck and trailer combo, the propulsion part of it (the truck) is mass produced. There are dealerships in every town, and it fits in any repair bay at any shop, including Jiffy Lube.
  • You can change the tires on a truck and trailer with a jack stand and tire iron but will need to call someone for help to change the tires on a big motorhome

Cost:

  • A truck-and-trailer combo of the same quality, size and age as a motorhome-car combo is generally about 1/2 to 2/3 of the price all together. Insurance, warranty and registration costs are less too.
  • Truck and trailer tires are much cheaper than larger motorhome tires.
  • Oil changes are cheaper, although more frequent, on a truck than on a motorhome

Storage and Living:

  • A large motorhome will likely have a much bigger payload capacity ( > 5,000 lbs.) than a fifth wheel (< 4,000 lbs.) which is important for full-timers carrying a lot of stuff with them. Lots more info on that here: Choosing a Trailer for Full-time RVing – Payload
  • Bikes can be stowed inside a large motorhome bay, or in the hatchback of a “toad” with the back seat removed, or in truck with a cap towing a travel trailer, but they mostly likely have to be left outside on a truck and fifth wheel.
  • While at a campsite, the area under a fifth wheel can provide shade for camp chairs and protection from rain for outdoor goodies.
  • Almost all motorhomes come with a built-in generator which means that air conditioning is available at the push of a button, something solar power can’t easily do.
  • If you love your house but hate how it drives (or it has chronic engine/drive-train problems) or if you love the drive but the house has lost its luster, you can upgrade your truck or trailer independently of one another.
  • There is an urban myth that a motorhome is more appropriate for shorter stays and a fifth wheel is better for longer stays. This year alone, in 8 months on the road, we have stayed at 75 different locations for an average of 3 nights each. We’ve had a ball and it has been easy. We set up and break down in about 10 minutes. I’m baffled by that urban myth, have no idea where it came from, and can only say that it doesn’t apply to us and our fifth wheel! (Wait, what kind of “pacing your travels” was that?! Well, this wild road trip was preceded by 4 months of staying put in Phoenix AZ and included a one month stop in Sarasota, FL)

For a detailed review of what to look for in a full-time 5th wheel trailer, check out this article: Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer

A few things we have learned about buying an RV:

If you are willing to buy used, there are a lot of great deals to be found.  RVs depreciate really fast.  In five years an RV will be worth 50% to 70% of what it was new. In 10 years it will be worth 40% of its purchase price or less.

Negotiate hard. Mass-market brand “vacation” quality RVs often sell for 25-35% less than MSRP and higher-end “full-time” brands often sell for 20-30% less than MSRP, depending on the manufacturer.  The NADA Guide gives the values of used RVs.

If you are buying a trailer, look at the sticker at the hitch end of the trailer on the driver’s side.  This will show when the trailer was built.  If it has been on the dealer’s lot for a while, sitting in the elements (snow, rain, mud, etc.) and enduring lots of foot traffic from customers, there may be a lot of nit-picky problems when you first move in.

The sticker will also give you the payload capacity of the trailer. Many “full-time” trailers are built with a payload capacity of less than 3,000 lbs. In our experience, that will not be enough in the long run. Our fifth wheel trailer has a payload capacity of 3,300 lbs and I sure wish it were closer to 5,000. Here are some thoughts on trailer cargo carrying capacity.

Climb up on the roof of the unit you are buying to see what condition it is in. While you’re up there, check out the other roofs in the lot. You’ll be able to tell which units are the newest ones at the dealership by the condition of the roofs!

We’ve posted a very detailed article that will give you some ideas of what to look for in a full-time fifth wheel trailer. Even if you are planning on buying a motorhome instead of a trailer, many of the same principles still apply. Check it out here!

Visit lots and lots of dealerships and talk to lots and lots of salesmen. The more time you spend shopping the better purchase you will make. Besides, it’s fun!

Here is a video with tips for choosing an RV dealership and an RV salesman: RV Sales Tactics – Understand What You Sign and Don’t Hesitate to Walk Away!.

New Tiffin Allegro Motorhomes for sale

A line of beautiful new Tiffin Allegro motorhomes for sale

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Further Reading:

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This was the second part in our 3-part series on full-time RVing. You can read the whole series or skip to its various chapters via these links:

Living and Working in an RV:

Transitioning to Full-timing & Which RV to Buy

Selecting a Domicile, Mail Forwarding, Insurance & Money Saving Tips

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