Reviewing Our Many RV Upgrades – How Have They Performed?

In the past five years since we bought our Keystone Cougar fifth wheel trailer, it’s seen a boat load of modifications and upgrades applied to it. Many of them are to help improve the rig for camping off grid, a big passion of ours.

Other updates are to enhance comfort and convenience. As full-time RVers those things are tremendously important. Also, quite frankly I just love to tinker and try to improve things.

Every one of the following RV upgrades I’ve documented previously in a blog post and video (Click the each title or photo to view). I’ve decided though it might be a good time to go through the list and give you an after the fact review.

Most of the items have had at least a year or more of heavy use. Here’s how I feel about each one now, good and bad. Plus, in hindsight, whether I would do anything different.

Motomaster 1000 Watt Inverter

1000-wattpure-sine-wave-inverter

Good: Extremely durable. We’ve had it over 5 years now and it hasn’t missed a beat. I picked it up a Canadian Tire, I believe it’s a rebadged NPower model. For $249 it was a pretty good buy at the time for a “Pure Sine Wave” type of inverter. The inverter’s power is so clean and reliable we use it to power my wife’s iMac desktop even when on shore power hookups. Makes a great UPS backup.

Bad: Not much negative I can say except since our boondocking power requirements are so meager the 1000 watt unit may be a little overkill. This can lead to a waste of power when idling.

I’m thinking of adding a high-quality 300-watt inverter which would be a bit more efficient. The 1000 watt unit could then be left off unless we I needed to run a higher wattage item like a power tool or the shop vac.

Fantastic Fan

new-fantactic-fan-2250

Good: I’m happy with the performance of the fan, it moves a ton of air especially when switched to the highest of the three speeds. The automatic thermostat works well and is handy for when the rig is in storage, or we leave our dog inside. It’s also been useful as a high volume exhaust fan to quickly remove cooking odors and expel moisture.

Bad: The fan’s shaft bearing has an annoying squeak sometimes at low rpm. I should have purchased the model with a remote as the vent is a little high to reach. Requiring tippy toes for me and a stepstool for my wife.

Renogy Solar Panels

4-renogy-100-watt-solar-panels

Good: So far the panels have been a great buy at just under $150 each. They put out around 5-6 amps each in full sun and that hasn’t degraded yet even with the two that are nearing 2 years old. The hardware is performing well with no signs of loosening. Wiring is good, no faulty connections. I liked that they were lightweight with a small footprint. Provides lots of mounting options.

Bad: I wish they had a junction box on the back that opened with connection lugs, so I didn’t have to use the MC4 connectors. It would help clean up the roof wiring a bit.

Interstate Batteries & Box

interstate-battery-bank

Good: Nothing to complain about with the four 6 volt Interstate’s that make up my battery bank. Plenty of off-grid power for an economical price. The plastic battery box I chose was a perfect fit, very pleased with it.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how little maintenance I’ve needed to perform. Connections have stayed clean with very little water loss. Although. I’m sure my quality solar controller has a lot to do with that too.

Bad: They are heavy at about 62 lbs each and take up a fair amount of storage space. I’m hoping by the time they start to wear out in about 5 – 7 years that the Lithium Ion type will be more affordable.

TankTechsRx - RV Holding Tank Treatment & Cleaner  large 68 treatments - natural organic probiotics for RV, marine, camping, portable toilets 33.8oz
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Replacement Locks

close-up-of-lock-and-key

Good: I think they were a fantastic RV upgrade. Nevermind the additional security that comes with a unique key. The storage bay locks are something I use day in and day out. The old locks were becoming a pain in the butt. I had to wiggle the key just right to unlock. The cylinder type key is much more solid feeling and has lasted years now with no issues.

Bad: The dust covers that came with mine have oxidized over time. They’ve done their job but are starting to look shoddy. Should be made with stainless.

Valterra Water Regulator

valterra-water-regulator

Good: Works well, protecting the RV from high-pressure campground lines. We spend the summer at an RV Park with over 100 PSI, I’ve seen water hoses blow out, and other RVs plumbing pipes burst. No problem with ours. I have it set for around 55 PSI. This brass Valterra has proved durable with good flow.

Bad: The pressure set screw is a little odd and finicky to set.

Air Ride Pin Box

air-ride-pin-box

Good: Takes a lot of the harsh road vibrations and big jolts out. I feel it is working to protect my truck, hitch and fifth wheel frame from possible damage. I find navigating extremely curvy sections a little easier. The rig seems to track smoother. Reduces back and forth chucking motion.

Bad: Adds quite a bit of extra weight to the front of the trailer (+160 lbs.). Hooking and unhooking is somewhat more difficult than before. Less margin for error height wise, more noticeable on uneven ground.

StarLights Led Lighting

led-replacement-bulbs

Good: I’m impressed with the Starlights bulbs. I’ve had no failures after using them for several years now. They put out a warm and bright light. With the built-in voltage regulation, they aren’t affected by the variation in voltage produced when the batteries are charging. Their low energy draw is ideal for boondocking.

Bad: They are relatively pricey compared to others. I guess you get what you pay for, though. If I were to get them again but not as a freebie, I would still go with the StarLights, but maybe not as many. Just enough for the most used fixtures. Four or Five would do it.

Fridge Vent Fan

new-fan-and-moved-thermoswitch

Good: Great mod! Solved the problem of the noisy fridge vent fan. I could barely hear the replacement with my ear to the refrigerator panel. No signs of any reduced performance. The fridge cools as good as ever.

Bad: Not much to say other than while I had the fridge all apart I wish I had added two new fans instead of just the one. I think a little more air flow would be even better for those hot sunny summer days.

Eternabond Roof Tape

bedroom-and-bathroom-vents

Good: With the addition of the Eternabond tape I have much more confidence the Cougar’s roof is properly sealed and will be like that for a lot of years. After almost two years the original tape I laid down looks as good as new.

Cleaning is a breeze and no more yearly re-gooping of the seams. The tape has many other uses as well such as holding down my solar panel wiring.

Bad: Not the cheapest stuff and it’s tricky to lay since it’s so bloody sticky.

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RV Leveling Aids

levelmatepro-package

Good: I’ve installed and reviewed to different RV leveling aids and both did a decent job at helping to get the trailer precisely leveled front to back and side to side.

The RevoLeveler accomplishes this via a small box that sticks on the sidewall of the rig with digital readouts. The LevelMatePro is mounted inside and uses an app on your smartphone or tablet to display the leveling information.

Bad: Both are a little steeply priced in many people’s opinions. Of the two I lean towards the LevelMatePro, easier to setup and the display being the smartphone makes it portable.

Waste Master Sewer System

happy-ray-with-new-poo-hose

Good: This waste hose is remarkably rugged. I’ve seen videos of it being run over by a truck and hit by a weed wacker with no ill effects. I love the cam lock connections and the valve on the head unit. Also, the way it expands and contracts is amazing. So far its lived up to all its hype.

Bad: I believe Lippert should come out with some sort of aftermarket storage solutions so the hose can stay attached all the time. It works much better when disconnection-reconnection isn’t required. I’ve recently modded in my own DIY sewer hookup and storage box and think it’s going to be a terrific solution versus the rear bumper or a storage bin.

InteliPower Charger

inteli-power-pd9260-converter-charger-installed

Good: An excellent addition to our rigs boondocking power system. It makes battery charging with the generator much less time consuming  and economical. I thought I might use it also in place of the OEM charger when on hook ups. Our original converter charger’s fan drove me crazy when it was charging low batteries. But, now that we have solar I find the battery bank stays so well charged the fan rarely ever comes on when we are hooked to shore power. So, I’ll save the expensive InteliPower for strictly off grid duty.

Bad: So far nothing bad to say it’s worked as advertised.

PI Surge Protector

pi-surge-protector-emshw30c

Good: I’ve had the EMSHW30C surge protector for about 4 years now and I believe it possibly saved our bacon a few times when we were experiencing multiple campground power brown outs. I think it’s good insurance against a catastrophic power surge or overvoltage destroying all the rigs electronics. The little remote voltage and amperage display panel is handy to have.

Bad: It’s needed the control board replaced twice now. Luckily the company is wonderful to deal with and sends the replacement out straight away. It happened both times when I was attempting to run my AC off the generator. Seems what happens is when the generator labors during the initial large power draw to start the AC compressor the inverters sine wave distorts and destroys the board. They now have in the manual a note to not use the PI surge protector with an inverter only on shore power. I’m going to add in a bypass switch.

They now have in the manual a note to not use the PI surge protector with an inverter only on shore power. I’m going to add in a bypass switch.

Digital Thermostat

hunter-rv-thermostat-model-42999b-fan-switch

Good: Another very early of my RV upgrades to the rig. I just hated the OEM installed model which used a finicky manual slider to set the temperature. It also had a 2-degree temperature differential for cycling on and off. So, we would be too cold then too hot. The digital replacement has a 1-degree making things much more comfortable.

Bad: I have to manually switch it from heating mode to cooling mode. I’m looking at installing a newer thermostat that does thins automatically.

Big Buddy Heater

big-buddy-heater-in-our-rig

Good: We’ve used the Big Buddy during several winter boondocking seasons now and it’s performed marvelously. It’s simple to use and throws out plenty of pleasing radiant type heat to keep us toasty warm. It’s a real treat to not have to listen to the loud fan of the regular RV furnace. The Big Buddy has proved to be a good buy.

Bad: Safety is always on my mind. We have to remain diligent when using this open flamed device inside our trailer. Making sure to provide adequate fresh air ventilation and turning it off when we sleep.

360 Siphon Vent Caps

360-siphon-beside-regular-vent

Good: I give these caps a thumbs up after a year of use in both RV park and dry camping scenarios. We haven’t had any odor problems from out waste tanks so they must be doing their job.

Bad: Installation means a trip to the roof and some pipe cutting and resealing. I’ve been told the newest version is much easier to install.

