Are you considering buying a new camper or perhaps upgrading the old retro teardrop?
Many folks upgrade to a larger abode on wheels, especially when camping becomes a full-time hobby.
But when you’re looking at larger trailers, some people will recommend that you buy a motorhome instead.
More specifically, the Class A motorhome.
These are very similar to fifth wheel trailers in terms of luxury and more living space.
Which is better?
That’s why I put together some information detailing important points of comparison between fifth wheel trailers and Class A motorhomes.
And their pros and cons. This should help you decide which one is right for you.
#1 Living Space
Living space is one of the most important factors.
It is, after all, why you’re going for a large, fifth wheel trailer or a Class A.
When entering a fifth wheel or RV you usually encounter the main living area first.
This is ultimately where you and your fellow travelers will be spending a significant amount of time.
So which is better in terms of living space? Let’s look at the differences.
Class A Motorhome
A Class A motorhome generally gives you ample living space.
The typical length of these motorhomes runs between 36 feet and 40 feet, with a width of around 8 feet.
Class A motorhomes will also give you three or four slide-outs, which increase the width of the living area significantly.
This provides a much more open floor plan.
The extra space not only gives you more room to breathe, but it also allows for larger pieces of furniture, such as a dinette, couches, or recliners.
This is perfect if you’re traveling with more people.
Additionally, in a large motorhome, the front windshield works like a giant picture window for when you’re parked.
If you’re camping in scenic surroundings, this large glass will give you the perfect view.
But there’s a reason not every camper enthusiast chooses a Class A motorhome.
The living space is large when you’re parked and the slides are out. But when those slide-outs are collapsed, the area can be tiny.
And we all know that one of the advantages of having a motorhome is that you can quickly jump in the back.
Here you can fix a quick snack or run to the bathroom. But with a tiny space, you’d have to squeeze your way through.
Then there’s the large windshield. Even though this provides an unbelievable view, it does have an impact on the overall temperature indoors.
On warmer days, temperatures can reach unbearable heat levels, and vice versa on colder days.
You can, of course, always purchase a cover, but this will take away the view.
Fifth Wheel Trailer
If you ask any camper enthusiast, they will likely tell you that a fifth wheel trailer has a more spacious living area.
This is because the idea of a fifth wheel trailer is always to use it with the slides out, as opposed to in a motorhome.
Additionally, you’ll generally find that a fifth wheel has a larger square footage. To add to the spaciousness, they also usually come with a higher ceiling.
I don’t know how much of a negative this is, it really comes down to personal preferences, but if you’re looking to economize, the bedroom is usually above the hitch.
Otherwise, in larger trailers, like a 40-foot model with a full frontal profile, the main living area is usually at the front. This creates a feeling of home since there is more space.
Unless you’re happy to tow such a long trailer around though, it might not be an option.
#2 Sleeping Arrangements
After long days spent exploring, hiking, fishing, or simply just relaxing by the lake, a comfy bed is where we re-energize.
Not to mention the importance of being well rested before hitting the road again (source).
The advantages of both fifth wheel and Class A motorhomes is that both provide comfy bedrooms.
You don’t have to sleep on a mattress in the back of your truck.
But let’s see which takes the first spot.
Class A Motorhome
What’s great about a Class A motorhome is that you can fit more people inside.
Of course, if it’s only you and your partner, then you can easily opt for a floor plan with only one bedroom.
For those of you who enjoy traveling with the family, there are models that also feature bunk beds as well as Murphy beds.
The bunk beds typically sit in a slide-out, whereas the Murphy beds extend from the couch or dinette.
Sometimes the bunk beds are located right outside either the main bedroom or bathroom.
Again, this may not be such a huge disadvantage, especially if you’re all adults.
But it’s a bit different when traveling with children.
As a parent myself, I know it’s never fun having to tiptoe your way round at night when the kids are sleeping right by you.
In a fifth wheel trailer, the sleeping arrangements are usually the same as they are in a motorhome.
They generally feature a main bedroom, either above the hitch or at the back, and then options for either bunk or Murphy beds, if not both.
If you’re traveling with young ones, you’ll probably be pretty pleased with the layout of the beds across the trailer.
The main bedroom is usually in a dedicated area with the bunk beds at the opposite end. This gives you a little space from the children where you and your spouse can have some peace and quiet.
Inspect a fifth wheel trailer’s specs before you buy it, especially if you’re looking for extra sleeping options.
This is simply because many fifth wheel trailers come with residential-style furniture, meaning there are no hidden beds.
If you’re planning to travel with more people, make sure you include things such as a convertible dinette or Murphy beds in your search. Otherwise, you might end up having to pack an inflatable mattress.
