Vandwelling Survivalist: Towing an Economy Car Behind Your Van or RV and Average 26.6 MPG!!

I am a big fan of older Class Cs towing an older economy car. This particular combination cost $5000 and he averages 26.6 MPG!!

I am a big fan of older Class Cs towing an older economy car. This particular combination cost $6000 and he averages an honest 26.6 MPG per year for gas!!

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!!

A close up of the car and hitch. It looks complicated but hooking up is very simple and takes just a few minutes.

A close up of the car and hitch. It looks complicated but hooking up is very simple and takes just a few minutes.

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!

A close-up of the tow bar. Very simple to hook-up.

A close-up of my friends tow bar. It’s very simple to hook-up. I timed it and it took him 10 minutes from start to ready to drive away. The yellow wire goes to the magnetic trailer lights. 

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).

This rig belongs to another friend with an older Class C and tows a car. He want to be able to explore so he tows an older Mitsubishi Montero 4X4. It gets 22 MPG and is very good off-road. Again, he is 73 years old and has no problem hooking it up. the toad (towed vehicle).

This rig belongs to another friend with an older Class C who also has a toad (towed vehicle). He wants to be able to explore the back-country so he tows an older Mitsubishi Montero 4×4 (he paid $2000 for it). It gets 22 MPG and is very good off-road. He is 73 years old and has no problem hooking up the toad (towed vehicle). His total investment: $6000.

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

65 comments on “Vandwelling Survivalist: Towing an Economy Car Behind Your Van or RV and Average 26.6 MPG!!
  1. Openspaceman says:

    Bob_

    Nice analysis. Still stuck in the frozen Midwest…it’s refreshing and a little strange to see all this dirt and desert views. I appreciate getting to live vicariously thru all the folks you highlight in your journeys. But springs a comin’. Thanks.

  2. gary green says:

    HEY NOW BOB, i hope you do a pull trailer, were it be a cargo or a travel trailers, i.m.o. the cheapest way to go,in your next post. its seem to me more people go with this rig setup,because they last longer and cheaper to maintain, i think after all the years I’ve been traveling,( my ) perfect rig would be a mid size van and 18′ toy hauler travel trailer and a motor bike that will go on and off trail, and this setup is easier to find, than a class a or c or really a class b’s which are hard to find. JUST MY TWO CENTS!!!!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Gary, I agree, my motorcycle is working great for me. But for many (probably most) people it isn’t an option, they simply aren’t going to ride a motorcycle. Then there is the problem with bad weather and safety and motorcycles limited ability to carry cargo.

      For the majority of people, I think the toad is the better choice.
      Bob

  3. Bill from NC says:

    Hello Bob! I like your cyphering. 26 mpg the easy way. My parents had a Volkswagon Jetta first as a Toad and then the got a Chevy Malibu. The Malibu had to have a fuse pilled ehrn you towed but that was all. The Jetta was a stick shift so no problem. They ran the wheels off their toad, back then they called it a dingy.
    Bill from NC recently posted…Snowy days remind me of Singin Sam and Pullin Fred….My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      I’m a big fan of pulling a toad (I do remember them being called dingys, haven’t heard that in a long time!). Many advantages and few disadvantages.
      Bob

  4. Ad Addison says:

    I tow a 1997 30 ft 5th wheel with a 02 ford f250 4X4 TD 6 speed. Towing @ 55-60 rock solid 10MPG empty @ 70 20 MPG.. empty careful @ 55 I have hit 24 mpg on level. I have always felt 1 engine was best. We carry bicyles for running around close by. Fuel budget gets watched closely. End of monthly budget time to stay put.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ad, there is a LOT to be said for diesels! You must have the 7.3 which is a great engine.

      But there are also some real bad things to be said about them!!!!

      * Paying 20% more than gas
      * Paying much more for it when you first buy it
      * Oil Change and routine maintenance are very expensive.
      * The first major repair will wipe out a life-times fuel savings!! Most major diesel repairs will be more than the cost of my friends Festiva and all the repairs he puts in for the rest of it’s life.

