Instead of being hitched to the back of a car, van or truck, a fifth-wheel mounts to a special device in the bed of a pickup truck. The fifth-wheel gets it name from the extension on the front of the trailer (which extends over the tow vehicle) and a horizontal plate that looks like a wheel resting on the tow vehicle for support.
This hitch arrangement requires a specially equipped full sized truck or a custom tow vehicle. Because the hitch rests on top of a truck bed, the front of the trailer portion can be used as a living space and is often the upstairs master bedroom. The hitch places the load in the center of the tow vehicle instead of behind and is considered more stable by most people.
Fifth-wheel trailers (measured from the front extension to the rear bumper) range from twenty-one feet to over forty feet. The Fifth-Wheel trailers offer a wide variety of floor plans, including multiple slide-out rooms as options. They range, in construction and features, from plain and functional to luxurious. A roomy fifth-wheel with a slide-out or two is much like an apartment in terms of interior footage and livability. A small fifth-wheel easily accommodates two couples and the longer models can accommodate a family or group.
Fifth-Wheel Price Ranges:
Excluding the separate tow vehicle, new fifth-wheel rigs are priced from $20,000 and up. The construction and features are similar to those of travel trailers in the same price range.
Low Cost Fifth-Wheel (less than $20,000)
Interior construction is similar to a low cost travel trailer. The construction is usually a combination of steel and wood framing with aluminum siding.
Medium Priced Fifth-Wheel ($20,000 to $45,000)
Generally fifth wheel rigs that are shorter than thirty feel are available in this price range. As with trailers, longer length at lower price means fewer amenities and lower quality construction. Well constructed and insulated rigs are available in this price range.
High End Fifth-Wheel ($45,000 and up)
These rigs are stronger than most houses. The finest fifth-wheel rigs are long affairs with slide-out rooms. These rigs include the amenities of a well- equipped apartment (we are talking about washer, dryer, trash compactor and the like) as well as self-containment features such as generators. The construction of these quality rigs parallels that of expensive travel trailers and motor homes.
The floor plans are spacious and there is a lot of square footage, even without the slide out sections. Like trailers, the fifth-wheel has a long life span in that you do not have an engine or a transmission to worry about. After you have parked, your have your pickup available for trips away from the trailer park.
The fifth-wheel requires a pickup truck with a powerful engine. You must add the cost of the tow vehicle to the total price of the rig, which makes a fifth-wheel trailer more expensive than comparably equipped motor homes. Fifth-Wheel trailers are easier to handle than most travel trailers but still subject to the effect of high winds.
Source: The Rver’s Bible by Kim Baker and Sunny Baker