Upgrades

Upgrades

Whether you buy a new or used motorhome, there are always things you’d like to change. This is especially true if you are living full time in it.

Sometimes it’s the decor or furniture. Other times it’s an appliance or device of some sort. Or it could be a mechanical or safety improvement.

Below are some of our favorite upgrades. They make all the difference to our nomadic life.


Splendide Washer-Dryer ($970)

Our first upgrade was a Splendide washer-dryer combo. A combo is a washer and dryer in a single unit. We would have preferred stackable units like in an apartment, but our motorhome only had room for the combo. When we bought our rig, we told the dealer we had to have a washer-dryer or no deal. He agreed to sell us this one at his cost and install it for free. We were happy.

Having a washer and dryer on board sure beats having to go to the laundromat. And it’s a lot cheaper. Since laundromats typically charge $2.00 to $3.00 per wash and another $1.50 to $2.50 per dry. Doing just four loads a week costs over $1,000 a year. Yipes!

But on the downside, the unit is small and will only hold the equivalent of three bath towels. Because the washing and drying is done consecutively in the same unit, it takes about twice as long to finish a complete load, one to two hours depending on your settings. That means that most days we’re doing a couple of loads to keep up. But we’re not complaining.


Brentwood Home Mattress ($695)

Mattresses in RV are notoriously uncomfortable. When we bought the motorhome, it still had the original mattress, and we knew we wanted to swap it out for something better.

On our first attempt, we tried an RV Short King at 72″ x 80″ from Brentwood, which was the same size as the original. We loved sleeping on the new mattress, but it significantly overlapped the width and length of our bed platform, making it hard to move around the bed.

Like most RVs, our bed platform is not a standard size. Winnebago calls our bed a King Size and says it’s 72″ x 80″, but our bed platform is actually only 68″ x 75″. So on our second attempt, we got two RV Short Twins at 34″ x 75″ from Brentwood. Putting them side-by-side proved to be the exact right size. A 75″ mattress (6′ 3″ long) might be a little short for a tall person. But we’re both well under six feet tall, so it’s plenty long enough for us, and gives us lots of room to move around the bed.

Our mattress is a Bamboo Gel-9. It’s covered with a 4-way bamboo stretch knit. There is a top layer of New Zealand wool, which keeps us surprising cool in warm weather and warm in cool. Below that is a 2-inch gel memory foam layer on top of a 7-inch therapeutic support base. Brentwood Home sells their mattresses online and ships them by UPS. We highly recommend them.


Safe-T-Plus Steering Stabilizer ($460)

Our Winnebago handles much better than our first coach, the Thor Challenger. But it still had a tendency to road wander. The solution was simple, install a Safe-T-Plus Steering Stabilizer.

When properly adjusted, Safe-T-Plus automatically centers and maintains straight-ahead steering, reducing road wander even when encountering side winds, a blowout, pavement drops, road ruts, and other hazards. But the secret is to have it properly adjusted. It took three attempts, but the mechanic finally got it right, and we love it. Installation cost $150.


KING Jack TV Antenna ($135)

Our rig came with the classic bat wing style TV antenna from Winegard, the kind that you have to crank up and twist around until you get decent reception. Then you have to remember to crank it back down when you travel. Always hated that.

So we decided to replace it with the KING Jack TV antenna. It doesn’t need cranking and comes with a built-in TV signal meter. The reception is only slightly better than with the old antenna, but we don’t have to crank it up or down and it’s much easier to find the best reception. We did the install ourselves.


Maxx Fan Roof Vent Fan w/Remote ($179 each)

We also installed the Maxx Fans ourselves. It was not hard. We have one in our bathroom and another in the living area. The fans are quiet and powerful, but the best feature is the remote.

We have 7′ high ceilings. The original fans were manual, which meant that we had to use a stool to reach the controls. But the new fans have a remote control, so no more climbing stools to turn them on or off. Because it’s easier, we use them a lot more. The new fans also have a rain sensor, so we can leave with the vents open and not worry about the rain getting in. And the sensor really work. We can also set the fan to automatic, and they’ll come on and off depending on the temperature. Definitely worth the money.


Dually Value Stems ($120)

One of my pet peeves with Class A motorhomes is the configuration of the tire valve stems for the rear dual wheels. The inner stem is too short to reach and the outer stem faces inward. It’s nearly impossible to check the air pressure and even harder to add air. Essentially, the valve stems are inaccessible.

We tried valve stem extensions, but the inner ones rubbed dangerously on the wheel holes and the outer ones were still hard to reach. Plus extensions simply aren’t as reliable as properly installed stems. I never felt at ease with them.

So we decided to replace the original stems with new stems specially designed for our dual 22.5 inch steel wheels from www.yourtireshopsupply.com. The actual installation was done by a commercial truck tire shop for $140, and took about 1.5 hours.

The long inner stem is passed through a large rubber grommet that is set in the hand hole of the outer wheel to keep it from rubbing. The outer stem is perfectly curved to face outward in the center of its hand hole. Now it’s much easier to check and air up the rear tires. The benefits of having accessible valve stems is so obvious that these should be mandatory on dual wheels.


Tire Minder Tire Pressure Monitor ($469)

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having properly inflated tires while driving a 33,000 pound motorhome down the highway at 65 MPH. You do not want to have a blowout!

Step one in preventing a blowout is to be sure that the tires are properly inflated before embarking on a trip. That means having accessible valve stems as mentioned in the item above. Step two is continually monitoring the air pressure while you are driving. That’s what the Tire Minder does.

