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Downsizing Your RV To Get Better Fuel Economy? You May Want To Reconsider!

When I pull up to the fuel pump with my diesel pusher my wallet takes a real serious hit.

With a tank that holds 100 gallons, and diesel prices running close to $4.00 per gallon, I can expect to pay near to $400.

That’s a pretty hefty chunk of change for most people, and I assure you being independently wealthy is a far off dream I don’t expect to reach.

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Pick an RV You Love – Not One With Gas Mileage You Love

I don’t mind the cost anymore.

After my experience last summer you may see why I fully believe that you should buy the RV that suits your needs instead of worrying about how many miles per gallon it’s likely to get.

A number of years back I purchased a 30’ class “A” motorhome. It had all the normal amenities. Though it didn’t have any slideouts, it did carry us on a few comfortable vacation trips, giving us a number of fond memories.

hurricane class a motorhome
My first Class A diesel pusher

Then the price of gas started climbing…

Rapidly!

For the next couple of years that motorhome was used only for local weekend outings. We tried to stretch our recreation dollars and hardly made use of our rolling retreat.

Last year the poor neglected motorhome nary turned a wheel.

We had gotten so accustomed to spending only X amount of dollars when it came to traveling that once it was obvious our modest budget was very much busted, we simply chose to stay home.

Downsizing to a Camper – Would It Be the Answer?

By spring I had decided to sell the faithful RV.

In short order it was headed to Canada to become the pride and joy of another family.

Now it was time to shop for something much smaller that hopefully I could tow behind my Dodge Caravan. The Dodge was rated to pull a trailer up to 3,500 lbs.

Having become very used to all the amenities, the idea of going without just didn’t sit well.

We ended up purchasing a 13’ trailer that had a lot of the things we wanted. Bathroom, shower, air conditioning, microwave, and all the normal kitchen appliances.

It was stand up height, so the two of us and our small dog hopefully would be comfortable.

viking camper
Travel trailer gets better gas mileage, right?

But all good plans come with an Achilles heel you might not have considered.

Two people are very cramped for elbow room in something this small. Only one could stand at a time, so the other had to be sitting at the dinette, or if in sleep mode, laying on the bed.

It also turned out the Dodge Caravan couldn’t handle the drag of this trailer. We had to buy something that could.

Time for a Jeep

We chose a used Jeep Cherokee with a tow package that was rated to pull 5,000 lbs.

It did do a reasonable job pulling the trailer, though it required locking out overdrive. Because the handling was less than ideal, I kept the speed down to about 60 mph.

We took one trip with this arrangement, bemoaning the lack of comfort and overall cramped accommodations. Imagine my surprise when I tallied up the average MPG achieved during our trip.

Here is the comparison:

  • Class “A” motorhome. 30’ with plenty of room and comfort managed a strong 10 MPG on the road as an average.
  • Jeep Cherokee towing a small and cramp 13’ travel trailer with OD locked out managed the exact same 10 MPG during a weeklong trip.

We had sacrificed our comfort and gained not one single MPG for our effort!

Going Back to the Class A Motorhome Days

The small travel trailer went up for sale immediately after returning home.

Later that summer I stumbled upon my current rig: A 1993 Pace Arrow Turbo Diesel.

1993 Pace Arrow
1993 Pace Arrow Turbo Diesel

This is the top of the line for that year, and is solid.

The running gear is rated about half a million miles before any major repairs and it’s got only 70,000 miles on it. I will never be able to wear this thing out.

At 37’ in length, it is way more comfortable both driving down the highway and set up for living. I travel in complete comfort now, and couldn’t be happier.

Here’s the best part:

This heavy duty highway cruiser averages about the same 10 MPG of fuel economy.

Thus proving my hypothesis: Buy the RV that best suits your needs, and don’t worry about the fuel economy.

No matter what, it’s going to cost somewhere around $0.50 per mile to travel in an RV. Any RV!

You might as well buy the rig that fits you and your budget the best, and just accept the cost of travel as being what it is.




9 thoughts on “Downsizing Your RV To Get Better Fuel Economy? You May Want To Reconsider!”

  1. At the end of the day, you do what you can afford. No one volunteers to live in a cramped space if they have the resources to do it in a nicely outfitted larger space. People who can afford it buy Prevosts and Newells. Those of us lower on the food chain buy something else. But buying the lowest priced camper one can find is false economy that you’ll end up regretting, as this article demonstrates.

  2. I have a low profile 24′ Lance 5th wheel and a 2003 Diesel Chevy Silverado. I get 16 mpg towing, I am very happy with this setup. Unloaded I get 20 mpg. What helps is it is a smaller, narrow older 5th wheel that has much less frontal area than the giant new ones have. I am plenty comfortable in it.

  3. LOL—I had a Jeep Cherokee when I drove cross country with my kids to visit my parents and then go on to travel in their RV. The Jeep got the EXACT SAME MILEAGE with one adult and three young kids–10 and under–in it as the fully loaded 35 FOOT RV DID. And they had the EXACT SAME JEEP IN TOW!

    This was back in 1995 with an 1988 Jeep Cherokee Limited with 4WD.

    I have never had more problems with a vehicle as I did that one–I am cured of Jeeps forever. It pissed green stuff and spewed out black stuff and just for fun it decided to spray red stuff–no; not tranny fluid—well it did that TOO–but rather GAS from the fuel rail “O” rings. That Jeep wanted some insane amount for. And EVERY electrical system failed at one point or another–including the entire light package as I was going over a mountain in the fog. And the antenna decided to go up and down up and down—endlessly! So–NAPA is your friend. And the thing would NOT drive in–snow; over wet grass; gravel—if I had not had an older model that did lots of the SAME things (and some worse) I would have thought it was ME.

    Makes me re-think some of the RV plans we might have when I see these figures tho.

  4. We fortunately joined the ranks of RV aficionados by stumbling into our 1987 Toyota Novastar a few years ago. It is a great size (21ft) and floorplan with a “bullet proof” 22R engine that gets 13-17 mpg.

  5. Not entirely true. My Sprinter Class B averaged $.18 per mile this summer. Plus my smaller size means it is a lot easier to park and can go most places. This was a big reason I got it rather than a trailer plus it gets such good mileage, I don’t hesitate to take it on any trip that strikes my fancy. Yes, it is a tight fit living in it but for me, the nimble, cost saving aspects are worth it.

  6. agreed,

    we have a 1994 fleetwood 28′ avg 8-9 MPG the one thing i have noticed even new MH the mileage has not changed much…it seems they have done nothing to improve them. On another note..I personally would never tow anything with a front wheel drive transverse mounted vehicle especially a Caravan

  7. Last year along about May, Jean and I bought a 1999 Holiday Rambler 36′ Vacationer, V10 gasser. Jean frets about the gas but I tell her to just consider it an expense for fun and comfort. Right now we’re limited to taking it out for shorter trips since we are still partially tied down with a 17 y/o daughter at home but plan to travel more, much more in the future.

    You’re absolutely correct – $.50 per mile is the figure I use whenever she asks me, “How much will it be to go to _________?”

    –Bob

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