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Man Turns his Toyota Echo into Stealthy Micro RV for Car Camping

This Toyota Echo Turned into Stealthy Micro RV for Car Camping is a guest post by an anonymous reader – submit yours here!

Have you ever thought of converting your car into a stealthy car camper so you can easily sleep in it while traveling without being noticed?

This way you don’t have to spend so much extra money and time getting in and out of hotels while you try to get somewhere.

So I wanted to show you what I’ve been working on for the last few days. Of course it’s considerably smaller than your average tiny house so I’m not sure if you’re still with me but even if you’re not…

Isn’t it fascinating what can be done to make an economy size car a comfortable place to sleep for the night?

Man Turns his Toyota Car into Micro RV for Stealthy Car Camping

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Who would guess this unassuming Toyota Echo would be able to sleep 2 people comfortably (if a little cozily, you do have to like your traveling companion)?

I believe you’ll really be awed by the simplicity of this car conversion so I encourage you to read the rest of the story and tour the entire car camper below:

When we make cross country drives it can get expensive to stay in a motel every night.

So for less than the price of one night’s hotel stay I converted our little 2001 Toyota Echo into a stealth camper.

I already had some of the materials on hand so really all it cost was the price of a sheet of plywood and a 6’x8′ piece of indoor/outdoor carpet.

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Above is the back seat in it’s day-to-day mode. Those are camping pads strapped to the front of the seat. We very rarely use the back seat to transport passengers but it’s still possible although not very comfortable at this point. I plan to add some cushions soon.

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Above and below is the trunk area deck. There’s a cut out on the left to securely hold a 5 gallon water bottle in place.

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Under the deck there’s room to store a wooden folding table, camp stove, a laptop and a few other small things. A plastic dishpan will hold our kitchen stuff.

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Above and below the transformation to sleeping deck is taking place. Front seats are slid all the way forward and seat backs are tilted toward the front of the car. The bottom of the rear seat has come off and is placed securely over the transmission hump. Three pins along the edge of the seat will fit into corresponding holes on the underside of the deck so everything locks securely in place.

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Two views of the fully extended sleeping platform. Just over 6 feet of space with your feet extending into the trunk area. With the self-inflating sleeping pads it’s a comfy but firm bed.

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Notice the two white U-shaped things protruding just below the rear deck. They were there to hold the back of the original seat in place. One of my goals in designing this was not to permanently alter any part of the car so that everything can be put back to stock should we decide to sell it. So I built this little folding table that fits onto those things.

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Voila! With the addition of my laptop and a couple speakers the car is transformed into a media room to watch DVDs or listen to CDs.  I’m reclining on the back side of the forward tilted front seats. With a couple pillows it’s actually quite comfortable.

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And we even have a storage space for it, check it out below:

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Here’s the trunk fully loaded for a trip. With 2 of those super comfortable reclining outdoor chairs it’s a pretty nice camping rig if you like to spend time in the great outdoors. It takes us less than 5 minutes to pull everything out and set everything up. I still need to address having some kind of system for privacy though. I’m thinking that one of those old-fashioned roll up shades attached to the rear deck could pull over the entire sleeping area and no one would even know you are there.

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I discovered these great alternate compact camping chairs at Amazon. They hold 300 lbs. and fold into a 4″x4″x14″ case which will allow me to store them under the back deck and eliminate the large amount of space taken up by my current folding chairs (shown above). I plan to have all camping equipment in the car at all times so all we have to do is pack a bag of clothes and go.

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Sally May 6, 2014, 11:43 pm

    Very clever. Lots of factors to consider when hotels have cameras in the parking lot and security people patrolling their lots with flashlights in search of the stealth folks. Years ago, when I had no money at all for traveling but wanted to see the USA, I stealthed in a Ford F-150 with a topper, an old Suburban with tinted windows, and a Ford Maverick. It was the car they left alone, because no one could believe someone would camp in it. For trips to Maine and Canada, I made a light- colored flat cover (like today’s pet cargo covers) that snagged into place on the front door handles and on the back with velcro, which also kept me from freezing to death. (Covering the windows themselves tends to attract attention.) The truck did not attract any attention, or maybe people in the southwest weren’t such jerks. I had the worst time with the Suburban (figures, it was the most comfortable of all) at southern 24-hour egg and coffee places. The waitresses were worse than any security guard :-(. You would think they would have more sympathy for a woman traveling alone, but heck no, they OWNED that parking lot.

    The best part is getting to use it for true camping at a destination, where you are admired for your creativity and don’t have to worry about hiding all the stuff you take out of it for the night. I love the fact that you used a Toyota Echo, it’s about the same size as my car. Have a great time, you”ll treasure your stealth memories when you get old like me. 🙂

    • Greg May 8, 2014, 5:58 pm

      Altho’ I created this with stealth camping in mind, since stealthing it can be dangerous, especially in big cities, we mostly plan to use it in official campgrounds. There are loads of lesser developed campsites that only charge 8 to 10 bucks a night. I figure we can stay there without the possible hassles of being awakened from sleep in the middle of the night and being told to leave (or worse, urban stealth camping horror stories abound),

  • I am very impressed with this. Very clever. I think I’d have a hard time stealth camping anywhere these days -I’ve got two kids.

