Our Fifth Wheel & Truck Upgrades & Modifications
We made our decision to quit our jobs, sell our house, and become full-time RVers after one month of research at the end of 2004. We had never RVed before, so it was a leap of faith with just enough knowledge to know what we were getting into.
We ordered our fifth wheel at the Cleveland RV Show in January of 2005. It's a 2006 Keystone Cambridge 358 RLS.
As it turned out, 2006 was the ONLY model year for the Cambridge. It was a little ahead of its time and a heavy unit compared to all other high production fifth wheel models.
We knew just enough about weight ratings on trucks and trailers to know that we needed more than a one-ton pick-up truck, so we opted for a 2005 Ford F450 dually diesel. At that time, they only made F450s in a cab and chassis model, so our dealer had the pick-up bed installed before the truck was delivered to us.
Below you will find a timeline of the various modifications and upgrades we've made to our set-up over the years. Each link will take you to a more detailed page describing what we changed/added and why.
January 2005 - Ordered Fifth Wheel & Truck
- Fifth wheel ordered with optional built-in Onan 5500-watt propane generator. Delivery expected in April 2005.
- Ordered Ford F450 Lariat dually diesel 6.0-liter pick-up with a Super Cab, long bed, and 4.88 rear axle ratio and High Capacity Towing Package. We decided NOT to go with four-wheel drive, but we did order an auxiliary fuel tank giving us a 15-gallon tank and a 35-gallon tank. The truck with those specs had a maximum fifth wheel towing capacity of 21,500 pounds and a Gross Combined Weight Rating of 30,000 pounds. Delivery was expected in March or April of 2005.
March 2005 - Pick-Up Truck Ready
- Truck was delivered as ordered with after market bed added in Arizona Beige color.
April 2005 - Fifth Wheel Ready
- Drove to Akron, Ohio to pick up fifth wheel.
- Husky 24K double pivot head hitch was installed in bed of truck.
- Stayed on dealer lot for two nights testing all systems. After heavy rain, decided to have slideout awnings (aka "toppers") installed on all four slides.
- Went to local campground to further test systems.
- Had leak in shower and had to leave fifth wheel for repairs until the next weekend.
- Picked up fifth wheel and took it directly to a CAT scale to be weighed before taking it home to load. Unfortunately, the 3,000 lbs of cargo carrying capacity (CCC) we were expecting turned out to be only about 1,200 lbs after options were added. We were going to be overloaded as soon as we put our stuff in the fifth wheel.
May 2005 - Moving In, Satellite Internet
- Sold our house and completely moved into our fifth wheel.
- Added Datastorm automatic rooftop satellite dish, modem, and router to have satellite internet as our primary internet source. (Cellular data wasn't as widespread and had poor speeds at the time.)
- We added what is known as a "bird-on-a-wire" to the satellite internet dish which allowed us to use the same dish to pick up a DirecTV signal from different satellites.
- Moved rig to my parents' farm for three months while we "practiced" RV living and while we waited for our corporate jobs to end
June 2005 - Space Planning & Interior Modifications
- Linda, frustrated by wasted upper space in cabinets, hard-to-access deep cabinets, flimsy shelves in pantry, and various other annoyances, hired a space planner for advice
- Hired carpenter who made numerous improvements to our interior storage creating more space and functionality. (This also added new weight).
- Our Home On Wheels - (About half way down on the page)
August 2005 - On The Road & First Campground
- Started our full-time RVing adventure and immediately went to a CAT scale to weigh our rig after having weighed the truck earlier.
- Confirmed we were over our Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 17,000 lbs for the fifth wheel. We were close, but not over on our Gross Axle Weight Ratings (GAWR), and were well within our truck's towing rating and federal weight ratings.
- At our first campground, a state park in Kentucky, we found we didn't have enough fresh water hose. We had a fellow camper show us how to use a dump station for the first time. While leaving, I made an aggressive turn and threw our printer on the floor breaking it.
- Late in the month, we made our first stop for RV service with about a dozen small items on the list. While we were there we added a Pressure Pro Tire Pressure Monitoring System.
- Advantage Pressure Pro Website
May 2006 - Life On Wheels & Wheel-By-Wheel Weighing
- Attended "Life On Wheels" Conference (presenting one class and attending others) where we had the first opportunity to get our rig weighed wheel-by-wheel.
- Learned that we were 1,000 lbs over our GVWR for the fifth wheel, 100 lbs over on our front axle GAWR (carrying about 300 lbs of fresh water), and just under our GAWR on the rear axle. Also, we were 1,000 pounds heavier on our driver's side than our passenger side.
- Learned that the truck was in good shape on all ratings - GVWR, GAWR, and hitch rating (tow rating and vertical or "pin" rating).
- Added four additional fire extinguishers so that we have one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, one in the living area, one in the main outside storage compartment, and one in the truck.
