This week’s episode is about evaluating the condition and needed repairs of an older RV. In this case, our used pickup camper. I wrote a related article about whether or not we should upgrade to a newer pickup over at truckngpodcast.com. You can follow the link to read the article.
Let’s start with our camping journey. Camping was a big part of our lives back in the 80’s and 90’s. In our years of raising our children we’ve owned tents, popup tent trailers, a 24 foot travel trailer and 2 VW Westfalia Vans. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we explored the beach, the mountains and many small towns. Then we relocated to northern Wisconsin.
After 11 years of getting 3 kids through high school, college, weddings etc., and over 5 years of Kris fighting cancer, we decided it’s time to rediscover camping. We set the following criteria.
- A slide-in pickup camper. We already owned a 3/4 ton pickup, and I’ve always loved pickup campers.
- Hard sides. Although some of the soft sides are nice, we really like the security and warmth of the solid walls.
- A bathroom. Or, at minimum, a flushing toilet.
- We are still 7 to 10 years away from retirement, so breaking the bank on this wasn’t an option. We set a tight limit, and came in under.
- Kris was pretty firm about keeping away from anything with green shag, 70’s wood tones and two-tone brown siding.
What we ended up with is what you see in the picture, a 1993 Skamper 8 1/2 foot used pickup camper.
Evaluating A Used Pickup Camper – Ours
I’m glad we were budget conscious when we bought our camper. Although I checked it over well before we bought it, I missed a few things. Now that we’ve had it out on a few weekend trips, and an extended trip out west, it’s time to take a close look and decide whether we want to spend some money in repairs and upgrades. The other option is to sell the unit as-is, and start over. Hopefully this article will help some of you avoid a few of the problems we’ve encountered.
Our Skamper has 4 hydraulic jacks, one at each corner. I’ve always heard that these Hydraulic jacks are the only way to go, but I’m not so sure. I’ve worked with gear driven crank jacks in the past, and I will admit it is more work. But they’re tough. They may even take a bit longer to raise and lower.
The bright side of the gear driven jacks is mostly the cost. Our camper came with the nicer hydraulic jacks, but with one little glitch. The front jack on the driver’s side leaks. The dilemma is whether to repair the single jack, or replace all 4 with more cosmetically appealing jacks, even if they’re a little more work. Of course, I could have the jack repaired, or order a kit to rebuild the leaky part. Repair would cost $100 or less.
Lights, Inside and Out
Starting with the inside, every light works. I would like to change all the bulbs to LED. They use about 17% of the electrical draw of the old ones, important when boondocking. We also need to replace some broken lenses and add a reading light or two to the bunk.
The exterior lights are another issue. I’ll address the tail lights a little later, but several of the clearance lights didn’t work. Replacing a bulb or two took care of the back and side markers. The orange markers up front are all dark, but I haven’t gotten up there to check on them. If they all have power, I would like to replace the fixtures.
The porch light is out, and that fixture is in need of an update. I’m estimating around $60 for the electrical repairs. Shop around for fixtures and LED bulbs. I can find the bulbs at our local farm supply store for about a third of the cost of the big camping stores.
The tail lights worked when we purchased the Scamper, but I could tell they’ve been removed and replaced more than once. I went ahead and replaced them once more. Although I didn’t connect backup lights, I am a stickler for tail lights and brake lights.
Take a look at that lower wing. The tail light is mounted on the rear side of this decorative panel.These serve no purpose other than cosmetic, but they have a few drawbacks.
- They totally block the space between the camper wall and the inner wall of the truck bed. This could be utilized for storage space.
- They catch wind. I can’t say how much fuel mileage can be saved without them, but they are definitely wasting fuel.
- They block the truck’s tail lights. The camper only extends about 4 inches beyond the tail lights. If I remove these decorative wings altogether, I no longer need camper tail lights. I think I would add 3 DOT style marker lights below the door if I removed them just to be safe. This cost would be minimal, maybe $20 for the edge trim.
The other option is to install vented access doors in each panel. This would allow the desired access without taking away the finished look of the camper’s back side.
Above The Entry Door
As you can see, there are a couple of skin cracks above the door frame. After talking to a couple of RV techs, I attribute this to a previous owner over tightening the rear tie downs. with the camper extending a half foot beyond the bed floor, this could make sense. This is just a matter of patching in a cosmetically appealing way.
Another way to help, we will try a trip or two in the spring with the tailgate on. This would leave 11 or 12 inches as a landing, then our steps. It would help support the back of the camper, and ease entry and exit. It would just make everything about 11 inches longer.
The Big Repair
Saving the best for last, I will have to remove front skin to replace some damaged wood. Pulling a few screws under the front corners of the overhang confirmed my suspicion of a small leak, and some rotted wood. The repair sounds daunting, but it really isn’t difficult. Pull the skin back, replace the damaged wood and insulation, put the skin back. It’s an isolated area, and I caught it early.
Tie-downs and Batteries
I’m happy with the Torque Lift tie-downs that came with the camper, but it adds another step to the loading and unloading process. I am considering shortening them enough that I wouldn’t have to remove the outer bar when I have the camper off. Right now, they stick out too far to clear the front jacks. They also create a bit of a hazard by just sticking out too far when the camper’s off. Two inches off of each side would solve the problem.
Batteries are another issue. I’ve added a deep cycle RV battery and an isolator. The isolator allows the RV battery to charge when the truck is running. When the ignition is off, the camper only has access to the RVs batteries. For now, the battery sits in the front corner of the truck box beside the camper. There’s room for another on the other side.
I would like to bring this battery inside the camper. With the battery inside, the camper is functional without being on the back of the truck. A solar trickle charger would keep the battery up to snuff when the camper is stored.
One More Thing, A Shower
One thing we don’t have is a shower. We have a lighted bathroom with a vent and a marine toilet. In deciding the fate of our little Skamper, we are asking ourselves whether or not we need a shower. A camper with a shower would also bring a water heater and a grey water tank into the equation. Being mostly weekend campers, it may not be a big deal.
If we decide on the shower, I’ll shave some of the upgrades and we will sell the camper. Otherwise, you’ve just seen my fall and spring repair list. It really isn’t a big expense. Just a weekend project or two.
What’s On Your Winter List?
What are your RV projects? Do you have a few upgrades or repairs you need to get to while you’re waiting for winter to pass? Are you thinking of an upgrade? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.