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Old 03-16-2009, 10:04 AM   #1
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Eco-Responsibility: Veggie Diesel? Better gas mileage TV?

Hi-- I am a complete newbie. I am in the process of figuring out whether I can chuck it all for awhile and live on the road.

One of the things that I am having a problem with is the total crumminess of gas mileage on TV's. This isn't working with my current attempts to live more responsibly.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I have found a guy in Portland (across the country) who does veggie diesel conversions on Ford 7.3L powerstroke-- I think he'll do pretty much any diesel conversion but he suggests the Ford. These conversions can run on vegetable oil (new or used), biodiesel, or straight diesel.

Has anyone pulled a trailer with a Veggie Diesel TV?

I also am a single women traveling alone with no towing experience as of yet so I need something simple and dependable and I have to say that those Ford 2009 F150's look mighty attractive with all of the extras that they have added on for towing capability. (And a high price tag).

I have also thought that if I had to get a gas guzzler that I could offset with solar or wind power but by how much?

Any thoughts?


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Old 03-16-2009, 10:50 AM   #2
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Just the other day, on Myth Busters, the two guys did a test of a diesel Mercedes Sedan running through a specific amount of standard dielsel fuel and then running the car on the exact same amount of vegetable oil. They said it wouldn't matter if it was new or used veggie oil.
The results were that the car went from approx 36 mpg to 30 mpg with the veggie oil.
I offer this only as conincidental info. Can't say if a PowerStroke would actually work.

2005 F-150 5.4L Supercab 4X4 (Betsy 3)
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:28 AM   #3
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Welcome to the forums and the Airstream world!

A friend has converted his 2004 Dodge Cummins to run on veggie oil and has noted a similar drop in mpg's to what is stated above. If you are traveling from place to place and don't stay anywhere very long you will have a hard time finding a supply of veggie oil. Most of it has to be filtered extensively and the water seperated out to make usable fuel. In reality not feasible on the road, especially if you are not mechanically inclined.

I will say that a Dodge Cummins will get you good mpg's (comparatively) and have more than enough grunt to do what you are asking. It will also get same or better fuel mileage than a similar sized gas powered pickup. I deliver campers all over the country with my Dodge Cummins and currently have 722,xxx miles on the original engine so dependability is good also. Much simpler to work on than Ford or GM diesel pickups.

TV1: Black Sheep, 2001 Dodge 3500, 800,xxx miles, a few non-stock parts here and there...
TV2: Brownie, 1989 Dodge W250, only 256,000 miles!
TV3: 2004.5 Dodge 3500, 415,000 miles, 6 spd
TV4: 2005 Dodge 3500, 478,000 miles, 4spd auto
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Old 03-16-2009, 11:37 AM   #4
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I subscribe to the "smaller is better" school of thought on this subject. A 28 to 34 foot trailer is wonderful to sit in and great if you have a family with you, but you have to have a big, powerful TV to move it with. If you want to decrease your carbon footprint it is easier to go small. We have an older 22' Safari and a six cylinder Toyota 4 door TV. It has plenty of power to pull our trailer, seats five, and gets good mileage. If big is the only way for you, then I would look at regular old diesel. easy to find, no premium price. Your benefit is in the increased mileage and longevity of the engine. You don't have to burn french fry oil to be green.
I would look at the fulltimers threads and see how they do it. There are a lot more options than you think for places to stay, or work/ stay, or just boondocking in the desert. Good luck, and have fun!
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Old 03-16-2009, 12:09 PM   #5
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What you tow with depends on how big a trailer you get. You might want to look for examples to Europe and Canada, where they tow with smaller vehicles than we do in America. There has been a great deal of debate about using smaller tow vehicles, but there's a dealership up there that custom sets them up for people. They use vehicles like a PT Cruiser to tow with. So if you want to step down from the big gas guzzling V8s you might want to look North.

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Old 03-16-2009, 12:25 PM   #6
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1.You can always cut down on the distance you travel and stay longer in one spot.
2.For Airstreams there is less of a difference in towing mpgs for shorter vs longer than you might think
3.A smaller TV will give you better mpgs when not towing, but when towing a smaller TV will loose mpgs at a much greater rate than a bigger TV with a bigger engine.
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Old 03-16-2009, 12:26 PM   #7
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I'm what H.W. would call a compassionate conservative. I was way ahead of the curve on environmentally friendly solutions like compact fluorescent light bulbs and low emission vehicles. But as you can tell by looking at my signature line, I believe there are times when the job requires the right tool. We could easily do just fine with a half-ton truck, but the fuel economy and durability wouldn't be as good as with the diesel. A smaller trailer would have been even better with a half ton truck, but with two kids and a cocker spaniel, the right "tool" for our camping needs was the 30' Safari Bunk House.

I have had two diesels with my Airstream (trading only because the redesigned '08 had better designed seats and softer ride that was more sympathetic to an old back injury than my '05 had been) and with both, Ford recommended no more than 5% vegetable oil in the bio diesel so in my opinion, bio diesel is not a practical attempt at reducing the carbon footprint. Ever notice that they never do the conversions or experiments with a new $54,000.00 diesel truck like mine? They always convert late '70's Mercedes that are on their last leg. Tells me the technology isn't so good for an engine designed to be long lasting. One of the BIG bonuses I got with my '08 is that even though it is a diesel, it has the same emmissions as a gasoline engine of the same displacement. That is to say, that it would pass California emmissions requirements for gasoline engines. So it isn't necessary to go biodiesel to be "green" and it isn't necessary to go with a diesel in order to tow an Airstream.

