How To Get The Most Out Of Your RV Fuel Mileage

Congratulations, you did it; you bought a recreational vehicle! Now, it's time to head out on the road and enjoy the country in comfort and style. Of course, comfort does come at a price, and that price is determined by the cost at the pump. Whether you own a gas or diesel engine, filling your tank can be a pain in the wallet. In fact, fueling up your camper is the biggest recurring cost you will face.

So how do you calculate your actual mileage on your recreational vehicle?

Step #1: Make It Easy.

Using a smartphone app makes calculating your mileage easy. The key is using it at the pump. If you forget to enter your data at the time you fill-up, you may be frustrated. Here are a few of the most popular mileage/gas station apps:

  • FuelLog is a free app that helps you save money on gas. It allows you to import and export data to make an in-depth analysis of your costs and expenses.

  • Garmin Mechanic (Android Only)* analyzes your fuel usage and vehicle performance over the course of your travels. It is available for both phone and tablets.

  • Mileage Keeper (iPhone)* tracks your odometer reading and amount of fuel each time you are at the pump. You can also take note of any changes in your drive that may have affected your fuel consumption, such as hills, the wind or even flat roads. Mileage Keeper also calculates your fuel economy and anticipated distance available between fill ups.

  • GasBuddy* works with both Android and Apple phones. It helps you to locate the least expensive fuel on the spur of the moment.

  • Truck Stop Apps* helps you find a place to fuel your big rig. If you own an Android, try Truck Stop Locator. If you own an iPhone, try Truck Stops and Travel Plazas.

Step #2: Go Old School.

If the idea of doing one more thing at the pump has you pulling out your hair, consider tracking mileage the old fashion way.

  • Use a small notebook and keep track of the mileage you traveled by jotting down the current number on your odometer when you refilled. Also, note the type of terrain you experienced, as well as your average speed while driving.

  • Be sure to get a receipt and put it in an envelope to be sorted at a later time. (The key is to make the time.)

  • Most RV's have a built-in tracking system that makes driving a bit like a video game. While these digital assists are a cool feature, you can't always rely on them. Using your actual receipts is the only way to tell what fuel mileage you are achieving.

  • Do The Math. Divide the miles traveled by the amount of gallons it took to refill the tank. The result will be your rigs average Miles Per Gallon for that driving period. You can repeat this procedure every time you refill your tank to monitor your gas mileage. (See EarthEasy.com for more information)

Although there is no avoiding this expense, there are ways to curb how much you pay by following some simple tips!

Step 3: Don't Skimp On Vehicle Maintenance.

Just like the car you drive every day, an RV needs to be regularly maintained to get the best possible performance. If you follow these maintenance tips, hopefully, you will notice an increase in your RV’s fuel economy.

  • Check Your Tires. If you’re out on the road and you don’t have optimal tire pressure, not only are you reducing your fuel efficiency, but you also may be wearing out your tires faster than if they were properly inflated. A gauge and a pump will do the trick, and you can even install a tire monitoring system that can tell you when to pump up the tires.

  • Change the Oil. Changing your RV’s oil regularly and using a high-quality oil will help to reduce the internal friction under the hood, which can result in fewer trips to the gas pump. How often you change the oil depends on what kind of vehicle you have, as well as how often you drive it and what kind of oil you use.

  • Use the Correct Fuel. Your RV’s manual will let you know the proper type of gas to use for your vehicle. If you use Regular when it needs Premium, it may affect how efficiently the engine runs. You may pay more upfront for better quality fuel, but you’ll save money in the long run on maintenance.

  • Get a Tune-Up. Regular checkups are essential for your RV. Air filter, spark plugs, wires or other parts need to be replaced and can decrease your fuel mileage when uncared for. Malfunctioning parts can affect your RV’s fuel efficiency, so don't skimp.

Step 4: Drive Efficiently.

Driving at a slower speed and using your cruise control can save you a lot of money at the pump. Breaking bad driving habits takes time, but focusing on consistent driving will help your wallet!

Try these suggestions:

  • Shut Off the Engine. If you’re idling while parked for more than a couple of minutes, turning off the engine is a big help. Large gas engines like the one in your RV use a lot of fuel while sitting idle, so next time you’re waiting for a train to pass or a bridge to come down, turn off the vehicle. A Diesel engine offers a fast idle button, which saves fuel and protects the engine.

