My Taco Phoenix Pop Up Camper



Just over a year ago (November 2012), we began the ordering process for our Phoenix Pop Up Camper…and ultimately picked it up in March 2013. Prior to November 2012, we researched the heck out of what we wanted--literally for more than three years. Having gone through the process painstakingly, we thought it might be helpful to share what we've learned throughout the last year.

BACKGROUND: I am an Army vet/retired after 26 years. My last tour was in Afghanistan, and while there one of the posters on the wall was of the U.S. and various pictures of famous places: Mount Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, Grand Canyon… After staring at it for almost 12 months, I realized that I had seen more of the world than my own country. We knew we didn't want to fly, and we certainly did not want to confine ourselves to the interstate system. That being said, I also did not want to "rough it" with a ruck sack… So in 2009, we started researching with that foundation. We looked at Class B RVs and ultimately looked at the pop up camper selections. We've owned Tacomas throughout the years…and wanted to build on that vehicle.

Initially I started with the 2009 Tacoma, TRD, Off Road, V6, 4x4. Shortly after placing the order, I got a new 2013 Tacoma because of the new technology it offered (primarily hands free devices). With the exception of the Sirius satellite antenna, I don't think there were many modifications that needed to be made.

So knowing that we were torn between a class b and the pop up, it should be no surprise that we didn't spare any detail or option. In fact, I think we initially ordered every option that was available on the Phoenix "build your own" website.

My first contact with Phoenix was a quick email to inquire about the weight allowances for a Tacoma. I received a reply (albeit short and curt) that they had several years of experience of building custom campers and knew what they were doing. [At the same time, I had also contacted another dealer in the Denver area to inquire about customization--and never received a response. In all fairness, it would not likely have made a difference because we were already sold on the looks and design of the Phoenix.]

A few weeks later, we mailed in our deposit and began the order. As stated above, we spare no detail. We added: custom paint (to match the Tacoma), ladder, solar panel, roof rack, commode/shower, outdoor shower, water heating system, AC, heater, larger fridge, stove, sink, 300 watt inverter, outdoor plug/cable hook ups, awning, gray leather seats (Katskin to match the Tacoma), the step ladder, and even picked out the fabric from another site for the bed cushions and curtains (tossed rainbow Kokopellis). Finally, when we visited the shop where they build the campers, we selected cork flooring (we have three dogs who travel with us), a table top with the map of the US, and darker interior cabinetry. While there, we made it very clear of our intended uses for the camper. As a practical matter, we planned on spending little time inside--and more sitting outside under the awning listening to music and enjoying the scenery. We also let Rob know that I had a boat, so he added an 8 prong plug on the back of the camper that would facilitate towing it up to the lake. Because of all of the features, we had the overhang from the back of the truck, necessitating the removal of the tailgate.

My research didn't stop after the order and left Denver. Because of the overhang, I knew I would lose the rear camera feature that I had grown to love--as well as a tight fit between the bow of the boat and the truck. As such, I eliminated the steps from our order. I also did some extensive research on the modifications needed for my truck. I knew that I would need to adjust the suspension to accommodate the weight and provide a better ride. Rather than add springs, I opted for Air Lift bags. [I would have preferred Sumo, but they were not made for Tacoma]. At the time I started the process, I had envisioned quickly taking the camper on/off, so I wanted the ability to easily adjust the air bags. This meant an on board compressor with a device/gauge inside that allowed me to just touch a few buttons [much easier than finding the zert and going from side to side…]. This also allowed me to compensate for a heavier side should the weight distribution require. All in all, with the mail in rebates, the Air Lift package with compressor and cab gauge was about $750.

I also still wanted a back up camera, which was going to be problematic since I lost the tailgate. I had asked Rob about adding that to the camper, but that was not a modification he was willing to make. I again conducted some extensive research, and even went to Toyota to price additional cameras. They were out of this world on prices (close to a $1000), and just as I was about to give up, I stumbled upon some great guidance for other options. In short, I found an OEM backup camera on eBay for about $50 and ultimately mounted it to my license plate. After using it none months, I have had no problems so far! I will post the links on another entry later…

Finally, I also bought a thick rubberized cargo mat from Toyota to "save" the bed of my truck and stop slippage. That was about another $100.

