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Everything to Consider When Switching Your RV to Lithium Batteries

Everything to Consider When Switching Your RV to Lithium Batteries

If you’ve ever considered switching your RV to lithium batteries, you may have thought (as many people do) that it’s as simple as removing your old lead-acid dinosaurs and dropping in some great new lithium batteries. We wish it was (always) that easy, but there’s more to consider.

While switching your RV to lithium batteries (Lithium Iron Phosphate or LiFePO4 to be specific) is a fantastic upgrade, it can also require changing the settings on other components… or even replacing those components with new ones designed to work with lithium batteries.

In this post, we’re laying out all you need to know to make the switch from lead-acid batteries to lithium batteries to power your RV with the latest in battery technology.

Why Switch Your RV to Lithium Batteries?

If you’ve been using lead acid, AGM, or gel batteries in your RV and are considering switching to lithium batteries, you’re probably aware that there are many advantages to LiFePO4 batteries that make the switch worthwhile.

Advantages of Lithium Batteries

Lithium-ion (LiFePO4) batteries generally offer numerous advantages over typical lead-acid/AGM/gel cell RV house batteries. Following is a quick summary of how switching to RV lithium batteries can be beneficial:

Greater Energy Density

Lithium-ion batteries have greater energy density (the amount of energy a battery stores, given the space and weight), so you get more energy for the same amount of space.

Need Fewer Batteries

Fewer batteries are required to store the same amount of energy (or more). Since lead-acid batteries can only be drained to (at most) 50% of their capacity without harm, you may only need half as many lithium batteries for the same usable power. The same is true if your RV has a bank of 6V batteries. In this case, each pair of 6V batteries could be replaced with a single 12V lithium battery (more on this later).

Require Less Maintenance

Lead-acid batteries require maintenance (please see our post on how to maintain flooded lead-acid batteries) while LiFePO4 batteries are maintenance-free.

Flooded lead acid battery cells being refilled

Flooded lead acid batteries require monitoring and maintenance to keep the electrolyte at the proper level.

Less Voltage Sag

Lithium batteries have an extremely steady voltage curve across their charging/discharging profile. This means that as they’re drained, their voltage output stays steady… unlike lead-acid batteries where the output voltage drops fairly steadily as they’re drained.

Chart showing voltage output at various depths of discharge for lithium vs lead-acid batteries

A graph showing the change in voltage (output) at various depths of discharge (%) for lead-acid and lithium batteries. Notice how flat the curve is for lithium batteries.

Faster Charging

Lithium batteries charge much faster because they accept a very high charge current, while also having less internal resistance to charging. In contrast, lead-acid batteries require a longer, slower charging cycle (with Bulk, Acceptance, and then Float phases) to reach 100% state of charge (fully recharged).

Capable of Sustaining Deep Discharges

Lithium-ion batteries are far better able to sustain deep discharges without damage, compared with lead-acid batteries which can be damaged when discharged below 50% of their useable capacity (i.e. a 200 Ah lead-acid battery should only be drained down to 100 Ah, to avoid damaging it).

Longer Lifespan

While a typical lead-acid battery generally lasts 2-6 years (depending on how it’s used and maintained, the brand, etc.), lithium-ion batteries are often guaranteed to last 10 years or longer (while retaining at least 80% of their original capacity).

Won’t Corrode or Leak

While flooded lead-acid batteries can corrode and leak, LiFePO4 batteries aren’t susceptible to corrosion or leaking.

An image of what RV battery corrosion looks like - a pale green compound around the battery terminals

RV battery terminal corrosion is the pale green substance surrounding the exposed battery terminal. Corrosion can damage a lead-acid battery, but lithium-ion batteries aren’t susceptible to this threat.

Lighter Weight

A typical lead-acid battery can weigh as much as 70 pounds (higher-quality deep-cycle lead-acid batteries have more lead in their plates, making them heavier), while a lithium-ion battery of similar capacity can weigh half as much (at roughly 30 pounds).

Tolerant to Partial Charges

All types of lead-acid batteries can be damaged by repeated, long-term partial recharging. It can reduce the battery lifespan because of sulphation (where the sulfur from the battery acid stays in combination with the lead on the plates). But this isn’t an issue with lithium batteries, making them particularly great for use with solar (where you may not reach 100% fully charged every day).