      But I could be wrong.
      Bob
      When all is said and done, I have to believe that having the two engines will cost a tiny fraction of what that diesel will cost over the long-run.

      • DougB says:

        I think you’re right on diesels, Bob, as the better fuel mileage is now often cancelled out by higher per-gallon prices. On more modern diesels, you generally won’t get that up-front extra cost back unless you keep it maintained and literally outlast an overworked gas engine & trans that needs a rebuild. Having towed the same loads with both types, the main advantage of diesel is mainly performance, not savings. Used hard, the diesel will just churn uphill in high gear, while the gas version has to kick way down and thrash hard, over and over. Tough on the drivetrain, and more prone to long-term problems. But God help you if your diesel hits a mechanical snag out of warranty, oh my. No one ignores diesel filter and oil changes and lives to tell about it, except maybe a few VW Jetta owners.
        DougB recently posted…The Return of Spartan LuxuryMy Profile

        • Bob Bob says:

          Yeah, in the big economic picture they aren’t good.

          The one thing they do extremely well is move a LOT of weight. If you’ve got a big 5th wheel or other RV, they are far better than gas. Otherwise, the smart money goes to gas.
          Bob

  5. Corky52 says:

    When you have a towed you can use the cheap places way out on the edge. Right now I’m midway between LA and San Diego, I’ve worked jobs in both areas, but pay a very cheap rent for the space I’m in.

    There are screaming deals on Craigs list everyday for both A and C type motorhomes, with a little looking you can find a nice RV to live in very cheap.

    See the country in short hops, move the MH and towed once every few weeks and the spend the interveing time exploring the area around the new spot.

    Corky

    • Bob Bob says:

      Absolutely wonderful plan Corky!! Let me give you an example: my friend left the Class C with a friend and drove the Festiva to Baja, Mexico and rented a palyapa (grass hut) on the beach for $5 a day. He swam every day, ate fresh fish and had the best time of his life in paradise. No way could he have afforded to drive the Class C down there.

      When you get 40 MPG a whole new world opens up to you.
      Bob

  6. joey says:

    Hey Bob, I really like having the extra room in my Class C. I am saving up now to get a toad.

  7. Calvin R says:

    One advantage of this stands out for certain people. Those with a background in office work could use the small car to work in a town. Given the creature comforts of the RV, fitting in at the surface level would be relatively easy, and fitting in is very important in some kinds of work. Having a car rather than a two-wheeler would add a great deal to that.

    For me, the great drawback would be trying to maintain two vehicles. I do not have the physical ability or the skills that many others do. If I work a full schedule at a decent wage, I’d pay someone to do at least part of it. Doing that would keep me from really making the most of my time on the road. That’s all part of the balancing act we must all do to make our decisions.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, maintaining two engines and transmissions really is the main drawback. But I look at it this way, nearly all of us maintain one vehicle as our daily driver, so nothing changes there. We’ve just added the RV, and we only drive it 1000 miles a year, so it shouldn’t add that much. An oil change once a year, new tires every 7 years and not much else.

      The key is always to have an emergency fund to cover possible problems, and it will have to be bigger for two rigs. If you can do that, I honestly don’t think it will be a big problem.
      Bob

  8. Offroad says:

    stop making me change my mind about what I like!! The Mitsubishi Montero in tow behind the class C is my new goal. For this week.

    • Bob Bob says:

      offroad, I understand! Having a great 4X4 as a toad really appeals to me too. But if it were me I would get a Jeep Cherokee. Under the sheet metal they are exactly like a Jeep and that opens up a huge world of aftermarket products, and you can pick them up cheap. They have a great engine and transmission in them.

      Plus, they are big enough for you to sleep in them and take a longer trip in them and leave the RV at home.
      bob

  9. Having experienced my first season in the land of snow birds and full-time RVers, I would not be surprised if one day I were to see a big Class A with another Class A as its toad. 😉
    Al Christensen recently posted…Bienvenue à ma cauchemar.My Profile

  10. CAE says:

    Yes, the whole secret of having a low mpg vehicle is not to drive it very much. Find a nice place to park and stay there a long while. The rest is up to the individual to decide.