By the time I was done with all of my add-ons with the camper, it came to just over $27k. As March grew closer and closer, we became more excited. Occasionally, Rob and Cari would send us "in-progress" pics, which I've attached.

I know we bugged them several times between the order and pick up. Part of me wishes I had been more persistent on keeping track of what I ordered. In the end, we didn't get quite everything we thought we had ordered; specifically the dark wood cabinetry and three of the cushions lacked our fabric.

A week before our scheduled pick up, the final payment was due and we made the final arrangements for pick up during the week of Spring Break.

View attachment 200349View attachment 200348View attachment 200347View attachment 200346



Picking Up the Phoenix Pop Up Part II

So to continue the adventure, we packed up all of the recommended items for our trip from San Antonio to Denver for the big day! As suggested, we had bedding, cooking items, towels, dishes, etc. I tried very hard to keep it to a minimum, as I knew space would be limited. In my continued research, I also looked for lighter items; e.g. cookware, plates, etc. We bought the hose and special toilette paper needed for the commode.

As promised, Rob and Cari had the camper "camping ready." Water tank and propane tanks were filled.

Unlike Texas, it was bitterly cold in Colorado in March (ok, we are coming from Texas, but mid-20s…to us, we might as well be in Antarctica). Of course, the roads were grimy from the snow, so I made sure I washed the truck before our arrival…

We got to the shop, which was thankfully heated, and had a quick class covering the happy jacks, various tanks, and going over all of our selections. Rob and Cari suggested video taping it with our phone, but I relied on good ole notes. The class was quick--and it was our first camper, but fortunately, I felt comfortable because my father (an RVer) and had received timely responses to my emails from Rob and Cari.

While there, we got to see the famous Bronco Bronco Camper that they had been working on. [No doubt, they spent a lot of extra time on every detail of this rig…maybe to the detriment of ours to some degree.]

We were invited into the camper before loading. Of course, it was on the happy jacks--and was up in the air quite a bit. The wobbliness scared me and here I made a mental note that we would never likely camp in it without it being on the truck. It was also at this point that we realized that our cabinet color selection was not honored. Rather, it was done in a very light color--which I would generally describe as the cheaper looking cabinetry seen on most low end camper trailers. Likewise, this is when we found out that they ran out of the Kokopelli fabric and three of the cushions and the shower liner were done in a plain black fabric. [I will explain the issue with the cushions and shower liner in another post.]

Both Cari and Rob apologized for their oversight, but it did not seem like issue could be corrected at this point.

Next, they loaded the camper on the truck. Here I realized that my plan to quickly load/unload the camper was no longer viable. Literally, the gap between the front happy jacks and the bed of my truck is no more than an inch on either side. Still, Rob backed it in like a professional, and his helpers had it wench down to the bed in no time.

If you're wondering how it attaches to the bed, Tacoma has four D-rings in the corners. Rob uses ratchet-type tie downs, accessible from the storage cabinets to the bed. The passenger side is very easy to reach; the driver's side requires a little bit of contortionism and the ability to know what you're doing without actually seeing the assembly. I have finally learned how to do this, but it was a little intimidating at first.

It was as they were loading the camper that I also noticed that the paints of the camper and the truck did not match. While it's not a huge difference, this issue came up later as I needed to match paint. Adding to that, I believe this feature cost us an extra $1500. Given today's advances in car paint, it shouldn't have been hard to match. I will save this for another discussion though.

We were then given a stack of warranty books, took the obligatory photo outside the shop and we were on our way.

Since the weather had turned cold, our plans on camping in the mountains were curtailed. We instead chose to "ride out the storm" by camping in my father's driveway for a few nights as we figured out what worked, what we still needed, etc… Plus, he offered free electricity!

