Introduction: Honda Civic Micro Camper/utility Trailer

Picture of Honda Civic Micro Camper/utility Trailer

Hi Everyone!

Basically what I've done here is take a wrecked 1997 Honda Civic and turned it into a budget friendly, micro-camper/multipurpose utility trailer. Inside, it can accommodate a full size air mattress or futon, and also has provisions for handling cargo. There is a 12 volt DC lighting system w/ battery, and it is wired for house current (shore power) as well - it even has a bluetooth receiver wired through an amp into the original speakers.

I have seen a few other vehicles re-purposed as trailers before, and it was a project I had always wanted to do myself, but other projects kept taking priority. Then one day, an opportunity presented itself - and I jumped on it...

Step 1: Assess Your Ability

Picture of Assess Your Ability

A larger project like this involves the use of multiple skill-sets and resources. Some of you reading this can take one look at the pictures and know that this is beyond your scope, while others can immediately recognize that this project easily falls within their purview - but I wish to address those of you who aren't quite sure...

Although I do not wish to discourage anybody from taking on a project like this, it is important to make a sober, honest assessment of your ability to complete a project of this size and complexity before you get started - things like this can become albatrosses real fast if you're unprepared...

For starters, you'll need room - as can be seen in my pictures, I have a two car garage, though this project could be contained in a one car garage (you will still need someplace to store disassembled parts you plan on reusing). Also, it REALLY helps if you have a truck...

In addition to a usable set of hand tools, you will need;

An A-frame or shop crane capable of pulling the engine (assuming your donor car still has an engine)

A hydraulic jack and several jackstands

Wheel dollies and movers dollies make moving the project around hassle free but you could get by without them

A reciprocating saw with a variety of metal blades

A grinder with cut off wheels, grinding wheels, and sanding flap wheels

A drill with a variety of bits and a spot weld cutting bit (plan on destroying a few of those...)

A jigsaw with metal blades

An air chisel makes this project go a lot smoother, but isn't strictly necessary - and if you don't have a stout air compressor it won't do you any good anyway...

Safety gear! Gloves and goggles at the very least - A full face shield is better...

I kept the welding to a minimum with this trailer, but it is conceivable that a similar project could be accomplished without having to weld anything at all.

Be aware that welding and grinding metal are inherent fire hazards, so in addition to insuring your workspace is free of flammable material, you should also have a fire extinguisher around...

Also be aware that reciprocating saws, grinders, and air chisels make huge amounts of NOISE! If you live in a densely populated neighborhood, please take this factor into consideration (I've been doing stuff like this for years and my neighbors positively hate me...)

Taking all this into account, I believe this project could be accomplished by even a relatively novice gearhead, or competent teenager in a high school auto shop class. This project can also potentially be a confidence and skill building "stepping stone" for someone interested in eventually pursuing a more serious endeavor, like building a hot rod or motorcycle.

One final caveat; I'm not providing a set of "instructions" per se, but rather documenting the process and approaches I undertook, as virtually any front wheel drive, two door hatchback can be utilized for this project - and the sky is the limit in terms of customization. This means that you'll have to do a fair amount of your own problem solving, but that's why you're here, isn't it?

Step 2: Find a Suitable Donor Car.

Picture of Find a Suitable Donor Car.

No - I'm not the one who wrecked this car...

Believe it or not, I bought it this way. I buy cars from various police and impound auctions - for projects, and to flip for profit (to fund the projects)...

Impound auctions are one way to source donor cars, and there are definite pros and cons;

Pro: If you're buying a car at a legitimate auction, getting it legally titled in your name will be painless. You should still educate yourself on the titling process in your state or region, as well as the legality of any road-going project you're planning - preferably before you commit to winning auction bids - way before...

Con: Impound auctions (especially police/law enforcement auctions) tend to be horrifying... To be fair most of the cars sold are perfectly fine - but there are always a few cars that are pure nightmare fuel...

for instance:

They occasionally sell "evidence" cars (read; gangland murder gore-wagons).

Some of the wrecked cars will have copious amounts of "bio" inside (this is the polite term for "bits of people crammed into the A/C vents").

If the former owner of the vehicle got arrested on the way home from the grocery store - their car (and groceries) would get impounded in the hot Texas sun for six weeks, and that family pack of pork chops would become a vile, maggot-ridden eruption of stench and putrefaction (I've seen this happen more than once).

I won't touch any of those cars with a ten foot pole, but they always get sold... (The Honda was blessedly "bio" free, btw...)

All auctions are different - some of the ones I attend are pretty friendly, but impound yard auctions are attended by shady, slightly desperate, grifter types (like myself) - and they can get pretty competitive...

The other option is to find a donor car on the open market - USE EXTREME CAUTION with this tactic... If the person selling it doesn't have a clear, lien-free state-issued title in their name, that matches the VIN of the vehicle, WALK AWAY - I can't be any plainer than that...

I was at a large, busy police impound auction (which sells hundreds of cars every week) in pursuit of another car. The Honda (pictured at the auction) was an unlisted vehicle for that week, which is a fairly common thing at the larger auctions, but in this case it meant I had literally minutes to make a decision...

I was lucky enough to have won the car I came for and still have a few hundred dollars left. Which I, after careful consideration, had decided to use to take a run at the Honda. There were other interested bidders, but I wound up winning it for $300. Taxes, fees, and registration added another $150.