These are among the top reasons why many RVers decide to switch to lithium batteries. But, as with everything in life, it’s not ALL roses… there ARE disadvantages to switching to lithium.

Disadvantages of Switching Your RV to Lithium Batteries

Three main disadvantages are typically noted where lithium-ion batteries are concerned. Let’s summarize and address those briefly before moving on to what else you need to know about switching your RV to lithium:

Cost

The upfront cost of LiFePO4 batteries has long been considered a disadvantage of switching. However, the truth is that while lithium batteries cost more to buy at the outset, they tend to be well worth that initial investment because they don’t need to be replaced as frequently as other types of batteries. Between their overall longer lifespan and their greater tolerance of incomplete charging cycles, they’ll last much longer than the lead-acid batteries you’re replacing.

Temperature Sensitivity

The temperature sensitivity of lithium batteries has long been seen as a negative for RV use because a lithium battery can be damaged when it’s charged while the battery temperature is at or below freezing. This has meant that they can’t be stored in a cold area, nor have they been considered the best choice for cold-weather camping unless they’re located in a heated space.

However, as we noted in our post discussing misconceptions about lithium RV batteries, battery manufacturers have addressed this issue in a couple of different ways. Most significantly, virtually all lithium RV batteries use a Battery Management System (BMS) that monitors the battery’s internal temperature. This ensures that charging current won’t be allowed to flow into the battery when it would cause damage (for more on all functions of a BMS, see our post “What Is the Function of a Battery Management System?“).

A chart showing an overview of how a battery management system works.

This overview of how a battery management system works is provided by Battle Born Batteries, a leader in the lithium battery industry. (Photo and chart courtesy of Battle Born Batteries.)

But, because lithium batteries don’t outgas when operating (like flooded lead-acid batteries do), they can be installed inside your RV’s living space to keep them warm. This also keeps them out of sight… making sure no one decides to walk off with your (expensive) new lithium batteries.

Lastly, keep in mind that the cold temperature issue only affects CHARGING the battery(ies). Most popular brands of lithium-ion batteries for RV use can be discharged at temperatures well below where you’d be comfortable in your RV (for example, Battle Born Batteries list an operating temperature range (for charging/discharging) of – 4°F to 135°F (-20°C to 57.2°C) which is pretty broad). So if outside temperatures rise above freezing during the day, the batteries can recharge after warming up.

Require Specific Charging Components

Finally, lithium batteries require a different charging profile than flooded lead-acid batteries. This means that your existing charging components (converter/charger, inverter/charger, and/or solar charge controllers) may not work properly with lithium batteries.

What Components May Need to Be Changed When Switching an RV to Lithium Batteries?

While many lithium batteries are “drop-in” sized (meaning they have the same, or similar, dimensions as standard lead-acid batteries), upgrading to lithium is rarely that easy. There are several components in your RV’s electrical system that may need to be modified or replaced so that they’re compatible with a lithium battery bank. These include:

Converter/Charger

Older RVs aren’t likely to have a converter/charger compatible with lithium batteries. In the best case, it won’t charge them properly, but in the worst case, it could seriously damage them.

Newer RVs are more likely to have a converter/charger that simply requires a setting change. This is sometimes as simple as flipping a switch on the converter/charger itself… but that switch is sometimes hidden somewhere inside the unit and may not be easily accessible.

This Progressive Dynamics 60-Amp Inteli-Power Converter/Charger, for example, will work well with a lithium-ion battery bank:

Inteli-Power PD9360V 9300 Series Converter - 60 Amp
  • Input: 105-130 VAC 60 Hz 1000 Watts / Output: 13.6 VDC – 14.7 VDC, 60 Amps
  • Green Light (Flooded Lead Acid Mode) - When charging the battery, the converter will sense voltage on the battery and automatically select the proper...

For more information, see our posts on RV power converters and RV converters vs battery chargers.

Inverter/Charger

The same is true of your RV’s inverter/charger. Older RVs could require completely replacing the inverter/charger, while newer rigs may just need a setting change. This would most likely involve accessing a monitor/control panel and changing the battery type (or charge parameters) there. To become more familiar with the function of an inverter/charger, please see our post entitled, “What Is an RV Inverter?

