Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Motorhome or 5th Wheel for Full Time? Finally: Here Is The Answer!

In my experience, this is by far the most asked question when it comes to full time RVing. Which is better for full timing? A motorhome or a fifth wheel trailer? So, I can't stand it any more, I am going to go there, somebody has to.

Facebook groups, blogs, YouTube channels, you name it; people want to know. The funny thing is, they get a ton of answers, and most are not very helpful. The most honest answer I see is "it depends" or "personal preference". And it's true. I know, you wanted a clear answer. Well, I will do my best to help you with that. I will attempt to give you some solid points that will help you know which one is right for you. That's really the main issue here because it really does vary by user. Perhaps I can help you understand which type of person you are: a motorhome person or a fifth wheel person! There really IS a wrong answer. The wrong rig can be a terrible mistake, and you must do some deep thinking.

Two types of RV

Our 2015 Redwood Fifth Wheel and RAM Dually Truck
There are some obvious differences; and we won't deal with the obvious here. As one RV salesman answered this question for us many years ago: Well, you either drive your RV and tow your vehicle or you drive your vehicle and tow your RV.  And while that seems super obvious: It actually has the first nugget of truth to it. You WILL need a vehicle if you are driving a motorhome of any size. There are ways to argue around it, but honestly, unless you are driving a very small class B or C motorhome, you are unlikely to be satisfied with the lack of mobility not having a vehicle creates.  Make sure you take this into consideration when comparing ownership costs, maintenance routines and all of that. Two engines, two sets of tires, you get the idea.

Here's Todd test driving a brand
 new Entegra Coach!
Full disclosure for those who don't know: We are "fifth wheel people". We came to this understanding over years of RVing and deep, lengthy (and recurring!) discussions over the years. It wasn't an easy decision at first. But now we know for sure that we are where we should be.  It's right for us. It's not right for everyone. I will do my best not to slant this post toward 5th wheels, ok? I like motorhomes, they are sometimes stunning! We nearly bought one... I mean really close. So I don't dislike them, I promise! But because we are obviously in favor of fifth wheels, this is bound to seem biased. Sorry about that! I really DO want you to have what is RIGHT for you!

So for this discussion to be of any use to anyone we have to agree on an "apples to apples" comparison. We cannot compare an older, used truck and fifth wheel (and it's features and technology) to a new motorhome. That wouldn't be fair. So for this discussion, I will focus on units of both categories that are under about 5 years old. You can find all kinds of things in the older, used market and the variation is so wide that it is of no use to us here. Both rigs depreciate a lot over time, and this also should be about the same.

Ok, there are a LOT of myths and misconceptions out there about both. One of the most often misunderstood misconceptions about fifth wheels (and I hear this a lot) is that they are complicated and time consuming to move. People say, "If you are going to be stationary for months at a time, then you should get a fifth wheel." This is simply not true. In fact, when you consider that hitching and unhitching a towed vehicle (or toad) from the motorhome takes not only several minutes, but a flat stretch of road as well, which may or may NOT be where you are parked, it's at least a wash if not even faster to get on the road in a fifth wheel. I hear how unaffordable motorhomes are. Well, again, that may or may not be true. You are buying a big chassis with an expensive engine that a fifth wheel does not have. On the other hand; the truck you need to pull a heavier fifth wheel (again, less than 5 years old) is likely to cost as much or MORE than the fifth wheel itself. See how that works?

Motorhomes have a built-in integration of systems that is enviable, and I love how everything is built to work together. They usually have a powerful on-board generator that is already installed to work seamlessly with the entire unit. You can even use your house batteries to jump start your chassis batteries should the need arise. Yes, I can do that with my 5th wheel, but it didn't come from the factory that way! I love that motorhomes have a lot of outdoor storage and can usually tolerate a lot of weight in exterior cargo. This, in my opinion, is a big weakness of fifth wheels. The overwhelming majority of them leave the factory overweight, or nearly so. If you are active and enjoy things like biking and kayaking and other activities that entail equipment, you will be working to stay within your weight limits on the fifth wheel. We combat this by putting our heavier items in the back of our truck, as it has a lot of capacity to spare.

Some people just really don't like to pull a big trailer. That's not a bad thing, and it's definitely something that you should try to understand about yourself. While it is not at all difficult, it's not for everyone. Motorhomes are definitely way ahead in this category.  It is daunting to be traveling down a steep grade and see that huge trailer chasing you. They are heavy and if your equipment is not what it should be, the possibilities of a catastrophic failure are high.


Getting all new suspension, 4 day
job, slept in our bed every night.
Now, I must talk about service. This is a big one. There are two types of RVers; Those who have had a terrible problem that needs lengthy service, and those who have it in their future. It's going to happen. Most of the time, problems that need lengthy service center stays are related to the engine. Certainly there are exceptions, like body work, but overall engine failure is going to take more time to work out.  This is where the truck/trailer combo always wins. We can take our truck to just about any town for service if we break down and while our truck is being serviced, our home is available and nothing needs to change.  This is not always the case for a motorhome. If lengthy engine or chassis work needs to be completed, it is extremely unusual for the motorhome to be accessible for living in while it is being worked on. A big negative for us. There are very few services that need to be performed on a fifth wheel that would render it inaccessible at night for sleeping. Of course there are exceptions, but we have never been put out of our bed for service yet.

