There are a few disadvantages associated with fifth wheel caravans but many of these issues are relatively balanced with the advantages. Probably the biggest case against the fifth wheeler is the fact that a more-or-less dedicated towing vehicle may be needed. Depending on the size of the fifth wheeler, the towing vehicle – if it be a pick-up truck, an F250 or a ute may have less space for occupants and storage than say a 4WD such as a Toyota Landcruiser. Another thing is that the hitch configuration is usually placed directly above the rear axle which leaves not much room for carrying any large items in the tray. Typically, the tow vehicle will have to have the fifth wheel hitch installed on the tray back, which may be of concern to brand new vehicle owners. Although similar to a tow-ball hitch, this is usually a removable component. Another downside, especially for large luxurious fifth wheel caravans – is the price tag. This, along with the large vehicle that’s needed to tow it, may be a little on the high side.
Now, depending on the way you look at it, some of these issues may actually be quite minor and it’s a matter of personal opinion that the advantages of the fifth wheel caravan far outweigh the disadvantages.
The main advantage of a fifth wheel caravan is its towing ease and stability. In the case of a standard caravan resting on a common tow ball, there’s considerable distance between the tow ball and the rear axle of the tow vehicle. There’s close to 10% of the caravan weight resting at the extreme end of the tow vehicle and unfortunately this may cause a levering effect by placing more weight on the tow vehicle’s rear wheels, whilst taking weight off the front wheels. In some cases, devices such as stabilisers and weight distribution bars may be needed to provide more stability. A fifth wheel caravan however doesn’t need these devices because the coupling and weight distribution is already adequate. Around 20% of the weight of the caravan is placed directly above or slightly forward of the rear axle of the tow vehicle, while the rest of the weight is supported by the caravan itself. This setup leads to better traction, handling and stability. It also increases safety and eliminates pitching and swaying. Listed below are some further advantages for considering a fifth wheel caravan:
- Since the fifth wheel caravan is around 1.5 metres over the tow vehicle and has no drawbar, the total length is up to 3 metres shorter than a standard caravan. This results in a shorter overall towing length without sacrificing living space.
- Like all caravans and campers that can be towed, a fifth wheel caravan can also be detached at the camping destination, therefore freeing up the towing vehicle whenever you wish to explore around.
- The chance your unhitched fifth wheel caravan would be stolen is quite unlikely because the thief would need a vehicle and hitch setup similar to yours.
- A vehicle with a fifth wheeler in tow can turn a tighter circle than one towing a standard caravan. It is also easier during reversing because the fifth wheel caravan doesn’t move and jump from side-to-side.
- A fifth wheel caravan can be hitched and unhitched much easier. Since it uses a turntable hitch instead of a ball and socket type, it’s simply a matter of raising the fifth wheeler close to the correct height and then backing the tow vehicle under the pin.
- Because a fifth wheeler sits close behind the tow vehicle, less wind drag is generated leading to better efficiency on the road.
- There are smaller fifth wheel caravans available for smaller vehicles such as the Toyota Hilux, Holden Ute and the Nissan Navara.