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Teardrop Trailer Plans : How to Build a Cheap Camper

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Picture of Teardrop Trailer Plans : How to Build a Cheap Camper
First off, I originally documented this on my arts and crafts blog, Make It With Jason.  I wanted to build a teardrop trailer that I could take camping around the Pacific Northwest, where I live.  We have amazing scenes of beauty there, like Mt. Hood, and Multnomah Falls, so I decided I also wanted to paint a mural all the way around it.

All in all, I spent about $500 total on this project (including a used $120 Harbor Freight utility trailer) , and this teardrop trailer is about as barebones as you can get. But it works, and it keeps you dry and warm.
 
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Step 1: First step: Design Your Teardrop Trailer

Picture of First step: Design Your Teardrop Trailer
teardrop-shadows-2.jpg
I love creative camping spaces for compact living – which is quite a claim, considering I am 6’6″ tall. I owned my first camping trailer back in 2003, and I even lived in it for a month when I was airbrushing down in the little tourist beach side town of Seaside, OR.

At some point, I became aware of the teardrop trailer, which is a tiny little trailer that is meant only for sleeping, and offers some accommodation for fairly comfortable food prep and outdoor cooking.

Gathering Ideas

I figured building a teardrop trailer was a project I felt I could pull it off from design to finish by myself, so I started by searching the internet for more info. The reason the teardrop is so popular is that its rounded profile makes it a breeze to pull behind even a car.

I decided to make a traditional style of teardrop – one with a removable galley for easy loading, and two doors.  Here is a photo of my initial design idea, done in Google Sketchup – a free program offered by Google. The truck is my GMC Sonoma – a V6 capable of towing a tiny trailer, but not much else.

The Teardrop Design

First, I drew a quick sketch of what I wanted it to be.  I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel (my first time around), so I went with a traditional route.  In Sketchup, I downloaded a trailer base (because I knew I wanted a roughly 4X8 bed on the trailer.

I also knew I wanted to just put a couple sheets of 3/4″ plywood as a floor and building base for the rest of the trailer.

When I build another one (a larger, “canned ham” type), I will be building it with a 2X4 framed floor and use the plywood as a subfloor, but that isn’t really diminishing the stability of this one, because it is attached to solid steel.

Very nice job. Reminds me if a camper I built 20+ years ago. It was 4' hi x 6x8' , had heat, cook stove, running water, bed & potty and was light enough for two big guys to lift off the s-10 I had.
MakeItWithJason (author)  Lectric Wizard4 months ago
Thanks--a camper for an S-10 would be sweet!
joannenk6 months ago
Great job! We're going to start making our little camper for our winter project. We have an old trailer we don't use to start so I'm looking forward to the end product. If it turns out anything close to yours, I'll be thrilled .
MakeItWithJason (author)  joannenk5 months ago
Good luck! Mine was pretty basic--you can go all kinds of fancy on a project like this.
jujubee317 months ago
Holy cow as in how in the world did u make that it iz so detailed
jujubee317 months ago
Holy cow
MakeItWithJason (author)  jujubee317 months ago
Holy cow as in you LIKE it, or holy cow, as in "what a monstrosity!" ?
plinz8 months ago
how much would you say the whole thing weighs when its all loaded up?
MakeItWithJason (author)  plinz7 months ago
It's about 600 pounds unloaded. The loaded is completely conditional on what you're loading it with.
I think you did a great job and also a very good presentation. Good work...
Thanks, glad you liked it. My teardrop is currently for sale on Portland's Craigslist. I am moving on to wanting to build a canned ham style trailer next!
pwm031 year ago
So could this possibly be pulled by a motorcycle with no problem? Love this website!!
bo88y pwm0310 months ago
There are commercially-available trailers for motorcycles, but they're either small cargo trailers or pop-up campers. Pulling something this big behind a motorcycle would lead to the tail wagging the dog (4'W plus tires & fenders, 5'H, 12'L).
-- Most teardrop trailers are built with torsion axles instead of leaf springs, and these can be had in half-axle sets, so you could build a trailer to a suitable width (about $200/pr. for 500#-1,000#). Check out adventureteardrops.com for a teardrop cargo trailer that you could maybe fit inside, in a fetal position, but is still 40" overall width. The cargo compartment is 24"W x 24"H x 42"L. It's conceivable that you could make a trailer that's 6" wider, 10"-12" taller, and 30" longer, so you could just sleep in it, but that would be pushing the envelope for what's towable by a bike. You could use narrower tires and fenders and maybe cheat a bit on the tongue length, but you're going to end up longer than most cars (bike and trailer). Obstruction of the view to the rear is something that needs attention, too. An interesting design challenge. It would be slick if you could pull it all together.
MakeItWithJason (author)  pwm031 year ago
I would say that a teardrop designed for a motorcycle could be made--but I wouldn't necessarily use this one.
thewetturd1 year ago
Great job. I would really like to build something like this especially if I can talk the wife into using it lol. The back roof area of the trailer hinges upward with that piano hinge you mentioned is that correct? How do you get that hinged area to not leak? I can't wrap my head around a design that wouldn't leak water into the trailer. Congrats on your project bud, enjoy it fully.
MakeItWithJason (author)  thewetturd1 year ago
For the hinges (which you are correct, they ARE a weak spot), you can attach a piece of heavy plastic or vinyl that overlaps the hinges and add some silicon caulk where the vinyl meets the teardrop, you should be able to avoid any water damage through the hinge.
Did you consider using aluminum hurricane hinges? They run about $50, and would eliminate the weak spot. But then, that would have added 10% to your cost. A search for "teardrop trailer hinges" will bring up a bunch of examples, because they're so often associated with trailers like this.
spylock1 year ago
Does or would you save money on personal property taxes in your county by registering it as a trailer?Im sorry,I dont mean nosey,the personal property taxes in my county(Hanover,Virginia) are killer on the bank account,so I was just interested..
MakeItWithJason (author)  spylock1 year ago
Well, I'm certainly no expert on this type of thing--especially in other states, but this is so small that you can sometimes get away with registering it as a utility trailer. It is very light, and probably won't fall into any higher weight-class where the higher taxes or registration fees enter. If you build it so the shell can be removed, all the better!
spylock1 year ago
Ive always liked this design,I have one question,do you register it as a camper or trailer,Id think it would be cheaper to register it as a trailer for tax reasons,you wouldnt be lying,the title says trailor until you do have it registered as something other.
MakeItWithJason (author)  spylock1 year ago
in Oregon, I can register it as a utility trailer, and the laws are very lenient on small trailers.

