No matter how much you enjoy riding away from home at shows or on trail rides, you probably cringe at the gas pump watching the total spiral ever higher when you have to fill up your tow vehicle. Tow vehicles aren’t known for their fuel efficiency, but there are things you can do to improve your gas mileage while hauling a horse trailer so you can pay less at the pump. Routine maintenance, attention to detail, and better driving habits will all lead to a trip that is a little lighter on your wallet.
Watch The Weight of Your Horse Trailer
Trailer weights are printed on the manufacturer’s statement of origin if you purchase your trailer new. Otherwise, it might be listed on a sticker inside the frame of the trailer. If all else fails, you can take your trailer to a public scale and weigh it. It’s best to do this both when the trailer is empty and fully loaded.
“What’s going to really kill your fuel mileage is if you’re asking too much of your tow vehicle,” says Shane Jensen, sales manager at Trails West Manufacturing in Preston, Idaho. “For instance, say a half-ton truck has a towing rating of 8,000 pounds from the bumper hitch. If you get a big three-horse, 8-foot wide trailer that is 7’6″ tall, it already weighs around 7,000 pounds. Put three horses in it, and it’s going to cost you.”
Even if you have a trailer well within your vehicle’s tow rating when loaded, anything you can do to lighten the load will improve your mileage somewhat, says Chad Toney, who owns The 20X Custom Shop LLC. His business, located in Elizabeth, Colo., does trailer repair and fabrication and sells towing accessories.
“The best ways to improve fuel mileage are to limit engine load and limit weight,” Toney says. “Weight is tough to manage, but if you’re chasing MPGs [miles per gallon], it’s worth leaving what you don’t need at home.”
Once you’ve calculated your vehicle and trailer’s tow weight correctly, you will need to make sure the trailer’s weight is distributed evenly on its axles. Too much weight on the tongue will cause it to weigh down the tow vehicle and ride more on the trailer’s front axle. This lowers fuel efficiency because the aerodynamics of the trailer are designed for level towing.
“If you’re really squatting down your tow vehicle, you should ask your dealership for a weight distributing hitch,” Jensen says. “What that does is distribute the weight off the back end [of the vehicle] and push it forward, so the front axle of the tow vehicle is helping handle the weight. On top of probably saving your fuel mileage, you’re safer [due to reduced sway and] you’ve got better steering stability.”
Slow Down to Improve Gas Mileage
Just like weight, speed is another factor that can cause a huge decrease in the gas mileage you get while hauling your horse trailer. When you’re on the road, it can be tempting to try to get there as quickly as possible, but that only leads to more money and time spent fueling up.
Alex Taft, a non-pro reiner who shows in limited-age events, hauled to 18 shows last year chasing National Reining Horse Association Rookie Year-End titles. She estimated she spent more than $2,000 on diesel while driving her rig, which consists of an F-250 and a two-horse gooseneck trailer.
“We got the best mileage when we drove on the highway at times of the day when traffic was at a minimum,” Taft says. “That way, we could keep our speed around 60-65 mph, which seemed to be where our MPGs improved the most. Anything over that, and you could almost watch the fuel needle drop as you drove.”
Toney agrees significant gains in mileage can be found by keeping your speed around 60 mph. Plus, your trailer’s tire speed rating, which tells you how fast you can run on the interstate, is likely in that range, too. This number won’t affect your gas mileage as much as it will prevent you from having a tire blow out, but anything you can do to help your horse trailer or tow vehicle run more efficiently should show mileage gains—and save your wallet.
“Speed really kills you on fuel mileage,” Jensen concurs. “You can get a higher speed rating on a higher ply tire, like a 14-ply or a 16-ply for the tires that go on big living quarter trailers, but you’re not going to push them over 70. If you stay within the rating, though, you will save fuel mileage and problems.”
Air Up Your Vehicle & Horse Trailer Tires
Just like your horse’s routine farrier care can affect his well-being, how you maintain your tires will improve or worsen your mileage and risk when towing. Under-inflated tires have more friction on the road, which lowers fuel efficiency and increases the likelihood of a flat.
“In most cases, we recommend you run your trailer tires at near [PSI] capacity or whatever the sidewall [of the] trailer tire states,” Jensen says. “The sidewall will state the maximum PSI, and our specification is to air them up to the max. It does help your fuel mileage when you’re aired up properly, but you’re also less likely to have blowouts.”
Regular tire maintenance and rotation is one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting maximum performance out of your rig.
“Correct size and weight-rated tires will help,” Toney adds. “Larger and heavier tires take more power and fuel to start and keep moving. I see a few folks that want to run 14-ply tires on smaller trailers, and that will probably affect mileage and brake wear negatively.”
Take Care of Your Vehicle
Weight, speed and tire maintenance can all help add MPGs, but when you’re not towing, the best thing you can do to boost mileage is maintain your vehicle in general. Towing adds stress to a vehicle, so parts can wear out quickly. When things aren’t in working order, your mileage tends to suffer.
“We make sure our oil changes are done when needed, rotate tires regularly and keep the air filters clean,” Taft says. “When you haul horses, you typically are in dusty areas. A clean air filter can make a huge difference in how your engine performs.”
The type of vehicle you drive will factor into what you spend on maintenance, which could diminish your fuel savings. Diesels usually cost more to purchase, fuel up, insure and maintain than gas vehicles. If you’re only pulling a small horse trailer, it might actually be cheaper to tow with a gasoline-powered vehicle.
“Modern gasoline trucks are closing the gap in towing with the diesel trucks,” Toney said. “Those with a two- to four-horse trailer, even a smaller living quarters, should be happy with the newer gas trucks. Diesels will continue to be preferred for hauling larger trailers, but for the average horse owner, it’s well worth a serious look at newer gas-powered trucks.”
At the end of the day, hauling horses is always going to come with costs. But if you’re mindful of how much you’re towing, lower your speed, and keep your equipment in good order, your savings at the pump will really add up given today’s fuel prices. Then you can keep trucking down the road, best friend in tow.