Buying a Used Truck Camper
Like most RVers, our camping rig purchases have followed a logical progression:
Tent camping became a hassle, so we bought a pop-up.
The pop-up became a hassle, so we bought a travel trailer.
The travel trailer became cumbersome, so we bought a class C.
But then we did a curious thing. We’d decided we’d had enough of campgrounds and interstates so we sold our triple-slide, 25 foot Sunseeker class C and bought a 10 foot long, monocoque, Bigfoot truck camper and 4WD, 3500, single rear wheel (SRW) Chevy super duty pickup truck to haul it.
For the truck, we bought new. We needed another truck for our business (although it didn’t need to be a 3500 or a four-wheel drive). And since we’d be using it for work, we wanted very few options. (In a saltwater environment, more bells and whistles means more problems.) But we soon discovered that it’s hard to find a stripped down used truck with low miles. They were either low miles but with every possible option (the salespeople called them “gentlemen’s trucks”), or completely stripped and trashed with high miles. In the end, for what we needed, it was cheaper to buy new.
For the camper, though, we decided to buy used. There were three reasons:
- We weren’t sure we would like truck camping.
- New truck campers get expensive fast! $50,000 is a lot to spend on an experiment.
- We wanted to use it on bumpy roads and in tight spaces and I knew my husband would be too cautious with a new one (I should have known that new or used, with him it wouldn’t matter. He is cautious regardless!)
Even though every truck camper manufacturer tries to convince you otherwise, we decided we wanted to stay as close as possible to the truck manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). We didn’t want a dually so that meant no sliders on the camper. Mitch liked the idea of the fiberglass, monocoque construction which narrowed our search to Northern Lites and Bigfoots. I liked the floor plans of the Bigfoot better so our decision was made.
One used Bigfoot truck camper, please!
Here’s the problem – we live in the mid-Atlantic region. Most used Bigfoot truck campers live on the west coast or in Canada.
I would have preferred buying the used camper from a dealer because the truck/truck camper set-up seemed over-whelming: Air bags, bed liners, tie-downs, spring adjusters – a lot of stuff needs to be done before sliding that sucker in. But the closest dealer with a used Bigfoot was in Arizona. So we searched for private sales and finally found one in Ohio. Definitely not a hop, skip, and jump from us. But doable.
We’d read countless blogs and website checklists for what to look for when buying a used truck camper. Maybe if this particular used camper would have only been an hour or two away from us, and maybe if the couple selling it wouldn’t have been super-nice and given us a tour of their 100-year-old copper kettle factory, and maybe if the pole-building they stored it in wouldn’t have been meticulously clean and organized, and maybe if we wouldn’t have already had our hearts set on it, we would have gone over the checklist.
We got lucky though (I think). A 10-year-old camper can be 100 years old in RV years. But the couple selling it had cared for it. We’ve had a small issue with the hot water heater. And then a big issue with a strap on the fresh water tank pulling out (but that was a manufacturing issue, not an upkeep issue. Bigfoot has since changed the design which doesn’t do us any good except that we know we aren’t the only ones with the problem.)
These are the modifications we did to our truck to be able to carry the camper:
- For some reason, Chevy rounds off the truck bed at the tailgate. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice this when we bought the truck. Our Bigfoot truck camper needed every single centimeter of width in our bed so a friend of ours, who is very handy, helped Mitch grind it off to square the bed. Not fun!
- Tie downs. We got Talon Camper Tie-Downs and FastGun turnbuckles from TorkLift International (I feel so manly writing this!) which we installed ourselves on a freezing cold day that turned to night, almost costing us our marriage.
- Air bags. After the tie-down experience, we had the airbags installed by a professional.
- Overload bumpers. These make the springs on the rear wheels engage sooner for a smoother ride—when the camper is in place. When the bed is empty, riding in the truck is like riding a jack-hammer. Mitch installed these himself.
These are the modifications we did to our truck that weren’t necessary to carry the camper but were necessary for us:
- A front hitch receiver. We needed a place for our bike rack when not towing the Jeep. Putting the bikes on the front worked during the daylight. But it blocked our headlights so, obviously, it didn’t work that great at night. (We always get late starts so we are always driving at night.)
- Rear hitch extender and converter. Our Chevy came with a 2.5 inch hitch receiver. Every single rack and tow bar we’ve ever owned has been 2 inches. So, we needed to convert it. Also, because of the camper overhang, we needed a hitch extender for towing the Jeep and for the bike rack (to keep it out of the way of the headlights!).
- Tow brake system. When we were towing the Jeep with the Sunseeker we didn’t have auxiliary brakes. The Sunseeker had a really good engine brake, and we’d planned a flat, coastal route. However, the Chevy engine braking system isn’t nearly as intuitive. We needed brakes. Mitch researched and researched and finally decided that a surge-brake system would be the best option. It was the least expensive and the least technical. But it did not survive our trip to Baja. So we installed a vacuum brake. We haven’t used it a ton yet but, so far, it seems to be a much better system.
This is what we’ve done to our camper:
- New house batteries. We got deep cycle golf cart batteries.
- The treacherous scissor steps didn’t work for us, or for Brandi (our dog). So we removed them and just use a stepladder.
- Extended step. We soon discovered that we needed a platform of some sort when entering and exiting the camper. So while camping near Mesa, AZ we found a shop (Cliff’s Welding, Inc.) that could fabricate an aluminum back step for us. They also made a lockable arm for our generator. They were amazing! We highly recommend them.
- Upgraded the inverter – to convert electricity into 12V. This one also had a house battery charger built into it.
- Battery disconnect switch. This was so we don’t have to disconnect the batteries at the posts when we are storing it. We just flip a switch.
- The receptacle for the umbilical cord had to be replaced. There is nothing worse than finally getting the camper slid into the truck bed and then discovering the lights don’t work. This was a hassle to replace.
- Installed covers on roof fans so we could leave them open and not have to worry about rain.
All-in-all, we’ve probably spent about $4,000 on outfitting our truck and camper. We had professionals do the brakes (both times), the aluminum back step, the front hitch, and the air bags but we (Mitch) did the rest.
Although we are still deciding whether truck camping is for us (Out west, we love it!!! But on the east coast, well, it’s harder to find good truck camping opportunities during our “play time”, aka winter) we both agree that buying used was so much better than buying new. It took a lot of time and a lot of research and a lot of patience (Mitch’s forte, not mine) but in the end, we saved money and got the truck camper we’d wanted.