Susan and I went camping recently and invited our neighbors over to join our campfire to help us settle our fifth wheel vs Class A Motorhome debate. One couple had a fifth wheel and the other a Class A motorhome. While we love our Class C, we’ve been kicking around the idea of eventually upgrading, so we started to ask some questions.
The fifth wheel versus Class A motorhomes is an endless debate within the RV community – for those who don’t know. Each category has its loyal fans. Our conversation with our neighbors stayed pleasant, but there was a lot of point-and-counterpoint. When we returned home, we started to do some research to come to our own decision.
If you’re trying to determine which is better, a Class A or 5th wheel for yourselves, here are the five primary considerations we came up with and how we answered the relevant topics. You probably have different answers than we do, but it helped us settle the tow versus toad debate.
- Traveling Considerations
- Storage Considerations
- Floorplan Considerations
- Lifestyle Considerations
- Financial Considerations
36 Pros and Cons of 5th Wheels vs Class A Motorhomes
We found 36 features of 5th Wheels, Class A Motorhomes, and how they can each affect your lifestyle and tried to choose a winner for each. Sometimes the 5th wheels had a clear advantage. In other areas, the Class A motorhomes had a clear advantage. And sometimes it was a tie.
We have our final score at the bottom of the post but feel free to score each category yourself to see what you come up with! Maybe it will help you to choose between a 5th wheel or a Class A RV.
Travel Considerations – 5th Wheel vs Class A Motorhome
1. Scenic Windshield View
350/3500 series pickup trucks, which are a very popular choice for towing a 5th wheel, sit higher than most vehicles. But they do not give you the panoramic views a Class A motorhome windshield does. RV manufacturers have sunk millions of dollars, increasing the size of the windshield.
One of the developments that came out of the 2008 RV industry restructuring was the industry affordable single-pane windshield. It’s one of the most significant selling points of Class A motorhomes. While drivers are concentrating on the road, they also can enjoy the scenery around them.
2. Maneuverability and Navigating Tight Spaces
Fifth wheels are better for tight turning and maneuverability. Automatic sliding fifth wheel hitches adjust multi-directionally, allowing the truck to position without hitting the RV. Class A motorhomes don’t have this ability. If they end up in a tight situation, there’s a lot of back and forth repositioning required.
3. Boondocking in a 5th Wheel vs Class A Motorhome
Even if you huddle together with fellow RVers, Walmart boondocking can make you a little nervous. Having the ability to open the slides and setting the stabilizer jacks without going outside makes the experience a little nicer.
But the real difference between a 5th wheel and Class A is security if something goes wrong. Here is what I mean. If there is a disturbance outside and you are in a Class A RV you can just jump into the driver’s seat and drive away.
If however, you are in a 5th wheel, you have to walk outside your 5th wheel to get to your truck to be able to drive away. Therefore, we think the Class A wins this category.
4. Family Riding Space
Heavy/super-duty pickup trucks have long benches where up to six people can ride (3 in front and 3 in the second row). For Susan and me, that isn’t much of a problem since it’s just the two of us. Occasionally we’ll have our grandkids with us, but we won’t have six people riding with us.
In a Class A motorhome, we’ll have captain’s chairs designed for long hours of driving. The sofa and dinette behind us have safety belts for grandchildren. Having access to the coach section allows everyone to have some breathing space. If Susan’s driving, I can belt into the dinette and get some work done, or vice versa.
5. Driving Safety
We did talk about safety belts above in the Class A Motorhome, but there are other safety features a pickup truck has that motorhomes don’t. Trucks abide by passenger vehicles’ safety standards, so they have side airbags (steering wheel airbags do come on motorhomes), crumple zone technology, and other safety precautions.
As of 2019, Class A motorhomes and pickup trucks have the driving assist technology seen in vehicles. Lane departure warning, brake assist, blindspot warning, adaptive cruise control, and other features.
Regardless of the category that you choose, we always recommend taking an online RV driving course. Instructors like Mark Polk from RV Education 101 teach you all of the techniques and best practices to keep you on the road like experienced veterans.
6. Usage In Travel Mode
Many RVers want to use the coach while they’re traveling. They don’t want to open the slides or set anything up for a quick lunch stop. Class A motorhomes have the advantage. While traveling, you have complete access to everything in the RV. All manufacturers include safety belts on the furniture too.
Designers are always trying new configurations. Some fifth wheels block off certain areas when the slides are closed. If you need to pull over to use the restroom or get into the refrigerator, it could be cramped quarters getting through the coach.
It’s a bad idea for safety to allow passengers to ride in a fifth-wheel while in motion. Yet 21 states do allow it. States as big as California, New York, and Pennsylvania have laws on the books the let you do it. If you do this, installing safety belts and safety glass is a great way to keep your passengers protected.
