Vandwelling Survivalist: Towing an Economy Car Behind Your Van or RV and Average 26.6 MPG!!
The combination of a Class C towing an economy car is what I consider to be just about ideal. You get all the comfort of the van or RV and also the fuel mileage of an economy car. Let me give you a real-life example: I have a good friend who bought a 1982 GMC Class C and a 1988 Ford Festiva and he tows the Festiva behind the RV. He loves living in it because it is large and comfortable, with all the comforts of home. You may be thinking, “That sounds great, but the RV gets such terrible gas mileage, I can’t afford to drive it.” In this post I want to show you a way to live in an RV and still average 26.6 MPG. Can you afford that? While it’s true that the RV only gets 7-8 MPG when you balance it out with the 40 MPG the Festiva gets, he averages 26.6 MPG. How’s that possible?
He is a campground host so almost 6 months of the year he’s in the same spot and never drives the Class C. After his job is over he also moves very little. Usually he moves from the Sierra Mountains to somewhere in the Arizona or California desert, once there he tends to sit in one place for long periods of time on Public Land. So the entire year he may only drive the RV 1000 miles. Dividing the 1000 miles he drives the RV by 8 MPG means he burns 125 gallons of gas a year driving it. The Festiva gets an honest 40 MPG so all of his other driving is in it. If he drives the Festiva 7000 miles a year he’ll burn 175 gallons of gas (7000 divided by 40). Added together, the net effect is that he drives 8000 miles and burns 300 gallons of gas per year. That means he averages 26.6 MPG (8000 miles divided by 300 gallons=26.6 MPG). Now that’s not bad!
Let me repeat that, he can drive an old class C and tow an economy car and average 26.6 MPG for the entire year!! Most of us can afford to do that!!
Actually, you can increase that number by living in a van and towing an economy car. Newer vans can get 12 MPG towing the car and the car will get the same MPG. Let’s figure that out. 1000 miles a year divided by 12 is 83 gallons of gas. The car will burn the same 175 gallons. So the total fuel burned for the year is 258 gallons. 8000 miles divided by 258 gallons is 31 MPG. Could you drive all you want if you were averaging 31 MPG? And yet you would still have the van to live in and most of us find that very comfortable.
For some reason most of us find the idea of a van pulling an economy car strange, and I don’t know why. I think that is something we should get over. My 1 Ton Chevy Express van could easily tow an economy car and would never know it was there. And having the economy car would allow me to v as much as I wanted and really explore an area. I could put the van in a storage lot or leave it in camp with friends and car camp out of it.
You might be intimidated by the idea of towing a car, but it’s surprisingly easy. Hooking it up is actually very simple. The tow bracket has expandable arms so you just drive up reasonably close to the back of the RV, pull out the arms, line them up with the brackets and drop a pin through them. Unhooking it is just a matter of removing the pins, pushing the arms back into the RV, and driving away.
Towing the car is also easy. They track well and you probably won’t even notice it’s there. Backing it up with the car is also very easy because it’s impossible!! You just can’t do it! So the only way to back it up is to unhook the car and drive it away. Simple! So while you are towing it you have to think way ahead and not get yourself in a position to back up the car and if you do you just take the time to unhook it. Yes, it can be inconvenient but most people adapt and it is seldom a problem. It teaches you patience and planning ahead!
Not all cars can be towed. Generally, the problem is the automatic transmission needs oil whenever the wheels are turning, and if the engine is off it doesn’t get oil. Usually automatic transmissions can’t be towed while cars with manual transitions or true 4 wheel drives (like a Jeep) can be. BUT! It’s impossible to make broad generalizations so before you buy a car or hook it up for the first time, check with the manufacturer to be sure if it can be towed safely for long distances.
What if you’re car can’t be towed? Sometimes there is a device you can buy that pumps fluid through the transmission and allows you to tow that car. If there isn’t one for your car, you either have to buy a different car or use a different method of towing. There are two other ways to tow cars that usually can’t be towed:
- With a Tow Dolly. A tow dolly is a two wheeled trailer that has ramps that let you drive the front wheels of your car up on the dolly. Then you can tow it because the two front drive tires aren’t on the ground and never turn. As far as I know this only works on front wheel drive cars. These are reasonably cheap and very easy to use. Some of them even come with racks in front of the car to carry a motorcycle.
- With a Car Hauler Trailer. This is a larger, heavier trailer that is designed to carry a car. Any vehicle can be safely towed on one of these because none of the tires ever move. It’s just like it’s parked at home. they are expensive and heavy, but it is easy to drive a car up on one.
If your car can be towed 4-down (all four wheels on the ground) you only need a tow bar. They are expensive but they are very easy to find used. They come in two parts. One part attaches to the RV and it’s nearly universal, you can look around and find it used. The other part attaches to the car and generally it’s specific to that model of car, so the odds are good that you can’t find it used. My friend easily found the part that goes on the RV used, but had to buy a new part that went in the Festiva. Together they cost him $600 and he was able to mount it himself.
Advantages of an RV Towing an Economy Car
- It’s the very best possible combination of all the comforts of home and decent fuel mileage.
- 26.6 MPG!!!!!
- Because both vehicles are so old, they are pretty cheap to buy. So if you are just getting started and have a limited budget, you might be able to afford it.
- Once you set-up camp, you don’t have to break camp to make a quick trip into town.
- Your things are more safe and secure inside the RV than they would be outside.
- If you break down or have to put one of them in the shop for repairs, you have a spare vehicle to drive. If you get stuck somewhere, you have a spare vehicle to drive for help.
- You can leave the Class C in a storage yard for about $35 a month and take the economy car tent camping for extended trips at 40 MPG. So when your itchy feet demand to move, you can afford to do it. That gives you the very best of both worlds.
- Towing a Jeep or other 4×4 lets you get further into the remote back-county than any van would let you.
- When you get older, and can’t live this life anymore, you can put the RV into a super cheap RV park and spend the rest of your life in it and still have a daily driver.
- If things get really bad, you can park the RV on remote Public land or your own land and treat it like a cabin and still drive the toad.
Disadvantages of an RV Towing an Economy Car
- If you buy older vehicles, expect to spend money in repairs. That’s good advice for all of us but especially true if your RV is 30 years old and your car is 25 years old.
- The number of engines you have to repair and maintain has doubled from one to two.
- You have to insure, register and pay taxes on two vehicles instead of one.
- They have zero stealth—for the most part camping in the city is difficult. Although there is the example of Tioga George who did it all the time. http://vagabonders-supreme.net/BoondockingNiteCamping.htm http://blog.vagabonders-supreme.net/
- They are more limited in where you can boondock. Their size means they can’t go as many places that a van can.
- Towing anything is inconvenient and towing a car is more inconvenient than most things.
For now the disadvantages outweigh the advantages for me, especially since I am carrying a motorcycle that gets 70 MPG. But when the price of gas doubles or triples, I will probably switch to a set-up like this and just park the Class C on a remote piece of public land or on my own land, and drive the toad (towed vehicle).