Roof top tent DIY camper build

Submitted: Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 13:25
ThreadID: 133473 Views:13587 Replies:8 FollowUps:9
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Hi guys, I finally joined the site as we have a planned trip around half of Australia in Feb 2017 and I just rigged up my home made camper.

Our trip will take up down the East Coast, in to Canberra, Thredbo and then inland to Melbourne. From there along the coast to Adelaide, up the middle to Darwin, Jabiru and back across to the East Coast. From there Cairns, Whitsundays and down to Brisbane. All up 60 days of paid leave. Crazy to think that the cost of the trip is offset by the savings in rent and child care alone.

I thought I would share some of my lessons learned and tips for anyone thinking of doing the same, this site was a great source of information for me when planning my trailer.

So a quick background on the scope:
• Tow car is a 2013 VE Commodore - 3lt SIDI Auto - light on torque but good on fuel
• Family of 3 - Me, my wife and our 3y/o son who will be almost 4 when we go.
• We looked at campers up to $17k but decided we would hold off until we upgraded our tow car to a 4WD at the end of the lease (salary packaging) due to the weight/fuel economy.

I decided to build my own camper for two reasons - to control the final weight and to have room to customise the camper. Plus, it will be great to look back at family pictures and my son see something I built for us/him.

Our minimum requirements list looked like this:
• Final unloaded weight be no more than 450kg
• Be off the ground away from snakes, ants, crocs etc.
• Fit the 3 of us comfortably
• Be large enough to store all our extra stuff (photography gear, drone, beach gear etc.)
• Have solar power to recharge phones, run lights and a MacBook
• Come in at less than $3000 in materials

As you can see, it’s an ultra-conservative on road tourer with a few Gen Y comforts. As I am a photographer by night (literally - see Instagram @latitude_30.90s) having power to update social media and stock photography sites was essential. Given our tow car is a Commodore, we didn’t need to add specialised suspension etc.

To keep things brief, this is what I purchased for the build:
• Custom made 6x4 trailer with 425mm sides and a rear builder’s rack. Painted with a spare wheel and jockey from Economy Trailers in Boonah for $1250 inc 12 months rego
• G Camp 1.8m wide roof top tent with tropical roof/fly for $899 on eBay
• 1.4m x 2m pull out awning – widest I could go given trailer width/road regulations for $129 on eBay
• Hardwood decking for custom trailer lid for $120
• Treated pine timber for rails (tent mounting) (free)
• 1150x450x500 tool box for $67
• 80w solar panel, 130AH battery/box (free)
• Wheel clamp, trailer lock, axel stands and chocks for $110

Making the lid
First thing I had to do was put a lid on the trailer. I thought about a lift up lid but decided to go with a timber hard lid sealed with silicon to keep the water and dust out. Roof top tents are designed to be removable and mounted on racks, but knowing mine was to be a permanent fixture I chose to run 5 treated timber rails and run 100mm screws through the metal based into the timber. It’s never coming off and has a good airflow underneath the tent base.

Fitting the tent
The original idea was to have a fold forward design over the draw bar but at 1.8m wide the tent was 150mm wider than the trailer which is 50mm too wide for regulations. So the design was modified to be a fold sideways design with the tent mounted 150mm forward from the rear builder’s rack which has the awning attached. 150mm allowed access to the side window but also meant there was an 80mm overhang at the front of the trailer – no big deal. The lid of the trailer was 1350mm with the base of the tent being 1200mm folded up. I chose to mount the tent to the edge of the lid so I would have 150mm under the folded out side to provide a little bit more structural support than just the ladder extension. It worked out better because with the tent folded out I have the underside of the overhanging base rigged with a clothes line to hang wet towels and swimmers off, also a cargo net for wet shoes to go into behind the ladder. The load will be slightly heavier on one side due to this positioning but have mounted the battery to offset this.

