Hypermiling in a Motorhome – Free Beer Folks!

imagesDriving Zagan, our 2001 Hymer B544 motorhome, I can’t help but notice something. The fuel gauge needle seems to fling itself to empty like a fox is after it. I swear it moves faster than the second hand on a watch.

During our last stint out in motorhome wonderland, AKA continental Europe, we ploughed through nearly €6000 worth of diesel (tour costs here). The total two year tour cost was €32,482, so diesel represented 18% of our total spend, covering nearly 30,000 miles. That wee wander was done in Dave, a 1993 non-turbo 2 litre diesel Fiat Ducato-based 3100Kg Hymer B544. This time our steed will be Zagan, a nifty 2001 variant of the same beast, with a 2.8JTD engine and (if we fill the poor thing to the max) 3500Kg to drag about the place.

This article on my wonga-hero Mr Money Moustache’s blog got me thinking about just how much we might be able to save by applying some ‘hypermiling’ badassity to the fine art of motorhome flight. MMM’s article has the catchy description of hypermiling as “If you gotta brake, you made a mistake”, which rings in my ears as I drive, but there’s much more to this fuel saving malarkey than a simple statement.

Just going off MMM’s post heading, he’s talking about a 25% fuel saving. Putting that in perspective:

  • 25% of our total diesel spend over those two years is €1500
  • My trip limit on supermarket ale when on tour is €1 a litre; nothing above that passes my lips (yes, dammit, I am that tight, mwwahahahahah!!!)
  • So. If I do some stuff differently, I could effectively see someone give me, for free, 1500 litres of ale
  • Over 2 years, 730 days, that’s 2.05l of ale a day, or 3 and a half of your finest English pints each and every single day. FREE BEER FOLKS!
  • Or, at 65c a litre of wine (OK, only in Spain), that’s the equivalent of 4 and half 70cl bottles of wine, A DAY!!!

(OK, seriously now, this is an article about being an efficient driver after all, ahem. If you do actually see off 4.5 bottles of wine a night, you’re not going to be efficient at anything, or even enjoying your life/freedom, for long…)

Right, anyway, that got my attention.

So, how’s it done (saving fuel, not staying dry)? Short answer: I’m not sure it is, for us? After all, I don’t know if I was already driving Dave in an optimal way, so maybe there’s nowt to be saved? However, let’s make the assumption that I’m not super-van man (shock, horror), and that there is a fair bit of improvement to make to the way I drive. I’ve trawled the t’Interweb and come across a few things I’m planning to try to achieve this ‘hypermiling’ nirvana. None of the info I found applied specifically to motorhomes by the way, so accuracy is very much debatable…

  • Think about weight. The US Goverment has an entire site related to fuel efficiency. It indicates, albeit for cars rather than lumbering homes on wheels, that a 100lb reduction in weight (45Kg) contributes a 1% decrease in fuel used. On our trip, losing 180Kg of weight would have saved us about £200.
  • There are much bigger fish than this though. The same site indicates up to 33% in savings on motorway mileage (5% in town) just by not driving like an axe-wielding, boy racer nut job. This is where “gotta brake, made a mistake” comes into play. Smooth driving. Looking ahead and judging distance so you don’t sit in traffic at roundabouts or junctions. Avoiding attempting to outpace the Ducati 998 which is sat behind you on some Italian cornice (sounds stupid, but I still find myself doing it). That kind of stuff. Let’s guess at a 15% saving, which would be about £630.
  • Speed’s a good one. I always remember people telling me 56mph was optimal, but I’ve had the devil’s own job trying to find the speed-versus-mpg graph for a 2.8 JTD Fiat Ducato engine.  Back to that US gov site again, it has a blanket statement “You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.” With fuel indicated on the same page at around $2.81 per gallon, you’re spending 7% more for each extra 5mph over 50. As we’re effectively retiring, rushing about is one thing we ain’t going to be needing to do. If I bring my speed down from about 55mph to 50mph I’d be looking at a £300 saving (very simplistically – since Zagan goes from 0 to 50 in 65 seconds, and lots of roads don’t allow madcap 50mph speeds anyway, so mucho time will be spent doing less than 50).
  • So with just those 3 we could, possibly, maybe, see over £1000 saved in 2 years (not too far off the guess above), which is worth trying to achieve.

