James under EKKO doing modification

RV Modding (and the Strange Compulsion to Tear Apart a Perfectly Good RV)
Learn more about the RV mod subculture and what Winnebago designers think about it!
By: Stefany Adinaro, @The Fit RV 

James under EKKO doing modification

It was back in 2012 when Winnebago Product Manager Chris Bienert first noticed that there was a growing subculture within the RV community, built around an enthusiasm for RV modding. He was at a View/Navion rally in Grand Marais, MN, where the attendees were holding a ‘mod tour’ event. 

Attendees had posters outside their RVs listing the mods they had done, and they’d proudly walk anyone interested through their RVs, sharing all the modifications and changes they’d made. That’s when it dawned on Bienert— RV modding had become a ‘thing.’ 

What Do RV Designers Think of the Mod Culture?

Since Bienert was one of the designers of View/Navions back then, I asked him what that had felt like. Was it like an artist selling a painting they’d created, and then later learning the new owner painted over it? Bienert admits that first experience seeing the mod subculture felt a little weird. But as he toured the owners’ mods at that View/Navion rally, those feelings passed quickly. Bienert explained, “Everyone uses their coach a little differently, so fine-tuning them just makes sense. Who buys a house and doesn’t do things to personalize it?

Nowadays, Bienert has a totally different reaction when he sees RV mods. “I love the modding culture around our products! It’s a sign that people are passionate about them.” 

This was nice to hear since I happen to be married to a modder myself. James and I are on our third RV now, and each one has been extensively modified—not because there was anything wrong with them, but because modding for James is fun. 

James with EKKO sink taken apart doing modification

I used to be perplexed about James’ strange compulsion to tear apart a perfectly good RV. I’ve since realized it’s not strange at all. Modifying our RVs allows James to tap into his creative side. It’s a chance for him to solve problems and tackle challenges … making the seemingly impossible, possible. 

I asked Winnebago Director of Product Management Russ Garfin for his feelings on customers doing mods. Was it weird for him? “Not at all,” said Garfin, “I look forward to seeing customer mods at every meetup I attend. It’s a way I can better understand our customers’ needs. Common mods this year often make it into our next model year’s designs.”  This, I’ve witnessed firsthand. 

One example is the ‘GSDL.’ GSDL stands for the “Greg Schultz Dump Light,” which is a simple but clever mod created by Travato owner Greg Schultz to add an exterior light over the dump connections. Winnebago has now made that a standard feature, and not just on Travatos. 

So, RV owners doing mods are influencing Winnebago’s designs. I see why Garfin and Bienert enjoy following customer mods. Everybody wins.

James doing modification in EKKO bedroom

The Influence of Sharing RV Mods

There’s another side to modding, too, and that’s the mod ‘watchers’, or people who enjoy seeing mods done to RVs. My husband James posts many of the mods he does over on The Fit RV YouTube channel, and his mod videos are very popular. Those ‘watchers’ are a huge part of the growing subculture. 

Sometimes, the watchers get inspired enough by watching modders like James, they become modders themselves. Once they do, they proudly share their own mods, and the movement continues to gain momentum and grow. 

So even though the DIY scene has likely always been around in the RV world, social media has accelerated its popularity. If you’ve got willpower, and an internet connection, you can learn to do almost anything. Or, at the very least, you can watch almost anything. And really, watching RV mods on social media is probably more popular than doing mods.

James working in garagae

I asked Garfin how the mod subculture has carried over into how Winnebago approaches overall RV design. His response, “We try to create great first impression appeal in our standard builds, but we also balance that with ensuring that the interiors allow personalization.

I imagine that’s challenging for all RV manufacturers, trying to design RVs that appeal to all people, when tastes and RVing styles vary so wildly. But I suspect the mod subculture takes a little pressure off. As long as manufacturers make RVs that are mod-friendly, people can see past whatever limitations their RV might have and can change or modify it to better meet their needs.   

One of Our Favorite RV Mods

This makes me think of Mel. Mel’s our crazy cross-eyed Red Point Siamese cat, who decided to move in with us after climbing out of a magic tree (long story). 

Mel the cat peaking out from beds in EKKO

The biggest challenge of RVing with a cat is the litter box issue— figuring out where to put it. Perhaps this isn’t such an issue in a large 5th wheel or Class A, but we’re rolling in a 23’ Winnebago EKKO. Floor space is limited. 

When we toured the EKKO before purchasing one, we had two original ideas for the litter box. One: we could give up one of the cabinets under the twin beds and mod that into an enclosed litter box space. Two: we could replace the dinette seats with a bench and store the litter box inside the bench. For the months between placing our order and receiving our EKKO (named ‘Number One’), we had pretty much settled on option two, the dinette mod. 

But then! When we had a chance to test a pre-production EKKO, we spotted an even better option. There was a passive vent under the galley counter that, when removed, led right into a large exterior storage cabinet. That space was perfect for Mel’s executive washroom! Today, Mel happily passes in and out of the little cat door James modded into the sidewall of the galley to get to his litter box. 

Mel the cat stepping out from modified cat bathroom space

So, even though the EKKO had limitations, like no dedicated space for a litter box, we were able to mod a solution that made our RV one mod closer to being the perfect RV for us.

The Mod Sliding Scale Theory

I’ll share with you my mod sliding scale theory, because it’s how I think of RV mods, and perhaps it will change how you think of them, too. A few years back, we gave Chris Bienert—remember him, from the beginning of my story here—a tour of all the mods on our last RV, a Travato named ‘Lance.’ As he looked around, impressed with all the work James had done, Bienert said something that stuck with me. “There’s hardly any Travato left in here.

Interior of FitRV Travato

I found it an interesting observation, especially coming from one of the Travato designers. When I reflected on it later, I came to this conclusion. RVs can be thought of on a sliding scale. On one side, you’ve got your RV in its completely stock form, in the exact condition you bought it. On the other side, you’ve got a custom dream version of that same RV, a creation of your own mind. 

Each throw pillow you add, each storage solution you include, and each mod you complete nudges the needle away from the stock RV side and towards the dream RV side. THAT’S what makes modding so appealing; getting closer to the RV of your dreams-- whatever that dream RV may look like for you. 

So! Whether you’re a modder yourself like James, a mod spouse like me, or even just a mod watcher, you’re part of a trendy, growing RV subculture, even if you didn’t know it. James, who has never been ‘trendy’ before in his life, couldn’t be happier about it. Though even if it wasn’t a trend, James would continue to mod. It’s in his nature. 

We all have a basic human desire to want to create, enhance, improve, and challenge our limits. For modders like James, their RVs are an outlet for them to do just that. As for me? I get to kick back, throw out the occasional “good job, honey,” and ultimately get rewarded with a totally rockin’ RV. Boy am I grateful for James’ DIY gene! He’s a keeper for sure. That is, if I can ever get him to come out from under the RV.

James on ground working under EKKO

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