How long will Ursa Minor continue offering ECamper conversions and providing parts/service?
As a small manufacturing company, we asses our products regulary for improvements, growth prospects and profitability. Since launching the ECamper, we have seen unit sales climb every year as word spreads. With that sort of response,we expect to keep not only building ECampers, but improving the design, for quite a while.
A couple other items of interest:
- There were more than 350,000 Elements produced, ensuring a wide a range of prices and conditions if you don't already own an Element. About 75% of our customers already own an Element when they hear of us!
- While Volkswagen has not offered a camper in almost 10 years, there are several companies on the west coast that just restore and sell only Westfalias. There seems to be plenty of interest in small campers, and the oldest Element out there is still newer than the newest VW Camper!
- Consumer Reports has consistently rated the Element very well. We have converted a number of well-cared for Elements with over 150,000 miles.
We also offer other campers that shares many key parts with the ECamper. This standarization across the line helps us to offer any parts or service that may be required in the future.
What's the best Honda Element® to convert to an ECamper™?
Now that the last new Elements have vanished from dealerships, everyone considering an Ecamper asks us which year would be the best to convert. There’s no specific “perfect” Element for the ECamper, but here’s our opinion:
- A 2007 – 2008 4WD is an ideal conversion candidate. It comes with the sunroof, so you’ll save the cost of adding the access way. Also, starting in 2007, Honda also improved the interior ergonomics. The gauges are easier to read, the rear seatbelts moved from the suicide door to the seat easing egress/entry and a number of small features like cruise control, etc were improved. There was also a slight improvement in the automatic transmission and engine horsepower. That’s why these two years make for an ideal conversion.
- Choosing between the LX and EX or even SC trim is another decision. We lean toward LX trim models. The LX is cheaper, since it has steel wheels and a basic stereo, while the EX has more amenities –map lights, controls on the steering wheel, and on many years the fenders match the body paint. Our company campers were LX, mostly because it saved a few bucks – we later added EX rims from the used market, an iPod adapter, and 12 V outlets - and haven’t missed the subwoofer because there’s more room to climb in the back with just the cubby bin. The newer LX vehicles also have cruise control for example, which was only available on EX models previously.
Other years may be found at cheaper prices, or with fewer miles, but what’s really important when buying a used Element is how it was treated – a well maintained, highway-driven 2003 DX may well be a better choice than a salvage title 2009 EX! We’ve converted Elements with 10 miles on them, and one with over 200,000!
With that in mind, if you like the color, mileage, features or looks of a specific Element – go for it! We’re quite happy to turn any Honda Element into an ECamper.
Where can I buy a Honda Element® ECamper™?
Elements are converted into ECampers™ solely in our facilities. We have two locations, Chula Vista, California (San Diego Metro Area), and Sherwood, Oregon (Portland Metro Area) for direct sale at this time.
We do not manufacture or sell converted Elements, and rarely maintain a vehicle inventory at our facility. For more detailed information on the purchasing process, please refer to our order process page or build one right on our website.
Can you convert my Element®?
YES...we can convert all Honda Elements, but see notes below
The pop top sleeping loft is accessed either
- Through the original sunroof opening, found on All Wheel Drive /Four Wheel Drive Elements from 2003 through 2008 model year
- Though an access way installed by Ursa Minor
- 2003 to 2008 2WD models
- 2009 through 2011 2WD/4WD/AWD
Optional Honda spoilers must be removed for conversion into an ECamper due to interference with the camper top.
** Important Note about conversion feasiblity
As time passes, the age of vehicles coming in increases, and it is important to be direct and clear to Ursa Minor when an order is being considered or placed about factors that may impact the conversion. Prices for the conversion on our website are based on an Element that is:
- fully operable
- well maintained
If the vehicle does not meet that expectation, Ursa Minor reserves the right to charge addtional shop fees as proportional to the extra work done, or decline to accept the vehicle for conversions. Issues that create extra work will logically be charged for that extra work, and can include:
- Significant corrosion: Flood damage, random water ingress into the vehicle, salt water run-off from surf-boards or gear can make a mess behind panels or in the spare wheel well. It is really time consuming to remove rusted fasteners or work around them, retapping holes, and dealing with drilling out broken fasteners.
- Custom modifications or accessory installation: This includes any electrical work that is non-professional in execution, not documented, or that interferes with work needed to do the conversion. We will not test or evaluate funtionality of any non-OEM accessories before conversion, and assume no responsibility for functionality afterward. If needed we will modify, repair or remove any aftermarket electrical systems, wiring or accessories that could compromise safety. Examples would be unfused circuits or uninsulated wires. Alarm systems will be handled on a case by case basis, some can be very challenging to work with and the honking tedious.
- Dirty or unsanitary interior: We are not talking about that old soda can in the cupholder or a few bugs on the windshield Things we have seen come through the shop include mice infesting the headliner/interior panels after long storage, vehicles used for conveying wood and wood chips, significant debris from transporting kids/dogs over long periods of time, and exteriors that are so filthy we can't tell the color of the vehicle.
Can you convert other vans or SUVs into an ECamper?
The Ecamper™ design is specific to the Honda Element. It will not fit other Honda models like the Odyssey or Pilot, or other manufacturer's vehicles. It's like trying to fit an Element fender on another car! We now can convert a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited or Ford Transit Connect into a pop-up camper - but that's the only other vehicles we are working with at this time. As we develop other pop-up camper conversions, don't worry - it'll be big news on our website!
Can I remove the camper easily, if I sell my Element or won't use it for a while?
No, the Ecamper™ is designed to be a permanent installation. A number of fasteners are mounted into the roof of the vehicle, sealed and bonded. Should you have an accident, the parts could be removed for access or replacement by a qualified automotive service shop.
While some customers are quite talented with automotive customization and would be capable of returning the Element to the original condition, there would likely be considerable time and expense involved that would exceed the value of the original conversion.
How much room is there on top? How big is the bed?
You'd be surprised how much room we squeezed out of the Element. The sleeping area is 7 feet long and is 4 feet wide at the widest point. Due to the sloping roof, the height of the sleeping area changes over the length of the car. At the front of the car where your feet go, the height is 18". At the back of the car where your head goes, the height is 42". With the top raised, standing room in the access way is about 6’6”.
Will I collapse the roof when I climb up into the bed?
No, The National Highway & Transportation Safety Administration standard FMVSS216 requires that the roof must withstand 1.5 times the weight of the car. This requirement is to insure the vehicle will withstand roll-overs and the resulting shock loads should you be that unfortunate. The roof of the Element® is quite strong enough for two adults and the lightweight composite parts of the pop-top. The base of our assembly spreads the load from the bed to the welded stringers that form the structural backbone of the car. We should state the obvious here that the sleeper is only for use when the vehicle is not moving.
The Honda Element has a rather low load capacity rating. How does the ECamper™conversion affect this?
The ECamper™ conversion lowers the load capacity of the Element by 130 lbs.
- Honda rates the Element at 4450 lbs Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) in the service manual. This amount is determined by the manufacturer based on chassis, axle and tire design choices. It can only be increased if Honda redesigns these components.
- The Honda Curb Weight according to the marketing materials ranges from 3468 for a 2003 DX MT up to 3661 for a 2008 EX AT. This figure includes a full tank of gas and fluids (oil/radiator water) according to the common definition of curb weight
- The National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTA) measured the vehicle curb weight of the 2008 Honda a little less at 3446 lbs when crash tested. The NHTA calculates curb weight using a full tank and standard equipment, including air conditioning, stereo, etc
Calculation of load rating is:
- (GVWR - Curb Weight) = Load Capacity
- Depending on year and options, the Honda Element appears to have between 789 and 982 pounds capacity for you, your friends, and cargo.
- Honda however states a load capacity of 650 to 675 in the service and owners manuals for the various years. It’s not clear why the Honda stated load capacity differs from the calculated load capacity. Curiously, the Element increased in weight over the years with the addition of side airbags, ABS and other options, and the load rating increased 25 lbs but the GVRW remained the same.
- The ECamper™ conversion adds about 130 lbs net, leaving decent capacity for two campers and their gear, though we also recommend removing the rear seats on big trips, which takes 86 pounds out of the car, as they weigh about 43 lbs each.
How tall is the ECamper™conversion, can I get it into my garage or parking structure?
