How to Get Better Gas Mileage – 14 Tips for your RV
There’s not much we can do about rising gasoline prices. If we want to keep using our RV every weekend, what we can do is learn how to get better gas mileage so we won’t empty our banks by filling up the tank.
How to improve your gas mileage often starts by changing a few basic driving habits. These simple changes can bring about the biggest improvements to your fuel efficiency, especially when driving around heavy loads.
However, changing your driving style is not the only thing you can do. General maintenance to make sure your RV (or car) is in perfect working order should also see an improvement to your fuel economy.
Learn Ways to Improve Fuel Efficiency in Your Rig (or Car):
- How careful driving can save gas
- Avoid hard acceleration
- Why top gear is best
- Cruise control
- Improve fuel economy by reducing your engines time idling
- Windows vs. air conditioning
- Reduce air resistance for a smoother ride
- Lose weight in your RV
- Why under-inflated tires can be a drag
- Schedule regular maintenance
- Why regular oil changes are imperative
- Plan ahead to avoid stop and go traffic in rush hour
- Save money refueling on weekdays
- Avoid premium fuel
- RV and trailer specific fuel economy tips
What is Good Fuel Economy?
So what is good gas mileage for an RV? Most types of recreational vehicles use between 7 miles per gallon up to around 25 miles per gallon (on the highway). The worst offenders tend to be Class A motorhomes with Class B usually having better fuel efficiency.
- Class A: 7 – 13 mpg avg
- Class B: 18 – 25 mpg avg
- Class C: 14 – 20 mpg avg
Compare that with a regular car’s fuel economy at around 30-35 mpg (on the highway), or hybrids getting closer to 50-60 mpg, you can see why improving your fuel economy in an RV is much more important.
INSERT GRAPH SHOWING RANGE IN FUEL CONSUMPTION
What Improves Fuel Consumption?
No matter what you drive, there are several tips you can follow to refill your tank less often.
Drive Slowly and Carefully
It’s commonly advised that driving slowly is a great way to get better fuel mileage. Excessive speeding drastically increases your wind resistance, which will result in increased fuel consumption.
But this doesn’t mean to drive dangerously slow either. At low speeds, your automatic transmission car or RV shifts down to lower gears, which are not as fuel-efficient. The best way to drive is slowly and carefully in your top gear.
The posted speed limits on the highways are not only for your safety, but a good guideline to follow for efficient RV gas mileage. Keeping a consistent speed of around 55 miles per hour will give you the best RV mpg (miles per gallon).
Driving less fast also prevents many driving mistakes, which can not only be dangerous but can also waste time and fuel. When a driver misses their exit or takes a wrong turn, it’s usually because they were speeding and not paying attention. Make sure to drive to the speed limit and study your directions before departing.
Never Floor the Pedal to The Metal
One of the ways many drivers consume too much fuel is by hard acceleration and braking.
Flooring your pedal when you accelerate fully opens up the air valve to your engine. To ensure the proper air-to-gas mixture, the control unit will compensate by opening up the throttle and feeds more gas into the engine. Usually, this excessive fuel is wasted or consumed inefficiently.
Keeping your pedal floored will also prohibit your transmission from shifting gears in a timely fashion. This will lead to a harder acceleration in lower gears using up much more gas. Remember, consistently driving in your top gear is how to get better mpg.
Cautious braking at stoplights can also increase gas mileage. Some drivers wait until the last moment before hitting the brakes hard and coming to a stop, but this isn’t ideal if you’re conscious of your fuel usage.
If you start your deceleration early by coasting to the stoplight, in many cases, the stoplight might turn green before you fully stop. When this happens, you save energy from your forward motion which is used to accelerate again. Accelerating your RV from a full stop uses a lot of fuel that could be saved by anticipating stoplight changes and slowly braking.
Use Your Top Driving Gear
As mentioned earlier, your higher gears are better for fuel efficiency than the lower gears. If you’re driving a manual transmission, shift earlier rather than later, and your fuel savings will start to add up.
Of course, your vehicle is probably an automatic transmission. By accelerating slowly and not flooring your acceleration pedal, you can help your RV shift earlier into the higher gears and increase your gas mileage that way.
Use Cruise Control for Better Fuel Economy
Cruise control is an excellent way to improve gas mileage. Your optimum mpg will happen when your vehicle maintains a steady speed, without frequent acceleration. Cruise control is the best way to maintain that consistent speed, as long as the roads aren’t inclined or declined.