A small sensor screws on the valve stem in place of the cap and sends information back to the monitor in the coach. At any point, we can view the air pressure and temperature of each tire, and in the event of air loss or high temperature, a audible alert is sounded so we can pull over quickly and safely.

Using a tire pressure monitoring system is kind of like wearing seat belts. At first is seems a bit silly and unnecessary, but eventually you come to realize how important they are for your safety, and wouldn’t drive without them.

Update:  Shortly after the one year warranty was up, two of our six sensors began to incorrectly report low air pressure. A couple months later, two more did the same thing. We debated whether to replace the sensors or the entire system. We opted to just replace the four sensors. The system is now reports air pressure correctly.


Optima Bluetop AMG Battery ($279 each plus installation)

Our motorhome came with two cranking batteries for the engine and two deep cycle Marine/RV hybrid batteries for the house. All four batteries were the traditional flooded lead acid type. That meant we had to regularly check them and add water about once a month.

Unfortunately, the batteries were in a small space that made it nearly impossible to do this simple maintenance. There is only about three inches of clearance above the batteries and simply no way to look inside the batteries to check the water level.

The solution for the engine batteries was simple: we upgraded to a sealed lead acid type from Interstate, which are for the most part maintenance free. We are quite happy with them.

However, solving the house batteries issue proved quite difficult. The problem is that standard sealed lead acid batteries only work as cranking batteries, not as deep cycle. So for the time being we were stuck with two maintenance free engine batteries and two hard to maintain house batteries. On the advice of a fellow RVer, we added a battery watering system for the house batteries, which in theory solved the maintenance problem and was better than nothing, but it never worked well in practice.

After a bit more research, we decided to replace the house batteries with deep cycle AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries, which are also sealed and maintenance free. Several manufacturers, including Interstate, make a Marine/RV hybrid AGM battery (hybrid meaning they are a cross between cranking and deep cycle). They are commonly sold in RV stores as deep cycle house batteries, but they are not true deep cycle. Only the Reliant brand from Trojan are true deep cycle (meaning they only work as deep cycle and therefore provide a longer charge).

Sadly, we were not able to find someone to sell and install Reliant batteries for us. We settled on having a truck shop install the Optima Bluetop Marine/RV hybrid AGM battery from Interstate.

The Optima and the Reliant are both Group 27 batteries, which is the only size that will fit our space. The main difference is the number of amp hours. The Optima is rated at 66 Ah, while the Reliant is rated at 100 Ah. Both can be safely discharged to 50% of their rated capacity, meaning that each Optima provides 33 usable amp hours and each Reliant 50 usable amp hours.

The entire electrical system, including the batteries and the converter and inverter, is a complex topic. But in simple terms, the purpose of house batteries is to provide 12 volt electric power to the lights and ceiling fans, along with 110 volt power through the inverter to a few outlets when camping without electrical hookups.

Our rig does not use much energy as long as we don’t use the air conditioner or microwave. All our lights are LEDs, and even with several of them on we only pull about one amp per hour. The ceiling fans sip just 0.2 amps per hour, and are surprisingly effective, often making air conditioning unnecessary. And the only 110 volt outlets wired to the inverter are at the entertainment center. Any outlets not wired to the inverter, including the air conditioner and mircowave, don’t work when boondocking unless we turn on the generator.

Our TV is also a low power LED and only pulls about four amps per hour. Recharging the cell phones and computers takes two to three amps each. That’s about it. The only other appliances that pull from the house batteries are the refrigerator and the furnace. Both of them use propane to do the actual work, and only use electric for the controls and fans, which is negligible.

Added all up, we rarely use more than ten amp hours per day while boondocking. Our two 66 Ah house batteries allow us to go without hookups for several days without recharging with the generator. That is enough for us for now. If and when we start boondocking longer and more often, we will need to reconsider upgrading, either to the 100 Ah Reliant AMG batteries or better yet to lithium (which can be discharged to 80% of their rated capacity but cost a whole lot more). Either upgrade will require a professional to install along with a more powerful three stage converter charger.

And finally in case you were wondering, we have no plans to add solar.


Sterilite Modular Stacking Boxes ($8 – $12 each)

While not exactly upgrades, these stacking storage boxes were a great addition. They fit perfectly in the four basement storage bays on the driver’s side. They come in four sizes: Extra Large, Large, Medium, and Small.

See the actual sizes below.

The Extra Large takes up one entire bay. Various combinations of the other sizes can be used interchangeably while taking up the exact same amount of space as the Extra Large. This allows us to store larger things in the larger boxes and smaller things in the smaller boxes in the different bays.

The Large is the same length and width as the Extra Large, but only 1/3 as tall, so we can them stack three high in a bay. Two of the Mediums turned side to side take up the same space as two Larges one on top of the other. And two Smalls on top of each other take the same space as a Medium.

The lids latch nicely and have indentations that fit the bottoms of the various size boxes, allowing us to stack the boxes securely on top of each other in different configurations. The containers were purchased at Walmart.

  • Extra Large – 27 gal – 25.75″ L x 18.375″ W x 19.375″ H
  • Large – 10 gal – 25.75″ L x 18.375″ W x 7.125″ H
  • Medium – 7.5 gal – 18.00″ L x 12.625″ W x 13.25″ H
  • Small – 4.0 gal – 18.00″ L x 12.625″ W x 7.125″ H

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *