/ Modifications, Improvements & Upgrades

Improvements, repairs, and maintenance

We have a 38-foot class A diesel pusher motorhome built in 2004. We've lived in it for almost 11 months, and we've been on the road for over 7 months by now.

Our motorhome and toad

Here are the major improvements and other work we've done to our setup as of late 2017, in rough chronological order.

New tires

Before we even drove off the dealer lot, we had new tires put in. We're running on 275/80R22.5 truck tires, and largely based on availability picked Michelin X Line Energy Z (load range H) tires to replace the old rubber. Going for the higher load range lets us stay at tire pressures comfortably far from the max that the tires can handle.

We joined FMCA largely to get their tire discount. Based on my research, the price you get from them is roughly what you could possibly hope to negotiate at a tire shop, with them making almost no margin on the sale -- and the membership is only $50.

Replaced smoke, carbon monoxide & LP gas (propane) alarms

The old propane detector

As with smoke alarms, propane detectors have a limited lifetime. Smoke alarms are usually pretty easy to replace, but RV-style propane detectors are a bit more complicated. They're hardwired to 12V power, which isn't that big of a deal. They're a much smaller market, so there's less competition, and that means high prices & poor products. We needed to do a warranty return before we got a working replacement.

Troubleshooting the new propane detector

Replace burned bulbs with LEDs

Under-cabinet LED light, with the cover removed

I replaced our "porch" lights and night lights with LEDs from M4. The porch lights were a bit annoying, the LEDs don't exactly replace the old bulb, but just hook into the wiring and you're supposed to use double-sided tape to stick the flat LED assembly on the back wall of the light housing. Except the back wall in our case wasn't flat. Several layers of double-sided tape later, only one of them has fallen loose only once, so that counts as a success right?

The previous owner had replaced under-cabinetry lights with LEDs. We still have what seems to be two halogens near the front, and all the CLF ceiling lights. We'll probably replace the living room/kitchen/dining area CLF lights with LEDs in the coming month, and leave the rest as we don't leave them on for very long. Plus, with our crazy battery setup, the difference between CLF and LED just isn't that big.

Leaky slide

Our motorhome parked near San Francisco

In heavy rains, especially on windy days, our living room carpet would get wet near the slide seal. This happened while we were stationary near San Francisco -- a notoriously rainy city. We had to live with the main slide in for days at a time.

We read up and learned that often the slide has to be removed to redo the inner seals. We went to Fleetwood and asked their service shop to fix our leak -- and they reported they can't make it leak, at all. The coach sat under sprinklers for several hours, without them seeing a leak, and that they had nothing they could do. That should tell you something about the state of the RV industry...

At some point, I figured out that the carpet was working like a paper towel and suctioning water from a small damp area a few feet inward. A judiciously placed bit of tape now works as a gutter and prevents the water from hitting the corner of the carpet. We've had no trouble since, and as far as we can tell the water is not entering any area that would get mold.

Tire trouble

We had a slow leak on our rear right inner tire, and the valve never sealed when open. Turns out we had unwanted valve stem extensions in our inner dualies -- something I specifically asked not to be installed. Knowing they were problematic, I had been very careful on insisting on having the "Borg Valve Stem Kit" installed, which is just longer valve stems without extensions. Turns out the tire guy put in both the Borg kit and extensions, and a rubber gasket hid that fact from me. A local truck tire shop took out the extensions, and after a bit of fiddling and adjusting rubber cushions, the Borg stems by themselves give us easily accessible inner tire valves, without leaks.

As I'm writing this, we have a similar scenario happening with the front left tire valve. It doesn't leak, but it won't seal until I screw the TPMS sensor on it and that seals it. No extensions or longer stems there, so it has to be just a broken valve core. Not urgent as the sensor cap keeps it from leaking, just annoying to fill -- I have to overshoot the target, and let it leak to just the right amount, using the TPMS to see when it's at the right pressure.

