Monday, February 10, 2014

Camper Steps Modification

Camper Steps modified to swing up for trail clearance and to carry shovel or Hi-Lift jack.

I didn't want to carry a step ladder to enter or exit my slide-in camper as it was one more thing to carry, plus it seemed to me steps sitting on the ground could be unstable when set on uneven ground.

Modified steps up in travel, high clearance position on my Tacoma with FWC Fleet camper.

I bought these Brophy trailer hitch mounted steps from eTrailer.com. Note: a hitch pin is not included with the steps. They mount securely, are the perfect height for climbing into and out of the camper. I can stand on the steps and lean way into the camper to fetch something and I never have to worry about the steps shifting out from under me. They are always in the same place with respect to the door, so never have to fish with my foot to find the step, my leg remembers where they are. (I did shim the channel with electrical tape to minimize rattles, or you could use an anti-rattle pin.)

There were only a couple of issues with the hitch mounted steps as purchased. 
  • They stick out pretty far for use in the city - I worried a car would clip them in a parking lot or someone would accidentally ram their shin into the edge (especially as that someone could be me.)
  • When off-highway and navigating the ups-and-downs of a rough road, the lower step is vulnerable to dragging. I had to take the steps off in a couple of places on the Great Western Trail in Arizona for clearance and later bent the bar when the step dragged while on an old mining road in Colorado.
  • It would also be handy if I could mount a shovel or Hi-Lift jack to the channel under the top step as that would be both out of the way and easy to get to from the back of the truck.
Seemed to me the steps would be perfect if the bottom step could rotate up and out of the way by way of a hinge located about where the square channel was attached to the step mounting bar.

Trucks Unique in Albuquerque had installed my air-bags and I knew they built lots of custom bumpers, beds, hitches, and truck accessories. I talked to one of the welders there and showed him my, by then, bent camper steps. I explained I wanted the bottom step to swing up, yet still be solid enough that my 250+ pounds would be supported easily and without any wobble or shimmy. I also asked for a mounting bar to be welded below the bottom step to hold a shovel with Quick Fist Clamps™ and I wanted him to drill the mounting holes so they would line up with the holes in the main bar of a Hi-Lift jack.

I had a couple of ideas about a hinge, but the welder came up with the actual implementation. The modification cost more than the steps, but it is absolutely solid and does exactly what I wanted. Those folks with the skills and tools could do this modification themselves.

I had the mod done the middle of last summer - I'm slow creating this post - and the steps have performed perfectly for many camping trips and thousands of miles since then. I'm extremely happy with these modified steps.

Notes:

In the photos below you will also notice a cable lock that threads through the safety ring below the hitch, the shovel handle, and the steps. No, it won't stop anyone determined to steal the shovel or steps, but hopefully will discourage an impromptu theft.

Also, there is a removable, captive pin shown in the photos by the hinge. The welder added a small tab to the bar holding the bottom step - you can see it just peeking out in the detail view of the step down. One removes the pin, swings the step up, then slides the pin back into the holes and the tab, and this holds the bottom step in the up, stowed, position. The pin does not hold the step in the down position; the step is free to swing up should I encounter an unexpected obstacle while the step is down as I usually leave the step down while traveling as it is easier to get to the fridge for snacks that way. I keep the pin in the hinge while the step is down simply so it won't get lost.

I also added strips of reflective tape to improve visibility of the steps both on the road and while parked. The white strips on the edge of the bottom step are great while camping as even star light is bright enough to show me where to step even when there are no other lights.

If you have any questions, email or leave a comment.

Steps before modification - single piece bar mounts steps to square channel.
That channel has three sets of holes so you can adjust the distance between steps and bumper.

Modified steps - bar was cut and custom hinge welded on to allow bottom step to swing up.

Side view showing hinge and mount for shovel or Hi-Lift jack.

Detail view of hinge in down position - removable pin is not holding step down, just being stored.

Detail view of hinge in up position - now pin inserts through tab welded to bottom bar to hold steps up.

2014 Update: I've started using a locking, anti-rattle hitch pin now, instead of the cable lock. The anti-rattle feature makes for rock-solid mounting, too. Note, if you have a late model Toyota you may need to buy the extra long pin model as the outside dimension of the Toyota receiver is wider than standard.

This is the high-quality item I bought from eTrailer.com:

SHP2040-XL
XL Anti-Rattle Trailer Hitch Receiver Lock for 2-1/2" Hitches - 3-1/2" Span

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