Trying to decide between a Class A motorhome and a fifth wheel travel trailer? Unsure which is better for your style of travel? Shopping for an RV can feel daunting, especially with all the different choices out there.
I remember sitting in front of my laptop for hours; searching the differences between motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, and vans alike.
It took us months to finally decide which type of RV was best for us, and ultimately, it was based on our top priorities as well as the resources we already had.
As I’m sure you’ve already found, any Google search will likely generate countless lists of pros and cons stating which which RV is the best for your lifestyle.
Because of this, I encourage you to make a list of your own specific wants and needs.
For example, if you’re not used to driving big rigs: What is easier to drive? Will you be full-time RVing or heading out on weekends? Will you seek out secluded boondocking sites or stick to pavement and RV parks?
These are important factors to consider, as every rig comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you!
Here, I discuss our journey from a Class A to a fifth wheel: what we loved about each of them and why we ultimately decided that a fifth wheel was better for us.
Even if you choose differently, I hope that sharing our experience will help make your decision a little easier!
Now, let’s talk Class As.
What’s to love about a Class A?
Even as I begin to write this blog, I reminisce fondly of our Class A. After all, we lived in it for an entire year and traveled America from coast to coast.
It was our home on wheels and there are many things I miss about it. That being said, I have to compartmentalize my nostalgia and remember that we DID choose to sell it for a reason.
In fact, about halfway through our trip, we knew: it was just not the right rig for us.
We had traveled from our home in Maine to Lake Havasu City, AZ when we started dreaming up our next rig.
My husband, Nate, and I brainstormed a pros and cons list as we sat in our motorhome, parked on a patch of dry, rocky BLM land.
Even though I was so far away from where I grew up, I felt more at home than I ever had.
Surrounded by other full-timers, we were all vibrating on the same wavelength; living peacefully among one another with only a 14-day rule.
So, as silly as it sounds, I feel a sense of guilt writing this blog.
Am I betraying the beast of a rig that brought us through 25 states with little fault? Our first big purchase: a purchase we were ill-equipped to have made.
Truthfully, we had no idea what we were doing.
Even though Nate grew up fixing vehicles, neither of us had experience with RVs before (we didn’t even know how to determine the wear and tear of the tires. Oops).
She was a beautiful mistake, indeed.
Now, before I share with you why we ultimately decided to switch to a fifth wheel, let me tell you what I loved about that beautiful mistake of ours:
1. That big-ass windshield.
There is just nothing like it. The panoramic view that a Class A provides is almost a reason in itself to get one.
Whether you’re driving down the road and taking in the ever-changing landscape, or parked with a view of the ocean: the massive window gives an illusion of being immersed in nature (not to mention the light that it lets in!).
2. The security of being able to GTFO.
During our 25 state rendezvous, we definitely found ourselves in some sketchy situations.
I always felt at ease knowing that if we needed to, one of us could hop in the driver’s seat and leave.
It made the decision to stay at Walmart parking lots a little easier, as we were truly one self-contained vessel.
I will always love this aspect of motorhomes, skoolies, and vans alike; you can high-tail it in a moment’s notice.
3. The storage.
With the amount of storage our Class A had, we were able to bring just about EVERYTHING we wanted on the road. Inflatable kayak? Yep.
ALL of the tools my husband owned? You got it. Our non-folding bicycles? Yes-sir. Oh, and did I mention we also ran an online store and kept all of our inventory in our bedroom?
This amazing aspect of our Class A was sorely missed when we decided to downsize, and while larger fifth wheels have tremendous amounts of storage as well, ours just didn’t compare to our previous rig.
4. Using the facilities while driving.
We all know this is a struggle on long drives: limiting liquids, planning convenient stops, and factoring in these stops to your arrival time.
And if you have a bladder like mine, forget about it. Luckily for me, my husband drove 95% of the time (yes, I did have a goal of conquering my fear of driving everything we owned down unfamiliar roads at 50+ miles per hour, but it never quite happened, ok?).
