Jun 172010

We had dinner with our friends Jim and Shar Lewis yesterday, and since they have been bitten by the RVing bug, most of our conversation was about our lifestyle, and specifically what kind of RV they should be looking at, a motorhome or a fifth wheel trailer.

This is a subject that is always good for a spirited debate among RVers. They have never built a “perfect” RV and never will. Each type of unit has its advantages and disadvantages.

While we prefer diesel pusher motorhomes, we have seen some great fifth wheels that we admired. But for us, a truck and trailer combination would not fit our needs or lifestyle. We carry a lot of stuff with us, we do a lot of overnight stops at WalMarts and truck stops, and for us, a motorhome is the best choice. However, as we told Jim and Shar, everybody is different, and when it comes to RVs, there is no “one size fits all.”

I have heard it said that while motorhomes typically give you more cargo space in the bays, fifth wheels give you more living space, because they don’t have a steering wheel and cockpit.

My friend, the late Gaylord  Maxwell, founder of Life on Wheels, once told me that if you are on the go a lot, stopping for a night or two before you move on, a motorhome was the best choice, because he felt it was easier to park, level, and hook up to campground utilities. But, he said, if you stay in one place for a couple of weeks or more at a time, the fiver made more sense.

However, I know many fifth wheel owners who would debate the fact that their rigs take longer to park and hookup. I have never been any good at backing up a trailer, but I have seen many RVers who can slip a fifth wheel into places I would never consider, and make it look like child’s play. As one fellow told me, “it’s a lot easier to get into places when your house bends in the middle.”

Of course, nothing is set in stone. We know former motorhome owners who have switched to fifth wheels, and fifth wheel owners who have gone over to the other side as their needs and lifestyle have changed. Our friends Mike and Pat McFall from PressurePro have spent the last couple of years in a beautiful Teton Reliance XT3 that they pull with a 2001 Volvo semi tractor. As much as they love their rig, they recently decided to sell it and get a motorhome because their traveling style has changed. If you’re looking for a top of the line, well maintained fiver, check out Mike’s For Sale webpage.

We have known a few RVers who seem to switch rigs every year or two, though I don’t know how they can afford it. We started fulltiming eleven years ago in a Pace Arrow Vision gas powered motorhome, and when it literally fell apart around us, we built a bus conversion that we lived and traveled in for over eight years, Last summer we bought a Winnebago Ultimate Advantage diesel pusher. Our current rig has every feature and option we could ever want, and I expect we’ll be in it for many years.  

Pace Arrow Vision

Bus at fairgrounds 2

Winnebago right front quarter

Okay, I’m curious. What about you? Which do you prefer, a motorhome or a fifth wheel, and why? And do you expect to change rigs anytime soon?

Thought For The Day – If we are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap, and easy .

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  30 Responses to “What Do You Have, And Why?”

  1. We have been planning, researching and dreaming about the rv lifestyle for almost 3 years. We have looked at liteally thousands of units from bus conv. to tt’s. Ultimately A DP is what we really wanted, but the cost factor is what prompted me to consider the gas class A. From there I went to every manufacturer website, posted threads on forums, asked a lot of questions and looked at all the models available in our price range. When you guys bought a Winnebago, I started researching the company and came to the conclusion that not only are they one of the most solid one financially, but actually build a really good motorhome!! What we ended up buying was a 2004 Adventurer 35u on a Workhorse chassis. We’ve had it a little over a month and put almost a thousand miles on it and so far I couldn’t be happier with our decision!! See you in Elkhart in August!!

  2. We started looking September 2006, purchased a 2004 diesel pusher October 2007 and went full time May 2008. I like our Chevrolet HHR toad for towing and gas milage.

  3. We started by renting a class c for vacation and got bitten by the bug. Our first “unit” was a pop-up, then we traded that in for a “pop-out” hybrid trailer. Because we had it at a campground we did a lot of dry camping during the winter so it wasn’t long after that that we purchased a hard sided trailer. My husband begged me to stop buying trailers and give him a chance to upgrade our vehicle so we could tow it. Me being me, I couldn’t stop, but this time we purchased a class c which we keep in our driveway. Now that he is retiring Jan. 1st, we are looking for a class a. We wish we could afford a deisel pusher, but I think a gas unit is more our price range. Which is ok with us, as long as the wheels are round and will take us where we want to go.

