Build a camper shell? Or camping trailer

topic posted Mon, February 19, 2007 - 5:29 PM by  transfag1
Looking for links, photos, info on building a camper shell for a pickup. Nothing requiring welding or complicated tools/processes. Basically just curious about the best way to build a simple box, while keeping the weight down. I have a good supply of 2x2's for a frame, but that's probably going to make the thing too heavy. In some areas you can buy used camper shells for $25 because they're so plentiful; they cost $100-$300 used in my area. Not worth it, for a metal box.

Also interested in hearing from anyone who's built a small travel trailer, such as the "teardrop" repros that are now popular. The plans to build teardrop copies are everywhere these days, touting how easy the process is...but I wonder. Anyone know first-hand? Thanks.
  • Maybe use the 2x's for the frame and attach plywood to the top and sides. Coat the wood with sealant or tarps.........Just a matter of finding the right bolts/connectors to attach to the bed. Or build it tall enough to sit inside a closed truck bed.
    • Yeah, I was already planning to go the wood frame + thinnest possible plywood that will still be strong enough (probably 3/8 to 1/2 inch), plus marine-grade sealant. Securing it to the truck bed is the easy part---- simple c-clamps in a pinch, or custom clamps made just for that purpose, available on Ebay. What I 'm looking for is pics or first-hand info from people who've already done the trial-and-error bit, maybe worked out some bugs of their own and/or tried something new. Some folks have done welded frames (no welding equipment here, though I do know how to weld if I have to), fiberglass skins (have read about it but haven't seen pics), and experimented with aluminum skins (again, no pics). Tarps and canvas aren't secure--- can't be locked, plus they leak and are likely to blow around in transit. I usually like to check around to see what others have done before I dive in on projects and end up re-inventing the wheel. Again, if the suckers were as cheap here as they are some places (often $25-$50) I wouldn't bother with building one. But they're higher here, and I also have a good stash of wood already. Thanks for your ideas though. :)
      • Ive built one, extended the hight 2' on another, and I'll never do it again. Buy the time you buy the plywood, primer, house paint, and cauck. then have to build the door, rig up a good seal around the door, rig a lock. put on hydrolic helpers $15.00 ea. you have a $100.00 to 150 + in it. And all the time to build it, and agravation trying to seal the door. You still have a wood box that mildews on the inside, and doesn't have any windows. And if you take it off it will flex ( no rear support off the truck ) and probaly start leaking on all of the joints.
        Try Craigslist " wanted & r.v.'s"
    • Unsu...
      I feel that the time, money, tools, materials and learning curve to build a good, roadworthy and economical camper is too much. It is like trying to build your own airplane. Difficult to fabricate from scratch without a lot of investment in tools and systems.

      Too bad they don't make kits for trailers, like they do for airplanes.

      Better bet is to buy a fixer upper camper trailer at a bargin price and fix it up.
  • Unsu...
    • That last post was reeeeally helpful & intelligent (use ""). You could make the same suggestion regarding the other 1153 inquiries or comments posted here. FYI, I don't know about anyone else's methods, but by the time I've asked a question in an online forum, chances are I've already done a few dozen (or hundred) hours of research via Google and other sources. Online forums are for when those methods didn't yield sufficient info. This tribe is for the sincere exchange of helpful information--- if you want to [attempt to] be a smartass , take it somewhere else.
      • Unsu...
        If you actually clicked on the link you would find that there are several plans for campers listed - the best of which for a pick up truck are the Acapulco and the Fairhaven - and having built things to go on the back of a truck before I like the design and detail in those plans.

        I didn't post them individually because there are so many others there are well.

        • Unsu...


          Sorry for coming off as a smart a**. Tribe truncates links and sometimes it looks confusing.

          I would use 2X3s as opposed to 2X2s since most 2X2s are junk intended for furring strip land or deck stiles.

          Along the same lines of the Geo conversion, and old van would work as well.
          • Re: P.S.

            sorry çЋФçmФФ₤§™ (ya i coped it but what of it;) part of my charter was to look into those camper plans and build a bunch of them; i didnt like the experiance at all. but i started building boats young so there seems to be a few construction type things i just dont like.

            Any how you got any tiny house type links or boat plans hiding out in your collection?

            keep the kitty happy; feed and brush it twice a day......... for as many days as you have hands.
            • Re: P.S.