I had originally bought the TST 507 tire pressure monitoring system (stay tuned for a proper product review) with "flow thru" sensors that you don't have to remove to adjust the tire pressure. Turns out, they won't fit in the openings of our front wheels. I replaced two sensors with the non-flow thru kind, and then I had to ask a tire truck place to help orient the valve stems just perfectly, and now we can, just barely, fit the TPMS sensors on the front tires. And as far as I understand the TST brand sensors are some of the smallest on the market. Close call.

Smallest TPMS sensors fit just barely

Lesson learned: big rig tires are nowhere near as simple & reliable as car tires. Don't think everything is fine just because you never had problems with your car; this is a different world. And buy a TPMS.

Toilet leak

Toilet seat removed to replace the seal

Our toilet leaked a couple of separate times, even after professional repair, until I figured out what exactly was wrong. It seems the pedestal was installed pointing to one side, and earlier owner's attempts to force the seat to sit straight forward had cracked the plastic rim, because of a protruding tab that had to hold all the weight -- the very thing that was there to orient the seat with the pedestal. Some superglue later, we have a toilet that is not perfectly aligned, but hasn't leaked since!

Toilet pedestal

Front cap water leak

Front cap with emergency sealant on top of old seal

One rainy day, we had water dripping from a ceiling speaker! I climbed up in the rain & wind and rigged a tarp over the front cap. We pulled the speaker and tried to see up in the ceiling area. One trip to Harbor Freight later, we had a mirror on a flexible arm and an LED light to match. Peeking through the hole for speaker wires, we saw a wet patch of plywood lead to where the satellite TV cables went through the front cap. The next dry day, I added a pile of Dicor sealant on top, and made a note to redo all the seals.

Patched slide topper awning

Our slide topper awnings have some rips and frail parts. I cleaned the broken bits well and put awning tape on both sides, but since then the winds have torn them a bit more. We're looking to replace them, maybe at Quartzsite this winter.

Automotive molding tape is the new duct tape

I've used 3M molding tape all over the coach by now. It holds the front license plate in place, as I didn't want to drill holes in fiberglass. It holds down a fender skirt (the area around the wheel well) where the factory foam tape is starting to lose its grip. It holds the brackets that guide the motorized awning to fold in right. It holds strong, yet lets go if you just pull it off. Just clean surfaces well before applying and it has your back.

Replaced black & gray tank vent caps

The old vent cap

We started getting really bad smells inside when driving. A lot of troubleshooting later, we realized that heavy enough winds can push air in to the gray or black tank through the roof vent, and what goes in at one end must come out somewhere. We had the waste tanks pushing stinky air up through sinks and/or toilet -- unacceptable!

I sawed off the old vent caps and replaced them with 360 Siphon caps, that are designed to work better with wind. Lesson learned there: the "aftermarket" version of the 360 Siphon is nowhere near as nice as the factory install variant is, and is only built the way it is so stupid/lazy people don't have to deal with roof sealants as much. If you can, read up and order the factory install variant.

New 360 Siphon vent cap, installed

Slide "scrubber" gaskets don't flip out the right way

Scrubber gasket pointing the wrong way

The slides have "scrubbers" that are supposed to help both waterproof the slide and keep debris out. When extending the slide out, they didn't flip out the right way to do their job properly. I added a strip of 3M traction tape to add enough grip for that to happen.

Vertical strip of black traction tape

Stuck Fantastic Fan lift mechanism

The lift mechanism

Our Fantastic Fans still run well & quietly, but the lift/lower mechanisms are starting to show their age. I've pulled the one in the toilet apart a couple of times and de-gunked and lubricated the part that moves up and down when you move the cover lifting knob between manual and auto.

Shower shut-off valve

When boondocking, conserving water is crucial. I installed a shut-off valve in the shower for Navy style showers. We can currently live about 9 days, taking showers daily, before the gray & black tanks fill beyond our comfort levels.

Entertainment system

Removing the BluRay player

The previous owner had upgraded old CRT televisions to flat screens already, and we have surprisingly nice ceiling-mounted speakers. I ripped out the old BluRay player with built-in amplifier and replaced it with a Denon AVRX1200W receiver (we found a good refurb price, and it happened to fit in the cramped space) and an old Mac Mini.