Lessons learned
• Marine plywood is 1200mm wide but the top of a 6x4 trailer is 1350mm wide – timber decking is cheaper and can be cut to size
• 425mm is not high enough for large iceboxes – but the 41lt versions fit nicely
• Drop down stabilisers are expensive – axel stands are $25 and do the same job
• QLD law states no part of your trailer can extend wider than the car. If inside these limits, no load can extend more than 100mm over the width of the trailer. So a 1.4m wide roof top tent could be set up to fold forward, but the larger 1.8m tent cannot. Solution is to get a 7x5 trailer – hindsight is a beautiful thing.
• The G Camp tents are good quality, as good as tents I looked at for double the price. I did not expect this.
• The Masters closing down sale provides you with plenty of examples of why the franchise failed – poor range and still more expensive than other retailers even during the closing down fire sale. I ended up getting all my supplies from Bunnings who had everything I needed in 1 stop.

I will upload some better pictures if people are interested? I can take some of the tent set up with the window poles and awning set up in better light. I just bought my new camera for the trip so any excuse to fire off a few frames.

The total unloaded weight came to:
Trailer – 270kg
Tent – 70kg
Timber – 55kg
Awning – 12kg
Toolbox – 9kg
Total – 416kg

Total cost is sitting at just on $2800 for the trailer, and another $600 in camping equipment / supplies.

If you have any questions or tips I am more than happy to listen/share my experiences remembering that this set up was custom to our exact needs at this moment in time, other people’s needs would vary such as off road ability etc.

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Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:19

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:19
Great job on the trailer so far.
I'm sure you'll have an awesome trip when you finally get going.
AnswerID: 604531

Reply By: Mikee5 - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:24

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:24
You stated :- QLD law states no part of your trailer can extend wider than the car.
Are you sure because that makes almost every caravan in Qld illegal?
AnswerID: 604532

Follow Up By: Latitude30 - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:51

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:51
Sorry to clarify - no part of a load strapped to a box trailer. Good pick up
FollowupID: 874293

Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:57

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 15:57
According to this information sheet, in Queensland the trailer load must not exceed the vehicle width by more than 150mm each side.

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FollowupID: 874294

Follow Up By: Latitude30 - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:23

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:23
It's looking more and more like the lady behind the counter gave me a bit of a bum steer. I'll edit the above post. Thanks gents
FollowupID: 874299

Follow Up By: TomH - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:37

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:37
From the regulation
When measuring how far a load projects from the side of a vehicle or trailer, measure from the edge of the vehicle or trailer body – not from rear vision mirrors, lights or reflectors. For trailers with mudguards, measure from the outer edge of the mudguard.

Load may project 150mm on each side but the maximum width cannot exceed 2.5m
FollowupID: 874302

Follow Up By: carl h2 - Wednesday, Sep 21, 2016 at 16:06

Wednesday, Sep 21, 2016 at 16:06
FollowupID: 874339

Reply By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 16:07

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 16:07
Congratulations 'Latitude'. Great job and you will have a ball.

I built our first camper long ago on a 6x4 box trailer but before rooftop tents so it had a similar canvas form on ply base supported by tubular swing-up frames. The concept of using a commercial trailer removes a lot of engineering.

We spent our honeymoon in it (came out occasionally) and saw a lot of Australia before eventually upgrading. Then seeing a lot more of Australia. lol

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AnswerID: 604533

Follow Up By: Latitude30 - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:29

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:29
Cheers mate! I agree, using a commercial trailer was much easier than trying to build it myself. The guys that built it were great, I told them what I wanted etc and they made it up in a week. In your trailer, how did you find the wheel bearings went? I'm hoping mine will last the 11,000km trip. I'm half tempted to swap them out in Darwin. What's your thoughts?
FollowupID: 874300

Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:43

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 17:43
Ha, wheel bearings?!!!
On the first trip, on the honeymoon, we got from Adelaide to just past Khancoban on the Alpine way when a wheel bearing failed. Had to get the mechanic up to change it. But it was a lovely day and he was a great guy.
Never had any further trouble over many k's.

