When a person buys an RV, typically the first year is spent keeping it pristine and in exactly the same condition as when they first bought it. (Surely most RV owners have said “Take those shoes off before you step inside!” at least once in their first year). Over time, that mania starts to subside. You feel more comfortable making the RV more your own, like slapping a funny sticker on your back windshield. Eventually, you figure out what might not be meeting your needs. It’s then you have to make a choice – do you make a substantial RV modification that could permanently alter your RV?
Thankfully, most modifications shouldn’t negatively impact your camper’s eventual resale value. In fact, many times, it might even increase it. Best of all, it will almost always increase your enjoyment of the time spent in and out of the vehicle.
DIY RV Modifications
Over the years, I’ve made quite a few updates to my 2000 Roadtrek camper van, most of which can be resolved with a screwdriver and a container of wood filler. I installed a retractable clothesline in my tiny bathroom so that I could hang my wet waders after a day of fly fishing. Because I never need wrinkle-free shirts or slacks, I removed the clothes bar from the small closet behind the driver seat and built a few removable shelves. That closet has now gained significantly more storage capability, which you can’t have enough of in a small vehicle.
You can’t let worry stop you from making changes. I repurposed my TV cabinet into a coffee and device-charging station, and I haven’t doubted that decision for one second. I was nervous when I originally installed flexible solar panels on the roof of my van, and with good reason, it turned out. That decision didn’t pan out; less than three years later, the panels delaminated and the batteries I purchased from Amazon had trouble keeping a charge.
Naturally, that failure gave me even more trepidation when I needed to replace those panels. I realized I was in over my head and asked my friend and licensed electrician Chris Poore for help. Between the two of us – okay, almost entirely him – we were able to install rigid panels on custom-made brackets bonded to my fiberglass roof. I trusted my friend and the experience he had from doing the exact same thing to other RVs, including his own.
The day after we installed those panels, I took off on a two-month trek through the southwest. For the first week or two, my anxiety level was through the roof every time I hit 65 mph on the interstate, fearing the panels would rip off, leaving holes in my roof and in the windshield of the dude tailgating me. That never happened, thankfully.
Before each big trip, I try to remember to check to make sure the bolts holding the panels to the rack are still tight. Because I was willing to make a huge modification to my van, I’m able to boondock for up to a week on BLM land, never having to worry if I’ll have enough power to charge my camera batteries or laptop. Assuming, of course, the weather hasn’t been too cloudy.
Sometimes, your modifications go unseen, and it’s mostly a matter of if you want to spend more money. As a frequently broke freelancer – okay, always broke – I don’t like to spend money when I don’t have to. When I first bought the van, the steering felt loose. After doing some research, I found a steering stabilizer that fellow Roadtrek users swore by. I’d just dropped five digits on the van, so what was an extra $300 or $400? Luckily it was a worthwhile investment; I enjoyed driving the van rather than dreading it.
I spend a lot of time navigating bumpy dirt roads. So when the shocks began to fail, I felt it, literally. The bumps would shoot me straight up in the air, and I may have actually hit my head on the ceiling once or twice. When I went to my mechanic to replace them, I paid nearly twice as much for top-of-the-line Bilstein shocks. By this time, I knew where I liked to camp and what I needed from my van to get me there. By going with the heavy-duty shocks, I knew not only would I enjoy the cushier ride, but so would the van itself.
When I do meet up with other RV owners, the conversation always turns from where we’ve been lately to where we’re going to what we plan to do to our van next. Based on those conversations, some of the most popular modifications are backup cameras, tankless water heaters, tire pressure monitors, and flooring, followed by new appliances and mattresses.
Ideas for RV Modifications
Vinyl Plank Flooring
I installed some peel-and-stick vinyl plank flooring a few years ago in my own van. It’s not only the easiest but also the best option for most RV owners. The planks are super easy to cut and place. Plus, they won’t be ruined when you inevitably track in dirt, mud, or water. If something does happen to them, it’s easy to pry them up and start over with a new product.
Given the state of my hitch-mounted bike rack, I desperately need to install a backup camera myself. The big problem – and one I think many other owners have – is which camera? You can buy wired or wireless versions. Some versions replace your rearview mirror while others feed the camera stream to your Apple Carplay video monitor. (And don’t get me started on the overwhelming number of aftermarket stereo replacements.) I’m pretty sure some have alarms while others rely on your wife to scream, “Hit the brake, Rob!”
Tankless Water Heater
Tankless water heaters are like the Houston Astros – you either love them or hate them. There’s absolutely no middle ground. Most of the folks I know who have them aren’t fans. But I’ve also read some nice reviews online. I guess it’s possible the manufacturers are writing those positive reviews themselves, just like I’m sure Jose Altuve has spent hours on online baseball forums anonymously defending his AL MVP awards. If you like your tankless water heater, sound off in the comments. And if you think Altuve cheated and didn’t deserve to be named MVP, let’s hear it, if only to see if SeriouslyNotAltuve27 appears in the comments.
I have not bought a tire pressure monitor yet, but I’m sure I will at some point. Properly inflated tires can improve your gas mileage by up to 3 percent. And if you put the miles on your RV that I do, that adds up in a hurry!
I’ve got a few more ideas for further modifying my Roadtrek. For starters, I’ll attach a mount to the front of my closet door to hold my various fly rods. I’ll add brighter headlights to make driving at night easier for my old-man eyes. I no longer worry about how my changes will affect the resale value – I’m driving this baby until the wheels fall off. But I still want to make sure any changes I make are worthwhile and not just change for change’s sake.
Your RV Modifications
We wanted to learn which RV modifications our readers have made to their units that improved how they camp. From tow vehicle improvements to interior decorations, read which RV modifications make camping easier for fellow RVers.
Interior Furniture Upgrade
“We took out the uncomfortable dinette, and put in rockets recliners and a console.”-Jane
“Full toy hauler renovation, sun floor, vinyl plank, trimmed out, full washer and dryer hook up, bed lifts renovated to bunk with 4 twin mattresses to sleep 4 or the 6 kids, than IKEA couch that folds to queen bed for the 2 younger kids!!.”-Traveling 8 Pack
“New heavy duty leaf springs. My wife packs everything but the kitchen sink. Lol”-Charlie
Washer & Dryer Hookups
“Full washer and dryer hook up installed plumbing into kitchen sink plumbing.”-Casey
“This 4wd front axle on my E450.”-Travis
“Added a lift for handicapped access..”-Deborah
Have you made modifications to your RV that have improved its performance and your time at the campground? Let us know in the comments below.