Installing an additional LED light on the tail of our travel trailer

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Yet another camper upgrade that has been on our to-do list for a while is to add some more lighting to assist when setting up camp. This is particularly helpful in early / late season when daylight hours are shorter, and when I’m camping solo without my trust assistant to guide the rig safely into a camp spot.

When we bought our 2017 Rockwood Mini Lite 2104S in May 2017, one of the very first modifications on day one was to add a camera on the tail end of the trailer.  Our camper came pre-wired for a Furrion camera, and we were able to find a good deal on ours at walmart ($249.74) which fit the Rockwood installed bracket.

update : I looked up the model number on our camera which is FOD43TA-BL.  According to the folks at E-Trailer, this model is the old one, replaced by FOS43TASF.

The trailer camera makes towing so much easier and safer.

  • maneuvering in tight spaces, making sure the tail end doesn’t clip anything (poles, cars etc) especially in the city
  • passing cars safely on the highway
  • seeing how many cars are stuck behind you on a a 2 lane road
  • backing up !  the camera is key for going backwards

Now, things can change drastically when it is dark, especially if you are trying to back up or turn around a trailer.  The Furrion camera has some “night mode” led lights to assist, but in total darkness, they only help with a distance of a few feet.  Therefore, without someone helping, you cant really see much in the camera at night.  Things get considerably more difficult if you are in an area with blowing dust or heavy precipitation. Generally,  all you can see in the camera in the dark are large objects (like a person, a picnic table, campfire ring if you are lucky).  Flashlights and headlamps are helpful but this can be difficult if you are setting up by yourself.

So, what we are hoping will help with this process is adding an area light that can be easily turned on and off on the tail of the trailer.  This will help illuminate the space behind the camper and assist with reverse maneuvering.

Doing some searching on google and youtube I found this great post by RV with the Tanners In this video, they hook up their LED lights with brackets to their trailer’s bumper tube and use a wireless RF keyfob to remotely turn the lights on and off.  They ran wire from their trailer house batteries back through the underbelly cover to the tail of the trailer to give them power.

Now we already have so many keys and keyfobs to keep track of for the camper, I didn’t really want to go the route of the wireless power switch.  Instead, I was thinking of a simple external switch that we could just quickly turn on and off when we needed it.  Generally, we get out of the truck anyways prior to backing to scope out the scene and get an initial lay of the land prior to making any backing maneuvers.   This would be a handy time to turn on the backing light so we can see what we are doing.

Step 1 : find some power for the new light

The easiest solution to getting power to the tail of the trailer would be to use the DC power that is available in the refrigerator vent area.  We had used this technique in the past when we needed DC power for our Weboost Cell Booster install.  During that install we had just added one more positive / negative wire to the existing DC post.

That 4 post junction looks like this (below).  On the right side of the post you can see 3 wires jammed under the screw which is :

  • power to the refrigerator (when on propane mode, this powers the ignition to light the LP gas)
  • power to the carbon monoxide / propane alarm (this lives inside the main trailer cabin under the fridge)
  • power to the weboost (really a USB / DC adapter) that lives inside the pantry cabinet

the left side of this 4 post junction is the incoming DC power

Now, this setup worked pretty well, but I had already had at least one instance when one of the wires wiggled out of the right side of the 4 post, just because it was 3 wires smashed / jammed inside.  This was easily fixed by re-connecting the wires and re-tightening, but I’d always wanted to improve this wiring as it is a point of failure.

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This circuit is on its own fuse, shown below as #4, “APPLI” which is Appliance, in our case the refrigerator.  As you can see, it has its own 15 amp fuse at the DC breaker box.  This means, no matter what we put on this circuit (which already has 3 things hooked to it), if it exceeded amperage OR we had a short, it would at the very least blow the 15amp fuse.

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The draw from the existing 3 connections is pretty low, and the new LED light I want to install has less than a 2 amp draw.  The idea would be that the light would only be on for short periods (when parking, backing) so, it seems OK to load one more item onto this circuit.