  4. We had a 5th wheel when our second child was born in 1981, we found that we needed more sleeping room. We tried to find a 5th wheel with bunks for our family, but “That wouldn’t ever sell.” according to the RV sales gerbils of that day. So we switched to a 23 foot class C with the wanted bunks that actually could sleep 6. Haven’t looked at 5th wheels since, as a possible RV for us. 5 motor homes later, our current Tiffin Phaeton has 4 slides, however it only sleeps two, darn.

  5. I travel alone, alot. With a motorhome, I can stop and not get out of the rig, if I happen to be in questionble area. I think a great safely note. Currently have a 98 Coachmen Class B with 110,000 and a 2000 38′ HR Diesel. Still us both. Have owned tents, pop up, home made shell on truck bed, Minnie Winnie Class C, 29′ Trailer trailer with two tilt outs (park model). 40′ fifth wheel Teton (never own a truck to pull this) just paid someone to move. check out my blog..good for a laugh

  6. We started our rv lifestyle by renting a Class C in 1987. Bought our first travel trailer soon after and a larger, new tt a few years later. Went with the travel trailers initially because less $$$ tied up. We moved to a gas, Class A in ’97 with no slides. then another gas Class A in 2001 with 1 slide before we purchased our current DP w/2 slides in 2004. We moved to the motorhomes because of ease to hook up and move on, plus convenience of all in one with utilities for DW while traveling. We’re hooked on the lifestyle and now recently retired so there is more time to travel.

  7. We have always had motor homes since we left tents. Last 20 years an Itasca class A, classic GMC 26′, Dodge TransVan class B, Converted a 35′ MCI bus and lived in it 3.5 months and wanted more room inside so we bought a raised roof 40′ Silver Eagle bus conversion. One of ot’s bays used to carry a golf cart so this is storage. Our idea is, with a motorhome, when you get there you are home. No need to go out in the wind or rain or dark parking lot to ‘get’ home. Some of the discussions we have had about the pro/con of either version have been… When you use a MH you HAVE to drag around something to drive after you get there. Them one might hear you have to pull your house around and your tow vehicle will not get any better mileage running around than getting there. All the talk is about what is the best way to do THE BEST THING, RVing. It is not chicken vs egg rather rv or stay home! For me and my house we will coach and tow a toy/fun car.
    I have seen Mike McFall’s rig whenthey were on the road from Hutchinson a year or so ago after theHDT rally. WHAT A BEATUTIFUL rig. Could almost make one switch sides. AS they have a bed in both places almose like having it all.

  8. We bought our 30′ pre-Monaco Safari C on eBay seven years ago. No slides. BIG cabover area that is a work area, multimedia room, library, and occasional Mother-in-law suite. We’ve modified the living area to fit our working full-time lifestyle.
    The floorplan is nearly perfect for us. A little more room would be nice when we are sitting still, but great when we are in travel mode. We tow a Honda CR-V with our bikes and kayaks.
    We have 47 of the lower 48 on our map and plan on putting ND on this summer returning from the FMCA convention in Redmond to the Gypsy Journal Rally. We did seminars in Minot a couple years ago, but didn’t take the rig. Don’t want the map police to cite us!

  9. Started fulltiming with a 24′ TT, moved up to a 30′ with slide. Illness forced us into a MH and after my husband passed away I continued. Felt very safe with MH. Left key in ignation and if I felt the least threatened would turn key & leave. Never had to. Moved into a 5th wheel for 7 months with my companion and convinced him motorhome was the way to go. We traded both of our rigs in for a motorhome. We now tow a 26′ utility trailer with our car, toys and workshop. While at a campground years ago we watched both a MH & trailer come in at the same time and the people in the MH were sitting in chairs enjoying a cocktail while the trailer people where still setting up.

  10. We went through every stage in our planning. We started looking at travel trailers, then 5’ers. We did not have anything to pull the 5’er and decided that when we arrive at our destination we did not want to be running around in a truck. We then started looking at gas vs diesel and finally decided on the diesel pusher. We are happy with our Alfa Gold 2004 motor home and CRV to run around in when we arrive at the days destination.