7. Fuel Economy
The best RV fuel-economy you’ll find is the Earth Traveler 250LX pulled by a Toyota Prius or other compact hybrid car. However, this teardrop travel trailer won’t have the caliber of features and amenities anywhere near our two categories.
Diesel Class A motorhomes get around 8-14 miles per gallon (MPG) with 100-200 gallon fuel tanks. Gassers will siphon through their 80-gallon tanks at 6-10 MPG.
The best way to pull a fifth wheel is a 250/2500 or 350/3500 series pickup truck. On average, heavy/super-duty pickups get around 10-15 mpg.
Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels are the heaviest RVs. Low fuel efficiency will be something you just have to accept if you’re going to enjoy either one of these lifestyles. One point many people forget is most of the time; the engine is off. Once RVers reach their destination, they usually stay for a week or longer.
8. Backing in
When you’re driving on the highway, the question of which is easier to drive, a fifth wheel or a motorcoach is equal. You have wind shears, compact cars in front of you that hit their brakes too fast, and other road hazards. The real test is backing up.
Even with side and back cameras, the Class A motorhome beats fifth wheels. Backing in a towable RV takes practice. The single body construction of a motorhome makes positioning easier. It’s still a good idea to have your co-pilot outside, guiding you back with hand signals or on your cell phone to avoid any hazards.
Storage in a 5th Wheel vs Class A RV Motorhome
9. Toy Hauling
The Thor Outlaw Series is an excellent example of a Class A motorhome toy hauler. Yet if you were to measure it up against the best fifth wheel toy haulers, it would be that black sheep in a herd of white.
Fifth wheels are better toy haulers because they can devote more space to the garage. Their dual or triple axles can support more weight and not have to contend with automotive parts.
10. Exterior Storage
Hands down, the Class A motorhome will hold more in its outer bays than the fifth wheel. To stay on the same page, we’re keeping toy hauler garages as a separate issue. Fifth wheels usually have a colossal passthrough bay towards the front and a utility bay in the hitch area.
11. Interior Storage
Fifth wheels will offer more interior storage. You’ll find this in overhead cabinetry, closet space, kitchen cupboards, and pantries. They’ll share strategic storage space techniques that Class A motorhomes have under bed storage, dinette seat storage, and other multipurpose spacing.
12. Tall/Long item Storage
Storing tall or long items can be a problem in RVs. We’re not talking about kayaks; we’re focusing more on brooms, vacuums, fishing poles, and other handheld devices. Both categories have external passthrough bays. Fifth wheels are starting to offer long cabinet spaces inside specifically for these items.
Floor Plans in a 5th Wheel Camper vs. Class A Motorhome
13. Diversity of Floorplans
In a Class A Motorhome, the driver’s area is in the front, and the rear holds the master suite. What happens in between can be amazing. RV designers have come up with floorplans in the past 20 years, unheard of in the 1980s.
Fifth wheel floorplans have a lot more diversity. The bedroom isn’t always in the front cap area. Now that engineers have moved the master into the rear, front living rooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms have great configurations. Keystone 5th Wheels can have over 20 different floorplans in today’s market.
14. Separation From Kids And Guests
At the end of the day, everyone wants to retreat to their little corner of the universe to enjoy the night. When video game music clashes with your romcom’s dialogue, tranquility is impossible.
Fifth wheel bunkhouse floor plans give the kids their own space on the opposite end of the RV. Many have a real door, TV, and even a bathroom to let the kids finish out the night their way.
Class A motorhome bunk slideouts are close to the master bedroom. Many now have a drop-down bunk over the driver’s area and fold-out mid-coach sofa, but the living room TV sound bounces around the coach to a degree.
15. Washer and Dryer Location
If you use your stackable RV washer and dryer (or combo unit), placement is everything. Some manufacturers place the prep components in closets, letting the owners decide if they want the closet space or washing machines.
Others split the washer and dryer into different places like walk-in closets or master bathrooms to maximize space. For a while, Fleetwood placed the washer and dryer side-by-side opposite the master bed within the cabinetry. When it comes to choosing where the manufacturers set the washer and dryer, it’s about even.
RVing should be a relaxing time. Meal preparation inevitably comes with dirty dishes. Luckily fifth wheels and Class A motorhomes have water heaters, so you don’t have to do the two stockpot dish cleaning method. RV dishwashers are optional features in both classes but choose wisely since they take up storage space.
A dishwasher’s added convenience has less impact in a fifth wheel than a Class A motorhome from a storage point-of-view. Fifth wheels have closet-sized pantries and a massive amount of storage inside. Class A motorhomes have less interior storage, so if you’re not careful, you may have to start picking and choosing what ends up in the outer bays or goes to Goodwill.