If you’re driving through hills or mountains, it’s best for your fuel economy if you control your speed manually.
Turn the Engine Off Instead of Idling During Long Breaks
It should go without saying that leaving your engine idling for long periods of time is an unnecessary waste of fuel. Most drivers know that they should turn off their engines when they expect to be idle for a long time.
Many drivers, especially older ones, believe that starting the ignition on your vehicle uses more fuel than letting it idle. This may have been true in some older vehicles with carburetors, but modern fuel injector technology has improved fuel efficiency during ignition. These days, turning your engine off rather than letting it idle is how to achieve better fuel economy.
Of course, sometimes an RV driver needs to keep their engine running, especially if the alternator is charging the battery or powering internal appliances such as water pumps. These gas expenditures might be necessary, but idling when waiting for your friends and family to load into the RV is usually a waste.
But before you make a habit of turning your engine on and off at every opportunity, you need to be aware that frequent re-starting can be bad for the RV battery. Try to strike a careful balance between wasting fuel during breaks and overusing your battery to start the engine.
Open Windows or Air Conditioning?
Keep Windows Up on Highways
It might be counterintuitive, but using your air conditioning is better for saving fuel than opening your windows when traveling at high speeds.
Open windows will significantly increase your vehicle’s drag and slow you down. Your engine will have to work much harder to keep you moving down the highway, and this will quickly drain your gas tank.
Even though your AC uses a lot of power, when you’re flying down the open roads, your engine will prefer to cycle the AC than push your vehicle harder.
Don’t Use the AC
Of course, if you can handle the heat, keep your AC off. No matter how you use it, your AC is one of the most energy-intensive parts of your driving or camping experience, so operating it sparingly will improve your fuel economy and your RV miles per gallon.
Reduce Air Resistance and Aerodynamic Drag
Air resistance can also cause your fuel efficiency to steeply drop. Car manufacturers have realized this, and designed cars to be aerodynamic with minimal drag. Your RV, unfortunately, is designed to provide you with a spacious, comfortable camping experience, so it’s much more difficult to reduce its air resistance.
These days newer vehicles have a more aerodynamic design at the front edge to help reduce drag. There are also a few after-market accessories that you can install on the top and sides of your RV to make it more aerodynamic. These accessories create wind patterns around your RV body that stabilize it at highway speeds and decrease your air resistance.
If you’re towing a trailer, you can also improve your RV gas mileage by reducing the drag that gets caught between your vehicle and the trailer. You can usually find spoilers to attach to your vehicle’s roof that lets the air slide right over the trailer without causing additional drag.
If you have extra attachments which you won’t be using, such as a roof rack, take it off for the duration of your drive to improve your engine’s efficiency and save on fuel costs.
The best way to reduce drag without expensive attachments is simply to limit your speed while driving on the highway. Air resistance increases with speed, so driving too fast will also consume fuel more quickly.
Reduce Weight in Your RV
Weight is another big factor adversely affecting fuel consumption. Decreasing the weight in your RV can really help you save at the pump.
If you know that your campgrounds have water hookups, then you might want to empty your water tanks before driving. The water in your freshwater tank can really add on the pounds.
Buying supplies closer to your destination can also help. You can go to a supermarket close to the campground for food, drinks, and cooking supplies rather than hauling that stuff down the highway.
Also, avoid overpacking. We know that it’s easy to get worried about running out of food, supplies, or clothes when you’re out camping, but overpacking not only weighs down your RV but also usually leads to more waste after the trip.
Keep Your Tires Pressurized and Maintained
Nothing decreases gas mileage like low-pressure tires. Sometimes you can even feel the difference in steering and accelerating when your tires have insufficient pressure.
When your RV has underinflated tires, it requires more energy to move the wheels over the flattened base of the tires. This energy requirement uses more gas, which results in fewer miles per gallon and especially makes a difference over long road trips.
Check your recommended tire pressure before setting out on long trips. You can usually find this information on a sticker inside the vehicle door. You can either use a personal tire gauge to check tire pressure or check at a gas station.
You should also regularly check the treads of your tires. Worn-out treads don’t have adequate traction and will start to slip or skid on the road surfaces. If your tires slip while you’re accelerating, you may be burning up extra fuel without going anywhere fast.
The typical way to check your tire tread is with a quarter. When you slip a quarter into the treads, the tread should cover the date on the coin. If you can still read the coin date, it might be time to change your tires.
