RV Gas Mileage: Tips For Balancing RV Fuel Economy With Comfort And Luxury



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One of the biggest concerns these days when shopping for an RV is what the cost of fuel is going to do to your travel budget.

rv-gas-mileage

This past summer I learned the hard way that attempts to reduce the cost of RV travel can backfire, resulting in less comfort and a much less enjoyable RV experience.

First, I will explain that I am retired. I can travel any time… for as long as I wish. These things will impact what is the most practical RV for my situation.

Your situation may be totally different, limiting what kind of RV is most practical for you.

 

The Goal: To Improve RV Gas Mileage

I started the summer with a 30-foot motorhome.

30-foot-motorhome

30-foot-motorhome-living-room  30-foot-motorhome-bedroom

In reasonably good condition, it was comfortable enough to travel in. The downside was that it averaged about 9 to 10 MPG, at best.

Making a long cross-country journey was something I had to save and plan for, because filling that 65-gallon fuel tank cost well over $200 and only got me about 600 miles down the road.

Due to this expense, my motorhome got very little use over the past 3 years.

It was time for it to go. It sold quickly, and the replacement RV was soon chosen.

I decided to reduce the luxury in hopes of improving fuel economy.

 

My Gas Mileage Experience With A Smaller RV

I chose a small 13-foot travel trailer that, though small, had all the creature comforts of larger RVs.

small-rv-travel-trailer-jeep  jeep-cherokee-towing-rv-travel-trailer

At the time, I had a new Dodge Caravan that, as per the owner’s manual, should have been adequate to handle the 2,300-pound load of the small travel trailer.

It took only one trip of 50 miles to realize the load of this little trailer was too much for the Dodge. The mileage dropped from about 25 (solo) down to the very low teens (with the trailer). The performance was so poor, I knew it would severely affect the longevity of the Dodge’s running gear.

After careful consideration, and checking all manufacturers’ tow ratings, I bought a used Jeep Cherokee with a slightly larger engine and a factory tow package. Solo it averaged in the mid-20’s for mileage, so I expected it to handle the small RV trailer with ease.

We headed off on a week-long vacation with our new, much smaller, RV. It was crowded for 2 people and a couple of small dogs. Comfort had taken a hard hit in our downsizing. Yes, it had all the normal amenities, but you could run into yourself just turning around in such a small space.

The real story was told after just a few tanks of gas.

My effort to save money had been for naught. This supposed economy RV combination only achieved about 10 MPG. The exact same cost as the 30-foot, more comfortable, motorhome I had just sold.

Making matters worse, during periods of any kind of wind I had to lock out overdrive, reducing my effected speed to a max of about 60 MPH. Freeway travel just didn’t feel comfortable — both for the amount of effort required to maintain speed and overall handling.

Finding we had lost way more than we expected and gained nothing in terms of economy, our little RV trailer made one trip and was sent packing.

 

My Gas Mileage Experience With A Larger RV

Late this fall, I stumbled upon another motorhome within my modest budget.

This time, we upgraded to complete luxury.

It’s 37 feet in length, and constructed to last a lifetime. It’s a big diesel pusher with low mileage and a chassis constructed to last a million miles.

1993-diesel-pusher-motorhome

diesel-pusher-rv-bedroom  diesel-pusher-rv-kitchen

I’ve had more expensive motorhomes, but none built to this level of quality and luxury. Sure it’s 20 years old, but its history and good maintenance — combined with its low mileage — means I’ll never come close to wearing this RV out.

So back to square one. This diesel motorhome is much larger, much heavier, and diesel fuel is more expensive.

The surprising fact that makes it work is that it still gets about 10 MPG running down the highway.

 

Balancing RV Gas Mileage With Comfort & Luxury

In the end, I’ve upgraded in comfort and will be no worse off in terms of fuel economy. I will just change my travel tactics to adjust to the expense.

Since I don’t have to be anywhere within a specific period of time, if my budget can only accommodate $500 a month for fuel, I will go slower, stop more often, and stop longer.