Elephant Feet

lippert-elephant-feet-jack-pad-kit

Good: When I first install the large round landing jack feet I was a little skeptical of their durability. But, I really put them to the test on various surfaces from rocky ground to sand and pavement and they’ve worked well. It’s been nice to not be pulling out wood blocks, just drop the jacks. The trailer feels fairly stable inside,at least as good as piled up wood blocking did.

Bad: I have thrown a shoe or two, haha. A couple times when navigating uneven terrain the front jacks have brushed the ground. In this case, the rubber shoe will peel off. I guess that’s better than it sticking and possibly bending the jack. They are a little over priced in many folks opinion.

Oxygenics Shower Head

oxygenics-shower-head

Good: A fabulous upgrade over the original wimpy flow shower head in our RV. We used the Body Spa model for quite a while and last year upgraded to the Fury RV model. It has the same great power spray but has 4 other spray patterns too, plus a sliding flow control. The Oxygenics definitely saves on water, ideal for boondocking.

Bad: We did manage to somehow break the plastic wall mounted holder. I think some hard water crystals coated the handle and made it sticky leading my wife to use too much force when turning it. I sent the feedback to the company. They were kind enough to send out a new holder free of charge.

Luxury Vinyl Flooring

dog-hair-proof-daybed

Good: Love it, Love it, Love it! What an improvement over the cheesy carpet the rig came with. I guess I’m so enthusiastic about this product because of a little 13″ beast named Angie. Our beagle seems to sometimes shed a complete dog’s worth of hair in a just a few days. With the carpet is was a constant battle to remove it and keep things clean. With the LWV flooring her hair can be easily vacuumed or brushed away and no lasting odors. I think the product looks pretty sweet too.

Bad: The stuff is not cheap. I’d guess the amount we receive free of cost for my review typically goes for 800-1000 dollars. I’m expecting it to last the life of the RV though.

Bogart Solar Controller and Meter

Bogart-Controller-and-Trimetric-meter

Good: Thumbs up to this pair. Bogart Engineering has done a bang up job at putting amazing flexibility and sophistication into a relatively inexpensive package. I like that they kept the controller simple, no fancy cases, graphics, bells, and whistles. I’ve had the pleasure of contacting Bogart with support questions. They actually answered the phone. I was surprised to be able to speak directly to Ralph the designer and builder of the units. He was extremely helpful and patiently answered all my questions.

Bad: The menuing system and setup are not highly intuitive. There’s a bit of a learning curve. Maybe they could in the future use a Bluetooth system so it could be done via a smartphone or tablet. That would be cool!

Video Detailing These RV Upgrades

Stay Tuned For More RV Upgrades

Whew. That’s a whole wack of upgrades and mods I’ve made to the ol’Cougar trailer. However, I have even more on the back burner. I just love to dig in and figure out ways to improve our RV and RVing experience.

our-cougar-trailer

Boondocked in southern Utah

I’m currently in the process of installing a new SeeLevel tank level monitoring system, looking at an upgrade to our cellular signal amplification and have my eyes on a wireless backup camera. Fun times!

Keep up with all my Mods and Upgrades and more. Sign up for the monthly Love Your RV! newsletter.

Reviewing our many RV upgrades. How have they performed? Looking back after using them for some time. The Love Your RV! blog - http://www.loveyourrv.com/ #RVing #RVupgrades

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  • Gordon Cindy

    Hi Ray,
    Thanks for doing the review it’s always good to hear how things are going after they’ve been used for a while.

    I’m planning to install solar panels on our fifth wheel and was wondering, now that you’ve had experience, if you would recommend attaching my panels the same way you did or use some ’tilt’ brackets? I’m not sure I’d go up on the roof to tilt them everywhere we camped but I’m thinking it would be nice to be able to lift the panels to clean under them. I see your friends at Mobile Homesteading use some aluminum angle to make mounting brackets. What do you think?

    Thanks again,
    Gord

    • I guess it’s a personal preference, both methods seem to work well on the typical rubber roofs. You will definitely get a big boost in power by tilting in the winter somewhere around 15-30%, not so much in the summer, and like you say access and easy removal is a pro. But there is the hassle of going up on the roof to untilt when packing up plus the additional hardware cost. We like to move fairly often so I decided to keep it simple, I also have a lot of roof space for additional panels if needed, so instead of buy tilt brackets, I could add a panel.

      • Gordon Cindy

        Thanks for the comments Ray. I still haven’t decided which way to go but I suspect I’ll have lots of time to think about it now, looks like the rains have started again (we live on the west coast of BC) so I’ll probably not want to drill holes in the roof til things dry out a bit. lol
        I don’t look forward to climbing up and down to/from the roof to raise and lower the panels… someone needs to invent a “powered panel lifter”, maybe use the same electric motors used in power windows in autos? There’s something for you to develop!! Let me know when it’s ready. 😉

        • There are things like that around and also automated solar trackers, but it becomes very complex and expensive.