RV Tech Tips – RV Upgrades – RV Maintenance Tips + Buying an RV!

This page contains links to all the articles we’ve written about our favorite RV tech tips and that describe the many RV upgrades and modifications we’ve done to our rig. In addition, there are articles full of important RV maintenance tips as well as suggestions for things to consider when choosing and buying an RV.

RV Tech Tips Upgrades for Motorhome and 5th Wheel Trailer owners - Maintain and upgrade your RV

From little RV maintenance tech tips to big RV upgrades, the article links are all on this page!

Ever since we began this website back in 2008 (after being on the road RVing full-time for a year), we have written lots of articles that are chock full of the many RV tech tips we’ve learned along the way.

Below you’ll find all the article links, grouped by subject, to make it easy for you to peruse our online library of RV tech tips, RV maintenance tips, modification ideas and RV upgrades.

For reference, you can see the various rigs we’ve owned, both for vacation purposes (before we started full-timing) and then for living in 24/7/365 once we took the plunge to go full-time.

CHOOSING and BUYING AN RV

RV MAINTENANCE, CLEANING and DRIVING

RV MODIFICATIONS and UPGRADES

SOLAR POWER UPGRADE – INTRO and OVERVIEW of SOLAR POWER SYSTEMS

SOLAR POWER UPGRADE – TUTORIAL SERIES

BATTERY UPGRADE – ALL ABOUT BATTERIES and BATTERY CHARGING

INVERTER UPGRADE – ALL ABOUT INVERTERS

CHOOSING and BUYING a TRUCK

  • Buying a Truck – Things to consider: Which Make & Model? Single Rear Wheel or Dually? Long Bed or Short Bed?
  • More on Choosing a Truck – With a link to the article Trailer Life Magazine asked us to write

TRUCK – MAINTENANCE and UPGRADES

Happy Reading!

You can find this page again by clicking on the “Tech Tips” item in the menu!

RV Tech Tips for Motorhome and 5th Wheel Trailer owners - Maintain and upgrade your RV

RVing is easy and fun!

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50 RV Gift Ideas for Your Beloved RVer (or RV!)

Is there a special RVer in your life who’d appreciate a tool or an appliance or other RV gift for your life on the road — perhaps a memento of your RVing adventures together? Or do you have an RV you love that deserves a little holiday gift wrapped with a bow?

We have our own list of “must have” RV goodies, and we’ve seen some super cute RV related gifts in our travels, and this inspired me to do a little digging online to see if there might be more. Oh my, if you look hard enough there’s a treasure trove out there!

I had a blast “window shopping” — here’s a list of a few things I found.

If something appeals to you, click on the image or the link in the text above it to find out all the details.

For starters, does your beloved RV welcome you home with a cute little mat by the door? Here’s a wonderful RV welcome mat:

Home is where the RV welcome mat is-min

Yes, indeed!

And another fun one:

Just Another Day in Paradise RV Welcome Mat

Welcome home!!

If you’d rather wipe your feet on a super absorbent doormat (we have one), then maybe a little welcome sign just inside the RV door would make your guests feel at home:

Welcome to our Rolling Estate-min

A warm welcome to hang on the wall.

Ya gotta hang your keys up somewhere, and what better place for the motorhome and car keys than on a cute motorhome key hook? If your beloved RV is a trailer and not a motorhome, there’s a fun trailer keyhook for you too:

Class C RV key hooks-min

Key hooks for the motorhome and the toad too.

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Key hooks for the truck and trailer.

One nice way to dress up the RV galley is to hang up pretty hand towels. We saw these hand towels when we visited the La Posada Hotel gift shop in Winslow Arizona and just loved them.

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Decorative hand towels.

If you want to introduce yourself to your neighbors and give your RV patio a little flair, how about a personalized flag out front?

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A personalized flag to make introductions easy.

Here’s another slightly different personalized flag:

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“Happy Camper” personalized flag.

Both can be hung on a simple garden flag pole.

If you’re a bit shy about putting your name out in front of your rig, maybe just let the neighbors know where the party is with this “It’s 5:00 Somewhere” flag!

It's 5 o'clock somewhere garden flag-min

Let the neighbors know where the party is!

Speaking of parties, if yours tend to involve a little wine, then you might find a set of picnic wine glass and bottle holders to be just the thing. Simply shove them in the ground near your camp chairs and your wine will be safe from tipping over.

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No spills by the campfire!

For some folks, the stems on wine glasses are a little cumbersome in the RVing life. If you want to go stemless, there are some very cute etched wine glasses made especially for those RVers who are wine drinkers with a camping problem or who are just happy campers:

stemless camping wine glass-min

Is this you — or someone you know??

Happy Camper stemless wine glass-min

Describes every RVer, for sure!

If the party gets a little wild and things go flying, then a set of shatterproof stemless wine glasses might be the answer.

Shatterproof stemless wine glasses for RV living and camping-min

Shatterproof wine glasses… not a bad idea in a rolling home!

For tamer parties inside your rig, a set of super cute vintage RV stone coasters is sure to get the conversation going.

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Stone tile trailer coasters

There are also washable motorhome coasters made of foam (like a mousepad) topped with an inspiring quote:

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Motorhome coasters made of foam — “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost.”

If you’re serving munchies too, then you’ll definitely want to bring out the adorable RV cocktail napkins!

Happy camper cocktail napkins-min

Cocktail napkins your guests will absolutely love.

You can’t travel in an RV without camping chairs, and of course they come in all shapes, colors and sizes. But how about a camp chair with your RV’s name printed on the back rest or with your name there?! This isn’t a bad idea if you’re headed to a big gathering of RVers in the desert in Quartzsite where lots of folks have nearly identical chairs and the chairs often stay in a ring around the campfire for days on end!

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Personalized camping chair — Your name or the rig’s name??

If you’re more into function than style, then perhaps a camping chair with pockets for your drink and reading material (printed or electronic) would be just the thing:

RV camping chair-min

Pockets for your drink and your book, magazine or tablet.

RVers frequently camp in places where you can’t have a campfire. So what could be better than bringing a little portable campfire with you? This little guy runs on propane and has a nice flame.

Little Red Campfire propane portable-min

Cozy up to a portable campfire. No wood necessary!

Guide to the National Parks-min

Dreaming of a big RV adventure? Here’s a Guide to the National Parks!

So far, we’ve been coming up with all kinds of great ideas for making that beloved RV a cozy home for living in and sharing with friends, but how about some ideas for where to travel?

Perhaps a loved one needs some travel inspiration — how about a Guide to the National Parks?

One of the best aspects of RVing is getting out and exploring the many Scenic Highways and Scenic Byways across America, whether in your RV or in your car or truck.

Most scenic drives in America-min

Inspiration: The Most Scenic Drives in America!

Here’s an intro to a few of the most scenic drives in America.

If you’d prefer to get away from the crowds and enjoy some of the less visited spots, how about some inspiration for where to go to get off the beaten path?!

Off the Beaten Path Travel-min

Leave the crowds behind and get off the beaten path!

Are you in the special category of “Soon To Be RVer?”

Is the Love of Your Life a little hesitant about this newfound dream of yours?

Perhaps you can win him/her over with the trick that pioneering RVer Kay Peterson used on her husband to inspire him to go RVing full-time.

Large scale road atlas-min

First step to travel adventure – an atlas!

One day, when she put the sandwich she made him in his lunch box, she wrapped it in a US road map!

A good quality road atlas can drop a broad hint and comes in very handy for planning and hitting the road.

Once you’ve been out having fun in your RV, whether you’ve been traveling for a week or for a year or more, you’ll want to keep a record of all your adventures.

I still cherish the journal I hand wrote (and hand decorated with glued-in photos) of our travels in our popup tent trailer.

Here’s a specially made camping journal with categories and prompts to remind you of all the things you’ll want to remember later:

Camping and RV journal-min

A Camping and RV Travel Journal.

Lots of people wear their hearts on their sleeve, and some go so far as to wear their passions on the fronts of their shirts! Here are a few fun t-shirts (available in men’s and women’s sizes and a rainbow of colors).

If telling the world you love the RVing lifestyle on the front of your shirt isn’t really your style, maybe curling up with some lounge pants decorated with vintage trailers would be more like it!!

Happy camper lounge pants-min

Happy camper vintage trailer lounge pants.

Getting back to those special memories that we all create on the road, one fun way to memorialize a particularly special travel moment is to frame a photo of it in a picture frame shaped like an RV. Whether your rolling home requires a motorhome picture frame or a trailer picture frame, there’s a cool one for you:

RV picture frame class C Motorhome-min

A picture frame for that memorable moment from your RV adventures.

RV travel trailer picture frame-min

The trailer version.

Okay, okay, enough of the cutesy RV decorated stuff. How about some practical things that will give your life on the road a little zing and isn’t something you’re likely to find at the local camping store?

First on our list of “must haves” in our RV lifestyle is a set of two-way radios. We use these radios to help us back up and park the trailer, to communicate when hiking in glorious remote locations, and when we get separated in Walmart too. No cell phone reception needed!

Midland 36-mile 50-channel two-way radios-min

We have had Midland 36-mile radios since we started in 2007 and wouldn’t RV without them.

Another “must have” in our lives is a great massage, and one super easy way to get one is with a good quality percussion massager. We’ve tried many brands over the years as we’ve recovered from various sports injuries, and this Brookstone massager is our hand-down favorite. There’s nothing like soothing those stiff muscles after a long drive!

Brookstone percussion massager-min

Kinked up from a long day of driving (or hiking)? Here’s our fix!

For anyone with a small RV, a top quality set of nesting pots and pans is a joy. We bought a set of Magma nesting pots and pans when we moved onto our sailboat years ago, and we still use them every day now in our trailer.

magma nesting cookware for RV travel-min

We bought these pots and pans for our boat and still use them every day.

magma nesting cookware for RV camping-min

The whole set fits into one pot!

Oh goodness, we’re back in the RV galley again, but there are so many cute things out there to dress it up a bit. How about a set of RV decorated dishes, each with a unique (and inviting) camping scene?!

Camping dishes with travel trailer RV designs-min

What a great dishware set for your travels!

There’s also a very cool serving bowl (with serving spoons)!

RV bowl and serving set with travel trailer design-min

A serving bowl (and serving spoons) to go with the dishes

Okay, let’s get back to the practical stuff that isn’t decorated with adorable vintage RVs. One “must have” in our RVing lives (and that we wish we’d had on our boat) is a 4000 lumen tactical flashlight. This thing is so bright it’s like holding a car headlight in your hand (check out my detailed review here).

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For the flashlight junkie in the RV.

Mark is a flashlight junkie, so he has acquired two pocket flashlights made by the same company (reviewed here). He even got their tiny tool flashlight and their keychain flashlight! He loves them all.

Lumintop EDC25 pocket flashlight-min

Flashlight junkies can never have too many flashlights!

In the last year, Mark has switched all his battery operated goodies to using Energizer rechargeable batteries. Energizer brand has the highest amp-hour rating. Here’s an Energizer AA/AAA charging kit with 4 AA batteries and here are 4 AAA rechargeable batteries to go with it.

Nothing says “love” like power tools, and the two we use most are our cordless drill and cordless impact driver. We use the drill to raise and lower the stabilizer jacks on the back of our trailer (explained in this article), and Mark uses the impact drill every time he changes a tire on either the trailer or the truck. I’d like to say that doesn’t happen too often…but unfortunately he’s changed a lot of tires since we started RVing full-time!!

Rigid Cordless Drill and Impact Driver Kit-min

Cordless drill and impact driver set. We have this exact set and it gets a lot of use!

Of course, the way to measure the difficulty of any RV repair job is by how many beers it takes to complete. Whether it’s a one beer job or a two beer job (or, heaven forbid, more!), the job goes much better if the beer is cold right to the last drop. Mark LOVES his Yeti beer koozie and uses it every day!

Yeti beer koozie-min

For the beer drinker with a camping problem!
Cold to the last drop…

If you don’t need your stainless steel beer koozie to say “Yeti” on it, there are other brands that are much cheaper.

But Yeti is the name of the cooler game these days, and when we were camped with a bunch of ATV/UTV toy hauler folks recently, we were amazed to watch them all pack their side-by-side Polarises with Yeti soft-sided portable coolers before they headed out for a day on the trails.

Yeti portable cooler-min

We saw lots of these getting loaded on Polaris UTVs in a toy hauler crowd!

For those who have a smaller trailer and rely on a good quality cooler in the car or truck to supplement the small trailer fridge, the hard sided Yeti cooler is the top of the line.

Yeti cooler-min

We didn’t have a Yeti but we used our cooler a lot with our popup tent trailer.

Again, there are other cheaper brands.

One of my favorite parts of the RV lifestyle is kicking back with a leisurely morning cuppa joe. My mug (a birthday gift from Mark) says “I love you,” but a pair of “Life is better in a camper” mugs would be pretty cool!

RV coffee mugs with travel trailer-min

“Life is Better in a Camper” coffee mugs!

Retro trailers are all the rage, but there’s a coffee mug for motorhome lovers too.

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Motorhome camping scene on a coffee mug.

This mug is also available as part of a set of four unique RV coffee mugs.

RV coffee mugs set of 4-min

RVs in the wild.

If you’ve got kids or friends over at your campsite, and you’re looking for fun things to do, a party game might fill the bill. Corn Hole and Ring Toss are portable and easy to set up.

Corn Hole Game for RV camping-min

Something fun to do at the campsite besides sit around the campfire!

Ring Toss Camping Game-min

Ring toss game.

For families that get stuck indoors on a rainy day, a fun way for the kids to get some laughs and learn a little at the same time is to play the game Mad Libs. I saw this in a gift shop recently and remembered loving it as a kid, and I couldn’t resist buying it for my grandkids for Christmas (shhhh… don’t tell them!).

If they haven’t learned the difference between a noun and a verb at school yet (and lord knows what the schools are teaching these days), this game makes it fun and easy to learn!

RV gift Mad Libs game-min

Wondering if the kids/grandkids are learning anything in school? This is a fun (and funny) indoor rainy day word game.

For RVers who love birds (like me), we’ve seen some beautiful little wooden bird houses shaped like trailers. Here are two:

RV bird house antique travel trailer-min

For the RVer who doubles as a bird lover.

We love to hang a hummingbird feeder from our RV, and we have a special one that mounts on our window with a suction cup mount. It’s a blast to sit inside and watch the crazy antics of these tiny birds as they duke it out with each other at the feeder. For anyone who enjoys photography, this kind of feeder is a hoot (blog posts about our humming bird experiences here and here).

Hummingbird Feeder window suction cup mount-min

We hang a hummingbird feeder on our RV window with a suction cup mount.

Speaking of photography, November and December are the best time of the year to buy a camera, as the deals get sweeter and sweeter. If a fancy new DSLR camera is on your wish list, now is the time (and as far as we are concerned, Nikon is the brand). Here are options for Beginner (Nikon D3400), Intermediate (Nikon D7500), and Newest Top Dog (Nikon D850).

One of the very best deals right now is the Nikon D7200, an “intermediate” level camera. It’s been out a while, so it has come down in price, but it is the fifth the highest rated camera for landscape (dynamic range), rating below two pro Nikon cameras, a Hasselblad medium format camera and a Pentax (see here).

Nikon D3400 DSLR camera

November / December is the best time to buy a new camera.

And last of all, whether you’re going to celebrate Christmas in your RV living room or in the living room of a stickbuilt home, why not decorate your Christmas tree with a little RV love?! There are lots of RV Christmas ornaments available including this motorhome ornament and this trailer ornament.

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A motorhome Christmas tree ornament.

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A trailer Christmas tree ornament.

I know it’s early to think about the holidays, and I was a little shocked to pass the fully stocked Christmas shelves at the back of Walmart yesterday, but I’m sure these goodies would be appreciated by your beloved RV (and/or by your beloved RVer) any time of the year.

By the way, clicking on any one of these items and then buying whatever you need at Amazon helps us keep this site going.

How does this work? Simply click on any image or link on this website that goes to Amazon before you start shopping (or bookmark this link), and then no matter what you search for and put in your shopping cart or wish list immediately after that results in a small commission to us at no cost to you.

Thank you, and happy “window” shopping!!

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What are the Most Important Features in a Full-time Fifth Wheel Trailer?!

What features are most important in a fifth wheel trailer you’ll be living in full-time? That’s a big and interesting question, and Trailer Life Magazine recently assigned me the very fun task of surveying the fifth wheels on the market today and selecting twelve models that would make a good home on the road.

The results of my review are featured as the cover story of the October 2017 edition of Trailer Life Magazine.

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017

Trailer Life Magazine, October, 2017. Article by Emily Fagan

As I mentioned in my blog post about what to look for in a full-time RV, whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, choosing a rolling home is an incredibly personal decision. There is no ideal rig for all RVers. The most important thing is that you walk inside, look around, and say, “Ahhh, this is home!”

But you’ve also gotta look at the nuts and bolts underneath the rig, and that’s what this blog post is about.

Whatever fifth wheel you buy, there is no need to break the bank. Obviously, higher quality trailers cost a lot more than lower quality trailers do, but life on the road is a thrill no matter what kind of rig you live in, and if you can’t afford the top of the line, you’ll still have just as much fun as those who can.

Also, sometimes going with a used trailer, especially at the outset, beats buying new. There are lots of used fifth wheels of all ages for sale all over the country.

We have met a couple and a single fellow living full-time in older fifth wheel trailers that cost them less than $5,000. They were very happy with their rolling homes and were thrilled to have the freedom of a life on the road.

Likewise, we met a couple who had lived in a popup tent trailer for four years, a couple who had lived in a tiny half-ton pickup camper for two years and we met a young pair of mountain bikers who had just moved out of their tent home of the last 18 months and into a 17′ travel trailer a few weeks before we camped near them.

If you can’t afford the latest and greatest, it is still very possible to be a full-time RVer and live a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!

However, my Trailer Life assignment was to look over the many brand new fifth wheels on the market, find twelve models that spoke to me, and highlight some of the things that I think are important when shopping for an RV that will be lived in 24/7/365.

You can read the article here: Full-timing Fifth Wheel Trailers in Trailer Life Magazine

For reference, we have pics and specs and a description of the fifth wheel trailer we live in at this link.

LEARN BY DOING

If you haven’t done much RVing yet and you are planning to move out of your current home and set off on a life of adventure on the road, the best way to figure out what features you need and want in your full-time fifth wheel is to get some practice RVing first.

I can’t state strongly enough the value of buying a cheap little RV and going and having some fun on weekends and vacations before jumping into the full-time RV lifestyle. This is especially true if you’ve got a year or more to go before you will actually start full-timing.

Nothing is better than hands-on experience, and you can use the little rig as a trade-in on your full-time RV. The minimal amount of depreciation is a great investment in your own personal education in the RV lifestyle! Here is a blog post about that.

So what DO you look for in an RV when you are replacing your sticks-and-bricks house? After all, the the most important factor is no longer Location, Location Location! Different folks look for different things, but here’s what we look for whenever we check out a new fifth wheel at a dealership (which we do frequently!).

Full-time Fifth Wheels Trailer Life Magazine October 2017-min

A survey of fifth wheels for full-timing by Emily Fagan
Trailer Life Magazine Cover – October 2017

CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY

The first thing we look at is the trailer’s Cargo Carrying Capacity. This is the amount of weight the trailer is designed to carry safely and legally. Trailer manufacturers are required to post a sticker on the exterior of the front end of the trailer on the driver’s side that indicates what the CCC is.

