How to install a camper top to a van

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VW Camper Top

How to install a camper top


What is a camper top?


A camper top is a solid addition to the structure of a camper. It can be referred to as a camper shell interchangeably. It’s a way of adding additional space to your camper. It may allow you to stand up in the vehicle. It may be additional sleeping space or even used as storage. It’s a great way to add space to the base vehicle without breaking the bank. Relatively speaking, they are not cheap; however, if you can install one by yourself, you can save yourself a lot of money. Pick what top you want, then you can carefully and securely fit it to whatever size camper you have.

The great benefit to adding a camper top is that you have such a huge range of styles, shapes, and sizes to choose from. You can match it to your needs. Add little windows if you like and even solar panels. A point to consider is the practical difference it will make to the vehicle. The VW above will be a couple of feet taller, so certain parking won’t be accessible. Basically, you don’t want to try and drive through something you can’t fit through. Not only could you damage your vehicle but yourself too. It may seem obvious, but it’s an honest mistake to make with harsh consequences.


Pop tops are different from the camper top.


It’s important to make this distinction clear as they are often confused. Pop tops can be opened when the vehicle is static. Additional space is made available by a pop-top should you need it. They are obvious when fully opened so that you won’t see these on stealth campers. Pop tops come in useful if you need extra sleeping space. However, with only a single sheet of material around you, they aren’t well insulated. External noise can be loud inside, and vice versa. With hot air rising, they can get boiling and humid in the summer than cold in the winter. The material can get mouldy, too, so although highly practical, it can be seen why a permanent camper top may be more beneficial. Click here to decide whether a camper top or pop top is best for you.


Selecting your camper top


Like the shoe fitted cinderella perfectly, you are looking for a camper top to match your vehicle’s size perfectly. Too big, and it’s no use, and too small looks silly and amateur. Of course, this is totally dependant on the vehicle you have. If you have a pickup truck, you can get a range of premade tops like these.  This is highly popular in America, turning an outdoor space into a large indoor space. There may be some in your local scrap yards or at car dealerships. There is a large range of second-hand camper tops in places like eBay. Removed from vehicles ready for resale. So if it has been removed from a vehicle the same as yours, you know it will fit. However, just how well it’s been cut and how snug it will fit will be totally down to the seller’s quality of removal.

Create your own


A unique but expensive option is to have your own camper roof designed and built. This can be particularly advantageous if you have a bigger budget or a unique vehicle. For example, It’s common to find VW Transporter camper tops on the second-hand market as they are a hugely popular camper van vehicle. Whereas if you have something like a Mercedes sprinter, there is not a huge range of choices, if any. As they are already built tall, it’s personal customization to add even more height with a camper top.

Build your own


This is an option. The honest reality is this is highly specialized skilled work. It involves moulding the like of fibreglass and metal if done professionally. However, there is no reason it can’t be done. Trail and summit achieved this in the following video, so if you want to explore this option, be sure to check this out.

How to install your own

As a brief overview, the process is relatively straightforward. Cut out your existing roof. Place the new one on. Secure it. Job complete. Although simple in principle, it’s rather more complex than this. You are cutting metal. Lifting something heavy into a precise position. It has to be secure and waterproof. It would help if you had the right tools and plan of action to do this successfully.

Step by step photo guided approach


How to install a camper top step by step. This guide gives a photographic step-by-step method. This guide is handy, as it recommends the use of an air chisel. A relatively simple but effective too, to cut through metal. Alternative methods such as an angle grinder can be effective but riskier with sparks flying everywhere and a sharp blade. Regardless of the cutting method, do it with eye and hand protection. Do it slow and steady to maximise safety.


Video approach


This video captures the whole process and effectively. You can follow the video in stages and watch until you feel comfortable doing it yourself. The execution is great, and the approach is smart. Using a lifting machine whilst they seal the camper top is handy, as is the use of big bolts and nuts. It will be secure, accurate, and water-tight.

The best method to install a camper top to a van


In reality, the process is simple. Cut off the existing roof. Could you remove it? Replace it with the camper top, then securely fit it. At each stage, there are variations. Such as the tool to cut the roof with. The sealant and method used to secure the top. The size, type and number of bolts used to fit the camper top. Ultimately, if you take your time and seek professional help, you can’t go too wrong if you can’t do a certain element.

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