LXE Body Improvements

Exterior Interior

Matted step.  The first step in keeping a house clean is keeping  the dirt OUT.  The LXE has a double step which folds for storage.  I used stainless nuts and bolts to fasten a piece of aluminum diamondplate to the bottom step, where it's good for scraping most of the dirt off our shoes.  On the top step, I screwed a piece of plastic grass-like doormat, which takes off the rest of the dirt ). 

Mud-dauber screen.  Mud-dauber wasps love cozy nooks like behind the fridge vent panels, or inside the bumper.  To seal those openings, hot-glue fiberglass window screen to the backs of the bumper caps and the vent panels.  A commercial screen is available for the furnace exhaust. 

Vent latches.  Our standard roof vents came equipped only with little bungees to hold them closed during travel.  They don't work, but I came up with a design that does. 

For each vent I used: 1 rubber grommet (5/8" OD x 5/16" ID – $0.87 for 2-pack at Lowe's), 3' of beaded chain with connector ($1.88 for Harbor Breeze ceiling fan chain at Lowe's), and a Dritz cord stop ($1.79 for 2-pack, style 468-1, at Jo-Ann Fabrics).

From inside the trailer, I opened the vent wide, cut out the screen inside the little plastic circle at the bottom of the screen frame, and pushed the wire ends back out of the way.  From outside the trailer, I put the rubber grommet in the bottom (square) end of the slot on the back of the vent lid.  I threaded the beaded chain through the grommet and down through the hole in the screen,  one end on each side of the center bar.

Back inside the trailer, I squeezed the cord stop open and threaded the ends of the chain through the holes.  I shortened the chain about 4" and fastened the ends together with the little chain connector.  To fasten the lids for travel, I just close the vents and slide the cord stop up until the chain's tight.  Lots more secure than the "bungee doohickey", and lower, too - now I don't have to climb on something to fasten the vents.

Remote control.  Reaching the handles to open or close the vents was also a problem, since I am "vertically challenged".  A simple and easy help is a piece of PVC pipe, slotted on one end, for opening and closing the vents.  It's been dubbed a "solid-state remote control."  Add a rubber tip on the non-slot end, and it qualifies as the deluxe model!

Hatch doors.  All of the hatch doors - toilet, water, and rear storage area - were equipped with locking latches.  Because they all used the same generic 751 key, they provided little security and the key was an irritation.  I replaced them with thumb-turn latches, available from most RV stores.  A self-adhesive white door holder works well for holding the rear storage door open. 

Door threshold.  The original threshold was the standard factory strip of aluminum that was hard on bare feet, susceptible to damage, and impossible to sweep.  A custom oak threshold wedge, made by another Aliner owner, is a great improvement.

Covered roof ledges.  Another clever Aliner owner came up with this idea.  It helps prevent condensation and provides a ledge for holding small items like glasses, book or watch.  I used sheet-metal screws to attach lengths of 1” aluminum angle to both front and rear of the camper body, just below the brown roof hinge, on either side of the center electric wire.  In the rear, the aluminum angle goes all the way to the side walls and the ledge is covered with nappy upholstery fabric (carpet was too stiff), attached at the top and bottom with strips of double-stick duct tape, torn in half lengthwise. 

In the front, the aluminum pieces go only to the kitchen counter on one side of the electric wire, and to the bathroom shelf on the other.  But even these short strips are handy for hanging a small basket of kitchen items.  Since the front ledge serves both kitchen and bath, I wanted to use a waterproof covering instead of fabric over the hinge area.  I couldn't locate any vinyl or oilcloth to match/coordinate with the formica countertop, but finally found a roll of heavy contact paper ("Easy Liner") in a granite pattern that looked very good.  While the loose unholstery fabric masks the rivet stems on the rear roof hinge, the rivets were a problem underneath contact paper.  I had some leftover 3/16"-thick white foam that I'd purchased earlier (in a 12"-wide roll in the shelf-liner section at Lowe's).  I cut this foam into 2.5"-wide strips that I pressed against the brown roof hinge to mark the location of the rivet stems.  In  the marks left by the rivets, I used a paper-punch to make holes.  Then I tacked these strips into place over the hinge and rivets, using bits of double-stick duct tape.  Now I was ready to cover the whole area (hinge, aluminum extrusion, and aluminum angle) with 5"-wide strips of the contact paper.  The foam masks the rivets, the contact paper goes smoothly over the foam, and the result is a good-looking, water-resistant area between countertop and ceiling. 

Twin beds.  The twin-bed floor plan was the main reason for trading our 2004 Classic/DL for the 2007 LXE.  Our custom foam mattress from the old camper, cut in half, was perfect for the two narrow (26") twins.  The A/C on the door side presented a bit of a challenge, however.  The original LXE cushion simply slid underneath the A/C unit, but that made it difficult to access the ample storage underneath.  In order to lift the end of the bed, I notched both the mattress and plywood so that they cleared the A/C.

Notched mattress:  When our upholsterer cut the old mattress in half, I had him cut a 6.5" x 18" notch from a corner of one piece.  (I cut an identical notch from the plywood under the A/C).  I stitched a pad around the notched mattress to protect it.  The fitted bottom sheet was more difficult.  Starting at the inside notch corner, I pulled together the extra fabric of a fitted twin sheet (which is wider than the camper mattress) and stitched it into a pleat (on the wrong side) all the way to the top.  From the notch to the foot of the bed, the unstitched pleat falls loosely, allowing it to clear the A/C.  The top sheet and blanket are just stuffed under the A/C.

Notched plywood:  I was a bit concerned about supporting the plywood notch, since it doesn't rest on the frame.  I minimized, but didn't eliminate, the weakness by screwing the cutout piece to the frame and adding a lip on which the loose plywood rests.  So far, so good.

Gas struts:  The addition of gas struts (aka gas springs or gas props) makes it much more convenient to use the underbed storage areas.  I had a bit of trouble figuring sizes and weights, and finally had to resort to a piece of graph paper to determine the best placement for the struts.  Under the street-side are two 14" 35# struts.  Under the long side of the notched bed is one 18" 40# strut, and one 12" 30# strut supports the short side.  These are strong enough to hold the lids open, but not so strong that the beds will pop up without a tug on the straps.

Insulated bubbles.  The plexiglass bubbles are great for headroom and light, but they sure collect heat, even when the camper is folded.  Originally, I used Reflectix (insulating foil-covered bubble wrap) at Lowe’s and cut it with scissors to fit inside each bubble.  After learning that reflection and heat from the shiny foil was hard on the plastic bubbles, I replaced it with a similar, but thinner (single bubble), insulation that has a white surface on one side.  With the white surface out, there is not as much heat build-up against the plexiglas.  I now use this white/foil insulation in the front and rear bubbles, as well as the vent lids. It was available only in large rolls, but I was able to share the purchase with other Aliner owners.

AC drain drip.  Condensation from the AC dripped from the drain hole and splashed by the step, making a muddy mess.  We tied a string, weighted with a stainless steel nut, to a small S-hook which we hang on the edge of the A/C frame.  Now the water is wicked directly to the ground (or, in very humid weather, into a bucket), eliminating the messy splashing. 

Rear cabinet.  The cabinet between the beds ("wardrobe" in the factory brochure) provides wonderful storage ... after I addressed a couple of problems.  A thicker piece of plywood replaces the thin shelf added by the previous owner.  Because the countertop overhung the sides of the cabinet, it was awkward to lift the mattresses to make the beds.  I removed the top, pulled out the edge trim, and took it to a cabinetmaker who cut it to the same width as the cabinet and rerouted the edge for the trim. 