    • Bob Bob says:

      I totally agree CAE. My van gets around 14 mpg and I just HATE driving it as a daily driver. I love it as a tow vehicle but the thought of it sucking gas for a quick trip to town drives me crazy!

      My problem is I get antsy and itchy feet so I just want to go for a drive and a quick rip to town relieves that. What to do!?

      By a motorcycle that gets 70 MPG and can travel on the freeway! I love riding my Honda Rebel, especially when I stop to fill it up with gas!
      Bob

  11. Linda Sand says:

    I own a Honda CR-V that is set up for towing and even with my limited abilities I can hitch and unhitch it by myself. My van can tow it. But, for some reason, Dave thinks I should leave the CR-V with him when I head south since our local bus only runs at rush hour and doesn’t even go to a grocery store or our medical clinic. 🙂

    Another way to get a good toad is to watch RVing forums for used ones for sale. That way they already have the base plate installed.
    Linda Sand recently posted…Minnesota SunsetMy Profile

  12. Corky52 says:

    Best of all worlds is a Suzuki Samurai or Geo Tracker as a towed, good gas mileage, reasonable size, 4×4, and big enough act and look like a civilized car if needed. My Honda Civic is in the next class down, lacks the 4×4 macho.

    Corky

    • Bob Bob says:

      Corky, the Samarai and Tracker have achieved cult status among RVers. That’s kept the price pretty high.

      The Cherokee would still by my first choice. They get about the same MPG and the Cherokee is quite a bit larger. It should cost less as well.
      Bob

      • OneBiteCannibal says:

        Corky and Bob, you are right about the Samurai and Tracker. I was lucky enough to get my Suzuki Samurai back when the prices were more reasonable. Hooked up to it is a small (4ft x 4ft) off-road trailer I built to hold all my fishing and outdoor cooking gear. I tow the Samurai and its trailer on an 18ft long utility trailer behind my GMC Savana 3500 hi-top van (LWB). You can tell it’s back there, but it not bad really, although it costs me a few miles per gallon.

        I like being able to set up base camp in the middle of nowhere, and then back the Samurai off the “big” trailer and head off exploring rougher terrain and all but impassible trails. I would post a pic of the combination but I don’t see how to do that here.

  13. Bill from NC says:

    I have a diesel dually, 1991 GMC with a non aspirated 6.2 engine. Means no turbo charger. Gets 24 mpg on veggie oil! Cost about $300.00 to convert. World famous 6.2 and 6.5 turbos from GM cant tow…. They overheat, bad. But they run forever and parts are cheap since they use the same starter, alternator etc as a gas engine. Plus a injector pump is only a few hundred to rebuild versus a modern diesel is many thousands. Watch.out for certain years of Ford diesels after the 7.3s, they mess up bad and you will need injectors and injector pump if you are lucky. If unlucky you will need a entire engine. Certain Duramax GM diesels also have a injector problem. I had two 1980s era GM duallys with the 454 and four barrel Holly Carb. Pull the hinges off He!! Two gas tanks on them things. Could watch the gas needle go down pullin a mountain with a 24 ft gooseneck and 6 horses! LOL
    Bill from NC recently posted…The Lights Are On and I’m Still Home…..SAFE!!!My Profile

  14. Belinda says:

    What do you all think of minivans without the seats pulling a hard sided pop-up camper? 300 cubic feet in the camper down plus an additional 150 cf popped up. the camper could be left daily in storage and out to a spot or at a truck stop on days I don’t work. The minivan has 150 cf and better daily gas mileage than a cargo van. It is also stealth for daily use and sleeping. I already have the camper and my current vehicle is 18 years old. What do you think would be the best vehicle for daily stealth living?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Belinda, I think that is a good plan, my one concern is if the minivan is up to towing the trailer. How much does the trailer weigh and how much is the van rated to tow? Also, how far will you be towing the trailer? If you are going to tow it 10,000 miles a year I think that would be too hard on the mini-van but if it is 1000 miles a year it would probably be fine.