#3 Bathroom Utilities
Another great advantage of traveling in a large motorhome or trailer is the fact that you always have an onboard bathroom. ( This helpful video covers a lot of info on onboard toilets. )
No more having to go into the woods to do answer the call of nature.
But, is one better than the other?
Class A Motorhome
A Class A motorhome generally has everything you need.
This includes a shower cabin, a functioning toilet, and a washbasin, with plenty of counter space.
Although, it can sometimes be a little tight on floor space, unless you’ve got big cash to spend.
Of course, some of the more luxurious models may have double his-and-hers sinks, and a shower large enough to host a BBQ.
The fifth wheel also has a fully functioning bathroom with all of the essentials.
In some models, the entrance to the bathroom is through the main bedroom, this can both be an advantage and disadvantage.
Usually, though, the bathroom is separate from the bedroom.
This is great if you’re traveling with other people and you don’t want them barging in while you’re sleeping.
I’m going to mention this as a negative because it does bother me.
I tend to stay away from floorplans where the bathroom is by the bedroom.
Yes, it’s great for an early morning emergency, but otherwise it just seems “inconvenient,” especially if more people are onboard.
There is another pro that I feel worth mentioning.
If you have a malfunction and the toilet begins to reek of—well—toilet, then you don’t have to smell it while on the road.
The malfunction stays in the trailer while you ride in the car. In this case, you can let it be until you reach your destination.
#4 Kitchen Space
Whenever we’re away from home, what do we tend to miss the most?
Yes, a home-cooked meal. Of course, it’s always nice to get away from the cooking duties, especially when you have a family.
But eventually, we all want some delicious homemade food (source).
Add to this the cost of eating out all the time, and it becomes even more favorable.
Class A Motorhome
Class A motorhomes are usually the largest RVs available.
Depending on the price, you should have an ample amount of space.
This of course also applies to the kitchen as well. Most models come fully equipped, meaning you have a microwave, stovetops, oven, and perhaps even a dishwasher.
They generally have plenty of countertop space, too. But if you’re looking for a kitchen featuring an island countertop, look elsewhere. Class A motorhomes usually have a peninsula instead, sometimes as a slide-out option. Unless, of course, you buy one of the largest, top-of-the-range models.
Still, even without the island, there’s enough space to cook and serve a large meal.
Additionally, it’s super convenient to be able to hop in the back and make a snack. You can even do this while somebody else is driving. Although make sure you are legally allowed to move around, while the vehicle is in motion, as it’s illegal in some states.
Although having access to the kitchen can be a blessing, space can also seem a bit tight.
Motorhomes are supposed to be usable even with the slide-outs in. When they are closed, the kitchens usually lose a lot of their advantages in terms of size.
Fifth wheel trailers also offer a lot in terms of kitchen amenities.
Nearly all manufacturers make sure to include a kitchen island, along with spacious countertops.
Above your head and to every side there is usually a decent amount of storage to keep plates and other accessories. Even a cupboard or two for snacks and essentials.
The fifth wheel kitchens will come with microwave, stovetop, oven, refrigerator with freezer, and whatever else you may need.
Even though the fifth wheel wins with the kitchen island, the available space is rather squashed when the slides are in.
Luckily, though, the only times that the slide-outs are closed is while you’re on the road and making a quick stop.
Other than this, I can’t think of many drawbacks to a fifth wheel’s kitchen. So dare I pronounce the fifth wheel winner of this round?
#5 Set Up
Now that we’ve gotten all of the comforts out of the way, it’s time to get technical.
No matter what you’ll be driving, once you arrive at your destination, you will have to set up your trailer or motorhome.
Setting up pretty much means securing your RV with leveling blocks and stabilizers.
Leveling is especially important if you’re parking on uneven surfaces.
Having things slide off the table is never fun. Or even worse, having your refrigerator malfunction. Yes, onboard fridges are temperamental when it comes to being level and must be as straight as possible at all times.
Class A Motorhome
Class A motorhomes are huge and heavy, so leveling can be difficult.
Although, some motorhomes have an in-built leveling system, which will automatically even the RV.
If not, then you have to do it the old-fashioned way, using blocks. Leveling will usually not be an issue unless you’re doing dry camping (parking outside of an official RV site).
You will need a block under each wheel where the ground is uneven. One of the setbacks of doing this with a large motorhome is that it might take a lot of driving to and fro in order to get the right angle.
A fifth wheel trailer is somewhat the same.
When arriving at your destination, before anything else, you must level the trailer. While this depends on personal experience, most people say they are easier to level than Class As.
However, with a trailer, you also need to stabilize.
Stabilizing is to keep the camper from rocking back and forth when you walk around inside.
Fortunately, stabilizing a trailer is usually no big deal and much easier than leveling.
This is generally because the stabilizing legs are already attached and will only need to be expanded.
