Do Roof Top Tents Affect Gas Mileage? Full Guide


There’s something quite surreal about camping atop your own ride, watching the world go by as you drift off to sleep suspended above it all. A rooftop tent makes this possible, and for those that own one, it leads to some of the most memorable camping experiences possible. However, as great as they are, there’s one question that’s often asked – do rooftop tents affect gas mileage?

Rooftop tents have a significant impact on your car’s gas mileage. For a medium SUV, there’s a drop of almost 2-13% in fuel economy when carrying a rooftop tent, whereas, for a mid-size sedan, that drop can be anywhere between 11-19%. This is because the added weight of the tent, plus the wind resistance created by its shape, strain your engine and thus affect fuel efficiency.

Does this mean that it’s a bad idea to have a rooftop tent? How much would you actually have to shell out in gas money to keep your car-top camping dream alive? In this article, we’ll explore the effects of rooftop tents on gas mileage and some tips to help you offset the cost. Let’s get started!

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4 Reasons Why Roof Top Tents Affect Gas Mileage

Before we jump into the numbers, let’s look at a couple of reasons why rooftop tents can have an impact on your car’s fuel economy.

1) Weight

The first reason is pretty straightforward: rooftop tents are heavy. An average tent weighs between 100-200 pounds, and some models can even weigh upwards of 200 pounds. That’s a lot of weight to add to your car, and it will strain your engine, leading to lower gas mileage.

Note: A general rule of thumb is that for every 100 pounds of extra weight you’re carrying, your fuel economy will drop by about 1-2%. The average rooftop tent weighs between 100-200 pounds, which doesn’t seem like much, but when you factor in the rest of your camping gear (sleeping bags, pillows, food, etc.), it can quickly add up.

2) Aerodynamics

The second reason has to do with aerodynamics. When you’re driving down the road, your car is constantly fighting against wind resistance. The more streamlined your car is, the less effort it has to put forth and the better its gas mileage will be.

Rooftop tents, however, are not very aerodynamic. Due to their boxy shape and the fact that they sit atop your car, they create a lot of drag. This drag increases fuel consumption because your car has to work harder to overcome it.

3) Change in Center of Gravity

Another factor to consider is the change in your car’s center of gravity when you add a rooftop tent. When the tent is mounted on your roof, it increases the effective height of your vehicle. This higher center of gravity can affect your car’s handling and stability.

How is this related to gas mileage? Well, if your car is less stable, it’s going to have to work harder to maintain its position on the road. This increased effort will lead to lower fuel efficiency. This effect is even more evident when you’re driving on hilly roads or in areas with a lot of twists and turns.

4) Addition of Accessories

Lastly, most rooftop tents come with a few extra accessories, like a ladder extension or an annex. These add-ons may not seem like much, but they can actually have a pretty big impact on your gas mileage.

For example, the average ladder weighs about 10 pounds. That doesn’t sound too heavy, but when you factor in the fact that it’s attached to the top of your car, it can affect fuel economy. The same goes for an annex; while it may not add a lot of weight, increasing wind resistance can hurt your mileage.

How Much Does It Cost to Run a Roof Top Tent?

Now that we know why rooftop tents affect gas mileage let’s look at how much it actually costs to run one.

For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume that you’re driving a mid-size sedan (like a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry) and that you’re averaging about 30 miles per gallon. We’ll also assume that you travel around 20,000 miles a year and that you’re carrying a basic rooftop tent (no annex or ladder) with a total weight of about 100 pounds.

With those assumptions in mind, here’s how much it would cost to run a rooftop tent:

Miles per year: 20,000

Average mpg: 26.4 (a drop of 12% in fuel efficiency, usual for a sedan with roof top tent)

Gallons of gas used: 757.57

Cost of gas: $3.80/gallon

The total cost of gas: $2,878.78

Now, let’s compare that to a car that doesn’t have a rooftop tent:

Miles per year: 20,000

Average mpg: 30 (no drop in fuel efficiency)

Gallons of gas used: 666.67

Cost of gas: $3.80/gallon

The total cost of gas: $2,533.33

As you can see, on average, a rooftop tent will cost you an extra $345.45 in gas money every year. And that’s the best-case scenario! If you have a heavier tent, drive a different car, or if you’re someone who likes to take long road trips and go camping frequently, that number is only going to increase.