Mind you, it was still in the mid-20s. I didn't worry though because I had read the reviews about the arctic liner that was a standard option for the Phoenix and was expected to hold in even colder temps. We turned on the heater, and while it didn't blast us with heat, it was certainly a comfortable sleeping temperature in the mid-60s. Our CO2 sensor kept going off…so that concerned us. I would later learn from Cari and Rob that many of these were defective. They offered to reimburse us if we bought a new one; but urged us to seek replacement from the manufacturer first.

This is when we started going through the stack of warranty paperwork. A lot of it didn't make sense, and it seemed like a lot was missing. In the end, we still don't have a CO2 device like the one they installed, and opted to get one that goes closer to the tank that is specifically designed for RV use. [Camping World about $25.] I would later retry the CO2 device in the warmer temps…only to have it sound off because it was too hot. You ask--why would you keep using it? Well, there's now a useless and ugly bracket there. If removed, I would have to look at the holes in the wall.

Next, because the weather was still inclement, I relied on the upgraded rain censor fantastic fan. This cost me an extra $250. This information was also absent from the stack of warranty paperwork. In short, the fan was not closing when it was raining. I would later email Rob and Cari and ask about this--hoping they knew how it was supposed to work and what was wrong. My response: "We just install them." I was a little put off by this, and then started the tedious process of trying to get it fixed locally in Texas. The first issue was that, due to the lack of paperwork, I could not verify the exact model. I had also not registered the item… Rob and Cari intervened with the manufacturer…and they ultimately sent me some new parts, but I am sad to say that the damn thing still does not work when it rains. I tried taking it to a local RV dealer for repair, but because of the modifications made to the fan to get it to fit--they refused to work on it. Advice here: just stick to the basic fan…

You will find that the fan is an important part of the camper unit. Despite being a pop up, it is very airtight. Consequently, when cold--and running the heater--condensation is created. When hot--and running the AC--condensation is created. The only mechanism to limit the condensation is the fan (and hopefully a dry climate). I will discuss this issue in a separate posting…as it is a recurring problem.

In the end, we survived the first week in the camper and planned to use it regularly. So far (nine months), we have--using it almost every weekend and taking three relatively long road trips. Our trips have included weather in the 100s and our most recent one where it was in the low teens with ice/sleet. So far, I have used the AC more than the heat. In fact, I've only used the heater on the initial trip. During the last trip, the thermocoupler would not keep the unit lit. I am working on researching that to see how to replace it. In the interim, I've used an electric heater--which in all honesty--worked better than the propane heater (especially since you have to keep the vent open).

Things I would change or recommend being different:
1. Eliminate the propane heater. While I would like to keep it as a back up, it is not a great model. I found new ones on Amazon for about $20. The thermocoupler is double that…

2. In addition to a water holding tank, see if it's an option to have a "fed water line." 20 gallons seems like a lot, but it generally lasts us a mere three days (and that's without showers). I also had to devise a mechanism to keep the water flap closed… The cover used, like the electrical outlet cover, does not snap in place and stay closed especially when driving. Bottom line, I didn't want bugs or debris in my water...

3. Eliminate or move the outdoor shower. Currently, ours is under our AC unit--right by the back door. The water pressure is non existent (and it does not heat), and the location makes it useless. Imagine hosing yourself off at the beach by your backdoor…only to walk through the puddle to get it to the camper. If possible, I would move it closer to the propane tank on the driver's side… not sure where they would have put it given the limited space though.

4. Larger sized AC. In fact, this is going to be our next project. While the AC does an admirable job, it does not work sufficiently in our Texas 100 degree weather. There are similar sized units available with greater output. The major issue I see is the way it is rigged…as you can imagine, Rob had to be very creative to attached this to the unit. Because the bed is on the opposite end of the camper from the AC, I would have preferred a ceiling mounted unit.

5. Eliminate the roof rack. First, I thought this would have been a Thule or Yakima for the cost of this accessory. It is currently listed at $169. In reality, this is a rack that consists of 1" square tubing that runs across the top of the camper. Like many, I saw the Thule/Yakima boxes on the top of the campers and thought that it looked great. The problem is that only the Summit Thule box used the U-brackets--and the Summit is no longer made. I did find a used one, but in reality, you can't put much on the roof without first unloading everything (the sliding lift system is nice, but any added weight isn't helpful). I also thought about adding a cargo rack--but it is too big and would not allow me to open the much need vent!