This Victron Energy MultiPlus 3000VA 12-Volt Pure Sine Wave Inverter/Charger, also available here from Battle Born Batteries is a great example of an inverter/charger that will work well with your RV’s new lithium batteries:

Sale
Victron Energy MultiPlus Pure Sine Wave Inverter Charger for 120 amp Battery, UL-Certified, 3000VA 12-Volt
  • Victron Energy Multiplus is a powerful compact 12-Volt 3000VA 120 amp 120V true sine wave inverter and a sophisticated battery charger with adaptive...
  • With the unique Power Assist feature Victron Energy MultiPlus will prevent overload of a limited AC source, such as a generator or shore power...

Or you could consider this popular model from Xantrex:

Xantrex 818-3010 Inv/Chgr, Freedom XC PRO, 3000W 12V 150A
  • all-in-one solution: functions as a true sine wave inverter with a built-in lithium ion 100 amp (2000w model) / 150 amp (3000w model) battery charger,...
  • powerful: industry leading power boost, 2x continuous output for 5 seconds or more for motor loads. the power provided in the freedom xc pro is strong...

Note: The Victron offers the advantage of being a hybrid inverter (meaning it can augment a lower-amperage shore connection, temporarily pulling power from the battery bank to make up the difference… like when running your A/C when moochdocking on a 15-amp connection), while the Xantrex inverter has a higher & longer surge rating to handle power demands like the startup surge required by your air conditioner.

Solar Charge Controller(s)

Once again, an older solar charge controller will need to be replaced, while a newer one may only require a settings change. If you need to replace your solar charge controller, be sure to see our post entitled “How Do You Size a Solar Charge Controller?” to be sure you get one that’s compatible with your solar array.

DC-to DC Charging

When upgrading to lithium batteries you may also need to consider the DC-to-DC charging from your towing vehicle or the alternator charging (using a BiRD, a “Bi-directional Relay Delay system, or an Echo Charger) from your motorhome’s engine.

Victron Orion XS 50-amp DC-to-DC charger

This 50-amp DC-to-DC charger from Victron is what we’re using to ensure proper charging of our new trailer’s batteries while we’re towing it.

Unless you’re towing your RV with an electric vehicle, it likely has a lead-acid battery, so its charging system (the vehicle’s alternator) is optimized for charging batteries with a lead-acid chemistry. As a result, if the umbilical wiring between the towing vehicle and the RV (trailer, fifth-wheel, or truck camper) is connected to allow 12V power from the towing vehicle to feed the camper’s battery(ies), you’re likely to drain your lithium RV batteries instead of charging them. Here’s why:

Lithium batteries “rest” at a higher voltage than a lead-acid battery does, so your towing vehicle’s alternator may not kick in, allowing the lithium battery to power the loads of the truck, draining it while it’s being towed. To prevent this, you’ll need to do one of the following:

  • Disconnect the feed to the battery (probably at the junction box on your trailer/RV) to stop power from being drained (which will also disable any charging of the RV’s batteries)… or…
  • Install a diode (here’s one at Amazon: Roadmaster Light Diode  that can handle up to 28V and 85 amps) that only allow power to go from the truck to the camper when the truck’s voltage is high enough (which also means the RV battery will only be charging some of the time you’re towing)… or…
  • Install a DC-to-DC charger in-line with the feed from the towing vehicle, which will accomplish all of the following:
    • Protect the lithium battery(ies) from being drained
    • Provide the proper charging profile for the lithium batteries
    • Protect the towing vehicle’s alternator from being overworked (note that lithium batteries don’t provide the same resistance to charging that lead acid batteries do, which means that they will accept ALL the current the alternator can produce, which could overwork the alternator and lead to premature failure)

Most motorized RV alternators are also intended to work with lead-acid batteries, so if your motorhome has a system designed to allow the alternator to also charge the house batteries (in addition to charging the chassis/starting battery(ies) for the engine), it could damage itself or the lithium batteries (or both).

