RV Travel – How to increase fuel economy, Part 1.

Gas guzzler

When we began our RV travels It didn’t take long to learn that after RV parks and campgrounds the next biggest cost is fuel. However if you are on a cross country tour fuel cost jumps in front by a mile….lol.

In previous articles I have suggested ways of reducing or eliminating RV park and campground costs. There are many places to stay over night for free and camping clubs with 50% off, click here to check out free places to stop and click here to check out camping clubs to reduce your RV park costs by 50%.

I have always been a bit anal when it comes to getting the most out of a gallon of fuel, I am always looking for ways to cut down on fuel costs. I keep accurate records of the costs of our travels, well truthfully it is actually my co-pilot Lynda who does the recording.

Old Biker

One strange conclusion we realized when we toured with our motor bike, expenses were the same as when we toured with our motor home,….. go figure?

When touring with our motorbike the money we saved on fuel was used for meals and accommodations. When we tell people this fact you can see doubt in their eyes, but after an explained they seem to be satisfied we are not bonkers.

Choose Your Rig.

pinkd VW

If you do not have an RV but you are considering buying one, fuel economy or lack there of, is important. The weight and aerodynamics are major factors when considering fuel economy. Obviously the smaller and lighter the rig the better the gas mileage.

The ultimate (2)

Aerodynamics is not as important as weight but the higher and more vertical to the road the design of your rig the more wind resistance. On one of our trips with our class A motor home driving against a strong wind, the transmission was constantly shifting to a lower gear even though we were not climbing a hill. The flat front design caused sever wind resistance making the transmission and engine work harder and of course using more fuel. Like pushing several connected sheets of plywood done the highway.

5th wheel trailers are also prone to high wind resistance, not only decreasing fuel economy but also susceptible to cross wind sway. 5th wheels are also heavier than other trailers of equal size. The re-enforcement to support the hitch area is responsible.

On one of our trips to the south traveling with friends, Henry and Allison, we were travelling from Ajo, Az. to Tucson with a strong cross wind. The sway of their rig against the wind was very apparent.

5th wheel & pickup
Notice the large front front face of the 5th wheel trailer. Imagine how much wind it is pushing.

Two of the least economical rigs because of their weight and design are the class A motor home and the 5th wheel trailer.  Fuel economy for these types of RVs may be measured in miles per gallon or in some cases gallons per mile.

Engines –  Gas vs Diesel
futuristic RV
Weird looking but more aerodynamic.

The engine you chose will depend on the the application, meaning if you are planning to tow something or not. When buying an RV, your choices may be limited, some motorized RVs may not have an option of a diesel engine.  If you are planning to tow, be careful, some RVs are not designed to tow and towing may cause sever damage.

The gas engine runs at higher RPMs and therefore hotter than a diesel that runs at half the RPM. Diesel engines provide more torque for towing versus a gas engine of the same displacement, however diesles are more expensive. If maintained properly a diesel engine will last twice as long as a gas.

Diesel engines require less maintenance (no spark plugs) and generally less repairs, however if a diesel engine does need repairs it will most likely cost much more than a gas engine.

Free oil change

Diesel engines hold more oil and for some reason oil change stores think they need to charge more even though the procedure for changing oil on a diesel engine is identical to a gas engine, except for the extra oil.

After we retired and moved to our lake cottage I took our diesel truck in for a lube, oil and filter, I was charged $200+. In the city  the charge was just over a hundred. I inquired as to why the elevated charge, the response was its a diesel and it need more oil??? I now change my own oil, with oil and filter the price is less than $75 for 1 hour of work if I have a beer during the process.

Diesel engines also offer better fuel economy than gas engines, probably due to the slower burn of diesel compared to gas. Diesel fuel is actually an oil and is not as highly refined as gas and costs less to refine, I am not sure why but diesel is often more expensive than gas?

Older comparisons of gas and diesel engines mention hard starting issues with diesel engines in the winter due to thickening of the diesel fuel, however in recent years this has been eliminated after manufacturers began to supply winter diesel with an additive to prevent diesel from thickening.

My pickup truck at an RV park off I-5 central California.

I have been driving Chev. diesel trucks for about 18 years, I have logged over 300 thousand miles with no engine issues. My present pickup is a 2004 Chev, 1 ton single wheels, I have 162 thousand miles. From what I have read the duramax engine is designed to run for 400 thousand miles with proper maintenance.

I cannot comment on the other diesel engines on the market although I have read Ford has had problems with their diesel engine. The Dodge Cummings engine is said to be bullet proof except the weight of the engine destroys the front end of Dodge pickups sometimes at 50 thousand miles or less.

The bottom line, if you plan on towing or you want a large motor home a diesel engine should be a strong consideration, increased towing capabilities and better fuel economy that a gas engine.

Driving Habits

No matter what kind of RV you own or want to own, whether it has a aerodynamic design or not and whether it tips the scales at less or more than other RVs, the way you drive can greatly affect your fuel economy.

Speed and acceleration are large factors. If you have a lead foot and like to travel at the speed of light you will be stopping more frequently for fuel.

Fast driver

Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and by 5% around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than just gas.

Driver feedback devices can help you drive more efficiently.  A recent study suggests that they can help the average driver improve fuel economy by from 3% to 10%. That’s like saving about $0.08 to $0.26 per gallonClick here check them out.

While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.18 per gallon for gas.  Observing the speed limit is also safer.

Using your cruise control and setting it a comfortable speed is a good start at improving your fuel economy. Operating such devices as air conditioning can also adversely affect fuel economy.

Steep hill

You probably can remember climbing a steep grade and seeing signs suggesting you turn you air off while climbing. The air conditioner causes your engine to work harder while the compressor pump is operating. Limited use of the air conditioner can help with fuel economy.



When I was a kid air conditioning was rare in a vehicle, only luxury vehicles carried this option, of course these days most vehicles have air conditioning as standard equipment. My dad called our air conditioning 4/75, 4 windows down while traveling at 75 miles per hour.

Card Locks & Discounts.

Card lock




Another way to save on fuel is to apply for a card lock. Card lock facilities are generally used by large semi’s but many will accept applications from individuals. We belong to Key to the Highway, an Esso affiliation that allows us to save up to 20% on our fuel.

Key to the Highway belongs to such chains as Pilot, Flying J, Loves as well as several other smaller fuel chains. There are also many reward programs including Good Sam. A Good Sam membership will help you save on many services including, fuel, camping/RV parks as well as towing, etc. Click here to check out a Good Sam Membership.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and it will help you save money on your fuel costs. After all what ever we save on fuel for our RV the more we can spend on fuel for ourselves.

Please watch for my next article where I will be covering some of the more technical ways to make your vehicle more fuel efficient and run better.

For your convenience I have compiled a comprehensive list of equipment and items you may need for your RV and camping travels, complete with product  links, click here to check out my list & links.


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Thanks for visiting.

Gord B.





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