Repairs and MaintenanceIt’s inevitable. If you own camping equipment, particularly the kind you sleep in, you’re going to eventually deal with a leak of some kind. Metal skins flex, sealants dry, and accidents happen. In our case, the camper is a 1991 Coleman Newport that I picked up to use as my home away from home on school weekends in Gainesville a few years ago. I picked the camper up for about $1700 and I paid $15 a night to camp. It was worth every penny! Had I stayed in hotels every weekend that I needed to be in Gainesville for class, the expense over two years would have totaled more than $8000. Not a bad savings! Now we use the camper for our family camping trips, and I am so happy that I bought this little Coleman camper!
That being said, the camper has had a couple of minor issues. Over the last year or two I have noticed little piles of wood dust around the corners just under the top where it rests when closed. A quick examination told me that whatever sealant they used under the corner caps was no longer working as designed, and is allowing water intrusion at the corners which is in turn slowly deteriorating the wooden structure inside. Given that this was previously owned by people who may or may not have done their own repair attempts, I was unsure what I would find when the caps were removed. The material appeared hard and dry, and upon removal of caps, it appeared that someone had used something along the lines of construction adhesive as a stop gap solution.
So before I even started I knew I needed sealant. I searched blogs, and saw various recommendations from caulk to glues. Eventually I ran across the CORRECT method, which is to use what is called “putty tape”. The tape is a sticky, putty material separated by layers of paper. It comes in various lengths and widths, depending on the need. I purchased tape that was 1 inch wide and it was perfect for this job.
The repair process was as follows:
- Remove screws from corner cap and place in spot where they will not be lost.
- Use flat scraper to slowly work between corner cap and camper topper surface. In my case it is aluminum sheeting. Be careful here. The plastic may be brittle, and you don’t want to have to replace something that isn’t already broken.
- Remove corner cap slowly.
- Clean surfaces of inside of corner cap, and the newly exposed metal surface that will likely be covered with old dried out putty tape, and who knows what else. Keep the corner cap surface you are working on pressed against a flat hard surface so as to support the possibly brittle plastic as you scrape it. Be careful!
- Use a stripper of your choice to get as much of the remaining old tape, caulk, etc. off of the surfaces as you can, then wipe clean with denatured alcohol if available. Use mineral spirits or thinner if not, but do clean the surface before placing new tape.
- Place new tape. Watch spots where pieces over-lap to ensure you don’t leave gaps, especially near the top where water would run down into gaps, and subsequently into the area you are trying to protect.
- Place small ink marks of some kind on camper just outside of screw holes where edge of corner caps will meet camper surface. This will help when you need to align the screw holes in the corner cap with the screw holes in the camper which are now covered over by the new take, and therefore can’t be seen through the screw holes in the cap. I didn’t do this, and it was more of a pain than it needed to be as a result.
- Press the newly cleaned corner cap into place, being careful to line up the screw holes in the corner cap with the marks you made on the camper top shell. Test a screw to make sure it will start. If the holes are aligned then screw in snugly, but do not over tighten. The aluminum is soft, and the cap could crack.
- Use a latex/rubber gloved hand, dip your finger in water and smooth out the area where the caps and roof material meet to improve the cosmetic appearance and ensure that all small holes are filled with material.
- You’re done! Now repeat three more times.
If you have ever had to remove old caulk from a surface after it has cured, you will understand why caulk is not the material of choice for this job. It is horrible to remove if you need to do additional repairs down the road, doesn’t play well with paint (which the camper also needs badly) at all, and is also a bit messy, especially when compared to this putty tape. If you own a camper, you need this product! I paid about $15 for the role I have. It may or may not finish all four corners. A must have for anyone with a camper.
Update: Camper after all four corners repaired and whole camper painted.