  • Princess Mom May 7, 2014, 1:19 pm

    Why would hotel security cameras be an issue? Walmart invites semis and RVs to camp in their parking lot/use their amenities for free because they assume, rightly, that the people camping in the lot will want to buy food, supplies, etc. from the store while they are there. A car/camper’s money is just as good there as an RV/camper’s would be.

    • Kate May 8, 2014, 9:43 am

      Many Wal-Marts have signs up in the parking lots these days to not park overnight. That can be worked around by parking in the early morning to sleep or in the evening and leaving around 11 or 12 at night.

    • Sally May 8, 2014, 3:42 pm

      Oh, PM, you remind me of how old I am. Believe it or not, there was a world once without WalMarts blotting our landscape. The safest place in those days were chain hotel parking lots. You had access to vending machines, lobby restrooms, and could even sit in the lobby until the TV went off the air. Laptops had not been born yet, either. A car with out-of-town tags in a motel parking lot was normal, whereas back then, in that much smaller world, it would have been quickly noticed parked anywhere else.
      Nowadays, civilization has forced businesses into major security mode, and the hotels check tag numbers and assign spots, not to mention trying to set up your “disguise” in a parking lot full of cameras. Our WalMart tolerates truck drivers, but will point you to the nearest motel one exit up if you’re in a car. The manager recently explained that truckers usually just want to sleep, but car people want to fight, make love, walk their dogs, and dump their trash all over the lot. And then there are the RV people, who used to be the cream of the crop, but are coming up with liability issues because of their safety and damage claims. This is in a very rural area, so I can’t imagine the issues city WalMarts face at night.
      Just a few years ago, I had to check on elderly relatives 700 miles away at least three times a month (long story, but the objective was to keep them in their own house until they passed). Hotels were expensive and rare along those back roads. Truck stops became my choice. They are very noisy but people tend to mind their own business. Back to Planet 1972…

      • Kris August 27, 2015, 8:35 pm

        I just saw a youtube video the other night…talking about stealth sleeping at truck stops. When they had an RV & parked/slept in the trucker’s area..it was very loud; but when they switched from an RV to a van, they could then park in the car area & they were amazed at how much quieter it was & they weren’t hounded at all. Sounds like a good plan!

  • pat May 7, 2014, 1:22 pm

    check out truck stops for cooking equipment that runs off the car.

  • edie rodman May 7, 2014, 1:31 pm

    PT Cruisers are great for this! They have an astounding amount of space inside when everything is folded down. I’ve used mine as my ‘tent’ at a group campground in the Redwoods, at an oceanside 24 hr parking area, in my carport when I’d forgotten the house key and didn’t want to bother the friendly fire dept. until morning (they love the game, ‘who can get into the house first’).
    Happy Trails…

    • J0ra November 29, 2015, 12:48 pm

      I too have a PT Cruiser, and would love to know what layout you used for stretching out and sleeping in yours. I have removed the back seats and added an extra shelf in the back, but the only way I can see to stretch out would be to remove the front passenger seat. I am around 5’2″. Thanks for any help you can give. Hope to hear from you!

  • alice h May 7, 2014, 4:23 pm

    One of my best travels was touring Nova Scotia in a little rented Geo. I had a tent but ended up just stopping as the mood took me, dropping the front passenger seat all the way back and sleeping comfortably (I’m short). Mornings were easy and no damp tent to roll up. Nobody bothered me, except for the near-moose incidents on some of the back roads.

    • Sally May 8, 2014, 3:48 pm

      Aaiee, I am jealous, Alice H! Canada was SO expensive, which I didn’t know until I flew into Sea-Tac, rented a car, and started back east to “see Canada.” I kept noticing how many people had trucks with toppers or camping gear , and I had no idea why until I tried to check into my first hotel in the Rockies and it was $200.!!! And it was the only thing available for miles. I didn’t even have a lousy blanket or a warm moose. It was a very expensive trip. Never did get to Nova Scotia, and I hear it’s lovely. Lucky girl!

  • EP May 7, 2014, 4:40 pm

    I have one question:
    Where do you keep the spare tire? Is it under the “storage area” or did you remove it to create the storage area?

    • Greg May 8, 2014, 10:15 pm

      Yes, the spare tire is just underneath the Coleman stove in the picture of the rear deck with the hatch up.

  • Sylvia May 8, 2014, 1:20 am

    Clever use of space! I’d love some dimensions, and perhaps a picture of someone actually laying down in it.

    I did my own stealth camping ages ago, just putting the seats in an old Toyota Tercel down all the way and sleeping there. Traveled all the way across Canada this way…

    • Greg May 8, 2014, 10:50 pm

      It is 74″ long from the back of the trunk to the back of the front seats. The actual platform length is a couple inches short of that but I like to dangle my hands over the top of the bed when I sleep. It’s 44″ wide at the widest point and 38″ wide at the narrowest (thus my comment about having to like your traveling companion, people who are used to sleeping on a queen or king mattress together might find it a little confining). I’m going to have to wait for a sunny day to take more pictures – raining cats and dogs right now.