      It’s really hard to answer what is the best vehicle for daily stealth living. We are all so different we have different priorities and needs. For the average person I think a minivan is probably the best compromise of stealth, fuel economy and comfort. But an extended cargo van is also really good with slightly worse MPG but much more comfort and room.

      it’s just a matter of where your priorities are.
      Bob

  15. Belinda says:

    I have the lightest RV in the world, Aliner: 12 X 6, 960 lbs empty. Most minivans tow about 3500 lbs with about 286 HP. My priority is stealth. I would LOVE the extra 100 cubic feet (cf) of the cargo van, but afraid it is not stealth enough to use all day, every day in a mostly town/city environment. I am also considering using 2-4 X-cargos secured to all the roofs for extra cf when traveling and keep them secured to the rv in storage when not traveling. What do you think? The negative of my camper is that it isn’t AT ALL stealth popped up because of it’s shape. Can you name me some other commonly used stealth vehicles that maximize cf in case I missed considering one? I surly will need it, when I come to see you all at the next RTR!
    Belinda recently posted…Survivalist Vandweller: Staying Warm in Winter, Cool in SummerMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Belinda, I’m a big fan of the A-liner! But like you said they have zero stealth. For the most cubic feet and high stealth these ae your choices:

      1. Box van or Step van both have very good stealth and a huge amount of room. But both get poor MPG so taking trips in one would be very expensive.
      2. Extended high-top cargo van will be your best choice. It has the most room and very good stealth. The Chevy Express with 5.3 liter V8 should get 16-18 MPG with a high top or 17-20 with a low top. Plus it will tow your trailer extremely easily.

      I’d get an extended cargo van!
      Bob

  16. campervan_man says:

    My humble suggestion would be to think long and hard as to whether you would prefer a cargo van or a window van.

    I didn’t make a good cave dweller because I prefer to spend my time inside my van, and I wouldn’t give up my 360 degree view and my swivel rocker recliner for anything. With this setup, I never have to worry about the wind or rain or any other non catastrophic weather. I don’t have an awning, as I live IN my van.

    As an added bonus I have found that the cops never even glance at a high top window van even if it’s lit up like a Christmas tree in the middle of the night parked directly in front of a no camping sign!

    Cops loved to hassle me when I had a cargo van…

    For some unknown reason, window vans with no curtains seem to be invisible even if lit up at night. Add curtains, and it re-appears… Go figure… Maybe they figure if you have no curtains you have nothing to hide so why bother. Other than sometimes curious but friendly house dwelling neighbors have never called the cops on me in a window van either, and many have even offered to let my use their driveways and even their bathrooms.

    I’ve never taken any of them up on their offers, simply explaining that I’m fully self contained and don’t want to be a bother to anyone. I do enjoy their BBQ’s once in a while though if offered, and always contribute my Fruit Cocktail in Cool Whip fruit salad which is always a big hit.

    Since I am frequently up a good portion of the night, some neighbors express that they always feel safer if they look out their window and see me up and watching over their neighborhood.

    I work a lot so I am frequently a city dweller. In any city of any size, there are usually temp agencies which can put you to work almost instantly even if you have very limited skills. Instant availability can be your biggest asset when looking for work.

    I know I got a little off subject, but hopefully the info will be helpful.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Campervan_Man, I think they both have their pluses and minuses and either one can be made to work well. We are all so different no one solution can be perfect for everyone!!

      What’s important is that you have something that works so well for you!! My cargo van is working equally well for me, but my circumstances are different.
      Bob

  17. Belinda says:

    Bob is right, it’s very individualized. I am still going back and forth, but either way Campervan_man, the windows are not an issue. I have been boondocking for 2-5 days/week since 1991 in a sedan, due to going to school and working other cities, but having a farm and tenants at home. It’s just time for me to consider a new vehicle now that the other one will need to retire soon. I assure you, I as a single woman, I am “under the radar”, stealth, and never got caught once, –but a dog did bark and bark at the trunk once when I quietly shifted. Fortunately, the owner thought the dog was nuts!I am simplifying my life now and will travel and work with no farm and so am getting training that applies in my field to other parts of the United States and “scaling back”. Don’t get me wrong, I love light as I have 84 windows in my house and barns. But, the FIRST THING I will do is cover the windows and seriously insulate every inch of the space minus a vent or two as windows are a heating or cooling nightmare. I just have to decide how many cubic feet I want verses MPG. The van costs in MPG. The minivan has less cubic feet, but you pay to drive and store your things some place else (in my case in my RV in storage).

