Off-Road Overhaul: Budget Trailer Revisited

Jul. 30, 2014 By Jim Brightly, KF7SCT
Remember this combination? The budget camping trailer was finally ready for the trail.

During a New Mexico vacation and a Mojave Road crossing it became clear our budget trailer needed some upgrades – and it needed them badly. After all, who wants egg shells in their scrambled eggs, or even scrambled eggs for that matter? The trailer needed shocks and more height, as the curved design of the original pickup’s rear bumper dug up the trail, causing way more dust than necessary, and it actually scooped up water and forced it up in a 4-foot-wide geyser to drown the tailgate and soak anything stored in the trailer near the tailgate. More stability on the trails and a higher bumper height would take care of both problems.

Author’s note: While reading this article, please remember that all these suspension modifications are available for S10 pickups—and their GMC Sonoma brethren—with the same part numbers. The same modifications can also be applied to Jeeps, other compact pickup brands and full-size trucks by using different part numbers. All the components are available at Summit Racing.

In order to use OEM Jeep JK wheels, I bought a pair of adapters that changed the S10’s lug bolt pattern to the Jeep’s 5-on-5 pattern.

The first thing I addressed was the height. By adding 10-inch shackles with holes drilled at 6 inches and 8 inches—I used the 6-inch holes—the trailer was lifted 4 inches (using the 8-inch holes would result in a 6-inch lift but could prove to be unstable due to the length of the shackles). This was by far the easiest modification. I just made up four matching pieces of steel, drilled the proper sized holes in the ends of the shackles, welded in a strengthening piece of square tubing and bolted them to the frame and leaf springs. We simply supported the rear bumper with jackstands while we changed out the shackles.

The 10-inch-long shackles had holes for a 6-inch lift or a 4-inch lift, I chose the 4-inch lift for better stability and strength.

Next, the Monroe Max air shocks. This is another easy mod that just requires removing the old shocks’ mounting nuts and bolts and bolting the new shocks into place—easy peasy. However, we had to route the shocks’ air lines to the Schrader valves, which we located in the rear bumper. Since the trailer could be carrying the weight of a rooftop tent on high-speed highway runs and rough sometimes off-camber trails (not to mention quite a lot of weight in camping gear and supplies inside the trailer/cap combination), I wanted separate air lines for the air shocks.

The trailer’s old shocks were also Monroe models, but I have no idea how many miles were on them. They were pretty well shot, though, when I replaced them.

Seemingly smaller, the new Monroe Max air shocks are stronger and are capable of supporting more weight.

The Monroe shocks easily bolted right back into the factory shock mounts. Since the trailer is a recycled S10 bed, it has shocks—most small cargo trailers do not.

After mounting the shocks, Kevin Lake routed both air tubes back to the bumper.

The usual installation uses one Schrader valve with a Y in the air lines to supply both shocks. This allows air transfer between the two shocks, which means the low-side shock could lose air to the high-side shock. This doesn’t usually matter on the pavement because the trailer doesn’t stay low on one side but will swing back and forth quickly according to road conditions.

I used a separate Schrader valve for each air shock, which were mounted to either side of the license plate.

Mike Avila helped with the install and drilled the holes for the Schrader valve.

To make sure the lines were secure and not leaking, we filled the shocks and then checked the air pressure the next morning.

On the trail, however, the trailer could encounter an off-camber trail and be in that position for several minutes while the trail is negotiated, which could result in some tense moments, and even a tip over. Separate lines keep the air in the respective shocks, which means a much more stable trailer off the road.

Using a six-wire cable and a six-prong connector, I’ll be able to add for electrical accessories to the upgraded Budget Trailer.

The accessories include two or three of these dual-filament work lights, which I’ll mount to the roof rack as soon as I have a tray fabricated to fit the cap’s roof rack. The lights have two levels of brightness, hence the three wires.

The trailer’s taillights were aged and becoming more and more foggy, probably because of the Arizona sun. So I decided to exchange them with some Anzo LED taillight assemblies from Summit Racing.

The Anzo LED taillights, which are available for several different models and makes, come two in a box and are so easy to install there’s no instruction sheet.

In order to add a battery, camping lights, and backup lights to the trailer, we needed new and additional cabling. Eventually, I may even be forced to the go to the larger RV-style seven-prong electrical connector; however, for now I’m sticking with the current six-prong connector shown in the photos.

The Anzo LEDs are so much better looking than the OEM taillights.

The small side-marker light bulb and the backup light bulb are both reused in the new assembly. And there’s a ballast with a peel-and-stick panel so the reduced electrical needs of the LEDs will not speed up the flashing of the turn signals.

Anzo includes a matching coupler from the LEDs, which plugs into the OEM coupler in place of the original light bulb.

A little background may be educational right now. The common flat four-prong connector is the basic trailer plug. It allows for a ground, taillights, a right-turn signal, and a left-turn signal. The turn signals also provide the brake lights. Upgrade to a six-prong and you can add electric brake lines and a charging line for an onboard battery. If the trailer has no electric brakes, the backup lights or third brake light can be activated. A seven-prong can add another electrical option.

The “new” mattress fits perfectly and lies flat, and it’s very comfortable, even on longer trips. The black Rhino really protects the bed but it also really soaks up light.

I discovered early on that I needed a flashlight close at hand for late-night strolls or noises. I bought this Maglite and its mounting bracket at Sam’s club several years ago.

My wife and I had been using an inflatable mattress in the trailer with very uncomfortable results. The fender wells pushed the mattress inward from both sides and it almost like sleeping on a hammock. Next, we bought two thin mattresses from a thrift store that began life in pull-out sofa-beds. These were also pushed up by the fender wells so we took them to a boat upholsterer, who cut them into the roughly hour-glass shape you can see in the photos and made a zip-up mattress cover that keeps them together. We now have room and a super-comfortable mattress for those quick, last-minute overnight camping trips.

Jacked up and lit up, the upgraded Budget Trailer is ready for more trails

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