Typically, we at Camper Smarts discuss the more significant concerns of the RV World rather than current events. When it comes to fuel shortages in the U.S., it’s too important of an issue to ignore. It’s the lifeblood of the RV Lifestyle, and we know most of you have a lot of questions. You may have unchangeable RV trip plans. You can’t undo your campground reservations; you’ve scheduled vacation time from your job and coordinated many other things while you’ll be away. Now, you’re wondering if you can even go RVing. When you pull into a gas station on the road, will the pumps have fuel to keep you going, or are you going to end up stuck somewhere unfamiliar? Before you cancel everything, we’ll show you what’s causing this gas shortage, what you need to know about it, and the steps you can take to enjoy your summer RV plans.
Did They Go RVing During Previous Fuel Crises?
During the 1973 Gas Crisis, OPEC initiated a trade embargo on the United States and Europe for six months. During that time, America mainly relied on foreign oil for gasoline and other petroleum products. Most of our vehicles at that time had big-block V8 or V6 engines. When gas prices rose, most people had their RV’s stored for the winter. By the Spring of 1974, OPEC lifted the embargo, and gas prices were coming down. Americans may have had to wait an extra month or two for budgetary reasons before they hooked up their travel trailer or turned over the motorhome engine, but the 1974 camping season resumed.
From 2004-2009 camping seasons, you’d be surprised how busy those camping seasons were. Despite the over $4 a gallon fuel price nationally, RVers were hitting the road. During this period, there were many reasons why gas prices rose. The world’s need for petroleum grew at a tremendous rate. Hurricane Katrina devastated the American drilling industry, and global political issues slowed oil export. The commodities market had a difficult time keeping up with all of this uncertainty.
Over 40 million RVers were setting up at campgrounds, boondocking, and getting away for the weekend. If you look at the many RV and camping articles of the time, the motivations included needing a break from the daily problems they were going through during the 2008 Financial Crisis.
What’s Going On Today
The Short-Term Problem
Headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia, the Colonial Pipeline is a dual tube underground structure that runs from Texas to New York. Built in the early 1960s, it supplies over 3 million barrels of fuel daily. Computer hackers attacked the computer systems with ransom malware shutting down the pipeline on Saturday, May 8th. Operations restarted on Thursday, May 13th, after Colonial dealt with the virus. There wasn’t any physical damage to the pipeline, but states that rely on it for fuel felt the effects. The southeast had thousands of gas stations with empty pumps. Washington approved extra measures like bringing in foreign oil tankers, so this specific gas shortage ended as quickly as possible.
The Bigger Issue
During the 2020 Global Shutdown, the trucking industry was still rolling, but you’d see fuel tanker trailers lined up and dormant in the company lots by the hundreds. Truck drivers with hazardous material (HAZMAT) certifications moved on to other opportunities to continue earning a paycheck. Once the world and the U.S. opened up, many of them continued with their new jobs. Fuel transport companies did their best to hire new truckers to fill the driver positions as the need came up, but the certification requirements and time to get them trained continued to become a problem. By April 2021, gas production companies were producing fully, but the truck drivers distributing the fuel was in short supply.
To become HAZMAT certified, a truck driver must already have their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), a clean background that Homeland Security approves, pass the certification test, and spend weeks training. After all of that, fuel transport companies will have the drivers drive with experienced drivers until they’re confident the new driver can handle the challenges and responsibilities independently. Before the Colonial Pipeline incident, fuel experts said that tourist areas would hit hardest during this distribution problem. The gas shortage levels they were talking about were nowhere near the 1973 Gas Crisis level. Some gas stations in those areas would be low, while others would ration out their gas or diesel.
How Can I Go RVing During a Gas Shortage?
For those of you that have or are on a backlog waiting list, recommending a more fuel-efficient RV is as pointless as a circle (there are other similies I could use, but we’re a family-oriented website). Here’s a realistic approach to keeping your plans to go RVing.
App Up – Go RVing with a Plan
You’ll want to make sure you plan your fuel stops ahead of time with RV Trip Wizard. You can find nearby gas station prices when you explore the details of each campground, and later navigate that trip with the RV LIFE GPS & Campgrounds app, which is included with RV Trip Wizard as part of RV LIFE Pro. Gas locator apps will tell you prices and availability too.
On the RV Trip Wizard trip planner, you may see a gas pump icon with a triangle around it. This icon is telling you that around this point in your trip, based on the data you entered, you’ll need to fill up. Make sure you fill up 10-20 miles before this icon. You might not find gas at the first place you see, so find some backup gas stations along the route just in case. Veteran RVers know that “Plan A” doesn’t always work.
Go RVing Locally
If you can change your plans, you can go RVing locally. If this will be your first time out, it’s always a good idea to stay close to home anyway. During your first trip, you may forget something. We’ve all done it, none of us want to talk about it, but we have. Hopefully, it’s not something important like medication. For you veterans, you know the benefits of staying closer to home. Depending on where you are and how gas prices work out, you may even get to hitch up more often. Don’t forget motorhomers; your gas generator will shut off if you reach less than a quarter tank. As always, you can use CampgroundReviews.com to find those local campgrounds.
