Some of you might know I rehabbed a little popup camper. I got it for a song.

Well, not literally, but if it was a song it might be this one.

That song would probably have scared the previous owner into just giving it to me.

Anyway, I got it cheap. It was a gamble ‘cause the roof had a leak and was falling apart.

Dad blog restores a popup camper roof rebuild and discusses trailer towing tips

Remember this? When I popped up the little camper at home the roof was collapsing before my eyes. And then I think my wife rolled hers—thinking about whether I was going to be able to do this. “It’ll be great hon,” I said.

 

Fast forward like 5 years.

 

After a new roof, new countertops, new brakes, a trailer jack, a paint job, some wiring and plenty of scrubbing, we had this shiny, like-new camper.

After a new roof, new countertops, new brakes, a trailer jack, a paint job, some wiring and plenty of scrubbing, we had this shiny, like-new camper.

My bet paid off.

But I need to address the house odds. All the stuff that doesn’t directly bolt on, latch to or get stuffed in the camper.

The TV.

That’s Tow Vehicle. This is the stuff you gotta consider to tow yer lil ‘ol camper. Or boat. Or 64-chevy-pickup-truck-bed-turned-into-a-trailer trailer.

I didn’t necessarily consider this stuff in the camper budget at first, but to do it right and be safe, cash a few chips in on the following.

Buying a Trailer Hitch

I fancy myself a semi-authority-type on hitches since I worked at U-Haul in the 80s and installed these suckers all the time. And for clarity, I didn’t forget about a hitch, I just forgot to include the cost of a hitch.

You’ll need a hitch, a ball, and possibly a ball mount, depending on the type of hitch you get.

  • Find out what the towing capacity is for your TV, and the total trailer weight (that includes the weight of the camper and all of the stuff you put in it) and get a hitch to exceed that weight rating.
  • Get a hitch that is purpose-built for your TV. Skip the “universal” hitches.
  • I’d recommend you have a professional install it. Some hitches require drilling and reaming holes in the frame of your vehicle and fishing bolts or nuts into the depths of the frame. Other hitches require cutting bumper fascia for access to the hitch for towing.
  • If you install yourself, make sure you follow torque specifications and use a torque wrench when tightening nuts and bolts—don’t just brrap-brrap it on with an impact wrench.
  • Get a ball that matches the size of your trailer coupler, look on the coupler, the size should be stamped in the metal.

Depending on what you’re towing, you might need other accessories like a weight-distribution setup or anti-sway control.

I can tell you our class II hitch, ball mount and ball for our TV set me back about $225.

Shocks and Struts

Here’s one I didn’t consider until our first outing with the camper. A good set of shocks for the tow vehicle.

Shocks and struts basically maintain the vertical load placed on the vehicle. With a trailer, that vertical load is increased. And aside from the Duke boys, most of us want to keep all four wheels on the ground.

They also have a direct impact on your tires. My rear shocks were worn out. I found out when I was checking the tire pressure and noticed the tread was wearing funny. It was a condition called “cupping.” Each of the individual tire treads were wearing unevenly—it almost looks like someone shaved each individual tread down at an angle. It comes from the shock being worn, unable to dampen, or isolate road impacts, and allowing the rear end to “hop” and thus wearing the tire unevenly. The tires only had like 15,000 miles on them and I had to spend $400 on two new tires when I just could have replaced the shocks.

So I talked to our friends at Monroe Shocks and Struts to get some info that might be helpful when towing—or anytime for that matter.

  • Get your shocks inspected at 50,000 miles. This all depends on how you drive. If you’re towing, inspect them at earlier intervals due to the extra load.
  • Shocks help minimize brake dive and acceleration squat—better control of our tow vehicle means a safer towing experience.

Choose the right shocks for your vehicle and make sure there’s a warranty. Monroe has an exclusive Safe & Sound Guarantee on qualifying products, which gives you 90 days to ensure they’ll live up to your expectations or you’ll get your money back. Monroe also offers a limited lifetime warranty on qualifying premium products.

Don’t gamble here. I got a set of Monroe rear shocks for our TV for about $90 and put them in myself in about two hours.

Now that I have new shocks, the van rides much better with renewed control and handling, maintaining a balanced ride. I notice the difference much more, when towing especially.

Wiring for a Trailer

This is the nightmare for DIYers everywhere. Luckily, I consider myself a semi-pro-automotive-electrical-engineer with a degree from the school of Ten Years of OTJ training.

In the good ol’ days you used a test light to find the running light wires, the left turn/brake wire, the right turn/brake wire and a ground and you were done.

Everything would light up like a Vegas buffet sign.

Using a test light now might blow an airbag. And today’s complex systems might require powered converter boxes to generate enough current to even light that trailer up.

If you go all-in, adding a brake controller, charging system for an extra trailer-mounted battery and other accessories— you’ll have yourself a wiring schematic that looks worse than the payout grid of a penny slot machine at the Stardust.

So my advice is this: know your abilities and when to go to a pro. Don’t guess with wiring. The last thing you want is to be barreling down the road without brake lights, or a short that starts a fire in your tow vehicle.

I installed a Tekonsha brake controller for the trailer’s electric brakes ($45), a Tow Ready ModuLite powered converter box for the trailer’s lights ($45) and a Curt breakaway switch that will activate the trailer brakes in the event the trailer breaks away from the car ($10).

You could easily have another $100 in wire, fuses and wiring accessories.

 

Towing a camper DIY hitch, wiring and shocks for a tow vehicle

So here’s a shot of the rig from our last camping trip. I’m not quite level when fully loaded. We’re careful to consider the weight of the passengers and the gear in the van as well as the weight of the trailer in order to not exceed the van’s weight rating. Maybe in a few years, if we upgrade to a larger camper, I suspect we’ll go to a full size vehicle too.

 

Hitch, shocks, wiring. Some stuff to consider.

Oh and if you need some shocks, Monroe is running a special until July 31, 2016 where you can get up to a $80 VISA prepaid card when you buy qualifying shocks and struts.

What did I miss here? Tell us about what you’re towing. How you tow it. Double down.

 

 


Special thanks to Monroe for sponsoring this post and letting me tell you about my camper and towing experiences. Monroe is a company whose products we love and use all the time. Despite that, the opinions expressed by Dadand are our own and are for entertainment purposes. To provide as much transparency as possible, Dadand makes every reasonable effort to disclose the source of all products and services reviewed.

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