Camper shells: do they improve fuel consumption?

Camper shells for pickup trucks are amazing. I remember how excited I was the day I bought a body for my old 98 Toyota Tacoma. With one simple purchase, I completely transformed the way I was able to use my truck. Being a carpenter at the time, being able to transport goods and materials without worrying about the constant rains of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) was a huge relief. I also gained a safe place to lock my tools and equipment overnight, eliminating the need to load and unload every day.

But with this sweet addition to my gear, a new question arose: Has trailer housing improved my truck’s fuel consumption?


From my personal experience and the observations and anecdotes of many truck owners, trailer housings do not increase fuel consumption. In fact, most truck owners report worse fuel consumption after installing a shell.

Kind of boring, I know. But for me, the advantages of having a camper shell installed far outweigh the minor disadvantage. gas mileage🇧🇷

Air drag and aerodynamics

Spend enough time with pickup truck enthusiasts and you might hear a discussion of “aerodynamic drag.” Drag refers to the aerodynamic force that resists the movement of an object through the air. In the context of pickup trucks, air drag essentially refers to the opposing force that the air is putting on a truck as it drives.

Why is it important? Well, as drag increases, the truck will have to work harder to overcome drag, consuming more fuel and decreasing fuel economy. As a truck’s drag decreases, it will require less power and less fuel, increasing fuel economy.

Truck enthusiasts debate whether a truck tailgate increases or decreases overall drag. Several groups have researched this topic, carried out studies and published results, but despite this, the debate seems to continue. Some truck owners insist on increasing fuel consumption if you drive a pickup truck with the tailgate down, while others insist on the opposite.

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Enter the debate: the camper shell. Will a truck trailer housing increase fuel consumption by decreasing drag on a truck? Some people believe this to be true because of the way a projectile covers the tailgate, effectively removing it as suspected air resistance.

Whether or not a camper housing increases the overall aerodynamic value of a truck, it is not enough to increase fuel consumption. Because? Because of the weight.

Camper shells are heavy. My brand Leer shell required at least two strong people to get on and off the bed rails of my Tacoma. The weight that a trailer shell adds to a truck’s overall weight has a significant negative impact on overall fuel consumption. Even though a camper shell improves aerodynamics, it’s not enough to counteract the weight it adds to a rig.

What is a Camper Shell?

The term “carcass” can be a little misleading, as the main function of these parts is not necessarily to provide shelter.

In the United States, camper shells are also referred to as a “truck cover”, “truck cover”, “clamshell” or “topper”. Use any of these terms and most truckers will immediately understand what you’re talking about. Among my circle of friends, we exclusively call them “toppers” or “canopy”.

These days, most consumer camper shells are made from molded fiberglass. If you see a truck driving around with a neat looking top with curved edges and a coat of glossy paint, it’s almost certainly a fiberglass top. Based on my experiences living in the PNW, the two most popular manufacturers of fiberglass truck tops are Leer and ARE

The other common type of truck roof I see is constructed by wrapping thin sheets of aluminum or steel around an aluminum or steel frame. Metal truck toppers are typically heavier than their fiberglass counterparts, but are considered more robust. This robust construction makes them a popular choice for companies that have fleets of work trucks packed with valuable tools. The metal construction of the canopy makes them quite difficult to break open.

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Uses of camper shells

Camper shells are mainly used for utility and storage purposes. They are popular with tradesmen and outdoor athletes who need a means to transport equipment, tools or materials while keeping them safe from theft and the elements. Traders seem to have a slight preference for metal toppers, while outdoor enthusiasts typically adorn their trucks with fiberglass models.

Due to their compact design and understated appearance, truck toppers also make excellent stealth campers.

When I bought my topper in 2014, it was with the goal of converting my truck into an adventure trailer for a solo road trip I had planned. After building a simple sleeping platform and truck bed storage system, I hit the road and called that trailer home for 3 months as I traveled the western half of the United States.

I loved living in my truck for those three months. With its off-road capabilities, I was able to drive deep into the desert and find beautiful secluded campsites to enjoy on my own. On nights when visiting friends, I easily camped stealthily in residential neighborhoods, relying on the truck’s unassuming exterior to blend in with the other cars in the neighborhood.

What was the best part of my simple little trailer? I never had to think about maintaining the RV systems that other RVers must keep up with. I didn’t have garbage tanks to dump or batteries to load, and I didn’t have to wonder if RV antifreeze is toxic during the winter. My little truck home provided me with everything I needed, and nothing I didn’t.

If you’re itching for some RV adventures but don’t have the capital to invest in a new RV, consider building a modest stealth truck trailer.

Tonneau Covers

While traditional truck tops may not be known to improve fuel consumption, many truck owners report an increase in fuel economy after installing a tonneau cover.

Tonneau covers are low profile bed covers that are flush with or just above the bed rails of a pickup truck. Similar to trailer shells, they are used to secure and secure cargo, but come without the several hundred pounds of extra weight typical of truck tops.

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Without all that extra weight, tonneau covers can reduce air drag, improve overall aerodynamics and increase fuel consumption. Very sweet deal.

Improving fuel consumption

With fuel prices rising across the country, people are looking for ways to improve their fuel consumption. But many don’t realize that the way to saving money on fuel is in your driving habits. Try some of the following tricks to increase fuel consumption.

  • Drive calmly: Fast speed, braking and acceleration lead to lower fuel consumption. Taking it easy on the accelerator can result in a tremendous improvement in fuel economy.
  • Clean up the mess: The more weight your vehicle has to carry, the more fuel it will consume. Cleaning up extra items stored in your car will help lighten the load.
  • Don’t be idle: Cars idling consume an absurd amount of fuel to achieve nothing. If your vehicle is going to stop for more than ten seconds, turn off the engine and conserve fuel. Keep this in mind while waiting in line for drive-thrus, event parking, and while stopped at red lights.
  • Pump these tires: Underinflated tires reduce fuel economy. Check the pressure in your tires frequently and make sure they are always within the manufacturer’s recommended PSI range.

Don’t let fear of fuel economy stop you from outfitting your rig with a sweet shell. As I said before, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. But if you’re desperate for safe gear storage and absolutely can’t afford lower fuel consumption, consider purchasing a tonneau cover.

Assuming you fit a trailer to your truck and experience a noticeable drop in fuel consumption, adopting some of the driving habits listed above should help normalize your fuel economy.

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