    • campervan_man says:

      Hehe, That’s funny that you mentioned that the dog barked… As I pulled into Seattle last night, into a familiar neighborhood that I have camped in numerous time over the years, I was greeted by new signs at the park which read no parking 10pm-6am on the park side of the road. It was only 6pm so I was okay to park and decide what my next move would be.

      Before I had the time to give it much of a thought, Meghan a beautiful and sweet Irish Setter and her human mother, whose name escapes me, came across the street to greet me, with a scrumptious meatloaf dinner. She said that Meghan had told her I had returned, and she could tell it was me before she even looked out the window, by the way Meghan had acted. (I always keep treats for furry friends…)

      She also told me of the new signs, and invited me to either park in her driveway, or at least on the street in front of her house. I thanked her for her generous offer, while enjoying the surprise dinner she had brought me.

      After they had left, while I was contemplating my choices, lo and behold one of Seattle’s Finest showed up and actually came a calling. I don’t think I had ever spoken to one in that location before, so it was kind of a surprise. No problem, I figured he would just remind me of the new signs. As I opened my van door, I actually invited him to come inside since it was raining hard. He introduced himself, mentioning that we had never formally met, and proceeded to tell me that I could ignore those signs as he considered me to be grandfathered in, because I had been around for years before the signs and he had never received a single complaint. He told me that if anyone gave me any trouble to just tell them that he said it was okay. Very pleasant visit, and he loved seeing how I had my van set up. He mentioned that he had considered camping but could never find a comfortable yet small RV. He said if he could find one like mine with such a comfortable recliner, he thought he could really enjoy it.

      He was very surprised when I told him that it was a $700 empty high top van when I bought it, and that the majority of the furnishings had come from thrift stores, and they were all easily removable.

      I’ve never really added any insulation to my vans, I always figured that adequate heating and cooling was more than sufficient. Where I just came from at -60f my heater would run you out. For cooling I use old south convective cooling unless it gets REALLY HOT. Then I break out my converted to 12v swamp cooler. I got rid of my solar, because it made my van extremely hotter, and I prefer to park in the shade.

      With experience I have concluded that vans are disposable, and adequate and totally portable indoor ‘climate control’ keeps me much more comfortable than any amount of insulation could ever provide. Combined with a totally portable interior, it gives unmatched comfort and convenience regardless of the van or even step van that you might choose to move into.

      Since you’re considering a new vehicle, let me add one more little pearl of wisdom for you which may be helpful… Try to make sure that all of your cabinets have SLIDING DOORS. That way your other furniture will never get in the way of opening cabinet doors. My set of plastic drawers are also within my sliding door cabinet, and that prevents them from opening accidentally while driving. The top of the cabinet constitutes my countertop, where I can place my stove, sink, or anything else I may choose to use it for at any given time. Multi-functional, I like that.

      For my indoor bathroom, I have a bucket type, handicap style toilet over a 30″ x 6″ deep auto oil change pan. I have attached 2 uprights of pvc to the toilet’s legs which go up to support a hula hoop which is my shower curtain rod. The shower curtain then hangs down to the inside of the shower pan below. You can shower either standing up if you have a high top van, or sitting down as required. The shower curtain also acts as a privacy curtain for toilet usage. The handicap toilet could easily be traded out to any other style porta-potty as well.

      With my current system, I have no 120v AC power, everything is just 12v and my power system consists of an old rototiller gas engine, a Golf Car starter/generator, and 1 deep cycle RV battery. It is push button start, and by running it for about 15-20 mins per week it keeps the battery charged sufficiently. A simple and easy way to charge your house battery when driving is to run a simple cigarette lighter plug to cigarette lighter plug jumper cable between your vehicle and your house battery. No complicated wiring involved. You can probably purchase these on Amazon if you can’t make your own.

