Fifth Wheelers

Feel right at home when you travel in a Fifth Wheeler


Fifth Wheelers are the largest of the towable caravans, gaining their name from the truck-style fifth-wheel hitch they use. The upgraded hitch overcomes the limitations of tow-ball weight, offering the ability to tow bigger and heavier vehicles with more luxury and year round travel.

The term Fifth Wheeler is derived due to the motorhome connecting to the towing vehicle via a turn ball or ‘wheel’ allowing articulated motion. Some newer Fifth Wheelers hitch to the tray of their towing vehicle, not its tow ball, lessening travel length without reducing internal space.

Fifth Wheelers have all the features of a standard caravan but are designed to be towed by utilities or trucks. The towing connection is mounted on the tray of the tow vehicle, as close as possible to the rear axle.

The fifth wheeler’s suspension carries the majority of its gross weight, with the balance distributed forward of the rear suspension over the differential rather than the extreme rear of the tow vehicle. Those towing a fifth wheeler should ensure that they do not exceed the axle capacity of the tow vehicle when the rig is connected.

Fifth Wheelers can vary in size with some almost as large as semi trailers. The additional size allows for more creature comforts and accommodation for larger family groups. They generally include facilities such as toilets, showers, air conditioners, fully equipped kitchens and even washing machines.


Considerations

Things to consider

  • Fifth Wheelers very easy to tow due to the gooseneck hitch providing a better centre of gravity
  • Spacious and roomy inside

Towing a Fifth Wheeler

The towing capacity of a vehicle (truck or ute) towing a Fifth Wheeler (or gooseneck caravan) is calculated in a different way to that of a normal car or ute.
With a Fifth Wheeler the towball / hitch is located in the tray of the vehicle. Australian Design Rules dictate the type of hitch that must be used, though not the specific location of that hitch.
  • If the hitch is behind the rear axle, the front of the towing vehicle lifts under towing conditions.
  • If the hitch is over the rear axle, front axle loading stays generally the same;
  • If the hitch is in front of the rear axle, front axle loading is increased. A slight front-end lifting effect may occur when speed increases, though this is only noticeable when accelerating hard from a standstill.

With a hitch in this position the tow vehicle can carry much more weight than it could if a caravan was connected to a tow ball as the fifth wheeler imposes (a great deal more of the mass) some 20% of the mass directly over or slightly in front of the towing vehicle’s rear axle. By so doing, pitching and snaking are all but eliminated.

When calculating the towing capacity of a vehicle for a fifth wheeler the manufacturer’s weight ratings of the tow vehicle must not be exceeded by the trailer, specifically the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) and the Gross Combined Mass (GCM). For example if the GCM is 4.5 tonnes and the tow vehicle weighs 2.0 tonnes, then the maximum weight of the fully laden trailer must not exceed 2.5 tonnes.

Whilst it is normal practice to have about 20% of the fifth wheeler’s weight carried by the towing vehicle, that weight must not exceed the legal carrying capacity of the tow vehicle, particularly not exceeding the carrying capacity of the tow-vehicles tyres nor the individual axle loading.


Preparing To Buy

Before you set off to the showrooms or dealers, take the time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • List everything you want in the fifth wheeler then classify them into ‘You Wish’ & “You Need’
  • Where do you plan to go in your fifth wheeler in the next two years?
  • Do you have a vehicle with the capacity to tow a fifth wheeler?
  • How much space do you need inside?
    (Consider how many people will sleep in it and storage requirements)

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