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Is there a green way to tow?

Towing Gas Mileage: Getting the Best Gas Mileage While Towing

Reducing air resistance with a simple cover will go far in improving your vehicle's gas mileage.
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 below.

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]