6. I would have stuck with the basic fantastic fan… I feel like I wasted $250 on the wasted rain feature. I would have also like to have a fan over the commode--rather than just a vent.

7. I would still like to have had the darker interior wood. The light wood just looks cheap.

8. I am working on getting the cushions and shower curtain recovered. The black shower curtain shows signs of condensation. Water stains on black = white. The black cushions with three dogs is also a nightmare. As a side note, I absolutely LOVE the leather and cork flooring.

9. The commode is an absolute must. Easy to use, empty, etc. The shower--well, we still haven't used it yet and not sure we ever will. We are both short, but am not sure how useful this feature is… Like the outdoor shower, little water pressure. The water heater is a must, and works wonderfully in the sink. On a side note, most campgrounds have good showers.

10. Placement of the outdoor plugs. Rob did add covers, but what wasn't checked out before we left the shop was the whether or not the covers would open. You guessed it, because of the placement they didn't open. I've since replaced and it works fine.

11. Awning is a keeper and worth every penny. Easy to use.

12. Haven't had a real need for the ladder. I like having there…an expensive towel holder and it works as a handle to get in/out of the camper. If looking to save money, the ladder cost $129. I would add it again.

13. Larger fridge. Not sure what the small fridge size was…but ours is still small. I love the fridge, but wish it could have been a slight bit bigger. We have resorted to using two Yetis in addition to the fridge.

14. Table top. With the US map, this cost us an extra $100. We haven't used it once and it sits in the garage. There simply is not enough room. Instead, I would have preferred a solid bench. The little cushions slip, so three square cushions would have been the best option.

15. 300 Watt Inverter. We've only camped a handful of times where electricity has not been available. Can't say this is a much needed feature…and much cheaper if you buy it on your own.

16. Custom paint. I'm torn here. If it were a good paint job, I would say absolutely yes. Problem is, it is not. I have several "white" areas around the windows, door, etc. where they just missed painting the area. Like I stated before, I asked for touch up paint. The paint didn't match the camper, and the camper's paint didn't match the truck. Not sure where the disconnect occurred, but you might be better off asking a professional to do this job.

I will add some other posts on specifics… I think in another few months we will have this down to an art and completely set where we want it to be for our longer road trips.



Resident **************
Very nice, congrats!

In a perfect world I'd find a service body for my GMC and have a custom built Phoenix to go in of these days.


Hope you enjoy it, it looks like an awesome rig.
I originally had a deposit on one when I had my smaller truck, I since upgraded trucks and don't need custom.
The custom paint always made me nervous, kind of got the impression they just closed the door and sprayed everything, awnings,jacks,hinges,latches ect. :)

Sent from my Z10 using Tapatalk 2


Forgot to mention, we had to turn the rear happy jacks upside down in order to ensure adequate clearance. This, in turn, meant not keeping them on full-time, which was the plan as they are VERY heavy. The problem with taking them off full time was the paint issue that I will discuss in great detail in the next posting.


My Taco Phoenix Pop Up Camper Part III--the paint job

As I indicated in my previous post, I opted for the $1500 custom paint upgrade. My 2013 Taco is Barcelona Red (so was the 2009). I am not sure what color they painted the camper, but it is just off a little on the shading.

The first two things I did when I got here home was: 1) remove the Phoenix stickers, and 2) remove the happy jacks. Of course, since it was warmer I washed the truck and camper, too. This allowed me a closer inspection of the camper--and it was then that I noticed the major paint flaws. Individually, the flaws are probably minor--but the problem is ALL over the camper.

Removing the stickers. When I was researching the camper, one poster commented that the stickers detracted from the camper. I didn't think much about it at the time, but after having it at home, I couldn't have agreed more. The stickers were somewhat bubbled to begin with, and it was obvious that they would fade over time. Before the Texas heat settled in, I carefully peeled the sticker off the front cab area and the door. Very little residue was left, and was easily removed with rubbing alcohol and elbow grease. Recommendation: request no stickers on your camper. If Phoenix were to ask me, I would suggest to them to use a small medal-like emblem with their information on it. I frequently get asked about the make of my camper and where I got it. A simple Phoenix emblem with their phone number would be something I would have considered keeping on the camper.

