Best RV Upgrades – First Investments

Usually the first thing a new RV'er does (or should do) is upgrade the things the manufacturer might have gone “cheap” on. In today”s world they do that on many items. For safety reasons I would recommend checking out the tires. Manufacturers will almost always put on tires that meet the minimum requirements. Typically, they will be from an foreign country and only meet the minimum requirements to be legal on the highway. I would recommend upgrading the tires to help prevent blowouts going down the road. Cheap tires can ruin a trip quicker than anything else and can be quite dangerous. Good tires, inflated to the manufacturers recommended pressure along with remote tire pressure/temperature sensors are first. We will discuss tires and some ideas for improvement.

I would recommend upgrading the power system. Most trailers come with one 12v lead acid battery. Upgrading the battery/batteries will greatly increase the time that you can RV without being hooked up to shore power. You can get by with the original battery but not for long. Dry camping will drain it quickly. Lights, refrigerator, and other low voltage accessories will drain it fast. And don’t even expect to watch TV or use that microwave. We will talk about several items that will improve your power capabilities and how to extend your power while in the field.

Another common upgrade is the mattress. RV’s today come with just a foam pad covered in some material. Usually only a couple of inches thick. Believe me, the first night you try to sleep on it you will understand. There are several options to improve your nights sleep and we will cover them below.

If you have a pull-behind trailer, you should have gotten the weight distribution option and a sway-bar option. If not, I will discuss them and try to convince you of their importance.

Let’s examine some things that will improve your RV experience.

Tires

Replacing those tires that came with the RV is almost always a good idea. Issues relating to tires are tire weight-load and heat. Most original tires are too undersized (weight wise) to make me comfortable.
Get the specs on the ones that you have and do some research. Good RV tires are not cheap but they will save you money in the long run. The safety factor cannot be emphasized enough. A good review of tires for 2018 is at the theactivetimes.com. It lists five tires that would be excellent replacements for cheap tires. My research also uncovered Goodyear Endurance tires, from Discount tire. I replaced my “almost new” tires with them. I also kept one of the old tires for a second spare. I need to get another wheel to mount it on so I will have two spares with me at all times. Marc Leach of the channel
“Keep Your Daydream”, on YouTube, came up with that recommendation. You can follow the link to the right to see what Amazon is selling them for currently. The bottom line is to check the quality of your tires. If they are foreign made and don’t have adequate weight handling capacity, I would upgrade to the best tire you can afford. Make sure they are 10 ply. Get the road hazard insurance also. A National chain like Discount Tire will give you some piece of mind that you will be taken care of if you have a tire failure.

Heat is another thing to watch. Always keep your trailer tires inflated to the manufacturers specifications. Mine says 90 lbs. Anything less than that can cause the tire to become unnecessarily hot and cause premature failure. You do NOT want a tire blow-out doing 60 down an interstate because you let the tire pressure drop.

Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS)

That leads to the next item to update. Chances are your trailer did not come with a Tire Pressure Monitor System or, TPMS. My truck came with one so I only needed to get a system that would watch four tires. There are systems that can watch up to 22 tires! My choice was the EEZ RV Products EEZ-RV-TPMS4 , and I bought it on Amazon. Use the link to the left to see the details. What it does is places a small screen in the cab of your vehicle and continually displays the pressure and temperature of each tire. The tires are monitored by a small sensor that screws on to the valve stem. It send a radio signal to your monitor and keeps it updated. You can set alarms at whatever tire pressure and temp
you feel is too high or too low. Click on the image to the left to see Amazons current price and more details.

Solar Panels

Almost everyone is adding solar panels to their RV today. Why? Because it provides free energy! Your RV battery/batteries can only last so long without being recharged from some power source. If your RV is a tow-able type then you will be recharging while it is hooked up to the tow vehicle and the tow vehicle is running. Hooking up to “Shore Power” at RV Parks, the 110v connection will recharge it/them also.

However, when you are camping and the tow vehicle is not connected, all your power needs are being provided by your battery/batteries. Solar panels provide an alternate source of energy to recharge them. There are several kinds of solar panels. I think the topic deserves an entire post of it’s own. In brief there are solar panels of all sizes. For RV use, 100 watt to 240 watt panels are common. Usually the higher wattage panels are 24v. This overview will not get into the specifics of choosing the right panel for that you. Some additional research will be necessary. For this discussion just understand there are many options for solar panels. Choosing the right configuration for you will vary
from RV to RV. The image on the left will show you the Renogy RNG-100Dx2 2 Piece 100W Monocrystalline Photovoltaic PV Solar Panel package available from Amazon. It is a great starter set of panels.

