Recommend a camper van OR pop top for me......

Hi all.

I know this is a common question but would love to hear people's thoughts.

I'm looking to purchase our first 'home away from home' and want to make an informed decision before handing over the dollars. Below is listed our/my circumstances/needs etc.

Price: I know this will make many cringe, but I 'm only looking to spend up to $5000. I am prepared to be realistic about how this will limit me but this is all I can afford.

For Who: I have three children - 6yrs, 3yrs and 8 weeks + my wife and I.

Going where: I will NOT be going major off-road. The odd dirt road with a spoon drain, pot-hole and corrugation is about as nasty as it will get. Caravan parks and the odd park here and there will be our point of destination.

Towed by: A 05 Ford Territory. Fuel economy is a major consideration. I don't want to have to drive at 80kmhs to keep the fuel cost down.

Must haves:
sleeping for us all - kids can bunk in together for now ie - the eldest two on a double bed and (for now) the youngest is still in a cot - but will need to future proof to a degree.

an Annexe: I know people say these area hassle, I'm sure they are, but with three kids, Mum and Dad (and the kids) need their own space and we don't really want to have to whisper inside the van come 7:30 when the kids are in bed.

Not fussed: (unless someone can convince me otherwise)
If I have to take 10 minutes to set up. When we do trips it will most likely be to destination where we will stay for a few days so it's not like we'll have to set the van up every day while we are away. I can't see us needing to pull over on the side of the road a great deal - if we had the option we'd use, if not, we would live without it.

Would be nice:
To have storage - kids like to bring toys and it would be nice to have the essentials permanently living in the van - linen, food staples etc - so that we are not starting from scratch every time we want to go somewhere.

So as you can see, I'm probably leaning more towards a camper van. but I'm happy to be convinced to get a pop-top. I know my price bracket is an issue, but I can't do anything about that.

I look forward to hearing of people's thoughts/experiences.


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Reply By: Tenpounder (SA) - Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 09:52

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 09:52
Hi there. I think you mean a 'camper trailer' rather than a 'camper van' (which is a commercial van fitted out as a camper), since you would be very lucky to find a large enough vehicle for 5 grand in any condition.
I cannot comment on camper trailers, but I am suggesting that, if you are serious about keeping to such a tight budget, you could do worse than consider a full height caravan as well as a pop top. Why? because that will increase your range of choice, and you may well find a decent older style caravan with the storage and sleeping you need for less than a pop top.
I actually have a pop top myself, and I'm certainly not against them, but they aren't necessarily any lighter, they have less storage, and there is scope for extra problems of wear and tear in older pop tops. But they are higher, obviously, and lots of people don't have the carport height to clear a full height van. We use a cheap cover instead of a carport anyway! There is much debate about ease of towing and also fuel consumption, but I think, once you start looking, you'll find there's not much of a range of options at 5 grand or under.
And, if you do decide on a van, you may well need to have a few hundred spare for repairs and maintenance before you start towing (e.g. allow for new tyres plus brake repairs, wheel bearings, and maybe repairs to electricals, the fridge, stove etc.).
Hope this helps. It's worth the effort!
AnswerID: 412729

Reply By: einnebcj - Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 09:59

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 09:59
OK - might need to clarify.

I'm trying to decide between a van which has the small section at the top which 'pops-up' or a van that collapses down, winds up and has the beds that 'fall out' of the front/back. The previous poster is right - I am not looking at a 'van' - hiace etc.

I am not really considering a camper trailer - ie - the 'tent' built onto a trailer with a kitchen that pulls/swings out etc.

Sorry for the confusion.

AnswerID: 412730

Follow Up By: Tenpounder (SA) - Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 16:00

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 16:00
Fair enough! I think you'll find there are few, if any, old and thus cheap pop tops with 4/5 beds. Ours is 21 years old, and is a two berth, and most I looked at 5 years ago were 2/3 berth, and $10k plus.
If you go for the beds-in-the-ends type of camper, then you'll get the additional beds, but you can forget about a ten minute erection time (think an hour), and the storage will be limited. If you limit yourself to 5 grand, you'll have to check carefully the condition of the canvas, the lift mechanisms and the rest of the structure.
So I still think it's worth looking at an older style full height van, as long as its within the Territory towing range (1600 kg standard, or 2300 kg H/D)

FollowupID: 682794

Reply By: Member - John & Sally W (NSW) - Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 12:34

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 12:34
Don't know where you are but I did a quick search and found this one that might suit you. It's an oldy but more than likely tried and tested and hopefully not broken. Trading post have a few budget caravan yards listed. Good luck with your search.
AnswerID: 412738

Follow Up By: Member - John & Sally W (NSW) - Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 12:55

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010 at 12:55
Or this one.
FollowupID: 682777

Reply By: Member Brian (Gold Coast) - Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 06:54

Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 06:54

LOL.... I realize your post said you're after a van, but a camper trailer will be more value for money in your price bracket.

I have a soft floor camper for sale, yours for $5500 drive away no more to pay. It has the (large) 14' tent on it, perfect for a family. It's a Cavalier Off Road, so it's a heavy duty one and has a host of accessories.

