This is the first in a series of articles we’ll put up every once in a while. This is our collective wisdom gained over a couple years of full-timing. Note that we are by no means experts in any particular category.
When talking to other RV’ers (full-time and not-so-full-time), we’ve found a wide range of methods of keeping fuel in the RV tow vehicle. Many full-timers we’ve talked to have put larger and/or auxilary fuel tanks in their trucks. So far, we’ve stayed with the stock 38 gallon tank in our long bed Ford F-350. We’ve priced various extra tank options and, for the most part, a break-even payback on fuel savings involves many years and 100,000 miles, typically. It’s just easier for us to make the occasional en-route truck stop fuel up. After all, we have to stretch our legs and go potty at some point.
We typically unhook most every night, even if we are on the way to a destination and are only staying overnight. We will take the truck and fill the tank while we are stopped for the night. This gives us a full tank to start out with the next day. Unless we are getting really bad fuel mileage (weather or mountains), we can usually run around 300-325 miles without running the tank too low. If we aren’t traveling further than that, we won’t have to fill up on the road.
When we do fill up on the road, about 95% of the time we will use the truck islands at a truck stop. Val uses the Allstays app on her phone to find upcoming truck stops along the way based on the “miles to empty” figure on the truck’s dashboard.
Note that truck stop prices are almost always higher than non-truck stop prices at stations a little further away from the interstate. Part of the reason is that truck fleet operators get a discount on their billing from the major chains. Everyone else gets to pay more. Also, the diesel pump price in the car area is the same regardless of cash or credit (typically) whereas credit prices at the truck islands are several cents more a gallon.
Pilot/Flying J (same company) offers an RV loyalty card. Get one. It will give you discounted prices at both the truck islands and the front car/RV islands. Loves, at last check, didn’t offer anything similar.
We also take advantage of credit cards that offer cash back incentives on fuel. We have an American Express Blue Cash Preferred card that has a $95 annual fee, but gives us back 3% on all fuel purchases. Given that we go through $10,000 or more in fuel a year, the $300+ in cash back more than offsets the annual fee. The same card also gives 6% back on grocery purchases (including gift cards purchased at grocery stores – extra bonus tip for you).
We also have a Chase Freedom card that gives 5% back on fuel purchases, typically in the 3rd quarter of the year when we are traveling out west for the summer. That is limited to the first $1500 in fuel purchases, though, so we switch back to the AmEx when we hit that limit.
We also purchase our Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in bulk at the truck stop pumps. It sure beats having to juggle a 2 1/2 gallon jug of the stuff and pouring into that small opening with a funnel. As an added bonus, the DEF at the pumps is cheaper than any jugged stuff we’ve found.
So here are our top tips for filling up at the truck islands:
1) If you have a gas pickup (instead of diesel), don’t even bother driving around to the truck islands. They only have diesel fuel back there. You’re going to have to juggle your rig in with the cars at the pumps out front.
2) You’ll have to go inside and pre-pay. The card readers on truck island pumps are there for fleet cards, not for consumer credit or debit cards. For Pilot, Flying J and Loves, at least, you can specify an amount larger than you know your truck will hold, go out and pump whatever it does take, then just leave. Their system will ultimately only charge your card what you put in the truck. If you really want to, you can go back inside and get a final receipt (you generally have to do that at T/A truck stops, anyway).
3) Once you have filled up your truck, if you plan on going back inside to get a receipt, get some snacks, go to the restroom or whatever, pull your rig up past the pumps first. There is usually a line painted on the pavement about 75 feet past the pumps. You’ll see other trucks pulled up there, as well. This is a courtesy to let the next truck pull up to the pump and start filling their truck while you do your business inside.
4) If you have ever tried to put bulk DEF in your truck at a truck stop island, you’ve probably either completely failed or managed to get it to dribble out into the tank by nursing the pump handle. This is because big rigs have a magnetic collar built into the DEF tank filler neck that your pickup truck doesn’t have. This magnetic collar turns on the full flow of the DEF nozzle only when it is inserted into the DEF filler neck (to prevent accidentally putting it in a diesel tank). If you ask at the fuel desk of the truck stop, they will loan you or sell you a small magnetic collar that you can use on the DEF nozzle to fill your truck’s DEF tank from the bulk filler at the island. We carry one in the door pocket of our truck. We bought it at a Loves truck stop for about $30.
5) If you are going to get bulk DEF and fuel up, just tell the person at the fuel desk you want both diesel and DEF. When you get to the pump, fill up your diesel tank first. When you hang up the diesel nozzle, the display will indicate it is ready to dispense DEF. Pick up the DEF handle, press the button, insert the nozzle (through your newly purchased magnetic collar) into your DEF tank filler and pump away. When you hang it up, the system will add up the fuel and DEF purchases and charge your credit/debit card that amount.
6) Here are the two magic words you need to simplify your pre-payment activity at the truck stop fuel desk: “Private RV”. If you just walk up and say you want $100 of diesel on pump #20, the next thing they will ask you is for your truck number, then other pieces of information that truckers need to complete their transactions. Just say “private RV” and 99% of the fuel desk people won’t ask you for any more trucker-type information.