Motorhome versus Fifth Wheel: Fight!

We decided to change rigs on the road in March 2018 and are pretty much “in the groove” with the Fox now.  It’s time to discuss the pros and cons between a fifth wheel and a motorhome!

I’ll try to keep this to general concepts instead of comparing the two RVs specifically since the Fox is nine years newer than Trudy.

Dry camping with the Fox, Trudy, and the Ram during the transition between rigs

Living Space

Motorhome

The main advantage of the motorhome in this category is the huge windshield.  If the rig is parked facing something scenic the RV’s occupants get wonderful views 24/7 (even stargazing!).

Trudy’s cab and couch area

Of course the giant glass surface also means it’s harder to control the temperature in the front of the RV.  We had a custom windshield shade from the previous owner – it helped some but also required a ladder to set up.  It also didn’t help with losing heat when it’s cold outside.

Another disadvantage is the loss of space in the cab due to the huge dash and chairs.  Sure, they spin around and become part of the living space, but we rarely used them.  Who feels like sitting in the same seats you already sat in all day while driving?

The final disadvantage is that most motorhomes have pretty much the same layout.  If a specific layout is needed (like a second sleeping area for a toddler in our case), good luck finding it.

Fifth Wheel

Fifth wheels are also somewhat limited in layout – if the front area (above the hitch) is to be anything but a bedroom, it’s going to be a full-profile, 40+ foot fifth wheel.  We were trying to stay at or under 35 feet so the main bedroom was definitely going to be in the front.

That being said, we love the layout of the Fox.  Calla has her own room for all of her stuff and enough separation when sleeping.  Our bedroom is small but has everything we need.  And the two sleeping areas are on opposite ends of the RV!

The Fox’s facilities (the toilet is to the right of the shower)

The fifth wheel’s bathroom is an actual room, which we feel is better than the split/galley bathroom in  the motorhome.

Advantage: Fifth wheel

 

Sleeping Arrangements

Motorhome

Motorhomes are great for two people.  Sure, you can get bunkhouse motorhomes, but the bunks are usually in a slide that’s directly across from the bathroom door and five feet from the main bed.  I personally don’t want to have to tiptoe to bed or to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Calla’s crib in Trudy’s bedroom (the curtain was removed at this point)

The sleeping arrangements we had in Trudy worked fine for several months and may be great for some families.  It turned out to be a nightmare for us eventually and drove us to change rigs.  Enough said.

Fifth Wheel

The bunkroom in the Fox has three sleeping areas – a bunk, a couch that folds flat, and a trundle bed that slides out from under the couch.  Sleeping 3 in there would be hard, but 2 would work well.  Having the bunk area has been a huge improvement for us.  We love it!

The main bedroom has a queen bed in it.  The sofa converts to a double bed and when laid flat the dinette is nearly a queen-sized bed.

Advantage: Fifth wheel

 

Setup

Motorhome

One thing that was always frustrating with the motorhome was leveling.  There’s only so much height the jacks can provide without lifting the wheels off of the ground.  It would sometimes take us hours to get it acceptably level.  Positioning and driving up onto wood and/or plastic blocks, extending the jacks (sometimes several attempts), and then redoing it with a slight change in height gets old!

Calla helping with the leveling blocks

Another setup process is making sure everything is secure before driving and then undoing it all when you arrive.  If we were to wreck or have to apply emergency braking, unsecured items could take flight become projectiles.

All of the extra equipment needed to tow the Escape (tow bar not shown)

The last point to bring up is attaching the toad to the motorhome.  It wasn’t difficult to do but the fact that you couldn’t reverse with the toad was always in the back of my mind.  Probably because we had to detach several times so we could get fuel for Trudy.

Fifth Wheel

The Fox has electric – but not automatic – jacks.  The landing gear up front does most of the work (leveling) and the rear stabilizers just… stabilize.  I’d say at least half of the time we end up pulling the Fox onto blocks on one side to level the rig side-to-side. But getting the rig level front-to-back is simple since the landing gear has quite a bit of range to it.  Getting the rig level in general is much, much easier than with the motorhome.