I would've regretted letting the opportunity slip by, and I had planned on spending that money at the auction anyway... My point is; be very careful in your selection of a quality donor car, but don't be afraid to take swift action when you find it...

Step 3: Beginning the Dirty Work

Picture of Beginning the Dirty Work

Here we are a few days later in my garage. Generally speaking, the way forward at this point is to strip away all the wrecked bits. In the case of the Honda, this was pretty easy, as all the wrecked bits were shoddy replacements of earlier wrecked bits (careful observers will have noted the unpainted, oxidized fenders and hood in the previous set of pictures - evidence that this car had been reassembled unprofessionally) ... Even though it was auctioned off as a "blue title" (titled as a road going vehicle) it would've taken quite a bit of money and effort to make this a safe car again - the days of this car being fit for passenger use were over...

Oh, and I guess it used to be purple? Whatever...

As can be seen in the pictures, I've removed all the mechanical stuff - including the engine and transmission, suspension and cross-member, as well as all the crumpled body panels. what you cant see in the pictures is the exhaust and fuel tank - as well as the brake hydraulics and shifter linkage - all that stuff is under the car...

I'm not going to lecture you about safety, but FOR GODS SAKE BE CAREFUL WHEN WORKING UNDERNEATH A CAR ON STANDS!!!!!!! ESPECIALLY A WRECKED ONE!!!!!!! People win the Darwin Award all the time doing stuff like this incorrectly - and a cold, indifferent world just keeps spinning - you have been warned...

Note the siphon pump in the picture (near the gas filler tube) - make sure to remove all the fuel in the tank before removing the tank itself or you're liable to have a big, dangerous mess on your hands...

Once the car has been scoured of all the unnecessary rot, and has been secured safely in place (or, as in my case, put on rollers to facilitate movement) its time to take stock of any issues that need to be addressed. The issues in my case were;

Smashed windshield.

Both doors were misaligned, the locks were gummed up, the handle linkages broken, and the window crank spindles were stripped...

Hatch support struts were shot.

The previous owner had chopped all four strut coils (in order to lower the car), but inexplicably cut them each to a different length (this would've resulted in terrible handling characteristics, and could be the reason for its final accident)... Obviously I didn't give a rats colostomy bag about the front suspension, but replacement of certain parts of the rear suspension was necessary... The car still had many things going for it though;

Rust free.

All the damage was kept north of the firewall (this is less common in wrecked cars than one might think).

Interior panels and upholstery were in pretty good shape - the carpet was nasty though...

BRAND NEW tires... Seriously, I estimate they've got less than 500 miles on them (three of them anyway - the fourth was damaged in the accident).

These are the things that must be factored into your budget - anyone can just throw money at a project until it is completed, but part of the necessary skillset for tackling big projects effectively is knowing how to apportion your budget appropriately.

I could've just bought the Honda and stashed it away in storage until I "felt" ready to do the project (and maybe had more money to throw at it) but even that option would cost me money, in terms of storage fees, yearly taxes and registration, etc. So instead, I elected to do the project immediately and with a relatively lean budget. I had already spent $450 just getting it home, and could really only justify another $450-$500. That may sound like a lot, or not - depending on what level of build you want to take your project to. In my case it meant that I was going to have to a make a few compromises...

There is no point in making a list of things I wish I could've done if I'd had more money. Instead, I will focus on what was done;

Front "third" of car, other superfluous mechanicals (fueltank) removed.

Unnecessary interior (dashboard, seats ect) removed.

Windshield replaced with sheet metal (100% budget based decision here - $200 windshield vs. $30 worth of sheet steel).

Wood framed interior platform constructed.

Rewired for battery 12 volt, shore power, vehicle/trailer lights, etc.

Custom built trailer tongue assembly fabricated and securely affixed to body.

Necessary repairs to doors, rear suspension, and other minor issues.

The cost broke down roughly this way;

Raw materials (wood, structural and sheet steel, foam, felt, screws ect.) $200.

New replacement parts (hatch struts, door window mechanisms, lock sets) $100.

Used (junkyard) replacement parts (suspension and fenders) $75.

New electrical parts (wiring, lights, ac/dc converter, fuse block, relays ect) $100.

Miscellaneous (paint, appearance) $50.

I already had some of the stuff used in this project leftover from other projects (a small stereo amplifier, some wood and fabric, etc.) These materials aren't being accounted for here, but if you want an estimate, I'd say that stuff was worth about another $50...

In truth, this type of project can be managed with a fraction of what I spent. As you can see, I had a few costly repairs to the parts of the car I intended to keep, and the cost of the donor car itself was high - there is a robust used parts market amongst Honda enthusiasts, and this particular Civic was (still sort of is) chock full of valuable Honda certified OE parts. At the auction I was competing with LKQ parts dealers, whose intent was to strip the car and sell it off piece by piece, and when I won the car, I was kind of taking food off of their table. In that light, I'm not really all that upset about paying a premium to get what I wanted.

Step 4: Cutting Metal

Picture of Cutting Metal

Sooner or later I suppose I will have to start getting somewhat technical - so i'd best just get it over with...

I'll start with a quick primer on automobile construction. back in the old days, they built cars and trucks starting with huge heavy chunks of structural steel, to which they attached the engine, transmission, suspension etc. Then the sheet metal body would be bolted on top of all of that - this is called body on frame construction and trucks are still built this way because of its inherent strength and durability. Most passenger cars have, for many decades now, been constructed by taking sheet metal and folding it, origami style, and spot welding it in place - in order to form load bearing structures. This is called unibody construction.

