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Making Your Preloved RV Your Own: Easy Upgrades to Save Money

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

You finally scored that RV you’ve been after for a long time. It isn’t perfect, but it’s yours! The main thing we have to remember is that the V in RV stands for vehicle, and that means maintenance. After you have had a trustworthy mechanic make sure that it’s road ready, it’s time to make it your own. I want to describe some of the upgrades we’ve performed before hitting the road.

Some were easy, and some not so easy, but they needed to get done on a budget, and it was definitely cheaper than hiring a professional. When you have a vision of what you want, it’s hard not to jump straight into the aesthetics. But the first upgrades you perform should be focused on the operation and integrity of the vehicle. For us, there were a few things that needed to be addressed before we could focus on making it pretty.

Living space in motorhome with cabinets and bedding

Exterior Upgrades

Within the first week, we had new tires installed, and I started to work on making sure the outside of the camper was sealed up. Unfortunately, during our purchase, I didn’t take a good look at the roof and it was in desperate need of some love. I researched what type of roof sealant needed to be used, and in my case, it was a roll-on rubber roof. This was fairly easy, but it did take a few days and multiple coats to get the job done. If you have painted a wall with a roller, you will be capable of this task.

To prep for this job, I added some sealant tape around the edge of the roof and also around all the vents. I rolled on the rubber roof right on top of the sealant tape. Then I went around all the roof vents, A/C, etc., with self-leveling sealant that comes in a tube similar to caulking. When fixing the roof, I noticed that there were some exposed screws around the camper’s trim. This annoyed me, but it led to another easy fix. Most RVs come with 1- or 1½-inch trim. It comes in a roll and you simply squeeze it together and install all along the vehicle. This gives it a cleaner look and prevents water from coming in through the screw holes. Newer RVs get to skip this step, most likely. Still, make sure you look into this because leaks lead to bad things in an RV.

Exterior trim of RV

RV roof


With the mechanical and functional issues fixed, we started to work on appeal. One of the cheapest and easiest upgrades we implemented was LED lighting. Each light has a few screws holding it up and a black and a white wire coming from it. Usually, it would matter what wire you use when it comes to electricity. Luckily, in the RV world, LED lights come set up to where you just connect either wire to the fixture with a wire nut. Screw the new fixture in place of the old one and voila!

I also picked up some new running lights for the back of the camper to replace some missing lights. They, too, were simple to install but a little more time-consuming because they needed to be sealed around the edges after installation. The clean and bright white light helps a lot with the look and feel. Not to mention they are much more energy-efficient.

Back lights of Dolphin motorhome


By far, the biggest game changer was painting the inside of our RV. This isn’t difficult, but it took way longer than we anticipated because of the difficulty in working in tight spaces. We started off by lightly sanding the walls. Make sure to wear a respirator throughout the process because particles go everywhere.

When we finished sanding, we cleaned every surface with disinfectant wipes and vacuumed to remove as much of the dust as possible. The next day consisted of taping off the edges. Removing all of the cabinet doors and drawers was fairly easy, but make sure to label them so you know where they go when reinstalling; it does make a difference in fit.

Instead of purchasing new hardware for the cabinets, I used a metallic finish black spray paint to spiff up the existing hinges and handles. We also used a spray paint meant for toilets and sinks in the shower to get rid of the old yellow. We purchased a few foam rollers and a couple brushes and got to work. You want to do a couple coats of primer first, then paint. Don’t go cheap on the paint, because we were able to get away with just one gallon. We have a smaller RV, but still I can’t imagine this costing more than a couple hundred dollars total.

Close up of white cabinets

Inside of motorhome with upper bed and kitchen table


After painting, we were still missing that real-home feel, so we decided to do a few more things. When we purchased the RV, we removed the original pink blinds almost instantly. We ended up installing new blinds: 2-inch faux wood blinds instead of the cheap-looking plastic ones. They really tied in nicely with the rest of the interior and were fairly easy to install. The table was wobbly and had a leaf in it that was held up by a pencil, so we decided to get a whole new setup. I got some carpet and installed it between the dinette seats. Then we ordered a new base, table leg and tabletop. This was cheap and all done within a day once it arrived.

We kept most of the original parts in the RV, but within the first month, the faucet in the kitchen blew a gasket. Instead of fixing it, we put a new faucet in and it looks and works great. Another small leak developed behind the toilet. It was just the valve, but you have to take the toilet out to fix it. Upon doing that, I noticed that it was pretty old and decided to replace it entirely, since we are living in it full time. Both the faucet and the toilet were easy to replace, utilizing the existing plumbing. I recommend taking it as it comes and doing upgrades as you go. This will make your money go farther and you can weigh your options, focusing on needs first and wants later.

Kitchen faucet in RV


Metal rod of RV kitchen table


Our final touches were in the cab of the vehicle. Simple, but a must in my opinion because you spend a lot of time driving to destinations and it will make those drives more comfortable. We had a cassette tape AM/FM radio in that had to go. In its place my brother-in law helped me install a new navigation system that makes it easier to get where we want to be. We also purchased some new seat covers. One of my favorite things was a nice comfy steering wheel cover. I love driving down the road with these simple but personalized features. It makes me feel like everything in the Toyota Dolphin has been touched.

Navigation screen in RV showing 12:34

All of our needs are met and we simply couldn’t be any happier. We still have a lot to do improvement-wise, but these cheap upgrades have made us a nice comfy home to spend our time in.

Young couple in from of older RVWe’re Ashley and Laith of Finding Our Oasis, our personal RV travel and lifestyle blog. We are full-time RVers who enjoy traveling, hanging out with our pups, and watching Naked and Afraid ’til midnight.

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