Surprisingly, there is a lot of confusion about exactly how the CCC is calculated and whether or not the fresh water or the propane in the tanks is considered cargo or part of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW). The official definition, according to certain RV standards groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is:

CCC = GVWR – (UVW + propane weight)

That is, the Cargo Carrying Capacity is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less the sum of the Unloaded Vehicle Weight and the propane weight.

However, it is much more common for manufacturers to calculate CCC as simply the GVWR less UVW and not count the propane weight as part of the equation. This is also known as the NCC (Net Carrying Capacity).

NCC = GVWR – UVW

The propane weight is only 40, 60 or 80 lbs, depending on whether the two propane tanks are 20 lb., 30 lb., or 40 lb. tanks, so it is not that important whether it is included in the calculation of CCC or not, and it is easy to see why the terms CCC and NCC are often confused and used interchangeably.

In addition to stating the CCC on a sticker on the trailer, the manufacturers are also required to have a sticker indicating how much the fresh water in the trailer weighs when the fresh water tanks are full. One gallon of water weighs about 8.35 lbs. or 3.785 kg.

Fresh water is officially considered to be cargo, so if the trailer is towed with its tanks full, then the CCC available for everything else (food, clothes, tools, barbecue, bikes etc.) is reduced by the weight of the fresh water weight as stated on the sticker.

Cyclone Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel RV cargo carrying capacity 2

This detailed sticker shows the weight of the fresh water tanks when full (830 lbs in the fresh water tanks and 100 lbs in the hot water tank) PLUS it shows the weight of the Black and Gray waste tanks (1,569 lbs.) AND it shows the cargo carrying capacity of the trailer with water tanks both full (1,372 lbs) and empty (2,302 lbs).

If the trailer doesn’t have the official CCC stated on a sticker, it’s usually possible to find the GVWR and UVW values on a spec sheet and simply subtract UVW from GVWR. This simple calculation of GVWR – UVW is the easiest way to compare the carrying capacity from one trailer to the next, so that is what we like to go by when we are making a direct comparison.

So how much should the Cargo Carrying Capacity be for a fifth wheel trailer that’s used as a full-time home? In our experience, the nearly 3,500 lbs. of CCC on our trailer is barely enough. Because we boondock all the time, we travel with our fresh water tank and hot water tank full and our gray and black tanks empty so we can stay a maximum length of time at our next destination.

Other folks may find they can get away with less, but to us, if you are shopping for a big trailer to live in full-time, a CCC of less than 3,000 lbs. is going to be insufficient in the long run. If you are shopping for a fifth wheel toy hauler, then you’ll need 3,500 lbs. for your stuff plus more for the weight of your toy(s).

Interestingly, the manufacturers often provide a lot more storage space in their fifth wheel trailers than the CCC of their trailer can reasonably support. Our cabinets and shelves aren’t even full, and we are still at the maximum limit for CCC in our trailer.

Redwood Fifth Wheel Cargo Carrying Capacity 1

A much simpler sticker on another trailer shows a Cargo Carrying Capacity of 1,876 lbs.
By implication this does not include any water weights because all liquids in the tanks are cargo.

So, just because a trailer you are looking at has voluminous shelving, a big pantry, and two huge closets, you won’t necessarily be able to fill all that space and still remain at or below the CCC of the trailer.

Another surprise is that smaller trailers frequently have larger carrying capacities. This can be seen in a single product line when a manufacturer uses the same frame for several models. The smallest and lightest model built on that frame will obviously have more carrying capacity than the largest and heaviest one.

We also saw it in dramatic fashion when we compared a tear drop trailer and a toy hauler on a dealership lot once (blog post here).

One caveat to keep in mind if you overload your trailer is that you risk being found liable if you are in an accident with a fatality and it is discovered your rig was over its weight limit. This is true both if the truck is too small for the trailer and/or if the trailer itself is loaded beyond its capacity.

FOUNDATION – FRAME, AXLES, TIRES. SUSPENSION and LANDING JACKS

Frame

The next thing we look at in a trailer is the frame and axles. Almost all trailers are assembled on frames built by Lippert Components. A few manufacturers build their own frames in-house.

Axles

Most fifth wheels are also built on Lippert axles. The highest end fifth wheels are built with axles made by Dexter. They advertise the fact and consider it to be a premium feature. In some cases Dexter axles are an option, and some buyers simply replace their axles after making their purchase.

Both of our Lippert axles have failed. The first time was in Nova Scotia. We could tell because our tires began wearing very strangely and very very fast. We limped to Maine to have the rear axle replaced with another Lippert axle.

New RV axle installed on fifth wheel trailer-min

We replaced one of our trailer axles in Bangor Maine.

Fortunately, our extended RV warranty saved the day financially, but the time lost and overall frustration of having a big failure on the road was not fun. (Blog post about that experience here).

The second time was when our front axle failed in Arizona, and again, the tell-tale sign was bizarre tire wear on the trailer tires. This time we decided to replace both axles with the Dexter brand. Unfortunately, our extended RV warranty did not bail us out on this occasion, but the $3,000 expense of having both axles replaced and correctly aligned with Dexter axles was well worth it, as our tires have been wearing very evenly ever since.

Suspension

In addition to axle failures, our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension failed upon our approach to Arizona from New Mexico. We had the entire suspension overhauled, and fortunately our extended trailer warranty covered the repair (blog post about that experience here). This experience made us realize just how important the suspension is on a trailer.

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We replaced our failed fifth wheel suspension system in Arizona.

Most fifth wheel trailers come with a conventional leaf spring and gas shock suspension system. However, some fifth wheels come with an axle-less rubber suspension system from Mor/Ryde. Many people love and swear by the soft ride of this suspension. Over time, however the rubber does wear out and needs to be replaced (as do conventional shocks).

Tires

The weight rating on the tires is an important aspect of the overall GVWR rating of a trailer, and upgrading the tires is an easy way to boost the GVWR and increase the CCC. Of course, the legal rating for the trailer will always depend on how the trailer was built at the factory, but by upgrading the tires you can quickly give the trailer much needed support if you are approaching the limit.

Tire ratings vary on most fifth wheels between E-rated (10 ply) tires for lighter trailer to G-rated (14-ply) for the heavier ones. Some of the heaviest trailers have H-rated (16-ply) tires but those require wheels that can handle higher air pressure.

Check the tire ratings on a prospective full-time fifth wheel as well as the axle brand and axle weight ratings. If they are already big and beefy, you will save yourself needing to upgrade them later. On the other hand, if you love the trailer but those things are a little skimpy, budget in an upgrade when you contemplate the purchase price and its impact on your bank account.

We upgraded the E-rated (10-ply) tires that came on our trailer with G-rated (14-ply) tires. When we swapped axle brands, we stayed with the 7,000 lb. axle rating because we had upgraded our trailer’s electric hub brakes to electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and the bigger 8,000 lb. axles required different brakes.

Brakes

Most fifth wheel trailers come with electric drum brakes. The stopping power is so-so. More expensive brands of fifth wheels offer electric over hydraulic disk brakes as an option. You can also replace the electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes at a later date.

We upgraded our electric drum brakes with electric over hydraulic disk brakes, and what a massive difference in stopping power! The upgrade costs about $3,000 or so, but we felt it was worth every penny. Our blog post about that upgrade is here.

Fifth wheel electric over hydraulic disk brake conversion-min

We upgraded our standard electric trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes in Texas

If you think you might upgrade the entire under carriage of your trailer — axles, brakes and tires — because you are at the outer limit of its CCC, you might consider going to the next size axle. We did our upgrades piece-meal as things broke or ore out, but if we’d done it all at once we might have gone with 8,000 lb. axles and corresponding brakes.

Landing Jacks

Conventional electric landing jacks on the front of the trailer are less expensive than hydraulic self-leveling jacks, and they are more commonly found on the more affordable brands of fifth wheel trailers. Hydraulic leveling jacks appear on higher end fifth wheels as standard features or as an option.

We have been happy with our electric landing jacks over the years, and even though we did have to replace them at one time, it was a relatively easy DIY job that Mark was able to do while boondocking in the desert!

Operating the electric landing jacks on a fifth wheel trailer-min

Without a hydraulic leveling system, on extremely unlevel ground we put blocks under the landing legs.

The disadvantage of electric landing jacks is that the side-to-side leveling of the trailer has to be done by sliding something under the wheels to prop up one side of the trailer, and sometimes we have to prop up the front end of the trailer too. We carry 5′ x 1′ x 1″ strips of a sliced up heavy duty rubber mat for this purpose. We used to carry 5′ long 1×8 pine boards. Lots of folks carry the plastic leveling platforms.

Hydraulic leveling jacks can do most or all of the leveling without the need for anything being placed under the tires. Just hit the button and watch the trailer level itself. In the most off-level situations it may still be necessary to prop up one side of the trailer with something under the wheels.

Leveling boards under a fifth wheel trailer-min

Usually all we need is one or two mats under our wheels. In rare cases we have to stack higher!

Another great benefit of hydraulic leveling jacks is that if you need to jack up one side of the trailer to work on the tires, wheels or suspension, you can use the hydraulic leveling jacks instead of a portable jack placed under an axle. It’s safer and easier.

The only disadvantage of hydraulic leveling jacks is simply that they are complex and might fail. Occasionally (though extremely rarely) the legs have been known to fall down while the trailer is being towed. Of course, technology improves with every year, so these kinds of problems are less and less common.

“FOUR SEASON” – INSULATION and R-FACTORS

Lots of trailers are billed as “Four Season,” but in reality, you can’t compare living in an elevated box with 2″ to 3.5″ walls with living in a house that stands on a foundation and whose thick walls are built with layers of drywall, Tyvek, plywood and siding.

That being said, “Four Season” coaches are generally better insulated than others. Just don’t expect to be totally warm and cozy and free of condensation when there’s a blizzard and temps stay below 0 F for a few days!

Fifth wheel trailer RV in snow blizzard-min

We have experienced several blizzards in our trailer,
but RVs are not really made to be “four season” the way that houses are.

RV Insulation

Some folks have toughed it out in an RV through real winters in the northern states, but the majority of full-time RVers spend their winters in mild climates where overnight temps in the teens are a rare and cold exception. We have tips for keeping a rig warm during the winter months and keeping it cool during the summer months in these blog posts:

Winter RVing tips – Staying Warm!

More Winter RVing tips – How to heat an RV in Winter Weather

Installing a vent-free propane heater in an RV

Summer RVing tips – How to Beat the Heat and Stay Cool When It’s HOT!

There are various ways to insulate an RV and there are pros and cons to the different types of insulation that RV manufacturers use.

Some higher end fifth wheels are built with conventional wooden studs and fiberglass insulation as this may provide greater insulation.

Wooden studs are less apt to conduct warm air to the outside than aluminum framing is. On a cold winter morning it is easy to see where the aluminum framing is on an RV if you go outside because you can see the outline of the aluminum framing on the trailer wall.

RV windows dripping with condensation in winter-min

Condensation forms inside our windows on a particularly moist and freezing winter day.

However, fiberglass insulation has been known to fall down off the studs over the years, leaving the tops of the walls uninsulated. Usually, the front and end cap and the areas between the roof trusses are all insulated with fiberglass insulation as well.

Most fifth wheels are insulated with styrofoam, and the styrofoam used varies in quality. The use of “blue board” polystyrene styrofoam made by Dow Chemical was one of the big selling points in the NuWa Hitchhiker brand of fifth wheels like ours (NuWa no longer builds trailers). We’ve also heard this product referred to as “Blue Dow” foam.

When we did a factory tour at NuWa before we bought our trailer, we were told that the folks there had tested the strength of the blue board by driving a truck over a piece that was suspended by its two sides, and it didn’t break. We were also each handed a piece and challenged to break it. We couldn’t.

Interestingly, it may be this very strong styrofoam in the walls that kept a Hitchhiker fifth wheel intact recently when it rolled over at 60 mph on the interstate (blog post about that here).

Besides providing strength to the fifth wheel frame, Dow blue board foam has a very high R-factor.

A few high end fifth wheels are built with this kind of insulation nowadays. Most, however, are built with a weaker and less insulating kind of styrofoam.

R-Factors

When looking at the insulation R-factors that are advertised by the RV manufacturers for the walls and roof of a fifth wheel, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the number may be for the most heavily insulated part of the wall or roof. RV windows, doors and roof hatch vents have very low R-factors for insulation, and that is where most of the heat is lost.

How much heat is lost through RV windows? Just look at what percentage of a fifth wheel wall is actually windows!

Also, some fifth wheel slide-outs are built with thinner walls and less insulated roofs than the main body of the fifth wheel. Ours is. Again, what percentage of the fifth wheel’s walls and roof are part of the main structure and what percentage are slide-outs?

EXTERIOR WALL and ROOF MATERIAL and MAINTENANCE

Exterior Walls

Fifth wheel trailers are built with various materials as the exterior surface of the walls and roof. Lower end trailers have an exterior fiberglass finish of filon. This is what was on our first full-time travel trailer. It doesn’t shine and is a little harder to keep looking spiffy.

Waxing a fifth wheel trailer front cap-min

Maintenance, like washing and waxing the massive exterior of a big RV, is just part of the lifestyle.

The next level up is a fiberglass gelcoat exterior. This is shiny and can be maintained to a glossy finish by waxing the trailer twice a year. Unfortunately, the pretty swirly stickers that give fifth wheel trailers their colorful look will begin peeling off after about 4-5 years.

The highest level finish for a fifth wheel trailer is automotive paint. This is an extremely durable finish and the swirling paint patterns will never peel off. It is also very expensive (figure on about $10k) and is found only on the highest end fifth wheel trailers.

Roofs

Most fifth wheel roofs are “rubber” roofs. These usually come with a ten year warranty, and they are pretty much ready for replacement at the end of ten years! Fiberglass roofs are more durable. If you are going to install solar panels on the roof, you may need to be a little more careful with a fiberglass roof to be sure you don’t crack it when you drill into it.

Rubber roofs can be made of EPDM or TPO. As EPDM roofs begin to age, they start shedding a lot of dust, and every time it rains this creates streaks down the sides of the trailer. Cleaning the roof often helps reduce the streaking, but it’s very hard to eliminate the problem all together once the roof begins to deteriorate a few years into its lifespan. TPO roofs do not have this problem.

CAMPING STYLE

Other than these basic structural features, the rest of the decision is pure fun fluff stuff. The most important thing to ponder when you’re shopping for your new rolling home is how you anticipate living and traveling in it. What is your camping style? That is, how do you want to camp and where will you travel?

Roads are bigger and straighter in the western states than in the eastern states, so bigger rigs are easier to travel in out west.

Many privately owned RV parks accommodate “big rigs” across the whole country. However if you are more into “camping” in natural settings, the sizes of campsites in government run campgrounds vary a lot.

Boondocking in an RV-min

Some RVers love boondocking. Others don’t.
Knowing your own personal camping style helps a lot when it comes to buying a full-time rig.

States Park campsites are often quite large and frequently come with hookups, but they can be pricey too and there are rarely discounts for seniors or for long stays. Campsites in the National Parks and National Forests are often very small, often have no hookups, and may therefore be slightly cheaper, especially for holders of the Federal Lands Senior Pass.

Holding Tank Capacities

So, will you be dry camping a lot or will you get hookups most of the time? This makes a difference in what kinds of holding tank capacities you’ll need.

If you’ll be getting hookups most of the time, then there is no need for big holding tanks. However, if you’ll be dry camping a lot, then big holding tanks will mean you can stay put a little longer before you have to go to an RV dump station .

Our fresh water tanks and hot water heater are 70 gallons combined, our two gray water tanks are 78 gallons combined, and our black tank is 50 gallons. This has worked well for us dry camping every night for the better part of ten years.

We do carry 25 gallons of fresh water in the back of our truck in jerry jugs, but we don’t often need to use that water since we typically stay in places for less than two weeks before moving on, which is about how long our holding tanks last.

One nice feature if you are going to boondock a lot is to have an easy way to refill the fresh water tanks. We have a gravity fed fresh water intake that we can fill from a fresh water hose or from our jerry jugs.

Refilling RV fresh water tanks-min

We have a gravity based fresh water intake on the side of our trailer.
Unfortunately, it is rather high up (and it doesn’t need to be!).

The handy thing about this is that with our trailer the ratio of fresh water capacity to gray and black capacity means that we run out of fresh water before we fill up the gray or black water tanks. Being able to top off the fresh water lets us camp in one spot a little longer before we have to pack it up to go to an RV dump station.

“SOLAR READY” and SOLAR POWER

If you are going to be dry camping a lot, you may want to consider installing a solar power system, and there are a few things to keep in mind about that as you shop for a full-time fifth wheel.

We have a ton of info about solar power on this website. An index of links to our many articles is here:

Solar Power for RVs and Boats

Solar power doesn’t have to be a big, expensive and difficult thing to add to an RV (here’s an article summarizing several types of RV solar power systems).

A portable solar power suitcase that includes a pair of solar panels and a solar charge controller and cables to connect to the batteries all in one package is a nifty way to have solar power available without installing a permanent system on the roof and in the RV basement.

Simply set up the panels on the ground and connect them to the trailer batteries whenever you need to charge the batteries up. The “suitcase” feature makes it easy to stow the system when not in use.

However, most folks who live in their RV full-time and also boondock frequently prefer to install solar panels on the roof permanently and install a solar charge controller near the batteries and install a big pure sine wave inverter too.

Solar panels on a fifth wheel roof-min

Full-time RVers who dry camp a lot usually end up installing solar panels on the roof.

If this is in the back of your mind, you might get excited when you see a fifth wheel (or other RV) advertised as “solar ready.” Unfortunately, in many cases this is a very misleading term. A solar power system that will let you live without electric hookups for days on end will be at least 200 watts and more likely 500 watts or more. The cabling necessary to carry the currents these panels produce is generally 8 or 10 gauge wire.

If a rig is billed as “solar ready,” find out how many watts the prospective solar system could support and check out the size of the cable that goes to the roof. “Solar ready” may simply mean that a skinny cable has been run from the batteries to the roof to support a 50 watt panel. This is great if the batteries are fully charged and you are leaving the rig in storage outdoors for a few months. However, it is not sufficient to live on comfortably.

Also, if you plan to install a full-timer solar power system, check the battery compartment. How many batteries are there? What size are they (Group 24? Group 27?)? How many batteries can you add in the compartment?

Fifth wheel battery compartment-min

We had the battery compartment customized to support four golf-cart sized batteries.

A good sized battery bank for boondocking for long periods is four 6-volt golf cart sized batteries (Group GC2). If the battery box in the fifth wheel you are looking at can’t hold that many batteries, think about where else you might put them and whether there is ample support (they are heavy) and venting (wet cell batteries need to be vented).

Of course, a basement compartment can be beefed up with a piece of angle iron welded onto the frame and/or vents and conduit going to the battery boxes.

We have a series of articles explaining how RV batteries work, how to charge them, different battery types on the market and more at this link:

RV Battery Charging Systems

ACCESS TO SYSTEMS THAT MIGHT NEED REPAIR

While you are crawling around the basements of prospective new rolling homes, try to find all the major components that might fail and might need to be replaced.

If you are a DIY RVer, this is critically important. However, even if you are going to hire out the repair jobs to various RV shops around the country, their jobs will be much easier and cheaper if the systems are easy to access.

Easy access water pump under sink of fifth wheel trailer RV-min

It isn’t “pretty” but it sure is nice to have easy access when it’s time to replace the water pump!
Mark replaced it so fast he’d finished the job before I got pics of his work!

For instance, see if you can find the water pump, hot water heater, power converter, inverter (if there is one), etc.

We once met a fellow with a beautiful brand new travel trailer, and Mark spent an hour with the guy trying to find the power converter. It was hidden behind a fixed wall somewhere and they never did find it!

CREATURE COMFORTS and LIVABILITY

When you give up the luxuries of hearth and home in a stick-built house to wander around the country in an RV, you want to be comfortable. Even though you may be just fine with “roughing it” when you go camping on week-long vacations, it is different when you don’t have a “real” home to go home to.

For us, the move up from our vacation-purposed popup tent trailer to our full-time 27′ travel trailer was such a big step that the travel trailer looked truly luxurious. It had a sofa, dinette and bed in the living area, all of which were good places for relaxing. It seemed just dandy. However, after spending many long hours in it during our first winter, we realized that we wished we had true recliners to relax in. That simple desire is what spurred us to hunt for (and find) our fifth wheel trailer!

Beds

If you have been sleeping in a king size bed at home, switching to a queen bed on the road may be a big challenge. It was for us! It’s a shock to find out the love of your life has so many arms and legs!

Beds in RVs are often slightly smaller in one dimension or another than their residential counterparts, and those lost inches do count. For your reference, here are the standard residential bed sizes, width by length, in inches:

Queen: 60″ x 80″
King: 76″ x 80″

Here are some of the sizes that we’ve seen in fifth wheel trailers, width by length:

Queen: 60″ x 74.5″ (shorter than residential)
King: 70″ x 80″ or 72″ x 80″ (narrower than residential)

We have never seen a full width king size bed in a fifth wheel trailer except in a custom design. This is something to keep in mind if you think you might upgrade your trailer’s factory installed king mattress sometime down the road. Will the new residential king mattress, which is wider than the old mattress that came with the rig, fit on the platform without being squished?

Floorplan and Functionality with Slide-outs Closed

One of the things that we tend to think about when we stand in a beautiful, spacious fifth wheel trailer on a dealership lot is how functional the rig will be when all the slide-outs are closed. Some folks never go in their trailers without opening the slide-outs, but we do it all the time at rest stops and at the grocery store.

Ask the salesman to close the slide-outs on your prospective new full-time fifth wheel and find out which things in the kitchen, living room and bedroom you can no longer access.

NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel Trailer Flooplan-min

The open floorplan of our ’07 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG Fifth Wheel trailer.

Can you get into the fridge for a beer? Can you access the pantry for goodies to make a sandwich? Can you microwave something or boil water in a teapot on the stove? Can you wash the dishes after lunch? Can you use the bathroom? Can you get into the bed? Can you sit on a chair in the living room or at your dinette?

These may sound like goofy questions, but when you live in an RV full-time it is surprising how often you may want to use the rig without having to open the slide-outs.

If you roll a shopping cart loaded with groceries up to your front door at the supermarket, can you put them all away without opening the slide-outs? If you visit a friend and park your rig in front of their house for a few days, can you access your clothes and bed so you don’t have to stay in their spare bedroom?

Fresh bread baked in an RV oven-min

We can bake bread when the slides are closed.
Not crucial, but it’s nice to have access to the entire kitchen.

We are fortunate with our fifth wheel’s floorplan because we can access almost everything without opening any of the slide-outs. The only things we can’t get to are the two recliners in the back of the rig and our dresser drawers (opening the bedroom slide 6 inches is enough to get into those drawers). We have actually lived in our trailer with the slide-outs closed for several weeks at a time. It’s skinny, but it’s doable.

Unfortunately, the super popular island kitchen floorplan designs generally don’t allow for full use of the kitchen when the slide-outs are closed. However, there are loads of open floorplan designs that were popular a decade ago, like ours, that the RV designers may eventually revive. After all, there are only so many possible floorplans for a fifth wheel trailer!

Residential Refrigerator vs. RV Fridge

RV refrigerators that run on both 120 volt AC power and propane gas are being replaced in many fifth wheel trailers with residential refrigerators that run exclusively on 120 volt AC power. With some fifth wheel brands you can order the rig with either type of refrigerator. In other cases you can only order it one way and you would need to do the replacement yourself after you’ve bought the rig.

RV refrigerators are wonderful because you can dry camp in your RV for months or years on end and have refrigerated food the whole time. All you need to do is keep the propane tanks filled. Our 8 cubic foot RV refrigerator uses about 30 lbs (or 7 gallons) of propane every three weeks.

RV refrigerators have a few negatives, however.

One downside to RV refrigerators is that they are not self-defrosting. You need to defrost them. After decades of living with a frost-free refrigerator, it is a shock to go back to the olden days (if you were around then) of having to defrost the RV fridge every month or so.

However, my amazing hubby Mark has perfected the art of defrosting and he can now pull it off in about 20 minutes. So, it’s not that bad a chore if you stay on top of it (and if you have a wonderful partner who is willing to do it for you!). See the blog post about quickie fridge defrosting here.

Defrosting an RV refrigerator-min

Mark has simplified the refrigerator defrosting process so much it takes him only 20 minutes. Lucky me!

Another disadvantage is that they don’t modulate the temperature in the fridge with much precision and they aren’t particularly well insulated or energy efficient. We keep a small thermometer in the fridge so we have a feeling for what’s going on. The temp inside varies greatly depending on whether the wall behind the fridge is in the sun or shade and whether the temp inside our rig is 40 degrees, as it is on some winter mornings, or 90 degrees as it is on some summer afternoons.

Our fridge is usually on level 4 or 5 (the coldest two settings) because we like our beer to be ice cold. However I do sometimes find my yogurt has frozen a bit on the edges.

RV refrigerators also have a shelf life. It is about 8 years!

We found that out the hard way when our RV refrigerator died and we had to get it replaced. Luckily the replacement was straight forward and was covered by our extended RV warranty (blog post about it here).

New RV refrigerator is fork lifter through the trailer window-min

Our new RV refrigerator is slid through our dining room window on a fork lift.

The biggest surprise when we got our RV fridge replaced was we found out the warranty companies expect those fridges to last only 8 years. Of course, they figure that into the cost of the warranty, as they should. So, even though we were shocked that ours died, our warranty company wasn’t surprised at all.

Perhaps the most damning thing about RV refrigerators is that they run on propane and they have been known to catch fire and torch entire RVs. A burning RV burns to the ground in seconds because of the propane tanks and manufacturing materials. There was a rash of RV refrigerator first about a decade or so ago which is part of what pushed the industry towards building RVs with residential electric refrigerators instead.

However, RV life isn’t totally rosy with residential refrigerators either, especially if you want to boondock or dry camp for extended periods of time.

While a residential refrigerator may be a highly efficient Energy Star appliance, it may not have a solid locking mechanism to keep the doors closed in transit or rails to keep the food on the shelves while in transit (check on that). And it will require a lot of power to run while the rig is not plugged into a power pedestal.

A 12 to 14 cubic foot residential refrigerator requires a little over 300 kwh per year to run. This is about 0.8 kwh per day, or, very roughly, about 80 amp-hours per day.

In the winter months when the sun rides low in the sky and is up for a short period of time, an RV will need about 400 to 500 watts of solar panels and 450 amp-hours of batteries just to run the refrigerator. This is about what it takes to run everything else in the RV! An 18 to 22 cubic foot refrigerator will require even more.

This is not to say that it is impossible to install a big enough solar power system to run a residential refrigerator — we’ve had readers contact us to say that they have done it and they’re loving it! — but the expense and weight of the batteries and of the solar panels is something to consider before signing on the dotted line for that beautiful new fifth wheel trailer with its residential fridge.

Also, even if boondocking is not your style, be sure that the battery bank and the inverter that support the residential refrigerator when not hooked up to electrical power are sufficiently big enough to keep the fridge running as you drive. We have heard of 1,500 watt inverters just not making the grade with a big residential fridge (2,000 watts was needed). Or, just turn the fridge off and keep it closed until you get where you are going. Of course, residential refrigerators are not designed to be turned on and off frequently.

Lastly, the fabulous thing about a big, shiny, 22 cubic foot stainless steel residential refrigerator is that it can hold a ton of food. There will be no more turf wars between the beer and the veggies (gosh, would we ever love that!).

However, all that food weighs a lot, and big fridges often become storage places for old containers of food you’ll never eat. If you are buying a full-time fifth wheel that is skinny on its Cargo Carrying Capacity, then a huge refrigerator that can hold lots of food may push you into possession wars between food, tools and clothes in the closet.

On the bright side, a residential refrigerator is much less prone to failure than an RV fridge, and in the rare event that you have to replace one, it could easily cost thousands less than an RV fridge.

I Like the Fifth Wheel But I Don’t Really Like That Couch!

While it’s ideal to find a rig that has furniture you totally love, a fifth wheel trailer is just a box — floor, walls and ceiling — and any residential furniture can be put in that box. We have replaced both our dinette chairs and our recliners in the course of living in our fifth wheel all these years, and last week we replaced the couch!

Storage benches in RV dinette add comfort and storage space-min

The old chairs were elegant, but these cushy benches are much more comfortable.
Plus they give us more storage space!

Here are blog posts about some of the changes we’ve made to our furnishings:

Add Storage and Seating Capacity at your RV Dinette!

Can You Sell Old Stuff on Craigslist in the RV Lifestyle? Replacing our Recliners!

We also replaced our mattress with a fancy Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

RV DEPRECIATION

After all this discussion of what to look for in a fifth wheel trailer for full-time living, it is important to remember that the brand new fifth wheel you buy today will be worth about half of what you paid for it ten years from now. If it is well maintained it might be worth a smidge more. If it isn’t, it may be worth less.

What’s worse, the fact that it was lived in full-time rather than kept in a garage and never touched will turn many prospective buyers away or make them hit you up with a low offer.

RV Depreciation over time

Hmmm…. An RV’s value declines with time.

On the flip side, going RVing full-time is a dream, and it’s hard and maybe even unfair to put a price on your dreams.

If you have the funds and you can spend a lot on a rapidly depreciating fifth wheel trailer without crippling your finances later in life, definitely go for it.

What could be better than casting off on a dreamy new lifestyle in a dreamy new RV?

No matter what you buy, negotiate hard. You are in the driver’s seat — until you are in the driver’s seat! Many mass-market manufacturers anticipate selling for about 70% of MSRP. Others are closer to 80%.

If you go custom, well, you’re be paying for the very finest of the finest. So, the focus will be on getting exactly what you want rather than haggling over the price. With a custom rig you get what you ask for… so be knowledgeable and smart about what you ask for!

If you aren’t sure of you future finances, and you aren’t sure if you’ll like the full-time RV lifestyle, and/or you aren’t sure if you’d prefer a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome as your house on wheels, consider getting a cheaper model or a used trailer to start.

We understand this dilemma well. We would LOVE to have a new trailer now. After all, ours is ten years old and shows a lot of wear. But…

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

The rig you live in is just part of the equation of putting together that champagne lifestyle of full-time RV travel. The real reason most folks run away in an RV is because they want to get out and see something of this continent, get to know the different regions of our country and of our neighbors’ countries, and knock a few travel destinations off their bucket list.

Appalachian Mountains RV Trip Coast to Coast Magazine Summer 2017-min

Our cover photo for our Coast to Coast magazine article about the Appalachian Mountains
Summer 2017 issue

The options of places to visit are limitless, and we’ve got 10 years worth of travel tales on this website that tell the stories of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been since 2007.

I’ve also written a lot of articles for Trailer Life Magazine showcasing different parts of the country that make for an enjoyable RV destination.

Georgia On Their Minds Trailer Life Magazine September 2017-min

The Antebellum Trail in Georgia is a terrific RV route for folks heading north/south through Georgia.
Trailer Life Magazine – September 2017. Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

A few of these feature articles have turned up in Trailer Life over the past few months and can be read at these links: Georgia on Their Minds, The Quaint Side of Canada, and Downeast Maine. Images of the first two pages of each article are below.

I also have a bi-monthly column on the back page of Trailer Life that showcases a beautiful photo of a gorgeous spot along with a few words about what makes that place special. My most recent columns have focused on: The Rocky Mountain Beach Town of McCall Idaho and a Forest on Fire – Fall Colors in Colorado.

Trailer Life Magazine is a monthly national magazine and it offers not only mouth-watering photos and stories of places to take your trailer, but it also devotes a lot of pages to technical issues that trailer owners face.

Nova Scotia RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine July 2017-min

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is tops on many RVers’ lists
Trailer Life Magazine – July 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

The technical editorial staff at Trailer Life is both very knowledgeable and very meticulous about ensuring what they discuss and review is accurate.

I have written a lot of technical articles for Trailer Life, from discussing RV roof maintenance to RV dump station tips to an article about the 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck and one about the new puck based OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches.

Downeast Maine RV Trip Trailer Life Magazine June 2017-min

Downeast Maine is a hidden jewel north and east of famous Acadia National Park
Trailer Life Magazine – June 2017, Article by Emily & Mark Fagan

I have always been amazed at the extensive review process and discussion process that each of these technical article has undergone. Every little minute detail is reviewed for accuracy, sometimes spawning some lively debates.

There are a gazillion RV blogs out there that make for super fun reading and research and learning, but there is something to be said for a magazine that has been in print for over 75 years. Some people on the team have been with the magazine nearly half that time!

Trailer Life is hard to find on newsstands these days. New Camping World members receive a few issues as part of their membership (or they can get Motorhome Magazine if driveable RVs are more to their liking). If you get an annual subscription at the link below, you’ll see the article I’m working on about “first-timer” fifth wheels when it comes out!

Subscribe to Trailer Life Magazine

Have you been shopping for a full-timing fifth wheel? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Boondocking in an RV-min

There are loads of fifth wheels on the market that would make a fine full-time home. Enjoy the search!

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B&W Companion Hitch Performance in a Fifth Wheel Trailer Rollover Accident

The April 2017 issue of Trailer Life magazine featured our article on the new Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch from B&W Trailer Hitches. Ironically, just as that issue came out, a reader emailed us the harrowing tale of his recent fifth wheel trailer rollover accident.

Trailer Life Magazine Latch and Release B&W Companion OEM Fifth Wheel Hitch article

Trailer Life Magazine, April 2017.
Text and photos by Emily Fagan.
Installation by Mark Fagan and Mark Graika.

Like most RVers, we installed our hitch without giving much thought to rollover accidents, and we have been very happy with it.

The B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch is special because it is designed to fit into the new puck sytems that the diesel truck manufacturers are now making available in the beds of their pickup trucks.

This makes it easy to install the hitch in the truck without having to take the truck to a shop.

Mark was able to install it in our truck with a friend’s help in about an hour, using minimal tools, and that included opening the boxes and reading the instructions. A step-by-step guide for how to install the B&W Companion OEM hitch are at this link:

B&W Companion OEM Hitch Installation Guide

The other fabulous thing about the B&W Companion OEM hitch is that not only is it easy to install but it is easy to remove from the truck.

Anytime you want to use the bed of your truck to haul something big like lumber, fire wood or furniture, it is a very straight forward process to take the hitch out of the truck.

The best part is that there are no hitch rails in the bed of the truck, so once the hitch is removed, the bed of the truck is totally flat.

These features are not part of the design of conventional fifth wheel hitches, like the conventional rails-based B&W Companion hitch (not an “OEM” model), so it’s a worthwhile to consider buying a truck with the optional puck system on it if you are considering buying a late model diesel truck.

When buying a truck/trailer combination, not only are the quality of the truck and trailer important, but the hitch is really important too, and not just for its ability to tow a heavy load…

We were shocked when full-time RVers Mark and Doran Gipson sent us photos of their terrifying rollover accident with their fifth wheel. They were towing their home, a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America fifth wheel, with a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500, and they were hitched together with B&W Companion hitch.

While driving at 60 mph on I-10 outside in El Paso in February, two very inconsiderate drivers suddenly cut them off in a series of swerves right in front of them.

Here is Mark’s description of what happened:

“We were going 60 mph and were cut off by two vehicles who decided to not exit on loop 375. They dove back into our lane within 2 car lengths. With no time to brake, I swerved to the inside lane only to have the second vehicle also move into that lane as well. I lost the trailer when I swerved back to miss the concrete median.”

The result was that the trailer went over on the driver’s side at 60 mph, slid 150 feet and hit its roof on the concrete median.

Hitchhiker trailer wheel trailer RV rollover accident

The Hitchhiker fifth wheel hit the pavement at 60 mph and slid 150 feet.
Most trailers would have splintered on impact.

Fortunately, as the trailer went over on its side, the B&W hitch — which comes in two pieces: a base on the bottom and a coupler on the top — separated in two. The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin as the trailer toppled over while the base stayed in the bed of the truck, allowing the truck to remain upright.

Hitchhiker fifith wheel trailer rollover accident with B&W fifth wheel hitch coupler still attached

The upper half of the fifth wheel hitch — the coupler — remained attached to the trailer
as it rolled over on the driver’s side.

So, while Mark and Doran came to a skidding stop in their truck, sitting upright in their seats, the trailer rolled over, detached and slid to a stop on its side.

Truck damage from fifth wheel trailer rollover accident

As the trailer went over, the fifth wheel overhang crushed the driver’s side of the truck bed.

If the truck had rolled over too, Mark and Doran could have easily been very badly injured or even killed. However, because the truck stayed upright, they walked away unscathed. Thank heavens!!

With the truck badly damaged and the trailer on its side on I-10, Mark called for help and a wrecking crew arrived. As he wrote to me:

“The wrecker driver came with two trucks and a trailer because he had not gotten to a 5th wheel rollover without the truck also on its side and the trailer in pieces. He said that it would collapse when he tried to pick it up. But he put it on its wheels and towed it to his shop and still can’t believe how well built it was.

“Things were tumbled around inside but we virtually lost none of our possessions.”

Fifth wheel trailer damage from RV rollover accident with Hitchhiker 5th wheel trailer

The wrecking crew righted the trailer and were amazed that it stood up just fine on its own wheels.
The damage to the trailer was cosmetic except for a roof rafter.

“We tested the slides and everything worked. The major damage was cosmetic on the side that slid and possibly a broken roof rafter where the AC unit came against the concrete barrier. Though everything was scrambled inside, nothing was broken. We lost almost nothing of our possessions including TV and computers.”

My husband Mark and I saw a trailer accident on the highway once, and the entire trailer was in splinters. That is what usually happens in trailer accidents and that’s why the wrecker driver arrived at the accident scene prepared to pick up a million pieces off the highway.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer sustained little damage in 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

The wrecking crew expected the trailer to fall apart when it was righted, but it stood right up.
They towed it away on its own wheels just fine.

It is quite a testament to the way the Hitchhiker Discover America trailers were built that one could fall over on its side at 60 mph and still be intact with the slide-out mechanisms still functioning and only cosmetic damage on the side that skidded on the asphalt.

Unfortunately, Hitchhiker (NuWa Industries) stopped building fifth wheel trailers in 2013, but used models of all ages can still be found. Our blog posts from our visits to NuWa in Chanute, Kansas, can be found at the following links:

B&W Trailer Hitches is located just a few miles away from the NuWa plant (NuWa is now called Kansas RV Center) in Humboldt, Kansas, and we enjoyed a wonderful factory tour and a unique American heartland small town celebration that was sponsored in part by B&W Trailer Hitches two years ago (blog post here).

For Mark and Doran, the key to their truck staying upright during their rollover accident was the way the pivot arm on the base of the B&W Companion hitch bent sideways and let the coupler break free as the trailer toppled over.

Bent pivot arm on B&W fifth wheel hitch after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Looking forward towards the cab of the truck, the pivot arm on the driver’s side bent outwards allowing the coupler to break free (with some small broken parts inside) while the entire hitch base stayed planted in the bed of the truck. This kept the truck upright.

B&W fifth wheel hitch bent pivot arm after 5th wheel trailer rollover accident

Bent pivot arm on the fifth wheel hitch base.

It is impressive that the B&W hitch allowed for the hitch coupler and hitch base to separate completely once one of the pivot arms on the hitch base began to bend as the trailer went over. As the wrecker driver noted, usually both the truck and the trailer roll over together because once the trailer starts to go over the hitch forces the truck over too.

B&W Fifth wheel hitch coupler after trailer rollover accident

The coupler stayed attached to the trailer’s king pin.
In this photo it has been removed from the king pin and laid in the bed of the truck for inspection.

B&W Companion hitch coupler after rollover accident broken pieces inside

The coupler is flipped upside down here to reveal the broken pieces inside.

Broken pieces inside the B&W Companion fifth wheel hitch after a rollover accident

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In the end, Mark and Doran decided to replace both their truck (a 2008 Dodge Ram 2500) and their trailer (a 2007 32′ Hitchhiker Discover America) as well as their slightly damaged B&W Companion hitch with a new set: a 2012 3500 Ram dually truck, 2012 36′ Hitchhiker Discover America and a new B&W Companion hitch!

We feel very blessed to have towed our fifth wheel trailer so many tens of thousands of miles and seen so many beautiful places in nearly 10 years of full-time travel. We’ve had our share of near misses, especially in our trip back east two years ago where traffic is blindingly fast on very crowded and confusing highways, and we’ve seen our share of accidents too.

One RV upgrade we did that has made a massive difference for us in dealing with sudden stops at high speed while towing our 36′ 14k lb. fifth wheel trailer was a trailer disc brake conversion where we upgraded from standard trailer drum brakes to electric over hydraulic disc brakes. This is a pricey upgrade, but one we highly recommend doing.

Hitchhiker fifth wheel RV with B&W Companion OEM fifth wheel hitch under sunny skies

RVing in a fifth wheel trailer is so much fun, especially in gorgeous places far from the open road.
But accidents do happen and good equipment — from truck to trailer, hitch and brakes — can make a huge difference in the outcome when things go wrong.

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Dodge Ram Truck Owners — Please note:
Late model Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks have been recalled (beginning 6/23/17) for side airbag problems in a rollover accident. See this article for details: Dodge Ram Side Airbag Recall

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What’s A Girl To Do at the RV Dump Station?

Dumping the RV holding tanks is a nasty little job, but it’s part of the fun of traveling around in an RV, and we’ve all gotta do it. It’s really not all that bad when it’s a shared job, but of course that’s easy for us gals to say, because it’s usually our male partners-in-love-and-life who get to do the bulk of the dirty work.

RV dump station tips for women RVers-2

Despite lots of progress over the years for the types of work women can do, emptying an RV’s waste water holding tanks is a job many women are just as happy to leave to their better half.

Sometimes, when we go to an RV dump station, I am amazed to see a woman remain in the passenger’s seat of her truck or motorhome for the whole duration of the job. I’m not sure how these women have negotiated that arrangement with their significant other, but I figure they must be incredibly good cooks to be able to chat with a friend on the phone or check the latest on Facebook while their hubby is grinding it out with the sewer hose, the splashing water, and all that muck and mire.

RV dump station tips for RVing women

Mark looks like he’s having so much fun. Can I get away with doing nothing?

I wish my skills were so awesome in the kitchen that I could be exempt from doing anything at the RV dump station. But alas, in our marriage, I need to be a participant in this dirtiest of deeds to win brownie points for other aspects of our life together. Nonetheless, it took me a few years to find things to do while we were at the RV dump station that were truly useful and helpful.

We have a full set of “blue” RV dump station procedural tips below — but they don’t say much about the “pink” side of the job:

Dirty Little Secrets from the RV dump station

Too often at the beginning of our RVing lives I found my best efforts to help with setting up the RV sewer hose or screwing in the water hose ended up with me underfoot and in the way of the general flow of things. Mark had his methods, and I couldn’t read his mind as to what came next.

Few people are in truly sunny and radiant moods when they don their rubber gloves at the RV dump, and too often I found that my most valiant attempts to be helpful resulted in tensions rising between us.

RV dump station tips for women RVers

I think he’s trying to tell me something.

Then one day I discovered a way that I can be of significant help and get some important jobs done at the same time.

GIVE THE BLACK TANK A BOOST FLUSH

For starters, I fill two 5-gallon water buckets with water and carry them into the rig to dump them down the toilet after the black tank has been emptied. Even if an RV has a black water flush system like ours does, it is still surprising just how many little bits of gunk and human waste solids get flushed out when two 5-gallon buckets of water are poured down the toilet.

I fill the buckets while Mark gets the sewer hose out and attaches the clear elbow so he can see when the holding tanks are fully drained. Then I can scoot out of the way and carry the buckets around to our RV’s door before he begins attaching the black water flush hose between the rig and the water spigot. This way we don’t end up stepping on each when we first start working at the RV dump station.

RV dump station tips flushing black tank with buckets of water in toilet

We have two buckets and I fill each one with water to give the toilet and sewer pipes an extra flush.

The buckets are heavy to carry around to our trailer’s front door, but I don’t mind a little bit of a shoulder and arm workout, and I take them one at a time. Maneuvering a heavy bucket of water up stairs is excellent exercise for both balance and strength.

I grab the inside of the doorway with my left hand for extra balance, tighten my abs so I don’t throw my back out with the uneven weight distribution of carrying a heavy bucket, and I leverage myself up and set the pails down inside in the kitchen.

RV dump station tip flush black tank with buckets of water in toilet

The buckets are heavy, but I take my time and grab the door frame to keep my balance as I go up the stairs.

For those who can’t carry the buckets, your partner will likely be happy to carry them for you since this really helps ensure the black tank and toilet get a complete flush. Also, filling the buckets only half way or three quarters of the way can help not only lighten the load but keep the water from splashing all over the place and all over you.

CLEAN THE BATHROOM

The other task I tackle is cleaning the toilet room from top to bottom and cleaning the bathroom vanity and kitchen sink. I figure that if my sweet hubby is dealing with the darker side of RVing outside at the RV dump station, I can deal with the same stuff on the inside..

This insures the bathroom gets cleaned on a regular basis and also means that when we arrive at our next campsite not only are the holding tanks empty but our bathroom is sparkling clean and smells fresh.

So, once I get the water buckets inside the rig, I begin assembling the things I will need to clean the toilet and the bathroom. When I hear Mark’s knock on the wall, I know he has finished emptying the black tank and it is time to dump the buckets of water down the toilet.

RV dump station tips flush black tank

I pour one bucket at a time and Mark watches the flow in the sewer hose to make sure the water eventually runs clear.

Since the buckets are just inside the RV door, it takes me a minute to grab one and empty it. Then it takes a few minutes more to go grab the other one and empty it too. Having a few minutes between flushes is helpful because then Mark can monitor whether the water from the second bucket is running clear or is still flushing solids out. If there are still chunks coming out, then, depending on whether anyone is waiting to use the RV dump after us, I’ll fill another bucket or two with water and dump them down the toilet.

Sometimes I have the water pump turned on as I dump the buckets of water down the toilet and sometimes it’s turned off. Having it turned on means even more water flushes down, which is great, but it also uses up water from the fresh water tank. So, whether or not I have the water pump turned on depends on whether there are people waiting behind us at the dump station, as it will take a little longer for us to fill the fresh water tank if we flush a few extra gallons down the toilet as part of the dumping process.

Now that the black tank is completely flushed, Mark begins emptying our kitchen gray tank. We have two gray tanks, one for the kitchen and one for the shower. We empty the kitchen tank first because it is dirtier and has more things in it (like broccoli bits) than the shower gray tank which is just sudsy water.

While he works on emptying the two gray tanks, I get to work cleaning the toilet.

RV dump station tip woman cleans toilet and bathroom

If Mark is mucking around in gross stuff outside, the least I can do is muck around in gross stuff inside. This also gives us a clean bathroom when we set up camp.

Since we have a hatch in the toilet room that we leave open a lot, the toilet lid and the floor often get dusty in just a few days. So I remove everything from the toilet room and clean everything, including the floor.

Over the years we’ve found that the toilet bowl — more so than the black tank itself — can be a big source of foul odors. Unlike household toilets, RV toilet bowls are basically dry except during flushing, so urine can end up drying in the bowl and producing an odor.

Also, the flow of the flushing water doesn’t necessarily rinse every inch of the bowl, so some areas simply don’t get rinsed all that well, even when using the toilet’s spray nozzle. So, I go to town on the inside of the bowl as well as everything else.

We use two enzyme/bacteria based RV holding tank treatment products: Happy Campers RV holding tank treatment has worked best for us in extreme temperatures (very cold and very hot) and for controlling tank odors. RV Digest-It holding tank treatment has worked best for us in moderate temperatures to break down the solids in the tank.

Because these are both basically solutions of living critters, the toilet cleaning products we use can’t be too toxic or the colonies of feces-eating bacteria can’t get established and become self-perpetuating. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for the last few years with good results.

This is the soap that is recommended for cleaning the rubber roofs on the tops of RV’s, which is why we had it on hand to try on the toilet a few years ago. In addition to being biodegradable, what we like about it for cleaning the toilet is that it assists in keeping both the seals in the toilet bowl and on the black holding tank valve lubricated. I used white vinegar for cleaning the toilet for a while, and after a few months the black tank valve got really sticky. Since switching to Murphy’s Oil Soap a few years ago, that valve hasn’t gotten gummed up.

Periodically, we’ve found the seals in the toilet bowl have stopped holding water which meant the bowl drained completely dry between flushes. This allowed foul odors to come up from the black water tank. This problem is usually due to mineral and gunk build-ups on the seal.

So, I give that seal a really good cleaning too. The critical areas are on both the top and bottom surfaces of the rubber seal, that is, between the seal and the toilet bowl (the top side) and underneath the seal where the dome flapper (the “waste ball”) closes up against it.

RV toilet assembly and flapper valve installation

A disassembled RV toilet shows what the rubber toilet seal looks like without the toilet bowl sitting on it. To prevent it from leaking and draining the toilet between flushes, I scrub both top and bottom of the rubber seal.

I make sure the water pump is off at this point and hold the toilet flush lever down so I can get at the underside of the seal.

Often, the build-up is due to having hard water in the fresh water tanks which is very common in Arizona and other western states where the fresh water comes from deep, mineral rich aquifers.

RV toilet flapper cleaning tips

The seal needs to be completely free of mineral deposits on both the top and bottom, so I clean the area between the seal and the bowl on the top (red arrow) and below the seal on the bottom (the backside of the seal in this view).

At this point, depending on what Mark is up to outside, I’ll move on to other cleaning projects. If we have nearly emptied our fresh water tanks prior to coming to the RV dump station, it may take 10 minutes to refill them. Also, sometimes the potable water spigot is a little ways beyond the waste water dump area, requiring Mark to move the whole rig a few feet forward.

So, if there is time, I will clean the bathroom vanity sink and then move on to the kitchen sink. Depending on our plans for the next few days and depending on how much time I have at the RV dump, I may also add the holding tank treatment to the black tank, via the toilet, and add it to the gray tanks via the bathroom sink, shower and kitchen sink.

Sometimes, however, I prefer to wait two or three days until those tanks have some liquids in them before adding the holding tank treatment. And sometimes I add just a half tank’s worth of holding tank treatment at the RV dump station and then add the other half a few days later once the holding tanks have become partially full.

Of course, we add a capful of bleach to our fresh water tanks every few months, and that totally obliterates any colonies of anything that have started to grow in any of the holding tanks (including the fresh water tank) as the bleach water works its way through our plumbing system from the fresh water tank to the gray and black waste water tanks.

So, for us, creating fully self-sustaining communities of healthy organisms in any waste water tank is not 100% doable. But by using non-toxic cleansers we can help them along in between bleach blasts.

So, all in all, there is a LOT a girl can do at the RV dump station. We find we are both much happier about the whole process when we each have a set of tasks to do when we get there that are not only similarly grungy but are equally important and that take place in different parts of the RV.

The best part is that when we leave the RV dump station to go set up camp in a new, beautiful location, not only do we have empty waste water tanks but our bathroom is clean and fresh too.

Happy cleaning!!

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How to Heat an RV in Cold Weather and Winter Snow Storms

Heating an RV in cold weather during the winter, especially in a snow storm, is quite different than heating a house, and it often requires utilizing different kinds of heaters and a little creativity too.

RV camping and travel in snow in winter

Is that SNOW??!! We sure didn’t expect THAT!!!

A few weeks ago, at the end of September, we woke up to find ourselves in a beautiful snowstorm at 10,000′ elevation in Colorado.

We had to pull out all the stops to make sure we were cozy warm in our RV even though overnight lows were in the 20’s and daytime highs didn’t get out of the 40’s for a week.

Bikes on RV bike rack in snow in winter

We looked out our back window and saw snow covering our bikes!

The first order of business was to go outside and build a snowman, and Mark got right to it.

Winter RV tips for staying warm in cold weather

It’s snowing!!! Let’s make a snowman!!!

While he’s busy getting that snowman together, I wanted to share with you the strategies we’ve used for heating our RV without electrical hookups, because we use different heating appliances in different situations.

For “cool” conditions, like December and February in the Arizona desert or May in the Canadian Rockies, when lows are in the 30’s, keeping our buggy warm is a cinch with our blue flame vent-free propane heater that Mark installed back in 2008.

But in in “extreme” conditions, like this recent snowstorm on a mountaintop in Colorado, we use a different strategy and rely more on our RV furnace that was factory installed in our trailer.

We have tried different strategies in very cold weather at very high altitudes like this in the past, and this most recent cold spell was our most comfortable, despite the wet gloppy mess of snowy covered jackets, hats, mittens and boots and the sullen gray skies that persisted for several days. So, we seem to have gotten it right this time.

Of course, “lows in the 20’s” is far from “extreme” for North Americans living in houses with central heating, but it definitely feels extreme when living in an RV off the grid. In reality, RVs are most comfortable in temperatures that stay above freezing.

Winter RVing in the snow

The snowman gets sticks for his arms…

Even though high end RVs are marketed as being “four season” coaches, boasting high R-factors in the walls, ceiling and floor, you just can’t compare 1.5″ styrofoam walls that have a thin layer of gelcoat and wallpaper board to a residential house wall that’s made of 3.5″ fiberglass insulation covered with a half-inch of drywall, half-inch of plywood, Tyvek and exterior siding.

Besides the skimpy walls, we find that the RV windows are the biggest reasons for the poor insulation. The metal window frames are extremely cold to the touch when temps outside are in the 20’s, and all that metal around our many windows conducts the cold right into the rig.

Some folks like to have thermopane (dual pane) RV windows, but if moisture gets between the two panes, which can happen more easily in an RV that rattles down the road all the time than in a house that stands still on its foundation, the moisture is likely to remain there permanently, no matter what the weather does outside or how many years go by.

RV windows don’t seal all that well either. Our top quality, four season fifth wheel trailer is downright drafty inside, with a definite breeze that can, at times, flutter a tissue by the “escape” windows. You don’t notice it so much when it is 70 degrees both outside and inside with no wind blowing. But when it is a blustery18 degrees outside and we are trying to heat the rig to 65 degrees inside, the breeze by those windows is a shock.

The microwave vent is another drafty spot, and if the wind is howling outside and blowing directly on that wall of the RV, it blows right into the kitchen through the vent holes on the top of the microwave. One solution for that, of course, is to tape over the vent on the outside of the rig and not use the microwave for the duration of the cold snap (we haven’t done that, however).

Winter RV trip in the snow

The snowman gets a hat!

So, in our experience, keeping an RV and everything in it toasty warm when it is snowing out can require a little creativity.

Back in our house living days in snow country, we would set the thermostat to our preferred indoor temperature and keep it there 24/7, perhaps raising it slightly at the breakfast and dinner hours and lowering it slightly while we were at work or asleep.

When a blizzard blows into our RV lifestyle nowadays, we can have that kind of stable heat in our rig if we plug into shorepower with access to unlimited electricity. Portable electric heaters can back up the RV furnace, and RVs that have an air conditioner with a heat pump can use that (ours doesn’t).

We have a portable electric ceramic heater for just such an emergency where going to an RV park and plugging in is our best line of defense for weathering a storm.

However, it is possible to stay warm without hookups, even when it starts snowing.

RV in snow in winter

What fun!!

We rely on our vent-free propane heater for 95% of our heat year round. These little heaters use propane very efficiently, don’t need any electricity to run, and can be installed in an RV permanently to run off the RV’s propane tanks.

There are also handy portable models that can be stored in a closet when not in use and then placed anywhere in the rig where you want a little heat. These run on disposable propane bottles, so it isn’t necessary to plumb the heater to the RV’s big propane tanks.

Animal tracks in the winter snow

We found fresh animal tracks in the snow.

We have a detailed article describing the different kinds of vent-free propane heaters on the market, the pros and cons of each type and the type of heat they generate, plus a step-by-step guide for how to install one in an RV at this link:

How to Install a Vent-free Propane Heater in an RV

These heaters heat the rig amazingly quickly. We find that our 20k BTU blue flame heater warms our rig at a rate of about one degree every two minutes. So, in twenty minutes we can warm up our home by 10 degrees, and in an hour we can raise the inside temp by 30 degrees.

The best part is that we can hover over it and warm our hands, bodies and clothes, just like standing in front of a woodstove or fireplace. We do that a LOT and totally love our little heater for the terrific blast of instant hot air it provides!!!

How to heat an RV in winter and cold weather

When you’re chilled, there’s nothing like hovering over this heater!

We use our blue flame heater year round, and we have used it at elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000′.

This past year we traveled primarily in cold places where overnight lows were in the 30’s and 40’s. We went north through Utah, Idaho and Montana in March and April and spent May and early June in the Canadian Rockies. Consequently, we saw quite a bit of snow and hail, and during those months we used our heater almost every day.

Aspen and pine trees in winter snow

The snow in Colorado fell for hours and gave us a beautiful winter wonderland — in September!

Colorful aspens in winter snow storm with pine tree

Fall colors with snow – Magic!

We thawed out in July long enough to get overheated and write a blog post: “How to Beat the Heat in an RV.” Then it was back to the high elevations of Utah and Colorado in mid-August where we saw more hail and overnight lows in 30’s once again.

Our vent-free blue flame heater has been keeping us warm during all four seasons like this since Mark installed it in 2008!!

Snowy road with aspen for an RV in winter

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Snowy road in winter

It was really cold, but it was so beautiful we didn’t mind!!