The front of the Fox in a national forest – note the landing gear up front and the tripod stabilizer under the king pin

One annoying thing to set up with a fifth wheel is the tripod that goes under the king pin.  This is optional but helps reduce movement in the RV.  At least for the model we have, it can be somewhat tedious to get the legs to all be under tension.  It’s also a tough item to store.  We also use X-Chocks on the tandem wheels for additional stabilization – so that’s another (quick) step in the process.

Advantage: Fifth wheel

 

Storage

Motorhome

Trudy is 38 feet long and has large basement compartments for much of that length.  Several are pass-through which aids in storing long items.  We were able to store a large Camp Chef outdoor stove with many accessories and a 20 lb propane tank in a single compartment.

Many newer motorhomes have compartment doors that open to the side or somehow pivot out of the way.  This is much better than the Trudy’s storage doors, which opened vertically and required us to kneel or crawl under the door (and sometimes the slide, too).

Compartments all along the sides of Trudy

Trudy also has plenty of storage inside.  Lots of cabinets, a large wardrobe, and a tall pantry meant we never ran out of space for our stuff.

Fifth Wheel

The Fox’s external storage isn’t as expansive.  The compartments are larger (the main pass-through compartment is huge) but not nearly as plentiful, which means it’s harder to have “a spot” for everything.

The Fox does have a great storage compartment behind the bunkroom’s entertainment center.  This has become the tool/supply storage area – which used to comprise three basement compartments in Trudy (and required me to crawl under the slide).

Tools and RV supplies

Advantage: Motorhome

 

Utilities

Motorhome

Filling Trudy’s gas tank was almost always a challenge.  Fortunately it was huge – 75 gallons – so we could usually travel once or twice without refueling.  We occasionally even had to detach the toad in order to get Trudy in position at the gas station.  It was always frustrating and took more time than you’d expect.

Trudy was always fun to fuel up

Getting propane was also a challenge.  Trudy has a large (100 pound) propane tank attached to the chassis.  That last part is the problem – it’s attached to the chassis, so you have to find a truck stop, UHaul, etc. that not only fills propane but also can fit a 38′ motorhome + toad.  We almost always had to detach the toad to get propane.  Having to get gas and propane on the same travel day made for some long days!

Trudy has a 70 gallon fresh water tank, 48 gallon gray tank and 40 gallon black tank.  Not gigantic, but large enough to go without hookups for several days (the gray always filled first).

Fifth Wheel

We love being able to fuel up the truck on non-travel days!  It makes travel days simpler and the act of fueling up is so much easier.  The Fox has two 30 pound propane tanks that are easily removed and transported.  Getting them filled is much, much easier!  Their portability means we can get them filled at Costco if we’re near one – they have the best prices on fuel and we’ll be there anyway.

The Fox has two removable 30 lb propane tanks

The Fox has a 60 gallon fresh water tank, two 35 gallon gray tanks (one for the kitchen, one for the bathroom) and a 35 gallon black tank.  We appreciate having more gray tank space for boondocking since that’s what always fills first.  The smaller fresh water tank doesn’t affect us too much since we always have four 7 gallon Aqua-tainers in the truck for backup.

The full stable of Aqua-tainers
Filling the fresh water tank via Aqua-tainer

Advantage: Fifth wheel

 

Travelling

Motorhome

The expansive windshield in a motorhome is great when driving.  The view is amazing!

Trudy was probably just about the largest motorhome produced on the Ford Triton (gasoline) chassis.  In other words, she’s oversized and underpowered.  Getting up hills was a slow (and loud) process, but she always made it.

Trudy was happy to dance around the road due to wind gusts

Rough or uneven roads were also an experience to be had – lots of bangs and jolts and lots of swaying in all directions.  We never did get around to replacing Trudy’s shocks – I’m betting that would have helped a good bit, but there’s no getting around the fact that motorhomes are heavy and have a fairly high center of gravity.  We installed a Roadmaster steering stabilizer on Trudy, but strong winds and quickly passing 18-wheelers were still able to pull and push Trudy around.

Regardless, the fact that one of us could make a quick lunch or use the restroom while travelling is something we miss.