The wide 20" cabinet door took up valuable aisle space to open.  I made a replacement bifold door from a piece of 20" finish-ready pine, purchased and ripped in half at Lowe's.  I later adapted the bifold door by cutting it in half horizontally.  The resulting "Dutch bifold" works very well; now we can open the top half without having to move stuff on the floor in front of the bottom door.

Towel rod.  When folded, the bathroom wall is not aligned with the camper wall and the plastic blocks in the shower, intended to support the folding wall, were not adequate.  On the advice of another owner, I removed the blocks entirely and replaced them with a towel rod.  The rod supports the folded wall, and we have a place to hang our towels.  Double-duty is always nice!

Front storage box - leaks.  Front storage boxes are notorious for leaks.  When we purchased the camper, I was aware of 2 small cracks above the lid.  I drilled a tiny hole at the bottom of each crack, to prevent them from lengthening, and caulked them.  The rivets on the upper (box) part of the hinges were badly done and appeared to be another source of water.  I drilled out the rivets and replaced them with stainless steel bolts and nuts.  The lid is not directly centered over the opening and rubs against the box on one side.  This, I think, was the cause of a major crack that appeared after a freezing rain: I suspect that ice built up between the lid and box, creating stress that opened a new crack above the lid.  I again drilled a tiny "stop hole" at the end of the new crack and caulked it on both sides.  Finally, the "stem" of a rivet in the lid side of the center hinge was pressing into the gasket, creating a low spot that let rain run inside the box.  I drilled out away the stem of the rivet, leaving the outside cap which seemed to be firmly caulked in place.  After all this, the front box has stayed dry.

To hold the box lid open, I "stole" this idea from another clever Aliner owner.  Half of a bungee strap is screwed to the reinfocing ridge on each side of the lid.  The lid will stay open with only one bungee hooked to the roof handle, making a convenient holder from either side.  To keep the hooks from hanging down and catching on storage items during travel, I fasten them with velcro to the inside of the lid.

Gutters.  When the camper is erected, rain sheets down the roof and over the front and rear hinges.  Although the hinge area is fairly well protected from water intrusion, it makes more sense to direct the water away from there if possible.  On the top of both the front and rear roof extrusions, I attached a length of 1/2" aluminum angle, securing it to the roof extrusion with 5 small stainless screws, and caulking it along the top edge.  This gutter extends about 1/2" beyond the sides of the roof.  Wooden clothespins clipped to the ends of the gutters wick the water to drip even farther from the camper.  The hinges still get wet, of course, but in a heavy rain, it's amazing to see the volume of water that shoots harmlessly off the ends of the gutters. 

Bumper storage.  When we bought the camper, there was aluminum diamondplate riveted over the rear bumper.  Not only was I concerned about rust developing underneath it, but the rivets projecting into the bumper made it impossible to store the sewer hose inside.  I drilled out the rivets and removed the diamondplate, finding significant rust and peeling paint.  I also discovered that the rear stabilizers were attached to the bumper with self-tapping screws, another problem for sewer-hose storage.  I replaced the stabilizer screws with stainless steel bolts, putting the bolt head and lock washer inside the bumper and and a nylon lock nut on the outside - see before and after pictures below.  I also drilled a couple of drain holes in the bottom of the bumper.  Finally, I filled the rivet holes, scraped off the loose paint, applied rust stabilizer inside and out, and repainted the bumper.  Now with a smooth interior surface, the bumper is a great place to store the sewer hose.  The long sewer hose goes in one side and the short hose for the portable grey-water tank goes in the other side. 

For easier access, I capped each end with a piece of aluminum diamondplate, cut from a 12x24 piece purchased at Lowe's.  A metal blade on my old saber saw did a nice job.  So that I wouldn't have rivets or screws jutting inside the bumper, I used JBWeld to fasten the hinges and hasps.  So far, so good!