              AS to useing a car / van / pickup bed to strt with. You're hauling a LOT of weight you don't need to , the sub structure adds the weight. I have a 8' converted pickup bed with cap and 2' extention. 1600 lbs, empty ! (See group photos)
              Another option is to do what I'm in the middle of. I bougt a 17' pop-up camper, with bad canvas siding. when the canvas goes bad on these you can get them for less than 100 bucks, but you get all of the other stuff and very low weight. I'm building a pop up display for selling my art work at shows.
              Fiberglass top , alum. sides and bottem, both easy to work with. the hitch, axel, wiring, lights, internal wiring gas lines, stove, water , sink are all there to start with.

              • Thanks, Dan. Re the weight issue, the original suggestion from another poster was a dead Geo as a donor car. Actually, the Geo weighs only 1600 to 1650 lbs while alive. :) A VW beetle has a similar weight. I figured that with the engine, transmission, seats, all under-the-hood parts , gas tank, steering column (and what else?) removed, we're now talking a "shell" that weighs what? 1000 lbs or less? What I like about the idea is that you end up with a weather-tight container that is already balanced & stable on all 4-wheels (unlike a pickup bed that's been cut-off----- I 've read that they're too light and bounce all over the road because the weight is also now improperly distributed). You've got a stable base and a container that, once seats, steering wheel etc are removed, is long enough to sleep in, has a little headroom, and lots of weather-tight roll-down windows. If you don't cut the car body up, you also have an engine compartment that could be modified to hold cargo. You could use a hatchback car, or if using one with a trunk, then the trunk also gives even more storage. Keep the battery and you also have an additional power source for any 12v peripherals, plus you have a built-in stereo and interior lights. Junk cars can be had for $25 to free. The labor would be in removing these components and installing a tow system (what should that cost?). In some states, if the car is under 700 lbs (some states specify 900), you don't even have to register the trailer! So no restrictions there. (In NC, I think all trailers have to be registered). Anyone know anything about how restrictive the DMV is on what constitutes a "trailer"? I know that in states requiring trailer registration, you fill out special forms designating your trailer has homemade or "reconstructed vehicle". You can build your own car from scratch and they will register and license it as a "reconstructed vehicle". Is there any reason the DMV would refuse to register a metal box with appropriate axles and wheels as a "trailer", just because it used to be a car?

                I think this is an interesting idea. With dinky ugly 5ft long U-Haul boxes-on-wheels rented out every day, clearly there's a need for a small utility trailer. Unlike the utility trailers that you buy for $400-$1000 new, this one is enclosed, not just a bed with wheels and rails. Enclosed "toy haulers" or even small box trailers cost thousands. So what am I missing? Why wouldn't this work? Surely lots of people must've explored it already. I wanna see some pics and hear some stories! :)

                As for the idea of converting the pop-up---- interesting! You're right, once the canvas rots or tears, there goes the re-sale price. No one wants these things if they have to mess with re-doing the canvas. Even with good canvas, the old ones are readily available under $300. Care to share more about your conversion, e.g. are you re-installing canvas, or??? What are you adding, or are you just working with the size of the box-minus-canvas? I'm fascinated by all this, as I'm heavily into recycle/reuse philosophy. :)

                Dan wrote: "AS to useing a car / van / pickup bed to strt with. You're hauling a LOT of weight you don't need to , the sub structure adds the weight. I have a 8' converted pickup bed with cap and 2' extention. 1600 lbs, empty ! (See group photos)
                Another option is to do what I'm in the middle of. I bougt a 17' pop-up camper, with bad canvas siding. when the canvas goes bad on these you can get them for less than 100 bucks, but you get all of the other stuff and very low weight. I'm building a pop up display for selling my art work at shows.
                Fiberglass top , alum. sides and bottem, both easy to work with. the hitch, axel, wiring, lights, internal wiring gas lines, stove, water , sink are all there to start with."
                • " For those postulating using a gutted out car, one of the big problems is four wheels. They fight you on turning."

                  Hmm. Ok, thanks for input. But how is this different than when you tow a car behind you, using a regular tow bar? As in owners of those giant RVs who tow their sedans everywhere with them, behind the RV? What does it cost to have someone mount that kind of tow package (is this the U-Haul version mentioned here?), and is there any reason that wouldn't work?
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.
                    Well it could work, though an RV has a very broad turning radius and it would be several hundred dollars to do.

                    Just a regular tow hitch runs around 200 or so and you are looking at at least that much again for the tow package being firmly attached to your trailer-car.

                    The weight balance issue of the cut off truck bed is not that bad either, that is just a matter of properly mounting your bed on the frame and choosing the right tongue height and length. I have two trailers made this way, one of which is from the frame of a 1 ton truck and I have hauled as much as 3 tons of stone at one time.

                    There are also mechanisms to shift the bed and the load to help with the balancing issue.