17. Room for Big Dogs
When we talked to our campground fifth wheel friends, the deciding factor for them was Molly (as in Ringwald) and Caruso (as in David); their two Irish Setters. 65% of all RVers travel with their pets, and 90% of them have dogs. They chose their fifth wheel because they needed room to setup dog beds for their “fur-babies.”
When they looked between Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels, they found the best RV for dogs between the two categories was the fiver. The dining space had more room in the dining table area to put the dog beds. The couple sacrificed their freestanding table and chairs for the dogs’ comfort.
18. Outdoor Space Features
Awnings have increased in size over the years. There’s plenty of covered space, even with the slideouts fully extended. Both the Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels have outdoor TVs and outdoor speakers to enhance your outdoor experience.
We have to hand the Grammy to the fifth wheels on this topic due to the outdoor kitchens’ affordability. Very few Class A motorhomes come with outdoor kitchens. Fifth wheels with outdoor kitchens are so popular; they’re almost a standard feature on bunkhouse floorplans.
19. Generator Options
For decades, Class A motorhomes come with built-in generators that feed off the fuel tank. They have a safety feature where the genny will cut off if the tank has less than a quarter tank, so you have enough fuel to make it to the closest gas station. The generators “sip” fuel, so running them overnight isn’t a problem.
It’s rare to find a 5th wheel with a built-in generator. Duel fuel (gas and propane) generators are going to be your best bet to power your fifth wheel fully. You’ll want to chain it up to your RV because sometimes, it can “grow legs.” Solar systems can help offset the power usage, but the refrigerator uses so much power, it has a designated inverter.
20. Kitchen Layout
Class A motorhomes have galley-style kitchens with near residential appliances. Full profile fifth wheels will have kitchen islands and full-size residential features that match any sticks-and-brick house.
Those that love to cook gourmet recipes will enjoy fifth-wheel kitchens over Class A motorhomes. Class A motorhomes will sometimes replace the RV oven with a dishwasher. A recent trend is for RV manufacturers to include convection microwaves to compensate for the oven.
21. Master Bedroom
Master bedroom suites in both categories come in either residential queen or king sizes. You’ll find kings more often in Class A motorhomes. If you want nightstands, make sure you go with a queen, because more often than not, the kings can’t fit nightstand shelves in the slideout space.
Class A motorhomes come out ahead because of the RV bed lift system. If you purchase this option, the bed’s head portion lifts, allowing you to sit up in bed. Fifth wheels place the master bed in the front or rear of the coach. The lift option isn’t available since the space underneath has to be used for other purposes.
During our research, Susan showed me a picture of a dual sink. As we continued through the photo gallery, we saw a wood bench in the shower, a real marble tile, and a high-grade porcelain commode. The room was better than what we have in our house. It was the Newmar Dutch Star Class A motorhome.
We then found some luxury fifth wheels with the same type of bathroom in the master suite. We explored further and pulled up fifth wheels with two bathrooms and Class A motorhomes with two full bathrooms.
23. Number and Width of Slide Outs
Class A Motorhomes have up to 3 slide outs but are shallower than fifth wheels. Towables don’t have automotive parts to contend with and can cut off specific spaces if it means having a broader slide. Fifth wheels can have up to 5 slides in the largest versions.
We looked at many different floorplans for both categories. Traditional dinettes and freestanding tables aren’t the best RV workstations because the table heights don’t work well for keyboards.
Fifth wheels that have mid-coach bunks give you a whole room to turn into an office space. Some master suites have ottomans that pull out from the end of the bed to use as seats, and the counter on the chest of drawers can double as a desk.
Class A motorhomes have an equal amount of workspace opportunities. Many use the copilot space as an RV computer workstation. Work-from-home RVers love Tiffin’s dinette with a computer workstation. The Winnebago Forza has a two-person desk set up in one of its models.
Lifestyle Considerations in a Class A RV vs a Fifth Wheel
25. Quality Level of Furniture
Outsiders don’t understand how we, the RV Community, can pay these prices for this lifestyle. When you can kick back in a theatre seat, take a nap on a sofa, or get that ultimate comfort feeling on your king-size mattress, you know it’s worth every penny.
Fifth wheels offer full residential level sizes because they don’t have to contend with automotive components. Class A diesel motorhomes have kitchen amenities at this level, but the driver’s area reduces the living room area. Therefore sofas, dinettes, and other furniture are shaved down to size to fit accordingly.