There are then a whole bunch of other ideas:

  • Keeping tyre pressures correct – we already do this one.
  • Servicing – we get fellow motorhome driver Norman at the local garage to feckle our wander-home when we get it MOT’d each year.
  • Slip-streaming – ah, no, not got the steel nadgers required for sitting a second or two behind HGVs, passing on this one.
  • Stream-lining – have you **seen** a Hymer A-class? It’s roughly as streamlined as a parachute. The only way I can see to help with this would be to spray Zagan in Teflon.
  • Not using air con – fair enough. Zagan has cab air con, so we’ll resist using it, maybe by going to Norway in February…?
  • Don’t get lost – **sigh** Tried that, failed. Tried again, failed again. Yesterday Ju bought a new TomTom Start 25 today with vouchers she got from work and we spent 6 hours updating it. Somehow I suspect we’ll still get lost…
  • Keep revs below 2000 rpm – already do this.
  • Using toll roads. **wince** – I’m allergic to toll roads but there could be something in this. 100 miles at 25MPG with diesel at £1.12 a litre would cost £20.37 in fuel. If by using a toll road we could get the distance down to 80 miles and increase mpg to 30MPG, that fuel cost drops to £13.58. Hmmm, need to do more thinking on this one as we get out there, but I also enjoy non-toll roads for the fact they get you that teeny bit closer to the area you’re hurtling past?
  • Do fewer long drivers rather than many short ones – ah, erm. Last time out we shifted location over 500 times, probably closer to 800 or 1000 even, as we nipped about during the day. That’s a lot of relatively short trips. I’d be loathe to compromise on this as we got to see so many fabulous places, and didn’t torture our poor pooch with 10 hour stints. Another one to keep an eye on as we go.
  • Buy cheap fuel – already very much have our eyeballs very much focussed on this one folks!

If anyone’s got any thoughts on this topic – how to get best mileage from your motorhome – we’d love to hear them. We will of course repay the best ideas with some of that Lidl ale when we meet you on t’ road somewhere out there.

Cheers, Jay

P.S. A wee spreadsheet here which quickly works out how much a 10% to 40% improvement on your average MPG during a trip will save you. Just edit the cells with a white backround and the rest is worked out for you: Quick MPG Saving Calculator XLS


  1. Hi Jay, we find that although toll roads can be pricey ( especially France) Vignette systems in Austria and Slovenia work out very favourably, the difference in mpg we get is staggering,. We run a ’94 Hymer merc auto and on normal roads we average 19-23 mpg on motorways it goes up to 25-29 mpg,all those ronde points take their toll.The big + for the motorway is that to be a motorway it has to have gradienyts less than 5 % ( I think the figure is right, but it may not be!!)This means the slopes hurt less, Also don’t knock it into neutral on the down slope, modern diesels wont use any fuel like this, but when you are in neutral the engine is ticking over using fuel.I could go on for days about this subject , but I wont!
    Last top tip , drive in bare or stocking feet,you don’t press down too hard on the loud pedal then

    • Good point about the vignette’s Richard – if there’s a pan-country toll system in place we’ve generally coughed up for it. An attempt to sneak about Hungary without buying one was abandoned after we kept finding A roads turning in toll roads half way down ’em! Read the same thing about not using neutral – almost no benefit and you lose all engine braking control. Bare feet – love it!!! Teeny weeny risk some countries nab you as you have to wear shoes with a heel of some sort, but they’d be doing well to catch you. :-) Cheers, Jay

    • I sense another blog post coming on – The Art of Getting Lost. :-) Agreed – Ju calls me ‘Dead End Jay’ for this very reason. I like to amble about every alley, caring not a hoot for the fact some of them go nowhere. On the other hand, driving miles on end down a tiny road to end at a river crossing ferry which can just about take a Fiat 500 is a bit eye-bulging on occasion… :)

  2. I use supermarket diesel in a VW non turbo 2.4 and average 33-34 mpg I find that using an additive like Millers or Rhino can increase mpg by 4-5mpg, but at a cost. I’m told that using the hyper super expensive diesels from Shell or BP will give the same increase. Which sort of balances the costs.
    I’ve never worked out if it’s more enconomic using the super stuff than Morrisons own purely on the extra mpg.

