State of the Intrepid – Camper Bed Mounts
“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is a saying that also applies to truck camper mounts. The camper does not wedge tightly into the truck bed, but has plenty of clearance. It’s then effectively strapped down tight to the flat bed surface. In the case of Four Wheel campers, the goal is to keep it pulled fully forward so that slamming on the brakes affects nothing, and keep it centered and otherwise down tight so it can’t shift around. Fortunately for me, the Mighty Furd is wearing a Line-X urethane bed coating that has a rough surface which helps friction. The camper is pretty easy to slip-n-slide on painted metal, but mine took three guys and an incline to coax it to move when it had to be reset in the bed. I recommend any such urethane spray, or a much less expensive full-width rubber mat on the floor only. Plastic bed liners should not be used.
I had some early problems with the camper shifting in the bed, with damage to one adjuster hook caused by slack and the momentum of rocking on a particularly nasty trail. The adjusters were intentionally not locked during the initial installation (to make my own first retensioning go easier), and may have backed off sooner than I anticipated. A free reset and reinstallation did the trick, and the issue has not come up again – though I am now careful to go easy on rocky paths that will cause a rocking motion from side to side. This is much less of an issue with 1/2-ton pickups, where the suspension is not stiff enough to “force” the camper to rock faster than it naturally would and put the camper into launch mode.
I mentioned this difficulty to FWC owner Tom Hanagan at the recent Overland Expo West, and he unhurriedly took the time to explain the brand’s mounting system, and the necessity of checking the mount tension frequently during the first year or so of use. The goal is to keep all of the mounts tight – not so tight that the camper’s structure is overstressed, but tight enough to keep a stout tension. It’s not that the adjusters change by themselves, but that the truck bed’s sheet metal deforms over time until it finally takes a set and bends no further. This deformation is very slight, but is enough to remove proper tension. Allowed to go too loose, the mounts will allow the camper to rock on bad trails, and the resulting rocking momentum of its weight can damage the tensioners, at best. At worst, poor adjustment either way can deform both the bed and the camper structure.
Design-wise, I consider FWC’s mounting system to be a practical and workable approach that suits its niche. The emphasis on mounts and mount adjustment is more due to intended usage than on deficiencies in design: the overall camper’s design is heavily biased toward rough off-road use, and its owners tend to do just that to a greater degree than with heavier, more convenience-oriented truck campers. Other mounting systems could theoretically be grafted in, but I personally wouldn’t advise it because of where stresses are placed and for the ground clearance problems they promote. Stick with the factory setup, recheck the mounts during the first year of use, and enjoy the simplicity and low cost. In my case I need to avoid gung-ho charges on turf that is just as punishing on me and the truck as it is on the camper. That’s not much of an imposition. Sure, all truck campers need mounts checked now and then just for safety’s sake, but since FWC owners are more likely to pound the crap out of their beloved campers, it’s correspondingly more important for them.
For me, the good news is that the F-250’s bed does not appear to deform as much as the common installation in 1/2-ton imports. So far, it doesn’t seem to deform at all, actually. The bad news is that the F-250’s high-rate springs impose a violence that exaggerates rocking forces and makes monitoring mount adjustment just as important as with any other installation. So I may not find the tensioners to need frequent resets, but must still stay on top of checking them in order to avoid too much play and the resulting problems caused by violent rocking and the general punishment imposed by 3/4-ton springs. I’ll be periodically checking mount tension for the life of the combo as a precaution, which is normally not needed. I would expect the aluminum beds in the 2015 F-150 and 2017 Super Dutys to deform more normally and need periodic readjustments for the first year.
A “loose” camper develops one hell of a lot more force on the mounts than a tightly-secured one does. This is not helped by the 75 pounds of solar panels that I’ve mounted to the Grandby’s roof. Checking mount tension is not particularly inconvenient, since all four mounts are accessible through small doors in the camper’s interior. The official regimen is to loosen each, then retighten by hand before adding 1/2-turn with a tool such as a screwdriver, for leverage. Then tighten the locknut. Done. The lazy-butt way is to reach in, grab the adjuster firmly, and try to force it to twist slightly. If it refuses to pivot even a little, the mount is still tight and can be left alone – but if one of the four does allow any movement at all, it’s best to loosen and reset all four by the book, assuming nothing. This lazy-butt method I mention is my own concoction, not what should be done.
I realize that this post is only of interest if you actually acquire a Four Wheel camper and in particular install it in a 3/4-ton truck, but hey, it has to be part of this series on the Intrepid in order to make it complete! Install it in an upgraded Toyota or 1/2-ton, and you can worry less about going too fast on bad trails and more about keeping up with the bed deformation in the first year. The need for checking tension doesn’t change, but only the reasons behind why you should.