  • Use Cruise Control and Overdrive. When you’re on the highway or interstate and there’s not a lot of traffic, don’t be afraid to use your RV’s cruise control and overdrive. These tools will help maintain a steady speed and will minimize needless bursts of gas to the engine.

  • Slow it Down. For every five miles per hour you go over 65, fuel economy drops by about seven percent. If you feel uneasy about going so slow on the interstate, try to get in the habit of taking the back roads. Not only will you help save on gas, but you’ll also see the most scenic parts of town. While each RV is different, many owners find that 55-60 is the sweet spot for getting the best mileage.

  • Avoid Inconsistent Gassing. Putting the pedal to the floor and braking a lot will send you to the gas pump quicker. Try to avoid situations where you might be doing either, like driving in rush hour traffic.

  • Keep Cool. This refers not only to the engine, but the temperature outside. If your RV has a diesel engine, overheating can cause some real damage. Gas engines can recover from overheating much quicker. In regards to weather, traveling at cooler times of the day will help prevent you from using your air conditioning, which will in turn help keep you out of the gas station a bit more.

Step 5: Watch Your Weight.

Traveling with an appropriately weighted RV is essential to saving on fuel. When your rig is overweight, your vehicle's engine has to work much harder.

  • Pay Attention to Your Tanks. Both your water and waste tanks can put unnecessary weight on your RV. If you’ve been camping for a while and the waste tanks are full, be sure to empty them before heading back out onto the road. In regards to the water tank, only fill that up if you plan on dry camping – one gallon of water can add up to eight pounds of weight! Personally, our RV has a 125-gallon water tank; that's over 1,000 pounds of extra weight when full!

  • Watch Your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Your GVWR tells you how much weight your vehicle can handle without causing too much strain. It's always best to weigh your RV at a truck stop or other industrial scale to see how much weight you’re carrying.

  • Evenly Distribute the Weight. Putting too much pressure on one part of the RV can throw off the balance of the entire vehicle, causing it to run inefficiently. Pack your RV from side to side and front to back.

  • Take Fewer Supplies. Taking only what you need and either leaving certain things at home or picking them up when you get to your destination can help lighten your RV’s load.

Step 6: Consider Your Fuel Source.

If you've been an RVer for any length of time, you know there is a raging debate between owning a gas or a diesel engine. Both have their pro's and con's.

When it comes to mileage, here's how it works:

  • A Gas Engine. Gas engine RV's cost less, are less expensive to maintain and can usually be worked on at any shop. They are less fuel efficient, using more gas per gallon per mile traveled. Gas fuel pumps are slow. It takes longer to fill up your gas tank than a to fill a Diesel tank. The average life of a Gas Recreational Vehicle is 100,000 miles.

  • A Diesel Engine. Diesel engine RV's cost more, are more expensive to maintain and harder to find people to work on them. Rates for repairs are higher than Gas Engines. They also use three times more oil than a gas engine. On the flip side, Diesel engines go a lot longer between maintenance appointments. They get better gas mileage and are very fast to fuel at the pump. Most Diesel RV's feature a dual tank, so you can fill it up on either side of the rig. The average life of a well cared for Diesel Recreational Vehicle is 500,000 to 1 million miles.

In today's day and age, the price of gas and diesel fluctuate greatly. In some areas, gas is more expensive than diesel and in other regions, diesel has a higher cost. Regardless of the fuel you choose, paying by cash will save you money at most truck stops. This simple tip could save you hundreds of dollars in the course of a year.

Our big rig has a 300-gallon diesel tank. At $4.00 a gallon, it costs $1,200 each time we fill up (You can see why we were doing the happy dance when the price plummeted to $2.00 a gallon!). We own a 42-foot coach, which tows a car and motorcycle. We average eight miles to the gallon, so one tank of gas will take us approximately 2,400 miles (Mileage will decrease if we have lots of hills or wind). We are careful to maintain our Diesel engine and to drive 55-60mph at all times. The previous owners of our rig averaged just six miles to the gallon, which proves that if you are careful, you can improve your overall fuel mileage.

Once you get your RV running at peak efficiency, make sure to share what you’ve learned with your fellow RVers. Everyone wants to save a little money at the gas pump. While you’ll never stop paying a lot to fill up your RV, hopefully, these tips will help you shave off a few bucks here and there. After all, even though it might cost a little more to travel in your RV, isn’t it worth a few extra bucks to be able to see the country?

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