High Gas Prices Give An Opening For Electric RVing

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With gas prices on the rise at a time when many people want to hit the road with an RV, electric RVing has a great opportunity. An article last month at RV Life laments the rise of gas prices, and the impacts it’s going to have on everyone’s summer camping plans:

“Normally, this time of year sees many RVers excitedly making plans for summer RV camping. However, so far, stratospheric fuel prices are putting a big damper on our excitement as we work out the cost of taking out the RV for a summer break.”

But RV Life is a decent publication and wanted to give people ideas for saving money. Because the US RV industry is still dominated by fossil fuels, they put their focus on that. Going on adventures closer to home, avoiding pricey RV parks, and using apps like GasBuddy to avoid the worst prices were their first suggestions. They also gave fuel efficiency tips, like keeping tires inflated, taking care of maintenance items, reducing weight, and taking it easy on the gas pedal. What surprised me was that they suggested ditching gas altogether:

Consider investing in a tow vehicle that uses electric power instead of fossil fuel to tow your rig.”

I’m not saying that the writers and editors at RV Life are against electric vehicles. Like anyone else in the automotive space, they’re probably as excited as anyone to follow the emergence of electric trucks. But, it is an emerging thing that’s probably somewhat controversial in the RV owner community. It was only recently that the first truly viable tow vehicles hit the market, and they’re not cheap.

In other words, a mainstream RV publication seriously suggesting going electric shows not only how far the technology has come, but also shows us just how bad gas prices are. And, in the last month things have only gotten worse for people pushing a brick down the road with dino juice.

Let’s Look At How Horrendous The Costs Are

To understand why they’d suggest electric RVing, we need to consider what the alternative looks like right now.

If you’ve still got any gas cars in your driveway, you’re probably feeling the pinch. I personally drive a Nissan LEAF, but I still have two gas vehicles for those trips when I need to load up the whole family and/or go places that the LEAF can’t easily reach. The VW Jetta, with its low-displacement 4-cylinder turbo, isn’t too bad. It gets around 40 MPG on the highway, so it doesn’t sting that hard. Our other vehicle, which to my wife’s dismay I like to call “The Hog,” is an older Acura MDX that only gets around 15 MPG on most drives, but for pure highway it can get around 20-22 if I don’t go too fast.

Worse, The Hog is picky and only drinks premium fuel. So that one only gets used sparingly. But occasionally The Hog must be fed, because we want to take all four kids somewhere (even if it means dragging the oldest away from his computer games). One place we love to go, where there’s a big hole in the ground, is around 200 miles away, so it’s a 400-mile round trip. That means we need about 20 gallons of fuel.

Yep, we sometimes drive 400 miles to go see a big hole in the ground (Carlsbad Caverns National Park). Picture by Eymard Bangcoro, National Park Service (Public Domain)

If I shop around using GasBuddy along my route, the best price I can see is currently $4.049 which isn’t California prices, but is still pretty sucky by El Paso standards. Most gas in the area is closer to $5, so that’s some good luck. But 20 gallons of fuel at that price is $80.98. For a day trip.

Preferably, I wouldn’t take this as a day trip. Driving for 3 hours just to see something for a couple of hours, and then driving 3 hours back sucks gas. What if I were to purchase a small trailer, say a popup camper? Or, better yet, a small “toy hauler” that lets me take along e-bikes and other things in the RV. I could stay the night near the Caverns and have time to go on special tours, like the Lower Cave or Slaughter Canyon that only happen in the mornings the last time I checked. Plus, we could spend a couple of nights, eat something other than fast food, and ride our e-bikes around. And we could check out other things like Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Now we have a pretty cool trip!

But if you tow a camper, even a smaller one like I would trust The Hog to pull (our beloved piggy is getting older and doesn’t have much towing capacity), you end up cutting your gas mileage in half. So, best case scenario if I take it easy is 10 MPG. Add in some hills climbing out of El Paso, and we arrive at around 8 MPG.

400 miles / 8 MPG = 50 gallons of fuel, or two and a half tanks. That’s a fuel bill of $202.45 just to go see the sights not that far from home. OUCH!

Say we want to go see some family across the country and have an amazing summer trip like I did last year with an RV like this? That’s about 4,000 miles of driving, roughly ten times the cost. We’re talking about $2,000 just in fuel. Yikes! If your gas prices are closer to $5-6 per gallon along the way, expect to spend even more in fuel. For a vehicle made to tow which is hauling a larger trailer, it’s not impossible to see 5 MPG. A $3-4000 fuel bill for a trek around America isn’t hard to rack up.

So if you don’t do any RVing, you’re probably seeing how attractive electric RVing could be right now.

EV Pickups Aren’t Quite Ready For Electric RVing

The first EV trucks that can haul a travel trailer are starting to be a thing. The Rivian R1T and the F-150 Lightning are on the roads. Tesla’s Cybertruck is going to be out this year, hopefully. But, even with their biggest battery options, they’re going to be tough to get into the backcountry with and people will find that they have to stop a lot to charge. So getting rid of the gas bill may come with trade-offs many people wouldn’t be willing to make.

With high gas prices, and more people wanting to get away after being cooped up for a pandemic, there’s a great opportunity for electric towing, but manufacturers of not only tow vehicles, but of RVs need to find ways to improve the experience to take full advantage of the opportunity electric RVing has right now.

Featured image by Rivian.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1987 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba