This page is all about basic improvements to our RV including tools to inspect the rig, batteries, lights, insulation, towing a vehicle, receiving mail, and websites we love.
Learn a Lesson Through Our Experience: Take a Closer Look at EVERYTHING before you buy!
When purchasing a new or used motorhome, trailer or fifth wheel take time to read reviews, and inspect the actual rig you’re buying.
Our Palazzo was not built to the quality we expected considering we bought it new and not for a small price. It had gaps and holes which allowed water and dirt from the road to get into the exterior compartments as well as the compartment next to the interior stairs. These and other gaps around the electrical wires and plumbing throughout the interior of our RV also allowed mice, a rat, and a squirrel to enter our home on different occasions.
Some places to look for these holes and gaps are all the exterior compartments, the front dash area including the vents, the engine area (especially if it is in the back like ours), the many, many holes that were drilled for plumbing and electrical to run from outside to the interior as well as the many holes evidently drilled in the wrong place and never patched or used. To finally patch the gaps we have taken the bed base apart, removed the entire bedroom closet, the built-in dressers, built in dining/TV space, the hall closet, behind the washer and dryer, and under the kitchen sink. We use spray foam which expands to seal things up after screwing and tightening areas that are loose. Then we use insulation and spray adhesive to insulate the walls which we have covered with shiplap and other light weight wood. Andrew deconstructed under the dash and vents in the front “cab” and many things ended up never being put back as they were poorly constructed, redundant or just clunky. We bought, created, and built better solutions. All this will not be discoverable as you inspect when buying but look at as much as you possibly can!
Tools to Investigate dark and Small Spaces
Even if you’re not as handy as Andrew to rebuild parts of the interior, take the time to pull out drawers, crawl around under the compartments, etc to really inspect every inch of your home on the road. Andrew uses his phone camera with the flash on to investigate dark and hard to reach areas as well as a camera snake. We highly recommend doing what you can to see into those small spaces to prevent your own crazy critter visitor stories!
Slides and Seals
Another way to insulate is to look at the rubber seals around the slides from outside if you cannot easily access them from the inside. Ours were cut apart and frankly too short and flimsy a material to really seal and keep drafts out. To fix this we bought garage door seal that comes on a roll and replaced it using self tapping metal screws. Now the drafts are minimal and our feet are much warmer in the winter.
Also the large slide was sagging in the middle. There was not only no support for this structure but there were cabinets hung from the exterior all and the ceiling of the slide. When we completely renovated the kitchen area we used black pipes to support the slide ceiling from the steel beam on the floor. This resealed the gap that appeared at the top.
The fans originally installed in the RV were about as cheap as they come. We decided we needed fans that could actually move the air in and out of the RV as well as have a cover so we bought MaxxAir fans. The cover allows us to use them in the rain and when we drive. The fans we found are even nicer than we expected as they are programmable to keep our RV at a particular temperature, have 10 levels of air movement, and help us manage our RV temperature when we are not at home. This is important as we don’t want the dogs to overheat! They use very little power and make a huge difference in the temperature and air quality of our RV.
Tire pressure monitor
Andrew did a bit of research and decided we would be well served to have a tire pressure monitoring system. The attachments connect to the valve where you put air into the tires and wirelessly communicate with the panel inside. This system tells us the temperature and pressure of each tire. There have been times when driving in the southwest during the summer that the monitor beeped to warn us that the pressure was too high. I really think this is a worthwhile investment since a blown tire could cause a serious incident. We bought he eeztire system which works well on our Palazzo.
We replaced the light that was originally above the door because the cover blew off as we drove on the highway. Not good. We replaced it with one like this because it is LED and is attached in a very secure way with screws. Also, no need to replace light bulbs anymore and it is very bright!
LED headlights and brake-lights
Andrew also replaced all these lights for quality and aesthetic purposes. When he replaced the safety lights on the roof he discovered that they were not attached properly. They were screwed in, but the heads were at some point broken off, there was no sealer or calk used and so we had been getting a slow leak into the area above the driver seat. So, another place to look for gaps and holes that are not properly sealed are the screws into the roofing.
Solar panels (we live off grid most of the time)
We bought this solar kit of 6 panels and it came with all the items needed to mount the panels to the roof of the RV and connect them together and to the batteries. Andrew put this together in a day! Our six panels (we broke the glass on one and now it has a yellowed resin on it) get about 160 amp hours a day. We have our panels flat mounted and are not able to tilt them toward the sunlight (if we did have the ability to tilt them they would be even more effective). We generate enough electricity to run the refrigerator, lights, electronics, fans, etc. If we have cloudy days we top off the batteries for about 30 minutes before bed using our builtin generator. We purposely try and live in the southwest during the winter months so this is less of an issue.
Good batteries are vital if you’re going to get solar panels! Some higher end RVs seem to have pretty nice batteries. Ours did not. They were inexpensive flooded batteries and they barely held a charge! We upgraded to six Battle Born Batteries (100 amp hour lithium) and have great success running the basics in the rig even when it is not full sun. You’ll want to consider what you must run and charge when off grid/dry camping and you could always start small and build up to what you need. Also, the people here are great, you can go and see them in Nevada, call them on the phone, etc. They are very knowledgeable and hooked us up with better installation wires to put them in series (we had one of the wires short out previously… fire hazard so an upgrade might be necessary).
Our awnings served us well and finally had rips and holes so they needed to be replaced. We made an appointment with Tough Top Awnings months in advance (plan ahead if you want them to install) and they let us stay the night after the work was complete. The work is done in a small driveway off a narrow road so be prepared for that (we thought we might have put the incorrect address into the GPS). The awnings look fantastic and worked well at first. One downside of having others work on your rig is that screws can be stripped and that can make alterations or repairs difficult later. In this case there were at least three screws that were stripped and one without a head when we noticed the awnings were not even when retracting them. This correction took days and several trips to the hardware store to get new tools to remove a headless screw, and new screws to get the awning lined backup to work properly again.
Cleaning and Waxing the Exterior and Window Care
We are not the kind of people that obsess over the finish on our RV. That said, we have lived in places where we could wash the exterior with soap and water and we have lived in places we could not (mostly in the southwest where water really should not be wasted). Andrew found Wash Wax All and we have used this with great success on the rubber roof, fiberglass exterior and even the windows. This product does not use water. Andrew also has a buffer and uses 000 steel wool on the windshield which is pretty beat up from stones and weather. Then he waxes the window with Turtle Wax.
This is how we had an address when we first moved into the rig. Through RVescapees we had a PMB (Personal MailBox) which we used as our permanent address and as our mailing address. They scanned and forwarded mail anywhere as often as needed.
We decided to go with a different company when we made the switch to Florida from Texas. First, we switched states because we were unwilling to study and get a CDL to have a Texas drivers license. Florida does not have this requirement and so we decided that would be a better solution for us. The reason we selected St. Brendan’s Isle for our PMB there is because of the online access including scanning and archiving mail. This has saved us money because we are forwarding quite a bit less mail.
How to get Around
We went with cruiserlift.com. We bought the lift and then took it to a welder in Texas to have it mounted to our rig. This is not a plug and play and took some engineering on the part of Jon and his team (our welder). That said, it is a pretty nice lift as it is an electric pulley system.
Our downside with this was the welding on the lift itself was defective and the tow bar for the Jeep literally broke at the weld when we were in Alaska. Good news was we were in Alaska with many great welders. Bad news was it was a two day drive to get to where we were going and then over to the welder in Anchorage.
Jeep or tow car
We had a tow dolly and pulled our small car prior to moving in full time. If short, infrequent trips are your plan that’s probably fine. We drove too far and too often even before we were full-time and caused some damage to the body and tires of the cars we towed. The mechanisms came loose, straps snapped on the highway, and tires were squeezed and marked.
We ultimately decided to go with a Jeep so that we could flat tow. This makes connecting it to the rig easy and does not damage the Jeep.
Battery Isolation Switch
There is a nifty part Andrew found that allows the battery on the Jeep to easily be disengaged when we are on the move. We initially had a battery isolator with a top knob that would turn to disengage. This part is hooked to the negative side of the battery (we recommend doing some youtube watching to figure out what’s best for your situation and how to install). Eventually this wore out and had to be replaced. This is something to consider if you’re flat towing and using power from the RV for the lights.
We have a supplemental brake that we use on the Jeep that’s applied when we brake in the RV. There are many versions of these and we have found it especially helpful when driving in traffic. It definitely helps us stop a bit more quickly and we have not had any issues with it malfunctioning. Andrew installed ours after a bit of youtube viewing.
Blue ox or RoadMaster
We started out with a Blue Ox and it worked fine. We could hookup and flat tow the Jeep. The difficulty was that Lara couldn’t get the Jeep attached and detached without using tools. Also, the tow had no lights and because we have a motorcycle lift on the back the Jeep is a pretty long distance away from the RV.
We ultimately gave the Blue Ox away and bought a Roadmaster Nighthawk. This is really superior because the Jeep can be on an angle or slant and still be attached or detached without tools and has the LED lights along the sides which is safer especially when traveling at night.
Flying J and Pilot, Good Sam card is beneficial as many of these gas stations offer dump stations, a place to park overnight, and easy access to fuel and DEF.
Doctors and Vets
Banfield Pet Hospital
We had a local vet in Northern Virginia but living on the road full time we wanted to have access to vets that would have access to the records of our furry friends! Banfield has locations in most states, has excellent staff and vets and we love the convenience of keeping the dogs up to date on vaccinations and teeth cleaning as we travel.
We actually do have a Costco membership and here’s why. They offer fantastic deals on tires for the Jeep. If you have a Jeep, this alone pays for the membership. There are other reasons including:
Baby wipes: Living off grid means not showering daily. We have found baby wipes to be the best way to stay fresh!
Frozen foods: Living in a campground, possibly hours away from a decent grocery store, makes frozen fruits, veggies, and some prepared items ideal!
Paper towels: Trying to save water? This is the best way to pre-wipe food stuff off the dishes before washing them up.
Dog food and treats: We have a large storage compartment inside the RV next to the stairs. This is where we keep the big bags of food and treats and simply transfer into smaller containers for daily access.
Pet meds (heartworm and flea and tick): This is also a good tip for human meds, we are lucky and don’t need those!
Laundry detergent: No matter where you live you’re going to need this.
Organic whole coffee beans and whipped cream: My daily treat! I grind and make espresso topped with whipped cream.
Drygoods and baked goods: Again, living in a campground far from grocery stores? You’ll want to stock up.
Wine and liquor: Duh!
They do let you live in the parking lot overnight… so it is nice to reciprocate the gesture of kindness and spend a bit! We normally pickup our septic safe toilet paper and other snacks while in the lot. Also, when no Costco is near this is where I do my grocery shopping. They are offering a lot more organic produce and have options for dog food, too!
For RV living I highly recommend an Instant-Pot as it is a pressure cooker, crock pot, rice maker, etc in one small package. Andrew loves bubbles in his drinks and the Soda stream allows us to use the water in the RV to create sparkling water and we sometimes add lemon, brown sugar, and other flavorings… this helps with storage space.
Where to Live
By far, this is our favorite website. We use this to plan almost all of our free or nearly free stays. It has GPS locations, cell signal levels, feedback from other campers and you get to add to it! We post about each campsite we stay in to help others make good, safe decisions in the future.
Another fantastic site for reviews and tips on where to stay.
Free app that we use mostly to find rest areas, gas stations, Cabela’s, Walmart and other campsites.
Good Sam will help you get a deal on gas and a discount at RV parks!
FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) will get you tire discounts for the RV and roadside assistance.