  11. Well, curious you should bring up this subject right now! We have been toying around with the idea of trading our Diesel Pusher…..for another diesel pusher however! We have been in this one, a 43′ 2000 Holiday Rambler Navigator, for about 3 years. It was our first one, since our only other camping experience was a 1963 Shasta Camper that we pulled with a Mercury Marquis. The salesmen told us this was a good “Starter Coach.” It has been a total learning experience. I love my home on wheels, however, after being in this one, and seeing others, there’s definitely things I would do different. I now have 3 specific Manufacturers that I would look at. I would go a little shorter but have 4 slides instead of 2. We love our power – 500 hp Cummins, and there’s a lot of other things here I will have trouble giving up. A 4ft. deep closet with motorized clothes carousel, aqua hot heating system and huge slide out bay storage is important. We have put all new tires and all new shocks on this baby in the last year, so I’m thinking we will keep it for a while! We travel 10 months a year.

  12. Started with a 15′ pop up back in the 70’s, went a few years without an RV, but purchased a 1987 Tioga Arrow 26′ class C in 2003 (after our kids were grown) and fell in love with the life style, and convenience of a motorhome. We decided 2 years ago that we needed something bigger if we were going to fulltime….we settled on a 1982 Newell 36′ DP. Quite old, but if you know anything about Newells it is that they are very, very well built…28 years old and no rattles, and all systems still work well. We love it more today than when we bought it two years ago, and look forward to hitting the road in less than 15 months!

  13. I’m fulltime in a 19ft Toyota Class C (1985) and have been in it for over two years. It’s only a 4-cylinder so I can’t possibly tow anything. So the only downside is having to unhook and take the whole house just to run errands. I’m now thinking about a TT, a small and lightweight one that can be pulled by an SUV or minivan. I’ll just need to do a lot of practice on cornering and backing up.

  14. We just started fulltiming this Spring and waffled back and forth between a motorhome and a 5th wheel. I was leaning toward a motorhome because I was intimidated with pulling such a large trailer, not to mention driving a super duty truck. After a lot of contemplation, we decided on the 5er. We are still working and thus staying in one place for months. Therefore, the amount of living space was important to us. Also, because we are more stationary for longer periods of time, we liked that the 5ers have removable propane tanks, whereas motorhomes have mostly built-in ones (so you actually have to take the rig to fill with propane). Also not having an additional engine to worry about and having to run periodically swayed our decision. FInally, the cost was our final decision point. We got a good deal on a used truck and were able to afford a new quality 5er, all for less than 100K. Even with going lightly-used (we didn’t want to go too old), we didn’t think we could find all the features we wanted in a motorhome for this price. Oh and one final factor, when time comes for upgrading, we don’t have to upgrade both the truck and trailer at the same time. Of course, as our lifestyle changes and we work less and play more, I could see a motorhome in our future. Like you said, there are advantages to both.

  15. At the moment we prefer a 5er, although we have owned a motorhome. A modern mid-high level 5er has all the amenities of a MH, including automatic levelers. So it is no different in set-up time than a MH. But you do have to “get out” to do it. Other than that there is no difference.

    Some will say that with a MH you do not have to get out in the rain to go eat lunch. We have fulltimed for 10 years. That has NEVER been a factor for us. But a MH does typically have more usable room with the slides in. But the thing is, you should evaluate the rigs based on your “typical” use – not the exceptional use. So the fact that many 5ers, with their large slides, are less convenient on a travel stop is not that important to us.

    The bottom line is that in the end, it boils down to personal preference. Either choice can work well for you if you are honest with yourself about your needs and travel style.

  16. I guess like a lot of full time RVers we have ran the gauntlet before we settled on a motor home. We knew we would be doing a lot of traveling once we quit work and weighed the benefits of both fifth wheels and motor homes. The motor home won. We have a 35ft Winnebago Adventure and we are very happy with what we have. After 6 years on the road we have everything almost worked out. The convenience of having a bathroom while traveling and not having to pull over to go outside unlock the rig is worth it. We dry camp a great deal and the safety of not going out if something is not right is a great thing. Mike would like a DP but that is not possible right now, maybe one day we will get one.

  17. We’ve owned both. We had a Winnebago Warrior 25′ with 98,000 miles and had a blast traveling all over FL and GA. It was too small to live in, but incredibly reliable. We sold it to a fellow who flew from Oregon to Florida to purchase it and take delivery. He and his son drove it home — all the way to Oregon. No mishaps or problems.