Reinforced toilet lid.  The lid to the Thetford cassette toilet is a thin, convex plastic, too flimsy for sitting while showering.  I encountered two other owners whose lids had cracked.  In the process of recaulking the whole toilet area (to improve both sealing and appearance), I discovered that the seat-lid assembly lifts right off the base, and the lid can be removed from the seat.  At first, I thought I could replace the original lid with a standard residential lid, but imagineering new hinges got complicated.  Instead, the solution was remarkably simple.  I bought a $10 Westport round toilet seat from Lowe's (#310061) and removed the hinges from the lid, filling the screw holes.  I attached velcro dots to the bumpers at the front of the new lid, and a strip of velcro to the rear.  I stuck the new lid to matching velcro on the Thetford lid.  Our seated weight is now supported on the three velcro points around the stronger edge of the plastic lid, taking stress off the flexible center.  It's solid, it looks good and I hope it will eliminate the risk of a cracked toilet seat.

Reinforced wheel wells.  The aluminum wheel wells are very thin.  There have been incidents of blown tires that have destroyed the wheel well and the surrounding camper interior.  Another wise owner suggested adding "floating" reinforcements of wood that would absorb the shock in case of tire failure.  They were surprisingly easy to construct from plywood scraps: 3 pieces of wood along the top and sides of each wheel well, and another piece along the large inside surface.  Perforated galvanized strap made the attachment easy.  I connected the 3 smaller pieces and added another piece of strap on each one to connect to the large piece of wood.  I laid the 3 pieces over the wheel well and marked screw holes for the large piece.  After pre-drilling the screw holes, I set the large piece in place, bent the 3 straps around it, and secured it with short screws.  The reinforcements are NOT attached to the camper body, but are wedged in place with plastic storage tubs.

Reinforced cabinet screws.  Two long cabinet screws through the camper exterior are the main fasteners holding the kitchen cabinet frame to the camper wall.  There were no fender washsers or reinforcement to spread the stress on the exterior fiberglass, and the screws heads were making significant dimples in the camper skin, threatening to pull completely through to the inside.  (I wish I'd taken a "before" picture!)  They needed to be reinforced, but I wanted a solution that was attractive and not just utilitarian. 

From K-Mart, I bought two 5-inch round white paintable wall-guards (for protecting walls from doorknob damage)  as the bases for my reinforcements.  Because the cabinet screws were less than 5" apart, I used my Dremel to cut a small segment from one of the discs.  I also bought two 1 1/2" fender washers and two decorative black screw caps.  After drilling center screw holes in the door guards, I covered them with scraps of contact paper on which I traced the fender washers and drew the flower petals.  I cut out the petals with an exacto knife, peeled out the pieces, and sprayed the discs with blue plastic paint.  When they were dry, I peeled away the rest of the contact paper to reveal the stenciled flower.  I sprayed the fender washers with beige Rustoleum.  After I removed the cabinet screws (one at a time), I caulked the holes and replaced the screws through the painted discs, washers, and screw caps.  The resulting "flowers" are perfect with the Aliner decal colors, and more decorative than a boring square of aluminum! 

Fridge vent improvements.  Because of the low profile of these campers, the cooling in the behind-the-fridge compartment is not great.  Part of my improvement plan was to create a better air flow around the cooling fins.  First, I pushed insulation between the countertop and the top of the fridge to prevent hot air from collecting in that space.  From a strip of 4" aluminum snap-lock pipe, and a strip of vinyl siding, I rigged a baffle to force cool air, coming in the bottom vent door, up through the cooling fins instead of up against the outside wall.  Lips on the pipe and siding interlock, forming a ledge, which is held in place by screws through unused mounting holes in the frame.  I stuffed more insulation between the aluminum and the outside wall, then pulled the bottom edge of the baffle to the camper wall at the top of the bottom vent door.  There, it's held in place with a couple of old sink brackets screwed to the vent-door frame (note: save odds and ends of extra hardware - like sink brackets; you never know when they'll come in handy!)  The pictures below show the baffle from above, and looking up from below.

