RV in sunshine with solar power on roof

How Does Pulling a Camper Trailer Affect Gas Mileage?

I started my life as a driver with a 1985 Chrysler Le Baron.  It got 21 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway.  By today’s standards, it would have been considered a gas hog.  In the 1980s however, it was quite a fuel efficient little machine.

I then moved onto a 2000 Honda Civic which averaged 35 miles per gallon.  Needless to say, when I began thinking about buying a truck and towing a camper, I was extremely interested in knowing what my gas mileage would be.

So, how does pulling a camper affect gas mileage?  The average vehicle will lose around seven miles per gallon by attaching a camper. This number is affected by factors like weight, aerodynamics, and size. Therefore, the number can be cut in half, while others won’t be affected much at all.

To understand this number, we have to look at different camper sizes is as well as several towing vehicles.

Let’s look at some numbers and examples!

rv on the road

For this post, I defined the average camper as a standard camper built with a 2″ x 2″ wood frame.  It is mostly rectangular with some small aerodynamic considerations made at the front of the camper.  The length is over 21 feet, but less than 28 feet.

The tow vehicle is a full-size truck and it is shorter and more narrow than the camper it is towing.  A great example of this would be a Ford F-150 towing a 25 foot long Jayco White Hawk.

Factors That Affect Gas Mileage

  • The weight of the camper.
  • The aerodynamics of the camper.
  • The size of the tow vehicle.

All-else-equal, a lighter camper will have less of an impact on gas mileage than a heavier camper.  This is one of the reasons why a person might choose a fiberglass camper over an aluminum camper.

The aerodynamics of a camper can also greatly affect the gas mileage of a camper.  The more aerodynamic a camper is, the less it will affect fuel consumption.  This is especially true when towing longer campers at higher speeds.

The height and the width of your tow vehicle will also determine the effect towing a camper has on your gas mileage.  This is because you’ll experience less drag when a camper is fully situated behind your tow vehicle.

A tow vehicle’s engine size will also determine how dramatically towing a camper changes its fuel consumption.  The larger the engine, the less of an effect towing a camper will have on it.  For example, a truck that gets 15 miles per gallon may not experience a change in fuel consumption when pulling a small popup camper.

The small 4 cylinder car, on the other hand, may lose 10 miles per gallon while towing the same small popup camper.

10 Actual Examples of Gas Mileage With And Without A Trailer Camper

Tow Vehicle Camper Gas Mileage While Towing Gas Mileage Without Camper Change in gas mileage
2000 Dodge Ram 1500 4×4 with 360 engine 19-foot travel trailer 7 miles per gallon N/A N/A
H2 Hummer small folding camper 11 miles per gallon 11 miles per gallon None
H3 Hummer Evolution E3 12 miles per gallon 17 miles per gallon 5 miles per gallon less
2006 Ford Explorer v6 XLT 4000 pound Antigua camper 12 miles per gallon 18 miles per gallon 6 miles per gallon less
2007 Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins 5.9L Engine 26FB-DSL Denali 13 miles per gallon 17 miles per gallon 4 miles per gallon less
1/2 ton Suburban with Vortec 350ci 30’8000-pound camper 7.5 miles per gallon N/A N/A
2002 Duramax with EFI live tuning 34′ Holiday Rambler 15 miles per gallon N/A N/A
2006 Duramax 28′ Trailer 13 miles per gallon 16 miles per gallon 3 miles per gallon less
07 Hummer H3 3.7 Liter 2007 Fleetwood Evolution E3 15 miles per gallon 19 miles per gallon 4 miles per gallon less
2005 Dodge 1500 27 ‘ Zinger trailer 8 miles per gallon 16 miles per gallon 8 miles per gallon less

We compiled this charge based off of data found on a camper forum.

Average Cost Increase Of Towing

With an average decrease of seven miles per gallon, you can expect your trip to cost more.

How much more will depend on the length of your trip as well as how many trips you plan to go on each year.

