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Left - Magnatek
Right – Progressive Dynamics 4600 upgrade
House Battery Charger and Converter. We purchased a 4600 Progressive Dynamics from BestConverter.com upgrade to the Magnatek to get a three-stage battery charging to replace the old two stage charging. This prevents frying the battery due to overcharging. The upgrade is installed inside the original Magnatek box, and does replace the fuse panel (all 12 VDC circuits are filtered now). Also an LED lights if a fuse is blown. Plus there is green LED that indicates which mode the three-stage charger is using.
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Installation is quite easy if you have a place to install the shunt (photo on right) near the battery. Although it looks intimidating it is rather simple. The shunt is installed on the negative side of the battery and will require an additional heavy duty battery cable. Ours is installed on the outside of the battery compartment (see photo under Onan Generator for the bigger view).
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Shore Power Protection and Monitor. Dan Neeley, an itinerant electronic service technician and Roadtrek owner, installed a Progressive Industries Power Protection unit for us. It protects against a number of power issues. It shows the condition of plugged in shore power at the pedestal. Digital error codes indentify normal power and identify faults of various kinds, such as under voltage, over voltage, reverse polarity, abnormal cycles, and surge suppression.
We installed a remote monitor (see Power Monitoring below) beside the battery monitor to tell us about 120 VAC power and 12 VDC battery power at a glance. So far we have found severe under voltage at one campground and a reverse polarity extension cord at another campground.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Power Monitoring. We put the Battery Monitor and the remote display for the Progressive Industries Power Protection System on the side of the pantry cabinet. This allows us to see both the 12 VDC and the 120 VAC status at the same time. (Photo shows 2 amps on the shore power and the house battery is at 13.5 volts.)
The CO monitor and the power for the Wilson Dual Band Cellular amplifier are also visible. The alarm clock is easy to set and to see at night. The remote start panel for the generator is below the battery monitor. The 12 volt TV is under the striped cover.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Onan Generator. Our Roadtrek came “generator ready.” That meant we had an empty generator compartment, a transfer switch and the fuel pickup in the gas tank. We called the factory and they strongly advised against trying to install an Onan. “Too difficult and too expensive,” they warned, “Buy a portable.” So we bought a Honda EU2000i generator, but it was inconvenient to use.
We learned that the going price for a used Onan generator is about $700-800. We found a Roadtrek-owning neighbor who had added and removed his generator many times; and with his promise to help use, we went looking for a generator. We found a used Onan generator removed from a 1997 Roadtrek far away and bought it.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>The pre-mid 1996 Roadtreks have the generator installed in a compartment rather than hanging underneath. Although slightly harder to get to (we timed it – 25 minutes to remove and 45 minutes to reinstall), it is protected from the elements.
Getting the generator working correctly turned out to be an unexpected Herculean multi-stage task (see The Onan Saga). An improvement was a dual fuel line, one side going into the Dodge fuel tank, the other fuel line available to take from a separate fuel tank. A Y-valve selects the line (shown in the lower photo). We found some mass loaded vinyl and lined the generator compartment to reduce operating noise. We mounted the generator starting panel and runtime meter on the pantry back wall with the other monitors. For more info on the generators see Onan Generator Basics for Roadtrek Owners. Now that is it done, we are quite happy with our Onan.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Solar Panel. We don’t boondock for more than night or two very often. But the few times a year that we do spend a week without hookups we get tired of listening to the generator charge the battery. The first 30 minutes, the battery monitor shows a lot of amps going into the battery. Then it tapers off, and the generator is loafing along. What a waste!
We are happy to run the generator if we need A/C or the microwave or the coffee marker. Solar is perfect for topping off the battery, and with only a single battery we don’t need much. We are stingy users of power anyway (the LED lights, and 12 volt TV and 12 volt adapters for the laptops really help keep power use down). If we use 30 amps in a day that is a lot for us – so one 100 watt solar panel (21 inches x 41 inches) should be plenty.
We discussed what we wanted with AM Solar – a company highly recommended by other Roadtrek owners. We got their most efficient 100 watt panel, a Morningstar SunSaver MPPT charge controller and all the necessary parts and pieces for $696. It took us two half days to install it. Fishing wires behind cabinets was the hardest part.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Remote Meter for Solar. We already had a battery monitor, but we couldn’t resist more information so we got a remote meter for the Morningstar charge controller. Now we can see how many volts the panel is putting out and how many amps the charge controller is putting out (among other things). It will not put out more than needed, so to find out the max it can provide with the sun available, we can increase the load until the battery monitor changes from amps into the battery to amps being taken from the battery.
