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DIY Camper = Bent Rear Axles


Baseline

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I wanted a truck camper for my 2wd 09 ranger.
Few campers are available for small trucks, and those that exist are extremely expensive.
I decided to create my own using full size truck caps.
The full budget of the project was $150.

Screenshot 2024-02-11 at 8.01.12 PM.png


I drew the design, photoshopped the design, then acquired the used caps.
I merged the two shells and built wooden frame along the base and around the rear opening.
I framed doors into the rear. I built a wooden support frame and put the unit on wheels.
The camper shell rolls around my yard on 8" pneumatic casters.
I can move it on and off my truck alone in 5 minutes.
The camper ties tightly to the bed hooks with turnbuckles.
The rear doors are now enclosed and painted white with a nice locking handle (not pictured)
It will be good to add a nosecone when time allows to improve the aerodynamics.


Truck Camper Process C.jpg

Initially I estimated it would weigh 400 lbs. I think it is around 500 lbs in reality.
The camper may weigh 500lbs, but it extends 2' out beyond the tailgate and is rear-heavy.
Therefore the leverage on the suspension could effectively be equivalent to an ~800 lb load.
The truck is rated to carry 1168 lbs.
I drove the camper around town for a month as I worked on it, and took one long road trip (7 hours round trip).
On the highway I drove slowly to keep the wind load reasonable.

Prior to this build, I replaced a driveshaft U-Joint last summer (6 months ago).
The second U-Joint blew out during the month I drove with the camper (1 month ago)
I drove slowly around town @30mph with a semi-squeaky joint for two weeks before a mechanic replaced the second U-Joint.
The mechanic also replaced front control arms.
Post-mechanic, I bought new tires, had an alignment, and balanced the tires.

The truck now vibrates at 40, 60, and 80mph.
At 85 mph the vibration is alarming.

The mechanic spent a full day with the truck on multiple test drives.
They concluded the vibrations are from bent rear axles.
Our roads are full of potholes. When the truck drives over a pothole, that momentary impulse magnifies the load greatly.
The rear suspension on the truck is 15 years old. It was degraded and cannot carry full load.

They recommend full rear axle/diff assembly + driveshaft replacement. Est = $2500
They recommend full rear suspension replacement. Est = $1500

Questions :
What suspension upgrade is required to carry this camper on this truck?
What drivetrain upgrade is required to carry this camper on this truck?
Should I throw this thing away and forget about it?

Thank you for reading
– Baseline
 


JoshT

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Suspension upgrades required? If it's really 800 lbs, none. That is within the rated capacity of your truck. Depending on what leaf springs you have, there may be springs that will support the load better.

Drivetrain upgrades required? Again, none from the load you've added for the same reason. That said, what you built in it's current form acts as a massive air dam. It could benefit a lot from adding some aerodynamics to the front of the shell.

Should you throw it away? I never would have done it to begin with. Can't say that I care for it in its current state. It isn't mine though, If you like it keep building. I'll be interested to see the final product.

Unsolicited (sp?) advice:

I'm not going to say that your axle isn't bent, but I don't think that "camper" is what bent it. I would find a different mechanic. It sounds like they don;t know what the probvlem is and want to point the parts cannon at it at your expense. I definitely wouldn't let them fix it. If you can do what you did with the shells, you can fix everything that they mentioned yourself.

Full suspension replacement? Full suspension cosists of shocks and springs. Unless they are broken or flat under normal load, you probably don;t need to replace the leaf springs. Shocks is very possible considering the road conditions you describe.

Axle replacement? If it's bent, then yes, replacement required. You can find a repalcement in a salvage yard for a whole lot less and in good condition. You can install it yourself with an extra set of hands. If you are buying the axle grab the springs too. If yours are good you can potentially combine them for more load capacity, kind of like an add-a-leaf. Might consider an Explorer axle swap since it's larger and stronger, but that'll take a fair bit more work (including welding) to install.

I find it unlikely that you need a new driveshaft. Maybe the joints have gone bad again, maybe it needs to be rebalanced. Unlikely that it needs to be replaced unless it's got phusicelly obvious damage.

I think it is more likely that your "camper" is causing or exaggerating the cause of the vibration. I would remove the "camper" and see how that affects the problem.
 

sgtsandman

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Why do they want to replace the drive shaft if they have determined that the axles are bent?

I can understand wanting to replace the rear axle. Bearings can be damaged from the bent axle shafts.

Replacing the rear springs could be warranted if they are indeed flat or bending the wrong direction. For the loads you are quoting, the exiting load rating should be fine if you get new ones. But the weights you are quoting is just for the shell, not including any camping gear, food, and water. Stepping up to the next level of springs might be a good idea.

The prices the shop is quoting, is way out of line in my opinion for the replacing some springs, possibly spring hangers, and shackles, plus a complete axle assembly since a perfectly fine used rear axle shouldn't be that expensive. Maybe $800 in parts? Maybe a $100 more for hangers and shackles as a rough guess. I would be asking another shop or two to look at it and see what they say. $4,000 for what they are quoting is way too much.

As far as the camper shell project, it's a different approach. Not one that I would take but I'm not there and I don't know what kind of skill sets you bring to the table. Maybe you can make it work and work well. Like you said, truck bed campers are pretty darn expensive. You aren't the first one to show up here with projects out of what we would consider normal.
 

