The homeward-bound leg of my 2021 trip to Texas turned up several problems with my RV, and I vowed to update, upgrade, and repair all the systems I rely on for camping on the road before launching another voyage. There was a health crisis I endured before I could complete these projects that slowed me down, but the surgery was successful, my recovery went faster than I expected, and I eventually reached my goal.
The most troubling failure I experienced on the drive home was when my generator failed and would not run my air conditioner as self-defense from the oppressive heat of the deserts I crossed. When I reached my southern California home, I set up a service which ended up costing a pretty penny, but it had to be done. There was an intermittent short in the main mechanism that produces the power (the stator). It was probably a flaw from the beginning of its life, but it took the ride from Texas for it to reach a chronic state from which it could no longer overcome. The stator was replaced and now the generator works better than ever.
I made myself a list of upgrades to implement before launching on another expedition. The first item I assigned myself was also the most complex.
Two years ago I mounted three 100 watt solar panels on the RV, but they weren’t optimized to deliver their best power, so I worked up a plan to add four more panels, achieving a total of 700 watts. When I first got my RV, there was no equipment mounted to the roof and my fuel economy was regularly 15.5 to 17 miles per gallon (sometimes more). Later, I added a rooftop cargo box and built a motorized caddy to lift my kayak onto the roof. With these changes, my fuel economy fell to between 10.5 and 14.5 miles per gallon. I wanted to mount the additional solar panels in such a way as to create a more efficient airflow, and I believe I did. I welded an aluminum frame to mount three panels at the front of the van’s roof to ramp the air over the kayak caddy. Then I built another frame to mount the fourth panel, down sloped behind the caddy, hopefully reducing the turbulence.
For maximum exposure to the sun, I hinged two of the panels, one at the front, and the other at the rear. I needed a hinge to access the space under the panels for storage, anyway. Two of the original three panels were mounted on hinges on the driver-side to act as awnings for the coach’s side windows. Now, by raising the side panels into either of the two positions I set up, and raising the hinged roof panels I can orient the van in a way to have most of my panels pointed in the general direction of the sun, and maximize my solar generating capacity.
This design created a space for storage under the panels, so I hit three goals for the project.
(1) I can achieve more power from the sun as mentioned above, (2) I have more storage for light-weight items, and (3) I have improved my fuel economy. I’ve yet to test the metrics of the third item, but when I’ve driven on the freeway, the “instant economy” reported by the van’s instruments give me hope that I have improved things. I will know for sure after I depart on my next voyage and calculate my gas mileage.
Another goal I set was to add more propane storage. The RV came with a tank mounted under the coach that holds only 4.5 gallons. My next trip promises to put me in some cold country in the northern USA and possibly Canada. To address this issue, I added a pair of 20 pound propane tanks on the rear door that hold about 4.5 gallons each, thus tripling my capacity. Now I should be able to survive the cold without fear of running out of heating fuel.
As part of my goal to prepare for cold weather, I installed 12 volt heat pads on the RV’s gray and black waste holding tanks and their associated pipes. I then insulated the tanks and heating pads. I don’t know how well these upgrades will perform, but I’m hopeful they will suffice when the mercury dips below freezing temperatures.
Another major upgrade I assigned myself was the most expensive. I replaced my lead-acid, AGM batteries with lithium (LiFePO), and gave myself an upgrade from 300 to 600 amp hours. This meant I had to upgrade the solar charge regulator to achieve proper charging, but the additional roof panels meant I had to do that, anyway.
The motorized kayak caddy mentioned above was custom-built for a boat I no longer owned, so I needed to modify and repair it to accommodate the inflatable kayak I bought. I also had additional kayak gear to carry, which meant I needed to improve the kayak cover to accommodate storage for the extra gear. With some MacGyvering, I fabricated bracketing to secure the additional gear to the caddy-lift.
I count 29 additional tasks I gave myself, but I feel they are too trivial to warrant a detailed description here.