Subwoofer stuck deep in the dashboard

We still have the old, unpowered, subwoofer inside our vehicle dash, and it seems it won't come out without pulling the dash apart. We don't have AC power in the dash area, so we can't easily replace it with a proper subwoofer at this time anyway. After calibrating the receiver, the ceiling speakers provide enough low end response for movies, so that project is postponed indefinitely.

Removed satellite dish

Working on the roof

We weren't customers of cable or satellite television even when we lived in a house. To make room for solar panels, I took out the satellite dish and sealed the screw holes with Eternabond tape and EternaPrime.

Trashing the satellite dish and patching up the holes

Replaced roof sealant and patched roof

So far, I have re-sealed the satellite dish mount, front cap and cabling hole, waste tank vents, rear cap and ladder mounts. We also had some spots on the roof where the fiberglass has lost its surface layer, and a bunch of old mystery mount points, that all now have a layer of Eternabond and Dicor or Sikaflex 715 on them.

Quick summary of Dicor vs Sikaflex: In general, buy whichever is cheaper. Dicor is a bit more flowing, Sikaflex self-levels a little less. I think I like Sikaflex 751 a bit more. One downside of Sikaflex is that it tends to separate a bit when stored, so sometimes the first few squeezes have a liquid oil-like stuff in them.

Protip for using RV roof sealants: mask about 3/4" away from the edge (of EternaBond or whatever you're sealing) with painter's tape, use less sealant than you would without the masking tape, smooth out with a nitrile glove finger and wipe off excess. Let dry for maybe 15-30 minutes, pull tape off. Your seams will look significantly cleaner.

Masking tape used to make neat Dicor seals

If I could do this job from scratch, I'd use more tape and make an even rectangle shape.

Still to be done: re-seal all the fans and other remaining openings.

Glued kitchen cabinet door back together

Cabinet door, in two pieces

One day, I opened the under-sink cabinet door, and most of the door fell out. One trip to the hardware store later, purchasing wood glue and the biggest clamps they had, and you can't tell anything was ever wrong.

Solar & Lithium Batteries

Solar panels being installed

We knew we wanted to boondock a lot, and we knew we didn't want to listen to a generator. We now have 800Ah of LiFePO4 batteries, 1040W of solar panels, and Magnum MSH3012M 3000W pure sine hybrid inverter. Starlight Solar in Yuma, AZ did a great job with the install. Stay tuned for a more detailed write-up, and our thoughts on state of the solar power for RVers.

Solar panels

Battery and inverter/charger bay

Scheduled maintenance

Las Vegas Freightliner sign

This was our first big maintenance on the RV as owners, about 5,000 miles into our trip. Silver State Truck & Trailer aka Las Vegas Freightliner went through their "M3" 2-year checklist, with the added request to look for an airbag leak (as in air brakes). On top of that, they discovered and fixed a warped engine exhaust manifold and bad front axle bearings.

The airbag leak would keep haunting us for a while longer, but we believe the local truck repair place that installed our tow braking system finally fixed it.

Washer/dryer stinks like the sewer

We had an intense gray water smell near the washer/dryer. Turns out the sewer hose from the W/D is too long, and fell so far into the plumbing that it bypassed the P-trap and let the sewer gases out. For now, I tied it up so it's held higher. Now that we're sure that was the right diagnosis, next time we open up that area we'll cut the hose shorter.

No AC power to the inverter

Our transfer switch and cabling

As I'm writing this, we have either a fried Intellitec EMS or transfer switch. As I am under strict instructions to not electrocute myself, we'll let a professional diagnose it next week. In the meanwhile, we have enough solar to live a pretty normal life, but it takes us about two days to charge back the power used in one hour of air conditioning, so we've had some hot days in New Mexico.

Coming up

The only thing that always works on an RV is the owner

We have a whole bunch of things planned, delayed because we'll need professional help with them, or because we're not sure exactly what we want. Here's a taste:

  • surge protector
  • pullout pantry cabinet for the kitchen
  • tech cabinet cable conduit to the roof
  • tech cabinet 12V power distribution
  • residential or marine fridge
  • fire suppression for engine

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