July 2006 - SurgeGuard
- After becoming more educated, we wanted to install a device to protect our RV from voltage surges, voltage drops, and mis-wired electrical pedestals. We installed a SurgeGuard 50-Amp Model 34560 device. (We now are fierce advocates for these type devices.)
- Journal entry about the installation
- Our Electrical/Solar System
November 2006 - Boondocking Fail
- Weighed the RV again at a CAT scale - similar results as before.
- First attempt at "boondocking" on our own at the North Padre Island National Seashore. With only one battery, no solar panels, and designated generator hours, we quickly learned we were not equipped for the level of boondocking I wanted to do. WE WILL BE UPGRADING OUR ELECTRICAL SYSTEM.
July 2007 - Added AGM Batteries & Inverter/Charger; Bought Jeep As Extra Vehicle
- Electrical system upgrade. After research and advice from our technical mentor, Jack Mayer, we purchased new equipment. And this was the month for the installation.
- Jack installed four 6-volt Lifeline GPL-6CT AGM batteries (300 amp hours of capacity), a Xantrex RS3000 Inverter/Charger (with system monitor), and a Trimetric battery monitor.
- We tested the equipment and decided to try it out for awhile before deciding if we wanted to add solar panels.
- Our Electrical/Solar System
- After having been on the road two years, and having met other full-timers with fifth wheels that had an extra vehicle, we decided to buy a Jeep Liberty. For many reasons, it's one of the best decisions we've made for the way we travel.
- Reasons For Our Jeep Detailed Journal Entry
- Note: In 2013, our 2003 Jeep was totaled when a large tree limb fell on it in a friend's driveway. We replaced it with a high mileage 2005 Jeep Liberty.
May 2008 - Added Solar Panels
- After living with our battery/inverter set-up for several months, real world experience showed why solar panels would be a good idea. So, we added 4 100-watt solar panels and a solar controller to finish off our electrical upgrade.
- Our Electrical/Solar System
June 2008 - First RV-Dreams Rally
- Held our first RV-Dreams Rally.
- At the Rally, we offered wheel-by-wheel RV weighing. The fellow doing the weighing had been weighing a lot of heavy rigs, and he suggested we upgrade to Goodyear 17.5-inch tires and get the tires and wheels from TrailerTiresAndWheels.com. We just didn't have much safety margin on our tires.
November 2008 - Upgraded Tires & Wheels
September 2009 - Brake Problems
- After a summer of workamping in northern California (four months), we were driving through Nevada. At an RV park in Pahrump, we heard a terrible sound coming from our wheels. Our brake problems had begun, and I attributed them to being overloaded or being too close to our upper limit.
- We had the brakes "repaired" in Pahrump, NV, but they failed again within a few days in Quartzsite, AZ. The repair facility there really did fix the problem, but we made the decision at that point to upgrade our brakes and axles to provide us more weight capacity and safety margin.
May 2010 - Upgraded Suspension & Brakes
- We had MORryde RE suspension, so we decided to have them replace our 7,000-lb axles with 8,000-lb axles and replace our electric drum brakes with electric-over-hydraulic disc brakes.
- However, we determined that it wasn't much more expensive to do away with the axles altogether and upgrade to MORryde's independent suspension (IS).
- So, we added the MORryde IS suspension and Dexter 8,000-lb disc brakes. We'll never own another fifth wheel without these options.
- Journal entry about our 2015 visit to MORryde with links to prior entries about installation
Summer 2010 - Summer 2013 - No Upgrades
- All of our equipment was working beautifully, and we didn't make any changes for over three years. Then our business income started to increase, so we made some upgrades/modifications that may not have been necessary, but have certainly been money well spent since we don't see changing fifth wheels for several more years.
- Note: In July 2012, we lost our truck engine in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. We replaced it with a re-conditioned engine with a two-year warranty.
November 2013 - Added FlexArmor Seamless Roof
January 2014 - Added Winegard Trav'ler Automatic Rooftop Satellite Dish
- After several years of relying on satellite internet, in 2009 we started using cellular internet as a back-up for the times when our rooftop satellite was blocked by trees.
- Eventually, cellular coverages and speeds improved, and cellular internet became our primary source. However, we were still using the Datastorm satellite dish for our satellite TV signal (standard definition only).
- In this month, we had our Datastorm satellite internet dish removed, and we replaced it with a Winegard Trav'ler DirecTV SK-SWM3 Slimline automated dish. So, satellite internet was gone, but we now had HD TV with our easy-to-use, reliable, automatic rooftop dish.
- Journal entry from the day of our Winegard Trav'ler installation including our decision process
June 2014 - Replaced Flooring, Kitchen Sink, & Added Keyless Entry and a Backsplash
July 2014 - Replaced Awnings & Slide Toppers With Carefree of Colorado Products
- This wasn't a planned upgrade, but RVs For Less arranged for us to get all new slideout awnings (aka "toppers"), a new patio awning, and a new awning for our largest slideout from Carefree of Colorado.