Batteries

Batteries come in a variety of types. Flooded Lead Acid, Glass Matte, Lithium Ion are common types. Flooded Lead acid are the oldest and most common for both RV, Marine and Auto use. The upside of Lead Acid is price. The downside is weight as well as the ability to deliver all of it’s stored energy. Typically, that you can only expect 50% of the rated capacity for your use before the battery needs re-charging. Discharging any further than 50% may damage the battery. Most RV’s are delivered with Lead Acid batteries from the manufacturer.

Glass Matte batteries are an improvement. The upside for them is they don’t give off the gases that Lead acid batteries can. The downside is weight as well as the number of times they can be discharged and recharged. They are better than Lead Acid but marginally.

Lithium Ion batteries have improved on all the downsides of the other types. They are lightweight. Typically, one third of the weight of Lead Acid. They can be discharged to next to nothing without damaging the battery. They charge much faster than either the Lead Acid or Glass Matte. They also have duty-cycles that are eight to ten time other types of batteries. Eight thousand discharge/charge cycles are not uncommon.

The big setback with Lithium Ion is cost. Where a 100 Amp Hour Deep-Discharge Lead Acid battery might cost $250 and a Glass Matte $400 or so, a 100 Amp Hour Lithium Ion battery currently costs around $1000
each. When you factor in the duty cycles it is obviously a better deal in the long run. The up-front costs are a major hurdle to overcome. The image to the right will take you to Amazon for more information and pricing.

Charge Controller

The charge controller is the manager between your solar panels and your batteries. Today’s charge controllers are usually intelligent. They have computers that examine the energy coming from the panels and the batteries it is charging and will manage the charge current flowing to the batteries so the health of the batteries is maintained. There are smart controllers that will charge up the batteries and at some point, when fully charged, will switch to a “float” mode to keep them topped off. Investing in a good charge controller will help maintain the health of your batteries.

Another device is the “Inverter” that takes the 12v from the battery bank and converts it into 110 volts for larger appliances like TV’s and Microwaves. Air Conditioners require a great amount of power. They can usually only be used when the trailer is connected to shore power. Some people have built huge battery banks that can supply enough power for an A/C to run for a short period of time. That is unusual and very costly. The best inverters are “Pure Sine Wave” inverters. The charge controller
to the right also contains a large converter. You can click on the image to see more details and the price on Amazon. Be prepared. The price is quite high but the item is one of the best out there.

Battery Monitor

Battery monitors display the relevant information regarding the health of your batteries. They can display the level of battery charge, the amount of current being drawn from the batteries as well the total amount of current that has been consumed since your last reset. Some have Bluetooth built in so that you can monitor your battery bank from your smart device. Some will also maintain the charge on your house battery. You can choose to keep your “House” battery”, that came with the trailer, for use with just the trailer hitch. This way, if your solar battery bank should fail, you have power to raise and lower the hitch. There are many types and styles of Battery Monitors available. The more options it will perform, the more it will cost. The display, like the one on the left, mounts inside the trailer at a convenient location. Wires are run to the battery bank and attach to a “Shunt” device that is necessary in order for the display to work. If you are installing it yourself the instructions are usually very clear. It’s not terrible complicated. The image on the left will take you ta Amazon so you can see more details, including price, of the one I use.

Mattress

It won’t do to be in the most beautiful spot in nature if you cannot get a good nights sleep. Stand fare for new trailers is nothing I want to sleep on. There are many options from getting a 3 to 4 inch foam pad and placing it under the mattress. Cover that with a sheet and will be an improvement. There are more costly options that include a custom memory foam replacement. It comes rolled up and ompressed so you just unpack it and it self inflates back to its natural form. Many people swear by them. There are even more costly options like a custom, layered solution. Mattress Insider; makes great replacement mattresses for a reasonable price.

Trailer Hitch

If your trailer hitch did not come with a weight distribution system, you should upgrade to one immediately. Trailers that just sit on the hitch ball will bounce up and down like a rocking horse as you go down the road. This is very dangerous and adds to the stress placed on both the ball and hitch.

Weight distribution bars will connect your vehicle and trailer as a more cohesive unit. They will allow the trailer and hitch to flex, somewhat, but at the same time cause them to act as a team. It greatly reduces the rocking horse affect as well as reduces the weight pressing down on the ball somewhat.

In addition, an anti sway bar will help prevent the trailer from swaying back and forth. It is a friction based device that slows the amount of sway. The kit at the right contains both the weight distribution and the anti sway components. Click on it to see more details on Amazon including price.

Conclusion

There are many, many upgrades that you can perform on a new RV. These are just a few of important ones, in my opinion. Safety should be the goal when that you prioritize upgrades. Any upgrade that allows that you to travel down the road with a bit more confidence will be worth the upgrade.

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