Rooftop Tent Fuel Test

You can check out this test From The Fast Lane car guys, where they compare driving a VW Touareg with and without a rooftop tent using the same road, distance, and speed.

Our Mileage Experience With A Rooftop Tent

We drive a small car (Toyota Yaris), and we have a soft-shell rooftop tent (Sheepie Yuna 160) on our car. Without a rooftop tent, we can drive around 372 miles on a full tank of gas (10 gallons). With a rooftop tent, we can drive around 310 miles on a full tank of gas. This is a drop of 17% on average, depending on the type of roads we drive, how fast we’re driving, and other factors.

Tips To Save On Fuel When Running A Roof Top Tent

All things considered, if you’ve decided that a rooftop tent is a right choice for you, there are a few things that you can do to help offset the cost of running one. Here are a few tips to save on fuel when you’re using a rooftop tent:

  • Opt for hardtop over soft shell: If you’re looking to save money on gas, it’s always best to choose a hardtop rooftop tent over a soft shell. This is because hardtops are more aerodynamic and have less wind resistance, which means that they’ll help you save fuel in the long run. Keep in mind that the initial cost of a hardtop tent will be more expensive, but it’s an investment that will pay off.
  • Avoid driving in high winds: If at all possible, try to avoid driving in high winds. This is because the wind can catch your rooftop tent and cause it to act like a sail, which will put a lot of strain on your vehicle. If you must drive in high winds, go slowly and be extra cautious.
  • Place your tent low and close to the center of your vehicle: When you’re setting up your rooftop tent, be sure to place it low and close to the center of your vehicle. This will help to reduce wind resistance and improve your fuel efficiency.
  • Invest in a fairing: A fairing is an aerodynamic attachment that you can add to your vehicle. It’s typically made from fiberglass or another lightweight material, and it helps to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. It does so by deflecting the wind away from your vehicle, making it an ideal accessory for those looking to save money on gas.
  • Don’t lug the tent around when you’re not using it: A lot of people are too lazy to take their rooftop tent down when they’re not using it, but this is a mistake. If you leave your tent up when you’re not using it, you’re essentially driving around with dead weight, which is going to hurt your fuel efficiency. So, be sure to take your tent down when you’re done camping and only put it back up when you’re ready to use it.
  • Turn Airconditioning Off: In some cars turning on the air conditioner can drop the mileage by 20%. And that is because the AC powers itself using the engine, which will strain your engine, leading to lower gas mileage. So if it’s not needed, turn off your air conditioning.
  • Don’t Act As A RaceCar Diver: Your car will burn more fuel when it’s going fast. Try the discover your car’s most fuel-efficient speed and try not to over speed.
  • Become Better At Accelerating: When you are a restless driver, you can save fuel by accelerating more gently. Keep your drive more steady and avoid sudden brakes or jamming the gas pedal. It will get you a lot further in life. Literally speaking 😉

By following these tips, you can help offset the cost of running a rooftop tent and improve your fuel efficiency in the process. So, if you like to camp but don’t want to break the bank, be sure to keep these tips in mind.

3 Roof Top Tents With The Best Fuel Efficiency

When it comes to fuel efficiency, not all rooftop tents are created equal. Some models are more aerodynamic than others, and some have been designed specifically with fuel efficiency in mind. If you’re looking for a rooftop tent that’s going to help you save money on gas, here are three of the most fuel efficient.

1) Thule Tepui Low-Pro

Thule is famous for its high-quality rooftop tents, and the Low Pro is one of its most fuel-efficient models. Praised for its ultra-low profile design, the Low Pro is one of the most aerodynamic tents on the market, crafted with lightweight thermoplastic materials that are 100% recyclable!

