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RV Mods - Upgrading our RV to be more like a house

ImFoleyLoaded

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Thought some people in here might be interested in some of the upgrades we made to our RV. This is basically a mash-up of "why we choose this RV", "How we made it more comfortable for any trip", and "affordable modifications that most people would benefit from".

For years, RVs & travel trailers have gotten by with a couple of lead acid batteries and propane to run the essentials, and 110 outlets were available only when running a generator or plugged into shore power. In later years, inverters started making their way into rigs, but not powering everything most people would like them to. These are most of the mods we did to our class A to make it feel more like a small house, rather than a hard-sided tent.

01_Winnebago Intent 30R.jpeg


This is our 2018 Winnebago Intent 30R. Pretty much your standard 30ft class A gasser. Two slide outs on the driver’s side (which I much prefer, especially at campgrounds). It has the same F53 chassis that basically everyone and their grandma’s RV is built on. It has the reliable, yet not-quite-as-peppy-as-a-diesel Triton V10 with a 6-speed transmission. After test driving similarly sized rigs that had the 5-speed, it’s handy having an extra gear and a closer ratio when hitting different grades. Rated to tow 5000 lbs, we’ve flat towed my old 4300lb Land Cruiser over the west coast and it pulled great.

02_RV with Toyota.jpg


The Floorplan
There are tons of floor plans out there. This layout made the most sense to us. Very open when slides are out, yet completely livable/accessible when they’re in. Large kitchen area with natural light, good size fridge, large bathroom and shower, outdoor kitchen area, and a ton of storage inside and out.

03_Floorplan.jpg


We preferred having the slides on just the driver's side. The living side of the RV stays flat which means more outdoor space. Also, overall width is narrower than opposing slides which proved to be handy at some narrower camp sites. Just one big smooth wall. Another bonus is the 22ft awning that you don’t have to share with any skull-crushing slides. Having the kitchen on the wall facing the living side is nice, too, especially when conversing with people outside.

Typical bedroom in the back. The bed follows the slide out allowing room to walk around the other side of the bed. Being able to walk around the bed makes changing sheets a breeze. As you can imagine, this was high on my wife’s wish list and hardly a thought to me. There’s also two nightstands with storage, 110 outlets, and USB outlets. Also on her wish list, big ass closet. It’s large, given the RV’s size. It’s about 50% larger than most other layouts we were looking at with only having one bedroom slide.

04_Interior front to back.jpeg

05_Dinette and Office.jpeg

06_Kitchen.jpeg

07_Front seats.jpeg

08_Bedroom 1.jpeg

09_Bedroom 2.jpeg

10_Outdoor Kitchen.jpeg
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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The Upgrades​

11_Upgrades laid out.jpg


As with all RVs, there’s room for improvements. I’ve learned a long time ago, if there’s a chance to fix something while improving it, do it. Also, “buy once, cry once” applies to most everything. That being said, we were absolutely on a budget, so we spent more money on what we needed the most and I did everything myself A) because I have a background as a mechanic and in electrical, and B) because I knew it would be done right and not to… let’s just say… “typical RV standards”.


Electrical

The Onan 4000 genset works great, but we didn’t want to run it all the time if we were boondocking. We opted to go with Victron Energy chargers/inverter/battery monitor and two 100ah Battle Born lithium batteries to replace the stock electronics and lead acid bricks. It would have been nice to get more batteries but decided on two due to cost and space. The 30-amp DC/DC lithium charger charges them when driving. When we wanted to spend a little extra time at an off-grid spot without disturbing the peace, we used a 200-watt folding solar panel with 20ft cables to run out wherever the sun was best. Sometimes you want to park in the shade but reap the benefits of solar. The panel’s extension cords plug into a 30-amp MPPT charger near the batteries. The charger is capable of about 360 watts, but we just have two 100-watt panels. It produces enough to gain what was lost overnight in a couple hours.

12_Batteries.jpg

13_Solar Panels.JPG

14_Solar Charger.jpg

15_DC Charger.jpg


The original 600-watt inverter only powered one of the two fridges and the three TVs, but not a single other outlet when on battery power. This was puzzling, considering you’d probably want BOTH fridges to stay cold and want to use an Apple TV, Fire Stick, or maybe a DVD player to watch movies. Yeah, no; not with the original wiring. I rewired the main panel to a Victron Micro Compact 2000-watt inverter/charger. Now, every outlet/appliance (microwave included) can be run from the lithium batteries. And let me tell you, turning the coffee pot on in the morning without the generator is the best.