Fill Up at a Quarter Tank
Always fill up when you reach a quarter tank. If there’s a line at the gas station, or you reach the quarter tank mark between exits, you want that last bit of fuel to get you to the gas pump. In a gas shortage situation, you’ll want that quarter tank to find a gas station that has a gas supply you can use. You may have to drive 10 miles or more in certain areas.
Keep an Emergency Supply With You
Some toy haulers with fuel stations built-in can hold as much as 30 gallons of gas. Having a couple of gas jugs stowed away for absolute emergencies could be a good idea for the rest of us. You want to be strategic in storing these gas cans. Many will use rear cargo carriers that fit on the hitch of their RV to haul them safely. If you stop, you can always move them inside your RV or car so they don’t “grow legs.”
Run Through Your Maintenance Checklist
When your tow vehicle or motorhome is running optimally, you’re actually burn less fuel. It’s like when you have a cold; when you’re all stuffed up, it’s harder to breathe, so you have to take in more air. Your vehicle works similarly. Ensure your air filter is clean, tires are at the optimum PSI, oil is clean, and other automotive components are at their peak efficiency. You’d be amazed how many more miles-per-gallon you’ll get when your vehicle can breathe well. Get that maintenance done ahead of time so you can go RVing when you feel like it.
Remember, the Turtle Won the Race
Keeping to a consistent speed versus accelerating up and down saves gas too. When you accelerate, it takes more fuel to reach that higher speed than if you stay at a constant rate. In many cases, you may think you’re ahead of schedule, but due to the consistent braking and fighting traffic, you’re probably losing time. The worst time killer is when the local, county, or state police officer pulls you over.
Do You Really Need All of That for a Weekend Get-a-Way?
For those of you that remember the original Lost In Space TV Show (although the movie and new show used the line a few times), this is where the Robot would say, “Danger Will Robinson!” Each item you pack individually may not weigh that much, but collectively, it can significantly increase your total gross vehicle weight (GVW). Mindful packing can decrease your GVW an extra 50-100 pounds or more. You must bring your pet’s favorite stuffy, kids security toy and your anti-RV gremlin totem to avoid problems. Keeping your packing weight down can mean the difference of up to a quarter tank.
The Summer Breeze Can Make You Feel Fine
RV experts will tell you that using the max air conditioner setting on your dashboard will reduce your fuel efficiency anywhere between 5%-25%. If you’re in the muggy climates of the south, where you could wash your hair from the moisture in the air, that’s one thing. If you can tolerate some fresh air from open windows, it can air out your vehicle and save you $3-$4 a gallon.
Avoid Heavy Traffic When You Go RVing
RV Trip Wizard will help you avoid non-RV-Friendly routes, including city centers, but inevitably, you’ll probably end up on a city bypass highway. Those roads can be slow-going during the morning and evening commute. If you plan your timing right, you may hit those roads between the worst of it. Idling during the bumper-to-bumper traffic is a gas killer. The same holds on significant highways during major holidays. Why not find a commercial parking lot to boondock or a campground for the night. If you need to keep moving, stop in a highway rest area for an extended early dinner. Instead of burning the gas and your nerves, get some rest and continue when the roads clear up.
Your Vehicle’s a Workhorse, Not a High-Performance Racecar
Unless your tow vehicle says explicitly to use it, mid-grade and high-octane fuels don’t increase your vehicle’s performance. Race cars and other high-performance cars need higher octane fuels for the high horsepower they require. Your needs are focused on torque. You need pulling power, not speed. Don’t waste the money unless that’s the only fuel available at the pump and you don’t have enough gas to find another gas station.
Don’t Be a Leaning Ship
Have you ever seen a boat in the water that leans to one side or the other? That happens because it’s heavier on one side. The same holds for RVs. When you’re unbalanced, it takes more fuel to tow. A perfectly balanced RV rolls evenly and lets the momentum carry it while you’re cruising down the highway. You should evenly distribute heavier gear on the floor of your storage bay near your axles. Your tongue weight (the RV pressure on your tow vehicle’s hitch) should be between 10%-15% of the RV’s total weight (20% for fifth wheels).
The best way to check your RV’s balance is to look at the bubble level stickers or the level device before you pull out. Make sure you’re on a level surface. If you’re a scientist, accountant, or perfectionist, it doesn’t have to be absolute (see our other discussions about why this is a sore point).
RVers Are Made of Tough Stuff
When you look through the annuls of RV History, you’ll learn two things about those who live the RV Lifestyle and love to go RVing. The first is that with everything that’s happened globally, the RV Community and Industry are the first to step up to serve our country in times of need. We were there during both World Wars, Natural Disasters, and the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The second thing you’ll learn is that we’ve survived it all and came out better than ever. Wheels still roll, jacks still drop, roofs crank up, and slideouts expand. More importantly, communal campfires are still burning. At our core, RVers help each other out, and we’re still the friendliest culture in the United States. As the song goes, “…no, no, they can’t take that away from me.”
We’ll get through this gas shortage like we did everything else. Stay strong, go RVing, and we’ll see you down the road.
About The Author
Although he’s from Motown, Brian is a legacy RVer that grew up on I-75. He, his wife, and three working-class fur-babies have enjoyed the full-time RV lifestyle since 2017. Like John Madden, he hasn’t “worked” in years because he gets to write about his passion. When he’s not working, he supports his daughter’s dog rescue efforts and disability causes. Learn more with him on Camper Smarts.com