How To Repair, Remodel, and Restore an Old Camper or RV Interior
Older RV's: Classics and Bargains
Many of us cannot afford those fancy motorhomes and luxurious travel trailers even though we do love to visit America’s great state and national parks. Fortunately for us DIY types, there are many used or classic travel trailers and other type campers for sale which merely need a little fixing up and modernizing to make them comfortable and safe for our families to enjoy.
The following RV repair article describes the renovation of an 86 Nissan mounted camper body which had only been used for a couple of camping trips. The engine and interior of the truck itself was in great shape as it only had 38,000 miles on the odometer. The camper body itself, however, was in very bad condition due to a bad roof leak which caused much deterioration to the interior.
As you can see by the photos, the ceiling and walls, as well as the sink and stove area, were all badly damaged. The structural integrity of the camper walls and ceiling were at risk also, as the wood used for support was badly rotted and would have to be replaced to restore stability to the RV itself. Since the RV was only $400, it was well worth repairing.
86 Nissan Nicky Camper
Getting a Materials List Together
We started off by giving the little unit a thorough examination in order make our material list. The secret to doing a quick and reliable repair job on any travel trailer or motorhome is to plan ahead and save trips to the hardware store.
This is easier than one might think as, unlike remodeling a home, the materials needed are usually in small amounts.
This goes for wood paneling screws, nails, glue, or just about anything else required in most RV interior repair jobs. For plumbing or RV electrical repairs, the same goes for them too. Many older RVs may be updated by using the newer flex plumbing to replace old copper or PVC water lines.
A new breaker box is also suggested for the very old travel trailers as microwave ovens, and other new appliances, may require more amps than the old RV electrical breaker panels were designed for.
RV refrigerators may be replaced by new efficient 110 volt models for a great savings if the old 3-way evaporation fridge is too far gone. Think ahead and be prepared. This will save you time and money if you properly plan your material list beforehand.
Removing the Deteriorated Material
We removed the ceiling assembly and hold down bracket from the Coleman rooftop AC unit so we could better access the roof and ceiling damage. One of the bolts securing the rooftop AC to the hold-down bracket was loose and this may have been the cause of the leaking roof.
But the damage was so bad it was difficult to determine exactly where the leak originated on the roof.This camping unit, like many made today, relied on Styrofoam panels for much of the roof and walls, with this particular model using wood panels glued to the Styrofoam to give structural support.
We decided to add 4 pieces of angle iron as rafters to add strength to the 4x¾” boards we replaced in the ceiling. This added support would keep the AC unit from bouncing and recreating the roof leaks.
Interior Water Damage In Small RV
We also removed the stove and sink from the cabinet, as well as the cabinet itself. The floor would be replaced by new plywood and we needed to get to the rotten corner wood supports behind the cabinet.
The same was done in the bath next to the stove as it needed new corner wood replaced also. All wiring over the stove was detached until after the job was completed. This is recommended for all electrical wiring you may encounter during the repair process.
Removing and Replacing Damaged RV Walls and Ceilings
With the AC and stove/sink cabinet removed, we started out by replacing the wooden corner braces which the luan/Styrofoam panels were attached for strength and stability.
The thin paneling was discarded and replaced with new ¼” luan which may be stained or painted. The liberal use of Liquid Nail, or a similar adhesive, is highly recommended for use while repairing these RV’s and travel trailers.
With the AC unit removed, the four pieces of angled steel were inserted into the ceiling and attached to the replacement ¾ x 4” ceiling joists and covered with new luan paneling.
This thin plywood is great for bending into the correct shape which many RVs use for the interior ceilings and walls. It paints or stains great too.
Often thin sheets of paneling may be turned backwards to the wood side to substitute for luan and are occasionally offered at clearance prices at Home Depot or Lowe's building supply stores.
We decided to add an extra 3/8” layer of plywood to the floor area for added strength purposes, even though the floor was still in useable condition.
Often, a water damaged floor will continue to deteriorate if it suddenly gets traffic on the surface and will eventually give problems if not recovered or reinforced properly.
Removing and Replacing Damaged RV Interior
Bath and Kitchen Area RV Repairs
The small bathroom shower unit was fine, but the paneling above the surround was replaced with luan paneling as was the ceiling and walls.
The paneling above the surround will be painted with a water resistant paint which should do fine for the occasional weekend trips planned for the small camping unit.
As you can tell, the new paneling does wonders for the badly damaged interior of the RV. We used 1” or 1 ¼” drywall screws to attach most of the paneling and hid the screws with molding strips.
In other more obvious places, we relied on finish nails and more Liquid Nail to ensure a tight long lasting seal between the luan and the wood supports.
We checked the plumbing and electrical system in the sink/stove cabinet area and added a new 110 volt receptacle to replace the rusted unsafe outlet beneath the overhead cabinets.
Adding extra receptacles in the kitchen area is always a good idea during renovations. It's better to have too many than having to run extension cords across the limited floor space in most RVs.
The stove was cleaned up, sanded, and painted with high temperature paint to resist the heat from the gas burners on the stove. The gas lines were reattached and sealed properly during the reassembly.
A Plan Comes Together: Don't You Love It?
Through With This Guy! Road Ready At Last!
There’s nothing as satisfactory to a DIY guy than seeing the results of his own work. The roof and walls, along with the ceiling and bath repair, turned out great and should last for many years to come.
There are other small areas which need a little spit and polish, but this little camper is now ready for the road.
The owner decided to paint the interior himself and save a little more money, which was fine by us. He still came out smelling like a rose even hiring us to do the work for him. Besides, we hate to paint anyway.
The owner now has about $1400 in this neat little rig and could sell it for much more than he invested if he so chooses to do so.
After the ceiling was repaired, the roof seams were covered by a strip of roof repair aluminum backed with a very sticky adhesive. It is sold as “Peel N’ Seal” in Lowes or Home Depot. A wonderful permanent or emergency repair roofing product which pays to have along on any camping trip.
The roof was then coated with a rubber based rood sealant to ensure against any possible new leaks.
The examples of repair methods used in this article may be varied according to your own taste in design or in the depth of your wallet. We chose the most economical materials while maintaining durability and safety as much as possible.
Don’t be afraid to take on one of these projects as the labor is not too time consuming nor the materials expensive. Almost anything you do wrong can be repaired with no problems.
Good luck with your own project and thanks for stopping by my RV repair hubs.