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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?

Actually 2x2 vs. 2x3 box tubing for the tongue... seems to me that the 2x3 would be a little stronger because it would be harder to bend a 3" wide steel plate than it would be to bend a 2" wide, in any direction. I just wouldn't say a lot harder in the flat direction (horizontally).
Very interesting project. Thanks for sharing it!
Tachyon1 year ago
I'm laughing at all these tongue weight death trap commenters. I can only assume they either live in countries where towing this behind their little car is the equivalent of towing a fifth wheel in North America, or they are city dwelling late drinkers whose primary mode of transport has spokes and a bell.
Meanwhile, the author already stated that he has successfully towed it behind his TRUCK on multiple occasions without issue.
If any of these armchair towing experts had paid proper attention they'd have noticed that his truck appears to be an 80's Dodge D150 which has a tow rating of at least 5000 lbs with the 318 I'm guessing it probably has under the hood. 6500 lbs if it's got a 360. Either way even the 5000 lb max is twice the weight of an _unmolested_ 97 Civic hatchback. Given it has had all the heaviest parts removed, I'll bet this Civic weighs under 1750 lbs. Definitely under 2000. That old Dodge probably hardly notices it's back there.

Now, all that said, there are plenty of other great reasons to relocate the battery to a custom fabricated metal box, located where the fuel tank used to be, that's accessible from the trunk, the least of which is theft prevention. but more than moving its weight behind the axle, it will move it below the roll centre giving the trailer better handling characteristics, but mostly it would help shut up the tongue weight worriers.

please, go google wtf tongue weight is first

Tachyon lxc9812263 months ago
Yeah. As soon as you go Google what a lever and fulcrum are. Then look at where the wheels are on this "trailer" compared to most purpose built trailers.
Come back when you can explain why tongue and gross trailer weight on this trailer are much less independent in this case and why my discussion of the vehicle's total weight matters relative to tongue weight in this case given most vehicles have a tongue weight limit of between 500-750 lbs.
Once you realize why you only embarrassed yourself with your comment, explain it to Mr. Wizard below.
You're confusing tow weight with tongue weight. No one has stated that the overall weight is a problem (which you seems to defend by mentioning the tow rating of for example a Dodge D150), but having a large tongue weight is an entirely different thing that affects the driving geometry of the towing car and have nothing to do with it's rated towing weight. Ideally (not to be confused with "reality") tongue weight should be as little as possible, no matter how heavy the trailer is, to minimize dynamic changes in steering geometry when braking and accelerating. This is quite basic physics, if you have a large tongue weight combined with a car that has a long distance from the trailer hook to the rear wheel axle (and even worse if combined with a short wheelbase and heavy aerodynamic drag on trailer), your car will change steering from lets say marginal understeer in a turn to a dramatic understeer if you brake (just draw all the axis and you'll see the forces applied), and if you then suddenly release the brakes you might flick back to understeer. These dynamic effects is the reason why most countries have laws and regulations regarding tongue weight, so that any car with a tow hitch can reasonably tow any trailer without becoming a dangerous.

Now, given the car (or rather truck) the poster has (which has a reasonably short distance to the trailing hook, long wheelbase, and has significantly worse aerodynmamics than the trailer), and given he's experienced driving heavy trailers and most likely knows this, I'm not really concerned about him.

The reason I find this concerning is that _other_ people might try to do the same, with cars that might be a much worse combination and with no skills towing a heavy trailer, or just on conditions that is not favourable (like ice, or just heavy rain at speed). And and in those circumstances this _will_ become a deathtrap.

Just out of personal experience I've narrowly avoided a head on collision with a truck (Ford F150) towing a large single axle caravan that jacknifed because he wasn't prepared for the car having significant changes in steering geometry when even just applying some gentle braking in a turn. Just to make matters more "interesting" I was towing a horse trailer with a nervous horse that kept stumbling every time we came in a slight turn, but that was with a significantly more stable bogie trailer designed to avoid this effect.

So to sum up, nicely done project, just don't do this at home. Even if you believe you know what you're doing, there's evidently plenty of guys that believe they know more than they actually do. And drive safe.
mrmarcocecchi4 months ago
Great project...unfortunately not street legal in Europe (even if you have a truck).
turbiny1 year ago

complete car 1100-1200kg
engine+gearbox ~200kg
rear axle 50kg
glass 50kg
wheels 50kg
interior stuff 100kg
suspension 50kg
doors/boot/bonnet/front guards 100kg

not my measure
found it on a forum

also would be nice to remove the 3 rear glasses for even weight distribution

very nice project i am very interested in making one would be nice to have aproximate weight, my state has class 1 limit at 750kg
researching the law before i buy a wrecked civic

lxc9812261 year ago

what's the tongue weight of this thing?

