Small upgrades and repairs make a big difference

storage cabinet lock
This lock on our “basement” storage door started showing its age after 10 years of constant use.

Small upgrades and repairs on your RV can make a big difference. The most liveable mobile spaces are those that you personalize to fit your style or needs. And maintenance is a necessary evil, especially when you spend a lot of time in your rig. That’s true no matter what type of RV you drive, but space concerns and having everything working correctly are even more critical in smaller units. We have a Class B RV — a 2008 Roadtrek 190 Popular 4×4, which is just shy of 22 feet long. That includes the spare tire hanging off the back and the brush guard on the front! Recently I’ve been making some repairs and changes that helped update various areas of the rig.

RV LP detector
Our LP detector was one of several safety equipment upgrades I made a couple of months back.

About two months ago, I replaced all of our safety monitors due to their age. These included the smoke, carbon monoxide, and LP gas detectors. I also recently replaced the outdoor porch light because the old one had lost its weather-proofing and was regularly leaking when it rained. Attempts to seal it up failed miserably, not to mention making it look terrible. I also addressed a need for space to hang magnetic keepsakes and pursued an idea for an exterior table.

Let There Be Light
RV porch light
This porch light came out looking like a factory install despite my never having worked with rivets before. It’s a “shining” accomplishment!

For the porch light, I took on the initially daunting task of removing the entire unit and installing an exact replacement. It was intimidating because Roadtrek riveted the light fixture to the side of the van. I’ve never done any work with rivets, but thanks to YouTube, I quickly learned the basics of how to drill them out and how to use a rivet gun. The rivet gun I bought was easy to use, affordable and worked well. The result was a brand new light that looked professionally installed.

Magnetic Personality
RV refrigerator door with magnets
When your wife collects magnets while traveling, you need to come up with someplace for her to put them.

One of Jessi’s favorite things to collect when we travel is magnets. Unfortunately, the front of our Dometic three-way refrigerator did not come with a magnetic surface. In fact, the only magnetic surfaces in our entire van are screw heads, which don’t serve well for displaying souvenirs. We had purchased a set of small wipe-off boards to double as places to write notes and hold our magnets. As soon as we increase our frequency of traveling, we will increase the number of magnets exponentially. We needed a larger magnetic space. So, I started researching transforming our refrigerator door into that new home for our magnets.

I found what I needed at Home Depot. They sell sheets of galvanized steel in various sizes. A 24-inch by 24-inch piece was the closest I could get. Since I knew the sheet was thin enough to trim with tin snips, I figured I could quickly make that fit. After cutting a few inches off one side, I was able to (slowly and carefully!) pry the frame away from the refrigerator door and slip the sheet of steel underneath it on the left and right sides. The 24-inch height is just a little short, so I centered it on the fridge, and now that magnets are on there you can’t notice the small gap anyway. It’s one of Jessi’s favorite small upgrades, which means bonus points for me!

Tire Table
tabletop on RV spare tire
This spare tire table top was created after seeing a lot of other ideas floating around online.

In a small RV, finding work surfaces can be tricky. Adding them can be cumbersome because you need to be able to store things out of the way when not in use. We try to follow the rule that anything coming into the van needs to have at least two purposes. We have a couple of outdoor tables that fold down and store under the rear couch/bed. I had seen people using the drop-down spare tire as a grilling or work surface by placing one of their indoor tables on there. Other people have attached different types of table tops, and I thought that would be the best option. One key benefit to doing it this way is that when the table top isn’t in use, it is out of the way outside. That’s important because it doesn’t infringe on high-value indoor space.

This project came together at the local Home Depot, too. They had a variety of round, unfinished wooden table tops from which to choose. I opted for the 24-inch diameter model so it wouldn’t sit too far out on the tire. Because it’s unfinished wood, I was concerned about exposing the table to weather. A quick spray of some Thompson’s WaterSeal took care of that. I even found a version that doubles as a color stain, which gives the tabletop a nicer, more finished look. (I went with Acorn Brown, but there are other colors.)

Our van has the EZ Lift system for the spare tire, so it’s easier to move the whole thing up and down. It’s still heavy, but the lift system helps a lot. I had to temporarily remove the hard-case tire cover to access a point where a backing plate could be attached, and I would have a sturdy base for the bolt holding the table in place.  The backing plate isn’t the prettiest thing, but it’s completely hidden when the tire cover is on anyway. (As a bonus, I ended up using some of the galvanized steel that I trimmed off for the refrigerator installation. Score!)

I drilled a 1/2-inch hole in the center of the table top and ran a 1/2-inch, 8-inch long bolt through it. The bolt then goes through the wheel and into holes in the tire carrier and the backing plate. A couple of nuts hold the entire thing snug against the tire. I also used a neoprene washer on the table side to protect the wood when tightening everything up.

The result has proven to be a nice addition to our collection of work surfaces when we’re camping. The second time out with it, I discovered that it’s the perfect height for use with one of the camp chairs we carry — so it makes a great outdoor desk. The small upgrades that make a big difference are the best.

Basement bender
Roadtrek storage bay door
Over time, our “basement” storage door was starting to stick out more than when we first purchased the rig.

We bought our van used and one small item that had shown some age was the main door to the “basement” storage on the driver’s side. The latches didn’t pull the door in flush when we locked them, but it wasn’t anything to worry about. Over the time we’ve owned the van, however, the situation has worsened. The basement door was starting to stick out more even when locked.

With a little research into the problem, I discovered that it was the bar on the latch being bent that was preventing the door from being as flush as it should. The locks are a standard type of file-cabinet latch, and I found replacements at Home Depot. But before I removed and replaced the entire unit, I tested out a hypothesis that worked.

Roadtrek storage bay door
It still sticks out just a bit, but it’s much more like when we first bought the unit rather than sticking out enough to be quite noticeable.

The locking bar can get warped or bent over time. That creates enough of a gap that the door ends up sticking out when closed. By removing the bar, flipping it over and reinstalling it, I reversed the angle. Now the door is pulled in tighter again when closed.

The only tough part of the job was getting the screw that holds the bar in place to break free from the rust that has built up over the years. A shot of PB Blaster and some time to let it work took care of that though. The fix isn’t perfect and, eventually, I may need to swap out both locking mechanisms. But for a quick and easy repair, this was the way to go. The best part is that by spending just a fraction of the time needed for replacement, I had restored the door so it closes as much as it did the day we picked up the van.

If I can do small upgrades…

I should note that I am not a handy person. Generally, I know just enough about hand tools to be dangerous. I get the concepts and handle electrical connections with ease. (A while back, I did a larger project when I converted all of our fluorescent aisle lights over to LED tubes.) Coming up with ideas on how to create or repair things isn’t a problem. But I have never been very good at making a nice finished product.

If owning this van has taught me one thing it’s that you can learn to do things. If I want to travel full time in the RV, there are going to be times when I may have to be the person who does a repair or replacement of something. That will be because of the location we’re in or our desire to save money on the work. The key is to research what you want to do. I have found YouTube to be an invaluable resource for learning tips and tricks on using tools. It’s no wonder YouTube ranks as the number two search engine now behind Google.

The van — and my desire to become part of the #vanlife movement — has inspired more confidence in myself when making small upgrades. I have made improvements to the Roadtrek either because we needed to replace things or I was trying to address a need. If I can do it, you can do it! They weren’t significant projects, but even small upgrades make a big difference.

iPad on tabletop
Our new outdoor table is just the right height to use as a desk with one of our camp chairs.

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