5th Wheel Or Bumper Pull?

What is a fifth wheel? Isn’t that trucking lingo? What is a bumper pull? And what on earth do these have to do with RVs and recreation? Don’t fret, dear reader. We are on hand, as always, to give you an engaging read that will explain the essential factors in determining the differences between a fifth wheel and a bumper pull. So let’s get started.

What Is An RV?

There are various classes of RVs. Some are self-propelled, and others are towed behind a vehicle. These are typically called campers, but the terminology can be a bit spotty at times.

What Is a Fifth Wheel Trailer?

  • It is a trailer that uses a fifth-wheel style connection to connect to the towing vehicle.
  • The towing vehicle needs an open area over the rear axle to accommodate a fifth wheel.
  • The towing vehicle is typically limited — typically a pickup truck or a semi-tractor.
  • The towing vehicle’s rear axle or axles bear some of the trailer’s weight.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers are typically larger and more luxurious.
  • They can offer split-level accommodations.
  • Easier to maneuver as the pivot point is above the rear axle of the towing vehicle.
  • It is more expensive to build, purchase, and maintain.

A fifth wheel takes its name from a connection between a trailer and its towing source. Typically, a fifth wheel connects a semi-tractor to its trailer. However, it is not a mere tow hitch. Look at any fifth wheel-connected vehicle, and you will notice that the mounting point is much more “heavy-duty” and typically above the rear axle or axles. 

The fifth wheel connection is also a pivot point that allows easier turning and maneuvering. This layout allows for a portion of the trailer’s weight to be supported by the towing vehicle’s rear axle(s). Fifth wheel connections also include electrical and brake connections to the trailer’s relevant systems.

You will notice that fifth-wheels take advantage of the portion of the trailer that juts out over the pickup truck’s bed, offering extra accommodations. The most common amenity to place at this point is the main bedroom, as it provides a sense of privacy from the rest of the trailer due its elevation. However, this is not always the case. In certain applications, an entertainment area or even a sun deck can occupy this area. This allows a fifth-wheel trailer of a particular length to offer more space than a travel trailer, or bumper pull of the same dimensions. Fifth-wheel trailers also tend to be more luxurious. The trade-off is that you have to make do with a split-level interior layout. However, on the bright side, you can go taller and even have a two-story trailer! Many operators also state that fifth-wheel trailers are easier to maneuver than bumper pulls due to the dynamic of the pivot point being in the rear of the towing vehicle rather than directly behind it. However, your choice of available towing vehicle is severely limited — it ideally must be a pickup truck or a semi-tractor. A typical car or SUV cannot be adapted to tow a fifth-wheel trailer.

In terms of cost, fifth-wheel trailers are significantly more expensive to build, purchase, and maintain. If you don’t have a suitable vehicle for towing, such as a pickup truck, you may have to buy one of those, as well.

What Is A Bumper Pull (or Travel Trailer)?

  • A bumper pull is a travel trailer pulled by a tow hitch on the towing vehicle.
  • Travel trailers are smaller than fifth-wheel trailers, with less space and luxury.
  • Any suitable and capable vehicle fitted with a tow hitch can effectively tow them.
  • The towing vehicle’s rear axle does not bear any weight of the trailer.
  • It is slightly less easy to maneuver due to the pivot point between the two vehicles.
  • It is cheaper to purchase and maintain.

A bumper pull, or travel trailer, is an unpowered RV hitched to the towing vehicle via a towing hitch extending behind the rear bumper. Contrary to the name, the towing hitch is NOT attached to the rear bumper itself, but rather, the vehicle’s frame. If you were to attach a hitch to the rear bumper, you would tear the bumper off within the first few inches of travel! 

Travel trailers tend to be shorter, lighter, and lower than a fifth-wheel. They offer less interior space but a consistent floor level from end to end. They are slightly less easy to maneuver as the pivot point sits behind the rear bumper of the towing vehicle. However, they do not place extra weight on the rear wheels of the towing vehicle, as the trailer’s wheels bear their total weight. They are more versatile, as the towing vehicle can be the family car or SUV, with only the addition of a towing hitch and electrical connection for the trailer’s rear lights. However, you should ensure that your vehicle’s towing rating is higher than the total weight of the travel trailer. This information can typically be found in the owner’s manual.

In terms of cost, travel trailers are cheaper to purchase and maintain. 

Summary

Fifth-wheel trailers and travel trailers (bumper pulls) offer a host of advantages and disadvantages. Both are manufactured in different sizes, levels of space and luxury, and price points. We hope this article has been of use in presenting each type’s positive and negative factors-wheels and bumper pulls, and will help you make the best decision.