The Honda, of course falls into the latter category - and pretty much any two-door hatcback donor car will also also be unibody. This presents challenges as it is very easy to destabilize the entire structure of the car with a single careless cut. I've worked on unibodies before, but I've never cut this far into one... Completely uncharted territory... So I made damn sure to think long and hard about each cut I made.

The specific procedure (sorta) described here will still be relevant for other types of donor cars - as most of these cars are built pretty much the same... (Most Korean cars are flat out copies of Hondas). Their will of course be differences as well. Proceed with caution...

In the first picture I've cut a way a chunk of the front support rails and most of the strut tower. as can be seen from the pile of metal, I actually nibbled away carefully at these structures, cutting only small chunks, until I got to a point where I could get a better idea of where to STOP cutting.

In the second picture, I've cut away the remnants of the strut tower back to the firewall. I was able to determine that the stump of the front support rail was constructed with a couple of topside pieces (including the strut tower) and two lower pieces. I was also able to determine that just cutting everything flush would not have been in my best interest...

In the third picture, I've drilled out the spot welds and air-chiseled the remaining bits of strut tower and top sections of the support rail. As can be seen now, cutting the whole thing flush would've left me with an opening to cover. I had considered fabricating some sort of cover plate, and I had also strongly considered removing the rest of that lower rail support assembly under the car - but that could've opened up a spectacular can of worm. I felt this was the safe option - as money wasn't the only lean thing about this build - I was also on a pretty tight schedule...

And what was that safe option, you may ask? Well in the fourth picture the plan begins to reveal itself. I've cut down through the lower corners, leaving me with metal "pedals" that can be folded back onto itself and welded in place. Origami.

In the fifth picture I've only tacked the metal in place (and used a few screws to hold it in place too). For the sections of metal that would be welded and then sealed up, I used weld-through primer, to provide some coverage of the bare metal inside, as I wouldn't be able to prime and paint it afterwards.

Unfortunately the final picture isn't the final picture! To my eternal shame, I believe I may have accidentally deleted the picture of the end result... This picture is from after my first pass at it. I still haven't ground the screw heads off, or welded the seams - but it's the last picture I have before the bondo - and it still serves to illustrate my method.

I'll be honest here - I beat the crap out of this part of the car getting it to do what I wanted - and its not the prettiest thing I've ever done - but it still turned out pretty solid. Considering this area is no longer a load-bearing part of the vehicle, I'm not too vexed about it.

The reward for the hard work of beating a new path is the privilege of being the first person to walk upon it...

Step 5: Destruction Is Done - Construction Begins...

Picture of Destruction Is Done - Construction Begins...

Getting toward the bottom of the project now - best to just keep on grinding through...

In the first picture, observe the dump-truck of mud that I've applied to the front... Don't panic! I sanded most of it off... In all seriousness, after having plugged up all the holes with metal plates - and primered the bare metal (a note; body filler won't stick to certain primers - do your homework) I applied thin layers of body filler - allowing time for curing in between layers. there are much better online resources for learning how to do things (like using mud) than I could ever hope to provide - but a basic guideline is not to apply more than quarter inch increments. My layers were much thinner than that, the whole batch is a quarter inch at its thickest.

Second picture is a test fitting of the trailer tongue crossmember. Doing this gave me a better idea of how to construct the trailer tongue assembly (which I will go into more detail about in the next step). also visible in this picture is the downward angled hole previously occupied by the steering column. I plan on putting a light here.

Note those idiotic fuel and brake lines still visible here and in a few other pictures - I left those there until I was ready to deal with the rear brake hydraulics. In the end, "dealing" with it meant, essentially, crimping and cutting the brake lines flush with the rear brake mounting plate - and removing the lines... I had kind of envisioned some sort of electric brake setup, and that's why I left the lines intact for as long as I did, but aside from being unnecessary for such a small trailer, electric brakes would have been costly and technically tedious.

I didn't just leave the rear brakes alone - no, I had a plan for them... (Long story short, I re-mounted the original parking brake handle to the trailer tongue, and attached it via a threaded rod to the original brake cables).

As mentioned in the first step, I replaced the smashed windshield with sheet metal. Using a jigsaw with a metal blade, I cut the 20 gauge cold rolled steel sheet with guidance from a paper pattern I made from the what was left of the original windshield. After removing the old windshield and cleaning the body of any residual windshield sealant, I glued the sheet metal replacement into place with roofing sealant, clamped it gently in place, let it cure a bit, then replaced the clamps with screws. Probably too many screws... Better safe than sorry...

Work is progressing inside the trailer as well. I stripped the inside clean, scrubbed the bare metal, began the wiring, replaced some of the panels, began building the wooden platform, etc... Also seen in the fifth picture is the threaded rod attaching the handbrake handle and the cables (shiny thing in the middle).

The final pictures shows the metal plate I used to cover the old gas filler hole (the gas filler neck having been removed). I didn't feel comfortable installing the 15 amp shore power plug here, because the angle would've allowed moisture to accumulate. Fortunately, I had enough room to mount the plug-in in the roof of the gas filler compartment. As can be seen, it is mounted slightly clocked. I couldn't help that - but it means I have to bend over to see what I'm doing every time I plug it in. Annoying...