Cost of ownership

Again, the fifth wheel wins here.  In both types you can spend just about as much as you want when purchasing. If you are trying to achieve a high level of luxury and amenities, you are going to get there sooner with a fifth wheel. But purchase price is only one aspect. Maintenance costs are a serious consideration as well. The cost to perform all recommended maintenance on each should be heavily weighed. How much do the tires cost? How much to change the oil and various air and fuel filters and such? How much of this can you perform yourself and how much must be done professionally? All motorized vehicles need meticulous maintenance if they are to be expected to last and perform well, especially with the demands of hauling across many miles for extended periods. Oil changes occur quite frequently!!

Living Space

This is important. If you are living full time in your RV, your living area will be extremely top of mind.  It is often said that the most important thing when selecting your RV is FLOOR PLAN. I don't know if I agree completely, but it's a big deal for sure.  Fortunately in both types of RV there are usually a lot of choices, and more every day.  I don't see this really as a deciding factor between the two. I will comment though, that fifth wheels typically offer a more "house like" feel when they are set up than motorhomes usually do. I think it is something to do with the high ceilings and copious interior storage. I have all of the kitchen equipment I want because I can store it. I also have a large pantry with huge pull-out drawers. I love this. I have looked at a lot of motorhomes, and have never seen a pantry anywhere near as functional as mine. It's a very big part of my day-to-day life. Think about what matter most to you and how you live. Do you cook a lot? Do you like to watch TV on a big screen in a big comfy recliner directly across from it? Look carefully.

Accessibility While Underway

Ok, this one is a bit of an eye-roll for me. "My wife can get up and make me a sandwich while we are driving down the freeway." I bet you have heard this one. Or "My wife can go use the bathroom while we are driving down the freeway." Or "My wife can go start dinner while we are driving down the freeway." I think you know what I am going to say here. Do I really need to say it?  Most of the time RVers like to drive less than 3-4 hours a day, in both types of rigs. Of course there are times when you really need to log some miles, but we are dealing with day-to-day averages here.  It is smart, comfortable and advisable to utilize the myriad of rest stops on America's freeways. Stop, use the restroom, stretch your legs. We never usually stop more than once on a travel day. Having the ability for ONE of us to wobble back to the bathroom during the driving is not even close to being a reason to buy one RV over another. And making dinner while underway?? Well, they made a movie that shows about how feasible that would be, it's called "The Long, Long Trailer" starring Lucille Ball and she was wearing most of the dinner when they stopped.  But the most important thing is, that seat belt needs to stay fastened while you are on the freeway, PERIOD. Even with a very minor tap on the brakes on the freeway or avoiding a texting driver who swerves into your lane... that is going to send Mama flying across the RV and probably injured.  Plus, though motorhomes have quite advanced automatic systems, the driver STILL has to stay behind the wheel while driving down the freeway, and that person needs a rest much more than the passenger does.  Do not use this as an argument to get a motorhome, because it's silly.

One other item that I will pass along, and I know that "motor home people" will have to agree, is noise. Clattering, squeaking, clanking, slamming, bumping... Our fifth wheel, I happen to know for a fact, is the NOISIEST rig in America. Metal pan lids yammering away on pots, plates clattering loudly, doors creaking... it's a veritable concert in there. BUT WE CAN'T HEAR IT.  We are in our very comfy, very silent cab of our truck listening to Traveling Robert. And our generator is not running so that our air conditioner is on.  Motor home's generally have the same noises, so additional "Pre-flight steps" are taken, like insulating all the noisy dishware with skid-proof fabric, locking down drawers and doors, etc. May seem like nothing, but if move around often, this can become an issue for some people. Something to think about. A can rolling around in the pantry would drive my man to insanity, because he makes me store my PURSE in a special place so it doesn't make NOISE.


What kind of RVing do you prefer? We like to mix it up with quite a bit of boondocking and full hookup parks too.  Many of the motorhomes these days are "all electric" meaning they do not use propane at all. This is a fairly new phenomenon. There are fifth wheels like this too, but not too many.  Will you be in parks all the time? Then this doesn't really matter. If you are "unplugged" a lot, then it will become a major source of stress trying to make sure you stay powered up. Of course you can run your generator a lot, and you can install a large solar system (as we did) to power everything, just make sure you are ready to see how much that can cost. A modest system can be quite affordable, but something large enough to consistently power a large motorhome with a residential refrigerator is some serious cash. Ask me how I know (we have a residential refrigerator). Sometimes, motorhomes have limited roof space for solar panels. Make sure you investigate this so you are not disappointed.

So, I hope that gives you some perspective. Definitely attend some RV shows and sales lots and spend some serious time just sitting in them and doing some deep thinking. Tell the attentive salesperson to leave you a lone for a bit so you can talk. It's a big decision, and it is almost assured that whatever you decide, if it is wrong, you will take a substantial financial hit to change your mind. I wish you the very best-and don't let anyone tell you one is categorically better than the other. Not true at all.

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