Removing the happy jacks. As I stated, the narrow fit quashed my plans of leaving them on for quick load and unload. Since buying it, I have taken it off the truck twice. Once to fix the socket covers, and once to repair some warping wood by the battery. The jacks now sit on a shelf in my garage, and plan on using them to perform semi-annual maintenance only.

To my amazement, when I removed the happy jacks, the brackets attached to the truck were not painted. As such, I had a red camper with some very obvious white areas. In addition, I noted that around all of doors and windows, there was 1/4 to 1/2" strips of white. Rob and Cari sent me some touch up paint, but it was like painting the trim on a house with fingernail polish. I asked for some spray touch up, and received it…but it matched the truck, not the camper. In the end, they had the painter mix up some paint to match the camper. I still haven't been able to get to all of the areas, as it is time intensive.

The door stopper was another immediate gripe. I'm not sure what it's made out of, and wish I had a picture. Other than ensuring I do not bash the AC with the door, it doesn't do much. I would ultimately like to replace this with a standard RV door stopper.

For the maintenance on the outside, I'd used marine wash and sprays. It keeps the streaking down. I haven't found a great way to get the bug residue off the cab, but did find a useful car washing narrow wand to clean in between the truck and the cab. I've wax it once. In the next few weeks, I plan on adding the weather proofing sealer to the underside as recommended by Rob and Cari.

I will cover leaks in another post, but will state that I plan to add the rubberized coating this month to the roof. I cannot tell if the roof leaks--or if it's the "lip" between the top of the camper and the customized front cab cover. Whatever it is, it has caused some damage to the inside of the camper. I will post more on that later, as well as pictures. I will also discuss warranty discussions that I've had with Rob and Cari that have, in short, caused me to believe that their warranty is not worth much.

So here are some more pictures… In the previous post, note that I posted a picture of our labradoodle enjoying the custom quilt I had made from another source. I found that ordering the material isn't that difficult, so am planning on the cushion/shower curtain corrections soon.



My Taco Phoenix Pop Up Camper Part IV interior photos

So progressing to the inside of the camper, there's not a lot of room. Other than the ice storm encountered that caused us and our three dogs to spend four days inside the camper, we generally don't do anything but sleep in there. The bed is either a queen or a king. The king comes into play when you slide out an extender board and place the additional three cushions on it.

The extender board covers the sink and creates a little "cove" under it. As such, if we did use the table in our camper, it would make it very difficult to get into the bed. When the board is extended, you also can't get to the primary storage area underneath the bed. As such, through trial and error, we have learned what is best stored underneath the bed, and what is not. More often than not, I get the items out the night before--or forget them completely. On a few occasions, we have not extended the bed--but again, with three dogs, it's just not that comfortable. [I don't want to sound whiny, but am merely pointing this out as others research in the same fashion I did.]

A king sized sheet covers the extended bed, and a queen sized sheet covered the regular bed. Going back to my military basic training, I habitually make the bed every day. As such, we have an extra sheet solely dedicated to the extra three cushions. When traveling, making the bed saves a lot of room, as opposed to folding up the bulky bedding. The camper top must be flat to completely close, so even the pillows are removed from the top side when the pop up is lowered.

Recommendation: Don't ever get black cloth. Hair, dirt, etc…all shows up and it seems like it never looks clean. Again, I wish they had used our selected fabric to cover these.

The three cushions have also proven themselves invaluable during our most recent trip where we were iced in to a KOA for four days. Rather than extend the bed, we used the cushions at the very forward part of the camper to act as an insulation barrier. The downside was the condensation--and it took a few days to dry them out when we returned.

Texas had been in a severe drought until this year, when we received some rain… As I stated in my previous post, I am convinced that there is some kind of leak. While I appreciate that condensation may play a part, we are fanatically clean, and as we pack up, clean windows and the like. I simply don't ever remember putting her up "wet" and the marks would appear in a mere week. See attached photos.