So, when we were on a straightaway, I had the option of cautiously walking down to our gently shifting RV to my own private bathroom.
Unfortunately, Nate was not so lucky, but having the option for one of us definitely cut down on pit stops.
5. The built-in generator.
I have to admit, we are boondocking fanatics. Even if it means being a little uncomfortable, I love the chase.
There is nothing quite like driving down an uneven dirt road, unsure of what you’ll find, running on blind faith and a year-old review from another camper.
And then: that rush of finding the perfect, free campsite. Euphoria at its finest.
But I digress. Even if you’re equipped with solar, it is comforting to have a generator to back you up, and in motorhomes, it is almost always built-in and perfect for your particular rig.
Unfortunately, travel trailers and fifth wheels do not have this feature. There is no doubt, we loved the option to press a button inside our rig and start our generator when needed.
6. Our cats didn’t go insane.
If you travel with pets, you know this is a major factor. We traveled with three cats that react horribly to car rides.
In fact, when we first began our full-timing journey, our number one concern was our cats’ happiness while traveling from place to place.
Amazingly, they adapted to the motorhome wonderfully. I suspect it was because they had enough space to go find their own safe hiding spot in the RV; it was like they were in a house going down the road.
This was also a concern when deciding to buy a fifth wheel, but ultimately we knew they would adapt.
After all these reasons to love a Class A, you’re probably thinking: why the switch?! Well, you’re not alone.
We were asked by our friends and family countless times why we were selling our Class A. After all, we drove it 10,000 miles and it never failed us once.
We tried to explain our decision, but the truth is, our friends and family weren’t out there with us.
They couldn’t see the major obstacles that came with having a home the size of a bus (and the costs!).
What we needed was a comprehensive list to show them (this is where I get to the point, I promise).
12 Reasons Why We Switched From A Class A Motorhome To A 5th Wheel
Before I dive in, I want to reiterate that these opinions are specific to our experience and situation.
For others, the benefits of a motorhome may greatly outweigh the benefits of a fifth wheel.
You might also completely disagree with what I discuss below! If so, feel free to let us know in the comments below. We love a good RV debate.
Here are the reasons why we choose to switch to a class 5’th wheel camper instead of another class A motorhome.
1. So we wouldn’t be homeless if we broke down
The thought was always in the back of our minds: if we broke down, our home would be stuck on the side of the road.
Then towed to a repair shop. Then, who knows. We always felt slightly insecure knowing that our vehicle was also where we lived.
Fifth wheels and travel trailers seemed appealing because, in the event of a breakdown, our home could at least be towed to a campground.
This factor is especially important for full-timers, since just about everything we own is in our home on wheels.
If we had engine failure, we quite literally would have been homeless (at least temporarily!).
2. Less expensive upfront costs
If you’ve ever shopped for a motorhome before, you know they are one of the most expensive choices for traveling, especially when it comes to upfront costs.
We purchased our 2000 Winnebago Adventurer for $13,500 in 2017. I’m not going to lie, spending over $10k on a rig that was 17 years old hurt a little.
Meanwhile, we purchased our 2006 KV Sportsmen fifth wheel for $6000 (and it came equipped with solar). Which purchase do you think gave me the biggest anxiety attack?
I know what you’re thinking: what about the truck? And yes, you’re right. Trucks can be damn expensive.
Luckily, we were able to purchase our truck from a family member and Nate had access to a garage to do any repairs himself, so that price tag didn’t hurt as much as it could have.
Another reason we justified investing in a truck was the versatility; we knew that we could use our truck for so much more than traveling. For those reasons, a fifth wheel was much more appealing.
3. The interior layout
My favorite thing about fifth wheels over a Class A RV is the way they are laid out; even the small ones make excellent use of the space.
Our fiver is only 24’ long (I love that stubby little thing), but it actually feels pretty spacious.
I credit this to the high ceilings and the fact that you’re not sharing living space with the cab.
Our kitchen/living room area feels cozy yet roomy, while our bedroom and bathroom area feel separate and private (no easy feat for less than 200 square feet of living space!).