    We now have a 1984 HR Alumalite 28′ 5th whl and are having a blast with it. It’s 25 years old and everything works. I put new wheel bearings on it the day we bought it, figuring, no matter what else went wrong, we’d at least be able to drag it home. We’ve been all over AL, GA and FL with the Alumalite. Amazing how well it has held up. No leaks, just normal wear and tear. We look like the Clampetts when we come into a campground with our bikes hung on the back, but we don’t care.

    We will be full-timing soon and have decided that a pusher is the only way to go for all of the reasons stated in the comments above. Here are a couple more: 1. unit is already cooled down when you stop, 2. We can use the bathroom without going outside in the rain or enduring a 120 degree trailer. 3. The view from the cab of a pusher is extraordinary, the windshield is huge and you are nice and high up. 4. With the pusher, we can tow a full sized pickup truck with a jon-boat on top, kayaks, bicycles and an outboard motor in the back with no problem (all the toys — I mean tools). 5. I don’t have anything else, just wanted to have five items.

    When we buy, it will be either a Winnebago or a Newmar. One thing we really wish the pushers had is a door in the middle instead of at the front. That way, the space under your awning becomes more of a part of your living space instead of another separate space that you have to dash through the rain to get to.

    Finally, one of the major advantages of a 5th wheel that I haven’t seen here is: you can leave it parked somewhere and you don’t have to periodically run the engine to keep it alive and well.

  18. We started many years ago with a slide-in pickup camper, briefly tried a small class C and started full timing in a 27 ft 5W before slide outs became common. Slide outs seemed to become available in 5W trailers before it became common in Motorhomes. We were in a 5W mindset for a couple of tradeups as we advanced to longer and heavier rigs with multiple slideouts. We early on decided a truck was needed to tow and stop a long,heavy 5W with slide outs. The truck gave us much more additional storage for stuff, as weight was not so much of an issue. We also started double towing after aquiring a truck toter. Also there were some of the benifits of fridge, bunk, etc. in the truck so we did not have to get out during a stop unless using the bathroom facilitys in the trailer. We now have a DP MH because, for us, it is just easier and quicker to set up and level. A little less storage space, but we have found that we were carrying more stuff then needed anyway. It also took away some of the length concerns when we double towed our car with the 5W.

  19. i love my 35 ft Bounder gas motorhome I just back it in push a button and I am level. I have no slides, but then I travel alone and don’t want something else to go wrong, I have had enough the last month. The repairs are still cheaper than a new motorhome and I don’t owe anything on it.

    I have trouble backing up my car so a 5th wheel was never in my thought, have watched 5thers setting up and some of them take close to an hour.

    As you said its all in what you want.

  20. I started with a Safari Trek, which was perfect for me as a single person. Small, easy to maneauver, and very well built. When Leslie and I got together, she had a Bounder that was a money pit. We traded both rigs in on a 2001 Ultimate Advantage, a year older than your coach, and we love it. We never considered a fiver because we both like the convenience of being able to run back to the potty if needed without stopping, or to grab a snack.

  21. I started in 1969 with the largest MH made, a 27′ Winnabago for taking dogs to shows. We started vacationing in it 2 years later. Next was a mini MH (no class c’s yet) and then an eight and half foot slidein for hauling a horse trailer. We then when back to a 28′ class c and later a 24″ MH. When we started fulltiming 13 years ago a 34′ gas MH suited us til we went for a 38′ pusher 3 1/2 years ago. We have never considered a fifth wheel.

  22. It all boils down to lifestyle for each individual. Some folks prefer the 5er and some people the Class A, B or C or even a trailer.
    For us, we started out with an older gas Class A during our last year of working. It was a try this and see if you like the lifestyle purchase. Because we had tried a cabin in NC (rented one) and after that experience we said, “No, we don’t want a second home in the mountains to take care of and we don’t want to go to the same place all the time. So what are the choices?” We figured the small price we paid for the older gas Class A was worth it. It was a learning experience. We went to a regional FMCA near us and attended seminars. What we learned from experience and the seminars was we wanted a Class A diesel pusher with: mid door entry, large storage areas inside and below, QUALITY in construction, diesel generator, no slides, Quality construction, 36 feet, large capacity fresh water, black and gray water, Quality construction, did I say QUALITY construction yet? We went looking and when we walked into the Beaver we were, well, stunned. Compared to everything else we had seen it was QUALITY and still is. We got our money back on the gas Class A as a trade in. We bought a 4 year old Beaver coach for more than we paid for the house and 2 acres we had in Florida. But now 14 years later we are still in the same coach and plan to stay with her until we hang up our keys and she will probably still be going strong.
    Sometimes you need to try it out. That’s why buying a 3 or 4 year old coach/RV is a good deal. It had depreciated 50% from it’s purchase price and will only depreciate 10% a year for each future year (NADA). Give it a try for a year and you will find out what you like and don’t like. That’s how we found our “right” coach and since we are still using her we feel we are ahead on money. No RV payments. Yes we have maintenance. Don’t we all?!?!?! We know her, have worked out the bugs (new coach owners spend lots of warranty time visiting the shop), and it’s free sailing from now on. So buy something you think you want used, try it a year, THEN buy what you find out you really want.