To deal with this you’ll either need to disable the system from charging the house batteries from the alternator while driving OR replace the system with a DC-to-DC charger, as noted above.

If you want to check out other DC-to-DC charger options, look at what Battle Born Batteries offers in their online store. There are a lot of different models with different charging capacities and voltages to meet just about any possible configuration.

Do I Buy the Same Number of Batteries When Switching My RV to Lithium?

No, you may only need half as many lithium batteries to get the same usable power as you have with your lead-acid batteries. This is because lead-acid batteries can only be drained to 50% of their capacity without (significant) harm. Since lithium batteries can be drained completely (or almost completely, depending on the brand) without suffering damage, you may only need half as many lithium batteries to have the same usable power.

This is also true if your RV has a bank of 6V deep-cycle batteries. In this case, each pair of 6V batteries (which are wired together in series to create one, larger 12V battery) could be replaced with a single 12V lithium battery that likely provides the same amount of useable capacity.

Sizing Your Lithium Battery Bank

Let’s look at several examples of how many lithium batteries you’d need to replace the usable power you have with different configurations of lead-acid batteries.

One 12V 100Ah Lead Acid Battery

Your single 12V 100Ah lead-acid battery only has 50Ah of usable capacity. So, replacing it with a single 100Ah lithium battery will double the storage capacity, giving you a true 100 amp-hours of usable power.

Two 12V 100Ah Lead Acid Batteries Wired in Parallel

Wiring batteries in parallel means the pair operate at the same voltage as a single battery (12V in this case), but you double the storage capacity (i.e. you’d have a total of 200Ah from the 2 x 100Ah batteries). But, since only 50% of the 200Ah of total power from this bank is usable, they really only provide 100Ah of total usable capacity.

In this case, you could replace those two 100Ah lead-acid batteries with just one 100Ah lithium battery and have the same capacity/power as before (and save some weight at the same time). Or, you could replace your two 100Ah lead-acid batteries with two 100Ah lithium batteries and get twice the power storage capacity!

An illustration of two batteries wired together in parallel

This illustration shows two batteries wired in parallel. Their capacity is doubled while their voltage remains the same.

Four 6V 200Ah Batteries

If you have four 6V (golf cart) 200Ah batteries, they’re only providing a total of 200Ah of usable capacity. That’s because your bank is wired in series-parallel, with 2 x 6V batteries wired in series to increase their combined output voltage from 6 to 12V. The two series pairs of 6V batteries are then wired to each other in parallel to double their capacity to 400Ah. But, because they’re lead-acid, you can only use up to 200Ah without damaging them.

An illustration of batteries connected in series-parallel

When you wire 4 batteries together in series-parallel, you wire 2 batteries together in series (+ to –), creating a set. You then wire the other 2 batteries together in series (+ to –), creating a second set. Finally, you wire the two series sets of batteries to each other in parallel. (see a video demonstrating this on YouTube)

So, again, you could replace those four 6V golf cart batteries with two 100Ah lithium batteries to have the same amount of power storage capacity (200Ah) with two fewer batteries. Or, you could choose to have double the capacity in the same space (but close to half the weight).

For much more information about wiring batteries, please see our post on wiring batteries in series vs parallel.

Is Switching Your RV to Lithium Batteries Worth It?

We believe it’s worth switching to lithium (LiFePO4) batteries even if changes need to be made to settings or components so the system operates properly. But we’re big boondockers and tend to camp off-grid for extended periods. For us, there are numerous benefits to having lithium batteries… and no real downsides. As always, your mileage may vary depending on your traveling and camping lifestyle.

In our Newmar Mountain Aire motorhome, we switched from a large AGM (lead-acid) battery bank to 600Ah of Xantrex lithium batteries similar to this Xantrex 240Ah battery (our system was an early design, and we were early adopters, so Xantrex’s product range has changed since then):

Sale

In our new 19′ travel trailer from Outdoors RV, we’ve got a fantastic installation of 810Ah of Battle Born LiFePO4 batteries (all installed by MYT Solar near Bend, OR), with a surprising 1,500W of solar, and we’re LOVING it. The freedom to never worry about being plugged in, while still having all the power we need, is priceless.