As for bigger fifth wheels? They are practically houses. Some layouts allow for a kitchen island, a substantial living room area, and even an office!
There is such versatility in potential layouts, allowing a perfect option for everyone.
Want something fun to do? Go tour fifth wheels at your local RV dealer. Even if you’re just in the dreaming stage, it will give you an idea of what is out there (not to mention you will have a blast).
4. Doing our own repairs and maintenance
Anyone who has ever worked on a Class A RV can probably agree: it’s a pain. In our case, our motorhome was gas-powered, meaning the engine was in the front with two awkward windows of accessibility (one outside, one inside).
For Nate, this presented a learning curve when conducting any diagnostics, or even just changing the oil.
I can’t remember how many times he told me he would feel much more confident working on a truck.
Oh, and speaking of changing the oil: if you cover as much ground as we did (about 1,600 miles a month), you must factor in frequent oil changes.
Of course, the frequency depends on what kind of rig you’re in: newer Class A’s and trucks can go around 7,500 miles between oil changes, while older engines need maintenance every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
Because our Class A was 17 years old, Nate changed the oil about every 2 months. And whether you are doing your own maintenance or not, I tip my hat to the ease of maintaining a truck.
5. We were sick of towing a car
I know, I know. Switching to a fifth wheel means having to tow something MUCH bigger. But think about this: when you tow a car, you can’t back up.
I can think of a handful of times we found ourselves stuck in an awkward situation, only to realize we would have to unhook the car to get out.
And yes, we did have the option to go without a toad, but being able to set up camp and then take off to explore nearby towns was absolutely essential.
In short, we were going to have an adventure vehicle, regardless; it seemed much more practical to have the ability to back up AND only have one vehicle to maintain.
6. Fitting into smaller sites
I hesitate to mention this advantage, as it is meaningless if you have a 40’ fifth wheel. But on the chance that some others can relate, I feel the need to share our experience.
We had a 35’ Class A (a pretty standard length, although it is possible to find Class As under 30’ long) and in addition, we had our tow car.
Unfortunately, with this length, we often found ourselves limited when deciding where to camp (especially in state and national parks).
Because fifth wheels make such a great use of living space, we knew we could go smaller and still be very comfortable.
Making the switch thus allowed us to fit into smaller spaces and ultimately expand our horizons.
7. Comfort and safety while driving
Some people love driving their Class A. Unfortunately, we are not those people.
There was something about sitting in that big cab behind a massive window that left me feeling… exposed.
There were less airbags surrounding us and no dog nose to blunt an impact (not to mention we felt a bit top-heavy).
As I touched upon earlier, I just never got comfortable driving the Class A because it was so different from what I was used to.
Driving a truck, on the other hand, was something I could do. Yes, getting used to towing would be another learning curve, but it felt much less daunting, and Nate was back in his comfort zone as well.
8. Less expensive maintenance costs
Maintenance costs. It was something I did not take into account enough when we bought our Class A.
In my mind I thought: “Well, Nate can do all the maintenance himself so we’ll only have to worry about the cost of parts”. Ha. Jokes on me! It turned out the tires alone were insanely expensive (especially if you want them to be of decent quality).
The average price of acceptable tires for a motorhome is around $300. Times that by six, and you are looking at almost $2000 for the tires alone.
As for our fifth wheel? I couldn’t believe my ears when I was told it took the same tires as our little Toyota Corolla. Only $75 per tire? I was in.
This is just one example out of many, and the amount you save is entirely dependent on the size and type of fifth wheel you have.
But in my experience, there was much less stress involved in keeping our fifth wheel on the road compared to our Class A.
9. Going off the beaten path
Ah, one of my favorite reasons why we sold our Class A for a fifth wheel. We love getting lost only to find ourselves in a pristine spot where we can set up camp and watch the sunset.
I will never forget the time we stubbornly pursued a boondocking spot we found on freecampsites.net.
We were in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and had spent way too many nights at Walmarts. It was time for some nature.