      I know people kind of frown upon gas generators, but for about 1 gallon of gas per month, no sunshine or other external power source required, and can also be used to jump start the van, I really like it. It is totally portable and not connected to the original van’s electrical system at all. I can give anyone more details if they would like them.

      Good luck with your new van, and remember that layout and indoor climate control means EVERYTHING when it comes to having a comfortable and cozy home on wheels.

      • Calvin R says:

        Campervan Man, you inspire me. You give an almost-complete setup (I can sleep on counter tops if I have the right one) that I can find in any city’s thrift shops. Simplicity and thrift are bedrock values for me and your methods embody them.

        • The CamperVan_Man says:

          Greetings Calvin R!

          Thank you for your reply! If I can help even just a few people it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside…

          After having done this for the most part of 50 years, I’ve converted everything from step vans, regular vans, mini vans, even made a 4 wheel bicycle camper once, and even in that I had my bed, a full kitchen, porta-potty, my 12v generator system, my heating and cooling systems, and by some creative engineering, the front half of my bed would convert into a rocker-recliner. I managed all of that in a 30″w x 96″l x 72″h camper bike.

          It was a fun adventure to see just how small you could go without having to sacrifice any of your desired creature comforts. I had the pleasure of living in it camped beside the Columbia River in Portland Oregon where cars were not allowed to go. After about a year of pure enjoyment, family matters required heading for Florida, so I donated my Camper Bike to a homeless man in Portland and moved back into my Camper Van.

          I have found that if you’re tight for space, and you need to literally sleep on your counter top, that 6 drawer dressers and/or re-purposed kitchen cabinets with counters can be both long enough and provide you with a LOT of storage. I have also used 6’h x 30″w shelving/entertainment units turned on their sides, and then use two of them together to give you the width you need for a comfortable bed. All of these can be found on the cheap in either thrift stores or yard sales, and Craigslist is another great resource too. Sometimes you can even get most everything for totally FREE on Craigslist.

          Nightstands can also make for great camper van furniture if you have the room too. I have one right beside my bed for all of the comforts of home. A 6′ hollow core door, supported by milk crates works too, and still gives you ample storage underneath.

          If possible try to make your set-up such that your bed is always ready and doesn’t require daily set up or re-arranging. That can get old in a hurry. If you’re literally sleeping on your countertop, try to put your bed on a hinge, so when it’s bedtime you can just tilt in back down without having to totally remake it.

          Somewhere I saw someone ask how to anchor everything down. While I’m not saying that my solution is the best or necessarily the safest, I don’t like making any modifications to the vans if it is at all avoidable, this includes drilling any holes. So what I do is just insert a small wedge under the front edge of any furniture which will slightly tilt it towards the outside wall. So far I’ve never had anything tip over using this method, even when I got broadsided one time. The red light runner totalled my van but not one cabinet tipped over. As a precautionary note though, some loose things that I had out on the counter, two cast iron frying pans, a dinner plate, plus sharp silverware DID go flying. So even if you could typically drive forever without disturbing this stuff, it is a good idea to consider what might go flying in the event of a collision. So now my counters are totally clear when the vehicle is moving.

          Cheers!

          The CamperVan_Man

          And always remember… If you’re not a happy camper… it CAN be fixed!

          • Calvin R says:

            campervan_man, I’m very curious about your power system with the bicycle camper. I will start a thread on the forum under “miscellaneous vehicles” about that. My situation has more variables than college algebra, but bicycle travel is one of the more likely outcomes.

      • Bob Bob says:

        Thanks for all the good info CamperVan_Man!
        Bob

  18. The CamperVan_Man says:

    Hey Bob,

    I think I’m probably in the wrong area for giving tips on building camper vans, or perhaps camper van living in general… Can you give me the right URL(s) so I can be “On Topic”?

    I love your board here, but navigating it seems to confuse me a lot. Your categories list doesn’t seem to match up very well with the titles on the pages. And your forums seem to leave me totally lost and confused. I thought I found one with a lot of good and recent threads, but then lost it and never could find it again.

    Anyway, I do like your site, and I am willing to contribute. I have 24/7 internet, and NEVER run low on power or need to conserve it. Since I’m not working right now, I have lots of time to surf the net while staying inside out of the bad weather.