If you’re still on the fence about upgrading to lithium batteries, have a look at our post entitled, “Are RV Lithium Batteries Worth It?” Or, if you’re interested in upgrading, check out the lithium battery options from Battle Born and Xantrex:

Battle Born Batteries logo

Battle Born Batteries

Details


Battle Born Batteries harnesses the power of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) to bring you the most efficient, stable, and powerful lithium-ion battery on the market. Whether you're an RV, marine, or off-grid enthusiast, their batteries are built to help you get out there and stay out there.
Battle Born Batteries logo
Battle Born Batteries
Battle Born Batteries harnesses the power of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) to bring you the most efficient, stable, and powerful lithium-ion battery on the market. Whether you're an RV, marine, or off-grid enthusiast, their batteries are built to...Show More
Battle Born Batteries harnesses the power of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) to bring you the most efficient, stable, and powerful lithium-ion battery on the market. Whether you're an RV, marine, or off-grid enthusiast, their batteries are built to help you get out there and stay out there. Show Less
Xantrex Logo

Xantrex 5% Coupon

RVGEEKS

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We've got long-term experience with Xantrex products (our first motorhome came with a Xantrex Freedom 458 Inverter/Charger), and have always had a good experience with them. In our Mountain Aire we've enjoyed many years of boondocking freedom thanks to our Xantrex lithium battery, solar panels & charge controllers, and pure-sine inverter/charger.

Now, you can save 5% by ordering direct from Xantrex's online store when you use the Promo Code "RVGEEKS"

Watch our video about installing our Xantrex lithium battery

Choose from several Xantrex lithium batteries, accessories, and more (to come!). Shipping to both the US and Canada available!

5% Discount
Xantrex Logo
Xantrex 5% Coupon

We've got long-term experience with Xantrex products (our first motorhome came with a Xantrex Freedom 458 Inverter/Charger), and have always had a good experience with them. In our Mountain Aire we've enjoyed many years of boondocking freedom...Show More

We've got long-term experience with Xantrex products (our first motorhome came with a Xantrex Freedom 458 Inverter/Charger), and have always had a good experience with them. In our Mountain Aire we've enjoyed many years of boondocking freedom thanks to our Xantrex lithium battery, solar panels & charge controllers, and pure-sine inverter/charger.

Now, you can save 5% by ordering direct from Xantrex's online store when you use the Promo Code "RVGEEKS"

Watch our video about installing our Xantrex lithium battery

Choose from several Xantrex lithium batteries, accessories, and more (to come!). Shipping to both the US and Canada available!

Show Less

Also, if you’ve made the switch to lithium-ion batteries, feel free to comment below and let us know how you’ve benefitted from the upgrade.

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Emmanuel

Thursday 30th of May 2024

Since you boondocks a lot, do you run an ac off your batteries? Did you install a soft start? We just got a new to us 2015 Georgetown XL and too like to boondocks, however running genny gets annoying. We are also thinking about being full time as I travel a lot for work.

TheRVgeeks

Thursday 30th of May 2024

Hi @Emmanuel. Our old motorhome wasn't wired to allow the A/C to run off the batteries (even though we did have soft starts in them). But our new travel trailer DOES have that ability (with our new solar & lithium install we just had completed at MYT Solar). We haven't installed our soft start yet (we're getting a Micro-Air EasyStart)... but plan to before we have need of using battery power to run the A/C. That restriction is really more a factor of whether or not your inverter can handle the surge amps needed to get the A/C unit's compressor spinning. But, even IF your inverter has that kind of surge capacity, having the soft start will make it run even better.

Bruce

Wednesday 29th of May 2024

Another consideration on how many solar panels is how much you drive versus how long you park. If you’re in a van on the move, you’re charging your battery and can get away with less panels, whereas if you’re in a trailer parked for a couple of weeks you want as many panels as you can mount.

Gay Tacoma (Washington) Travel Enthusiast

Sunday 26th of May 2024

Another informative article. Another thing I've heard about lithium batteries (this may be a misconception, maybe not) is their tendency to catch fire in enclosed spaces. If so, what can one do to prevent fires from happening when storing your phone, etc.?

