IT'S time to step on the gas, even if it's edging toward $3 and you get fewer than 10 miles per gallon. So say drivers of recreational vehicles, whose enthusiasm this summer seems undimmed by high fuel prices.
Rentals by Americans are up 22% this year over 2004, said Bob Calderone, assistant vice president of marketing for Cruise America in Mesa, Ariz., which claims to be the largest RV rental company in North America. More foreign visitors also are grabbing the wheel, he said, many inspired by favorable euro-to-dollar exchange rates.
Competitor El Monte RV, based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is also having a good year. Heading into Labor Day weekend, "we're nearly booked out," director of marketing Joe Laing said last week.
At the company's outlet in El Monte last week, customers returning their RVs said they winced at gas tallies but went anyway. Rudy Garcia of San Dimas said he spent more than $1,000 to fuel his 25-foot RV during a 2,500-mile, two-week trip in and around Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
"When you go on vacation, and you have the money to spend, you don't care so much about the price of gas," said the first-time renter, who went with his wife, Cecilia Diaz, their two children and three nephews. "Having an RV is a little more freedom."
Kim Roberson of West Covina, returning with her husband, Winford, and two daughters from a weeklong California jaunt, was surprised that gas for their 34-footer cost more in San Francisco than in L.A. — $50 for a quarter-tank versus $30.
She said she goes RVing because she grew up doing it. She loves the privacy and the chance to meet people and see "the beautiful land around us."
Veteran car camper Carol Beltran of Ontario, who spent four days with her husband, Paul, their four kids and a teenage friend in their 26-foot RV at scenic San Clemente State Beach, also enjoyed her RV rental. "I don't think we're ever going back to tenting," she said.
It would have been about $200 cheaper to rent an SUV, Paul added, but "it was worth the price difference for the comforts we got."
RV renters skip the hassles and rising fares of air travel and also can save by preparing their own meals and ditching hotels. But renting isn't inexpensive.
El Monte's summer rates, for instance, start at $129 a night for a 22-footer, plus taxes, mileage and a $29.95 "starter kit" of supplies. You can spend up to $400 per night for a top-of-the-line 36-footer — one of El Monte's most popular models, Laing said. The diesel pusher gets 7 to 9 mpg, he figured.
To ease the pain, Cruise America offers a "fuel cost protection plan," which discounts its mileage charges to offset increases in gas prices.
Other tips to save on fuel:
Drive at night, when there's less traffic and you can comfortably forgo air conditioning.
Pack light. Carry enough water for the trip, then fill up when you arrive.
Avoid high speeds. Mileage drops rapidly when you go over 60 mph, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Use cruise control to keep a consistent speed.