rv trailers and towables

trailers pros & cons

RV types trailers fifth wheelers

When we got serious about selecting our RV, we set out to get an education on all things motorhome. 

At each step in the learning process we found things that we like, and things that we did not care for.  We learned about the different RV types and classes, and what differentiated one from another. 

Another thing we learned about was pricing and options that affected the price. Here’s a brief overview of the types of RV’s trailers in the market.

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Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheeler's

What is a RV trailer? A RV (or recreational vehicle) is a small cabin on wheels. Now, that’s just the start, and where you end up can be anywhere. 

On the small end, a RV trailer can be a small unpowered trailer pulled behind your automobile (or motorcycle) like this Mini-Mate Camper trailer from Kompact Kamp Trailers. It assembles in a couple of minutes and has four stabilizer legs to keep you from swaying about. Inside is a bed large enough for two, and it has an optional awning for a covered outside area.

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RV types trailers fifth wheelers

RV trailers can be large, with the behemoths topping out at over 41′. When you add the length of the truck, you are driving a 57′ long package. 

Manufacturers like DRV and Grand Design create fifth-wheel options that offer residential livability. Master bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, laundry facilities, kitchen islands, fire places, outdoor elevated patio decks and garages for your toys are just a few of the options that you can have that truly put you in a home on the road. Some of these super wheels can cost upward of $150,000… and you still have a truck to buy to tow it with!

RV types trailers fifth wheelers

Towables

For practical purposes, there are two main types of RV’s:  towable and motorhomes.  A towable, as the name implies is a recreational vehicle attached to a motorized vehicle and transported around.  It does not have a motor and is not drivable.  The trailer attaches to the motorized vehicle (usually a pickup truck) with a hitch.  These are quite popular because you can buy one quite reasonably, as you are not buying a motor or drivetrain.  If you already own a truck capable of towing a trailer, then you are half the way there.

There are two main towable categories:  Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheel Trailers. Both types of towable trailers differ by where the hitch attaches to the tow vehicle.

Travel Trailer
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A travel trailer attaches to the very back of the trucks frame, and sometimes on the bumper.  Because of this connection placement, there are limitations on size and weight of the trailer. It becomes too unwieldly to have an overly large cabin on wheels hanging off the back of your truck. 

The term “travel trailer” covers a large swath of trailers.  Trailers can be small, like the above pictured Kompact Kamp trailer that can attach to the back of a motorcycle, or  the NuCamp Tab campers.  They can be of average size, like the above photo, suitable for a family adventure.   Some trailers can condense down to small boxes that unpack and expand into a full camper when onsite.  The truly large trailers are known as ‘fifth wheels”.

Fifth Wheel Trailers

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RV types trailers fifth wheels,

Fifth wheel trailers are the largest type of travel trailer. The hitch attaching it to the truck, sits higher and attaches directly to a harness mounted in the bed of the towing truck. Because of this, the trailer can be larger, with the largest fifth wheel trailers exceeding 41 1/2′ in length.  They can have multiple stories, tall ceilings, and even have multi-use garages in the rear to store and transport motorcycles, dune buggies or other small excursion carts.  

Fifth-wheel RV’s are becoming more popular. Currently, travel trailers represent the largest majority of trailer ownership (20% nationwide), but more fifth-wheelers are now being shipped (92,000 fifth-wheelers versus 62,000 for motorhomes), and will soon represent the largest type of motorhome owned (source: statista.com Camping & RV Industry – Statistics and Facts).

Trailer Pros and Cons: 

Travel trailers are popular for many reasons

PROS: 

  • Low entry for ownership – As noted earlier, since the truck pulls the trailer, you don’t have to pay for an engine or drivetrain for the trailer. Because of this, there is less maintenance, and insurance costs are less. 
  • Ability to use the tow vehicle – for excursions after setup at camp.  Once you arrive at your campsite, you unhitch the trailer from the truck. Now you have a motor vehicle for local touring and excursions.  It’s useful for trips into town for shopping, or groceries.  You leave the trailer parked, and now have the freedom to roam about in the tow vehicle. 