New fridge fans. The original cooling fan behind the fridge was very noisy, and relatively ineffective.  Part of the noise was vibration from loose brackets under the back of the countertop  Those were easy to tighten.  The front edge of the countertop was also loose, so I added a bracket to the cabinet wall to stabilize it.  The fan itself had been mounted to a piece of wood that was poorly stapled to the wall above the top vent door.  I cut the fan wires and took the whole thing out, intending to use a more secure wood mount with a quieter computer fan.  I finally gave up in frustration because of the small and awkward work space.  I just couldn't get a good attachment to the countertop or wall.

At our local computer store, I found a different style of fan.  Instead of forcing air through the fan in a straight line, these fans exhaust the hot air at a 90-degree angle.  Two of these fans together are much quieter than the OEM fan, move just as much air, and use less battery power.  So I bought two, at $10 each, and set about attaching them to the vent door, instead of to the countertop.  After removing the metal covers over the exhaust ends of the fans, I painted the back sides white.  With my Dremel, I cut a fan-sized opening in each side of the top vent door.  The fans fit in the openings with the air intakes facing the fridge cooling fins, the painted back sides tight against the vent door, and the narrow exhaust edges resting on the bottom slots of the vent door.  The fans force pull hot air from the cooling fins and exhaust it directly down and outside.  I secured each fan to the vent door with zip ties and caulked around the edges.  I also tied a tether string to the door, so it could be removed and hang, without putting stress on the wires.  I hot-glued window screen over the back of the door to keep out bugs, leaving a small hole for the tether and wires.  The fans are connected with insulated spade connectors to the camper/thermostat circuit.  The fans are hardly audible inside the camper, and they do a great job of cooling. 

Covered side hinges.  After seeing the cosmetic improvement it made in other Aliners, I decided to cover the A-wall hinges inside.  I tackled the bathroom hinge first.  The covering is white vinyl left over from remaking a spare tire cover.  The trim is white cap moulding for wallboard.  I used small screws to secure the trim above and below the hinge, pre-drilling the holes.  The bottom strip is in 3 separate pieces that fit around the towel rod.  After screwing them into place, I removed the towel rod.  Before mounting the top strip, I wedged the vinyl into it with screen spline.  After the top strip, with vinyl, was screwed to the wall, I folded the bottom edge of the vinyl and wedged it into the bottom strips.  Finally, I reattached the towel rod, putting the screws through the vinyl.  It looks good!

The rest of the side hinges are covered with upholstery fabric, using beige cap moulding.  Carpet tape worked well to "seam" the long strips of fabric.  The fridge countertop was high enough that I couldn't use any cap moulding for the bottom of the fabric; there was about 1/4" of wall between the hinge hardware and the countertop.  I just  folded the raw edge under and tacked the fold to that 1/4" with brass upholstery tacks. 

Side-to-side pole.  In severe weather, a pole braced between the side walls strengthens the whole camper.  It's also a convenient place to hang wet clothes.  An adjustable painter's pole is perfect.  I cut off the plastic threads and put rubber tips on both ends.  When we don't need or want the pole, it stays underneath a bed. 

Towing.  We made a couple of adjustments for smoother towing with our 2007 Sienna.  The LXE is heavier than our 2004 Classic was, and we had trouble getting it to tow level.  We ordered air springs online and a friend helped Forrest install them.  What a difference!  With the added 35# of pressure in the air springs, the camper is now level.  Another irritation was the rattle of our hitch.  From the recommendation of another owner, we orderd an anti-rattle hitch pin and now the draw bar is solid as a rock - not a wiggle.  Before we added the air springs, we couldn't open the back door of the van - the tongue jack got in the way.  To ease this problem, we loosened the rear two bolts that secure the jack to the tonge, and shimmed the front bolt.  This tipped the jack handle back just a bit ... enough to raise the car door.  Now, with the air springs, we have even more room to spare.