Step 2 : rewire the 4 post connector to make space for another connection

The current 4 post connector was always a bit iffy and for sure there was no easy way to jam in yet one more connection onto the existing post.  I originally wanted to add a DC bus bar or even a new DC sub panel.  However, the space available is very tight.  I even ordered a really nice sub panel on amazon from Blue Sea Systems , but even the 6 circuit version was too big to fit.

So, after returning the sub panel I decided to try a new (to me) type of connector :

Wago 221-415 LEVER-NUTS 5 Conductor Compact Connectors

These are quite small and very easy to use.  You just strip your wire, lift the orange lever, insert your wire and close.  This creates a solid connection and makes connecting wires of differing gauges and wire types a breeze. Accoring to Wago, these are rated for up to 32amps, or 450v.

update 5/15/19 : Ray from Love Your RV has posted a nice vid about the Wago connectors

Step 2.1 : remove the existing 4 post connector

Below you can see the main incoming DC positive wire (the big fat red wire).  I had taped together all of the negative wires (just to keep them straight as they aren’t easily identified vs the positives).  The 3 untaped wire group are the positive wires.

You cant really see the incoming DC negative wire in this picture, because its just a shorty pigtail.

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Step 2.2 : reconnect using the Wago connectors

A little hard to see the positive Wago connector due to the LP gas line, but the negative is in full view.  These connectors are super easy to use.  As you can see, this is a 5 connector, so this effectively ties in the incoming DC, the 3 existing connections, leaving an open slot for the new LED light.  A few more pictures later on how this gets finalized.

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Step 2.3 : test the new Wago connectors

At this point, I turned on the DC power to the trailer to see that everything that used to have power from this connector still works (fridge, USB / DC power for Weboost in pantry, Propane Leak detector).

Step 3 : find a good LED light

Based on positive feedback from Eddie who had just installed this light on his home-built 5th wheel, I decided to go with this light :

9” RV LED Flood Light – Exterior Awning Light – 1300 Lumens

I wanted something that was flush to the tail of the trailer but also would shine down from above the rear facing camera.  I tested the light in a dark garage when it arrived, and it seemed pretty darn bright.

The unit itself seems very well built, comes with a pretty decent gauge wire, and is sealed to be waterproof.  The light also ships with a matching rubber gasket, so you can minimize moisture between the trailer surface and the light.

Another thing, for 1300 lumens of light, this only consumes 18watts.  For 12 volt power that calculates to only 1.5 amps draw.  I wanted to keep the amp draw as low as possible since I will be stealing power from a single circuit that is already in use.

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Step 4 : make a wire run from the DC power supply up to the light

Using the same technique we used for the Weboost Install we decided to once again run the dc power through the refrigerator exhaust.

Removing the cover from the exhaust vent, you can see the antenna cable from the Weboost install (bottom left of opening). The plan was to use the same hole we had already cut in the metal mesh cover and feed our new power run through this opening.  This is a straight shot, wide open directly down to the removable panel on the tail of the trailer.

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Now, its probably not “code” to comply with RVIA standards, but I haven’t seen any issues with heat or exhaust on the Weboost antenna cable, so I think this is safe to have DC power through this opening.  On top of the circuit breaker fuse, Im also adding another fuse to this light, just in case.

In the picture below, I was able to successfully snake the red cable down from the roof.  (the red cable I was using was a bit stiffer and straighter than the ground, even though they were the same gauge)

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After the red cable run, I used the red to pull down the black cable.  I had to take care to keep both cables from getting stuck behind the heat fins behind our fridge so that when pulled snug towards the end of the install, these cables wouldn’t be laying on any of the hot dissipation fins.

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At this point, I added some loom over the two dc wires as well as the Weboost cable.  This would protect the wires from getting worn / cut on the wire mesh top, and hopefully keep the DC wires together and out of the way of any hot fins when pulled snug. (the fins are facing the tail of the trailer, which is why i have the the DC power entering from the other side)

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Step 4.1 :  connect the light to the new DC power run

here I just used some heat shrinkable butt connectors to complete the connection between the light and the new DC power cables.