16_Inverter.jpg

17_Inverter Close Up.jpg

18_Victron Connect App Inverter.jpg


Another neat feature is via Bluetooth, the maximum number of amps the inverter pulls from shore power can be adjusted. This is awesome when only a 15- or 20-amp plug is available (moochdocking from a friend’s house or something) so it doesn’t blow their breaker. The inverter will pull the max number of amps the user sets, and if additional power is needed to run whatever load is put on it, pulls whatever extra power it needs from the batteries. When the load drops back down below that threshold of amps set (ex: toast is done), it flips back to charging the batteries automatically. And of course, all of this can be monitored by phone via Bluetooth.

In the photo below, I’m just keeping the batteries topped off and running lights through an old 14-gauge extension cord, so I have it set to 10 amps.

19_Victron Connect App Inverter Input Limit.jpg


Here’s a more technical breakdown if you’re interested: The main shore power (10/2 wires) used to come into the converter, which was no longer needed, as it was not compatible with the lithium batteries. Now, in the old converter’s place, is the new main panel, where the new main breaker and AC breaker are now located. The main breaker feeds the inverter/charger (input), and the inverter/charger outputs to the existing “main” panel, which is now the sub-panel, as it is powered by the inverter/charger. The inverter/charger works as a passthrough when plugged into shore power/generator (just like the converter did) and chargers the lithium batteries. When unplugged from main power, the inverter/charger switches to inverter mode (in like 20 milliseconds) and draws power from the batteries. Although kind of a pain to figure out, it was 100% worth it always having power to everything, with exception for the AC.

20_Power Panel - Before.jpg

21_Power Panel - After.jpg

22_Power Panel - Coverered.jpg

23_Victron Connect All Devices.jpg


Keeping an eye on everything is the Bluetooth battery monitor. In fact, with all these electronics added, this little 2” panel is all that’s visible. Even though the monitor is Bluetooth, the display is handy to check when passing by. The shunt for the battery monitor is mounted in the battery area which is fairly protected from the elements, but open to the undercarriage, so I mounted it in a waterproof box to keep it safe.

24_Battery Monitor.jpg

25_Victron Connect Battery Monitor.jpg

26_Battery Shunt.jpg
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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Tech

Going without internet blows. Yes, camping and “getting away from it all” is great, but let’s be honest, most people would be in a tent rather than a big RV that came with 3 TVs from the factory if that was the case. Internet access is a luxury that we’ve all grown accustomed to. There were quite a few options for this, but we ultimately decided that the limited data we get from using our phones as a hotspot sucks, the reception/range of that sucks, and counting on campground WiFi sucks if not parked close to their router. That’s where a Pepwave mobile router and a 5-in-1 roof mounted antenna came into play. This thing has been a game changer. The reception is WAY better since the powered antenna is mounted on the roof with a ground plane. Just pop in whatever carrier sim card and boom; it acts exactly like the WiFi router at home. I wired the router through the existing fuse panel so it looks factory. The handiest part about this is the fact that you connect all your devices (we have like 10, I think) to the RV’s network and that’s it. No more reconnecting every phone, laptop, thermostat, Apple TV, etc. every time the RV moves. Running low on data or cell service hit-and-miss at a campground? Jump into the router settings and change the connection to a campground’s WiFi, friend’s house, or coffee shop. The router will hook up to that WiFi instead of mobile data, but all devices are still on the RV’s own secure network. There’s also a live tracking GPS feature. Haven’t used it for anything yet, but the security of knowing the RV is where you left it is nice.

27_Pepwave Router.jpeg


The internet router is directly wired to the batteries, thus always on, so we added a few WiFi capable items to keep an eye on things while we’re out. We replaced the original thermostat with an Easy-Touch WiFi unit from Micro-Air. Temperatures, schedules, heat & cool modes simultaneously (any specific temperature range), see the ambient temp inside and outside, and more can all be adjusted via the touchscreen display or from a phone from anywhere. Being able to hop on an app while miles away from the RV and verify the AC is running and keeping cool is comforting, especially if worrying about pets.