Step 6: Fabricating the Tongue Assembly

Picture of Fabricating the Tongue Assembly

As I've previously stated, all projects are different, and so it is that your trailer tongue will differ from mine. I could describe the tongue I built in acute detail, but all those precise measurements would only benefit someone with another '97 civic hatchback... Instead, I'm going to try and be as transparent as I can regarding how I went about constructing the tongue. Hopefully, that will provide the reader with enough information to competently construct their own sturdy tongue.

The basic raw materials I used to fabricate the individual pieces of the tongue assembly were as follows;

1.5 x 1.5 box tubing 1/8 inch thick

3 x 2 box tubing 1/8 inch thick

1.5 x 1.5 angle iron 1/16 inch thick

3/8 inch plate steel

1/4 inch plate steel

The 3 x 2 box tubing was a weird choice... The height clearance relative to the chassis meant I could only use a beam that was 2 inches high, and 2 x 2 seemed a bit flimsy to me... I know logically that it wouldn't have mattered - as the vertical sides of a box tube are the load bearing sides, but at least this way I can mount a 3 inch wide hitch coupler...

I had looked into the possibility of just buying a manufactured tongue sub-assembly meant for boat trailers. In fact, I will re-visit that potential solution if I do another project like this - but time and budget, being my omnipresent task masters, dictated that the tongue be fabricated from raw steel stock this time around.

My priorities for the structure of the tongue assembly were as follows;

To spread load over as much of the body and the tongue assembly as possible.

To restrict movement of the tongue assembly relative to the body - left/right, up/down, and back/forth.

To move the fulcrum point of the main tongue beam as far forward as practical.

To accommodate handbrake handle, trailer jack, safety chains, etc.

As few structural compromises (holes) in the main tongue beam as practical.

To make the tongue long enough to avoid a brutal tongue weight, but short enough to keep handling manageable (especially in reverse).

In order to spread the load out over as large an area as possible, I extended the length of the main tongue beam several feet under the car. The car is built with a central tunnel going down the middle of the chassis, which used to house the exhaust, and shifter linkages. This tunnel has three lateral support "ribs" built into the underside. It was through these ribs that I drilled holes to accept 3/8 inch grade 8 carriage bolts. For additional structural stability (to make sure the bolt heads couldn't just rip through the ribs and tunnel) I added strips of inch wide, 3/16 bar steel above and below the existing rib reinforcements.

On their own, these three grade 8 bolts probably could've done the job, but the main tongue beam was still only attached to what I considered "soft" parts of the unibody. this meant that the tongue beam could've conceivably started to wiggle around in the future. To address this concern, I added a box tubing crossmember which is bolted in at two points to the Honda's original crossmember mounting points with 1/2 inch grade 8 bolts. The original crossmember mounting points are "hard" parts of the unibody, that I trust not to fail structurally under load - and triangulating the mounting points adds structural rigidity. the crossmember also extends the fulcrum point of the main beam out away from the body - if only by a few inches...

I chose to tie the crossmember and main tongue beam together using 1/2 in. galvanized u-bolts manufactured for boat trailer use. The reason for this was to avoid putting any holes in the area of the main beam that will be under the most load. I cut some of the spare box tubing down the middle, which gave me lengths of u-channel that I could use as welded-on braces in the crossmember/u-bolt/main beam nexus...

The main tongue beam is attached to the upper, secondary tongue beam with two 1/4 inch thick steel plates. The upper tongue beam, in turn, is attached to a class 2 trailer coupler with a two inch ball socket. I designed the tongue assembly to have an upper beam mainly as a cheap way of gaining a little height, considering the overall stance of the Honda is pretty low. I chose a two inch ball coupler because the tongue weight on a trailer like this (with the wheels so far back) could get excessive - as it turns out the tongue weight was ~200 lbs. That's a bit heavy, but not unmanageable.

The angle iron beams seen mounted at an angle to the main beam are there to provide a mounting point for the tongue jack (yes, that is the original scissor jack that came with the car turned upside down) and also to provide a convenient place to stand if necessary. in the future, I may decide to get rid of these and replace the scissor jack with a tube-style trailer jack, that clamps on to the side of the main beam, and swings out of the way when not in use. its nice having options...

Priming and painting the outside of the tongue parts was easy - guarding against corrosion on the inside of the main beam was a little more challenging. After a thorough degreasing, I sprayed the inside of the main beam with primer until it dripped out the far end - then did the same thing at the other end, stopping frequently to roll the beam around, allowing the liquid primer to (hopefully) flow everywhere. I had considered building a long, plastic-lined trough and filling it with liquid primer - then just dunking all the tongue parts. That would've been messy, but indisputably effective.

Plastic box-tube ends help keep the corrosive crap outside, and give your project a more finished look.

The safety chain is proper trailer safety chain, and not just some crap I cobbled together - it's cheap insurance... The chains are attached to 1/2 inch eye bolts rated for 2200 lbs each. I chose a "six round" trailer wire connector, as that is what I have on my truck - though a "five flat" would've been more appropriate for this type of trailer. The trailer-side wiring is universally color-coded, and connected with bullet connectors inside the firewall, so the entire harness can be replaced fairly easily.

The u-bolts, grade 8 bolts, various length 1/4 inch bolts, and safety chain eyebolts are all held in place with lockwashers, threadlocker, and properly torqued nuts. Never neglect to properly torque your nuts...

Step 7: Making the Interior Useful

Picture of Making the Interior Useful

As for the interior, my first impulse was to fundamentally re-arrange the basic structure of the "belly-pan" of the unibody (my plan was to tub it)... That option would've provided a little more room, and maybe a couple more months worth of extra work too...