                    Two other things that are really nice about a truck frame for the trailer, the wheels and wheel parts are standard and cheap, often found at a junkyard, and the larger tires make for less rolling resistance when you get off pavement, even on smooth grass. That makes a huge difference in a lot of situations.
                    • Thanks for the input, all. I think I've gotten my bottom-line answer: converting a junk car to a cargo trailer (that could double as an alternative to a tent, for sleeping) sounds cute, but is a bad idea---- due to the issue of the front wheels and not being able to safely or easily back the trailer up. Too bad--- I really liked the ready-made idea of it, and think a little Geo or Beetle trailer would be kewl ! Infinitely cuter & less leaky than an ugly camper shell on a cut-off pickup bed. (And if you read my other post, I already mentioned that camper shells are waaay overpriced in my geographic area---- people want $75-$100 for the plainest, ugliest, oldest ones---- hey, $50 if the windows are busted out and the latch doesn't work. "Nice" used ones have asking prices of $300-$1000 , which is just stupid. In this area, by the time you got a junked truck, cut off the bed, welded a tow system, and bought a camper shell--- you'd have $1000 in it. I can buy a 5-ft cargo trailer for half that). But the consensus (and I've also now heard the same things from people offline) is that you can't have a trailer with 4 wheels. If the front wheels turn the wrong way (like while you're backing up), you're screwed. One question I'd asked was -- how is this situation different than just towing a regular car behind you, with a tow bar, which people do all the time (I thought this meant it was an easy/safe/practical thing to do). The universal answer: it ISN'T any different than towing a car with a tow bar, and towing a car with a tow bar is a bitch, and you can't back it up! Ahh, ok. I still think you could remove the front axle/wheels and weld a simple v-shaped tow system (which would make it look like a boat trailer in the front, or any other trailer for that matter). If people can build airplanes [that fly safely!] in their basements, I'm sure a Geo Metro could be turned into a safe, useable cargo trailer....but it's all gotten too complicated, which is usually the point at which I move on to a simpler project. :)
                      Thanks for the posts. :)
          • çЋФçmФФ₤§ wrote: " Sorry for coming off as a smart a**. Tribe truncates links and sometimes it looks confusing."

            Thank you for the explanation, and my apologies for the rest---- I'd never seen Tribe truncate a link before, so it just looked like your reply was "duh, use Google". You know how people pop into tribes and say such things (go into gay tribes & blast people for being gay, ridicule posters in help/info tribes for asking questions, LOL, there's a woman who goes into the "Love Cursed" tribe yelling "Love is NOT a curse!" ranting about how beautiful "love" is). Thank you for actually trying to post helpful info--- I see now that Tribe butchered your post.
  • tear drop trailor
    build a card board replica reinforce the weak spots with 2X2 and fiberglass the thing if you build the shell with places to bolt to and use your brain the whole job takes about a week and maybe 200$ in material (sys3 epoxy kit) axel from some dead VW bug or thing or if you get lucky a tiny GEO plenty of struts to drill and bolt to. mostly you are going to pay in time and planning. you might have to get someone to weld a hitch for you b ut IIRC you can take the normal hitch frame from uhaul and bolt it directly to the transaxel of a geo. or just do it the easy way and go get a dead GEO and rip the junk out then build in a bed and intertainment center. lets see a civic would give you more head room in either you would have to fix the front stearing but thats kinda a bone head fix. the wireing and insulation ETCV is all there pull the engine and tranny drive shaft and the bulk of the heavy stuff is gone. some curtens and a tow bar your set.
    • Thanks folks. Ernie wrote "or just do it the easy way and go get a dead GEO and rip the junk out then build in a bed and intertainment center". LOL, see, THIS is why I posted the question---- I would never have thought of this, and it's certainly an interesting idea (would it be hard to register/tag this vehicle as a "trailer" with these modifications? Maybe not--- I guess a "trailer" just needs to have safe, operable axles, tires, and lights--- will the DMV folks care that "it used to be a car"? ). Thanks Dan, re the "been there, done that, don't bother" post. I definitely see your point. It's all food for thought. :)
  • A lot of the buckskinner crowd use old pops that have been gutted out to haul their stuff but it takes a bit of work and you often have to reseal the outer shell. They don't use them to sleep in though.

    For those postulating using a gutted out car, one of the big problems is four wheels. They fight you on turning. You need a way to have your tow linkage tie into the turning part of the wheels and that can be quite a lot of work even for a metal working expert and keep in mind that every wheel in contact with the road adds to your rolling resistance.