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Follow Up By: Life Member - Terry 80FTE - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 22:21

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 22:21
Check with the trailer supplier as to what make wheel bearings are in it,
if only cheapies or not known, replace them with "Koyo" or "Timkin" and a good quality grease,
As always, keep an eye on them anyway, don't want them getting hot or loose.
Have a great adventure.
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FollowupID: 874312

Reply By: Evan 1 - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 19:02

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 19:02
Great job, some good lateral tlhinking there. You will have a great trip in that.
I am looking at doing something similar with my trailer and have been agonising over what sort of lid to use.....wanted to keep the cost have given me inspiration.
I would love some more photos and details of your wooden lid construction. Can you send some to evansue2 at gmail dot com

AnswerID: 604535

Reply By: Evan 1 - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 19:05

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 19:05
Also the sit myswag would be a good place to showcase your build
AnswerID: 604536

Reply By: skulldug - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 20:30

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 20:30
Thanks for posting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Please post again with details of the gear you pack and how it all performs.

AnswerID: 604540

Follow Up By: splits - Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 22:53

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016 at 22:53
" I'm hoping mine will last the 11,000km trip. I'm half tempted to swap them out in Darwin. What's your thoughts?"

There would have to be something drastically wrong if they did not last that long.

I am currently building my eighth trailer. They have ranged from a basic box trailer to a four wheel car carrier to a single axle 8 x 6 with a ply wood camper body on it and a roof top tent on top.

The first was in the 1960s and I have never had a wheel bearing problem.

The one that had the hardest time was a three channel motor cycle trailer that I built on the RAAF base near Perth in 1973. It carried three bikes on its maiden trip out to Ora Banda near Kalgoolie over many ks of dirt roads. Two months later it carried my bike back to Sydney. That included a 450 or so kilometre unsealed section of the Eyre Hwy over the Nullarbor.

Soon after that I made a removable steel 6 x 4 box that bolted onto it. It had the living daylights thrashed out of it after that carrying far too much weight around town and on many long distance country trips.

It eventually broke a couple of wheel studs through over loading. The original wheel bearings were replaced in 1989. I sold it on Ebay about eight years ago with the second set of bearings still looking good.

It is true that trailers do suffer from more than their share of wheel bearing problems and they are good at snapping the ends off their axles. All of this usually comes down to cheap no name bearings, incorrect pre load, no protection from water washout due to using clay based high temperature grease instead of lithium based bearing grease or the use of moly grease which can cause the rollers to slide instead of rotate.

Springs which are too hard do not help the situation and running without shock absorbers, particularly on unsealed roads, can break both bearings and axles. All of that built up energy in a compressed spring has got to go somewhere when it releases so it rams the wheel back into the ground putting a lot of stress into the axle in the process.

My bike trailer did not have shocks but after the dirt roads it encounted in the first couple of months, about 99% of the tens of thousands of ks that it did over the next thirty something years were on sealed roads.

I love your trailer and camping set up. The ply campers that I have built have all used ordinary CD ply with plenty of glue and a squillion screws. I have never used marine ply. The current one is permanently attached to a 4x4 ute chassis (no tray) and has survived a couple of Len Beadell's roads, or what is left of them, and many other maintained unsealed outback roads.

FollowupID: 874315

Reply By: Latitude30 - Wednesday, Sep 21, 2016 at 07:58

Wednesday, Sep 21, 2016 at 07:58
Cheers for the advice and experiences re wheel bearings. The guy that built the trailer said he uses the best ones he can get and machine packs them with grease. I'm hoping to not have to swap them out on the trip - that time could be better spent fishing. Sounds like I might be okay considering it will be 99% on tar driving. I will take some more pictures over the weekend and upload them showing the decking, rails and tent mounts.

Anyone got tips on how to keep the tent cool when its 30-40 outside? I have the tropical fly but I am thinking that I might need more. I bought a couple of those LED hanging light/fans but the fan blades are only 6 inches across which wouldnt move too much air around in theory.
AnswerID: 604550

Reply By: Evan 1 - Monday, Oct 03, 2016 at 18:41

Monday, Oct 03, 2016 at 18:41
Can you please tell me what you did to the timber to join it and to treat it once all joined so it doesn't leak and is weather proof.
AnswerID: 604866

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