Consequently, I emailed Rob and Cari (actually several times about this), and their responses were somewhat helpful, but not much in the way of helping me prevent it in the future. The first response was to read the owner's manual. We never received an owner's manual…but finally did so via email following this contact. The second response was to try TileEx and a sponge. That worked, except in the seams. There's no doubt that there is some long term stains--and I am not sure what to do about that yet. In the end, leaks are not covered by their warranty, and other than sending some information papers, don't expect much in the area of post-ownership assistance from the company.

The cabinet under the sink and the cabinet below the seating area by the AC are the most spacious (other than the under the bed storage area). The front under seat storage area carries the marine battery and limited access to the water holding tank. The bottom storage areas are also limited, and tend to be a little closer to the elements, as the tie down access is gained through these.

The sink is sufficient for personal hygiene and washing dishes. As I stated before, the hot water heater is great for this… The facet adjusts up/down. Best part is that the stove and sink are covered, allowing for counter area when not using.

I purchased a handy shelf from Camping World that is meant to use on canopies to hold dishes, paper towels, etc. It was $16. When we set up, I hang this from one of the roof bars. It works perfect for holding a lot of items and keeps the counters clear.

Under the bed will hold a lot of clothing. The space is just under 6", but goes to the front of the camper. Lifting is assisted with hydraulic arms. You cannot lift the area if someone (or a dog) is on the bed.

There are ample windows in the camper. In fact, when it is nice, the screened windows make a wonderful natural air-conditioning as you can capture a breeze from any direction. Each window has a screen, clear layer, and arctic cover. The side window has a screen and is tinted. The door window is solid, but there is a screen door. The camper-to-truck cab window does not have a screen. We've not used this for anything yet.



My Taco Phoenix Pop Up Camper Part V Backup Camera

Here is the link that I relied upon for my back up camera.

Again, I was able to buy an OEM camera off of eBay, just as the thread suggested. I didn't mount it under the camper, but rather on the license plate. So far, no problems with it being out in the weather and exposed. I merely disconnected the tailgate harness and adjusted it to work by the license plate.

Wandering Sagebrush

Interesting thread! Thanks
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Thanks for the review. New Phoenix camper and it leaks, on top of that not covered under warranty. Have you thought about cutting your losses and purchasing a Hallmark or other brand?


I was headed down the same road with Phoenix but got cold feet at the last minute and cancelled my deposit. Just a bad gut feelin' I reckon.

I went with Hallmark instead. In fact ... workin' my way West right now thru the snow and ice to take deli'vry Tuesday.

We'll see how it works out.


My Taco Phoenix Pop Up Camper Part VI Some other photos

I think I've covered most everything from the last nine months. I need to get some photos of the Thule Summit and the roof and will add those soon.

I did also buy a Wells Cargo 4x6 trailer. I makes it much easier than dragging everything in/out of the trailer. Like I said, I also rely on two Yetis, and typically take a portable grill, lawn chairs, and a portable dog kennel. I've attached a photo of the trailer.

I also have a hitch rack that I like to use when not using the trailer. It makes a great "patio," and is large enough to accommodate the two Yetis, the grill and the bikes.

Forgot to mention the outdoor storage is equally limited. Little more than the propane tank fits in that area. On each side in the rear, I have two small storage lockers. Surprisingly, I can stuff quite a bit in there. I have both the drain and fill hoses (15') in the driver's rear, and on the opposite side I keep misc tools, electrical cords, tent stakes, etc. It would've been great to have an outdoor access to the storage area in the seat just below the AC. Oh well.

So in the end, we are still contemplating a Class B down the road. I figured I have close to $60k invested into this setup. My biggest concern remains the leaking area at the front of the camper (which also makes me think it's not just condensation). My son and I have discussed this and think some weather stripping on one of the ledges may stop the water from seeping in. I truly believe this might be a design defect and am wondering if anyone else has encountered the same problem. If you have, please let me know!


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