The basic difference between an RV furnace and a vent-free propane heater is this:

  • RV furnace – Uses a lot of electricity, uses propane inefficiently, brings fresh air into the rig (because it’s vented)
  • Vent-free propane heater – Doesn’t use electricity, burns propane efficiently, uses up oxygen in the RV

So each has its place under certain circumstances. In a nutshell:

— The ventless propane heater is awesome as long as there is sufficient oxygen for it to run. We like to use it in the mornings and evenings, and since we are in and out of the rig a lot, there is a lot of air exchange inside our RV from opening and closing the front door all day long as well as from all the drafts and breezes that blow in the RV windows and microwave vent.

— The RV furnace is best for other scenarios: in cases where there is a risk of the water pipes freezing (the hot air ducts keep the basement and water lines warm), at very high elevations in extreme cold, and at night, because it is vented and continually circulates the air in the rig. The RV furnace is very loud and tends to wake us up at night, however, so we don’t use it overnight very often.

So, we use our vent-free blue flame heater for 95% of our RV heating, and we turn to our RV furnace on rare occasions.

Aspen and pine trees in snow in winter

Fall colors and snow — a gorgeous combinations!

Dodge pickup truck covered in winter snow

This snowfall was definitely sticking around a while!

Vented vs. Ventless Propane Heaters and Propane RV Stoves & Ovens – Safety Concerns

An RV furnace is a vented system, meaning that it releases warm, moist air from inside the RV to the outside, and it brings cold air from outside to the inside of the rig. This makes it very inefficient in its use of propane, because it is essentially heating the outdoors as well as the indoors. Put your hands by the RV furnace vent outside, and they will get nice and warm and a bit damp too!

While RV furnaces are safely vented yet very inefficient, vent-free gas heaters are very efficient and are required by law to have an automatic shutoff when the available oxygen goes below a certain threshold (there is a built-in sensor that triggers the shut-off). We know when ours is about to shut off because the flame begins to sputter and make noise. Once it has shut itself off, it won’t turn on again until we air out the RV a little by opening the door or windows for a while.

Ironically, propane RV stoves and ovens are not required to shut off automatically when the available oxygen is depleted. To me, this makes them inherently quite a bit more dangerous than vent-free propane heaters.

Of course, an RV fitted with propane tanks is basically a rolling bomb, so it’s a very unsafe place to call home (I say this with a smile, because we wouldn’t trade our 9 years on the road for anything)!

Every time we have seen our blue flame heater shut itself off (probably 30+ times), the RV stove and/or oven has kept right on a-cookin’ without any hint that our supply of oxygen inside the rig was running out. We could easily have baked something in our factory installed propane RV oven and simmered something on our factory installed propane RV stove for hours while camped at 10,000′ with no inkling that the oxygen in our rig had dipped below safe levels!

Winter snow on RV steps

Welcome home…. Brrrrr!

Which Heater is Best Under Which Conditions?

For most of this year as we traveled in cold country, the lowest temperatures we saw were in the low to mid 30’s overnight. Daytime highs were in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. These kinds of conditions are very similar to what we see in the southwestern deserts in the winter months (except January, which can be colder). These conditions are ideal for a vent-free propane heater.

We usually run our vent-free propane heater every morning until the rig is 60 to 75 degrees inside (depending on our mood) and then again in the evening if the temperature inside has dipped below 65. If the windows have fogged up from condensation (about 5% of the time, usually only in the winter), we run the RV furnace too to help dry the air out.

In general, we don’t heat our RV overnight in this kind of climate. We prefer to bundle up with down comforters instead. If we do run the heat at night, we use the RV furnace and set it to 50 degrees. If outdoor temps drop into the 30’s overnight, the RV furnace will come on once or twice in the pre-dawn hours.

Golden aspen in snow in winter

Golden aspen leaves in snow.

Ironically, if the outside temps dip really low — into the 20’s or teens — and daytime highs don’t get much past 50 degrees, then the RV furnace will start coming on before midnight and will come on every hour for 15-20 minutes as it struggles to keep the rig at 50 degrees.

Since we are light sleepers, this is extremely annoying. So, at the times we would want to run the RV furnace most — overnight when it’s really cold — we opt not to!

On overnights that we don’t heat the rig, when we wake up in the morning our bedroom is around 10-12 degrees warmer than the outside air (bedroom door closed all night) and our living area is around 5-7 degrees warmer than the outside air.

It is routine for us to wake up to temps in our trailer that are between 37 and 42 degrees. For us, that is a small price to pay for living off the grid, however, for many RVers it is good reason to get electric hookups and have more substantial and consistent heat in the rig overnight.

Aspen covered with snow in winter

The colors of Fall in Colorado.

There is a lot of debate about whether you can operate a ventless propane heater at high elevations. By the time we got caught in that September snow storm in Colorado two weeks ago, we had been living at elevations between 8,000′ and 10,000′ for 5 straight weeks, running our vent-free propane blue flame heater every morning and evening without a hitch.

Along with many weeks spent heating our rig at high elevations in previous years, including 8 weeks or so at 6,000′ or higher this past spring, our 5 weeks at 8 to 10 thousand feet this fall kind of proved the point for us: it’s no problem to run a vent-free propane heater at high altitudes in cool weather.

But in sub-freezing overnight temperatures and daytime highs in the 40’s under stormy skies at 10,000′ elevation, we’ve found a vent-free propane heater is best used in combination with the RV furnace.

Bikes on back of RV in snow

Well, we won’t be biking any time soon!!

Until the the snowstorm came to our mountaintop spot in the Colorado Rockies at 10,000′, we hadn’t been using the RV furnace at all. But once the temps dropped to the 20’s (lows) to 40’s (highs) at that elevation, we couldn’t rely on our blue flame heater exclusively any more and had to change our heating strategy for three reasons.

1) There is less available oxygen at 10,000′ than at lower elevations, and once the oxygen in the rig dipped below a certain level, the blue flame heater would shut itself off automatically. Because it was so cold outside, we weren’t thrilled about opening the windows and doors to let in more air just so we could turn on the blue flame heater again. It was time to use the RV furnace.

2) Our RV roof and ladder — along with our solar panels — was covered with snow and ice. Mark wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to climb up there to clear off the solar panels, and I wasn’t about to get up on that slippery roof either. So, our batteries were no longer getting charged by the sun and wouldn’t have enough juice to run the RV furnace.

3) Vent-free propane heaters emit a lot of moisture. We had just had several days of torrential rain, and everything in our rig was wet. Our shower was filled with raincoats and rain hats hung up to dry, our boots and socks were wet and muddy by the door, our pants were wet and hanging in the bathroom and our bath towels refused to dry. While our blue flame vent-free heater would exacerbate the moisture problem, our RV furnace would help dry out the air inside our buggy.

Doing all these things gave us a nice dry and toasty warm environment to live in during this cold spell in snowy conditions at 10,000 feet.

To implement this heating strategy, we did two things. We stocked up on gasoline and propane and ran our Yamaha 2400i generator and RV furnace a lot. Sometimes we also ran the blue flame heater alongside the furnace.

Yamaha generator in bed of pickup truck in snow

Our Yamaha generator got a good hard workout for over a week.

The generator ensured that the batteries got fully charged. Because we were running our RV furnace so much, which burned up lots of electricity, the batteries were being depleted much faster than normal. So, not only did we need the generator because the solar panels were snoozing under the snow and ice, we also needed it because of running the RV furnace.

RV in snow in winter

A few weeks prior we had been roasting in the summer heat. What a crazy life we live in this RV!!

In general, we ran the RV furnace every morning until the rig was 65 degrees inside and then ran it on and off during the day and in the evening. If the air wasn’t too moist, we also ran blue flame vent-free heater alongside the furnace to warm things up faster. The vent-free propane heater never shut itself off, so the RV furnace was doing its job of circulating the air.

Golden aspen in snow by pond in winter

Getting creative heating our RV made it possible to enjoy views like this as it snowed.

Using the RV furnace also lessened the possibility of the water pipes freezing. The heater is ducted through the belly of the rig, and the warm air passing through the ducts helps warm the nearby water and sewer pipes. If the temps had gotten below 20 degrees, we would have run the RV furnace once or twice overnight as well just to be sure no ice formed in the pipes.

If we had had brilliantly sunny days every day, we may or may not have needed the generator. Our 490 watt solar panel array may have been able to charge the batteries fully, despite the additional load from the RV furnace.

Also, we probably wouldn’t have needed to use the RV furnace so much because the sun would have warmed up our rig and dried it out a bit during the day.

See how flexible and variable all this is??!!

Colorado fall colors after winter snow

This is why we came to Colorado at this season… Wow!!!

We have descended out of the clouds now and have been living at elevations between 5,000′ and 6,500′ for the past few weeks. The RV furnace is back on vacation and our trusty blue flame heater has taken over all the RV heating duties. Our generator is on break for another 6 months or year, and the shore power cord is buried somewhere in the basement once again.

RV in winter snow staying warm in cold weather

Snug as a bug in a rug!!

If you are going to be using your RV in cold weather this winter, we have another post full of tips for keeping warm that you might enjoy:

How to Stay WARM in an RV – Winter RVing Survival Tips

And if you think a vent-free propane heater is something you’d like to get, have a look at our detailed article that discusses the different types of heaters and shows how we installed ours:

Vent-free Propane Heaters (Catalytic, Infrared and Blue Flame) PLUS How to Install One in an RV

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How to Beat the Summer Heat in an RV

There are a lot of ways to beat the heat in summertime when you’re traveling in an RV. The most obvious is simply to head to a cool place when a heat wave hits. Afterall, your home has wheels!

How to Beat the Heat in an RV

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But there are other things you can do to prevent the sun from baking the interior of your home, even if you don’t have electrical hookups to run the air conditioner. And if it does get unbearably sultry, and you do need to run the A/C from a portable gas generator, there are some tricks we’ve learned to make it possible…

GO SOMEWHERE COOL – In the MOUNTAINS, FAR NORTH and/or NEAR WATER

Cooler places are located either in high elevations, and/or up north, and/or by a big body of water — the ocean or a lake.

This may seem simplistic, but places in the eastern states like Acadia National Park in Maine, where you might get out on a boat, or the White Mountains in New Hampshire where you might catch a cool train ride to the top, are good bets.

Moraine Lake Rocky Mountains in Canada

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is a cool place, even mid-summer.

In the west, the key to temperature is elevation. Many folks who are new to the western states are surprised to find out that there can be a 20 degree difference in temperature between two places that are just 150 miles apart.

For instance, Phoenix, Arizona (1,100′ elevation), is 20 degrees hotter than Flagstaff, Arizona (6,900′ elevation). And the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (9,000′ elevation), (about 200 miles further away) can easily be another 10 degrees cooler than that.

Likewise, Stanley, Idaho is about 15 degrees cooler than Boise, Idaho. It is just a few hours north but is 3,500′ higher up.

In Utah, Zion National Park (3000′ elevation) is 10 degrees hotter than Bryce National Park (9,000′ elevation), and if that’s still a little toasty, a run up to Cedar Breaks National Monument (10,000′ elevation) will be just a bit cooler still.

RV in mountains and trees

Camping near trees in the mountains is pretty cool!

Generally, you can’t go wrong in the Rocky Mountains, and a trip to Ouray, Colorado (7,700′), or Banff National Park in Canada will definitely be much cooler than most other places when a heat wave buries North America.

Similarly, the coasts enjoy wonderfully cool sea breezes. The whole west coast, from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is much much cooler than the communities that lie directly inland (over the coastal mountains), 150 miles from the coast.

Go to the beach to stay cool in summer

Life is definitely cool at the beach (Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, Idaho)!

Bandon, Oregon, on the Pacific coast is 15 degrees cooler than Bend, Oregon, which is in the inland desert, baking away behind the range of coastal mountains that stop the flow of cool air coming in from the Pacific.

If the ocean isn’t easily accessible, spending time near a big lake can do the trick.

Play in the water to stay cool in summer

Want to get cool? Find your inner child and play in the water with a toy wagon.

Large lakes offer “sea breezes” in the afternoons, and many lakeside towns have fantastic waterfronts, like Seneca Falls, New York, in the Finger Lakes, and McCall, Idaho, on Payette Lake.

GO SOMEWHERE COOL IN TOWN

The worst part of the day is the late afternoon and evening, and that’s a great time to get out of the rig. A late afternoon or early evening outdoor picnic under a shady tree in a place with a breeze or cool grassy lawn will work wonders. A trip to the air conditioned library or bookstore with a little cafe inside can be a delightful change of pace.

A hot afternoon is a perfect time to take in a matinee at the local cinema. If the laundromat is air conditioned, the heat of the afternoon might be the time to get that chore done, or if your laundry is already clean, doing the week’s grocery shopping could give you an hour or two of air conditioned respite at the supermarket.

HOW TO RUN a 15K BTU RV AIR CONDITIONER with a YAMAHA 2400i GENERATOR

Sometimes, it’s just too darned hot to survive without air conditioning, and in that case it’s really nice to turn it on.

We boondock every night, and we have just 490 watts of solar power on our RV roof and 434 amp-hours of battery capacity in the basement.

Yamaha 2400i portable gas generator for RV

Our generator gets a good workout a few times a year running our 15k BTU air conditioner.

Dometic RV Air Conditioner 15k BTU

This RV roof AC unit takes some oomph to run!

So, the only way we can get air conditioning in our trailer is to drag out our Yamaha 2400i gas generator and set it up to run our Coleman 15,000 BTU air conditioner.

Some folks say this can’t be done, but we’ve been doing it for years.

We use a variety of adapters to plug the generator into the shore power outlet on the outside of the rig.

To get from the 15 amp outlet on the generator to our shore power outlet on the outside of our trailer, we could use one adapter plus the shore power cord:

50 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 50 amp Female dogbone adapter (15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp 125 : 250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord (50 amp Male plugs into dogbone above)

However, when we first bought our trailer, we stayed at an RV park that had a 30 amp pedestal that didn’t match our 50 amp shore power cord, so we had to buy an adapter. Making good use of that adapter with our generator now, we use two adapters plus our shore power cord when we connect to the generator:

30 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 30 amp Female dogbone adapter
(15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp Female to 30 amp Male RV dogbone adapter

30 amp Male to 50 amp Female to RV dogbone adapter
(30 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord
(50 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

When the generator is powering the RV this way, the generator supplies power to the converter inside the trailer (or inverter/charger), which charges the batteries as efficiently as possible using a multi-stage charging algorithm (if the converter or inverter/charger is a “smart” charger).

Our 2400 watt generator is able to power our 15K BTU air conditioner just fine. However it sometimes takes a little coaxing to get it to fire up because there is a big spike when the air conditioner’s compressor first turns on. Over the years, we’ve learned that the trick to persuading it to run is the following:

  1. Run the generator for a few minutes with no load and make sure it is warmed up
    (also make sure the hot water heater and fridge are set to “gas” and no other electrical appliances are running)
  2. On the air/heat control unit, set the Fan button to High On
  3. Set the System button to Fan and let it run for a few minutes
  4. Set the System button to Cool and listen to the compressor come on
Coleman RV air conditioning control unit

Make sure the genny is warm and let it power the fan on high for a while first… THEN switch on the A/C.

Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer

Keeps the gas in the genny fresh

If the last step trips the breaker on the generator, set the System button back to Off, restart the generator and try again.

On a few occasions it has taken us 2-3 tries to get the air conditioner going. However, most of the time it fires up on the first try.

We always run it for 4-6 hours when we turn it on, and it purrs along just fine. However, we run the air conditioning just a few days each year. The rest of the time we stay cool using other means.

To keep the gas in the generator (and in the gas can) fresh and to ensure quick starts after storage and to prevent gumming and varnish, Mark puts the stabilizer Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer in the gas.

POSITION THE RV
— BIGGEST WINDOWS FACE NORTH and SMALLEST WINDOWS FACE WEST

The toughest time of day is the afternoon when the sun is in the southwest and western sky and is slowly baking the RV. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the sun to set while everything inside the rig quietly fries!

No matter what the wall and roof insulation R-factor is for an RV, the windows are where all the heat comes in. So, keeping them shaded as much as possible throughout the day makes all the difference in the world.

Every rig has a different arrangement of windows, but if you can position the biggest ones to face north or east and the smallest ones (or the wall with no windows if you have one) towards the west and southwest, the difference to the interior temperature will be astonishing.

If there is a way to block the afternoon sun entirely by parking next to shade trees or a building, that is even better.

SET UP THE RV AWNING

Even if the awning will only shade a small part of the RV’s walls and windows for a few hours of the day, this is still helpful! When an RV wall gets hot, you can feel the warmth on the inside of the rig. And you can especially feel it in the cabinets. There’s nothing like a hot bottle of olive oil in the kitchen pantry!

Shade from RV awning

Even though it’s shading just one small window, the awning is keeping the whole wall cool.

Modern rigs have wonderful powered awnings, but ours is the old fashioned manual crank type of awning. The other day we heard two RVers complaining about how putting these old awnings out was really difficult and was a two man job.

It’s actually not that bad, and Mark does it by himself in just a few minutes. Here are the steps:

How to set up RV awning - loosen handle

1. Unscrew the knob on the back of each awning arm.

How to set up RV awning - undo clip

2. Open the clip right above the knob on each awning arm

How to set up RV awning - use tool to lower lever

3. Use the awning tool to open the lever on the roller

How to set up RV awning - lower lever

4. Pull down on the lever to open it.

How to set up RV awning - lever in lowered position

The roller lever is now in the down position.

How to set up RV awning - hook awning loop

5. Use the awning tool to pull out the awning by grabbing the webbing loop

How to set up RV awning - pull awning out

6. Pull the awning part way out with the awning tool

How to set up RV awning - lower awning completely

7. Grab the webbing and pull the awning out the rest of the way

How to set up RV awning - Close RV door handle

8. Close the RV door handle to get it out of the way

How to set up RV awning - Pull awning arm out

9. Slide out the awning arm in its track

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down awning arm

10. Pushing down on the awning arm to keep the canvas taught, tighten the knob.

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down other awning arm

Do this on both sides

How to set up RV awning - Raise awning

11. Open the big awning handle to raise the awning up.

If it looks like it might rain, position one side of the awning a little lower than the other so the water will drain off of the awning.

When Mark closes up the awning for travel, he puts velcro straps around the arms to keep them from accidentally opening as we travel.

Another neat awning trick is to get an awning shade extension that drops from the edge of the awning to the ground. This provides shade from touching the rig even when the sun is at a low angle.

INSULATE THE WINDOWS and HATCHES INSIDE

The day/night shades in most RVs are great for reducing sunshine in the rig, but do little for eliminating the heat that pours in through the glass and metal frame.

RV window in summer heat

Pulling down our night shades doesn’t block much direct sunlight.

We cut Reflectix, which is a bubble wrap kind of aluminum foil that comes in a huge roll, to fit each window (a pair of scissors is all you need). We labeled each piece for the window it fits into.

Reflectix rolled up to keep RV cool in summer

Reflectix picks up where RV insulation leaves off…

We raise the RV’s day/night shades, press the piece of Reflectix against the window, and then lower the shade to hold the Reflectix in place.

RV window in summer heat with Reflectix

A layer of Reflectix behind the shade blocks all the sun!

RV Vent Insulator

When leaving the trailer, we close the hatches
and put vent insulators in them.

In our big rear window we jam a pillow under the large piece of Reflectix to hold it up. Otherwise it would drop to the floor.

If we are going to leave the rig for a while, we close all the windows and put an RV Vent Insulator in each of the roof vents. It is amazing to come home after many hours of running around to find that the rig is still fairly cool inside.

However, if we are planning to stay home, we don’t like to live in a tomb, so we have another strategy using fans and open windows that allows us to have some ambient light coming in…

STAY COOL WITH FANS

We rely on two different types of fans to stay cool.

Vent Fans

We have a Fan-tastic Vent Fan in two of our trailer’s four roof hatches. These are designed to push a maximum amount of air in or out of the rig. We set them to push the air out of the rig, and then we open the windows on the shaded side of the trailer to let the cool air from outside come in.

Fan-tastic Fan in RV hatch

Fan-tastic Fan in an RV hatch

If we were to replace our Fan-tastic Fans, or if we wanted to upgrade another hatch to one of these or a similar type of vent fan, we would choose a very simple model that does just the basics.

Our Fan-tastic Fans are whiz-bang models with remote control, rain-sensing, auto-opening, auto-closing, slicing and dicing and who knows what else. Unfortunately, they have minds of their own, and they won’t listen to reason.

They auto open and auto close at the weirdest times, they don’t necessarily know when it’s raining, and they make it impossible for the mechanically challenged (ahem…me) to turn them on or off or to open and close them. There are way too many buttons that do way too many different things.

Also, Mark has had to rebuild various parts of both of these fans, and by the colorful flow of expletives I heard him let loose on these jobs, I would gather that it was not easy.

Portable Fans

While vent fans help move fresh air through the rig by forcing hot air out the vents and pulling cool air in through the windows, portable fans are a godsend to aim right at you when you start reaching the boiling point.

We have a standalone, portable 12 volt Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan (and DC extension cord) so we can move it around the rig.

Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan

A 12 volt fan may seem necessary, but…

We got this fan in Quartzsite one year for our (not yet purchased) sailboat and we’ve used it a lot in the years since then. But it is extremely noisy. Forget trying to sleep with it running nearby! It’s also kind of silly to spend so much money on a 12 volt fan when a smaller and quieter 120 volt fan will do just as good a job, if not better, for a fraction of the cost. All you need is an inverter.

Portable fan in RV to keep cool

…A small, quiet, cheap portable fan will run on an inverter just fine!

Our little portable fan is terrific, but there are lots of portable fans in all kinds of styles that are just as good.

MAKE ICY DRINKS!

Last of all, there’s nothing that can cool down your body temp like an ice cold drink. A smoothie in a blender tastes wonderful and can bring your core temp down quite a bit. We make ice using old fashioned ice cube trays in our freezer, and we use a few cubes and frozen fruit in our smoothies to ensure they are as cold as possible.

Our Osterizer blender draws 1000 watts, which is well within the limit for our 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter.

Osterizer blender and frozen berries for smoothie to keep cool in RV in summer

Smoothie time – Get cool with lots of ice and frozen fruit!!

Those are a few of our tips for surviving the dog days of summer in our RV without hookups. It can take a little finagling and strategy, but these things have kept us cool in our trailer for ten summers now!

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How To Change The Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

One of the first questions we had when we began considering buying a new pickup truck to tow our fifth wheel trailer was: How do you change the inside rear tire on a dually truck? Well, a few days ago we found out!

How to change an inside rear tire on a dually truck

We got a flat on our dually’s inside rear tire (passenger side) while towing our trailer — Oof!!

Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually has been a fabulous truck for us since we bought it six months ago, and we’ve now got 9,100 miles on it now, 4,633 miles towing and 4,467 miles driving around without our fifth wheel trailer attached.

A few days ago, we stopped at the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana to get a photo. As I walked around the back of the truck, I heard a weird hissing noise. I stuck my head into the wheel well, and my heart sank when I saw a huge bolt head on the rear inside tire. I put my finger on it, and the hissing stopped. I lifted my finger and the hissing started again. Oh, no!

I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark, but after we’d gotten our photos of the dam, I told him the bad news.

We were in a pretty remote spot, completely out of cell phone and internet range. We hit the nifty “Assist” button on the rear view mirror of the truck to give Dodge a call and ask some questions about changing rear tires, but the call wasn’t able to go through.

Assist button rear view mirror Dodge Ram 3500 truck

Ram trucks have a cool “Assist” button that connects you straight to Dodge…if you’re not in the boonies!

The closest town was Libby, Montana. It boasts a population of 2,700 people, but it was 17 miles down the road.

So much for getting any kind of roadside assistance!

The timing for this little inconvenience wasn’t great. We’d been on the road, towing, for 100 miles, and Mark had just been telling me he was ready to call it quits and take a nap. Oh well. No napping just yet!

Luckily, unlike the last time we’d been stranded on the side of the road — when one of our trailer tires blew out four months ago, shortly after our trailer suspension repair — rather than being on the traffic side of an interstate with cars whizzing by at 75 mph, we were working curbside in a nice big pullout next to an extremely quiet country road where a car would leisurely pass by us every five minutes or so.

We unhitched the truck from the trailer to make it a little easier to get at the rear wheels. Mark got our bottle jack out from its storage spot under the driver’s side rear seat of the truck, and he began setting it up. I grabbed a stool from our fifth wheel basement and laid out some mats on the ground to create a work space for him.

From a lifetime of mechanical work, he learned long ago to protect his hands, so he pulled on a pair of leather work gloves that he keeps in the truck.

The first step for changing the tire was to remove the hubcap.

Remove hub cap on Ram 3500 truck rear wheel

Start by removing the hubcap to reveal the lug nuts.

Then, using a breaker bar, he loosened all of the lug nuts. Doing this with the wheel still on the ground is easier than after it’s lifted, because the wheel can’t spin.

Breaker bar to remove rear wheel on dually truck

Use a breaker bar to loosen the lug nuts while the wheels are still on the ground.

We used to carry a 4-way lug wrench for swapping out flat tires, but one time one of the arms twisted like a strand of licorice as Mark tried to unscrew a stubborn lug nut that wouldn’t budge. It was probably a cheap 4-way lug wrench. Most likely, a better quality 4-way lug wrench wouldn’t have done that, but Mark swore off of those things right then and there, and we’ve been carrying a breaker bar ever since.

The lug nuts on our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 required a 15/16″ socket. The ones on our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 require a 7/8″ socket.

Our bottle jack is rated for 12 tons, enough to hold up the axles of either our trailer or truck easily. More important, it’s also tall enough for the axles on our trailer which we raised a few inches higher from the factory standard during our trailer suspension overhaul to help keep our rear end from dragging on steep ramps at gas stations and on uneven dirt roads.

He unscrewed the top of the bottle jack to raise it up.

Bottle jack for fixing a flat tire

Unscrew the top of the bottle jack by hand to raise it.

He placed it under a flat metal piece that was welded onto the axle.

Bottle jack under the rear axle of a dually truck

Place the bottle jack under a solid flat spot on the axle.

The bottle jack comes with a two-part handle. After removing the two plastic end caps, one tube can be fitted into the other to make a long handle and give you some leverage while pumping up the jack.

Bottle jack handle for fixing a flat tire

Remove the plastic endcaps and fit the tubes together to form a long handle.

He pumped the handle up and down to raise the top of the bottle jack and lift the axle slightly so the wheels no longer touched the ground.

Raise the jack under Ram 3500 dually truck rear axle-2

Raise the rear axle of the truck by pumping the bottle jack handle.

With the lug nuts slightly loosened, he now used a Rigid cordless impact driver to remove them completely.

Impact driver to remove lug nuts fix rear flat tire Ram 3500 dually truck

A Rigid 18 volt cordless impact driver makes it a breeze to remove the lug nuts.

We got the impact driver, a cordless drill and a portable radio as part of a terrific kit that included two lithium-ion battery packs. We use the drill every time we raise and lower our fifth wheel’s stabilizer jacks, and we listen to the portable radio all the time!

He collected the lug nuts in the hub cap.

Fixing rear flat on Ram 3500 dually pickup

Collect the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t roll away.

Then he pulled off the outer wheel.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

Pull the wheel off.

How to change a flat tire on a dually pickup truck

The outer wheel is off, now for the inner wheel…

The wheel studs on a dually are extra long to hold both wheels onto the truck. So, once the outer wheel was removed, he could pull off the inner wheel.

Remove the inner rear tire of a dually truck

Slide the inner wheel off.

And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!

Flat tire on a dually pickup

And there it is — a nasty self-tapping bolt. Arghh!!

Our 2016 Ram 3500 came with a toolkit for raising and lowering the spare tire. It is located behind a plastic trim piece under the passenger’s seat.

Spare tire toolkit in Ram 3500 truck stored under passenger seat

The toolkit for lowering the spare tire is under the passenger’s seat.

He pulled off the plastic trim piece to get the toolkit out.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 pickup truck

Here is the toolkit for lowering and raising the spare tire from its spot under the truck chassis.

Then he pulled the toolkit out from under the passenger’s seat. It is held in place with two knobs, one of which is tightened with a wingnut. When he put the toolkit back in place later, he had to align it before sliding it in, and then tighten the wingnut.

Mounting brackets spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit is held in place by these knobs (the left one is a wing nut).

The toolkit has several handle extensions and other goodies in it.

Spare tire toolkit Ram 3500 truck

The toolkit has all kinds of goodies in it, including a lug wrench that Mark opted not to use since it is probably even more flimsy than a 4-way.

One of the goodies is an L-shaped handle, and there are several extensions that interconnect to lengthen the handle as well.

Spare tire toolkip Ram 3500 pickup truck

Two of these tubes fit together to form a long handle that attach to the L-shaped handle.

He assembled two handle extensions to make a long rod and attached the L-shaped handle to the end. Then he inserted this handle into a hole above the license plate bracket. There is a square fitting inside the hole. The end of the handle slipped over the square fitting.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

The L-shaped handle and extension tubes fit onto the square fitting in the hole next to the license plate bracket.

Then, he rotated the handle slowly.

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 dually truck

Twist the handle to lower (or raise) the spare tire.

This gradually lowered the spare tire from its storage spot under the chassis of the truck onto the ground

Lowering the spare tire on a Ram 3500 pickup truck

The spare tire is held to the truck chassis by a brace that compresses a spring.

The spare tire is held tight to the underside of the truck with a spring fitting that can be snugged nice and tight.

Spare tire mounting system Ram 3500 pickup truck

Bracket and spring under the spare tire.

Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.

Mounting the spare tire on rear of Ram 3500 dually truck

The spare tire is mounted on the truck.

Next, he slid the outer wheel in place. Using his cordless impact driver, he replaced the lug nuts, tightening them in increments. Starting at the valve stem, he tightened the closest lug nut a bit and then tightened the one that was opposite, then tightened the next one, and then the one opposite that one, etc., working his way around the rim and tightening the wheel equally all the way around. Then he gave each lug nut a final tightening using the breaker bar.

Then he put the hubcap back on. It didn’t pop on really easily using his palm, so he used the top of a rubber mallet to tap it in place.

Replace hub cap on dually truck rear wheel

The hubcap didn’t snap in place using palms only, but the butt end of a soft rubber mallet did the trick.

Interestingly, we could now see exactly how much rubber we had worn off our rear tires in 9,100 miles, because the wheels didn’t hang down evenly.

Spare tire and used tire height difference on Ram 3500 dually truck

The brand new spare and 9,000 mile used tire are different heights.

Using a pocket knife, he got a rough estimate of just how much rubber had been worn off — maybe 1/8″ or so.

Rear tIre wear dually truck 9000 miles

About 1/8″ of rubber has come off of the tire in 9,000 miles of driving.

He raised the flat tire up into the storage spot under the truck chassis where the spare tire had been, and lowered the bottle jack under the axle so the truck was sitting on all four rear wheels again. We hitched the trailer back up and started to drive.

This little hiccup in our RVing lifestyle had taken about 30 minutes.

Our fancy new truck has a cool display (the DID, or Driver Information Display) that shows the air pressure in each of the six tires on the truck (this is the TPMS, or Tire Pressure Monitor System). We were both really alarmed when the spare tire reported that it had 17 lbs. of pressure while the other three rear tires all had 63 to 65 lbs. What the heck??

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

The tire pressure for the spare is 17 lbs. Yikes!! (huh????)

The dealership where we bought the truck had told us they’d aired up the spare when we bought the truck new six months earlier. Even though Mark usually uses a tire gauge to measure the air in the spare, he hadn’t this time because it was a brand new tire that seemed perfectly good, had the right sound when he thumped it, and bounced nicely on the ground.

But we grew ever more alarmed as the dashboard display showed 15 lbs., then 13 lbs., and then went to dashes. The road was super quiet, so while driving the 17 miles to get to the Les Schwab tire place in Libby, we pulled over several times to check that the tire wasn’t heating up… It wasn’t.

Tire pressure dashboard readout Ram 3500 truck

Now the tire pressure is dashes. What does THAT mean??

We made it to Les Schwab, and they put a terrific new kind of patch on the tire that mounts from the inside. It has a big round rubber flange that mounts inside the tire with a plug that fills the hole.

The spare turned out to have 65 lbs. of air pressure, just the way it should have. So, we all scratched our heads for a while about the weird air pressure numbers we’d seen on the dashboard.

Then our service guy suddenly brightened up. “I know what it was!” he said. “The spare tire doesn’t have a sensor in it to report its tire pressure to the truck, but the original tire did!”

So, as the original tire was being carried under the chassis of the truck, where the spare usually sits, it was transmitting its decreasing tire pressure to the console on the dashboard, and the dashboard was dutifully displaying the numbers as coming from the right inside rear tire even though the tire was no longer in that position. Eventually the tire pressure got so low it was below the minimum, so the display showed dashes.

It turns out that that option for the spare tire to have a sensor on the valve stem is only available on Premium models of Ram trucks. We never saw that option in any dealer option lists.

I just showed this post to Mark to see what he thought, and he looked at me in astonishment and said, “When did you take all these photos? This is great!”

“When you were changing the tire!” I explained. “I’m sneaky!” (And I’d MUCH rather write about changing a tire than do it myself!)

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RV Tips and Tricks – Make RVing EASY and FUN!

There are a million RV tips and tricks to make the RV life easier, and this page offers some little jewels we’ve discovered since we started RVing full-time in our fifth wheel trailer in 2007. We’ve broken them down into:

RV Tips and Tricks for making RVing and the RV Life easy

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OUTDOOR RV TIPS and TRICKS

High Powered “Search” Flashlight

We often camp in areas that are quite remote, and getting to and from and around the rig at night is much easier with a very high powered flashlight!

Lumintop SD75 LED flashlight

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight compared to a pocket Maglite

We have a Lumintop SD75 Flashlight which is downright phenomenal. We have hiked Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon at night to photograph the stars and the Milky Way, and this flashlight is literally like holding a car headlight in your hand.

Here is more info about this flashlight:

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight Review

Getting Parked Without Damaging Anything

The most basic element in RVing is learning to hitch up and unhitch, whether you are driving a car pulling a popup, a diesel truck towing a fifth wheel or a Class A motorhome towing a car. Of course, lots of people have loads of fun in their motorhomes without towing a car behind, but getting hitched up and unhitched is part and parcel of the RV lifestyle for an awful lot of us.

The most important thing for the driver and the person standing outside of the rig is to stay in eye contact with each other. This is entirely up to the person running around outside. If you can see the driver’s face in the rear view mirrors, you are golden. If you can’t, then any kind of gesture you make, including jumping up and down and waving your arms because the driver is about to drive the rig right off a cliff, will never be seen.

We use two-way radios to give us a way to talk to each other and to lessen the impact if I inadvertently end up in a position where Mark can’t see me in the rearview mirror. We use the longest distance radios we can get, to make sure the signal is decent. Right now we have 36 mile GMRS radios, which are realistically good to about 3-5 miles. We used these on our boat (a godsend when anchoring) and we’ve used them ever since we started RVing. We’ve gone through three sets so far, because the salt air ate up two pairs during our cruising years.

Two-way radios for backing up an RV

We use our two-way radios all the time…

Besides the radios, it’s really helpful to have good hand signals. I indicate the distance until disaster by spreading my arms wide and then bringing my hands closer and closer together until I give a “halt” sign (palms forward). Shaking my head and waving my hands and giving a few slices to the neck can help too if it starts to look really bad.

Midland 36 mile GMRS radios

36 mile GMRS radios

It is royally embarrassing to make all these gestures when you’ve got an audience of people watching, but I’ve learned that there’s no ego in getting the rig parked well. Every RVer who has been around a while has made a huge blunder of some kind while parking, and they’ve all lived through it. So a few members of your giggling audience will probably be very sympathetic to whatever mistakes you have up your sleeve.

My worst gaffe was in front of two very special friends we hadn’t seen since we’d moved into our fifth wheel a year earlier. They had come out to camp with us, and we were all excited. I had just finished telling them (with great pride) that we didn’t need their help parking because we parked our rig all the time, we had a system, and we had gotten pretty darn good at it.

Mark began to back up as our friends watched, and I began to warn him that he needed to go more towards the driver’s side to avoid a tree. He adjusted, but again, I told him, he needed to go more towards the driver’s side! I kept repeating my instructions louder and louder as our good friends watched in bewilderment. When Mark was just about to cream the tree, we all started shouting STOP!!! Mark got out of the truck, calmly assessed the situation, and then said to me: “Ahem…. which side does the driver sit on?”

Our friends smiled weakly and I looked for the nearest rock to crawl under…

So, don’t be embarrassed and don’t be shy. Make your gestures big and strong, and remember which side of the rig the driver sits on!

Hitching and Unhitching a Fifth Wheel Trailer

Some folks drive their RVs solo, and although I can’t say much about hitching and unhitching a motorhome and car combo, our good friend Bob has found a great way to hitch and unhitch a fifth wheel trailer solo. He marked the front landing leg that’s near the extend/retract button at regular intervals all the way up and down the leg.

Fifth wheel landing leg marked with hash marks

Hash marks on a landing leg help get the rig back to the right height before hitching up.

Then he numbered each hash mark. He keeps a pad and pen in the hatch near the landing legs button. When unhitching, once he’s raised the trailer to where he can drive the truck out from under it, he jots down the hash mark number that is visible on the leg. Then he drives out, parks, and returns to the trailer and raises or lowers the landing legs as necessary to get the trailer level.

When he hitches up again to leave, he adjusts the trailer height to the exact position where he unhitched. That way, when he gets in the truck to hitch up, he knows the trailer will be at the correct height as he backs the truck up into the hitch pin (and he doesn’t have to get in and out of the truck several times to check and adjust the height of the trailer).

We marked our landing legs at 1.5″ intervals and have not numbered them. There are only 6 hash marks, and I make a mental note of what mark we were at when we unhitched. Frequently, by the time we leave, I’ve forgotten where we were at before we leveled the trailer, but I’ve developed a good eye for knowing how much to raise or lower the rig as Mark backs the truck towards the trailer.

We also marked the centerline of the fifth wheel pin box and pin plate so it is easy for Mark to line up the hitch with the pin box and king pin when he is backing the truck into the trailer.

Leveling the Trailer

There are many methods for getting a trailer level, and hydraulic leveling is a blessing that takes all the excitement out of it. For those without hydraulic leveling, we found in our early years that with two 5′ lengths of 2″x8″ board and one 5′ length of 1″x8″ board we could always find a combination that worked to get the trailer level from side to side. A 5′ board is relatively easy to drive onto and provides a solid platform for the trailer’s wheels.

We store the boards in the bed of the pickup. When using two boards, we stagger them a few inches so the trailer is driven first onto one level and then up a step to the next. We have to remember to back up when coming off stacked boards or the upper one will tip up and hit the bottom of the trailer while driving off it (think of a sailor walking the plank).

Leveling boards fifth wheel RV trailer

This was an extremely unlevel spot where we used quite a few boards and strips of horse stall mat.

If you don’t like the idea of hauling long boards around in your truck, there are nifty plastic leveling board kits (here’s another type) that are very popular.

We also use plastic wheel chocks whenever we park on a steep incline to prevent the trailer from rolling, especially while unhitching and hitching up.

Our friend Ken introduced us to using a sliced up horse stall mat rather than pine boards. We cut a 4’x6′ sheet of horse stall mat into five 1×5 strips and four 1×1 squares, and those have worked really well for us. They hold up to the elements really well and they roll along with the contour of whatever crazy surface we might park on. It is also possible to drive off of them either forwards or backwards because they don’t slap the underside of the trailer.

The only disadvantage is that they are much heavier than pine boards, but we can drag them around and they don’t disintegrate. We use the 1’x1′ squares under the landing legs and scissor jacks for cushioning.

We also have four large blocks made of three 1′ lengths of 2″x8″ boards screwed together. We put handles on the ends to make them easy to lug around. In a really unlevel site in the Smoky Mountains we had to stack them on top of each other AND extend the jack legs all the way!

RV fifth wheel landing legs

A very unlevel spot that required two blocks plus all the leg length.

What Is Level and How Do You Know?

Determining what constitutes “level” inside an imperfectly constructed RV is an interesting trick. We used a carpenter’s level on our kitchen floor, in several directions, and on our table, and on the bedroom floor. Of course, none agreed! But we found a good compromise and then mounted some RV levels on the outside of the rig to give us a reasonable guess when we’re setting up.

There are two different types of levels: Bubble Levels that have an air bubble that floats to the high side, and Ball Levels that have a ball that drops to the low side. Bubble levels are more responsive (the bubble moves more quickly as the RV moves). Ball levels take a few seconds to react. If you use both types, you can get confused because they move in opposite directions.

We have a large Level Master level on the fifth wheel pin box that is easy to see from inside the truck. We also have two small bubble levels on the trailer on the corner by the landing jack power button, one facing forward (for left to right leveling) and one facing sideways (for front to back leveling).

RV Fifth wheel hitch level and center mark

The ball style level (visible from inside the truck) shows which side of the rig is low.
We painted a line on the pin box to help with hitching up.

Our pin box mounted Level Master, a ball level, is easy to see from inside the truck. When the trailer is higher on one side than the other, the Level Master ball falls to the low side.

Our smaller levels on the front corner of the fifth wheel are bubble levels, so the one on the front of the rig showing the side-to-side level has a bubble that rises to the high side. This is the opposite of the ball level on the pin box, and sometimes, when we are struggling with white line fever from hours on the road, this messes us up.

RV bubble levels on a fifth wheel trailer

Small bubble levels show left/right and front/rear level near the landing jack power button on our fifth wheel.

I’d recommend sticking to either ball levels or bubble levels and not mixing and matching like we did! A good solution might be to mount a ball level like this on both the pin box and on the front of the trailer near the landing jack power button.

Why do you need two side-to-side levels? When I’m running around placing the boards in line with the wheels for Mark to drive onto, I want to see a level on the fiver easily myself, and the front of the pin box is impossible to see from the side of the truck when we’re hitched up.

However, lots of folks rely on a single pin box mounted level that has both side-to-side and forward-back levels in it. There are a few from Camco and Hopkins that are very popular.

You can forego all this nonsense with a slick hydraulic leveling system. However, this does introduce a complicated and expensive system into your life, and we’ve heard many stories of the jacks falling down while driving, or not retracting properly and systems failing in other ways. On the plus side, though, you can easily jack up the trailer to change a flat!

 

Cordless Drill for Easy Jack Setup

We don’t have electric stabilizer jacks on our fifth wheel trailer (nor did we on our travel trailer). However, we use an 18 volt cordless drill, and it’s very easy.

Cordless drill set up for RV stabilizer jacks

Ready for action with the drill, extension and socket for the stabilizer jacks

We use the following setup to crank the scissor jacks:

We keep the 1/4″ Hex to 3/8″ Socket Adapter in the drill. Mark glued the extension and 3/4″ socket together with JB Weld, making it ultra easy to grab the extension, jam it in the drill and go.

18 volt cordless drill, 8" extension and socket for RV scissor jacks

18 volt cordless drill, extension, socket and adapters for RV scissor stabilizer jacks

This setup worked on both the four stab-jacks on our travel trailer and the two rear scissor jacks on our fifth wheel. We keep the drill right inside a basement hatch door so it’s easy to find during both setup and breakdown of the trailer.

RV stabilizer jacks with cordless drill

Raising and lowering the jacks takes 2 seconds!

Rigid Drill Set Radio

This goofy radio is in the Rigid Drill Kit (along with an impact driver & regular drill & lithium ion batteries and charger). We love it even more than the other stuff!

Camco makes a special Leveling Scissors Jack Socket that replaces those three pieces, but there is no 8″ extension. Personally, I like the long extension because you don’t have to crawl in so far to make contact with the scissor jacks.

Last year we bought a Rigid drill kit which includes a regular 18 volt drill, an impact driver (awesome for the lug nuts when changing a tire) and a radio as well as two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and a charger.

After going through three different 18 volt drills during our years of RVing and sailing, we’ve been really impressed with this Rigid kit. The Lithium-Ion battery charges up in about 15-20 minutes and it’s good for a really long time.

The kit comes with two batteries, so we use one for the drill and one for the radio. And what a hoot it is to have a portable radio. In this day and age of slick electronics, we’ve gotten such a kick out of this thing…

 

Cleaning the RV

No matter where we park, the slide roofs need attention before we bring them in. Either they are dusty, in the desert, or they are covered with twigs and leaves, in the woods, or they are wet from rain. Slide toppers might help with this, although I have heard that they tend to make noise in high winds, sag over time, and sometimes end up with leaves and twigs trapped underneath.

Mark has a long handled squeegee he uses to get the water off, a broom for the leaves and branches, and a California Duster and/or broom for the dust. Getting up on the roof is also useful for checking out all the rooftop items like hatches, TV antenna, solar panels and wiring. His favorite cleaning tool for all this is a telescoping scrub brush that we used for cleaning our boat.

Scrub brush on RV roof

Our telescoping brush from our boat is a favorite for cleaning the rig.

He just loves this soft bristled brush. Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with water is a good solution to wash the roof. To get rid of black scuff marks on the outside of the rig, he uses Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponges.

Telescoping Ladder

Telescoping ladder on an RV

A second ladder is really helpful!

Telescoping ladder

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The first trailer we lived in full-time didn’t have a walk-on roof, and the signature of an RV without a walk-on roof is that it doesn’t have a built-in ladder.

We got a telescoping ladder so we could get up on the roof, and we have kept that ladder and used it ever since, even though our fifth wheel has a built-in ladder.

You may not think you need a second ladder when you’ve got one on the rig already, but polishing the front cap is one job where you do.

Washing or working on any part of the rig that is high up and out of reach of the ladder on the back is much easier with a second ladder, including the high corner of the rear end opposite the built-in ladder!

 

RV Patio Mats

A beautiful patio mat extends your living space and defines your outdoor area in an elegant way, and we love ours.

RV Patio mat defines outdoor space while camping

A classy patio mat extends your living space into the outdoors.

But they can be pricey if you’re just getting started with weekend RVing. An alternative is to get some green indoor/outdoor carpeting. We had this with our popup tent trailer, and it fit the bill perfectly (and our friends who now own our popup still use it!).

Popup tent trailer indoor-outdoor carpet patio mat

Save a few bucks and use green indoor/outdoor carpeting!

Waxing the Fifth Wheel Cap

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for getting the fifth wheel cap to have a deep shine. It’s made of ABS plastic and shows every swirl mark of a first-pass at waxing. The only way to bring back the luster it had when it was new is to use an orbital buffer and fiberglass polish and a whole lot of elbow grease.

Polished front cap on RV fifth wheel trailer

An orbital buffer and 3M Marine Cleaner Wax give the front cap a nice shine
but leave Mark’s shirt speckled with white spots!

Mark likes the 3M Marine Cleaner & Wax that we used on our sailboat. Unfortunately, you’ve gotta do this a bunch of times, and the worse condition the front cap is in, the more times it takes. But eventually you can get the shine back. Just be sure you keep the buffer moving lightly across the surface at all times so you don’t dig a hole in the plastic!

We have more cleaning tips for giving an RV that extra shine while boondocking here: Tips for Washing an RV While Boondocking

 

Truck Overloads

Timbren SES Suspension System for truck

Timbren SES Suspension

Our 14,000 lb. fifth wheel was right at the weight limit of what our 2007 Dodge 3500 could tow, and the pin weight of the trailer along with all the things we carry in our truck loaded down the bed of that truck quite a bit.

When hitched up, although the rig looked quite level, the truck sagged a bit, leaving the front wheels a little light and giving the truck a tendency to wander.

To alleviate this, we installed a Timbren Suspension Enhancement System between the axles and leaf springs of the truck. These are solid rubber donuts (not airbags) that fit between the axle and the leaf springs. That made the truck sit better and wander less.

We had that setup for eight years. In 2016 we purchased a 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck which had a much higher weight capacity in the truck bed and could handle the pin weight of the trailer along with the additional weight of the water jugs and leveling boards we carry in the bed of the truck much better.

How to Put Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a Truck

Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 has a five gallon Diesel Exhaust Fluid tank which needs to be refilled every thousand miles or so. We’ve got some tips for where to get this stuff cheap and how to get it in the truck without spilling here:

How to Put Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a Truck and Which Brand is Cheapest

How to put Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) in a truck without spilling

Putting DEF in a diesel truck is a new necessary evil, but there are tricks to make it cheap and easy…

RV Grill Operating on the RV’s Propane Tanks

Mark loves to barbecue, and ever since our first popup trailer, we’ve had a wonderful, small RV barbecue, the “RV sidekick grill.” It comes with a mounting kit to hang it on the side of an RV. Flipped sideways, this same kit becomes legs so the grill can stand up off the ground.

RV grill attached to fifth wheel trailer

The RV sidekick grill is designed to hang on the side of an RV or stand on its own.

We had this grill installed on the side of both our popup tent trailer and travel trailer, but with the fifth wheel, Mark installed an extra gas line and valve coming from the RV’s propane tanks so it can run from them. A quick disconnect LP gas hose goes from the grill to this gas line.

RV grill gas pipe connection

An extra gas line and valve lets the grill runs from the trailer’s propane tanks.

We’ve had this little grill since 2005 and it still makes a great meal!

 

RV Water Toys – Water Spigot Connections

In many dry camping campgrounds where there are water spigots available but no water hookups at the campsites, the water spigots don’t have threads. We’ve found a water bandit makes it possible to thread our water hose onto the spigot so we can fill up with water easily.

Water Bandit spigot adapter for RV fresh water at campgrounds

The water bandit makes it possible to connect a fresh water hose when there are no threads on the spigot.

In cases where we get water hookups and leave the water hose connected to the trailer, we screw a 90 degree elbow onto the trailer so the hose can hang straight down rather than come out of the our city water connection horizontally and then droop down towards the ground, putting pressure on the connection and potentially causing drips. We discovered this nifty little elbow when we lived on our boat in a marina before our cruise.

In addition, a water pressure regulator keeps the water pressure down to a level inside the rig that prevents any unexpected damage or leaks. A quick release makes it easy to connect and disconnect the fresh water hose. Mark also keeps a Y valve in his water hose arsenal. This is handy if the rig is connected to city water and we want to fill pails with water for washing the truck, or if an RV dump station has only one water spigot and we want to fill our fresh water tanks and run the black water flush at the same time.

RV water connections to fresh water hose

The elbow here is 45 degrees. 90 is even better.
To show all these components they are all screwed together here. But it is best to connect the water pressure regulator to the water spigot instead. Or, simply modulate the water pressure by reducing the flow at the water spigot.

Lots of folks like to attach a water filter as well. We used various filters at first, but no longer use any, although we periodically add a cap full of bleach to the fresh water tank. When we got a new fresh water tank, we were surprised that there was no sludge of any kind inside the old tank, even after 7 years of use.

Changing the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

We have a Dodge Ram 3500 dually truck with a B&W fifth wheel hitch, and wouldn’t you know it, the first time we had to change a tire on it, it was the inner rear tire. Ugh!

We had always wondered exactly how you went about doing this, and we found out. Here is a blog post that explains the entire process:

How to Change the Inner Rear Tire on a Dually Truck

 

INDOOR RV TIPS and TRICKS

Creating STORAGE SPACE with Seating for Four in the Dinette

We replaced the two chairs in our dining area with two wonderful storage ottoman benches, and this has increased our storage space by quite a bit. The storage ottomans we chose have a nice faux leather padded top that is really comfy to sit on, and they have voluminous storage space inside.

Storage benches in RV dinette

Our dining area – lots of storage and seating for four.

We have his-and-hers benches, and we keep our camera gear in them. The great thing is it got rid of all our clutter and gave us a place that is low down in the trailer and slightly ahead of the trailer’s axles (a smoother ride) where we could make custom padded storage for this delicate gear.

For more info and more pics of our benches, see this blog post about our setup: Making STORAGE SPACE in an RV.

You can buy the storage ottomans we purchased HERE, and you can get ideas of other brands and sizes of storage ottomans on the market HERE.

Protecting the Carpets Under the Slide-Outs

The carpets take a beating as the slide-outs roll in and out. Some slide-outs aren’t quite square and one wall or the other presses particularly hard on the floor while driving. You can buy fancy carpet protectors that fit under the slides. We went a cheaper route and bought a package of four flexible plastic cutting boards.

RV tips - cutting boards under RV slide-out

Flexible cutting boards taped together protect the carpet under the slide-outs.

We used packing tape to tape two of these together, end-to-end, and each pair fits under the slide-out walls perfectly yet are thick enough to protect the carpets. I keep one pair under one slide-out wall while driving, because that slide is crooked and its one wall gets wedged against the floor pretty tightly. The other slide-out walls hover above the carpet as we drive, so I pull the plastic cutting boards out from under them so they don’t get lost underneath while in transit.

Keeping the Cabinets Closed

After having a cabinet door fly open while driving over a bumpy road, causing two unbreakable Corelle bowls to fly across the trailer and break in half, we now latch every cabinet door with 6″ bungee balls. For drawers we use mini 10″ bungee cords with a hook at each end, hooking the top and bottom drawer handles.

RV tips bungee balls and bungee cord on RV cabinet doors and drawers

Bungee balls and bungee cords ensures the cabinets and drawers all stay closed.

Rolled up Carpets

We have a large pots-and-pans drawer that occasionally likes to open. We roll up our throw rugs and place them so they can’t unroll in front of the drawer to keep it closed.

How to keep RV drawer closed in kitchen

Rolled up throw rugs keep this big pots and pans drawer closed while driving.

Rubber Shelf Liners

Rubber Shelf liners are invaluable, keeping everything in its place on each shelf as we travel. We try to make sure no plates, mugs or glasses are touching each other when we set out.

Shelf liner for RV shelves

Shelf liner keeps things in place when we drive

Closet Organization with Plastic Drawers

Our bedroom has a marvelous 8′ wide closet with sliding doors on it, but the interior is just open space with a rod for hangers. We don’t use it as a hanging closet (we have a different closet for that). Instead, we put stacked plastic drawers inside to give us more drawer space as well as a horizontal surface on the top.

RV closet plastic drawer organizer

We created more drawer space in one closet with lightweight, inexpensive plastic drawers.

These drawers don’t latch closed, so Mark drilled a hole through each drawer and the frame, and we simply slip a screw through each hole to keep it closed as we drive.

How to keep RV drawers closed

A screw through each drawer keeps it from opening in transit

Book Organization with Special Bins

We like to keep our heaviest items, like books, on the floor, as shelving in an RV tends to be quite flimsy. I found an awesome line of Rubbermaid “All Access” bins that have a clear plastic latching door on the front. Ours fits neatly under our desk (which we never use as a desk, so it’s wasted space). We can move the whole thing easily, can load it from the top easily and can get at the books from the front easily.

Rubbermaid All Access storage in RV

Rubbermaid’s “All Access” bins have clear front opening doors!

Dish Drying Mat

We do several small loads of dishes everyday, and I just love our little dish drying mat. It soaks up all the water, and once I move the dishes off of it I can hang it up to dry. Every so often I throw it in the laundry with the dish towels, and it comes out just fine.

RV dish drying mat

A dish drying mat sops up water, can be hung out to dry and thrown in the laundry.

How to Defrost an RV Refrigerator in 20 Minutes!

Propane RV refrigerators build up a lot of frost very quickly. After trying many different methods for defrosting our fridge over the years, we’ve outlined the steps we use to get this job done quickly:

How to Defrost an RV Refrigerator in 20 Minutes!

How to defrost an RV refrigerator

Defrosting the fridge doesn’t have to be a big nasty chore…

LED Wax Pillar Candles

I love romantic lighting, and there’s nothing like candles for that. But having an open flame isn’t great. Sailing friends of ours introduced us to pillar shaped LED candles made of real wax, and they are delightful. We’ve had ours for five years now, and we’ve had to change the batteries just once. They are wonderful for dim lighting in the pre-dawn hours or late at night, and they are a nice light around the rig when we watch a movie. The best part is they really look and feel like real candles, but you don’t have the risk that comes with an open flame.

RV tips LED flameless wax pillar candles in RV

LED pillar candles add warmth and create romantic mood lighting

Departure Checklist

RV Departure Checklist

All our mistakes on one page
with the worst ones underlined!

We thought we could memorize all the things that need to be done when we pack up the rig for towing, but a few mishaps taught us otherwise.

We now have a checklist taped inside the same cabinet that houses the main slide-out controls.

A quick glance before we leave ensures us that indeed all the hatches are closed, the shower door is latched, the window-mounted hummingbird feeder is not stuck on a window somewhere, etc.

This list is a comedy of errors made over several years of RVing. I’m sure more items will be added in the future!

 

Simmons Beautyrest Mattress

An RV can be outfitted with ordinary residential furniture, and we have upgraded our recliners to comfy La-Z-Boys.

More important for full-time RVers, there is no need to sleep on some funky RV mattress every night. We upgraded our mattress to a Simmons Beautyrest and just love it.

One important note is that many RV mattresses are non-standard sizes. An “RV Queen” is shorter than a standard Queen, and an “RV King” is narrower than a standard King. Here’s a chart showing the differences:

Standard “RV” Size
Queen 60″ x 80″ 60″ x 74″
King 76″ x 80″ 72″ x 80″
Simmons Beautyrest Plush Pillowtop mattress for RV

A good night’s rest…

In most rigs that have a Queen bed, the floorplan clearly states whether it is an RV Queen or a regular Queen. However, in virtually all RVs that have a king bed, it is an RV king. If you are buying an RV with a king bed and think you might want to upgrade to a residential mattress someday, make sure there are 4″ of extra width on the sides so the mattress can fit, even if it hangs over a little.

