Dear EarthTalk: My wife and I drive more than 20,000 miles a year in our recreational vehicle (RV) which gets about seven miles to the gallon, but high fuel prices are eating into our nest egg. Are there more fuel efficient ways to enjoy the RV lifestyle?
-- Walter Hendricks, Tampa, Florida
Major RV manufacturers all report a downturn in sales since the price of fuel started to skyrocket a few years ago. A typical RV weighs more and gets worse gas mileage than an 18-wheeler truck, and those who might have bought one in the past to save money on lodging and food on their road travels are now realizing that filling ‘er up might end up costing more than hotels and restaurants.
But as with the auto and truck industry overall, some RV manufacturers are scrambling to incorporate new features and design new models with better fuel efficiency and a lower overall carbon footprint.
According to the website RV.net, several factors go into designing a greener RV. First and foremost is reducing weight, which can be accomplished by using lighter materials and improving the structural design. Reducing the size of RV engines also can help reduce fuel consumption (as well as overall weight)—if owners can live with trading off some horsepower, that is. More efficient transmissions, better aerodynamics and increased non-powered engine cooling round out the suggestions on RV.net.
Some of these features can be found in the new Avanti line of RVs from Indiana-based Damon Motor Coach, which offers a 70 percent or more increase in fuel economy over other large (“Class A”) RVs. Damon essentially converted the ultra-efficient chassis, engine and transmission of a leading parcel delivery fleet truck—package delivery companies optimize for fuel efficiency in their fleets to save on fuel—for use as an RV. The Avanti’s chassis also sits lower than other RVs, so it gets less wind resistance. These factors add up in fuel efficiency—14.5 miles per gallon—double that of other RVs in its class.
Of course, size isn’t everything. Ontario-based Roadtrek takes stripped down commercial vans—such as the Chevrolet Express or Dodge Sprinter—and converts them into deluxe, albeit smaller, motor homes with fuel efficiency ranging from 15 to 30 miles per gallon. Meanwhile, Sportsmobile also offers a wide range of converted GM and Ford vans customized as motor homes. Owners of Volkswagen’s popular “pop-top” Eurovan, discontinued in North America in 2003, can reportedly sell their vans for what they paid for them new, even with high mileage, due to surging demand and lack of supply.
Another option for reducing fuel consumption is to put a “slide-in” camper-top onto an existing pick-up truck. The additional weight will decrease fuel efficiency slightly, but you’ll still get much better mileage than with any kind of large RV. Those used to roomier accommodations might opt to tow a “fifth-wheel”—a large RV-style trailer with all the amenities—behind a suitable car, pick-up or SUV with a trailer hitch.
But no matter what, living on the road is not going to be good for your carbon footprint or for the environment in general. If the environment is a big concern, giving up the RV—and outfitting your home with energy efficient windows and appliances—might just be the most responsible thing you can do.
CONTACTS: RV.net, www.rv.net; Damon Motor Coach, www.damonrv.com; Roadtrek, www.roadtrek.com; Sportsmobile, www.sportsmobile.com.
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Correction (posted 11/4/08): When originally posted, the second-to-last paragraph of this story was missing the word "decrease" in the sentence beginning "The additional weight." The word has been added.