How Much Does A Rooftop Tent Kill Your Fuel Economy? We Find Out!

The results were dramatic.

Over the course of our Tough T series, we’ve discovered our 2004 Volkswagen Touareg is a capable off-roader right out of the box. Install some off-road worthy tires, and it can tackle most of what you can throw at it. Even though it’s a practical SUV, let’s say you want to take the modifications one step further and add a rooftop tent. Great! Now you can camp anywhere you can drive your Touareg and you don’t rob any practicality inside the car. But how much does that roof top tent hurt your fuel economy? In this video, TFLoffroad’s gear man Alex takes to our abbreviated MPG loop to find out.

In case you missed it earlier, here are some numbers for the Touareg. Back in 2004, this 4.2-liter made 306 horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque. That came mated to a six-speed automatic, sending power to all four wheels. The EPA rated its fuel economy at 12 City / 17 Highway / 14 Combined mpg, but can we manage better than that at a mile above sea level?

Tough T

As it turns out, the Touareg performed substantially better than those numbers would suggest in the 66-mile MPG loop. Without the rooftop tent, Alex managed a phenomenal 22.3 mpg, which is well beyond the EPA figures and even up there with the current all-wheel drive Volkswagen Atlas. Now, we did use 87 octane fuel rather than VW’s recommended 91 octane, to stay consistent with previous tests and fuel standards we’ve used to test similar vehicles.

With the rooftop tent installed, fuel economy did drop, as you’d expect. However, it dropped substantially, down to 18.5 mpg. That’s a 17 percent drop in fuel economy over the same 66-mile loop. So, while having a rooftop tent may be an advantage for an overlanding trip, it’s not something you want to keep on for everyday driving. One of our commenters worked out that if you drove 20,000 miles a year and gas is $2.50 a gallon, you’d spend $460 more in fuel with the rooftop tent in place.