Gay Tacoma (Washington) Travel Enthusiast

Monday 27th of May 2024

@TheRVgeeks, Aren't most cellphones and "smart" phones powered by lithium ion batteries? I've been told not to store my phone in tight places such as luggage, particularly when carrying them on board a plane.

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 26th of May 2024

The problem, Jason, is that the term "lithium battery" covers a very wide range of different chemistries. The higher energy, higher density ones (like those used for small electronic devices, which need high power density in a small package, and for high-amperage needs like electric vehicles) have a much greater risk for that kind of issue. The chemistry used in every lithium battery we've seen marketed for use in RVs is Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4), which has a very good track record and is significantly more resistant to burning or catching fire.

Of course, quality varies by manufacturer... and even a highly-respected brand could still have an issue. But those are more the exception than the rule.

Could it happen? Sure. But it's not very likely with LiFePO4.

Julie Poirier

Sunday 26th of May 2024

Hello, thank you for this very interesting article. I do have a draw from the TV to the truck when driving, I can see it in my Victon Smart Shunt app, when the alternator voltage drops under 12,9V it draws from the trailer's lithium battery to. It seems complicated to find the correct Diode, how and where do I buy that? If I install a Dc to DC charger, can I leave the 12 V from the ombilical connected? I got into the habit of disconnecting it the I finish driving and the voltage of the truck drops. when towing I do get a good 10a charge. I just bought of still leaving it with a 40a dc to dc. But will that interfere in any way? Thank you - Julie.

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 26th of May 2024

Hi Julie! Thanks for sharing your experience, that's exactly the kind of thing that can trip people up... having their trailer's battery drained by their truck/towing vehicle! We just updated the article to include an Amazon link to a diode that will work (here's a link to the same thing on Amazon Canada, if that's more helpful: https://amzn.to/4aBrQty ). It's weatherproof, so should be easy to install on your existing wiring... if you find the positive 12V wire coming through the 7-pin wiring from the truck to your trailer.

If you want to increase the amount of charging amps sent to the trailer, you may need to add dedicated wiring to connect from the truck's battery all the way back to the trailer. Otherwise, you could have two issues if you just install a 40amp DC-to-DC charger:

You won't be able to pull 40-amps for charging using the existing wiring because it's too small. So you'll have spent money on a larger charger, but won't be getting the benefit. Pulling too much current through too small a wire over too long a period of time could cause the wire to overheat and/or melt. Best case, it just breaks and you lose charging. Worst case, it overheats enough that it could cause a fire.

We'd start with the diode... which, if nothing else, will make it so you don't have to worry about leaving the 7-pin connected when you're not driving. No more drain, and you'll still get the 10-amps of charging whenever the alternator in your towing vehicle is running.

Hope that helps (and makes sense)! 😃

Jerry

Sunday 26th of May 2024

That is great information. I switched to two 12 v lithiums and installed a compatible converter. I am considering a dc-dc charger and now especially since you mentioned the problem of draw from the lithium to the tow vehicle. So if I install a dcdc, I would need to disconnect the pin connection from the tow vehicle that is currently charging the trailer batteries?

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 26th of May 2024

Hi Jerry. You don't HAVE to disconnect that pin... you could use that existing wiring from the truck through to the RV to supply the input to a DC-to-DC charger. You'd just want to size that charger so that it's not pulling too much power through the existing wire, which could overheat it. So check the gauge on that wire (it's hopefully stamped/printed on the wire sheathing) and then look up the recommended maximum amperage you can draw through it (here's an ampacity chart: https://www.cerrowire.com/products/resources/tables-calculators/ampacity-charts/). Buy a DC-to-DC charger sized appropriately to that (up to about a 10-amp charger is probably the maximum you could use with the existing wires)... and you can install it on the RV side of the connection... trace the power wire coming in from the truck across the 7-pin connector and it should terminate in box on the trailer tongue. Re-wire things to put the DC-to-DC charger in between somewhere in there (some additional cabling runs may be needed to mount the charger somewhere appropriate).

If you want a higher amperage charge while driving (assuming your towing vehicle's alternator is large enough to handle it), you could also run a dedicated pair of wires through the truck and install a dedicated port to connect to (that's what MYT Solar did for us).

Just depends on how much charging you want/need.

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