- With a new paint job scheduled for later in the month, we got the awnings to match the new paint.
- The big awnings came with LED lights built in which I opposed. In fact, I didn't want the awning on the big slideout either.
- In the end, I like having the awning on the slide, but I was right about the LED lights - wires have broken already. There are good things about the Carefree awnings, but they are much slower than our old A&E awning.
- Our Home On Wheels page has a blurb about the awnings about half way down
July/August 2014 - Full Body Paint For The Fifth Wheel
September 2014 - Added RV Hauler Bed On The Truck
- Back in 2006, I dropped the fifth wheel on the rails of our pick-up truck bed. It hasn't been the same since. In fact, during this month in Indiana, a crack in the bed was expanding and the bed rails separated to the point where the tailgate wouldn't latch.
- We went to Utility Bodywerks in Elkhart, IN to see about getting a new pick-up bed. After looking at their custom aluminum "hauler" beds and some negotiations, we decided to have them install a new hauler bed on the back of our truck.
- Our Utility Bodywerks RV Hauler Bed page with details about the bed and what we love about it PLUS a $250 coupon
October 2014 - Replaced Furniture With Lambright Comfort Chairs Recliners & Loveseat
- While in Amish Country in northern Indiana, we visited Lambright Comfort Chairs. We ended up replacing our three La-Z-Boy Pinnacle rocker recliners with a Lambright Lazy Lounger loveseat wall recliner and two Lazy Lounger swivel rocker wall recliners.
- Note: In October 2015, we replaced the original Lambright furniture with improved versions. The loveseat has power recline and USB charging ports, while we got one recliner with power recline and one recliner as a rocker/recliner without the power.
- Journal entry about Lambright Comfort Chairs including a 5% off coupon
February 2015 - Upgraded Dual-Pane Window Seals
- After almost ten years in our fifth wheel, we were starting to get some fogging in our dual pane windows. The factory seals are not all that great so, over time, they tend to fail.
- So, we went to Suncoast Designers in Hudson, FL and had them remove all fourteen of our windows, take them apart, clean them, and re-seal them with house-grade seals. They provide a 10-year warranty, but told us they are so confident in their process that they have honored their warranty for longer periods in the few instances there have been problems.
- Journal entry detailing our visit to Suncoast Designers including their process
April 2015 - New Truma AquaGo Instant Hot Water Heater
- Back in June 2014, we were asked to be a field tester for the Truma AquaGo instant hot water heater. The field testing went great, they introduced the AquaGo to the public at the December 2014 RVIA show in Louisville, and we got our test unit replaced with a production unit.
- Journal entry about our experience with the Truma AquaGo
October 2015 - Added Exhuast Brake To Our Truck
- Though our 2005 Ford F450 is capable of towing 21,000 lbs according to the specs, it doesn't do well holding our heavy fifth wheel back on steep or long downgrades. The "tow haul" engine braking feature is not enough without significant use of the service brakes. This was part of the reason we lost the truck engine back in 2012.
- Since 2012, we had considered adding an after-market "exhaust brake". However, we were concerned about voiding our warranty. With the warranty on our replacement engine now expired, we had Frontline Auto Tech in Shipshewana, IN install a Pacbrake PRXB. Should have done that a long time ago.
- Pacbrake PRXB webpage
So, that's a timeline of upgrades and modifications to our RV and truck. After more than ten years, we still have the same truck and fifth wheel, and will probably have them both for awhile longer.
IF we have to replace our truck in the future, it will have the following:
- An Exhaust Brake
- A Utility Bodywerks Hauler Bed
- An Auxiliary Fuel Tank
- Towing Capacity of at least 120% of the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the fifth wheel
- Air Ride Hitch with a tow rating of at least 120% of the GVWR of the fifth wheel (this could be our next upgrade)
If we have to replace our fifth wheel in the future with a used model, we will upgrade as follows:
- MORryde IS Independent Suspension
- Electric Over Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- Goodyear G114 215/75R17.5 Load Range H commercial tires
- Full body paint
- RVRoof.com FlexArmor Roof
- SurgeGuard or Progressive Industries hard-wired surge protector with voltage protection
- Dual-pane Windows with Suncoast Desginers seals
- Winegard Trav'ler automatic rooftop satellite dish
- AGM Battery Bank with at least 600 amp hours of capacity
- Solar Panels totaling at least 600 watts
- Truma AquaGo water heater
- Lambright Comfort Chairs living area furniture
That's not an exhaustive list as there are many features we have in our Keystone Cambridge that we've had from day one that we'd like to have in a future rig.
But you can see we are very happy with most of the upgrades/modifications we've done and we would have them on a new/different rig.