    There are very good reasons why semi-s don't have wheels in the front and there are more but my hands are sore from shovelling snow.
  • i helped a friend to build one in my adventurous youth. no plans, we did a frame of 2x2's with plywood and coated with fiberglass.

    dont remeber how we attached it. it lasted fine, longer than the car.

    sorry i dont have more info, but thought as one of the few people who has actually helped to build one i ought to post.
  • I built a teardrop this summer. We were moving from Boston to Minneapolis, and along the way we were making many stops. Also were heading to the west coast after the move was complete. Hotels are damn expensive, so I figured what the hell...I'll make a camper.

    I got plans of the web, and went to work. Took me a good solid 2.5 weeks to put most of it together (Istarted 3 weeks before our move out date, not a good idea). It still needs some lovin, but it worked out great. It was pretty inexpensive, besides the aluminum skin (unavoidable) and the actual chassis it was built on (I bought a new one from (300 bucks I think).

    I want to make another. Take my time. Use better materials. Run some wiring through it. But, I still love our little teardrop. We tow it with a small hatchback. The camper weighs nothing.

    Here are some pics of it.

    • Patrick,thanks for your post. I bought a trailer (camper) so I'm set for awhile. I was just curious about the whole "junk car cargo trailer" idea (as a nearly-free cargo hauler), and it was never meant to be a substitute for a "real" camper. I decided that I use my truck bed way too much to sacrifice easy-access for a camper shell (and they're still $400 used here anyway).

      I've been looking at teardrop plans online for months--- teardrops are so kewl! Did you have a shop/garage etc to build yours in, or did you build it outside? What made you choose an aluminum skin vs wood? (Both are popular). What are the external dimensions of your teardrop? If/when I build one, I may do what you did and buy a chassis (new) , or go a slightly cheaper route and put it on a used boat trailer, which can be had for $50-$100. Part of the reason I like them so much is that, as you said, they weigh next to nothing--- I routinely see them with weights in the 600-700 lb range.

      Kewl photos, by the way. Nice lookin' dogs. ;)
  • I am a boat builder. I use Luan, cheap stuff. I have ways of making it water proof and lasting for year. At this moment I just finished a new car toppable boat. My next project it making a small sleep camper with a boat rack on top. Luan is cheap and you can find it at Home Depo. But you must go throught and pick out the better stuff. I just designed my camper. I do not like Tear Drop shape. Because that big front does not look like it actually allows the wind pressure to be lessened. IF it were towed backwards It may work better. My camper will have a double slant in front and the top had a peak. If anyone wishes to learn how I will build this camper you may contact me on my e-mail. I may just write a word pad and send it out. 48 inches is wide enoug for a sleeper. But I may go 5 feet just so a friend can share space. BUT, you can build one with a table saw, a circle saw, and jig saw. Staple it together with an air compressor and galvanized staples. Use PL Premium Glue or Titebond II. I prefere the titebond II in some places. Heavy Duty LIquid Nails also works. PL Concrete is a rubber adhesive that works great in some applications. Use 1x4 for stripping. Insulate the box with 3/4 styrofoam. Probably glue that using Liquid Nails Tubs surround. When mine is finished the interior will be completed using a glue on plastic type of fabric similar to table cloth. Cut and install vents. Cut an opening for an AC to fit. Use a small one and let it ride inside held down using truck straps while on the road. Install a door that lifts like a hatch back over the AC port. When you set up place the Ac in the port and the hatch will cover the top keeping rain out. The port will stay dry going down the road IF you slant the bottom board out like one of those OLD Wooden window seals. I like small. Carry a screen tent and tarp inside the box for camping and siting out and you will have a good place to sleep. My sleeper will have a tent with poles for those times no Ac is needed. Tthe sun wil not be hitting the sleeper and making it hot. I will be able to leave the windows open at times and no rain will come inside. Mine will have legs and can stand alone, just drive out from under. I am still in the planing stages and gathering ideas.
    • hi folks -
      my X built a camper once from pipe and plywood, his favorite building materials, since he worked as a grip on movie sets. It had a pop-up top, which at some point blew off while we were driving on the freeway. By sheer luck no one got hit by it. That was the end of that project...
  • Tips For Choose The Type Of Camper Shell :-

    You need to choose the type of camper shell that fits to the type of truck you have as a result prices may vary. You check out at your truck dealer for the availability of shell. The price of camper shells ranges from thousand dollars to several thousand dollars depending upon the type of shell you are choosing.You can also get used camper shells. These are less expensive, but you to make sure they fit to your truck camper properly. You can even search on internet for purchasing used camper shells.
    Cheap Used Cars

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