    Oh, send me the URL for solar discussions too please.

    Cheers!

    The CamperVan_Man

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hi campervan-man the best place to give tips is on the forum. There are two ways to do that, 1) answer questions as people ask them 2) start a thread and tell them what you want to tell them. The best way to follow new posts is to click on the “View New Posts” button at the top of the page. It will show you all the posts since the last time you were on the forum. Then you can read them and answer the ones you think you can help.

      There is a solar sub-forum on the forum. Click on the forum button and scroll down till you see the forum titled “Electrical: batteries and solar”

      Hope that helps.
      Bob

  19. Belinda says:

    Bob, I know your trailer is 6 feet high. How does everyone else deal with all day bending over or sitting down? I would need to get out a fair amount with back pain. This keeps you awake, gets you wet, or lets heat or cold get into your unit. I was thinking of putting in a “built up/elevated with wood, covered with metal, and painted” ceiling vent. at 2 spots on a minivan, so I can at least stand up at some point. Roof hatches and sunroofs are expensive and noticable. I’m leaning towards the stealth minivan. I’m thinking is perfect for a woman and gets good gas mileage. Any suggestions?

    • The CamperVan_Man says:

      Greetings Belinda!

      Before I switched to a high top van, suffering from a bad back as well, I found that by stretching out on the bed, rather than going outside was a workable solution for me. Even with the high top, I find that relief is easier and faster by just laying down for a few minutes. Occasionally I even do stretching exercises on my bed.

      Cheers!

      The CamperVan_Man

    • Bob Bob says:

      Belinda, I’m with you and i want to be able to stand up in my home, so all my vehicles have been high-tops. But many people are very happy with living in a low top so it’s easy for some. The key thing is you just sit while you do everything inside. If you put your bed across the back then all you have to do is bend over to step into the van and then turn around and sit on the bed. All of your activites are then done from sitting on the edge of the bed. To leave the van you just bend over and take a couple steps and you are out. It’s basically the same if you put the bed on the side. You just step in and turn around and sit on the edge of the bed. To go up and down in the van you just scoot up and down the bed, not stand up.

      But, you don’t even have to bend over. Many people put a soft floor covering down and just walk on their knees in and out of the van and never bend over. The older you are the more difficult this is because our knees don’t work as well as they used to be.

      I think putting a hatch on top of the van is not a very good idea. What some people do is put a false floor in so they are standing in a hole. I think that is a better idea but still not worth it. Either adapt to a low van or buy a high-top.

      I think a minivan is just about ideal for a single woman. The Astro is very popular and a great choice but it only gets average MPG. I don’t know enough about them to make a recommendation but I’ll start a thread on the Forum and get you some feedback.
      Bob

  20. The CamperVan_Man says:

    Greetings Calvin!

    I’ll head over to the forums and look for that, always happy to help, and I think my power system may be of help to many people who visit here.

    Cheers!

    The CamperVan_Man

  21. Frankie says:

    I have been camping/travelling in a first Generation Civic Hybrid w/ a Manual transmission towing a small cargo trailer. I can hypermile this rig and get 50mpg fully loaded. I get 60+ without the trailer. I just Picked up an ’85 Dodge 1/2ton van with a slant six cylinder and 4 speed manual.

    I am fixing it up over the winter and thinking of towing my car behind it. I am even toying with the idea of bringing the small trailer or a small fishing boat along behind the toad. This is legal in quite a few states. I imagine if I ran into problems or was in hilly territory, as long as I have a second capable driver, I can split them up and either vehicle could tow the trailer.

    So far the van gets about 25mpg on the highway with a moderate load. This is due in part to it being geared for highway mileage. This tells me that unless I were to do a rear end swap, I would be best off detaching the car and potential trailer for difficult terrain.

    And while it gets great gas mileage, my Honda is a little on the heavy side of the 4 banger spectrum, pushing 300lbs with a decent load. On the other hand I have been told that the Chrysler slant six is a durable old motor and was commonly put in large motorhomes in the 70’s. I will probably need to source a toad brake buddy as well.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Frankie, those are both legendary vehicles for their very high MPG and reliability. A truly amazing combination! I envy you for finding them!