Well, long story short, we found ourselves driving down a rutted dirt road with no option to turn around.
The sun was setting and the road seemed to disintegrate under our tires. Sure enough, we found ourselves face to face with a washed-out road.
Our only other option was to hightail it in reverse for what seemed like miles.
I still thank the RV gods for this one: with some very careful directing on my part, Nate somehow drove our massive Class A over the tiny sliver of road that remained. Worst case scenario? Our entire home could have ended up on its side.
In conclusion, we decided that having a truck that was much less top-heavy (whilst towing a trailer secured to the bed of the truck) was a much safer option for the type of traveling we wanted to do. And thank god.
10. Insurance Costs
To put it short and sweet, insuring a fifth wheel costs significantly less than insuring a motorhome.
This is because motorhome insurance includes liability, which is usually around 50% of the total insurance package.
Therefore, paying for coverage for a fifth wheel of equal value can be as low as half the cost of motorhome insurance.
Not to mention, there is much more that can go wrong in a motorhome.
The fact that your home is also your vehicle produces many more moving parts; parts that can malfunction or fail altogether.
11. Gas mileage
Okay, I’m going to say it: we got better gas mileage in our fifth wheel than in our Class A.
I am totally aware that this is a controversial topic and whether or not you find the same results completely depends on your setup.
To our dismay, we found that we got between 3 and 6 MPGs in our gas-powered 2000 Winnebago Adventurer (including the tow car).
Yes, only 3 to 6 MPGs: 3 on inclines, 6 just about anywhere else. This was just not acceptable to us; we had to find another way.
At least if we towed our home, we could try and come up with some combination of power and weight that stacked the odds in our favor.
Now, let’s talk about our truck. We have a 2004 Dodge Hemi 2500 that is also gas-powered.
It typically gets between 14 and 16 MPG, solo. Add a 24’ fifth wheel on the back? We calculated about 9 to 7 MPGs. Better? Yes. A lot better? No. But at least it was something.
As I touched on previously, factors such as having a gas- or diesel-powered truck coupled with the weight of your fifth wheel can completely flip the outcome.
And admittedly, newer diesel-powered motorhomes get better mileage than the gas-guzzling ones.
Hence why this topic is so controversial: everyone seems to get different results depending on their specific setup. In our case, the fifth wheel won.
12. The ability to go to any repair shop
We all seem to have our favorite shop to go to: one usually in our local area that we trust to diagnose any problems and bill us fairly.
Unfortunately, traveling out on the road we are at the mercy of chance. If we have mechanical issues, will the closest repair shop be one we can trust? Will it even be able to accommodate our rig?
These questions were at the forefront of our minds our entire trip. Sure, Nate packed as many tools as he could fit into our rig to avoid being in a predicament, but we always had that worry in the back of our minds.
Where would we end up if something really went wrong?
We were keenly aware that shops specializing in RV repair were few and far between.
Yes, we might get lucky; or we might have to be towed much farther than we would like just to find a place that could work on our Class A. It was for this reason that having a truck seemed attractive.
We could go just about anywhere if we needed repairs (not to mention, nearly all tow trucks could handle us!). It was just one more factor that made the switch a little easier.
Choosing a Class A Motorhome vs. Fifth Wheel RV
To recap, many determinants went into this decision that were personal to us. We had a very specific situation that was influenced by our past experiences.
For others, choosing a Class A might be the best decision for them and they’ll never look back! When making a decision, I encourage you to think about what your priorities are, what your budget is, and what sacrifices you are willing to make (because let’s face it, living on the road does require some sacrifices).
I also recommend not going “all in” on your first rig. Remember, it is your vessel that allows you to see the world: plain and simple.
Don’t blow your budget on frills and looks. After all, you want to have extra money to actually enjoy your travels! Besides, it is very hard to know what your perfect setup will be without experiencing it first.
Many full-timers and weekend warriors alike end up changing their rig once or even several times.
Now for the fun part – we want to hear what you prefer! What are your priorities when traveling and which set up best accommodates your style? Let us know in the comments below!