Five Hard Lessons Learned Building My Own Camper

Lot of painful lessons getting this rig together.

I learned a lot of lessons building our camper, including one that was expensive. Not only did it cost a lot to fix, I knew better! Gah! I hate that. Despite the mistakes I’m still a fan of custom RV and camper builds. I would just do it better next time.

To save you the painful mistakes, I’ll recount the biggest blunders I made on our camper build.

Under-Powered Tow Truck

I got sucked in by Toyota’s claim that our Tacoma could tow 6,600 pounds. First, I think that claim borders on false advertising. Just because it can tow a weight doesn’t mean it can do so conveniently. Our 3,200 pound empty trailer swayed like a drunken sow on the highway and the engine strained to maintain highway speeds. It cost $7,000 to trade for a Tundra and cost us a model year and 30K miles.

The harsh lesson is don’t short yourself on the tow vehicle if you’re getting a camper. And don’t listen to the RV salesman who says you can tow any camper on the lot with a 1/2 ton truck. You might be able to tow it around the lot but not out on the highway.

Not Enlisting More Professional Help

I hired pros to do the electrical install and that is not only a bulletproof component, but it got done in a day. I struggled with the plumbing, spent weeks on it only to have to pull a lot of it out and start over. Today the plumbing works but it doesn’t work great and will eventually need to be redone by actual professionals. The shower pan doesn’t drain right and, if I leave the bathroom sink running with the shower pan valve open, the pan actually starts filling up with water. That’s not

Definitely get yourself some vacuum pack clothing bags. Makes your kit easier to handle.

how it’s supposed to work.

A contractor friend of mine looked at it one day and said, “Well, I can tell you had the right idea.”

Underestimating The Amount of Work

I actually guessed that it would be more work than anticipated but I underestimated by an order of magnitude. Building a camper is a metric crapload of work. The electric, the plumbing, the couch, A/C, bed, and water heater…every single component took longer than anticipated. If taking longer meant that I was getting a better product, it would be worth it. But that’s not the case. It took longer and still didn’t look that great.

Overlooking a Lot of Details During Planning

There are a million details in a camper, from the rate of air exchange to the handrail next to the door. You need a fire extinguisher, a smoke alarm, curtains, a backsplash behind the sink, trim, installing a TV, cable connector, digital antenna and a million other minor details. Every one of those little details adds to the cost. Make no mistake, for a camper with an all aluminum exterior and heavy duty suspension, the total cost is still a bargain, even counting all the mistakes.

Not Glowing With a Sense of Accomplishment

When starting I pictured getting to the end with a sense of pride and accomplishment. That didn’t materialize. Instead what I have is the certain knowledge that I would do things differently and better next time. I’m not unhappy with the way our camper turned out but the constant reminder of what I could have done better takes some of the shine off the experience.

As I clean up the last few details of hanging curtains and installing some storage bins, I really did get a decent, all aluminum camper for a bargain price. But, for the same money, I could have gotten a pre-made camper, like one of the smaller T@B models. We might have been able to manage a teardrop camper with the Taco but it would have been seriously cramped. The bigger Tab 400 would put us back in the weight range where the Taco struggled.

Overall, I didn’t do great but I did okay. Maybe that’s what bothers me.

Yay! My new book is out in print and digital format.

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