Fifth Wheel

The views aren’t as good, there’s no bathroom, and we have to pack a lunch before leaving – but travelling in the Ram is leaps and bounds more comfortable than the motorhome.  It’s quiet inside.  The ride can be a little rough, especially on forest roads, but it’s significantly smoother than the motorhome.  And the fifth wheel feels nearly impervious to wind compared to the motorhome.

Calla naps much better in the Ram than she did in Trudy

Having the amenities of a modern heavy-duty truck is eye-opening.  The exhaust brake and tow/haul mode make descents nearly effortless and the endless torque provided by the Cummins means we don’t have to crawl up hills.

The Ram under tow at Prescott, AZ

This isn’t a fair comparison since the Ram is far newer and was made for towing.  I’ve never driven a diesel-pusher motorhome (or even a newer gas-powered motorhome) but I’m assuming they’d alleviate many of the complaints above.

Advantage: Fifth wheel

 

Exploring/Scouting

Motorhome

Having an easily detached toad is great.  When you arrive at a new boondocking location or campground, the toad allows for easy exploration without getting into a tough spot with the whole rig.  The motorhome can be moved independently if necessary while the Escape is out scouting.  It’s also easier and more efficient to explore a new city in a smaller vehicle.

Fifth Wheel

It would be possible to drop the fifth wheel and explore in the truck alone when arriving at a new spot, but I don’t know anyone who does that and it sounds a little… inconvenient.

We’re often a little anxious when pulling into an unfamiliar boondocking spot while towing since there could be low trees, rough, narrow forest roads, and no place to turn around.

We love the Ram, but its over 20 feet long (it’s a crew cab with a long bed) and isn’t as efficient as the Escape was.  I love driving it but it’s not always fun to park.

At over 20 feet long, the Ram isn’t exactly easy to park

Advantage: Motorhome

 

Overall

Motorhome

I enjoyed having Trudy, but a motorhome presents pretty pretty significant layout challenges for a family.  She wasn’t great to drive and had issues with leveling and refueling, but she always got us where we wanted to go.  Most importantly, she brought us the lifestyle we wanted.

Full-time RVing has lots of intricacies.  It’s hard to know what you need from an RV perspective and how you’ll adapt on the road.  I don’t regret starting with Trudy at all, but as our needs and wants solidified on the road it was clear that she wasn’t the right rig for us.

Fifth Wheel

After living on the road for 6+ months we pretty much knew what we wanted.  Driving is easier, sleeping arrangements are better, and the living area is larger and more comfortable.  Buying a truck and a trailer wasn’t cheap or easy, but it’s kept the journey going.  We love the Fox!

And the winner is… FIFTH WHEEL!

Overall Winner: Fifth wheel

6 Comments

    1. Good to hear. I think we’d be very happy in a short motorhome (maybe a Sprinter-based class C) if we didn’t have kids. Maybe in 18 years we’ll try again!

      Thanks for reading, Uncle Brooks!

  1. Great article! Thanks! I lived in a 35 door 5th wheel. I hated the work it took to set up at a campsight and the pain to disconnect to run into town for something. We bought a 38′ diesel pusher. I love being able to pull in somewhere, dump the air and level with hydraulic jacks and just fontonsleep without ever stepping outdoors if you don’t want to. And we can unhook our Jeep in two minutes. But I am finding the big disadvantage is maintenance and repair costs! Spent 12 grand in a years time and haven’t even gone full time yet! I’m beginning to think a diesel pusher is a hole in the ground you throw money into. My fifth wheel was very cheap to maintain.

    1. Thanks, Mark! I’m glad to hear you found a rig that you like. I’ve never driven a diesel pusher but I’m sure they’re leaps and bounds better than gas-powered motorhomes. I prefer to have more manual jacks and controls personally (less to maintain and worry about) but that sounds sweet. Wow, sounds expensive!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Well you’ve given me a lot to think about as my wife and I are thinking about going the other way. Actually my vote has always been to stick to the fifth wheel. She wants to make the switch to the motor home. So lm going to forward this to her. I’m hoping that this will help in our decision making . Your friend in camping Gary.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful! We love the fifth wheel, but I’ll also say that if it were just the two of us, a small motorhome would be great as well. The biggest problem we had with ours was the layout.

      Thanks for reading, Gary. Good luck with your decision!

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