    • Hey Vaughan. I need to look into this one – would be worth it? Hmmm. Also saw you can buy performance chips which supposedly increase the MPG by a few percent, which again might make financial sense? Cheers, Jay

  3. Hey, this is REAL anal MMM territory. Should get some finicky responses so lets start with mine ;). Please adopt the Andy voice from the Motorhome Channel for greatest effect.
    “Although shaped like a brick, your van will move through the air more efficiently if
    * windows are all closed
    * tyres are fuel efficient ones (but you’ll have to abandon principles and buy those expensive French ones)
    * you don’t have top boxes, satellite dishes or washing lines on the roof
    * you keep the van clean (!)” This gem is often repeated in the motoring press. The economy between dirty and clean would need a very finely tuned version of your excellent spreadsheet to clock the difference, I think.
    Your other points are all on track though. We all get used to blatting around in our little cars where fuel consumption only makes a difference to the planet. The temptation to do the same in your Hymer is compelling, especially when you have a responsive 2.8 motor! (And when diesel is 83p or less per litre as it is at the moment in France.)
    In the end, as you point out, it’s all a case of getting balance that suits you. I wouldn’t consider long motorway trips outside of the UK for fear of what gems we’d miss and sod the fuel consumption! But, each to their own.
    “In the next programme, Andy will show you how to fit LEDs to every internal surface of your 1 year old motorhome. He will also be revealing how easy it is to replace that headache-inducing Teutonic upholstery with a soothing hearing aid grey stain disguising velour that will keep you happy at your next steam rally.”
    Pip, pip!

  4. Being an ex haulier/lorry driver, you soon get used to 56mph and it comes as second nature now in anything I drive ( my Ferrari days are over ) you also soon get used to convoying other trucks , there’s not much option really. Also I think no1 way to save fuel is when you are driving, especially on the flat or straight road , is to always pull your right foot off the accelerator . You gain a feel for this because whatever speed you are going your right foot subconsciously wants to go faster. You don’t grind to a halt it works. The only other foolproof way to save fuel is to stay at home lol. Steve

  5. Probably the daftest question to date, but here we go. If I buy a UK registered motorhome, with UK road tax and then spend months roaming Europe, during which time the road tax expires, what’s the score ? Do I need UK road tax to drive legally in EU and when I want to return to UK, do I re tax the vehicle before entry ? What about the requirement to SORN a vehicle when not on UK roads etc etc ?
    Slightly less stupid question (hopefully) is regarding tax on income. If I am out of UK more than 6 months, are there tax implications on pension payments etc ? Am I effectively classed as non dom ?

    • Hi Rob. You need your vehicle to remain legal on your home country while you travel, so need to keep paying the road fund license while away. You can buy it online and don’t need a disk. You can’t SORN it. For the tax, I’m not qualified to say. We claim no pensions here, no benefits, complete tax returns and get approval HMRC for our rental management agent not to deduct tax at source. Cheers, Jay

  6. Hi our van is the exact same as yours , and we have Michelin camping tyres. Above you mention correct tyre pressures , we also run fully lad n but do th life of m I can’t seem o find th ” correct ” tyre pressures. After googling it seems to range from about 53psi to 80 psi. Could you tell me what pressures you run on please. 53 and the tyre looks very flat , and 80 means it is at its maximum which I don’t think is right somehow.
    Many thanks , Terry

    • Hey Terry. Yeah, I found just the same thing, no one seems to be quite sure what pressure to use. I’ll be honest that other than not driving quickly I’m pants at my own advice and rarely check tyre pressure. Our fitters suggested 65PSI front and 70PSI rear, but I’ve not checked in months. The fronts are ready to be replaced though, so I’ll get myself down the garage once we leave this house sit, thanks for the reminder! Jay

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