Yesterday I posted about our 6 carless months, and how I convinced Chris to agree to a toad.
We’ve been pondering for a while what might make an ideal toad for us. We knew we wanted something that could be flat towed with all four wheels down, as we didn’t want to deal with a trailer too.
When flat towing, the transmission of the vehicle has to be compatible, as expensive damage can be done. Some vehicles are certified by their manafucter to be flat towed. Others are not officially supported. And others you simply can not tow ‘four down’ no matter what you do. Obviously, if a Prius could be flat towed – there would be absolutely no question. But, sadly they can not be.
Further resources on towing considerations:
- Motorhome Magazine publishes an annual guide to Dinghy Towing that lists the current officially supported vehicles and equipment.
- The great folks over at Wheeling It did a great article on this topic a few months ago that goes over a lot of the considerations.
- Lynne at Minnie Views made a comprehensive post about setting up her vehicle to be towed. She connects & disconnects solo!
Some of the vehicles we had considered were:
Jeep Wrangler – we loved driving our little island car around St. John when we lived there this past winter. As fun as they are for off road driving, their gas mileage isn’t much better than our bus.
Smart Car – These little cars seemed ideal to tow behind a RV and give very efficient mileage around town. However, we drove a friend’s and weren’t too impressed. The drive was rough, and gave no option for passengers.
Miata – Before owning a Prius, I briefly owned a Miata. It was a super fun car to drive, and flat towable. However, it too had no option for passengers and hardly any carry capacity for groceries.
Mini Cooper – A super cute small vehicle with great mileage that seemed a little more practical. But as our great friend’s Ben & Karen tow one, and they too are working on a vintage bus – it just seemed too weird. So we initially dismissed this idea.
We like Weird – a Mini it is!
The past fews months we’ve spent a lot of time rendezvousing with Ben & Karen. And we’ve been incredibly impressed with how comfortable their Mini was for transporting the four of us around.
And then we noticed – their 2009 Mini Cooper matches our bus!
Almost two years ago, Karen moved aboard Ben’s bus. But she had one condition – she either got to bring along her beloved dog .. or her Mini. She let Ben pick. He opted for the Mini, and ditched his Jeep Liberty. (Her dog now lives with her parents.)
It turns out her Mini was soon coming to the end of its lease, and Ben & Karen had already decided they would be ordering a new one in red to match their someday-to-be-completed vintage bus – the Creative Cruiser. Ben also wanted one of the new larger models, as they’re frequently taking their vehicle out on photography expeditions and needed more room for their gear.
While BMW doesn’t officially support the Mini being flat towed (doing so actually voids the warranty), the manual transmission edition falls into the middle grey area of being possible with the base plate installation. They had already done those modifications – and had been successfully towing it for nearly two years.
Karen was sad that she’d be turning in her Mini, as she had planned to buy it out of lease before meeting Ben and his vintage bus plans. She simply loves it.
Thus the idea came together. We’d buy it out of her lease.
Not only would we copy them by having a vintage bus towing a Mini Cooper – we’d just go for full on out weird, and buy their Mini. But hey, what are good friends for if you can’t be totally weird with them? This also means Karen will get to see her Mini all across the country as we continue to rendezvous.
Here’s our February 2016 overview of flat towing and using our MINI Cooper for local transportation for now nearly 4.5 years:
My Mini Adventure
The logistical challenge to this plan was that after we parted ways in Albuquerque, we were headed in opposite directions. Us to the east coast and them to Las Vegas to catch a flight to South Africa for a photo safari they’re leading.
So after posting about having just completed a way too rapid cross country repositioning, what did I suggest?
Why yes.. of course. I would fly out to Vegas and drive the Mini back.
Now, let me reveal a couple facts about myself.
- I have not driven much at all in the past 4+ years. Chris loves to drive, and I got spooked after our jack-knife spin out. I maybe do 10-15% of the driving in our household.
- Aside from a few hours in total driving a manual transmission about 10 years ago, I’m a total noob with a stick.
But in light of reminiscing recently about my planned cross country road trip in my Prius before I met Chris, it just seemed like a fitting challenge. And what cooler way to bond with the Mini and bring it home to complete our new household?
On Friday I flew out to Vegas and helped Ben & Karen with their last minute preparations for their Africa trip. And as serendipity would have it, our nomadic friends Sam & Tracy also arrived in Vegas that night and we had a fabulous kick-off party for our adventures.
After they were off to the airport, I started a 1700 mile solo road trip back to the bus in St. Louis (after figuring out I had to put the clutch in to turn the engine on).
I took 4 days, driving between 400-460 miles a day. It was a good pace, and allowed me to drive a lot of back roads while not stressing myself out too much.
I learned the difference between driving.. and motoring!
I had an incredible solo journey that was soul nourishing. And on Tuesday evening I pulled into St. Louis, and parked the Mini face to face with the bus.
A Word about Fuel Economy
Since selling our Oliver and getting our bus, we’ve gotten a bit of reaction about how we seemed to have abandoned our previously ‘green’ ways for a fuel-hogging bus, and now adding a toad.
So, we’ll publicly address that.
First of all, we’ve never really considered ourselves identified as eco-green folks, and nor have we made much of a point to present ourselves as such. Sure, we love the environment, and try to make smart choices. Being greener is an important consideration for us, but certainly not the only. Our choices for things like solar and small living were more for flexibility in the places we can go, cool technology and just seeing if we could – than being necessarily eco.
And our decisions now are based on living and working comfortably as we concentrate on our business and evolve our travel style.
And generally we agree with Sean of Our Odyssey‘s assessment that anyone living in a RV is likely more green than most living in a stationary house and commuting to work, just simply by the nature of the lifestyles.
Our bus has been getting about 7.5 mpg (there are far bigger fuel hogs out there, and better than the 5-6 mpg we were expecting) and we do expect slightly less fuel economy when we’re towing the 2500 lbs Mini. Whereas our truck towing the trailer was getting 12 mpg. So it is a fuel economy hit for our traveling miles. No doubt.
But this isn’t about traveling miles alone. It’s about balance.
Our intentions with this switch had been to slow down the pace of travel and stay places longer. This is a transition from having a comfortable living pod while traveling, to having a comfortable apartment that can move. In theory, we want to be traveling less miles per year than before. And we were already traveling less miles than Chris was when he was commuting to work daily in the Bay Area.
We anticipate that more of our miles will be local transit miles while the bus is parked for weeks to months at a time. The Mini is rated to get 32 mpg averaged out between city & highway. On my cross country trip, I was averaging an amazing 42 mpg. Whereas the Tundra only got 16-18 mpg when not towing.
We were always paying a fuel economy hit for local transportation because our vehicle had to be sized to pull our house.
Overall, we’re aiming for a measurable improvement in the balanced fuel economy of the bus & Mini.