Can a 2018 Nissan Pathfinder (Platinum) coupled with a 2019 Geo Pro (16BH) travel trailer save the planet? In the spring of 2018, I aimed to find out, one camping trip at a time. This is what I discovered, aside from the gaping hole in my savings account.
I’m still a believer in the adage that every little bit helps. I know that’s not a popular stance in these contentious days of plastic straw bans, but I figure even a small gesture is better than doing nothing besides lauding my own cynicism.
With that in mind, I turned my attention to our summer camping pastime. It had become evident over the years that this outdoorsy, at-one-with-nature activity was not quite the tree-hugging activity I passingly thought. We were, after all, regularly burning wood for pleasure.
More pertinent to the climate change dilemma was the way in which we were camping. Hauling a travel trailer with a packed SUV to various parks and campgrounds around the country isn’t the greenest of recreational pursuits.
Yes, there is a spectrum involved; tent camping is greener than RV camping and RV camping is greener than coach motorhome camping and coach motorhome camping is greener than, say, a cruise. And, sure, the size of RV and tow vehicle, or motorhome, influences fuel usage as does the destination (mountains vs prairie). Regardless of the specifics, camping was not carbon neutral.
Now, we were far from the most egregious offenders, but we were hardly innocent either. Since we began RV camping in 2011, we had kept our trailers relatively small compared to many of our peers. Our first trailer, a 1998 Trail Lite 7212, was 21’ in length and about 1400 kg (3100 lbs) dry weight. Our second, purchased in 2015, was a 2002 Westwind WT239 that was both longer (26’ bumper to hitch) and decidedly heavier, pushing 1900 kg (4200 lbs).
The Root of our Camping Carbon Footprint
Blame for our camping carbon footprint complacency lay almost exclusively with our tow vehicle. A 2004 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer Edition SUV, it was a beast of a thing sporting a thirsty 5.4L V8 engine. Entirely overkill for our first trailer, but necessary for our second, we had next to zero issues with our Expedition as both people mover and trailer hauler.
Still, by 2018 it was showing its age. Parts were wearing out, rust spots were becoming prevalent, and with the kids long out of car seats or in need of strollers and playpens, we just didn’t need a full-sized SUV anymore. With replacement now in the conversation, our goal immediately focused on reducing fuel consumption when towing.
Our trailers were equally showing their age. The Trail Lite was stored at my parent’s home in Ontario with the intention of using it for one last grand East Coast camping trip. When that trip finished, we planned to get rid of it either by sale or gifting it to a family member.
The Westwind, now our primary RV here in Alberta, had revealed water damage that upon closer inspection was far worse than desired. And though we enjoyed this trailer for the most part, it was bigger than we needed or really wanted. It too became the subject of replacement conversations.
Our thinking was as follows. If we reduced the size and weight of our trailer back below 1360 kg (3000 lbs), we should be able to safely and comfortably tow it with a six-cylinder SUV rather than a gas guzzling eight. That seemed simple enough and I even envisioned little dollar signs dancing around in my mind as we not only reduced our carbon footprint but saved oodles of dollars doing so.
We began our new trailer search focusing on the delightful, tear-drop shaped R-Pods and their clones. At a modest 1225 kg (2700 lbs) and under 20’, R-Pods were far lighter and smaller than what we had been using while still maintaining, just barely, all the amenities we wanted in an RV.
Eventually, we settled on the Geo Pro 16BH (more about that by clicking here). Though a single axel RV, and shorter than either of our original trailers at just over 18’, the Geo Pro was decidedly heavier than the R-Pod. Weighing a touch more than 1360 kg (3000 lbs), it wasn’t the ideal reduction in size we set out to achieve, but one still towable with a V6 SUV. Besides, we had fallen in love with the layout and more accommodating width dimension of the Geo Pro.
The new tow vehicle was a trickier decision. The mid-sized SUV market has many options available, with each major car manufacturer offering at least one model. There wasn’t a single make that really grabbed our attention as far as design or aesthetics goes. And as much as I dislike driving about town in an ugly vehicle, our principal focus was on towing capacity. Ultimately, that left us with one choice.
Why We Chose the Nissan Pathfinder
New Nissan Pathfinders were boasting 2720kg (6000 lbs) of towing capacity compared to the maximum 2270 kg (5000 lbs) of their primary competition. We felt that extra 450 kg (1000 lbs) of capacity was vital for our growing family considering all the junk we routinely stuffed into our SUV and trailer on camping trips. I’m a sucker for extra wiggle room in such matters.
The problem was that the additional towing capacity was only available on the 2017 and 2018 Pathfinder model years. In the spring of 2018 when we were looking to upgrade, that pretty much meant buying new. And buying new is something I had sworn I would never do again when it came to cars.
Apparently, I lie to myself because we ended up buying a brand new 2018 Nissan Pathfinder (Platinum Edition) to pull our brand new 2019 Geo Pro (16BH) trailer. There were several ridiculous reasons we used to convince ourselves that this was a suitable course of action. None stand up to scrutiny. It was a splurge, plain and simple. A wanton, consumerist splurge. I wish we hadn’t done it but alas, no do-overs.