So, since I was more or less going to leave the unibody structure alone, I had to work within certain parameters - primarily, I had to work around the central tunnel, and the ledge upon which the rear seat used to rest. This ledge is the high point of the interior, so I built the platform to fit more or less flush with it. Note the d-rings attached to ledge seen covered in felt) in the picture with the original seat backs. Also seen is a segment of the hatch release cable. This design fortunately left some room above the central tunnel for the handbrake's threaded rod. Note the access panel above the handbrake adjustment.

The platform is big enough to accommodate a full size air mattress (or regular mattress for that matter - good luck getting it in) and sturdy enough to hold several hundred pounds of cargo. The platform itself is comprised of plywood and 2x4's. The design consists of four removable panels divided by a fixed central panel. The removable panels cover storage space, and the electrical box. Acres of luxurious gray speaker felt do a surprisingly good job of unifying the old interior elements with the new... The plexiglass insert above the electrical box is also independently removable for quick access.

The forward area of the cab is basically chunks of foam covered in swaths of fabric... The lower, light gray "couch pillow" is removable. Directly above that is foam, wrapped around the original dash support structure, itself wrapped in quilted black fabric. Above that is more fantastic gray felt...

I re-installed the rear seat backs because they were in o.k. shape, and I wanted to be able to separate the "cargo" and "living" areas (such that they are). It's also nice having something comfy to sit up against... They still fold down too, adding to the overall versatility I had envisioned.

Step 8: Minor Exterior Issues, Fun With Electricity...

Picture of Minor Exterior Issues, Fun With Electricity...

At this point, all the hard stuff is done. Where once I had a wrecked Honda Civic, now I have a "unique" trailer. Not to say that all the work is done; the first picture is the trailer right before it's maiden voyage (around the neighborhood, slowly) note the unfinished front - I was still unsure about what I wanted to do about it at this point. My original vision included some sort of aerodynamic fiberglass nose-cone (which wasn't that hard to talk myself out of, considering how deeply I dislike working with fiberglass)...

Ultimately, my solution involved a couple of junkyard fenders and a saw. I also fabricated a cover for the cavity where the windshield wiper mechanism used to reside utilizing a scrap piece of sheet metal - looking back on the pictures, I realize I probably could've re-used the crumpled hood in some way for this purpose, but it just honestly didn't occur to me that I would have any use for it when I scrapped it. Let this be a lesson kiddies - have more foresight than me...

That still left bits of the front open, so my solution was to not worry about it... I installed the battery box and sort of went with the "raw" look...

The first picture also shows the newly coated sheet metal windshield. I used spray on truck bed coating - just like on the firewall. At best, I can only call it a mixed blessing... The positive is that I've encased the sheet metal in a thick, gritty carapace of protective rubber, probably waterproof down to a depth of 500 feet... The negative is that I dislike the way it looks... The coating itself seems sort of mottled when it cures, and I cant seem to even it out, and the gritty texture of the coating catches all dirt that passes over it - resulting in streaks that perniciously refuse to rinse away... The stuff ain't coming off, either - I took a grinding wheel to it and barely made a scratch... I'm happy with the coating on the firewall, but I should've used something else on the metal windshield...

One last peek at that first picture will also reveal something that isn't there. The little red light visible center/forward on the roof in some other pictures hasn't yet been installed. I installed that light in a space that can be clearly seen in the rear-view of the tow vehicle - I then wired it so that when tow vehicle 12 volt is plugged in, the light will stay on as long as the handbrake is engaged... It would be really easy to just drive off with the brake still on, dragging the reluctant little Honda down the road with its wheels obstinately locked - like some truculent child throwing a tantrum in a grocery store... (for the record, I didn't actually do that - I almost actually did that...)

When vehicle 12 volt isn't connected, the little red light on top will still turn on, along with the third brake light, by flipping the red switch inside (provided battery 12 volt or shore power is on). Another light with dual power sources is the white light shining down out of what used to be the steering column hole on the firewall. When the vehicle 12 volt is plugged in, the light can be switched on/off with a switch located on the side of the battery box, above the battery master switch (pictured). This conveniently allows one to fiddle with the jack and brake and hitch without having to turn the battery on. when vehicle 12 volt is unplugged, the white light will come on, along with the "reverse" lights by flipping the blue switch on the control panel (the electronics store was out of clear switches that day) The third set of lights with a dual power source are the amber lights. When the tow vehicle is plugged in, the ambers on top and in front will come on with the tail lamps, but when running on battery or shore power, the amber switch controls the amber lights up front as well as the former turn signals out back. To achieve this, I used bosch-style 5 pin 12 volt relays to toggle between switched power sources.

I have no excuse whatsoever for setting up the lights to work this way... I guess I was just disappointed with the compromise I had to make here - with trailers, the road lights rely on signals from the tow vehicle - and, as with most (older) trucks, the "turn signal" is just half of the brake lights blinking - there is no separate turn signal circuit. So, getting the amber turn signal lights on the Honda to work as signals again now that it is a trailer would've been difficult - not impossible - but compatibility with a variety of tow vehicles was something I wanted to maintain...