A truck that normally gets 15 miles per gallon, but only gets 8 miles per gallon while towing will consume an additional 17.5 gallons of fuel for a 300-mile round-trip.  If fuel prices are $2.50 a gallon, they’ll end up spending an additional $43.50.

Is the additional cost worth it?

This additional cost isn’t bad considering they’ll have a place to stay when they get to their destination.  The main question is how much would it cost them to rent a place at their destination and how long would they have to do it for.

Here are some numbers to consider:

The person decides to stay at a state park and pays a fee of $25.00 a day to stay there.  They stay for the weekend.  Over the course of two days, they’ll pay $50.00 plus the additional cost of $43.50 in gas.  This comes out to $93.50.

Had they driven their truck without the camper, they could have gotten a cabin for $50.00 a day at the same state park.  This would have cost them $100.00 and they wouldn’t have had to pay the $43.50 in additional fuel costs.

Even so, they’ll end up paying $6.50 more for the cabin.

Imagine they decide to stay for an entire week.  They’d pay $350.00 in cabin fees versus $175.00 and the fuel costs would have remained the same at $43.50.  This trip would be $131.50 less expensive and they’d get to sleep in their own bed and cook in their own kitchen.

Should I Buy An Aerodynamic Camper?

Once you know the basics of aerodynamics, it is much easier to buy an aerodynamic camper.

Unfortunately, many camper companies have put marketing over the truth and what most people think are aerodynamic campers, really aren’t. 

Hopefully, I can clear up some of these misconceptions, so you’ll know what to look for when you buy.

The Basics of Aerodynamics

Nasa defines aerodynamics as, “the way air moves around things”.  That’s a pretty simple description, but it really brings the topic down to its essence.  The easier it is for air to flow around an object, the more aerodynamic it is.

Camper aerodynamics can be achieved in three main ways. 

  • The camper can be shaped so that air easily flows around it.
  • The camper can be made smaller so that it is exposed to less wind.
  • The tow vehicle can be larger so that the camper fits behind its wind tunnel.

Aerodynamic Shape

Wind-tunnel studies have shown that the most aerodynamic designs are rounded at both the front and the back on all sides.  They are also smaller at the back than they are at the front.  This shape is the ideal shape for reducing drag and increasing gas mileage.

When looking for an aerodynamically created camper, try to find one that is shaped more like a plane than a vehicle.

Types of Aerodynamic Campers

  • Folding campers.
  • Telescopic campers.
  • Campers built using aerodynamic design principles.

Folding campers are more aerodynamic simply because they take up less space.  Not only this, but they are often made from lightweight canvas materials which further helps to increase gas mileage.

A folding camper may also be called a pop-up camper or PUP for short.

Telescopic campers follow the same design principles that folding campers do.  They reduce wind resistance by reducing their size.  The top half will lower over itself and then raise again to full height once the camper reaches his or her destination.

These types of campers can also be shaped in an aerodynamic way as well.  A great example of this would be the Hi-Lo Camper.

Aerodynamic campers can be found in teardrop models as well as full-size models.  The Airstream campers make use of aerodynamics by rounding the front, the back, and the sides.

An example of a camper that has taken aerodynamics to the extreme is the Bowlus Roadchief.  This camper is rounded at the front and around the sides and ends in a shape that almost looks like the tail-end of an airplane.

How to Choose A Lightweight Camper?

  • Get a smaller camper.
  • Buy a camper that uses lighter building materials.

The easiest way to save on weight when buying a camper is to simply buy a smaller camper.  When everything else is equal, the smaller camper will always be the lighter camper.

Another way to cut down on weight is to buy a camper that is built from lighter materials.  This can be done by buying a camper that is built from superior light-weight materials or one that is simply built by using fewer materials.

If you’re looking for a longer-lasting camper, buy the one built from superior materials.  It’s better to pay more for a camper made from fiberglass than to pay more for a camper built with less wood than it should be built with.

Just be sure to compare camper weights based off the dry weight.  This is because one camper might weigh more simply because it has a larger fresh-water tank.