While it only has room for two people, you’re sure to have a quaint and cozy night’s sleep, sheltered from the wind and rain, in this low-to-the-ground tent. Not to mention, the low-profile design means that it won’t put a strain on your gas mileage.

Check the Thule Tepui Low-Pro on Amazon >>

2) Roofnest Condor XL

Remember when we said how hardtop tents are more fuel efficient than their soft-shell counterparts? Well, the Roofnest Condor XL is living proof of that. This extremely sturdy and weather-proof tent is made with a tough ABS plastic shell, making it one of the most aerodynamic tents on the market.

It’s also large enough to comfortably fit up to four people so that you can bring along your friends or family on your next camping trip!

Check out the Roofnest Condor XL here >>

3) iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Mini

The saying that good things come in small packages definitely applies to the iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Mini. This pint-sized tent is compact, lightweight, and ultra-portable, making it perfect for those who are looking to save space and fuel.

But don’t let the size fool you – the Skycamp 2.0 Mini is big on features, sleeping up to two people comfortably with plenty of room to spare. It even has a signature Skyview window so that you can stargaze all night long!

Check out the iKamper Skycamp 2.0 Mini here >>

So the next time you’re in the market for a new rooftop tent, be sure to keep fuel efficiency in mind. These three tents are some of the best, and they’re sure to have you look at rooftop camping in a new light!

Wondering if a rooftop tent can fit on your car? Check out my helpful article: Can You Put A Roof Top Tent On Any Car? | Step-by-Step Guide

Does A Roof Top Tent Affect The Speed Of My Vehicle?

Let’s say that mileage is not a deciding factor for you and that you’ve decided to purchase a rooftop tent anyway. If you’re someone who likes to zip down the highway and go on cross-country adventures, you might be wondering if a rooftop tent will affect the speed of your vehicle.

Technically, you can still go just as fast with a rooftop tent as you could without one. Your car will burn more fuel when it’s going fast, and your cost per mile will go up, but the rooftop tent won’t affect your top speed.

However, most experts agree that you should not drive your vehicle at speeds of more than 75 miles per hour (or 120kph) with a rooftop tent. This is a safety precaution to ensure that your tent stays put and doesn’t blow away due to the immense wind resistance.

So, while you can technically still drive fast with a rooftop tent, it’s not something that we would recommend. Not only is it dangerous, but it’s also a surefire way to rack up some serious charges on your gas bill.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about rooftop tents and fuel efficiency.

Q.1. How many miles per gallon do you lose with a roof rack?

A. On average, adding a roof rack to your vehicle can lose anywhere between 7.5% to 15% of your fuel efficiency. This number can go as high as 30% if you’re driving through highways at speeds of over 60mph.

Q.2. How long do rooftop tents last?

A. With proper care and maintenance, most rooftop tents can last anywhere between 5 to 15 years. Hardtops often last longer (10-15 years) compared to soft shells (5-10 years). However, the lifespan of your tent will ultimately depend on the quality of the materials and craftsmanship and the frequency of usage, as well as how you treat it.

Q.3. Are rooftop tents safe in thunderstorms?

A. No, rooftop tents are not safe in thunderstorms. In fact, no tent is safe in thunderstorms. If you are caught in a thunderstorm while camping, it’s best to seek shelter inside your car itself. The metallic frame of the car will act as a Faraday cage, protecting you from any lightning strikes.

Final Thoughts

Rooftop tents can open up whole new worlds of camping experiences for you – from stargazing on a clear night to waking up to a beautiful sunrise. Of course, it impacts gas mileage, as we’ve expressed in this article. However, we believe that it’s a trade-off that’s definitely worth it! So go ahead and start planning your next camping trip – we guarantee you won’t regret it! And here is why: 15 Reasons Why People Camp On Top Of Cars

Léon Kopijn

Léon Kopijn works and lives as a Digital Nomad. He travels the world with the love of his life and writes about inspiring cultures and practical travel tips. Find out more about Léon on his about page!

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