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11 Ways to Save Fuel When RVing

Traveling in an RV runs up the fuel bill, whether you’re driving a motorhome or a tow vehicle that’s pulling a trailer or fifth wheel.

Here are some ways to save on fuel:

Be organized. When you go into town for supplies, get everything you’ll need so you don’t have to repeat the trip for one or two small items. If the trip is manageable, and enjoyable, pick up what you need with a bicycle ride instead of a drive.

Drive Smoothly

Constantly laying on and pulling off the accelerator will increase fuel consumption. So will trying to accelerate rapidly when you’re under load. (Why bother? You’re still going to be pretty slow with all that weight.) When cruising, use the speed control, which tends to reduce fuel consumption—except on steep hills.

Take Your Time

Driving at 55 to 60 mph, in addition to being safer, requires considerably less fuel than driving at 70. Studies show a 55 mph drive can save 17 percent in fuel—probably more under load—than a 70 mph drive. On a 40-gallon fill-up, that can put almost $20 in your pocket—enough to buy pizza tonight.

Choose a Level Route

If you have options between a mountainous route and a relatively flat route, skip the mountain views to save fuel.

Watch the Weather

Driving in snow and rain uses more fuel, in addition to adding risk and fraying nerves. If the forecast is for foul weather, consider delaying your departure by a few hours or a day.

Limit Air-Conditioner Use

Air-conditioning—we’re talking the unit driven by belts off your vehicle’s engine—can rob 5 percent or more of fuel usage. Consider an earlier start to spend time on the road before the midday sun heats things up. It’s better to start early than to drive into evening in search of cooler temperatures. Peak temperatures are often between 5 and 6 p.m.

Keep Your Vehicle’s Engine Tuned

This is especially important for gasoline engines, but just as important on diesels where filters are concerned. Change filters according to the recommendations in the owner’s manual and more frequently if you’re driving through dusty environments. A clean air filter helps an engine breathe easier, and that saves fuel. An engine control module may compensate for horsepower lost to a dirty filter by telling the fuel injection system to spray more fuel into the engine. Replace spark plugs on time and have them properly gapped and torqued into place.

Cut Weight

Get rid of stuff you don’t use. Throw it away or give it away. If you give it to a charity, make sure the organization qualifies for a tax deduction. Ask to see its 501(3)c documentation or its IRS 990 form. Get a receipt showing your name, the charity’s name and the value of your old clothes or castoff grill—or your old RV if you’re not going to get enough at trade-in.

Watch your tank levels. Except for your gasoline or diesel tank, you should be driving on empty. Full tanks can add hundreds of pounds to your RV, and weight reduces mileage. Empty water and waste tanks before hitting the road and refill fresh water tanks when you arrive at your destination. Fill or exchange propane tanks at your destination, too. If you burn firewood, buy at your destination instead of carrying a month’s worth of it.

Properly Distribute Weight

Evenly distributed weight increases not only fuel mileage but also safety. Keeping those tanks empty helps. Aerodynamics are best when a trailer is level, not bowed up or down at the tongue.

Keep Tires Properly Inflated

Under-inflation by just a pound on just one tire can reduce mileage 3 percent, not to mention cause safety hazards. Keep a tire gauge handy and check tire pressure before heading out on the road, adding air where necessary. If you notice a tire consistently not holding pressure, have it checked. Better to pay for a repair or replacement than end up with a flat when you’re boondocking or traveling at speed.

Consider a Wind Deflector

A roof-mounted wind deflector on a tow vehicle can improve aerodynamics. The deflectors send air over the trailer or fifth wheel rather than against its font end. Savings could reach 3 to 5 percent.

Use Regular Gasoline

Unless your owner’s manual calls for it, skip premium fuel. It costs about 15 percent more, and an engine that’s not made to use premium won’t benefit by burning it. You can get engine-cleaning additives with quality regular gas, saving a bundle.


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