Downsizing your RV (to save money) may cost more than you realize

Downsizing your RV (to save money) may cost more than you realize

By Curtis Carper

The high cost of fuel has many people thinking twice about investing in a large, comfortable motorhome. Many, with an economical SUV in the garage, are choosing smaller travel trailers with the notion that towing with an economy vehicle will result in less fuel consumed.

All too often this notion is pure fallacy. Before you jump on the bandwagon, give some thought to my personal experience. Sometimes the best thought out plans just don’t work out as expected, and better you should learn from my mistakes instead of making them on your own.

Last summer I took a hard look at the 30-foot gas engine motorhome sitting in my driveway and decided to put it up for sale. With mileage on a good day running around 10 mpg, it was hard to justify going any distance for what it would do to our recreation budget.

I had a brand-new Dodge Caravan that was rated to tow a trailer up to 3,500 pounds, so when the motorhome was safely headed down the road to its new home I went shopping for a lightweight travel trailer.

Once we had owned an RV that has all the normal amenities, downsizing to anything that didn’t have those same “necessities” wasn’t something either myself or any lady friend could accept. Things like an air conditioner, complete bathroom and, of course, cooking facilities were a must. After all, we had no interest in primitive camping — this is supposed to be fun.

It was an annoyance to drop the dinette into a bed every night, but we thought we could live with that. What we didn’t expect is that in a 13-foot travel trailer the space limitations are so severe you bump into yourself if you turn around too quickly. Two people standing was an impossibility — one had to always be seated at the dinette.

For all this new inconvenience, it took but a 50-mile trip to realize the Dodge Caravan was no match for the trailer. I knew it would dramatically shorten the life of the car, so I shortly purchased a secondhand Jeep Cherokee for trailer-towing duty. By itself the Jeep managed about 24 mpg, and if I kept the transmission locked out of overdrive it handled the trailer okay up to a speed of about 60 mph.

This little trailer only weighed about 2,400 pounds, well within the rating of the Jeep, which the manual said could handle up to 5,000 pounds. Imagine our surprise when on a week-long trip the combination only managed the same 10 mpg we got with the gas motorhome. I think “disappointed” is pretty much an understatement. We had sacrificed all our comfort and gained not one penny more economy for our trouble.

Off to the RV dealer we went, and I drove away with an older 37-foot diesel pusher. Now we once again travel in complete comfort with even more space than we originally had. Now I’m very happy to report we still manage a good solid 10 mpg. Our ride is more comfortable, we have even more amenities and we have learned to live with the cost of fuel.

The moral of the story is if you ponder sacrificing comfort for the sake of economy, likely you should reconsider. Today’s economy SUVs can get good mileage solo, but when you add a trailer, economy goes right out the window.

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