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We also installed a Eufy video door bell and security cameras so we could see what was going on outside and inside the RV while we were away. The door handle was also missing a key, so I had a good excuse to upgrade to the RV Locks Wireless Door Handle. Works exactly like a typical RV door handle, but adds the ability to lock the door via a key fob like a car. There’s a keypad, too, so if you forget your key, or just don’t want to grab it, you can still lock or unlock the door from outside.

29_RV Locks Handle and Eufy Doorbell.jpg



Living Spaces

This area is where my wife, who’s an interior designer, took the reins. The original colors were fine but generic. We painted the kitchen, replaced/extended the backsplash, replaced all the drawer/door handles and added this bitchin black faux alligator wallpaper to the living room TV wall. We replaced the kitchen faucet with a household grade unit and the showerhead with one that has different spray settings as well.

30_Kitchen Before.jpg

31_Kitchen After.jpeg

32_Wallpaper.jpg


We both work from the road, and I have cameras to keep charged, so we decided to ditch the sofa and replace it with a custom desk. Inside, it holds both of our laptops in a padded rack, an external hard drive (mounted on padding), scanner, and batteries for all my gear. The desk has ten 110 plugs, and 6 USB ports inside so everything stays charged. The top is mounted on drawer slides and a locking pin keeps it open or closed. Under the desk, is a large open area with a removable door that can be used for storage, a dog house, cat litterbox, whatever. When the desk is pushed in, it's a nice sitting area without looking like an office. We did lose one small sleeping area, but it was really only meant kids. Even so, with the queen bed in the back, the full size electric bunk up front, and the convertible dinette, there’s plenty of room if we needed an extra bed or two.

33_Desk Area Closed.jpeg

34_Desk Area Open.jpeg

35_Desk Area Laptop Trays.jpeg

36_Desk Area Outlets.jpeg


There's ample storage in the dinette, but accessing it required lifting the cushions and base. I jig-sawed one of the sides and added a drawer to access things quicker and easier. I kept the cuts rounded and added bracing to make sure it’s plenty stong.

37_Dinette Storage Closed.jpeg

38_Dinette Storage Open.jpeg


The bed has an unbelievable amount of storage underneath, but always felt somewhat flimsy when I sat on it (and I'm only 150 lbs). The bed is supported solely by the slide out, so to prevent any future problems, I added a couple of 2" angle steel braces to the full length of the bed frame and up the back wall. I also mounted two small blocks that have furniture sliders mounted on top to the floor that slide on the existing aluminum bed frame. Now, whether the bed slide is in or out, it's rock solid.

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There's no shortage of options out there when it comes to choosing an RV, but rarely is there an absolute perfect rig for every person. With my wife’s input (and constant reminders of our budget), I feel like we upgraded this in a way an RV manufacturer would build, but on their top of the line model. I’m sure there’s newer 45’ diesel pushers featuring all this and more, but I’m also sure they’re several hundred thousand dollars more than our rig. All the products we added totalled somewhere between $5k to $10k. But we also didn’t have to pay for labor; just my time and sanity. Buying something close and modifying it to our needs was the best way to go about getting "a perfect motorhome". But if you're worried about resale, keep the mods (especially paint choices) subtle and generic. Ok, if you're still reading this never-ending rant, I’m done. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

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RiverDave

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That’s bad ass Austin!! Love the door lock / camera and thermostats mods.. those seem easy and achievable.

I already have solar and battle Borns but might be interested in getting the controller where I can check everything in my phone
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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That’s bad ass Austin!! Love the door lock / camera and thermostats mods.. those seem easy and achievable.

I already have solar and battle Borns but might be interested in getting the controller where I can check everything in my phone
Thanks man. The battery monitor is a Victron BMV-712 Smart. Pretty easy install and the amount of info is awesome. Don’t let the “Time Remaining” field run your life when boondocking like it did to me haha
 

EBT531

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Nice build! Its interesting how the inverter was wired. My older RV had everything wired to the inverter from the factory.
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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Nice build! Its interesting how the inverter was wired. My older RV had everything wired to the inverter from the factory.
Thanks! That's how I assumed they would all be wired, but most rigs I've seen since we got ours were wired like ours. Sounds like someone was thinking when they designed yours!
 