The rest of the electrical system consists of a battery (pictured - notice the styrofoam keeping the battery in place - also note that it is the same battery that came with the car - still works just fine), a 12 volt/10 amp ac/dc converter, a 3.8 amp battery charger, 6 slot main power bus fuse block (i wish I'd gotten a bigger one), stereo amplifier and bluetooth receiver. There are two "cigarette lighter" style 12 volt plugins, one is for trailer 12 volt and the other feeds tow vehicle 12 volt (when the tow vehicle is plugged in).

Relays automatically toggle between battery and converter 12 volt power when shore power is plugged in, as well as automatically charging the battery (provided the battery master switch is turned on). Since I was laying the electrical box on the floor, i decided to at least put it in a plastic box to protect against any spills or leaks.

The battery box stays closed on its own just fine, in case you're wondering, but it came with a strap so I'm damn well going to use it...

I employed a power strip in the shore power system for three reasons; it distributes shore power to all the devices that use it, it serves as a master switch for the entire shore power system, and it is also a 15 amp breaker.

Step 9: Just a Little Lipstick for My Piggy...

Picture of Just a Little Lipstick for My Piggy...

The time has now come to address the appearance. When I started this project, I had a mental image of what the finished trailer would look like - and I can confidently say that the actual finished product looks nothing like what I had envisioned. To be fair, I had entertained fevered dreams of nose-cones and solar panels, so I knew that some of my ideas wouldn't make it off the drawing board... All that stuff is certainly still possible, given enough time and money, but at this point its highly unlikely... I'm actually very happy with the finished project - I took an idea and made it real...

One thing I do regret not being able to afford was a vinyl wrap. I had SERIOUSLY wanted to do some sort of, like, UFO/little green men graphics ( in my mind, I saw the trailer as a crashed UFO - complete with befuddled aliens...) tons of gaudy LED's to complete the effect...

(After reading that last paragraph, I see now that it was probably a good thing I was operating under budget constraints...)

So instead of a thousand dollar custom holographic wrap with lasers and aliens and shit, I shot some five dollar rattle-can racing stripes down the side... Sweet, strobed, 80's style sidestripes, brah... i used semi-gloss in order to mimic the texture of a decal... I'm being cheeky, but the stripes do hide the worst of the blemishes in the black paint. overall the body is fine ( a few small dings maybe) but the paint has seen better days.

If you're familiar with 1997 Honda Civics, you'll know that they have antennas sticking up out of a hole directly above the drivers side door. Since I had gotten rid of the radio (and the dashboard, for that matter) I reasoned I might as well get rid of the antenna too. The huge, teardrop amber light over the drivers door is, of course, functional but it also serves to cover that hole. The huge teardrop amber light over the passenger door is there to appease the god of symmetry...

One final flaw that I addressed were the ghastly metal panels I used to cover the holes left in the absence of the sideview mirrors. Instead of wasting time attempting some other fabricated solution, I just re-installed the mirrors... It seems silly - but I guess I was myopically determined to get rid of ALL the unnecessary components... The mirrors may no longer serve any practical purpose, but they still look better than those awful panels. Some of the pictures show the mirrors and some show the panels, but the mirrors were the final fix...

A flaw I have yet to address is the the control panel - specifically the front face. It's made from a spare piece of plastic I had lying around, and covered with adhesive mirrored film I had leftover from another smaller project. It looked pretty cool at first, but the film has started to wrinkle and peel around the edges, and it bums me out...

I'm also keen to install a halfway decent roof-rack, though nothing usable has churned to the surface of any of my local junkyards recently - I'm still keeping my fingers crossed.

So, there it is. Why did I do it? Capricious whimsy... Also, it's actually a really useful trailer - camping, job-site, race-day, (light) cargo, catering, getting away from the city lights with my telescope - just a few of the uses I've already found for it.

In my day job, I work on a lot of really cool stuff - I've even done some fabrication for race cars. My boss probably wouldn't mind me talking about it, but at the end of the day, thats his joint - and I have no business taking credit for it... That's why I'm really excited to be able to start bringing my own projects out into the light.

My earnest intent, as far as my career is concerned, is to begin working out of my own shop full-time sometime in the near future. This project was a timid first step toward fleshing out that goal. I purposely employed a "production" oriented approach - with budgets and deadlines - sort of a dry run for paying gigs. Given the way the project progressed, I'm very encouraged - I'm even amiable toward the idea of building a few more of these absurd things for paying customers, but I doubt the market for re-purposed hatchback trailers is really booming... We'll see...

In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who took the time to wade through my (admittedly long-winded) FIRST Instructable - and for tolerating my blurry pictures. I'm a mechanic, not a photographer - I did my best... I will be documenting a few other things I've got going on in the near future, so stay tuned! And finally, I hope I've encouraged anyone interested in doing stuff like this to just get up off the couch and go for it... If a stooge like me can do it, so can you!

Comments

kibukun (author)2018-01-17

If you keep the gas system, you could also use it as an auxiliary tank for the towing vehicle!

kibukun (author)kibukun2018-01-17

Think about it, you hook up the existing gas pump to a switch in your truck, and run a line to your truck's gas tank and fill up when you're low! You could drive right through those annoying high price areas!

farna (author)2018-01-17

Tongue weight has been discussed enough, but... If it has 200# of tongue weight now, you won't be able to load much in the front. Load as many heavy camping items behind the rear wheels to reduce tongue weight. A trailer MUST have a good bit of weight on the tongue or it will sway badly at anything over 40-45 mph. I've seen similar conversions of four door station wagons, vans, and just the trunk portion of a car. I did one of the later myself, but I moved the axle forward a bit so it was just about centered (also kept the back seat area to balance it out). A station wagon cut between front and rear doors is about right as far as balance, but then you have a large flat front. Cut the REAR DOOR area out and weld back together... shorten a van in the same manner... and it would be better balanced. Lots of work there though, and you have to be a competent welder...

dialup_prisoner (author)farna2018-01-17

There's also a few things that can be done to rearrange what weight there is. For example, it may be possible to relocate that battery box from the tongue to somewhere in the trunk, or anywhere behind the axle. This would have a twofold effect as the weight would pivot around the axle and actually make the tongue weight lighter even though the overall weight of the trailer hasn't changed. Great build and obviously food for thought for plenty of readers!