- RV types trailers fifth wheelers

  • Use as a permanent residence – Many trailer owners can park their rig on their private property and convert it into a full-time residence. While this also accomplished with a motorhome, it’s much easier to convert a trailer into a full-time abode.
  • Numerous Size Options – They are also popular because there are many, many varieties and sizes.  You can find a trailer that connects to your sedan, or small pickup.  You can find trailers that connect to large trucks and even /tractor-trailers.
  • Storage: Trailers also have more storage space in general, compared to motorhomes.  Since many components of a motorhome run the engine and drivetrain, there isn’t a whole lot of space for storage bays.  In a trailer, there is none of that. There is plenty of storage capacity available.
* RV types trailers fifth wheelers
CONS:

For every reason above, there can be an inverse or opposite reason that can make it a negative.  Here are some of the reason RVer’s choose not to have a trailer: 

  • Towing: Some RVer’s just don’t want to, or just don’t like towing a vehicle behind them.  You must tow properly and safely. Many factors including weight distribution, proper hitching, braking, speed and vehicle ratings and sizes come into play to safely tow.  If you are not comfortable towing, or haven’t set up your rig properly, you shouldn’t be towing a vehicle.
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  • Separation from the trailer while driving – Here is one of the main reasons people prefer motorhomes to trailers.  When you are driving your truck and towing your trailer, you cannot access or use any of the trailer’s features. All passengers must be in the main truck.  If you want something from the trailer (food from the refrigerator or to use the bathroom), you must pull over and stop.  In a motorhome, you don’t even have to exit your vehicle. Everything is accessible and right behind you.
  •  Hitch Outfitting – To properly tow a trailer, you must outfit your truck and trailer with things like a hitch ball, U-bolts, safety chains, hitch bar, sway controllers, trailer wheel stabilizers. Safety options also include brake controllers.  These items add to the cost of ownership and maintenance.  There are:
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    • Double costs and maintenance – Even though the entry cost of a trailer is considerably less than a motorhome, there are costs that you should be aware of.
    •  Tires – A motorhome has a maximum of six tires, as many have dually (two tires on each side, for support) in the back.  Combine your trailer’s two or three axles with the trucks two, and you now maintain eight to ten tires.  Add to that the fact that tires break down and crack when sitting idle in the winter months, you will likely be changing these out more often than on a regular motorhome.
    • Registration, license, insurance – doubles. While the trailer insurance may be less than a motorhome insurance policy, a truck/trailer owner has a second policy on his truck and registration.

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  • Truck selection and maintenance – As we said earlier, you don’t get a motor with your trailer, so you need a truck. Not just any truck.  A standard package Chevy Colorado or Ford F-150 will barely be enough to tow all but the most basic trailers.  A full sized fifth wheel or larger travel trailer require trucks that have beefy and upgraded suspension packages rated for towing large trailers.  These models can set you back $60,000 on some of the more robust trucks. The truck will need additional items like airbags, harness yokes, and rear-view cameras that add to the cost.  
  • Security – With the freedom of being able to disconnect your trailer from your truck and take off on adventures, you are now leaving your trailer unattended for the day or for multiple days.  All your possessions inside are vulnerable to break-ins.
Our Conclusion

There are many, many pluses and a few minuses to owning a travel trailer or fifth-wheel trailer for your RV. What works for some, will not work for others.  For us, we decided against the popular truck-towing-a-trailer option.  We will cover it more in depth in our buying decision page, but ultimately our goal is to travel nimbly and as minimally as comfortable for us. 

 

* RV types trailers fifth wheelers

In the end we don’t want to always be towing a second vehicle.  Primarily, we just want to get up and go and having to always deal with a trailer takes away that ability.  Secondly, we really like the idea of always having access to the house side.  We can just pull over in a parking lot or side street and hop in the back to use the bathroom, make something in the kitchen, or even lay down for an afternoon nap if needed. For example, during a windy rain squall, we pull over to wait it out.  That’s it.  We never have to step out of the RV.  Thirdly, if we were in the house side of the RV, and suddenly felt unsafe, and decided to leave an area. In a motorhome, we can just hop into the cab area and drive off.  If this were a trailer, we’d have to exit the trailer and move to the truck.

Up Next:  Motorhome Overview:  The different classes.

Now that we’ve covered all things trailer, we’ll look at motorhomes next. Everything from small van conversions up to monster diesel pushers.  And we’ll discuss what we ultimately decided on for our motorhome.