I am in SE Qld if you're interested, let me know.


AnswerID: 412849

Reply By: einnebcj - Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 08:08

Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 08:08
This is kind of what I was thinking of - it is in my price range and ticks most of the boxes. Is there a reason I should steer clear of this kind of thing?

AnswerID: 412856

Follow Up By: PradOz - Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 10:02

Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 10:02
I think you will find that isnt a wind up style - its a push up one you lift.

I would also suggest getting the largest you can afford, store at home and tow as the small ones like the example you gave dont give enough storage space and your own space to keep everyone happy. I had a Jayco Finch, and with 3 kids soon learnt that we needed either a larger one or some other way to carry everything. The smaller you have will also mean longer packing up times. Not for the camper itself, but for everything else that you try find a home for. In rain it will also mean laying stuff on the ground as you pack up the camper and its contents. Smaller ones like you showed have a very small annexe. Get in one and see if you really can use it for all you want. The annexe on a wind up will be about as long as the distance between the vertical wind up supports.

You will find a good secondhand larger Jayco Eagle or Swan around $5000 - $7000 if you take your time. Just need to check them out carefully and understand you are not buying new. Older ones can sag in the rear on the door side so check that out by closing the door, lift roof slightly, and check the gap along the right vertical side (lock side). It should be the same. Put it up/down yourself, dont rely on the seller who can hide problems that way. Dont buy the first one you see. Do your homework. If you never had one hire one first. A cheaper one is not all bad news. If you discover that caravanning or that style is not for you your costs have not been large. Also you can update later to something newer (dosnt have to be new to be good). I went from late 70s Finch to mid 90s Swan which is like new. Had to travel from Sydney to near Vic border to look at it and also to go back and get it.

Would suggest you get electric brakes. Expect fridge 'problems' which you should be able to address (providing its not stuffed) Most simple fridge problems could be related to incorrect original fitting, gaps around sides at rear, incorrect venting and incorrect cabling size. If you are handy you can address these yourself. Check all canvas and screens. No matter what the seller says, canvas and screens are not easily fixed unless you like to see patches. In my first Finch I removed the whole top canvas section (takes about 20 - 30 mins to get out then same to put back) and took to a canvas maker in QLD to replace the screens for under $500. Would suggest you do not get a 1 piece annexe. They are heavy, and when you just want a roof up with no walls you cant. Check out the winch and wind up mechanism. Dont hesitate to open up the space behind the winch to see what condition the cables are in. You may need to buy thisService Manual to educate yourself. It is very comprehensive and explains what to look for in buying and repairing one (good for when you forget to unlock a roof clamp and snap a cable, or bend a bed rail etc)

Keep checking out the ebay regularly as it teaches you what you can expect to buy in your area (not sure where you live) for your budget. Ebay is funny in that sometimes there are heaps on there and sometimes only a few. I look at it regularly just to see whats around and only takes a few minutes to look. Good luck, cheers....
FollowupID: 682893

Follow Up By: PradOz - Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 10:29

Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010 at 10:29
Couple of examples below. Also better if you can avoid a table at the end next to a pull out bed. No accidents or arguments that way. Also wondering if the example you gave is actually a Jayco or a Swan or both?? Not sure it is.

Swan mid $4K up in good order

Early model sunwagon - priced because of good condition

poptop at $4500

Above are some examples but obviously you need to check them personally before deciding to buy one (whether its one of these or any other one)

FollowupID: 682898

Reply By: bkbjans - Thursday, Apr 15, 2010 at 22:52

Thursday, Apr 15, 2010 at 22:52
Hi there

Great thought out post with all your info easy to cover!

Cant help much with the cost but can comment on the logistics! We have four kids. Bought an almost new swan over a year ago when the youngest was 7 months and the oldest 8. The layout suits in that we have number 1 and 3 in an end bed together, number 2 on the table converted bed, and the cot sets up on the club lounge with the converter. Just understand that for the next 2 years the cot set up will drive you mad, but I'm sure you realise that's just life with little kids! I worried about day sleeps, but really we're always out in the car anyway and that's where they sleep ... no nanna nap for us unfortunately!

As for the storage we have plently for dried food, towels, sleeping bags, cot, wine :-), for a quick get away! As for clothes we find the upright cupboard good for dirty clothes only (not enough space for all the extra stuff you need for little kids) and use bags which get put on the beds during the day. Fridge big enough for a few days, otherwise we take a second to run off gas.

I agree with the person who said to buy the bigger model. Hubby was getting tempted to settle for an eagle but there is no way it would have worked I can see now. From the first night we had 3 in bed together we never tried it again! The extra length in the bigger model doesnt sound like much but makes a big difference, especially in your end bed when you often end up with an extra body!

Anyway, good luck in the search. Dont rush if you dont have to. We were leaving Perth empty handed the day we found ours! We have found it a lot easier than taking the tent (though I did love it) the packing/unpacking is still big but nowhere near as huge as before, and it is nice to have a dry spot in the rain with little ones!

AnswerID: 413084

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