Having enough storage is vital when traveling in an RV (source).
Your living space is already a lot smaller than it is at home. So when there’s not enough storage for the things that you bring, it becomes almost impossible to keep it tidy while on the road.
Class A Motorhome
One of the greatest benefits to a Class A motorhome is the huge amounts of storage.
Keep in mind that an average Class A motorhome is around 36 feet if not more. Inside there are a lot of compartments, cabinets and other storage areas.
Outside, you’ve usually got plenty of storage as well. In fact, some motorhomes have a whole basement area that you can fill, with anything from extra towels to bicycles.
There’s also plenty of storage in a fifth wheel trailer and it might even be as impressive as a Class A motorhome.
A fifth wheel will generally offer the standard cabinets in the kitchen, bedroom and living area. However, as I mentioned above, some fifth wheel trailers use residential-style furniture, meaning there are no storage compartments underneath.
In saying this, the fifth wheels make up for this by utilizing the extra space in the front as storage.
Expenses are one of the most important considerations when choosing between a fifth wheel and a Class A.
This is not just the initial outlay, but also the cost of gas and any ongoing maintenance needed.
One is a lot more expensive to run, and perhaps a bit too inconvenient at times.
Class A Motorhome
One of the greatest advantages of a Class A motorhome is also its biggest disadvantage—its size.
Listen to this. The average class A motorhome will travel about eight to ten miles per gallon.
The fuel tank is massive, holding anything between 100 and 150 gallons of gas.
This can be expensive to fill up. Let’s say gas will cost around $2.50 to $4.00 per gallon—a fill-up would cost around $250 to $600.
Class As can be tricky at the gas station, too. Firstly, you have to make sure you have enough clearance so you won’t ruin your roof, or that of the gas station. Secondly, it can be a hassle to get into the right position.
Another downside that’s worth mentioning is the cost of maintenance, such as oil changes.
The average oil change on a Class A motorhome can cost anywhere from $300 to $600. Compare that to the $30 average you’re paying for an oil change on a towing vehicle.
With a fifth wheel trailer, you’re really only paying for the gas the tow vehicle uses.
This is, for obvious reasons, less expensive.
Some campers also point out that it’s great to be able to fill up on gas before you head off. Simply go to the gas station before you hook up, whereas with the motorhome you’ll have to take everything with you.
#8 Towing vs. Toad
First of all, a toad is a smaller vehicle which you tow behind your motorhome.
Having a toad means you won’t have to pack up the whole RV to go exploring or to run into town for supplies.
But one of the reasons why many campers opt for the Class A motorhome in the first place is because they don’t have to tow a trailer around.
Class A Motorhome
While it’s great not having to tow a large trailer around, a Class A does have its disadvantages when it comes to freedom.
These motorhomes are large and can be a lot to drive around while exploring. So, to compensate, a Class A motorhome will give you an option of towing a smaller vehicle (toad) at the back.
Once you reach your RV parking site, you can then leave the motorhome and drive around using the toad.
This does with come with drawbacks. Towing a large trailer is difficult enough, but it’s not nearly as tricky as towing a toad behind a motorhome. It’s almost impossible to back up.
A fifth wheel trailer is long and heavy, and requires some practice with backing and turning before you get the hang of it.
But in saying this, it does save you the trouble of having to tow an extra car at the back for when you want to explore.
Safety includes considerations both on the road and when parked
You want to feel safe wherever you are.
While both are relatively safe, does one have an advantage?
Class A Motorhome
Let’s start with safety while on the road.
The idea with a motorhome is that you’re all seated in the driving part of the living room.
While motorhomes are required to have seats with safety belts, from time to time people get up and walk around. Although, this is often illegal, and dangerous.
One important thing to keep in mind when discussing safety is that the driving components of a motorhome are built by automotive manufacturers.
These parts abide by the same safety standards as normal cars would.
When it comes to the remainder of the Class A though, the same rules don’t apply.
For example, living areas and the like are produced by smaller companies and are generally not subjected to the same automotive safety standards.
If you were to crash, the home part of your motorhome would likely suffer great damage. Not to mention all the items inside would become projectile objects.
The advantage of towing a fifth wheel is that, if an accident occurs, all the passengers are secured in the towing vehicle. Here you’ve got airbags and proper seat belts to protect you.
As you’ve seen, fifth wheel trailers and Class A motorhomes both have their pros and cons.
Either one is undoubtedly great in many ways and will serve you well for years to come. At the end of the day, it’ll most likely come down to your own personal preference and the needs of your family.
One piece of advice I can give you is this: rent before buying. This way you can test a fifth wheel and a Class A without any long-term commitments.
Do you have other pros and cons you feel are worth mentioning?
Did we miss anything?
Please let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to share this article with your RV and camper friends!