The photo shows the Progressive Industries remote display (shore power) on the left, the Morningstar remote meter in the middle (reading 19.55 volts at the panel), and the Trimetric on the right (reading 0.2 amps charging the battery). The CO detector and the Onan control panel are below.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Front Console. We had too many cigarette lighter plug-ins and wires trailing around the driver’s and passenger’s feet, not to mention a small inverter to power laptop computers, and cell phone chargers. We organized this mess by building a console that slips under and is screwed to the engine-top tray already in the Roadtrek. It mounts the strip inverter, a four-way cigarette lighter extension, cell phone holder, and tire monitor
Tire Pressure and Temperature Monitor. We added a Tire Minder monitor after reading horror stories of big RV flats. The unit consists in four sensors that screw onto the tire valve stems. Each sensor has a button battery inside. When you have been traveling for several miles the tire air pressure and temperature are sent to the display unit on the console.
CB Radio. If you want to learn new and colorful language, get a
citizens band radio and a big antenna. After being stuck in long traffic delays
due to accidents, we bought a
<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>GPS. We have a Garmin nuvi GPS unit that can be updated with revised maps. Every once in a while it says, “Traffic ahead.” Usually when that happens we have already been sitting in a backup for 20 minutes, or there is absolutely no slow-down at all. The navigation part, however, works well.
In addition to the vehicle GPS, we have a hand-held Garmin etrex GPS that we use for bicycling or boating or hiking.
On the left is the Garmin nuvi with the rear view camera display below. The handheld Garmin etrex HCx is shown on the right.
<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>Back Up Camera. There were times having a backup camera would have been be nice. After reading many reviews we selected a visual/IR wired camera from Rear View Safety. We ran the wires into the A/C compartment, then into the long upper rear storage cabinet and then over the top of the kitchen cabinets. We routed it through the shelf over the driver’s door and down inside the door pillar. It is wired to be on as desired, not just when backing up. Installation description here.
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Amplifier and MiFi. Being cheap, we use Virgin
Mobile prepay MiFi for internet access when traveling
(Sprint network). We can activate
it for 10 days or 30 days as needed.
The Sprint network – at least east of the
The trucker antenna installation is covered in the Exterior Mods section. We mounted the amplifier in the driver’s side rear cabinet and put the indoor antenna on top of the closet. We can set the MiFi directly on top of the antenna. Of course it works for cell phones too.
We pull the cord out of the cabinet and plug the 12 VDC power cord into the TV outlet to power the amplifier. It uses 0.55 amps when turned on.
<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>Computer Box. We built a box that exactly fits between the front seats. It has three compartments. The rearmost compartment allows you to slide two laptop computers and their power supplies into an open slot. The second compartment, with removable lid, contains office supplies – a small printer, scanner, extra paper, pens, and stapler. The third small compartment is open to contain charging cords, iPod cords, and other wires. We have foam dog pads that cover the top of the box and can be placed on the floor to make dog beds when we travel with 2 to 5 Standard Poodles. The box can be covered with one to three dog pads.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Clocks. We found a LaCross radio clock that also has an inside and outside digital thermometer. It fits in front of the big air conditioner, held in partly by a black elastic cord. The clock receives WWV radio signals and adjusts for time zone. The wireless outside temperature transmitter is located inside the SwingAway box, held on the wall with Velcro fasteners.
We also have a large red-number digital clock facing the sleepers in the back. It is a SHARP alarm clock from Walmart. It sits atop the 13” TV cover, secured by Velcro fasteners. Shown above in Power Monitoring.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Water Heater Temperature Thermometer. We found a meat thermometer with settable alarm. We bought a probe with an extra long wire for it so we could mount the display on the clothes cabinet wall. The probe was inserted beneath the foam insulation jacket of the Suburban water heater, and plugs into a digital display. The water heater, when activated on the Roadtrek panel, heats water to a high shutoff temperature – higher than necessary for doing dishes or showering. And it wastes water getting the mixture set for the correct temperature. So we set the thermometer to alarm at a setpoint of 109 to 112◦F, at which point we turn off the water heater at its “hot enough” point to save propane. This means we can do dishes or take a shower turning on only the hot water. No fiddling with adjusting the water temperature. You may have to experiment to find a temperature setting that works for you.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>12VDC TV. Many Roadtreks have large TVs that run from inverter-supplied 120 VAC. At a truck stop we saw 12 VDC TVs of various sizes and several brands. A TV designed for trucks is made to handle rough travel and road shocks, voltage variations, and be loud enough to be heard over diesel engines. And it works directly from battery power.
