Why is it Called a Fifth Wheel? History and Features of the RV

A fifth wheel attachment is an excellent way of getting the benefits of a large RV without the all-in-one disadvantages that come with the vehicle models. It looks like there are only four with the trailer. So why do people call it a fifth wheel?

In this article, we will explore the history of the fifth wheel hitch. You can also check out the RV finder if you decide that the product fits your needs. But first, let us go over what a fifth wheel hitch is and where it got the name.

What is a Fifth Wheel?

A fifth wheel is a hitch attachment that you can add on to the bed of the truck, tractor or similar vehicles. You connect cargo to the U-shaped hitch which then evenly distributes the weight over the truck or tractor. The device rests on hinges, which makes it much more flexible when driving around.

A kingpin secures the fifth wheel to the trailer, and it allows the front axles of the truck or tractor to move freely on their own. This method of hitching became safer because it distributes the entire weight of the cargo more evenly over the whole frame of the vehicle.

When it first became used, it was revolutionary to the transportation industry because it allowed trucks the ability to carry large amounts of cargo safely and quickly.

History of the Fifth Wheel Design

But why is it called a fifth wheel? The name actually comes from the company that first utilized the hitch in the early 1900s. The Martin’s Fifth Wheel Company named their device after the round shape of the hitch. Hence, the hitch itself is the “fifth wheel.”

Before the introduction of the new kingpin, the device itself was in the shape of a wheel. However, the first known usage of the hitch actually dates back to the 1850s. During this period the horse-drawn carriages began utilizing the fifth wheel design.

When trucks started becoming instrumental in long-distance transport, they suffered on unpaved roads. The bumpiness of the journey would damage the hinges of the vehicles. The introduction of wheel hitch allowed the trailer carrying cargo to rock back and forth on the straps.

This feature made models safer while traveling and allowed for quicker loading times. Today we see the same basic design on everything from semi-trucks to recreational vehicles.

Pros of a Fifth Wheel Hitch

When shopping for an RV, do you go for the fifth wheel trailer or the all-in-one motorhome? Both come with their pros and cons. In this section, we will go over some of the reasons why fifth wheels might seem more advantageous.

More Flexible Turning

The biggest pro associated with the fifth wheel is the maneuverability that comes with a free front axis. This feature that the fifth wheel hitch offer allows you to turn your car or truck while your trailer follows swiftly behind you.

This design makes transportation through cities and highways much less nerve-racking since you are not dealing with a massive, wide-turning vehicle.

In terms of backing up, neither the motorhome or trailer proves uniquely entertaining. Both bring their own sets of problems. A motorhome is massive and wide turning, while a trailer goes the opposite way you want it.

More Affordable than Motorhomes

The price of a fifth-wheel trailer will likely also attract a lot of consumers. Most fifth wheel trailers cost between thirty and fifty thousand dollars. Motorhomes, on the other hand, cost at least one hundred thousand dollars — and often much more.

As such, the fifth wheel represents a more affordable investment for the average shopper. Also, since they cost less, they depreciate at a much slower pace than the motorhomes.

Motorhomes go down in value as their engine components fail. As such, they lose a lot of money after the first few years of heavy use. If you want to buy a motorhome RV, then you should check out the vehicle history of the product using the VIN number.

Lower Insurance Costs

Another great feature that comes with fifth wheel RVs is lower insurance costs than motorhomes. This lower cost mainly deals with the fact that fifth wheel trailers cost less than motorhomes.

Fifth wheel RV’s also pose less of a threat for claims since they do not operate on their own and they do not feature advanced engine hardware.

However, just because less can go wrong does not mean you do not need insurance for you RV. If you need a good insurance company for RV trailers, then we recommend one that covers all types of recreational vehicles.

Cons of a Fifth Wheel Hitch

Fifth wheels are not perfect. There are also some essential cons you should consider before you decide to invest in the product. If you decide that your fifth wheel trailer is not for you, then there are some great places in southern California where you can sell your model.

Takes Longer for Getting Ready

Fifth-wheel trailers require a lot more time and effort in terms of organizing. In general, you need a spotter for hitching and backing up the container. While this con might not seem like a big deal, it does become difficult task doing it at every major stop.

For many models, you also need to worry about replacing stabilizers — though some models do not need them. Motorhomes, on the other hand, require almost no prep time. All you need to do is get in the driver’s seat and turn on the engine.

Learning Curve When Driving

A fifth wheel requires a lot more practice before you can handle it on a public road. This con mainly deals with the way backing up and turning feel when you carry a massive trailer behind you. Backing up feels completely foreign since you must set your vehicle to the right to get the trailer to go left.

Turning your vehicle also feels looser and a little more dangerous. As such, it requires a lot of practice. You will need to back up in a lot of empty parking lots before you get used to it.

Hitching the trailer will also take some practice. Motorhomes, on the other hand, are pretty intuitive in terms of highway driving. They do require some training when dealing with broad turns, but besides that, there is less of a learning curve.

Less Security than Motorhomes

Fifth wheel trailer also comes a lot less secure than motorhomes. If you camp out and you find an intruder or bear in your space, then you can turn on your motorhome’s engine and drive away.


Unfortunately, with a fifth wheel, you would need to get out of the camper and enter the vehicle — assuming it is even attached. This process makes you vulnerable to any attacks. Also, it is hard for robbers stealing motorhome since they require a knowledge of hot wiring a vehicle.

Unless you place a good lock on your fifth-wheel trailer, then all the robbers need to do is hitch it up to their vehicle.

Where Can I Purchase a Fifth Wheel Trailer?

There are plenty of places out there that specialize in dealing RVs. First, you can use sites that trade the vehicles between buyers and sellers.

If you only want the RV for a small trip, then you can rent a vehicle for a certain amount of time. If you think you want a trailer that attaches to a fifth wheel hitch, then you should check out the travel trailer section. Here you can use some search algorithms or browse the most popular models.

You can also narrow your search by focusing on the specific RV manufacturers that you prefer. Once you figure out which type of travel trailer you want, then you can check out the local offers and deals in your area.

All you need to do is visit the RVs for sale section to find your offers near you. We hope this article helped teach you a bit about the fifth wheel’s name and function. Good luck on the road!