That all happened in the spring of 2018. We have since wrapped up that East Coast camping trip, a fitting farewell to our first RV and first tow vehicle. We sold off our second trailer to an eager, young handyman looking to rebuild it. And we have enjoyed one half summer and one full summer of camping with our new Pathfinder and Geo Pro, not to mention a full year of regular driving. In other words, I now have data for which to compare and I can finally answer the question, are we saving the planet with our new camping setup?
The short answer is … … sort of.
Let’s look at the data. Below are three charts showing the individual mileage in L/100km for our two tow vehicles. I also included our 2004 Acura TL passenger car because it too has a six-cylinder power plant with almost a decade of fuel use history, thereby providing a solid comparator to the new Nissan Pathfinder in terms of regular driving metrics.
I have arbitrarily divided the annual data into “summer” and “winter” with winter encompassing a good portion of spring and autumn as well. I did this to separate times when we are sometimes towing a trailer (summer) and times when we are decidedly not towing (winter). Obviously, seasonal variations come into play beyond this simple dichotomy, notably outdoor temperature, but it suffices for this post.
Also, we do not use any vehicle as a daily commuter. We shuttle around the city for grocery shopping and hockey commitments, but otherwise use public transit or walk when possible. As such, it really is difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between city and highway driving. There is most certainly a difference between the two for each vehicle, but by and large each tank of gas we consume involves some of both.
Here is the 2004 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer Edition data:
The 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum Edition data:
And the 2004 Acura TL A Spec Edition data:
And for the grand finale, combining all three data sets into one glorious graph:Some things worth noting. It is obvious when we were towing the trailer each summer. Mileage gets decidedly worse when off on exciting camping adventures.
Mileage even got noticeably worse when we graduated from the Trail Lite to the heavier Westwind, though the East Coast trip, done with the Trail Lite, has a few outliers of terrible mileage for that set up.
There is some anomalously good mileage for the Ford Expedition in June of 2018. My parents used our Expedition for a BC vacation and then drove it to Ontario for us, never pulling a trailer during that time. This is the only discernable “highway” use of the Expedition in the control of a sensible, speed limit adhering adult, and you can see that mileage during that portion of its life was the best it ever got.
There are outliers of poor mileage in 2018 for the new Nissan Pathfinder pulling the Geo Pro. This was part of my learning curve in using our new rig. Big brick or small brick, pulling a brick through the atmosphere is going to be hard on fuel consumption. Despite the smaller engine in the Nissan Pathfinder, pulling a trailer and trying to keep up to highway speeds really burns gas.
I have since determined that the line in the sand for our Nissan when towing is right around 100 km/hr. Beyond that, fuel consumption escalates considerably. I now ritually stick to this 100 km/hr limit when hauling the trailer, content to arrive ten minutes later and save a few bucks.
When using the Nissan Pathfinder as a passenger vehicle, sans trailer, our mileage is very similar to what we we get with our Acura TL. That’s not bad for an SUV, though I’m sure a modern six-cylinder passenger car would get better mileage than either the Pathfinder or TL.
Is Our Nissan Pathfinder Saving the Planet?
So what does this all mean for us and the planet? Well, when all is said and done, we averaged about 30 L/100km with our Ford Expedition while towing our RVs. With the Nissan Pathfinder and Geo Pro, that average is below 20 L/100km, a noticeable improvement and, honestly, better than I thought it was based on my internal interpretation of real time data.
When the trailer is removed from the equation, again a noticeable and meaningful improvement in mileage is realized. The Ford Expedition averages about 20 L/100km under these conditions while the Nissan Pathfinder is closer to 12 L/100km.
I’m no statistician, so I won’t bore you with complicated data analysis. Sticking to basic averages for each vehicle over the time we owned them (towing and non-towing combined), the Expedition burned 23.5 L/100km compared to the Pathfinder’s 15 L/100km. That’s a savings, on average, of 8.5 L/100km.
Since 2011, the year we purchased the Expedition and our first travel trailer, we have driven an average of 13500 km per year in our SUVs. If we stay true to that average going forward, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t, that 8.5 L/100km improvement will result in us using 1150 fewer litres of gasoline annually.
Using average monthly gas prices for Calgary acquired from Stats Canada (Table 18-10-0001-01 Monthly Average Retail Prices for Gasoline and Fuel Oil) and recognizing this isn’t entirely accurate since we often camp far from Calgary, I’m assuming a typical purchase price for gasoline of $1.10 per litre over the past few years. At that price, I estimate we are saving $1262 per annum with the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder. Give or take, of course.
That’s pretty damn good in my opinion. It’s not single-handedly saving the planet, but it is helping, even if just a little. And for that, I’m glad.
Was it worth the seventy-five grand to buy a brand new SUV and trailer? Not a freakin’ chance!