After reading reviews we bought a Skyworth from Roadtrucker.com. Our 13.3 inch model with a built in DVD player uses only 1.5 amps playing a DVD. We selected the 13.3” model so it would site flat against the pantry cabinet wall. We are not TV snobs, but have been very happy with it. We bought a mounting arm to swing it away from the wall or point it forward. We made a slipcover to protect it. When plugged into the Roadtrek TV antenna in our town it picks up 11 TV stations.
(Above the TV is the CO Detector and the Battery Monitor) The TV plugs into the original 12 VDC TV outlet. The cable and antenna connections are next to the power plug.
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Front & Rear Fans. On hot days a fan to blow the A/C back into the dinette / bed area is required. And a front fan to move vehicle A/C down to the dogs while moving keeps them comfortable.
These Caframo Sirocco 12 VDC fans were purchased from a marine store. They are fully gimbaled and can direct air anywhere. They have 3 speeds and can be set to run for 2, 4, 6, or 8 hours. They are wired into the house battery.
<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>The Sirocco fans will stow flat against the wall. The rear fan can be rotated over the pantry cabinet door or the rear storage compartment door. They are quiet and perform well. And they are out of the way when not needed.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Replacement Thermostat. Our original Suburban thermostat finally died and we replaced it with a Luxpro digital thermostat (heat only) we found on Amazon. We find that the digital display is useful even when using an electric heater or the A/C. A quick look is all that is needed. And pushing either button will turn on a green backlight for about 10 seconds, so it can be read at night without turning on a light.
The new thermostat does a better job of maintaining the temperature than the original. Originally it seemed to go from too cold to too hot. Now it range is from slightly cool to slightly warm. Unfortunately we never measured the temperatures on the original, so we have no way to compare. But we don’t find ourselves throwing off blankets because it got too hot, or hiding under the covers because it got too cold.
<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>Extra Outlets. We installed extra 120 VAC outlets and 12 VDC outlets on both sides of the rear bench seats/beds. These allow various appliances to work without draping cords everywhere. We also installed a 12 VDC outlet behind the driver for the MiFi.
<![if !vml]><![endif]><![if !vml]><![endif]>LED Replacement Bulbs. Several years ago, we replaced the bulbs in all the incandescent lights in Red Rover with LEDs units from SuperBrightLEDs.com. LED replacement bulbs can even be found in Camping Stores today.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Replacement Reading Lights. The white plastic bullet lights shown above worked fine, but we were always bumping them with our heads. We kept looking for some low profile replacements that we could still aim. Eventually we stumbled across these. They are 1 watt LED lights and seem to be plenty bright for reading.
The mounting hole was smaller, so we replaced the oak piece that held the lights and added a switch too.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Dinette Strip Lights. When boondocking we don’t use the fluorescent light over the table because it uses 1.5 amps (same as the Fantastic Fan on medium or the 13” Skyworth TV playing a DVD). That is excessive compared to LED lights, but the 2 reading lights don’t light the table very well.
We were happy with the other LED strip lights we use, so we ran a strip across the ceiling behind the fabric covered support. They are not visible from front. We included a dimmer (box on ceiling) since these lights can be very bright. They can be as bright as the fluorescent light or dialed down for a romantic dinner.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Tiny Computer Speaker. This little speaker is called a 360 degree vibration speaker. It has a battery that charges though a USB connection and is quite an impressive speaker. It makes a huge difference what you set it on. We have found it does a great jobs sitting on the dinette table. And it fits perfectly in the “Oak Occasional Shelf” we got from Camping World (we have two on the side of the clothes cabinet near the thermostat.
The speaker works well with both the laptops and the iPods.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Walkie Talkie Two-Way Radios. We carry two portable short-range radios for use when one of us is away shopping. They are useful when it’s raining to summon the Roadtrek from far out in the parking lot to the store door at the right time to intercept the shopper. Very valuable for finding your spouse in a big box store. They can also be used for directing backing into campsites.