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Our RV cockpit renovation was a true testament to planning and imagination mixed with perfect execution. The years of wear and tear mixed with the dark wood, booger green carpet and corduroy seats screamed for HELP! There was a lot to do and we were under the gun to get it finished and hit the road.
Unlike the other renos we did in our rig, the RV cockpit renovation was a full tear down and custom build from the foundation. The seats were old, ugly and shaky. There were solid wood cabinets overhead but they were dark and impractical. The back up camera monitor was perched overhead like a boulder on a crumbling cliff and the carpeting was decades past its prime.
The area was a total redo requiring everything to be designed and built from scratch. The only thing going for it was that it was a wide open space.
Reducing The Roar
It’s very rare that we would decide to install carpet on any floor we’re replacing but in the case of our RV’s cockpit floor, carpeting has great advantages. Because the diesel engine roars under the front seats, carpeting will help to reduce the sound and heat from the power plant. Using carpet is also more easily trimmed around the cockpit’s obstacles like the pedals and engine bay hatch.
The old booger green carpet was worn out and wasn’t a match with our new modern neutral design. The carpet and underlay ripped up with a scraper and some back muscle. However, the seats unbolted with a fair amount of personal discomfort accessing their underside.
Once down to the cleaned up subfloor, we glued down automotive insulation with spray adhesive on both the floor and the forward firewall. The insulation was easy to work with and provided a multi function temperature and sound insulation combined with a foil vapour barrier.
Firstly, we measured the cockpit floor and marked it out on the backside of the new carpet. We trimmed the carpet width to size using a sharp carpet knife and notched out the shifter console before installation.
Installation went smoothly only requiring a bit of trimming around the pedals and the opening for the engine hatch. The carpeting rolled nicely over the back of the cockpit platform down to the main floor. We secured the carpeting with staples using a pneumatic stapler.
The engine hatch cover was finished separately with the same combination of insulation and carpet before being reinstalled.
Top Down Destruction
We got hard at it ripping out the dirty dated interior starting with the window treatments then the overhead cabinets. Unfortunately getting this RV cockpit renovation right meant a complete tear out.
Once the cabinets were removed we found some evidence of leaking marker lights on the top of the rig that had slowly rotted out the windshield wiper motor mount over the years. Because the entire cab was fibreglass it took some imagination to repair the rotten areas. After digging out all the old fibres we could, we sandwiched new plywood in place then re-secured the motor.
In the mean time we sealed the leaks around the lights and windows with silicone then ripped out the insulation and wiring for the old monitor.
Using Birch plywood we designed and built an overhead bin style storage system. The design was inspired by our aircraft background and lended well to the space restrictions.
Making use of a table saw to cut the pieces for the new bins gave us nice straight lines. We assembled the three lower bins independently and created the upper section as a single assembly. Once painted to match the grey tone of the interior, we installed the top assembly by screwing it to the wooden frame of the ceiling.
Using sturdy hinges at the rear of the bins we connected the bottom boxes and added nylon coated cable inside the front. The cable’s purpose is to limit the opening travel and support the bottoms while they’re open. The final addition was the low profile window locks to keep the bins tightly secured during travel.
Ditching The Dash
As leaking windows go, the platform below the RV windshield took the brunt of the down hill destruction adding another step to the cockpit renovation. Once the old faded pink vinyl was removed we had an intimate view of the entire engine bay.
Pressure treated plywood made a much better medium for the area providing a water resistant barrier and a soundproofing thickness. It also gave us a good base to secure the defrost vents to.
The next step was to give it a finish coat. Using a cardboard template we cut two halves out of hardboard and taped them together to create a flexible piece easily maneuvered into place. A layer of batting was glued down first before skinning it with a fresh layer of UV protected marine vinyl.
Transitioning from the lower window platform to the chassis instrument panel we reused the original hump structure and stretched some batting and vinyl over it stapling it to the underside. It was a little more difficult to finish the ends of the round structure.
After bouncing around some ideas, we cut some tin and glued vinyl to it with spray adhesive. Using matching rubber grommet along the sharp edges gave them a clean finish.
The last piece of dash fabrication was to replace the old ugly plastic defrost vents with something more suitable to our new style. For this we cut out some tin strips and bent them to create covers angling the air toward the windshield. The same black stainless spray paint used for the hardware in our kitchen renovation made a perfect matching finish.
The decorative pillars between the windows were covered using the same vinyl tying the area together with the rest of the RV cockpit renovation
Salvaging Storage Space
There wasn’t much room for storage between the dashboard and the sidewalls and utilizing all the space possible in this RV cockpit renovation was key. The old side storage boxes were more space fillers than storage units so we had to start from scratch.
Using the same Birch plywood as the overhead bins, we built a new side storage box to for each side. The driver’s side box supplied storage, the levelling system controls and a USB outlet. We tacked on a flip down cup holder for convenience as well.
The passenger side box was a completely different design but also allowed for storage, a USB outlet, an AC receptacle and a cup holder. The bottom portion was left open to house an easily accessible storage bin.
Cockpit technology has advanced a great deal from the stone age of 1994. The old tube tv that rattled overhead was ditched and the factory tape deck wasn’t going to cut it. We needed a space age console to contain our new camera monitor, stereo, GPS and switches to do this RV cockpit renovation right.
Back to the workshop, we jigged and drilled out a nice piece of pine to house our tech of the 2020’s. Using a dark wood stain for the face of the box and more of the grey marine vinyl on the top and sides matching rest of the dash.
On the electrical side we wired up switches to control the cameras and monitor, one for the 12v outlet and 2 USB outlets in the side boxes and a third for the stereo.
Once positioned on the dash the console was comfortably visible for the driver without impeding the view through the windshield.
With the new stereo installed we had to do something about the broken speakers mish-mashed under the dashboard. A simple pair of triangular boxes to house two new 6″ speakers did the trick. Using a mixture of scrap plywood and hardboard, we were able to fab up some small boxes and fit them on the dash directed toward the cabin. Again we covered the boxes with matching grey marine vinyl and they look sharp!
It was hard to rationalize installing a power hungry audio amplifier to power the 6 interior speakers with a 4 channel deck. After all, we’ve focused hard on power saving alternatives throughout the RV and the cockpit renovation wasn’t going to be different. As has become the norm we got creative and converted the ashtray into a switch box.
By bending some tin, painting it black and installing speaker terminal blocks in it we solved the issue. Now we can switch between using the 4 ceiling speakers if we’re stationary or using the 2 dash and 2 ceiling speakers if we’re driving.
Riding On Air
The final piece of the RV cockpit renovation puzzle was the seating. With the old corduroy green aztec seats removed we were in search of an affordable alternative. We desperately wanted to keep the swivelling feature of the old seats but find a higher backed better looking replacement. Fortunately our endless online searching uncovered a possible option an hour drive from home.
Spotting some air ride seats posted on craigslist we made our move. After some haggling the seller was kind enough to meet us at $450 and we were in business. The seats were a steal from the $800 each new, the only question was would they fit!
Reusing the old swivel bases and fabricating up some square adaptor tubing was the answer. We were able to bolt the seats to the old bases overcoming the slightly misaligned bolt holes. Each seat has its own onboard air compressor to control its height. By utilizing the existing electrical wiring for the old driver seat we were all powered up. We created an extension using 14 gage wire to power the passenger seat when required.
Rolling In Style
There’s no doubt that completing our RV cockpit renovation was a time consuming task as everything had to be custom made and fitted. The sweat and effort were all worth it in the end though! Our pimped out cockpit surrounds us with all the necessities that make our travels a breeze. It’s all smooth sailing from here!