Is there a green way to tow?

green towing
Towing will most certainly put a dent in your car's MPG, but there are ways to improve fuel economy even when towing a heavy load.
iStockPhoto/Tim McCaig

You may do your part every day to watch your step on the environment and avoid leaving a carbon footprint. But some days, going green is harder than others. Sure, you may recycle your grocery bags, ride the bus to work and buy organic, but when green guilt starts foiling your vacation plans, who's to say where to draw the line?

After waiting all year to take your new boat out, it strikes you that towing it for the long trip will effectively drop an anvil on your hybrid car's sky-high MPG. Not only do you feel your wallet shrinking by the second, but your green conscience is now burdened with the guilt that your vacation will now sap up gas and release carbon emissions.


Should you shed that shiny new boat from your vacation plans? Or is there a greener way to tow short of going Flintstones-style and literally pulling our own weight? The heavier the load on a vehicle, the more power, and therefore fuel, it will need to move. Nevertheless, although hybrid cars aren't known for their heavy towing capacities, you shouldn't necessarily feel pressured to forego the boat or the trailer for fear of green guilt.

In fact, as stellar gas mileage becomes more popular among consumers, companies seeking the green market are working to equip towing vehicles with higher MPGs. Ford, for example, promises about 20 MPG for its 2009 F-150 truck [source: Carty]. Likewise, companies seeking the blue-collar, boating and camping markets are working to equip hybrids with better towing capacities. For instance, GMC has come out with a 2009 Yukon Hybrid that can tow up to 6,000 pounds (2721.6 kilograms) [source: Edmunds]. These kinds of options are ideal for a person who wants one vehicle to drive to work on a daily basis and economically handle towing a trailer on the annual road trip.

There's no reason you should feel powerless in the plight to save gas with that boat in tow. By becoming a smarter consumer and a smarter driver, your towing vehicle can be an efficient green machine. We'll go over some of the most important tips for better towing gas mileage next.


Towing Gas Mileage: Getting the Best Gas Mileage While Towing

green towing tips
Reducing air resistance with a simple cover will go far in improving your vehicle's gas mileage.
iStockPhoto/ Tim McCaig

Fortunately, there are ways you can indulge your love of the outdoors or boating without sacrificing green ideals. Consider these tips to conserve gas while towing.

First and foremost, experts recommend to get rid of any excess weight you may be carrying in your vehicle you probably won't need. Tow more weight, and you'll consume more fuel. So go Thoreau and "simplify, simplify."


If you haven't yet bought either the towing vehicle or the towed vehicle, you have the advantage of shopping with an eye toward fuel economy. When buying a camper, the lighter the better. Dealers now sell ultra-light trailers with aluminum frames, which can also expand your towing vehicle options [source:].

While shopping for a towing vehicle, the most important thing is to make sure you get one with the appropriate towing capacity -- the maximum weight a vehicle can tow. Getting more tons of towing capacity than you need will most likely be a waste of fuel and make for an uncomfortable ride.

On the other hand, if you need to handle a very heavy load like a fifth-wheel trailer, you might consider a diesel truck. In some circumstances, a diesel-powered vehicle could prove to be about 15 to 20 percent more fuel-efficient [source: Arrais].

Another aspect to consider when searching for a towing vehicle is the axle ratio. This refers to the number of revolutions the driveshaft makes in order to make a wheel revolve once [source:]. An economy axle ratio will be low (3:1 or lower), and a performance axle ratio will be high (4:1 or higher) [source: ConsumerGuide]. You'll want to look for a moderate axle ratio that's neither very high nor very low as a compromise for both fuel economy and towing performance.

It'll also help to consider the most aerodynamic options. Even if you have a light load and a fuel-efficient vehicle, wind and air resistance can still do a number on your fuel economy. You can do things to minimize this effect as much as possible. For instance, if you're towing a boat or an open platform trailer, putting a cover on it will reduce aerodynamic drag.

Not only what you drive, but the way you drive can also have a significant impact on your fuel economy. For instance, sudden stops and accelerated starts will always hurt your gas mileage. When towing heavy loads, it's wise not to put the pedal to the metal anyway. Sticking with moderate speeds will improve fuel economy and be safer all around, considering that towing will increase your stopping distance. Not only that, but if you need to brake hard in an emergency situation, you could cause your vehicle to skid and possibly jackknife. Depending on the make, your vehicle could have an overdrive gear -- shifting out of this into a lower gear over hills and rough terrain could improve fuel efficiency as well [source: Neura].

Top off your curiosity about fuel economy with the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "The Definitive Guide to Travel Trailers." [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • Edmunds. "2009 Yukon Hybrid Review and Specs." [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • "Axle Raio." [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • Neura. "Towing Tips." [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • The Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. "How to Buy a Fuel-efficient Car." May 12, 2006. [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • Adam, David. "Green idealists fail to make grade, says study." Sept. 24, 2008. [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • Arrais, Pedro. "Front-wheel-drive cars not good for towing." The Gazette (Montreal). May 9, 2007.
  • Carty, Sharon Silke. "New F-150 squeezes out a few more mpg." USA Today. Sept. 18, 2008. [Sept. 25, 2008]
  • Russell, Richard. "Time to get rid of that gas guzzler?" The Globe and Mail (Canada). July 17, 2008. [Sept. 25, 2008]