bennelson1 year ago
Here's mine.
I did aluminum on the top and woody sides.
DSC06626.jpg
Great! Is it a single sheet of aluminium?
The only seam in the aluminum is at the hinge where the hatch opens to the galley. I purchased the aluminum from a local semi-truck-trailer repair place. It's the same thing big-rig trailers are made from, painted white on one side, and shiny silver on the other. I don't remember the exact dimensions of the metal, but it was nice and large.
I pull my trailer with a 2.2L 4-cylinder engine. (Hoping to upgrade to a 2.5l diesel in the future!)
How do you pull a trailer with an engine? Do you have it attached sideways with a wheel mounted to the flywheel and harmonic balance? That would make a cool Instructable. (smiles all around) :)
Har har. Yes, the engine is in the Chevy S10 Pickup truck I use to pull the trailer. I just wanted to make a point that a person doesn't need a large vehicle for most teardrop trailers. They can be made very sturdy and light-weight.
I've seen VW Golfs and other small vehicles towing teardrops.
You are very, very right.

Towing capability is not at all in the engine but in the traction (rear better than front) and weight (more better than less).

I want to see you with a sports car trying to pull (long elevens) or brake and steer a heavy trailer (car steering, trailer going straight and pulling the car on its side ...)

Towing in a light car, no matter how powerful it is, is dangerous.
Towing in a car of proper mass (proportionate to the load) with little engine will be just annoying (steep hills in first gear at 20 ...)

------------

A little tip.
If:
1) the loaded trailer's weight is comparable to the loaded car's one (heavy load)
2) the trailer is not correctly loaded front-heavier
3) the trailer is not that heavy but has a high shape (sail)
3bis) it's very windy

you could incur in lateral oscillations that could grow badly with speed and lead to complete loss of control and crash.

The oscillations happen because the drag on the trailer (or poor balancing the load) try to raise the rear of the car from the tarmac, causing instability (like floating).

NEVER APPLY BRAKES in such a situation.
Breaking loads front and unloads rear car axle even more, worsening the problem.
Just pull up your right foot, let the speed settle down by itself.
Don't try to countersteer the oscillations (you'll be far late and worsening the problem), keep the steering wheel steady straight

Stop in a safe place and balance your trailer load as much in front as you can.
In any case, check your hook max vertical load.

This is why truck trailers have the wheels not in the middle but at the very end.
MakeItWithJason (author)  bennelson1 year ago
I just got rid of my GMC Sonoma (the one in the design). It was a 4.3 L V6, but the s-10 is the direct comparable model to the Sonoma. Mine pulled it like a breeze. I don't have a hitch on my CR-V, but will pull it with that when I get one.
thats great!!
MakeItWithJason (author)  bennelson1 year ago
Great! Love the doors!
now this is nice so u don't have to waste a alot of money on a regular camper and thanks MakeItWithJason
I'm not one for wasting money, that's for sure! Thanks for checking it out!
your welcome and keep up the great work
gkern1 year ago
I like that its, literally , a blank canvas for whatever trailer modifications I would want to make.
MakeItWithJason (author)  gkern1 year ago
Whenever you have a painter, anything blank is a canvas for a painting!
FireSnake1 year ago
Well, heck. I never thought to build my own until you popped up on my Instructable newsfeed. Thank you! I've seen the HF trailers...when i saw the title and pic of your post, first thought was that trailer for a base. Enjoy Washington. Posting from the last inch to Mexico, Southern NM. :)
MakeItWithJason (author)  FireSnake1 year ago
That is exactly the kind I used for this trailer. I wanted to keep the cost low. Got it for $125 used. I'm actually in Oregon, but I get over to the WA side fairly frequently.
Rob O1 year ago
Great 'ible Jason. I strongly agree with you about the doors. The only thing I really dont like about my trailer is the doors. I wish I had used pre-made door units. They are expensive but will seal and behave better than the approach you describe (which is same thing I did).
I also recommend the teardrop trailer build forum here: http://www.tnttt.com/
MakeItWithJason (author)  Rob O1 year ago
That is a wonderful forum. I'm hoping a teardrop company pays me to retrofit my doors with their product in exchange for a review. ;)
I like the artwork. I recognized Multnomah Falls right away as I am originally from Oregon. Again, nice job on the artwork and the design of your teardrop.
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