      I wish you the best as you follow your dreams!
      Bob

    • Calvin Rittenhouse says:

      The old Chrysler slant six is legendary around here. I know two guys who deliberately tried to blow them up and failed. They were scrapping the cars because too much else had gone wrong after years of abuse. One guy ran his Plymouth Valiant with no oil for a week or so before driving it the 25 miles to the scrap yard. The motor was running fine when he scrapped it. The ones I’ve had were pretty strong, too, but of course gearing counts.

      How much can a Prius tow safely?

  22. Frankie says:

    The civic hybrid isn’t rated to tow in the United States, which I believe just means they never tested it towing. I think tow ratings are based on the vehicle being able to tow X amount of weight up to 55 or 60 mph in X amount of time. I was told by a guy using a Civic Hybrid 5MT to tow a teardrop camper that they are rated to tow around 1500lbs abroad. The limiting factor, I would imagine, being the somewhat finicky Integrated Motor assist battery. I have installed an Integrated Motor assist command and control module in the Civic that allows me to control all of the Hybrid functions of the car. This aids in towing by allowing me to rely solely on the car’s gas motor. Before installing this module, the ECU would almost constantly trigger the electric assist when towing, but I now can just shift for power like a non hybrid civic. I, without issue, have pulled the small cargo trailer(>500lbs loaded)for thousands of miles. I have hauled much heavier loads over short distances at reduced speed as well, including a fully loaded uhaul 5×8 and a 16foot aluminum boat with a 30hp outboard. I now have over 100k on it with the original clutch and IMA battery. They both seem to (knock on wood) be in good shape still. This generation had a high rate of failure for the IMA battery, which I believe is due to bad driving habits on the part of their respective owners.

    If you were actually asking about the Prius’ towing prowess, I believe quite a few owners have had success with light loads. I used to work at a uhaul center here in Chicago. I remember renting a uhaul 5×8 to a guy with a newer Prius numerous times. He would tow them to Minneapolis and back. I believe there is even a yahoo group dedicated o prius owners who tow. Like my Civic(and newer non-hybrid civics) the Prius isn’t rated to tow by its manufacturer. My only concern with towing with a Prius would be the CVT transmission.

    The tow ratings are in my opinion BS anyway. Smaller and less powerful Civics predating the mid 90’s were all rated to tow 2000 pounds with a 1.3L and manual transmission. The only difference now is that Honda has SUVs, Pickups and Minivans to sell, and don’t bother testing their Passenger cars for towing.

  23. Jack White says:

    It is really interesting how the math is taken into account. The average is pretty much the same from what you explained in the article. This is great to know because then that means I can lug around my car just so we don’t have to go into town with the RV when we go camping.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jack, it varies a lot with the person. If you travel a lot and don’t spend much time in one place then a toad is a poor idea. It’s just a lot of weight and hassle with little reward. But if you spend a long time in one spot and then travel just a little ways, then a toad can really pay off. I’s a very individual thing.
      Bob

  24. bryan flake says:

    My wife and I are moving across the country this fall. We will have a couple of cars we need to take with us. The great thing is that we can tow one of them with the RV. Our only problem is that we’ve never done that before. Hopefully your information will help us not damage our car or RV.

  25. J Dutreaux says:

    Is it easy to strap a kayak on top of your RV? I’ve been wondering about this. I’ve never tried. I get a lot of food off fishing on my kayak. Would be cool to know your experiences with this. Thanks for the great post!
    J Dutreaux recently posted…What’s The Best Future Beach Kayak For You?My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      J, I’ve never owned a kayak or an RV, but it looks like they are so tall it would be very difficult to get a kayak up there. But that’s just a guess. Bob

  26. J Dutreaux says:

    Sounds good, I’ll take your word for it, Bob. I’ll do some research before bringing my kayak up North!
    J Dutreaux recently posted…Pink Kayak ReviewMy Profile

  27. It’s a requirement in most states and municipalities for towing service providers to register and have a license number. Request for a copy of their identification and license number if you can’t see it on their trucks

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