A Fifth wheel offers the largest comfort and living space of all the Recreational Vehicles. This rather large vehicle is typically American, and it is seldom encountered in Europe. Circus artists use them for traveling, and Princess Caroline of Monaco has one. It consists of two parts : the trailer and the tow truck.
The trailer's connection to the truck is a large round pulling hitch, that allows turning in every direction. The name Fifth Wheel stems from this special hitch, also called the truck's fifth wheel. Fifth wheels were derived from Horse Trailers. The idea was to build a comfortable and large living space, and use the vehicle for recreational purposes only.
The right choice of manufacturer and model is paramount. About 90 % of the fifth wheels are only meant for summer vacations, hence the term snowbirds, who head to the warm south for the winter ! Very few manufacturers make fulltime models, with heavier parts, a better insulation and a better finishing. Obviously, these are also more expensive...
The quality of the chassis is important, and the suspension has to be sufficiently heavy to carry the total weight of the equipped and loaded unit. One to three axles are available, and more axles will mean a better spread of the weight and a far greater stability, but alas, also a higher price... Electric drum brakes come standard on a fifth wheel, and it is advisable to choose larger brake shoes than the standard edition. Better still are hydraulic disc brakes, for which a hydro-over-electric installation is necessary.
On the chassis, a steel, wood or aluminum skeleton structure carries the body, executed in layered plastic or aluminum. The roof either receives a one piece rubber membrane, or is made in aluminum. There are many options for insulation, double window panes, floor plans and cabinetry, and it is certainly worthwhile to choose a good quality of woodwork and finishing.
The choice between the makes and models is vast, and thus some homework is indispensable. It is usually possible to visit the manufacturing plants. The interior decoration of the standard models is sometimes a bit poor to European norms, unless a more expensive price category is chosen.
It is however possible to add a wide range of improvements such as wallpapering, crown moldings, decoration motifs, decoration of the vanities, strip mirrors, stained glass, etc. For greater comfort, a second air conditioning, a satellite dish, a surround stereo installation, a DVD and an additional small ceramic heater for cold evenings can be added.
Our Fifth Wheel was a 36 foot Customized Travel Supreme with three slideouts. As we were going to spend many years in this RV, we wanted to make sure that our new mobile home was as comfortable as possible. We did a lot of research about several makes, models, quality and finishing options, and worked our way through stacks of documentation. Then we visited several manufacturers and chose Travel Supreme, but added an impressive number of options from the very start.
10 Gallon Water Heater
Fantastic Fan with Rain Sensor
Exterior Security Lights
Phone & computer-outlets
Hardwood Oak Cabinets
Sewage Tank Rinse
Sears Washer & Dryer
Three NEV-R-Lube Axles
Rear Bay Window
40 K BTU Heating
15.000 BTU ducted Air conditioning
Gas / Electric DSI for refrigerator
Lazy Boy leather Recliner Chair
Oak Ceiling Fan
Vinyl Plank Floor Kitchen and Foyer
Tinted Thermopane Windows
27" TV in Living
Side Awning A&E 9000
50 Amp Service
16" Spare Tire
12V Front Power Jacks
Gel-Coat Fiberglass Walls
Hi-Lo Oak Table
20K Reese Fifth Wheel Hitch
After the delivery we realized that there still was room for improvement, to make our home more convenient and comfortable. So we actually took apart most of the interior and redecorated everything ! The exterior was improved with a full body paint of our own design. For added security we added disc brakes to the three axles, and finally we upgraded the electronic equipment.