My general rule of thumb, for me at least, is going above 25 foot is the time you consider moving from 1/2 to 3/4 ton tow vehicle and the other way around when going below 25 foot. Twenty-five foot is a gray area of course or marginal area. But in my most humble opinion, when you go 27' or above in the Safari/Flying Cloud line you should consider a 3/4 ton. If you are looking at anything in the Classic line or anything 25 foot or above in the International line, you should consider a 3/4 ton. The longer lengths from the 60's, 70'semissionsemissionsbio diesel, and early 80's are generally light enough to be comfortably towed with a half ton. But that is only my opinion.
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Old 03-16-2009, 12:34 PM   #8
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Wow, you do have a lot going on, and your thinking about the environment and gas mileage is commendable. You may want to settle one question at a time. The smaller the trailer the less energy it takes to tow. Many manufactures make small light units, do you need a diesel dose it really have to run on veggie diesel. You will spend as much time trying to find veggie diesel as camping and I would think all the veggie diesel being produced is now being consumed so it may be in short supply. I tow a 25 foot with a 2001 F-150 so a huge diesel truck is not necessary. Solar is available for trailers but depending on your needs may not meet your requirements. Wind is dependent on location as is solar. You may want to start out slow and get a feel for towing and camping and how you will use your rig. The more you travel and use your unit the more you will come to know your needs. By living on the road you are no longer using the energy it takes to run a home or apartment. Depending on your commute you may even drive less, as many campers stay for several days or weeks at a site. It is very conceivable the your total energy consumption may drop.
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Old 03-16-2009, 12:41 PM   #9
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Attempting to reuse spent veggie oil is a noble goal. But if your main goal is efficiency and a lower carbon footprint there a couple of things to consider.

First off, full timing in an airstream is a low carbon footprint endeavor already. Trailers are light on the land. Half of our carbon emissions, afterall, are from buildings! And while it takes energy to construct an Airstream, it's far less than a new single family home. The life expectancy of an AS trailer is long too. Buying a used one and extending its life is even better.

Also, living in 250 sq feet or less of space is far less impactful than even a studio apartment or a small home. It will take much less energy to heat and power your AS. Add a couple of small solar panels and your impact is even less.

If you're not going to be moving around constantly and you decide that you're going to park your trailer in one spot for any period of time, all the cost and hassle of using reclaimed veggie oil might be a lot of hassle that you would be better off without.

The conversion isn't mechanically very difficult, but it could cost you a pretty penny to install. Put it on a new truck and you'll void your warrently as well. You could purchase carbon offsets online each year (based on the miles you drive) and probably save the money you would have spent on a conversion.

In my opinion, full timing in an AS is already such a low impact lifestyle (compared to people living in 5,000 sq ft homes with 3 cars in the garage) that screwing around with oil from the McDonald's french friar is more trouble than it's worth.
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Old 03-16-2009, 01:01 PM   #10
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I also lean towards the smaller tow vehicle side of the equation, rather than worrying about finding biodiesel on the road (B100 is quite rare at pumps) or dealing with salvaged veg oil.

You mentioned in your other thread about wanting individual "rooms." Maybe something like a 60s Tradewind or a Argosy Minuet 7.3 (there's one in the classifieds; they have front panaromic windows) being towed by a Tacoma or Ridgeline would be a pretty good overall package.

Those trailers would give you a center "bedroom" section and decent room in the front of the coach. They weigh around 3800 lbs empty. (A 70s Safari also has a center bedroom and weighs less but the front of the coach is a bit tight for my tastes.)

Newer, I wonder if a 19' Bambi or a 90's 21' Sovereign (hard to find) or 22' Safari would give you the two room feeling you're looking for with their corner beds. Otherwise, you're starting at a 23' Flying Cloud/Safari SE to get a seperate bedroom.

All that said, if I were full-timing permanently, I'd have a hard time not just buying a new Silverado 1/2ton with a 6-speed automatic and a 25FB Safari SE....
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Old 03-16-2009, 01:10 PM   #11
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I commend you on your attempt to reduce your carbon footprint. It is not easy to do unless you want to use a bike and carry a lightweight tent with you. The bike should be made of wood and the tent of cotton.

My compromises: a solar panel, LED lamps in about 2/3 of the Safari, a trailer that has less wind resistance, keeping temps low in the Safari and home. I expect the footprint of motel rooms is higher than towing and using an RV, but have zero objective data on that. We use fewer restaurants, so that may help.

The new diesels are much cleaner, though there are reports maintenance is high. We tow a 25' with a 1/2 ton and we think that is the limit for a 1/2 ton gas engine. Any model heavier than the Safari 25' FB (now Flying Cloud) was too heavy and it matched with our Tundra well. Not all 1/2 ton's have the same towing limits and watch payload especially, something a lot of people disregard. Some people happily tow 27's and more with a 1/2 ton truck, but we didn't feel that a good idea.

If you go fulltime, surely you will minimize your footprint. But there are things you can't control. The power at an RV campground may be generated by a dirty, old coal plant. How would you know?

Then there are the health aspects. You can eat better food traveling than using restaurants. Unfortunately, Airstream uses products that off gas for a long time—the interior panels and foam cushions and mattress are full of bad stuff. Most people will notice no effect, but when the unit is closed for a while, it smells like chemicals when you enter. We air it out a lot (good to do when using it to reduce humidity). These chemicals are said to disrupt the endocrine system. Of course, we have the same things in houses and apartments, but there's a larger space to off gas and exterior doors open and close a lot. You can replace the mattress with organic materials and probably the foam inside the cushions, but natural products are quite expensive. The panels, unless you want to gut the trailer, are impractical to change.


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gas mileage, veggie diesel, tow vehicles

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