I Still Want to Tow My Travel Trailer
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
About 2 years ago, we retired. Like many people, we thought we would use our newfound freedom to travel about with a travel trailer. We were already climate conscious; but are also old and used to some luxuries, like standing up to change clothes and not having to go to an outhouse. We looked at several dealers and read many brochures. Then we decided on a 15-foot self-contained trailer with 6-foot 8-inch ceiling, air-conditioning, microwave/convection oven, hot water, bath, kitchen, antenna, and entertainment system. It only weighs 2,400 pounds empty; but you still need at least a class 2 trailer hitch. (The trailer purchase completed the day before the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, lucky us.) Our SUV could pull it but there are limits. With clothes, food, etc. on board we found ourselves driving over the Rockies at 45 mph, which would be OK if you only had to go up once. It was a challenge and a worry.
So, we realized that we needed more power, but still with range. We went from our home in Exton to Seattle then San Francisco then home. That trip was 9,500 miles. We took 37 days, but we stayed multiple nights at eight places (5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, and 2 each), so 15 days had no driving and four more were under 300 miles. That means our average long-haul day was over 450 miles; we have sometimes done 800 miles in a day. (That's 14 hours without stopping at the "World's Largest Buffalo", etc.)
At that point in time (2021), we could not find an EV with enough power to pull 3,000+ pounds more than 300 miles per day. If we had a range of only 300 miles per day, our trip would have been 28 days longer. Looking recently, we found that a hybrid truck was only about $1,900 more expensive than a pure gasoline engine of the same size. The highway mpg is about the same for both; but the superior towing and in-town mpg made the payback for be less than two years. (Our use is about 6,000 highway, 6,000 in-town, and 6,000 towing annually.)
This is how we decided on a hybrid pick-up truck. Our SUV was AWD mid-size (between Escape and Explorer) which got 18 mpg when driven carefully in town and 21 mpg on open roads; but only 10½ when pulling the trailer. We rented a 250(0) style pick-up truck and pulled the trailer to Florida and back. The fuel cost was about the same with the trailer and not as good without the trailer in town. (It was diesel so more mpg but high pump prices.) It was heavy; I believe it took too much energy to move itself. Again, being climate conscious, we did not want to buy a gas hog just to pull the trailer. We checked into a hybrid 150-style crew-cab pick-up truck and liked it. Now that we have it, we have the benefits list:
30%+ fuel savings when towing. Mileage with the trailer is close to 15 mpg.
As efficient in town as on the highway. When not towing, mileage is consistently over 22 mpg without the trailer. (Covering the bed with a tonneau added about 2 mpg). That's 12%+ savings when not towing.
Payback in 2.5 years. The savings compared to our prior car are obvious but what about compared to a similar gasoline powered pick-up? It turns out that the hybrid engine and battery combination were $1,900 more than the gasoline only engine. Using the manufacturers mpg ratings on mileage of 6,000 in town, 6,000 on highway and 6,000 towing, the fuel savings is about $780 per year.
Quiet. It is all-electric in low speed areas like parking lots and level places up to 20 mph or more. It generates a hum to warn pedestrians when you are in motion.
The 30-gallon gasoline tank nearly triples range of the 16-gallon tank in the SUV.
Acceleration is fantastic with or without the trailer. The engine is 3.5L; but the hybrid makes it feel much stronger.
8,000-pound capacity of the pickup truck means it is not straining on uphill grades.
The hybrid recaptures energy on downhill grades and when gently braking. (Our trailer has electric brakes that do not recover when they apply.)
The on-board generator can run the air-conditioner, oven, and television when we are not at a campground. (It is supposed to be able to generate 2.4KW at 120 or 240 volts; but we have not wired the house for it.)
We spent $2,785 on fuel on our trip out west. That was 860 gallons at $3.22+ per gallon. Actual prices varied from $2.699 (on a Native American reservation) to $4.969 in California. If we owned the hybrid then it would have been about 230 gallons or $740 less for a savings 7.8¢ per mile. If gas prices get to $4.125 per gallon, the hybrid savings will be 10¢ per mile!
Sidebar if you already have an EV: I have since seen trailers that have batteries of their own and can provide drive power and braking recovery to reduce the load on your EV and keep one close to full range. Examples to lookup: Dethleffs E.Home Caravan or Airstream eStream.