Full Body Paint with personal theme
Second 15.000 BTU airco with Heat Strip
Hydro-electric disc brakes
13 inch bedroom TV
24 inch Range Hood
Wood moldings around the slide-outs
Decorative ornaments on the slide-outs
Boards in Entertainment and desk
Doors in the office desk
Plinths in living, toilet, lavabo
Strip mirrors in entrance and kitchen
Stained Glass in Entertainment and kitchen
Decorative wallpaper in the entire RV
Night stand lights in kitchen and bedroom
Wooden floor in storage area
Large digital Wall clock with thermometer
Winegard Automatic Satellite Dish
Bose Surround System
Leather frame around TV
Wood Crown moldings
Contrast decoration on windows
Door in the Entertainment Center
Door in the bedroom closet
Glass tablet over the lavabo
Strip mirrors in living and bathroom
Stained Glass in bedroom and entrance
Double towel rack in bathroom
Flower theme on glass in bedroom
Additional ventilation in Entertainment
The end result was rather remarkable (if I say so myself...), and in the whole of north America, our fifth wheel was one of a kind ! It was a non-smoking unit, and we never kept any pets in the RV. It was 36 feet long (ca. 11 m) and weighed around 18.000 lbs. Its width varied between 8 ft (2,40 m with slides in) and 10,50 ft (3,90 m with slides out), and the height was ca. 11 feet (3,20 m). When not in use, the unit was stored in an RV storage area, under a canopy.
Modern 5th wheels are continuously getting larger and heavier to provide the customers with more comfort. Which means that the tow trucks need to be more powerful to pull this greater weight and to brake it safely. In a flat landscape this usually presents no problem, but what happens in hills or mountains ? Climbing a mountain is one thing, but going down on long and steep slopes requires even more safety...
The top models of Ford, GM and Dodge get more powerful engines all the time, but this upper segment doesn't sell too well because of its price bracket. Customers buy less expensive models, and use them to tow their RV's. The result is an imbalance between the weight of large fifth wheels and the towing abilities of pickup trucks.
There are some hybrids such as the Ford F-550, the F-650 Crewzer and the GMC 4500, but these resemble and drive like a full-size truck, hard and stiff. Their official towing rate is around 10 tons (truck included) and they cost about as much as a full-size truck. Finally there are the full-size commercial trucks, able to move up to 40 tons. However, these were designed to carry weight, instead of pulling it. Ever try a ride in a heavy but empty truck ?...
Another consideration is that the owners of this truck also want to use it for shopping and sightseeing. Therefore the ride should be comfortable and convenient, even for short city trips. It is recommended to consider all the options before ordering the vehicle, and foresee all the necessary accessories. Since the vehicle will also be used for cruising, you should plan accordingly for the comfort you want. This may include air conditioning, automatic gear shift, sound system and extra room. Nothing is more annoying than coming to the conclusion (afterwards...) that it would have been better to include this or that option...
The truck can be further enhanced with running boards, an additional gas tank with interior display, an exhaust brake (truly indispensable), a bed liner and a bed cover, and large electrically extendable rearview mirrors for better towing visibility.
We chose the powerful yet comfortable Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD, with crew cab and four full-size doors, powered by the mighty Duramax 6,6 Liter 300 HP diesel engine. With an electronic chip the power can safely be boosted to 400 HP, while at the same time the mileage can be improved.
For additional safety and greater stability we chose the long bed (2,40 m) and dual rear wheels. The transmission was an automatic five speed Allison World model 1000, with a special Tow/Haul mode. Since this vehicle was going to be our main method of transport for many years, we didn't skimp on additional equipment and customization.
- Air conditioning
- Radio, CD-player
- Trailer equipment with electric wiring
- Self dimming rearview mirror
- Mist lamps
- Convertible rear seats
- Vinyl Tow tarp on bed
- Decorative steps
- front Insect Protection screen
- Add'l 170 Liter Fuel Tank with tool chest
- Two lighted bumper guides
- Global Positioning System (GPS)
- 6-way electric bucket seats
- Self-locking rear differential
- Tow brackets in the front
- Tinted Glass
- Central Locks with remote
- Electric extendable towing mirrors
- Rhino rubber bed liner
- Molded Running Boards
- Electronic Exhaust Brake
- 100 HP Electronic Chipset
- Full Body Paint with theme
- Tire Pressure Monitoring System
Our truck was ca. 23 ft long (7.00 m) and weighed about 7.500 lbs (3.500 kg). It was ca. 96" wide (2.50 m) and ca. 7 ft. high (2.10 m). The truck was always scrupulously maintained in Chevrolet garages, and when not in use it was stored in a closed garage.