I usually spend the night wherever I can park for free. I will just stay longer, so that I can stretch the time period between fuel stops. When the Social Security check comes, top off the tank and off I go! A long RV trip may cost me most of $2,000, but if it takes 4 months to do it, it still only amounts to $500 a month for fuel.

At least for me, the trade-off between luxury and fuel economy just wasn’t worth the effort. RV travel is only fun when it’s done in an expectable level of comfort.

Must Read: Tips For Stretching Your RV Fuel Dollars

Curtis

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 50 years — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs and motorhomes. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller... you’ve got a good idea of who I am. To date, I've shared my RV knowledge in over 300 articles here at The Fun Times Guide! Many of them have over 25K shares.

7 thoughts on “RV Gas Mileage: Tips For Balancing RV Fuel Economy With Comfort And Luxury

  1. Thanks! You’ve answered a very important question. Strange, isn’t it? That a 30 foot bus can get the same gass mileage as an SUV pulling a 13 foot trailer?

  2. Hi. I have lived in an RV since I was a kid. My experience has been, 5-6 MPG with a gas Suburban pulling a 35 foot Airstream. 9-11 MPG with a diesel (1991 dodge cummins automatic) with an 8.5 foot slide in camper (hard side) pulling same 35 foot Airstream. 13-16 MPG with a diesel (1991 dodge cummins manual 5 speed) same slide in camper and same trailer. Finally, going from 4 people down to 2, I parked the trailer and just drive the truck with camper. It has done fantastic, 18-21 MPG with the manual 5 speed. Last fill up we got 20.5 MPG. Because of the design (rough riding) plus I am not in a hurry, I cruise at 57-63 on the highway, which helps immensely.

    I also have a 1998 dodge cummins automatic with a smaller, lighter slide in pop up camper, worst it ever did was 15 and best was 17. I think a lot had to do with speed, that truck I set it at 75 and let it roll.

    Anyway I thought I would share my experience with you…

  3. Hi Curtis, I’m 69 yrs young and enjoy your advice. The wife and I are ready to sell our 2500 squares here in Kali-fornia and go full timing in preferably a motor home pulling a toad. I figure a 30 footer is about right for the 2 of us but question what would be a good toad suv that can be towed also looking for the best people to deal with as far as a major (or minor) service and warranty plan on a used Class A might be obtained as those major power train units become very expensive. Since we don’t know if we’ll last long at this endeavor I figure probably something like a Winnebago Brave or similar 2000-2006 or more if I find the right deal. We like the split bathroom/shower idea. Any ideas? I’m an ex truck mechanic and understand the diesel/gas argument but I don’t want to and probably can’t do my own heavy maintenance and repair anymore. Need a good repair plan on the road. Good Sam or?

    1. Sorry I don’t make recommendations of one brand or maintenance plan over another. That would constitute an endorsement of which I am not qualified to make. I will only say that when choosing diesel versus gas remember that everything about a diesel rig is more expensive…. much more expensive.

    2. On the toad, 2 ways to go , a 2 wheel dolly , or a veh that can be towed 4 wheels down without modifications , (removeing drive shafts , unlocking U Joints , Or running a lubrication pump ) Follow manufactures reccomendations for towing , And yes go for comfort , I use Good Sam over AAA only due to they will only send a tow truck capable of doing the job !

  4. Well done article! I learned a lot tonight. By the way, my last motorhome had a Banks power unit installed. I was told it got better gas mileage. It was in a 96 Bounder 36′. Coming back from Florida I got an average of 10.5 MPG. It consisted of a tuned header exhaust, special computer, and a custom intake. I assume I may have picked up about 2-3 more MPG at highway speed. It also ran smooth and lean. I see you can buy them on E-bay but for the amount it’s not worth it to change unless you do a lot of traveling, or if your entire exhaust system goes out, then it would be cost effective to replace. Happy travels Curtis.

  5. Ha Ha Ha ! That is a real story of learning , And the most exact description of liveing in a small R/V When you turn around you almost run into yourself YEP ! In my opinion trying to obtain better MPG is a fools errend , Seek what you can handle and go for comfort ! Frank

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