RonD

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Welcome to TRS :)

2009 Ranger will have a 8.8" rear axle, it is rated for 2,750lbs

Bed and frame might be, 1,300lbs, leaving 1,450lbs at the extreme
Suspension is only rated for 1,000lbs(1/2 ton)

There is another issue here, wheels or tires, or factory defective rear axle assembly
 

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It sounds like they screwed up replacing the u joint and are blaming the axle. Get a second opinion.
 

85_Ranger4x4

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In pothole country it could be tires too.

The camper itself shouldn't have caused it, keep in mind bedding, gear, passengers etc count too.

My slide in camper weighs 800lb empty per the brochure (camper company weight ratings are usually optimistic) and while my truck has a 31 spline 8.8 out of an Explorer... the Rangers only had 7.5's for a great while after said camper was built (1984). In the brochure it is even shown in a first gen Ranger.

IMO Explorer springs, good shocks and good tires, I have load range C or 6ply on mine. It rides a little rough without the camper or my usual single fiberglass topper but loaded she runs like a dream.



 

rusty ol ranger

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My two cents?

Youre getting screwed.

You would break every spring on the thing before you bent the axle. Espicially only at 800lbs.

Id be looking at the u joint installation as well as driveshaft issues.
 

Shran

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Camper had nothing to do with it. Get a second opinion... there are a lot of so called "mechanics" in the world today that have no real troubleshooting skills, they just throw parts at things.

I'm working on a truck now that one mechanic said "has a bad engine" and another guy said "has a hole in the piston" ... best I can tell it actually had a leaking injector and other shoddy work done to it recently. Those were two opinions from separate businesses... "professionals" that charged the previous owner for their BS.
 

lil_Blue_Ford

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As someone who used a Ranger like an F-250 for many years, I have my doubts about bending the axle. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility, especially in pothole country, but not very likely.

Leaf springs are probably worn/cracked/broken. Get the 1,750 springs or a custom pack. I would consider “load helper” shocks (like cheap coil-overs) or something, you’re putting a bit of weight up high and far back so you need to tame movement. Rear sway bar and traction bars can help control the rear axle doing funky things. Also a lot of U-joints are cheap garbage anymore.
 

85_Ranger4x4

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Yeah, front and rear swaybars and a huge gamechanger for stability with a camper.
 

00t444e

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4.0, 5 speed, 4.10 gears, Ford 8.8 axle with some heavy duty springs should do fine.
 

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It should be fine as it is.. I drove through potholes the size of craters on the moon with 800lbs in the back of my 7.5 equipped 2010 and it didnt even blink an eye.

Find another shop, get a second opinion.
 

Baseline

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Thank you everyone.
Life was crazy for a few months. Now back to solving this.

Leaf Springs:
Will quote at different shops.
Sway bars + add-a-leaf - sounds good!

Vibration:
Upon closer inspection I found the shop had reassembled the driveshaft 180° off index from how it was originally bolted to the rear diff. After rotating the driveshaft back to the original bolt pattern, 80% of the vibration went away. Drove it for 3 months.

Now:
One of the U-joints has blown again.
I drove this truck into a ditch in 2021.
Given that it has now eaten 3 U joints in 9 months,
I suspect the shaft may have been slightly bent from the ditch incident.
This would also explain the remaining vibration.
Does that make sense?

This is the best price I've found on a replacement drive shaft.
Has anyone installed aftermarket parts from "A-Premium"?
How did they perform?
Screenshot 2024-05-24 at 7.55.19 PM.png

 

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I haven't but i, myself, would get a driveshaft from a junkyard and throw it on.


And i think your camper plan Is freaking sweet!! Once you put something on the front to make it more aerodynamic, its going to be like my parent's old toyota rv. And that thing was super cool
 

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A few points to consider:

1. If your truck has a payload capacity of 1168 lbs and the "camper" is 800 equivalent because it hangs off the back, then you only have 368 lbs left for you, the significant other, the dogs, and all your gear. Unless all that is a lot less than what it would be for the rest of us, you will be technically overloading the truck. One good solution for that would be overload springs or air springs on the rear axle.
2. It is highly unlikely that the rear axles are bent, but if they are you can see that pretty quickly by blocking the front tires and jacking up the rear and slowly rotating the rear wheels. If the axle is bent, the wheel/tire will wobble. If the axle housing is bent, an alignment shop can tell you that because the rear tires will have either toe or camber, neither of which they should have.
3. I have used jy driveshafts in the past but you have to look them over carefully because a lot of junkyards use big loaders with forks to move the vehicles out to their lot, and the forks will often bend the driveshaft of the vehicles as they are hauled around.
4. The real concern I have about your invention is that it has a huge sail area, which means it will be tricky and quite possibly dangerous to drive the vehicle on windy days. The Ranger is not designed to have that kind of cross section area available to the wind. The pop top camper that was mentioned above is a whole different story because it is compact while driving and only tall when parked. At the very least I think you need a stout rear sway bar and to be very careful driving when it is windy out.
5. Another possibility of the u-joints going bad is the quality of the joints that are used. A lot of the Chinese stuff is poor quality and does not last, so I would make sure to use top quality parts especially on things like u-joints.
 

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