 

Laptop Lap Insulator

I mentioned that we don’t use our desk, and that’s because we use our dining room table for writing things out by hand and we use our laptops on our laps in our recliners. To keep from frying our legs with our laptops, we each have a laptop sized thin piece of foam that was part of the packaging of a solar panel. If you don’t have that handy, there are laptop lap insulators that can do the trick.

Laptop on thin foam insulation

A thin piece of foam keeps our legs from cooking under our laptops

Cleaning the Ceiling

We have a fabric ceiling liner and twice we’ve had to clean a stain from it. Each time we used spray bleach and the results were miraculous. You couldn’t see where the stain had been. Just make sure you cover everything nearby before spraying bleach in the air or you’ll have not just a clean ceiling but white spots on the rugs and upholstery too.

 

HEALTH and COMFORT in the RV LIFE

Living in an RV is not all that different than living in a stick-built house, so anything you enjoy in a conventional life is more than likely going to be something you can enjoy in your RV life. Here are some goodies that we use everyday, that have made a significant difference in our lives, and that we will continue to use daily no matter what kind of home we live in:

Amazing Grass

Amazing Grass powdered wheat grass drink

Helps keep fair haired people with thin skin from bleeding!

Mark has found that when he works around the rig, it is really easy for him to get little cuts and blood spots on the backs of his hand his hands. This turns out to be common with fair haired (red haired) formerly freckle-faced guys over 50. After some research, we found that the remedy is bunches of Vitamin K, and it turns out that wheat grass is loaded with Vitamin K! It has lots of other beneficial nutrients as well.

As long as Mark drinks a small dose of wheat grass everyday, his hands are as tough as when he was 20. But miss that wheat grass for a few days, and the next time he does any work around the rig, the slightest flick of his hand against something breaks the skin and he’s bleeding again. The best brand we’ve found is Amazing Grass.

Sound weird or too good to be true? We’ve suggested this crazy remedy to formerly red-haired friends, and they are now big believers and wheat grass connoisseurs too. Mark mixes it with fruit juice and actually loves the flavor! For those who don’t like veggies, the claim is that a spoonful of this wheatgrass powder is akin to a bushel basket of veggies. I don’t believe that myself, and I keep putting broccoli on our plates, but I think this stuff is worth its weight in gold when it comes to toughening up thin skin.

Hand-held Electric Massager

As former athletes, we’ve both spent a lot of time looking for ways to soothe aching muscles. We’ve owned a lot of different hand-held massaging tools over the years, including the very popular Thumper Sport massager, and they’ve all been okay. But many of them ultimately wound up in yard sales because they had bad habits of pinching skin or were awkward to use.

Brookestone electric massager

Brookestone electric massager

We’ve found that the hand-held Brookestone massager is really fantastic. Because it has just one ball head on it (rather than the more common and goofy twin ball heads), you can place it over any sore spot and get instant relief. Rub it slowly on your leg muscles after a hike or bike ride or rub it on that weird spot in your neck after you sleep funny and wake up unable to turn your head, and you’ll feel better right away.

This massager was a lifesaver for me after a bad cycling accident I had years ago that messed up my shoulders and collar bone for a very long time, and Mark recently relied on it heavily when he wrenched his back. We’ve never had it pinch our skin at all.

The neat thing about these massagers is that they increase the blood and fluid flow in the sore area, which is really helpful for getting nutrients into the injured spot and getting waste fluids out. You don’t need to press hard on it — just place it on the sore area and you’ll feel the muscle relax instantly.

We have had ours for four years now, and we used it both on the boat and in our RV. It’s amazing just how kinked up you can get living in a small space, and it is so helpful to be able to get unkinked in a matter of minutes. We keep it in our living room so it’s always handy.

Sonicare Toothbrush

Sonicare toothbrush

Sonicare toothbrush

If only these Sonicare toothbrushes (and toothbrush heads) had been around when we were kids! It may seem ridiculous to spend a bunch of money on an electric toothbrush, but brushing your teeth with one of these makes your mouth feel like you just came from a cleaning at the dentist’s office. I’ve used a Sonicare toothbrush for 13 years now, and what a difference it has made in the overall health of my teeth.

One note for boondockers and off-the-grid RVers living on solar power, Phillips, the manufacturer of Sonicare toothbrushes has noted that the rechargeable batteries do not like modified sine wave inverters very much. I read this years ago, and have always charged ours on our pure sine wave inverter. Perhaps the batteries are better in newer models, I don’t know.

Also, for tech junkies who like to collect tech goodies, the magnet inside the Sonicare toothbrush heads is incredibly strong. Mark has saved a few of the magnets from our discarded Sonicare toothbrush heads and has found all kinds of interesting uses for them, including gluing one onto a long stick to retrieve tiny metal objects from hard to reach spots in the bowels of something.

Other RV Tips & Tricks

We have loads of other tips and tricks for RVers on this website. Many of the links can be found here:

RV Tech Tips and Product Reviews

A small sampling is below:

A wonderful website dedicated to RVing tips and tricks is RVtravel.com

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Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod & Ball Head Review

Selfie mania has taken the world by storm, and in our travels we are no exception.

Selfie photo taken with a bear

Mark gets a selfie with a bear. Wow!

And selfie sticks are all the rage at every scenic overlook we go to.

Selfie sticks and camera tripod

The gear of choice in the National Parks is the selfie stick!

But there is a better way to hold a camera still, especially a big DSLR: a good quality tripod and ball head!

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52 Ballhead

Photography has become a major part of our lives and travels, and as our skills have improved, we have upgraded our camera equipment as well. In the following link we outline all of the gear we use, from cameras and lenses to accessories like flashes and tripods to software for post-processing (as well as explaining how we organize our photos), and we also provide links to all the resources we’ve used to learn how to take photos:

Photography Gear, Tips and Resources

Tripods – Cheap vs. Expensive

It is said that as a photographer improves, his or her biggest equipment concern goes from getting the right camera body to buying the most appropriate lenses to finding the best tripod. We are working our way along this progression, and soon after Mark purchased his Nikon D810 camera a few months ago, he began casting about to find a suitable tripod for it.

Mark’s old tripod / ball head combo was too flimsy to support the D810 properly, and it wasn’t all that easy to use. He decided on the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head sitting on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs with an optional DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp.

Because we have a lot of readers who are seeking to improve their photography as they travel, just like we are, we wanted to share our experiences with this new tripod kit.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp atop an XB-52 Ballhead
all sitting on a Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

When we first became interested in photography, we couldn’t understand why tripods could be as cheap as $29 or as much as $1,500. But we have learned since then that the price/performance trade-off is very simple, and it all boils down to three things:

  • Sturdiness
  • Overall weight
  • Ease of use

Cheap tripods take precious time to set up, can be difficult to position the camera correctly to get the image you want, don’t necessarily hold the camera perfectly still (and sometimes even let it droop a little after you’ve got everything in place), and are often too short to put the camera at eye level. Expensive tripods do all those things with ease, and they are lightweight enough to carry comfortably.

When is a tripod handy to use? Whenever the shutter speed is so slow that hand-holding the camera will make the whole image blurry because your hand moves while taking the photo.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review-2

With a tripod, flowing water can be made to look silky smooth.

We use ours all the time for low light photography (sunrise and sunset), for night photography (shooting starry nights and the Milky Way), for long shutter speeds to reveal movement, like the flow of waterfalls, and for time-lapse sequences that show movement in a video format, like fast moving clouds and changing light.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with DDC-60 Quick Release Clamp

The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head is rated to support a whopping 132 lbs., far more than other comparable tripod ball heads.

Like most budding photographers, we’ve frittered away lots of good money on cheap tripods as we’ve learned these lessons. After all, when you’ve broken the bank buying a camera and lenses, who wants to dig deeper in their pockets to get a decent tripod?

As is his way, Mark did an exhaustive search with a few criteria in mind for what he wanted in his new tripod. It had to be:

  • Stable enough to hold the camera with our longest lens, which is a Tamron 150-600mm 
  • The ball head had to be strong enough that the camera wouldn’t droop after it was tightened 
  • The tripod legs had to be carbon fiber (i.e., strong and lightweight)
  • He didn’t want it to spend all our savings on it
Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

An excellent value.

In the end he settled on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head. This is a Chinese brand that is not particularly well known in the US yet, and is competing against the much more expensive brands like Gitzo.

Sunwayfoto – Quality Camera Gear at a Good Price

Mark began looking into the Sunwayfoto brand because we both used their L-Brackets on our Nikon D610 cameras and Mark now uses the Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-Bracket on his new Nikon D810. We liked the craftsmanship of our L-brackets, and when we discovered Sunwayfoto makes tripods and ball heads, their tripod kits seemed worthy of a closer look.

Side note: an L-Bracket is a handy piece of gear that mounts on the camera so the camera can be slipped onto the tripod easily. Because the bracket is an L-shape, the camera can be switched from a landscape orientation to a portrait orientation quickly and easily.

PNL-D810R Bracket for Nikon D810 camera

The Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-bracket mounts on the camera to simplify the use of a tripod.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

Nikon D810 camera with Sunwafoto L-bracket attached.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

The L-bracket gets screwed into the bottom of the camera.

What’s neat about the Sunwayfoto L-brackets is that they fit the camera body perfectly, even when the plastic cover protecting the camera’s LCD display is in place. L-brackets made by other manufacturers don’t always fit properly when the plastic LCD protector is on. The Sunwayfoto L-brackets also provide lots of room to plug optional cables (like an external microphone) into the left side of the camera.

Sunwayfoto XB-52 “Low Profile” Ball Head

Getting a good, solid and easy to use ball head was the most important criteria for Mark’s new tripod. The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the biggest of Sunwayfoto’s ball head offerings, and it is truly unbelievable in craftsmanship and strength. It is beautifully machined and anodized from a solid piece of aluminum. It also has a geared locking mechanism that claims a Max Load of 132 lbs (60 kg)! That is 82 more pounds than top-of-the-line Really Right Stuff’s largest ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead for camera tripod

Sunwayfot XB-52DL Ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL camera ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead

When locked down, the camera does not budge on this ball head. Even when carrying the tripod on his shoulder, Mark has found the camera doesn’t droop like it did with his old tripod setup.

Carrying Sunway T2C40C Tripod with XB52-DL and Nikon D610 camera

The ballhead holds the camera securely when walking around with the tripod on your shoulder.

The large locking knob on this ball head is made from solid metal and has an excellent feel to it. There is no rubber to wear out or come loose.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Adjustment Knob

There are two adjustment knobs for the ball,
a large outer knob and a smaller inner dial.

There are two knobs for adjusting the position of the camera, a larger knob for gross adjustments and a fine tuning dial within that knob that lets you set precisely how easily (loosely) the camera swivels on the ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Fine Tuning Knob

The smaller knob fine-tunes how easily the camera flops around on the ball when it is loose. The larger one tightens it down.

There are also two notches on the ball head body to allow the camera either to be dropped extra far forward (for images aimed towards the ground) or to be tilted sideways (for portrait oriented images).

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead notches

There are two notches that allow the camera to be dropped down, rather than just a single one like many ball heads.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notches for camera angles

The notches in the ballhead allow the camera to be faced down.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notch points camera down

.

The notches for setting up a portrait orientation are handy if you don’t want to use an L-bracket.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead PNL-D810R bracket and T2C40C Tripod

The notches allow the camera to be flopped on its side for a portrait shot.

We prefer using an L-bracket and not using the ball head notches for portrait shots because of the inherent stability of placing the camera on the top of the tripod for portrait orientations instead of having it hang off the side.

Nikon D810 camera landscape mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

Using an L-bracket gives the option of either a
landscape orientation…

Nikon D810 camera portrait mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

…or portrait orientation
Here the camera is on top of the tripod and not flopped to the side in one of the notches, a more balanced and secure setup.

For the weight conscious, the Sunwayfoto XB-44 ball head is slightly smaller and lighter than the XB-52 but can still support a whopping 88 lbs. It weighs just 483 grams as compared to the 685 grams of the bigger ballhead, a difference of over 7 ounces (nearly half a pound), which some folks would find makes a difference on a long hike.

“Quick Release” or “Lever Release” Clamps

One of the best things about the XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the fast action of the quick release. Simply flip the quick release lever open and slip the camera into the Arca Swiss compatible slot and then close the lever, and you are ready to go.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

The Sunwayfoto quick release clamp makes it super easy to lock the camera in position.

Note that the Sunwayfoto XB-52 ball head without the “DL” suffix does not have a quick release clamp.

I was so impressed by Mark’s new tripod ball head, and especially the quick release mechanism, that I got one too. It replaced the Benro V2 ball head that had come with my Benro Travel Angel II tripod. The Benro ball head had a knob that had to be unscrewed and screwed back in each time the camera was mounted or dismounted on the tripod, something that got to be a real pain when I wanted to switch between portrait and landscape orientations quickly. It is also not nearly as finely crafted.

Like Mark, I absolutely LOVE the XB-52DL ball head. Even though it is almost 13 ounces heavier than my old Benro ball head, I find it is fast and easy and precise and worth the few extra ounces of carrying weight on a long hike. My tripod can still be strapped onto my Camelback H.A.W.G. hydration pack for those long days of hiking where I want 100 ounces of water along with a second lens, assorted filters, spare battery and SD cards.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head on Benro Travel Angel II Tripod Legs carried on a Camelback H.A.W.G

The ultlra strong Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head fits comfortably on my Benro tripod legs and can be carried easily with my Camelbak H.A.W.G. hydration pack.

The quick release clamp locking lever has three positions: Open (right), Center, and Closed (left). There is a slide-lock on the lever so you can’t accidentally bump it and risk having your camera fall off the tripod.

The knob opposite the quick release clamp is used to fine-tune the tension, or grip, on the clamp holding the camera’s L-bracket in place. This is an important knob if you have more than one camera body and L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate), because the widths vary ever so slightly.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “open” position, the camera slips onto the plate.
The knob (top) adjusts the grip on the camera’s L-bracket or plate

When the lever is in the Center position, the locking mechanism is half open and allows the camera to slide from left to right within the range of the stops on the L-Bracket, but is still secure so the camera won’t slide out and fall to the ground.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “center” position the camera can be slid from side to side on the plate without falling off.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

The camera can be slid about an inch to the left and right while everything else remains in place on the tripod.

When the lever is opened all the way, the camera can be removed for handheld shooting or for switching to the other orientation (portrait or landscape) quickly.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Mark likes to do panorama shots, so he opted to replace the quick release clamp (or “Lever Release”) plate that comes with the XB-52DL ball head with the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp instead, because it has a bubble level that indicates whether the series of shots are going to be level with the horizon or are going so go sailing off on some kind of crazy diagonal, ruining the final, stitched image.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The optional DDC-60LR lever release has a bubble level which helps with stitching multiple images into one panorama shot.

This is another finely made product that not only makes mounting the camera on the tripod a snap and makes switching from landscape to portrait (with an L-bracket) an absolute breeze, but provides a mechanism for leveling as well.

The primary difference between this quick release clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the knob opposite the quick release clamp that is used to adjust the grip tension on the camera’s L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate) is no longer there. It has been replaced by the bubble level. In the absence of this knob, there is a small dial on the plate for adjusting the grip tension instead.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The fine tuning grip tension knob is now a dial on the plate itself.

There is a spring that sits against the dial to hold it in place once you set it to your liking. Mark found the spring was a bit loose and the dial would turn a little on its own until he put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads. In hindsight, he’s found that this has made it difficult to adjust the tension.

Another subtle difference between the Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Lever Release Clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the open/closed positions of the quick release lever can be reversed (for left handed people). Simply place the lever in the center position, pull it out slightly, and rotate it. Then the open and closed positions will be in the opposite directions (left to open and right to close).

Our overall impression is that the quick release clamp that comes with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head is easier to work with than the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp because the grip tension adjustment is done with a knob rather than a tiny dial. However, it also has a minor limitation, for those who want to stitch together lots of images for panoramas, that it doesn’t have a bubble level.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

The tripod legs Mark chose are the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs. This tripod is a thing of beauty, with 8 layers of woven carbon fiber and a one piece CNC machined main structure.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod legs

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod has carbon fiber legs.

The leg joints on this tripod have longer (40mm) friction tubes in them than are found on most comparable tripods, which makes a sturdier connection between the leg joints when they are extended. The tripod is rated at a max load of 12KG or 26.5 lbs. which isn’t the beefiest tripod out there, but the legs seem solid enough for the Nikon D810 and big Tamron 150-600 lens.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod leg joints

The legs extend and retract by rotating a knob at each joint.

The only drawback is that the tripod is only 52.5” tall (without the center column extended). Once the XB-52 ball head is attached, it stands 56” high, which is a few inches taller than Mark’s older tripod setup and is almost at eye level for him (he would love for it to be just a few inches taller!).

Another improvement would be to have some foam on at least one of the legs for carrying in cold weather, although foam might start to deteriorate over time, and this tripod looks like it will last a long time.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with Nikon D810 camera

The tripod is just about at eye level for Mark, but not quite.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also has a very innovative (patented) leg pivot mechanism. Instead of the typical hex head screw attachment to connect the legs, there is a connector which has a special anti-twisting boss design on one screw head while the other side screws into it with a torx type connecting screw (the Torx wrench is included with the tripod). This prevents the screws from twisting and loosening up inside the leg attachment as the legs are pivoted and moved back and forth to set up. Most Tripods legs need to be tightened frequently with two hex style wrenches.

Mark found that after using this tripod for about a month he actually needed to tighten those screws a bit. He removed the screws and put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads which helped.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52DL ballhead

There are torx screws to keep the leg joints at the top stiff.

One neat feature of the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod is that the rubber feet on the bottoms of the legs can be unscrewed and removed to expose corrosion resistant Titanium spikes. These spikes plant the tripod firmly in loose conditions. Some of the other hardware used in this tripod is also made of Titanium, which very impressive indeed!

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet covers

The rubber feet at the bottom of the tripod legs can be unscrewed.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet

Underneath the rubber protection booties, the tripod has titanium points for gripping loose soil.

The center column of the tripod can be removed and replaced with the included short column so you can splay the legs out all the way out for close-to-the-ground macro photography.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod without center column for macro photography

The center column is removable to allow for close-up photography
that is low to the ground.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also comes with a spring hook that can be put on the bottom of either the long or short center column tube to help weight it down in windy conditions. Mark likes to hang his gear bag on it to keep his pack off of the ground and help steady the tripod.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with gear bag suspended

You can hang your gear bag on the center hook to weight the tripod down.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes packed in a high quality padded carry bag that has carry straps that can be attached to it for hiking. The kit even includes a nice lens cleaning cloth (a cleaning cloth is also provided with the Sunwayfoto XB ball heads).

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod in padded carrying case

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes with a good quality
padded carrying case.

Sunwayfoto T2C240C Tripod Review

The tripod carrying case has both a shoulder strap and a carrying handle as well as several pockets for small items like spare memory cards and battery.

Sunwayfoto is continuing to perfect their design of this tripod. When it was first introduced, it had only one anti-twist slot or groove in each of the legs, which made it prone to rotating and breaking. This resulted in some unfavorable online reviews of the tripod. The design has been upgraded and now has 2 slots in each leg. 

If you are in the market for a quality tripod kit, the Sunwayfoto ball heads, quick release clamps, L-brackets and tripod legs are a good bang for the buck. All of these are mix-and-match, so if you already have tripod legs you like, as I did, you can simply upgrade the ball head and/or the quick release clamp. Or, go all out like Mark did, and get the whole darn kit!

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review

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Happy shooting!!

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