Any idea on the finished weight? I'm looking for something along these lines that I could tow with my Subaru.
Wish I thought of this after my Yaris hatchback got killed by a deer. I'm gonna hafta keep an eye out for a wrecked small car.
Norfolkson1 year ago
I think you've done a great job! I wonder though if the tongue is strong enough? You have the entire trailer as tongue weight but only 1/8 in sidewall on the steel tubing. The usual thing is to make trailers from old pickup frames where the wheels are much closed to midway and the balance is better.
Tachyon1 year ago
Oops! I forgot to say. Nice work on the car and the Instructable.
monickingbird (author)  Tachyon1 year ago
Why, thanks for noticing (blushes schoolgirlishly) - it's an 86 w/ a 318 and a four on the floor... (can you tell I like talking about it?) I've gotten used to towing some ridiculously heavy stuff with this truck over the years, and I was surprised as well that so many commenters had safety concerns for the Honda trailer, which is comparatively so lightweight and tiny...
Sweet truck. Having driven and towed with one of those I can confirm my original speculation that thus truck barely notices that trailer when towing it.
It's also great to see people keeping perfectly good older vehicles out of the junkyards.
Keep on truckin' !
(and towing)

Any idea on how much the finished product weighs? Wondering what towing capacity would be needed on the tow vehicle? Thanks!

monickingbird (author)  Oljackfrost1 year ago
dug the scale slip out of the file. I mistakenly told another commenter that the trailer weighed 1012 lbs... don't know where that number came from... but anyWEIGH... it weighs 1020 lbs...
undeadmky1 year ago

Finally a reason to buy a honda!!!!

KenC491 year ago

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.

monickingbird (author)  KenC491 year ago

I actually used gray speaker felt held in place with pro grade spray adhesive.


cybercapri1 year ago

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...

monickingbird (author)  cybercapri1 year ago

your idea has merit, though in my case, the unibody support structures north of the firewall were pretty damaged.

Sheddie1011 year ago

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.

monickingbird (author)  Sheddie1011 year ago

Thanks! I've seen those caravans with the castor wheels as well, but they're not too popular here in burgerland. Yes, a retractable trailer jack/wheel is on the list of upgrades I intend to make - having to use the trailer dolly all the time gets cumbersome...

sky-fish1 year ago
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

"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...

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.
monickingbird (author)  sky-fish1 year ago

yes I'm beginning to regret using the word "utility", as it perhaps implies that I intend to haul bricks... As many commenters have already discerned, I limit the loads to things like camping gear - and I keep that stuff in the hatch or immediately in front of the seat-backs (where the only cargo tie downs are) I wouldn't put anything heavier than a sleeping bag anywhere ahead of the door-sills, because as many have pointed out, incorrectly balancing the load of any trailer can be dangerous.

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

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.

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.

monickingbird (author)  knightwalkr1 year ago

thanks for your input!

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.

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.

Myself1 year ago

Thanks for the ideas, the photos, and the hilarious storytelling! Your panache for exposition really lightened the journey, and I read the whole thing from stem to proverbial stern.

If I were to do one of these myself, to address the weight-balance concerns, I think donor-vehicle selection would be paramount. All the smallish hatchbacks and wagons have the wheels really far back, with the notable exception of the VW Passat. That could be an interesting base to build from!

I think you should look at solid-state battery isolator/combiner setups. Throw a self-resetting thermal breaker in-line to protect the trailer harness, and you've got yourself a trailer battery that automatically charges from the tow vehicle when it's running, and then isolates the trailer loads so as not to drain the starting battery while parked. And if you ever do the PV-panel setup you talked about, such a setup will also let the trailer charge the tow vehicle's battery, so you can run the radio/fan/whatever with the engine off as long as the sun makes up for it.

monickingbird (author)  Myself1 year ago

funny you should mention volkswagens, as I had thought a Fox station wagon from the eighties would be a good candidate for this conversion as well - better wheel placement...

kibukun1 year ago

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

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!

farna1 year ago

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...

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!

Daeras1 year ago
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
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