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Have you ever noticed how flimsy the exterior doors are on a lot of RVs, especially the smaller travel trailers? When we were researching which RV to buy, we certainly noticed!
They're horrific! Thin, flimsy doors that fly about in the slightest breeze. At best they slam closed. At worse, they slam into the side of the RV, causing damage.
So we were pleased to find that Outdoors RV had a better offering. Their doors seem thicker than most, due in part to thicker insulation. They also use a friction hinge on the door.
As its name implies, this is a hinge that doesn't open and close freely - it takes some effort to move the door. In other words, when you open the door, it's going to stay put. No need for a door holder or catch to hold the door open.
At least, in theory.
In reality, we've found that it works in anything up to a light breeze. But as the wind speed picks up, the friction hinge is overwhelmed. And it doesn't need sustained strong wind speeds - just one strong gust is all that's needed.
While we've never had a problem with the door slamming against the side of the RV, the problem is that the door will slam shut. Particularly when we were camped in the Arizona desert, we relied on the strong cross-breeze to keep it pleasant inside our RV. Having the door slam shut every few minutes wasn't going to work.
My interim solution was a bungee cord, holding the door open. I was pretty pleased at my Macgyvered solution, but it wasn't elegant. Nor was it going to last long - constant stretching from gusts of wind were weakening the bungee after just a couple of weeks.
We needed a door holder.
While we've done countless mods inside our RV, anything that involves drilling, screwing or otherwise modifying the outside of the RV always makes me a little nervous - it's just so visible!
I shouldn't have worried though, it was super easy to do and the end result looks good. But did it work? Read on to find out!
Parts & Tools
Because we were boondocking in the desert when I wanted to do this mod, we couldn't easily receive deliveries so I picked up a door holder at a local RV supply store.
You can find the same JR Products 10414 Plastic T-Style Door Holder that we used on Amazon and you can also find similar door holders in metal and black plastic. But since the outside of our RV is plain white, we felt the white plastic one would be best.
We chose the 3-1/2 inch version as opposed to the 6 inch one so our door would sit as flush against the trailer as possible. If you have an awning support or some other obstruction to work around, then you might want to consider the longer version.
The door holder came with screws, but they're not self tapping. I would recommend pre-drilling holes, and I keep a 21-piece Dewalt Titanium Drill Bet Set in my toolbox for just such occasions. It works great with the 20V Cordless Dewalt Drill we use too - nothing fancy, but perfect for these little jobs (and raising the stabilizer jacks on our RV with a Camco 3/4 inch Scissor Jack Socket).
I always keep butyl tape on hand in my RV toolbox because it's just so useful, and I recommend some for this installation too. We use the Colorimetrics White Putty Tape/Butyl Tape 1/8" x 1" x 30'.
Lastly, you'll want a screwdriver to attach the hardware and and a sharp razor blade for tidying up the sealant edges.
Installing the door holder isn't hard, but you'll want to take your time to make sure everything lines up perfectly.
Before starting the installation, we had to decide where we would actually install the latch and keeper. We chose to put the keeper on the door and the latch on the side of the RV - this would keep things neater.
We also wanted the latch low down on the door so it was easy to reach, but not so low that the white latch would hang down over the black skirt trim on the RV - gotta keep this stylish!
Step 1: Clean the area
Having identified exactly where to locate the latch and keeper, the first step was to thoroughly clean the area. Although we'd be attaching the hardware with screws, I didn't want any dust getting under the sealant or causing dirty edges around the hardware.
Plus, there were several manufacturer stickers in the spot on the trailer where we wanted to install the latch. Fortunately, a few sprays of Simple Green and a healthy dose of elbow grease cleaned the area up nicely.
Step 2: Mounting the keeper
I held the keeper and latch in place to find the exact spot I wanted to install the keeper on the door. I started with the door since I knew I wanted the keeper to sit close to the side of the door trim, so the only question was how high up from the bottom it should be.
Once I found a spot I was happy with, I cut a small piece of butyl tape and put it under the screw holes on the back of the keeper - no need to cover the whole thing, and no need to make it too neat. Oh, and make sure you install it the right way up, with the T shape upright.
The butyl tape is somewhat sticky, so I used that to hold it in place on the door while I installed the screws. I tried the first one without predrilling and managed to drive it in, but decided to predrill the next ones. I drilled right through the butyl tape in each case - just take care not to drill all the way through your door!
I installed all four mounting screws by hand to reduce the chances of overtightening them and stripping the hole in the door.
Step 3: Mounting the latch
The process for mounting the latch is much the same. I put some butyl tape over the screw holes on the back, and then using the keeper as a guide, lined up the latch and pressed it against the trailer.
Again, I predrilled and hand tightened all four mounting screws.
Step 4: Tidying up
After a test fitting to make sure everything lined up, I could tidy up the sealant.
Being very careful and applying the least pressure necessary, I scored the sealant around the edge of the keeper with a sharp razor blade...
...and then the same with the latch.
And that's it: new door latch installed. The whole process should take less than 10 minutes if you're not photographing it like I was!
It's been over a month since we installed it, so does it work?
I was a little nervous that strong gusts of wind would make the latch jump out of the keeper, or that it would rattle around making lots of noise. Nothing. Only in the strongest winds (enough to blow our chairs over) blowing right down the back of the door have I seen the door move at all.
No more door slams, and we can keep the door propped wide open to let the breeze keep us cool inside.
The only downside (one we knew to expect) is that you have to step outside to unhook the latch so you can close the door. But that's pretty minor and hasn't really caused us an issue.
My biggest regret is not having done this sooner. It really was such a quick and cheap mod that anybody can do - only the most basic tools are required. But it's made life in our RV much more comfortable.
The latch itself is only made of plastic, so who knows how long it will last - probably just as long as all the other plastic on an RV to be honest! But if it does break, it shouldn't be too hard to remove the screws, clean off the butyl tape and install a new one.
While the friction hinge that Outdoors RV installs on their trailers is great, in the real world it has limits, and being able to secure the door in an open position is important when you're camping in hot, windy weather. Maybe this is a feature that Outdoors RV could start adding as standard to their trailers in future....