The Honda Element (unconverted) is 70.4” tall (1.788 mm/(5’-10.4”)) tall, not including the antenna stalk. The conversion will increase the height by at least 6" depending on options selected:
- The ECamper™ is 76” tall, (6’-4”) including antenna
- Thule & Yakima racks are easily removed when not in use, but the Thule or Yakima mounts remain in place and are about 1” high, increasing total height of the ECamper™ to 77” (6’-5”)
- With Thule or Yakima rack towers and bars in place, the ECamper™ is 86” (6’-9”)
As there are a large number of attachments offered by Thule & Yakima, the best resource for total height of rack + attachments is Thule and Yakima websites. For a rough idea,
- Kayak Saddles or rollers add another 3"-6”
- Bike Trays add 3”-6”
- Kayak "J-Bars " add 24”
- Ski Racks add 6” to 12”
Most modern suburban garages are 7’-6” or more, leaving sufficient room for the ECamper™, but you may need to remove the racks depending on your choice of accessories.
Is it possible for Ursa Minor to customize an Ecamper with a sink, toilet, shower or table?
No. Ursa Minor Vehicles does not have any additional options or plans at this time for adding RV features to the ECamper™. The Element is a mid-size SUV, and does not really have the load rating or volume to contain a kitchen or bath. If one considers these features essential, it is recommended that consideration be given to a much larger full-featured Recreational Vehicle rather than the ECamper™.
How long does it take to make an ECamper™?
The ECamper™ is an exciting product filling a market need for a small fuel-efficient camper vehicle. There are two factors that impact how fast we can build an ECamper.
1. Our backlog changes based on the season. Due to high demand for campers, our current lead times are running about 6 months from date of order. In other words, that is the time needed between when an order is placed and when we need the car at the shop.
2. Once your installation appointment date arrives, we will need your car on-site for 5 days to complete the conversion.
3. We begin conversions on Monday, and complete them by end of day on Friday, cars can be dropped off in either location using our drop box. We highly recommend picking up in person during business hours (Mon - Friday) so we can walk you through everything.
4. We do not schedule weekend pick up except under unique circumstances. If a customer must pick up on the weekend we will charge a minimum of 2 shop hours @ $120/hr to open the shop for delivery and demo due to the overtime for the staff required.
How durable/waterproof is the tent?
The tent fabric is a highly durable and water resistant marine canvas called Sunbrella®. Much thicker than traditional tent fabric and definitely overkill for this application. You may find much more information specific to Sunbrella® on the manufacturer's website
Will the conversion change how the inside of the car ceiling looks?
No, the inside, including the headliner of the car, looks the same after conversion. The hardware securing the camper assembly to the car is not visible from the inside of the car. However, the skylight glass is permanently removed to allow access into the camper assembly. The glass is replaced with two removable composite panels. These panels allow you to lie down over the skylight hole, or to close off the camper assembly while the cap is down for a clean internal appearance.
For models without a sunroof, an access way is fitted in the same location as the original sunroof using OEM Honda parts.
Can I drive with the top up?
No. C'mon, seriously guys....
What sort of MPG can I expect from a Honda Element converted into an ECamper™?
MPG estimates for the various Honda Element® models may be found on the Honda website. The biggest determinant of MPG is actually your own driving habits. Did you know that reducing your highway speed to 65mph and eliminating aggressive starts and heavy braking can also help increase your MPG by up to 20%? That's pretty significant with rising fuel costs.
That being said, in our ECamper™ demo fleet we get an estimated 23 MPG with roof racks if sticking to sane driving habits. This figure is right in spec with the Honda estimates, however your mileage may vary according to your own driving style.
I pack a lot of gear on my racks. How much weight can I put up on the racks with an ECamper™ conversion?
- With the camper closed, you may carry as much gear on the racks as you did before the conversion, subject to the load ratings specified by the rack manufacturer. Both Thule and Yakima rate their racks at 75 lbs per bar, but that rating should be taken with caution. Loading at capacity on a washboard road will likely result in issues or failures.
- The more gear you put on the racks, the more effort you will need to exert to open the camper. We advise no more than 30lbs on the racks in order to easily raise the roof. This limitation is fairly generous in the pop-top industry.
- At around 30 lbs or more on the racks, while it is possible to pop the top, opening of the camper will require increasingly more muscle power. Closing the camper will also require coordinating with a colleague to get the canvas tucked in neatly.
Is the ECamper™conversion available as a kit for self-install?
No. We do not offer ECamper parts or the assembly as a kit.
- While the ECamper™ looks like a simple product, installation is complex and requires unique and special tools.
- Major components (base & cap) are quite large and would need to be crated, and do not ship economically via freight.