How to restore a vintage teardrop trailer

Step 1

Inpect the trailer before moving it from its location

Before making arrangements to move theIf the trailer, start with the tires. They may not be flat but if the trailer has been sitting, they may not be road ready.

Pull off one tire and check the bearings. Make sure that the trailer will roll.

Check out the tongue and the ball. Make sure that you have the correct size hitch. Towing a trailer with a 2-inch hitch is not reccommended to a trailer with a 1 7/8th ball. Size does matter.Make sure that the tongue is sturdy enough to tow the trailer. Excessive rust is a sign that work is needed.

Look under the trailer and inspect the springs. There should not be metal flaking off the springs. It is possible to tow it a short distance with bad springs but only far enough to get it to a place where they can be replaced. Do a visual inspection of the frame to determine that there are no breaks.

Once you determine if the trailer is towable, then is can be moved. If there are issues with the tongue, bearing or springs, make arrangements for a trailer to haul it home.

Step 2

The Systems

Even the smallest teardrop trailer will have some sort of electrical, propane and sometimes even a water system. All of them will need to be checked and possibly reworked.

The propane system should be checked by an expert. Even if it looks good, there can be leaks that are not detectable to the eye. If you are skilled in testing for gas leaks, then go ahead. If you do not feel comfortable, take it to an RV shop to have the system pressure tested. It is well worth the money for the piece of mind knowing that it is safe.Many states will not refill a propane tank that does not have the required OPD (overfill prevention device). This is required to keep the tank from being overfilled. Check you state and local requirements. If you want to keep the original tank, then it will need to be brought up to code. It is also possible to buy a new tank that comes with the device.

Before tearing the trailer apart, make a diagram of the wiring that is still visible. Many of the teardrop trailers will require rewiring. If you are going to rewire, this is the time to add an inverter and a charging system if it does not already have one. Many of the older trailers have a plug that is not current. If the plug is only 4-prong, it will need to be converted to 7-prong.Many of the older trailers have tail lights and running lights that are not bright enough for today’s level-1s. Once the electrical is installed, test the lights. for brightness.

For those trailers with a water system, check for leaks. If the water holding tank is galvanized steel and more that 20 years old, it is safer to replace it. Many teardrop trailers that already have water damage may have been caused by a water system that had leaks. Trace all the lines to make sure they are securely attached. If the trailer has a system that allows for a hookup to city water always use a pressure regulator.

Step 3

Replacing pieces damaged by wood rot

Check all the interior panels. This is the time to find and replace wood rot. Many of the teardrop trailers have water stains but the wood may not be rotted. Try flaking off a piece of the wood. If it comes off, the damage is too extensive to ignore. If the wood is just stained, there are ways to make it look better. The wood can be sanded to remove some of the damage.

When replacing panels, use the original piece as a template. Molding and trim can be salvaged if they are removed carefully. This is when it is important to know if you are going to restore the trailer to its former glory or if you are one who will be able to make it look more modern. There are more videos at While the restorer is working with a canned ham, the procedures are the same for a teardrop trailer.

Step 4

Replacing or adding ice boxes, stoves and other appliances

One very old looking teardrop trailer not only has an updated stove and refrigerator, it also has a state-of-the-art entertainment center. If you can figure out how to hide the modern conveniences, then do so. Many teardroppers prefer the older traditional appliances and restore them as well. Stoves are easy to restore since they do not have many complicated parts. The pieces can be sanded and powder-coated to bring them back to original. Make sure that the connections are sealed correctly and have the stove pressure tested. The same can be done with an original ice box if it is not too rusted. If it is necessary to replace an appliance and it cannot be restored, there are several places that sell them or might be available from private parties. Craig’s list and eBay are good places to start.

Step 5

Replacing or repairing the siding.

If it is necessary to replace or repair the siding, remove the trim carefully. There are people who can crimp new gutters to match but that is expensive. Have the aluminum or wood cut by a professional if you lack the necessary tools. Use the old pieces as a template. This is the time to change the wiring if you did not need to replace the interior. While you are at it, add insulation. Most of the older teardrops did not have insulation or it is so old by now that it is not effective.

Step 6

Other things to consider

You have checked the frame, springs, tires and bearings. You have replaced or stopped the wood rot. You have checked the floors and the ceiling. You replaced the pieces of the other skin. The wiring is now correct. The appliances have been restored or replaced. The trailer is looking good. This is the fun part. You have installed the bed and the galley is ready to go. There are many ways to decorate the trailer and it is all yours. Most teardrop trailers have a theme and finding all the pieces that will make it uniquely yours are out there to discover.

Things Needed
• A teardrop travel trailer
• Lots of money and/or rebuilding skills
• Working knowledge of electrical systems
• Working knowledge of propane systems
• Power tools for cutting wood and other material
• Wood panels/aluminum panels
• Friends who have rebuilding skills and/or welding skills
• Tow vehicle — Fortunately it does not need to be a big truck. A VW can pull a teardrop

Tips & Warnings
• This is not a complete guide to restoring a teardrop trailer. It would be impossible to list and describe every issue that might come up. This is to give the buyer an idea of what they might need to know.
• You may be lucky and find a trailer that looks perfect. Be very careful, there may be hidden problems.
• This will be more challenging than you thought. You won’t know that until you are finished and you realize what you have accomplished.
• There are two trains of thought that accompany any trailer restoration. One is the purest who will return the trailer to its former glory. Then there are those who will update it to modern even if it means that they sacrifice the vintage look. Before you tear the trailer apart, decide which one you are.
• Do not throw away anything you remove from the teardrop. You may need to use it as a template to replace the piece later.
• Every (and I repeat) every teardropper and vintage trailer owner has a book that shows what they have done to restore their trailer. Take pictures so you can also share what has been done. Other teardroppers and vintage trailer owners will want to see your photos.


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