The Quest for a Longer Season
A warm visit from a family of five got us thinking about the challenges of extending camping trips. Currently towing a hardtop camper with their Honda Odyssey, they yearned for more space and durability. To accommodate their needs, they began considering a travel trailer. However, they were concerned about exceeding the Odyssey’s 3,500 lb. towing recommendation. The 21′ trailer they were eyeing seemed crowded for their family size. On the other hand, a 28′ trailer weighing 4,800 lbs. seemed more suitable with its low profile and aerodynamic shape.
The Odyssey’s Towing Prowess
Having witnessed over 200 customers successfully towing with Odysseys since their introduction in 1999, we were confident in the van’s capabilities. Safety-wise, front-wheel drive vans, with their long wheelbases, wide stances, and low centers of gravity, excel as tow vehicles. The current vans, equipped with powerful engines and efficient transmissions, effortlessly surmount hills. When paired with a reasonably aerodynamic trailer, they truly shine.
Road-Testing the Trailers
To address the family’s concerns, we followed our typical method here at Can-Am RV – we test-drove each trailer hitched to their van. After experiencing both trailers, the decision to opt for the 28′ one became a no-brainer.
Weight vs. Aerodynamics
One question still nagged at us: Is there a weight threshold where aerodynamics cease to compensate for the difference? At the weight ranges we were exploring, weight would likely not overshadow drag. Nevertheless, weight does incur additional rolling resistance in tires and bearings, and aerodynamics might not always perform as expected.
The Bullet: A Shining Example
Coincidentally, we had just acquired a new trailer called the “Bullet.” It boasted intriguing design features such as sloped side walls and an extremely aerodynamic fiberglass front cap. Additionally, its relatively low profile, with side walls measuring only 107″ high, piqued our interest. Despite being a spacious 32′ trailer with two slide-out rooms that could sleep nine, it tipped the scales at a mere 5,820 lbs.
A Box on Wheels: A Classic Comparison
To evaluate conventional trailer construction, we examined a traditional wood framed aluminum skin 16′ trailer. Though boxy in shape, it offered some drag advantages due to its lightweight of only 2,990 lbs. Equipped with a single axle and a low roof line measuring 100″ off the ground, it served as a suitable benchmark.
Comparing the Tow Experience
If we were to tow both trailers “back-to-back” using the same vehicle, the comparison would prove enlightening. We chose the Chrysler Town & Country van, which is beloved among RV enthusiasts. Sporting a 4.0 Litre V/6 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission, it promised a fair test.
Fuel Efficiency Findings
Conducting multiple runs on the 401 highway, we recorded the average fuel efficiency using the onboard mileage computer. By factoring in wind conditions, we aimed for a balanced assessment. Maintaining a speed of 60 MPH, we repeated the route with each trailer. The results revealed a remarkable 12% improvement in fuel economy for the Bullet.
Smooth Sailing and Improved Handling
Besides its fuel efficiency, the aerodynamic Bullet excelled in other areas. It glided smoothly on the road, exhibiting lesser buffeting by passing transports compared to the square trailer. Its streamlined design also enhanced handling, as it remained stable even in crosswinds. The sloped sidewalls and front cap contributed significantly to its highway stability. Interior-wise, the Bullet ingeniously disguised its tapered sides, preserving spaciousness.
Weight vs. Drag: The Ultimate Verdict
This intriguing experiment reaffirmed that within the travel trailer spectrum, the impact of aerodynamics seems to outweigh weight when it comes to fuel efficiency at highway speeds. Vehicles capable of powering through the air can also handle the weight. Once you reach touring speed, maintaining it on level terrain requires less energy. However, as we delve into larger fifth wheels, weight may start to make a more noticeable difference. This calls for another exciting future test!
Source: DHPL Travels