The prospect of saving a vintage camper or vintage trailer and restoring her to her former glory is an alluring and romantic one. It has seized many an individual, and offers emotional, spiritual, and sometimes practical rewards, to those whose wisdom and skill are up to the task. Unfortunately there are pitfalls in the restoration scenario, and the inexperienced amateur should get some well-founded professional advice before embarking on a large-scale project.
The most commonly forgotten aspect of vintage camper or vintage trailer restoration is resale value. Whatever they may plan at the outset, most people don’t keep a camper for their whole lives. When it comes time to sell, they can get a reward for their efforts if they keep the future buyer in mind while planning and executing a restoration.
Too often romance and emotion so sways a person's judgment that they forget one of these common principles of a good restoration:
1.) Do a detailed personal inspection before you buy. Items which should be thoroughly checked are: EXTERIOR, RUNNING GEAR, ELECTRICAL SYSTEM, INTERIOR, LP SYSTEM AND APPLIANCES, PLUMBING SYSTEM AND ANY SPECIAL ITEMS. Ideally, these items should be checked to see that they are functioning correctly. However, many sellers may frown on you taking tools to their trailer before you buy. In this case a good visual inspection can reveal tons of critical information if you know what to look for. If you don’t know what to look for, get professional advise. His fee will be repaid to you many times in the most practical ways.
2.) Be certain you are putting your time and money into a fundamentally good design and structurally sound trailer. The value of the camper will be much higher when you are finished, and she may be easier to sell promptly should that need occur. A quality built trailer from a well-known manufacture will be a much better start on a restoration than most others. This is a very good thing to consult a professional about, because to the un-trained eye all trailers look pretty much the same.
3.) There is no doubt that the most efficient way to restore a vintage camper or vintage trailer is all at once. The overall cost will be lower due to the avoidance of duplicated labor and inflation. The overall time frame will be shorter. Some of the frustrations will be less because you can often remove physical obstructions to your work instead of working around them. However, we strongly recommend that you not take this approach unless you know you will have the time and money to complete the project. A trailer which is largely taken apart and is months away from camping may represent a great deal of time and money to you. However, to a prospective buyer she will have practically no value at all. While the trailer is being disassembled, the market value will actually decline rapidly. It will remain there until the camper is obviously approaching completion, whereupon if you have done good work it will of course rise again. But the worst time to sell a camper is when she is all torn apart. She doesn't look like a complete unit, and is lacking much of the appeal and personality she will have when complete.
4.) Even if you are not a professional, you should try to produce professional results in your restoration work. Take time to plan the results you want, and the techniques and materials you will use. Most amateurs can achieve professional results. The only difference will be the speed with which you can accomplish them. Get advice on how to make each repair, and don't forget to mention that you want the repair to maximize the value of the trailer when you are done. Usually this will mean repairing in a manner that duplicates, or improves upon, the original construction. Avoid solutions that cover up problems rather than fixing them, or which add structural members without removing damaged ones. Make your repairs good-looking and well finished, even if they are in areas you wouldn't normally see. The Buyer will look there!
5.) Vintage camper or vintage trailer restoration labor is virtually all handwork and is not subject to savings by dividing into repetitive tasks or automation. Due to the inefficiencies of repair work as opposed to new construction, a large-scale professional restoration on a badly deteriorated trailer could cost more than a new trailer. If the restorer will allow you to do whatever work falls within your level of skill and available time, you can save a great deal.
6.) A small percentage of people actually purchase vintage campers or vintage trailers for the restoration project itself, and we say more power to them. However, for most of us, a restoration is a way to get a quality built camper with true craftsmanship, charm and character instead of the other option you get when you go to your local RV dealer. If the point is in fact the result more than the process, we strongly suggest what we call a camping restoration. That is the restoration work is executed in projects small enough that they can each be completed during the winter months. The camper hits the road for a season's use every year. There are multiple benefits to this approach. Getting use out of the camper each year keeps the enthusiasm level way up, and the focus practical. In many cases a camper in this type of program seems to be fixed up faster than others because this yearly infusion of energy keeps the project from stalling. If the trailer is always close to being ready to camp in, her value stays up and gradually improves. It never takes the big dip mentioned above in connection with full-scale restorations. Materials costs occur in smaller lumps spread over greater time periods, and are easier to justify when they follow on the heels of a nice camping season. Routine maintenance of the trailer as needed for seasonal use will keep the trailer as a whole from declining while the focus of the restoration is in one particular area. If a restoration firm is doing the work, the costs will be much easier for most people to deal with, as they are spread over time. Last but not least, spouses, children, and partners who are more enthused about camping or traveling than trailer work will continue to support your efforts and understand their value.
7.) In most cases there is a lot to be gained by using your project trailer before you either make changes in her or begin a broad-scale restoration. Very often the virtues of a trailer as she was designed and built are not obvious at first, and some feature you think you will hate may actually turn out to be desirable. When you purchase a camper you may feel that a certain problem is the most important item to attend to, but after camping in her other problems may seem more urgent. Even more importantly, you may find you don't like the trailer for some reason or that your needs are different than you first thought, and this will guide you toward a different project. In any case it is well if these realizations occur before a lengthy restoration, not after.
We at Vintage Campers can help you locate that perfect vintage camper or vintage trailer as well as provide restoration services to help you get your rig ready to roll. So, where do we start? We have a 60-point checkout sheet that we work through in order to get a good idea of:
1. The overall condition of the trailer.
2. What is currently working and what is not?
3. What can be repaired verses having to be replaced.
4. The priority status of each repair needed.
5. The estimated cost to perform the needed repairs / restoration.
Once we have performed our 60 point check list, we can discuss what we have found and then review with you our recommendations as well as get your ideas as to what you want to accomplish with your restoration.
Below are lists of the different areas of repair/restoration services we offer:
EXTERIOR: Doors, locks and seals, windows, hardware and seals, roof vents, and seals, front hoist, coupler and lock mechanism, entry step, seams and joints, dent removal and aluminum skin repair or replacement.
RUNNING GEAR: Frame, axles, springs, bearings, seals and races, hubs, brakes, tires, wheels and hub caps.
ELECTRICAL SYSTEM: 110 volt lights and outlets, 12 volt interior lights, tail lights, running lights and turn signals, electric brakes, break-away switch, battery, interior fans and converter.
INTERIOR: Woodwork, cabinet doors, hinges and latches, counter tops, cushions and mattresses, upholstery, floors and floor coverings.
LP SYSTEM: Gas lines (check for leaks and repair), LP tanks, (steel and aluminum), OPD compliant valves, gas regulators and pressure adjustment, LP pigtails and hoses.
APPLIANCES: Range and oven, furnace, water heater, refrigerator, (clean and repair as needed or replace).
SPECIAL ITEMS: Air conditioner, awning, microwave oven, TV antennas and others.
PLUMBING SYSTEM: Water lines, drains and traps, kitchen sink, tub/shower, toilet, lavatory, air pumps, water pumps, water intake valves, faucets, fresh (potable) water tank, sewer (black) holding tank, waste (gray) holding tank, gate valves and sewer hose adaptor.