  23. I’m still in the shopping phase but really learn a lot reading your blog. I grew up in a tent by the lake outside of Nashville, TN. Up until 5 years ago my husband and I were avid hunters and stayed in a very rustic cabin on the banks of Reelfoot Lake through hunting and fishing season. I’m now a widow and 10 months from retiring. Putting this barn of a house on the market next week and not looking back. I know I want a class c because I’m more interested in manervability and I can tow my HHR easily (and put my bike on the back of it). It’s just me and a 12 pound fox terrier so a 24 is plenty of room for a start. Must admit I am impressed with how much luxury & affordability the 5w’s offer, but I’m lousy at pulling a trailer and hate backing one up. And being alone on the road makes the idea of fully contained sound secure to me. But haven’t bought yet. I’ll keep taking your ideas into consideration.

  24. As Jack said: “But the thing is, you should evaluate the rigs based on your “typical” use – not the exceptional use. ”

    Nancy often uses a lawyers expression “Hard cases make bad law.”

    Trying to cover every eventuality will mean ending up with a compromise on everything.

    We like the fiver with the HDT and a smart car,as it works out well for us for both overnight stops and longer term sitting. Just back from 5-1/2 months in the fiver and it was really comfortable for a couple of two month stops and a bunch of shorter ones.

  25. Since the majority of our RV use is in long-term volunteering situations, having the greater livability of the Fiver and sometimes needing the Dually Pickup on the construction jobs, coupled with the lower entry cost for a very nice used truck and Fiver sold us on this RV approach. A lot of times only one or two others on our volunteer builds has a pickup as the majority has MHs or Class C’s so its our privalege to provide “trucking” as needed.

  26. We started with gas diesel MH 30 ft, and when we found we loved the freedom, moved into 40ft. diesel as we full-timed for 8 yr. Now do to partial full-timing. we are down to a 32 ft. gas. I now do most driving and find that this is so easy to drive, and I can park almost anywhere and when we need service basic V10 maint. is easily available. We made one trip thru Colorado mountains in the gasser and had no problems, just slower than the diesels, but we get there.

  27. Nick,
    A long time ago, I was on the road as a photographer, and I needed both a place to sleep and a work vehicle… for me that combination was best met by having a pickup and a 5er. I lived full time in them for 3 years. Today however, my needs have changed, if I were (able) to afford a rig I’d go for a class C or a home-built bus conversion the reason being, I have a wife and two kids (three, but one won’t travel with us). I’m sure that it would probably be wife and one kid, hence the class C. I’m also partial to the HDT/5er concept, but I would have to really sell that one to SWMBO, er the DW.

  28. We recently moved into a new Class A motorhome – a new Phaeton 40 QTH to be exact. With its four slide-outs and very open floor-flan, we don’t anticipate the need of a new coach for many years, ever. We love being able to travel in a fully self-contained vehicle where we can eat, sleep and go to bed without leaving the security of home. Oh. amd did mentioned that its brand new? as alls;.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

  29. Hey Nick,
    Good to stumble into you again here on the old internet. We love our 5th wheel trailer. We drop it and can use the truck to tool around while leaving our living space undisrupted. We don’t plan to change anytime soon.

    My husband and I are camp hosting in Morro Bay, California presently. Come visit when you have a few minutes. The Camp Host Housewife http://acamphosthousewifesmeanderings.blogspot.com/

  30. We took a different approach from many. We tried to determine what our traveling style would be before we went full-time. Since we determined we would tend to only move two to four times a month a fifth-wheel would best meet our needs. We were right.

    I figure when I get too old to hitch and unhitch then we will go to a C or A.

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