In the light of the escalating fuel price and the fact that we all have caravans / tents ..will camp, I have put together a few common sense fuel saving tips to apply whilst towing, which may help that costly litre of fuel go the proverbial “extra mile”
• Ensure that the vehicle is in a proper state of tune and serviced, paying particular attention to fuel, air and oil filters, exhaust etc. A blocked exhaust or dirty air filter can use up to 15% more fuel
• Check that the tyres are correctly inflated on both towing vehicle and caravan, allowing for the extra load packed. Under inflated tyres cause drag using more fuel and are also dangerous
• Make certain that the caravan is attached to the tow ball level or slightly nose down relative to the towing vehicle. A caravan that sways or fishtails causes excessive drag using much more fuel, and of course is uncomfortable and dangerous to tow.
• Do not overload the towing vehicle or caravan. Draw up a list of items and equipment needed and then cut out what is not absolutely necessary. Try weighing the individual items on a bathroom scale and add up the totals…you will be shocked at the result.
• Unless you are going off-road and away from civilisation, don’t travel with all water tanks / gas bottles full, and a months groceries, you can always get these at your destination. I always just take enough for the first couple of days.
• The noseweight should ideally be between 75-90kg and in some cases even more. A heavy nose weight helps produce a stable tow along with correct packing of the caravan, ie. pack heavy items low down and secured across the axle area, etc.
• Make sure that the caravan’s brakes are not binding and the handbrake is down, as this will increase fuel consumption and create excessive heat build up on the wheels leading to bearing failure in extreme conditions. Jack up the caravan until the wheels are off the floor and then spin the wheels, which should turn freely and without scraping. If not, then the brake shoes or cable / rod may need adjustment.
• When leaving home, drive away immediately whilst the engine is cold using mild throttle pressure to allow the engine to reach operating temperature as soon as possible. Idling the car in the driveway for half an hour before you leave is a terrible waste of fuel and does more damage to the engine than good.
• Accelerate smoothly (don’t race)through the gears and keep the engine revolutions as close as possible to the maximum torque at the appropriate speed. This will ensure that the engine does not labour under a wide throttle in the wrong gear. This not only increases fuel consumption, but accelerates engine wear as well.
• Tow at a safe and reasonable speed taking into account the circumstances. 100 – 110 kmh should be the maximum towing speed under any conditions. In addition to the safety factor an increase of only 5% in speed can equate to a 20% increase in fuel consumption.
• Change down gears timeously, especially when approaching a hill or long incline. Don’t try and maintain your towing speed at all costs, this plays havoc with fuel consumption, rather maintain the engine speed in the appropriate gear.
• Most vehicles have a 5th gear that is an overdrive ratio with 4th gear often being the most economical gear to tow in. Try out your vehicles’ consumption on a similar stretch of road, first in 5th and then in 4th and compare results if you are able to fill up in between
• Don’t race up to a stop street, toll gate or other speed limit change and then slam on brakes. Anticipate the road ahead and take your foot off the accelerator allowing the vehicle to slow down gradually.
• Do not free wheel (drive in neutral) down a hill. You may save some fuel but you will have less control over the rig and cause a loss of engine lubrication etc.
• At night, don’t drive with unnecessary auxiliary lights on, this makes the alternator work harder using more fuel.
• Pop-top caravans are more streamlined than a conventional caravan and consequently use less fuel. If towing with a bakkie etc, make sure the load bay is covered either with a canopy or tonneau cover, to reduce drag.
• The use of the air conditioner does use additional fuel, but when weighed up compared to the drag caused by open windows, the effect is not that great and we all just have to have aircon for that Karoo don’t we!
• Always use the highest octane of fuel available when filling up. This ensures that the engine will operate at it’s optimum. The same applies to diesel, I have done my own tests and found that I personally achieved a 3-5% improvement in consumption just by using a cleaner burning fuel such as Sasol Turbo Diesel.
• Most aftermarket gadgets for improving fuel consumption are useless and are not worth the paper they are advertised on. This was noted by Car magazine some years ago.
• Stick to the towing regulations and ensure that your towing vehicle is suited to your caravan / trailer and vice versa. I know that financial considerations are usually the biggest deciding factor, but it does not help to tow an Exclusive for example with a normally aspirated 2500 diesel bakkie, even if the legal requirements are met.
• Lastly, if all else fails, leave Mother-in Law at home (or should this be at the top of the list!!)
I am sure there are other fuel saving measures applied by fellow campers, but the bottom line is common sense and a light foot.