LazyLavey

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Thanks for the write-up!!!

Love to see folks make their upgrades..

Excellent!

just ordered an RVLock
 

rivermobster

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Austin!

Funny, I was just thinking about you and wondering Where you might be!

Great write up. Wiring came out Super clean. And the kitchen looks Really good.

Great job!!! 👍🏼👍🏼
 

STV_Keith

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Nice write up and equipment! I have the Victron BMV and that thing is sweet. Also have their solar controller, but upgrading when I add more solar in January at Quartzsite. I'd love to have a Victron inverter/charger, but stuck with the Xantrex for now. I'd love to have those Lithium batteries, but just replaced 3 Lifeline 8D's 2 weeks ago. 765ah total bank, but my rig will pull over 300ah out per day. Residential fridge and aqua hot heater pull some amps.

How do you like that Pepwave and what services did you pick to use with it? I'm about over the Verizon jet pack I have now. Even with great signal, we could only pull 1MBPS last weekend, which means no streaming TV.
 

Ol Man

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Excellent write up and description of why you did things. Did you do a DC to DC for your alternator, or did I miss it?
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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Nice write up and equipment! I have the Victron BMV and that thing is sweet. Also have their solar controller, but upgrading when I add more solar in January at Quartzsite. I'd love to have a Victron inverter/charger, but stuck with the Xantrex for now. I'd love to have those Lithium batteries, but just replaced 3 Lifeline 8D's 2 weeks ago. 765ah total bank, but my rig will pull over 300ah out per day. Residential fridge and aqua hot heater pull some amps.

How do you like that Pepwave and what services did you pick to use with it? I'm about over the Verizon jet pack I have now. Even with great signal, we could only pull 1MBPS last weekend, which means no streaming TV.
Ahh, yeah anything with heat is always rough on amp draw. We don't use much when running off batteries since our setup is a bit smaller.

The Pepwave setup is pretty cool. Our's is the MAX BR1 MK2 and we got the 700GB/month plan through MobileMustHave.com. The greatest part is the boosted signal over a phone/jetpack. BUT, this is still just a data hotspot, so it's not like a WeBoost. They sell basically everything you need and also teach you how to set it up on the backend. (I can normally figure stuff out, but I'm no IT expert by any means haha)

The setup works great, but it wasn't that much cheaper than the basic Starlink. If I were to do it over again though... I'd consider going Starlink.
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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Excellent write up and description of why you did things. Did you do a DC to DC for your alternator, or did I miss it?
I very briefly mentioned it and posted one, obscure picture haha. I went with the Victron Orion Tr-Smart 12/12 30-amp isolated charger. The downside of going lithium.. everything has to be lithium compatible!
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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Great write up thank you for sharing. What did you do for the cabinet repainting?
Thanks! We took all the drawer/cabinet faces off, took a sander to everything paint would go on, wiped clean with Krud Kutter, and used a primer followed by two coats of Dunn-Edwards paints. We learned using a roller was the way to go.
 

STV_Keith

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Ahh, yeah anything with heat is always rough on amp draw. We don't use much when running off batteries since our setup is a bit smaller.

The Pepwave setup is pretty cool. Our's is the MAX BR1 MK2 and we got the 700GB/month plan through MobileMustHave.com. The greatest part is the boosted signal over a phone/jetpack. BUT, this is still just a data hotspot, so it's not like a WeBoost. They sell basically everything you need and also teach you how to set it up on the backend. (I can normally figure stuff out, but I'm no IT expert by any means haha)

The setup works great, but it wasn't that much cheaper than the basic Starlink. If I were to do it over again though... I'd consider going Starlink.

Starlink won't work for us because my wife has to be able to work while we are on the move, and I'm not going to spend $2500 for the mobile Starlink setup for 15 days a year.