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After making a good crimp, I tested the light to be sure it was working prior to heat shrinking my butt connectors.  To do this without having to turn on the house DC, I used my fancy

NOCO Boost Plus GB40 1000 Amp 12V UltraSafe Lithium Jump Starter

Not only can this thing jump start your vehicle, but I learned by watching Ray from Love your RV that you can use this as a 12volt power supply.  To do this, you have to take it out of “genius” mode which is designed to keep you safe when jumping a car.  On my model, you just turn the thing on, then hit the red exclamation button, and you get straight up 12volt power.

Step 4.2 :  test the light

I simply connected my new DC power cables (now passed through the fridge vent cavity) to the Genius Boost, to test my light.

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knowing the connections were solid, I turned on the inverter in the camper, and fired up my heat gun to shrink the housing on the butt connectors. Naturally, the power was not yet live on this new DC run while I was working with the heat gun.

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Step 4.3 :  secure the new DC power connection to the wire mesh

In order to keep the new butt connectors out of the weather and under the vent hood, I positioned the spliced section as close to the edge of the hood as possible and zip tied the loom down so everything was snug.  Note the electrical tape on the right side of the hood top.  That is the position of the butt connector.

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Next, time to re-attach the hood vent cover, and fill the screw access holes with silicone.  I plan to affix the free section of loom/cable between the hood cover and the light on the roof of the trailer with some Eternabond tape, just to keep things from flapping in the breeze.  But on this install day, I didn’t have anything to clean the roof with in order to prep for Eternabond.  Honestly its pretty snug up there (after the hood cover is down), so its probably not needed.  Just one of those times when I think… “what would Eddie do ??”

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Step 5 :  connect new DC power run from the light into the existing DC circuit

Probably not needed, but I added a 10amp fuse to the positive run to the light.  This was the only fuse holder I could find on my drive in to the camper storage joint.  It was very heavy duty, but the Wago connector was able to fit this cable.

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Next, I wanted to add a switch to the light so we can easily turn the new light on and off.  Since I wanted it to be external to the trailer, I needed one that was waterproof or at least water resistant.  I found this one

BLUEWATERLED Push Button Switch, Waterproof at a marine supply store out of Texas.  According to the website (and an email I sent to their customer service), this IS waterproof (even though the packaging it came in clearly says “water resistant”).

The switch has some nice VHB 3M tape on the back for easy install, but the gauge of the wire was super small… I can’t even tell you how thin… but probably thinner than your average cheap headphones.   😦

We’ll see how well this thing holds up.  To that end, I have set up the connection to the switch with plenty of slack, probably about 18-20 inches or more.  This will make changing the switch easier in the future (if needed) and… allows for the removal of the vent door so we can service the fridge if needed.

The picture below shows the added loom over the DC wiring, anchored down to keep things tidy, and the extra run from the power supply over to the switch, which is on the vent door (bottom right).

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Here is the new switch in all its glory !  The VHB tape was impressively sticky.  I cleaned off the vent cover on the bottom left, and simply passed the wiring through to the other side via existing vent holes in the cover.

I forgot to take a picture of the wiring between the switch and the DC power, but as you might guess, its between the fuse and the roof run on the positive line.

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Now, we have yet to try this light in the dark, so I have no idea how well it will work.

  • will the 9″ light be bright enough ?  or should I have purchased the next size up at 13″ ?
  • will the new light “interfere” with the backing camera ?  Will the camera “night mode” lights cause any issues, or will it have no effect ?
  • was it worth the effort ?  We shall see… and I will report back 🙂

Update 4/14/2019 :  

took our first camping trip of the year this past weekend, and although we didn’t use the new light to navigate (we got to camp during daylight) we did test it out at dusk

here is the scene behind the camper at dusk :

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and.. here is my wife looking like she is about to be beamed up in a UFO.  This light is pretty bright !  I think it will be sufficient for the intended purpose.  🙂

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