26. Setup and Teardown Time
Setting up and packing up takes less time with a Class A motorhome. Using your phone app or interior buttons, you can set the stabilizer jacks, expand the slideouts, and be ready to enjoy your day. If you’re dry camping, you have a button on the dashboard to activate the generator.
The fifth wheel has the same functions, but you need to disconnect the truck from the kingpin hitch (currently, there isn’t a button for that yet). If you’re not connecting to shore power utilities, you may have to set up your gas generator, solar system, or another power system.
They both share common setup steps when connecting to campground shore utilities manually. Electric cords, freshwater hoses, sewer hoses, and wheels need chocking. Use our checklist and follow our video to make sure you set up correctly.
Fifth wheels are the travel trailers with the most headroom. Many that offer mid-coach bunks/second rooms have loft spaces above due to the high ceiling clearance. Manufacturers can do this by lowering the floor and heightening the ceiling to DOT maximums.
Class A motorhomes don’t have this ability. They lose a lot of height because their frames have to make room for the automotive parts. The trade-off is plenty of exterior bay storage. Many of the bays are passthrough for long-item storage.
28. Independent Living Limitations
Class A motorhomes hold the advantage for those with mobility issues. They have flat floors inside and less exterior steps at the entryway. Newer models have better grab bars overall and place the cabinetry in reachable heights.
For those with more significant mobility concerns, Winnebago and their subsidiary, Newmar, have wheelchair-accessible RVs. Learn more about them in our discussion on how these two manufacturers have opened the RV world to the disabled American population.
29. Security While Parked
Overall, Class A motorhomes are fully self-contained and harder to steal. There isn’t an exposed hitch someone can simply connect to and drive off. Motorhomes have built-in generators so that no one can steal them (one of the most common problems towable RVers face).
You can buy locks and security devices to prevent things like this from happening to your fifth wheel. RV Security systems are available and have pretty affordable pricing.
30. Drive Around Town
The ultimate goal of RVing is to see and experience places. If you go from location to location and never leave your coach, what’s the point? The best way to explore the area is to have a passenger vehicle with you to see the sights, so you don’t have to unhook from the campground utilities.
Flat towable cars with your motorhome come in all car and SUV sizes. Here’s a list of 33 different vehicles that fit well in urban streets and parking lots. They’re all perfect dinghies for Class A motorhomes.
31. Climate Control
When you look at the two categories A/C and furnace amenities, most fifth wheels come with one air conditioner. Class A RVs usually have two. Fifth wheels have the second A/C as an option, making the coaches equal.
What edges the fifth wheel ahead is they don’t have a huge panoramic motorhome windshield. It’s great to see the world through those huge windshields, but it acts as a heat magnifier. The coach air conditioners are continually battling against the heat. So, the 5th wheel has the advantage in this category.
32. Stormy Weather
You’ve reached your destination campground or stopped for the night. The sky has opened up, and it’s storming. In a Class A motorhome, you activate the auto-level jacks, stand-up, open the slideouts, and get comfortable on the couch behind you. With fifth wheels, you have to consider if it’s worth getting out of the truck.
Financial Considerations: 5th Wheel vs a Class A
The average cost for a Class A motorhome ranges from $70,000- $3,000,000. Fifth wheel prices are $30,000- $100,000. The 350/3500 series pickup truck to pull the fifth wheel range from $50,000- $80,000. All of these prices consider new current year models.
34. Resale Value
The average RV depreciates 20% in its first year and continues to decrease in value between 10-30% each year. The average RVer keeps their coach around 7-9 years before they upgrade or downgrade. From a pure financial point-of-view, you’ll lose more money with a Class A motorhome if your plans include upgrading within 10 years.
35. Cost of Maintenance
Maintaining the coach-side of a Class A motorhome is virtually the same as a fifth-wheel. Motorhomes have automotive issues that fifth wheels don’t. Tires can start at $400 and oil changes can range between $125-$250.
36. Insurance Rates
A quick online quote will show you that towables have better rates than drivables. Yet, a big truck’s insurance rates are more expensive than the toad vehicle we’re thinking of purchasing. When you combine the total insurance rates (the fifth wheel with truck vs. Class A with toad), the 5th wheel is more budget-friendly.
What’s Your Final Score?
Final Score – we just tallied up all the check marks for each RV.
23 Pros for the Fifth Wheel
17 Pros for the Class A Motorhome
As you can see, although they both have their pros and cons. we ended up leaning towards the fifth wheel. We’ve been camping in a Class C for years. I’m still not sure if I’m ready to jump the fence into the towable RV world. But one thing is for sure. We will rent one before we buy one to really be sure we like it.
Leave your comments below or continue the discussion on your Facebook page. Whatever your decision is, we hope you enjoy your RV experience as much as we do!