Thanks again for your writeup. It got me looking and I found the Mofi 5500 EM7690 4G/LTE Cat20 router that I think I'm going to try. 30 day money back and I can pop in the sim card out of my Verizon 8800l and see how it does at Quartzsite. I'm already paying $40/mo for 50GB with them, so I'll see what this router/modem can do with that first. I'm also going to buy one of those T-Mobile / ATT pre-paid cards to have with me. $5 to have it sent to me and if the Verizon isn't getting it done, I can load 24GB of T-Mobile/ATT data for $100 and stick that in instead. Gives me options I don't have now at least. The write ups about this routers ability to pull in weak signals is pretty good, plus it does band aggregation.
 

propcheck

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Thanks! We took all the drawer/cabinet faces off, took a sander to everything paint would go on, wiped clean with Krud Kutter, and used a primer followed by two coats of Dunn-Edwards paints. We learned using a roller was the way to go.
Cool thank you my wife has asked what it would take to do ours
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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Starlink won't work for us because my wife has to be able to work while we are on the move, and I'm not going to spend $2500 for the mobile Starlink setup for 15 days a year.
That's why we didn't go for Starlink originally too. I heard they're going to do something that works for RVers, but I wouldn't drop the dough before confirming something like that.
Thanks again for your writeup. It got me looking and I found the Mofi 5500 EM7690 4G/LTE Cat20 router that I think I'm going to try. 30 day money back and I can pop in the sim card out of my Verizon 8800l and see how it does at Quartzsite. I'm already paying $40/mo for 50GB with them, so I'll see what this router/modem can do with that first. I'm also going to buy one of those T-Mobile / ATT pre-paid cards to have with me. $5 to have it sent to me and if the Verizon isn't getting it done, I can load 24GB of T-Mobile/ATT data for $100 and stick that in instead. Gives me options I don't have now at least. The write ups about this routers ability to pull in weak signals is pretty good, plus it does band aggregation.
Not sure if that unit has it, but our Pepwave has dual SIM card slots that can switch between two cards on the fly. I learned you can have it switch based off signal strength, data use, and more. We never had a second SIM card, but might be handy in your case. Check out MobileMustHave.com's data plans. They're pretty affordable for the amount of data you get.
 

STV_Keith

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Not sure if that unit has it, but our Pepwave has dual SIM card slots that can switch between two cards on the fly. I learned you can have it switch based off signal strength, data use, and more. We never had a second SIM card, but might be handy in your case. Check out MobileMustHave.com's data plans. They're pretty affordable for the amount of data you get.
This unit only has one modem, so only one sim card at a time. I figure I'll try my Verizon first, then switch to the other options if needed. The Pepwave stuff is about twice the money, so I'm trying not to go that route unless I have to. I'll pick this one up in early Jan and have a month to evaluate it while I can still send it back.
 

2FORCEFULL

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07_front-seats-jpeg.1175346



on mine, I extended the raised floor out about a foot, then put a hindged lid,... made a great can goods, tool, and shoe box... after extending I put carpet on the whole driver and passenger area... cut down the road noise and kept it warmer and cooler inside
 

mjc

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Starlink won't work for us because my wife has to be able to work while we are on the move, and I'm not going to spend $2500 for the mobile Starlink setup for 15 days a year.

Thanks again for your writeup. It got me looking and I found the Mofi 5500 EM7690 4G/LTE Cat20 router that I think I'm going to try. 30 day money back and I can pop in the sim card out of my Verizon 8800l and see how it does at Quartzsite. I'm already paying $40/mo for 50GB with them, so I'll see what this router/modem can do with that first. I'm also going to buy one of those T-Mobile / ATT pre-paid cards to have with me. $5 to have it sent to me and if the Verizon isn't getting it done, I can load 24GB of T-Mobile/ATT data for $100 and stick that in instead. Gives me options I don't have now at least. The write ups about this routers ability to pull in weak signals is pretty good, plus it does band aggregation.
Check out the FB page 'starlink hacks'. Some modify dish to work flat so it will work on rv roof.
 

Kidikarus

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The Upgrades​

View attachment 1175388

As with all RVs, there’s room for improvements. I’ve learned a long time ago, if there’s a chance to fix something while improving it, do it. Also, “buy once, cry once” applies to most everything. That being said, we were absolutely on a budget, so we spent more money on what we needed the most and I did everything myself A) because I have a background as a mechanic and in electrical, and B) because I knew it would be done right and not to… let’s just say… “typical RV standards”.