Daeras (author)2018-01-16

You could always convert the boot into a little kitchen and replace the fuel tank with a water tank with the water imlet where the fuel inlet used to be. Great built

GaryR5 (author)2018-01-16

I have A 06 Santa Fe that is getting A bit long in the tooth so I may have to convert it to A camper in A year or two.

Good luck with yours and have fun!

bobbg (author)2018-01-16

all the what if's aside that's pretty slick.

I'd like to see someone do that with a long bed pickup trucks bed or a van provided it was balanced properly.

One point I'd have figured out a way to keep a head unit in a dash for both TV and sound.

But I'm not so sure if this was hit it would survive a crash to good.

No one should ever ride in it.

It would be funny to hook it to a tricycle a large person can drive.

Could you see that at the samp grounds? you'd just have to laugh.

GaryR5 (author)bobbg2018-01-16

In the U.S. no one is allowed to ride in any type of moving trailer. If you need to haul human cargo in A camping type rig get A motorhome.

sky-fish (author)2018-01-16

You obv put a Lot of work into this and I hate to be a downer: it's ok as a camper but it's no good as a load hauler. The wheels are so far back that the tounge weight is bound to be far higher than the allowance (50kg in Europe, probably similar in USA). If you put a lot of stuff or anything heavy it will be super dangerous.
If you move the wheels forward to the middle you'll be ok

browneaction (author)sky-fish2018-01-16

you don't hate being a downer... It's a micro camper not a load hauler; should have gone to specsavers

KenC49 (author)sky-fish2018-01-16

Depends on the load, and how you load it. Obviously you would load all the heavy cargo to the front to let the tongue and vehicle rear support the added weight. And then you have to consider how long your cargo is going to be. But just looking at the project, you're not going to be hauling anything heaver than camping gear and maybe a 65 quart Pelican cooler, for those camping trips.

etriker (author)sky-fish2018-01-16

"A loadhauler" ?? Did you check out the finished product? There was never any intent to haul anything, except personal weekend get away stuff. Try being nice 4 once...

sky-fish (author)etriker2018-01-16

chill out dude, I was being nice. I pointed out a safety issue
and since the wording did actually say "utility trailer" which in my book, equates to bringing heavy stuff to the dump.

knightwalkr (author)sky-fish2018-01-16

Not only is it badly balanced for safe driving.

The hitch he built is connected into the weakest areas of the car meaning that if it’s ever rear ended it’s going over the top of what ever is towing it.

Hit a hard enough bump and it’s possible that it’s coming loose as well. Loose traction (which with the balance issues is likely) and it’s possible the camper is going to become a deadly projectile traveling at road speeds.

thanks for your input!

BenjaminJ29 (author)sky-fish2018-01-16

Well, judging by the interior finish, this is more like a tiny sleeper/camper than a hauler, so running weight would be low. Class I hitches in the US are rated for a 200# (90 kg) max tongue weight and Class II up to 300# (136 kg), which wouldn't add any more weight to the back of the tow vehicle than putting a couple passengers and gear in the rear of the tow vehicle. In lieu of moving the wheels forward, impossible in this situation, a shorter tongue would improve weight distribution and reduce tongue weight.

CraigoS1 (author)sky-fish2018-01-16

I was thinking the same! It's fine when it's parked and jacked up, but when towing, the nose weight will be an issue. Unless you're towing with a huge pick up truck or similar, in which case the truck probably won't even notice.

browneaction (author)2018-01-16

Great project and an excellent read. Thanks for sharing. Definite food for thought as I'm considering a home built camper of some description right now. I hadnt thought of a wrecked vehicle!

Sheddie101 (author)2018-01-16

A Great Build and well executed. To all the detractors out there Go Do it better yourselves....

As for the weight of the towing hitch In New Zealand there was a range of Caravans that was produced with a sprung loaded Castor wheel mounted to the draw bar behind the hitch, which in turn supported the weight of the front of the caravan, making it possible to tow with a small car as the draw bar weight was negligible..

Other than that, maybe a retractable jockey wheel on the front so that it can be maneuvered around when not on the tow vehicle might be good.

Anyway a bloody good build and you should be proud.

cybercapri (author)2018-01-16

Awesome concept.

The only thing I might offer, for others to consider, is rather than remove the frame supports that hold the engine, you cut and weld them into the Tongue. That should negate any possible sway of the tongue and if nothing else simply added support. Even if you just added a crossbar and made some sort of flat deck for storage or what ever. Since that vehicle is a uni-body using those supports would only add to the stability and may have allowed for use a lighter tongue.

Well done...

dragon fllyer (author)2018-01-16

What fun! This is way beyond anything I will ever do for numerous reasons, but I love tiny things and re-purposing stuff. My closest effort involved turning my Toyota Echo hatchback into a nano-van, which I haven't yet actually gotten to try out adequately, but this gives me new inspiration!