Schedule Regular Maintenance
Keeping your vehicle properly maintained is essential for better gas mileage. Here are some easy to check things to watch out for:
Regularly Replace Your Engines Air Filter
Air filters become dirty and clogged over time and a dirty air filter will have to work harder to take in oxygen to burn with the fuel. Sometimes this extra work can decrease your gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.
Your engine’s air filter needs to be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. You or your mechanic should be keeping track of the last time you had the air filter replaced, but if you don’t remember replacing it in the last year then it’s probably about time.
Check Your Spark Plugs
When spark plugs misfire, this will cause engines to use extra gas without giving you any extra speed or distance.
Bad spark plugs can affect your RV fuel economy by as much as 30 percent, according to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. If you find that you are spending more at the pump than you expected, get your spark plugs checked out.
Regular tune-ups usually improve your fuel mileage by 3–4 percent. This might not seem like much, but tune-ups are necessary anyway for proper maintenance and to prevent breakdowns.
Faulty Oxygen Sensors
A tune-up, however, can detect if you need to replace a faulty oxygen sensor, and this can improve your fuel efficiency by as much as 40 percent.
Check Your Motor Oil/Change Your Oil
As the lubricating oil in your engine gets old, it breaks down and can’t perform its function as well. Your engine starts to run hotter, wasting energy on friction instead of smooth operation.
Old oil also leaves build-up and deposits which makes it work harder to cycle the cylinders.
Getting your oil changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, or every 6 months, is a quick and easy way for better fuel economy. You should also visually check your motor oil every time you fill up at the gas pump to make sure you have sufficient fuel and that the oil isn’t compromised.
It is also advisable to use lower viscosity oil as this flows more easily through the engine’s fuel system and requires less energy transfer to do so than higher viscosity oils.
Plan Your Departure to Avoid Traffic
Getting stuck in bad traffic will drain your gas tank faster than anything else. It’s frustrating, hot, and slow-moving.
When you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic in a traffic jam, your vehicle usually doesn’t shift into the upper gears. In fact, you might stay in first gear for long periods. This is a horribly inefficient way to travel and will result in poor fuel efficiency.
Not only are you moving slow and wasting fuel in your lower gear, but even with the windows rolled down you probably won’t be getting much of a breeze. In this situation, you’ll probably end up using your AC and consuming more fuel this way as well.
Avoiding peak traffic periods is a great way to get better gas mileage, and in general, enjoy your driving time much more.
Avoid Refueling on the Weekend
This isn’t exactly a tip on how to get better gas mileage, but instead, this is advice for saving money at the gas pump.
Gas prices generally increase on the weekends. There are many reasons for this including that many drivers only find time to refuel on the weekend, so gas stations raise their fuel costs because of increased demand.
Also, many vacationers just like yourself start their trips on the weekends. Gas companies understand this, and they know that you’ll fill up your vehicles before starting out on your trip.
If you can, fill up your fuel tank early in the week before your trip. Especially with a large RV gas tank, this can save you a lot of money.
You might also consider keeping some gas canisters filled in your car or recreational vehicle so that you can fill them up at the end of your trip, before heading home. This way, you can avoid the expensive gas stations that you find near your tourist destinations. The gas companies will hate you for your smart preparation and careful planning.
Don’t Waste Your Money on Premium Gas
Here’s another tip to save money at the fuel pump: just get regular unleaded for your RV.
Unless your RV manufacturer’s recommendations specify a higher octane rating fuel, your vehicle will run just fine on regular. Premium octane will not improve your fuel efficiency. Your bottom line will appreciate the savings from using regular gas.
RV and Trailer Specific Tips
There are two things you need to know about your RV specifically if you want to understand how to get better gas mileage.
First, it’s important to balance your rig and load your RV properly. Keep heavy items near the floor, and make sure you don’t unbalance your RV on one side. If your RV shows any signs of tilting while you are parked on level ground, this is a big sign that your fuel efficiency will suffer.
Second, if you’re towing an RV trailer, or if your RV is towing a trailer behind it, make sure you don’t exceed the weight load on the tongue. Check the owner’s manual to find out the maximum tongue load and balance your trailer weight accordingly. An overloaded tongue is harder to handle while driving and will also decrease your gas mileage.
If you learned something from this article, please feel free to share it on social media or send it to your RV friends and family. We’re sure if you apply the advice on this list, you’ll be saving a lot of gas money on your next trip!
As always, we welcome your comments below, whether advice, experience, or further questions!