Electrical

The Onan 4000 genset works great, but we didn’t want to run it all the time if we were boondocking. We opted to go with Victron Energy chargers/inverter/battery monitor and two 100ah Battle Born lithium batteries to replace the stock electronics and lead acid bricks. It would have been nice to get more batteries but decided on two due to cost and space. The 30-amp DC/DC lithium charger charges them when driving. When we wanted to spend a little extra time at an off-grid spot without disturbing the peace, we used a 200-watt folding solar panel with 20ft cables to run out wherever the sun was best. Sometimes you want to park in the shade but reap the benefits of solar. The panel’s extension cords plug into a 30-amp MPPT charger near the batteries. The charger is capable of about 360 watts, but we just have two 100-watt panels. It produces enough to gain what was lost overnight in a couple hours.

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The original 600-watt inverter only powered one of the two fridges and the three TVs, but not a single other outlet when on battery power. This was puzzling, considering you’d probably want BOTH fridges to stay cold and want to use an Apple TV, Fire Stick, or maybe a DVD player to watch movies. Yeah, no; not with the original wiring. I rewired the main panel to a Victron Micro Compact 2000-watt inverter/charger. Now, every outlet/appliance (microwave included) can be run from the lithium batteries. And let me tell you, turning the coffee pot on in the morning without the generator is the best.

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Another neat feature is via Bluetooth, the maximum number of amps the inverter pulls from shore power can be adjusted. This is awesome when only a 15- or 20-amp plug is available (moochdocking from a friend’s house or something) so it doesn’t blow their breaker. The inverter will pull the max number of amps the user sets, and if additional power is needed to run whatever load is put on it, pulls whatever extra power it needs from the batteries. When the load drops back down below that threshold of amps set (ex: toast is done), it flips back to charging the batteries automatically. And of course, all of this can be monitored by phone via Bluetooth.

In the photo below, I’m just keeping the batteries topped off and running lights through an old 14-gauge extension cord, so I have it set to 10 amps.

View attachment 1175396

Here’s a more technical breakdown if you’re interested: The main shore power (10/2 wires) used to come into the converter, which was no longer needed, as it was not compatible with the lithium batteries. Now, in the old converter’s place, is the new main panel, where the new main breaker and AC breaker are now located. The main breaker feeds the inverter/charger (input), and the inverter/charger outputs to the existing “main” panel, which is now the sub-panel, as it is powered by the inverter/charger. The inverter/charger works as a passthrough when plugged into shore power/generator (just like the converter did) and chargers the lithium batteries. When unplugged from main power, the inverter/charger switches to inverter mode (in like 20 milliseconds) and draws power from the batteries. Although kind of a pain to figure out, it was 100% worth it always having power to everything, with exception for the AC.

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Keeping an eye on everything is the Bluetooth battery monitor. In fact, with all these electronics added, this little 2” panel is all that’s visible. Even though the monitor is Bluetooth, the display is handy to check when passing by. The shunt for the battery monitor is mounted in the battery area which is fairly protected from the elements, but open to the undercarriage, so I mounted it in a waterproof box to keep it safe.

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I have an Intent also and I was curious if you did a video on the lithium upgrade as well? I wanted to do the same upgrade but hard to tell how difficult it was from the pics for diy. Thanks!
 

ImFoleyLoaded

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I have an Intent also and I was curious if you did a video on the lithium upgrade as well? I wanted to do the same upgrade but hard to tell how difficult it was from the pics for diy. Thanks!
I didn't do a video on hardly anything, as we were trying to make a departure date. It wasn't "hard", but it was involved. When switching to lithium, unfortunately everything has to lithium compatible, so that meant DC to DC charger (when driving), AC to DC (when plugged into shore power) and solar charger too (if you're using one). Maybe there's some kind of interface you could put between the batteries and everything else, but I haven't heard of anything. Feel free to PM me.
 

Kidikarus

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I didn't do a video on hardly anything, as we were trying to make a departure date. It wasn't "hard", but it was involved. When switching to lithium, unfortunately everything has to lithium compatible, so that meant DC to DC charger (when driving), AC to DC (when plugged into shore power) and solar charger too (if you're using one). Maybe there's some kind of interface you could put between the batteries and everything else, but I haven't heard of anything. Feel free to PM me.
Do you remember if the intent already had a bim in place? I don't see one in the battery compartment. Was debating on swapping it with lithium compatible one if it was already there.
 
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