Mr Frugal (author)2018-01-16

Nicely written, and a pleasure to read! If you decide not to pursue a career in mechanics, perhaps you could look into writing technical manuals. I have read far too many of those things that were obviously written by people who had no clue what they were even writing about. It's not often that you come across mechanics with writing skills, or vice versa.

I have agree with sky-fish on the tongue weight issue. I'm not sure where you are located, but most jurisdictions have differing rules on trailers, some more stringent than others, and I doubt the axle placement would pass inspection.

I'm sure you have seen pick-up truck beds and frames converted to utility trailers. (They were the poor man's DIY trailer back before Harbor Freight started sell their junk.) The axle placement on them, for the most part, was in the ideal position.

monickingbird (author)Mr Frugal2018-01-16

the empty trailer weighs 1012 lbs - the tongue weight is 200 lbs - thats not ideal, as I stated in the body of the text, but its still workable - here in Texas, a homebuilt trailer doesn't require inspection if it is less that 4500 lbs... but I got it inspected anyway by a professional and it easily passed - it also passed muster with the police - if I were towing this with another honda civic, these issues would be a serious concern - in fact I would flat out advise against that unless the tow car had been modified to accept the rear weight. That being said, I do own a large truck so the tongue weight isn't even noticeable.

I was seriously skeptical about this project because of the distance between rear axel and hitch so I didn't bother reading and just skipped to comments knowing tongue weight would be a hot topic - I wasn't disappointed!

You should have lead with the tongue weight and it wouldn't have been an issue and detractors could only remark on how it was provisioned.

charlessenf-gm (author)2018-01-16

"Looks like a road hazzard (sic) to me."

I saw this comment and intended to take issue with the poster.

It may, indeed prove to be correct. However, it is neither a 'nice' nor constructive offering by any standard.

The creativity and execution detailed here is impressive. Not withstanding the placement of the wheels relative to the static load when empty and the Tongue Weight issue, this is an impressive build.

That it meets the requirements of the creator should carry some weight as to the 'practicality' issues raised.

In the 'rear ender' one poster envisioned, it may prove a Pinto (without the gas inferno), but i see the rear going under, not over!

As to conveying people, I'm not at all sure I'd be comfortable 'back there.' Though it might serve Mafia types where passenger comfort wasn't an issue.

What is missing is a decal across the steel Windshield depicting a happy driver at the helm!

God job, great retail.

KenC49 (author)2018-01-16

Project looks great. I have a similar project in mind, but looking at your front end, I think I'm going to use a trailer tongue box,(if compatible) to house all the electronic hook ups, and battery. Possibly put a solar charger to the top of the box, to keep everything charged and ready to go. This will tow great to the lease or anywhere. Looks like you used some marine outdoor carpeting on the inside? What type of adhesive did you use to set it in place? Keep up the excellent work. Hope to see more of your projects in the future.

mpulliam1 (author)2018-01-16

Wow that looks great and you can feel the work hours drip off of it. I have seen a lot of one-off, home-jobbers used and/or abandoned but this has a lot of care. As a truck driver heavy equipment operator that has to tow/push/pull/drag anything with wheels, once it passed inspection, its just another wild pony with interesting traits that may or may not put up a fight when you try to back'er down.

valveman (author)2018-01-16

That was a positive comment. Why bother?

etriker (author)2018-01-16

Wow.. that is all I can say on this sweetie! Listen, these expert comments below are probably true but, who cares now? It's well done, practically thought out, and I think really easy on the eyes. Listen folks, he's just lookin to bed down in the boonies w/o bugs - okay?

etriker (author)etriker2018-01-16

actually, I was most impressed w/their knowledge of systems and the use of the 'below-deck' concept of placing said systems & most importantly useful storage.

It really looks comfy & safe! Great 'ible!

DeanS2 (author)2018-01-16

I love that you took a crazy idea and went with it. It may not be the most practical trailer ever, but it sure is one of a kind and a talking point ! But by far the best part of this instructable is the write-up : Great job, 10/10 !

I read the whole 'ible , just out of curiosity and because it was a good read !

noller9 (author)2018-01-16

I would like to see the interior

Schermpje (author)2018-01-16

Awesome ^^

Imagen having a civic towing a civic ^^
Great stuff, good detail in the instuct :)

BenjaminJ29 (author)2018-01-16

the hand brake is genius! this looks like something i might try someday.

Instruckme (author)2018-01-16

I haven’t read it yet, but my first thought is that it’s brillant for an idea. Looking forward to read it.

lawrence.esterlen (author)2018-01-15

I love it! I considered doing one with an Astro van body to pull behind another Astro van, something like a pickup pulling a pickup bed trailer. I don't actually have the budget for two Astros at the moment though...

jimmcneil2 (author)2018-01-14

epic transformation, awesome!

MillennialDIYer (author)2018-01-13

Let me be the first to say: WTF!

3366carlos (author)2018-01-13

wow, awesome.

Jake_Makes (author)2018-01-13

Now that is creative.

Uncle Kudzu (author)2018-01-13

Entirely too cool! What a great project; I hope you enjoy many happy hours in your camper.

seamster (author)2018-01-13

WOW, excellent project!! And a great read as well. Loads of info, and good humorous bits too. This is my kind of project . . I really love what you've done!

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