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Tech Topics - May 2016

by Paul and Kerri Elders

This month, we’ll take a look at a few trailer towing tips and give you some super simple tips for improving fuel mileage.  Ready? Let’s go have some fun!

Getting Better Fuel Mileage:  Everybody wants to improve their gas mileage and lower their fuel costs, even when fuel is cheap.  Less money poured into the gas tank means more money to spend on the real fun of travel.  The good news is that a few simple tips & driving techniques can help.  One of the easiest ways to improve fuel economy is this:  just keep your tires inflated to their proper pressures.  Next, always drive your RV within its ideal power range; this means that if it runs better at 60 mph, you should drive 60 mph (in appropriately designated areas, of course).  The old story about driving your RV like you have an egg on the accelerator is also excellent advice when it comes to increasing mileage.  Just by gently bringing your RV up to its cruising speed and avoiding harsh stops and starts, you’ll save fuel and wear and tear on your vehicle.

Excessive downshifting and upshifting makes your RV a gas guzzler; the same holds true when you “floorboard it” to get up to speed, just to have to hit the brakes because you’re going too fast for surrounding traffic.  The extra fuel required to make these fast starts and quick stops is wasted fuel, which equals wasted money.  The best advice is simple advice:  just take your time, select the right gear, keep the engine’s RPM in its ideal power range, and don’t drive “wide open” and then slam on the brakes.  Easy does it; your wallet and your blood pressure will thank you!

One more quick tip:  pay attention to crosswinds and drive accordingly, slowing down in heavy or gusting winds. Strong crosswinds cost fuel mileage and have the potential to make handling more difficult, particularly if your RV is overloaded.  If you must drive in very windy conditions, be sure to reduce your speed so you have enough time to react to any lateral wind pressure and can easily avoid lane weaving.  If the wind’s too strong, just take a break and wait for the storm to pass.

Adjustable Hitches:  A great option for RVers who pull tag-along trailers is an adjustable hitch.  A wide variety of styles are offered by companies like Curt Manufacturing, Reese, Andersen Manufacturing, Trimax, and others.  These multi-ball hitch adapters insert into standard hitch receivers and can give you easy access to a variety of ball sizes and hitch heights with a quick adjustment.  This type of customizable-on-the-fly setup lets you easily pull your travel trailer, boat, utility trailer, ATV trailer, etc. without having to have separate dedicated trailer hitch mounts for each.

Several different designs are available; some use a simple rotating receiver with different sized balls mounted on it; when you want to change sizes, just rotate & clip in place.  Other designs use a locking channel design; the ball assembly is inserted into a heavy duty lock and groove mechanism.  Ball height is easily adjusted by sliding the ball assembly within the channnel to the desired height and locking in place.  Designs vary, depending on the manufacturer.  See more at your local RV Service Center or online at merchants like

Always properly accommodate the load of your trailer; generally speaking, you want to use a hitch height that permits a level hookup, while transferring about 60% of the weight load forward of the tow vehicle’s rear axle.  If you overload your tow vehicle by putting too much weight on the hitch with a too-low hitch height, you’ll make handling more difficult (especially on curves and when cornering) and you’ll significantly increase your stopping distances and the weight on the tow vehicle’s rear wheels.  On the other hand, if you don’t shift enough weight onto the tow vehicle, your towed trailer will be harder to handle and more prone to whipping and swaying.  Balance is the key to a safe and easy ride.  Carefully review all hitch and loading instructions you receive with your trailer and any hitches and always use safety chains.

Mirror, Mirror:   Whenever you tow a travel trailer, set your exterior mirrors so that you can see the trailer in the first inch of the mirror, with the rest of the mirror being reserved for your view backwards and to both sides.  For every ten feet of combined truck/trailer length, allow an extra inch of diameter for your outside spot mirror.  In other words, a 30-foot combined length would require a 3-inch convex spot mirror.  A forty-foot combined length would require a 4-inch convex spot mirror, and a fifty-foot combined length would require a 5-inch spot mirror.  Don’t rely on convex mirrors for judging distance when backing; there’s just enough distortion in the convex mirror to make accurately judging distances a problem.  It’s best to rely on a travel partner or a rear-view camera for backing that trailer, instead.  Take your time, do it right & enjoy your trip.  Happy trails!

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