  • Joyce May 8, 2014, 4:45 pm

    I loved your conversion. I just did a road trip across the entire US along I-10 and car-tented the entire way. I have an HHR so I had more room and could just keep my bed up the entire time and use the other side of the car for supplies. To cover the windows just buy some large cardboard boxes and cut “window-shaped” covers for each of your windows. Spray paint one side black and nobody can see in. Also, love the truck stops. Super clean bathrooms.

    • Greg May 8, 2014, 11:02 pm

      I bought some of those silver mylar sun guards from the dollar store. I’ll cut them to size and use velcro to hold them in place. This is stop-gap measure. Ultimately I’m going to get a cover for the back area made by a local upholsterer. It will fit just under the window level and attach at the back to the baby seat anchors that are on the rear window deck and in front by bungees attached to the door opener lever. Curtains or other things in the windows are a pretty good indicator that someone is sleeping inside but if someone driving or walking by doesn’t see anything on the windows they are more than likely to just keep going.

  • Peggy July 11, 2014, 8:39 pm

    Thanks for putting this up, Greg! I am not skilled like you are, but I’d like to do the same to my car, a Camry. I’m wondering if I could find a car upholsterer who would be willing to do the backseat conversion? In any case, BRAVO to you and all the single ladies who shared their experiences on the road. I appreciate the tips.

  • David August 1, 2014, 9:30 am

    I want to do this to my 2001 Toyota Echo and drive across Canada. These Echos are great for being dependable and never failing.

  • jonesy August 27, 2014, 5:42 pm

    Very cool, but is it necessary to take out the back seat? Couldn’t you just build up the trunk platform and have it be level with the folded down seats?. the seats could be mashed down flat together somehow. Are you storing gear under the platform? Very good idea, love my Echo and have hauled the craziest stuff in that huge trunk and fold downs.

  • Greg October 23, 2014, 2:39 pm

    After finally having the opportunity to camp in this thing this fall I feel I have to do a truthful update. While I said in the original article that this was comfortable for 2 people, that was based on just a tryout in the driveway. In a real camping situation it was just too cramped because of the way the car was engineered with a somewhat narrow passage between the back seat and the trunk. That said, it was OK for one person though my 61 year old bones would have preferred a thicker pad. So it was fine for one person but not so much for 2.

  • B November 10, 2014, 1:20 am

    Hey! I am so happy to come across this… I’ve been searching for a year to find someone else converting their Echo. Do you have any inclination to draw out a plan for your more curious readers? Even a rudimentary one would help out so much!

  • GregD November 26, 2014, 11:04 pm

    Hi Sylvia and B. I’m also converting my Toyota Echo as per Greg’s pics. It’s trial and error for me, but after studying the pics closely it shouldn’t be too hard to replicate. The trunk piece will be the trickiest I think. Anyway, I’ll photograph as I go and give approx. dimensions to you once it’s complete. May be a month or so as I’ll be doing it in between work etc.

    GregD (another Greg 🙂

  • GregD December 4, 2014, 4:14 am

    Hi again

    After starting construction of the conversion I think it is too difficult to provide instructions for this. It is a trial and error procedure. You need to make constant adjustments. For most people who have nil or only basic skills in carpentry/handyman etc. my advice is to measure up everything using a measuring tape, make sure you get everything as level as you can and then go from there. Use a jigsaw rather than a hand saw (my mistake), study Greg’s pics and go for it 🙂 You’ll get there eventually. GregD

  • GregD January 12, 2015, 1:39 am

    Mine is all completed. Took about a month to do. Slightly different to the original Greg’s, but works well. If anyone wants any pics let me know 🙂

    • Nikita February 24, 2015, 11:28 pm

      Hey, I’m starting this conversion on my ’03 Echo sedan, and I’d be interested to see how you did yours. I have access to a lot of flat cardboard through work, and I’m hoping to start mocking up a design this weekend.

    • Caroline March 16, 2015, 1:50 pm

      Hi there. I am hoping to convert my Hyundai Elantra. I would love more pics/how-to steps as I have very little carpentry skills! Thanks!

      • Greg D April 3, 2015, 10:32 pm

        Hi Nikita & Caroline. I have lots of pics of mine but not sure how to upload them here for you to see. I can also draw up some rudimentary plans but I used lots of cardboard to get the basic dimensions then cut the plywood from them. The hardest part for me was getting everything horizontal and to lie flat. It’s trial and error and mine is also about 4 inches higher off the floor than the original design here. This allowed extra storage capacity underneath but I didn’t really have enough clearance for legs between the trunk and seating area. I had to cut a couple of inches out of the metal opening which was very difficult and I don’t recommend it without proper tools. Anyway, if anyone can tell me how to post my pics here, I’ll be happy to. Regards, Greg D

    • Nikita April 28, 2015, 11:01 pm

      Greg:

      The best way I know of for linking photos in places like this is through a third-party image hosting service, like Photobucket. That’s all I have my account for.

      I started doing the conversion of my car yesterday. You’re right about it being very trial-and-error. I’m currently making a web of 1″x3″s to support the panel in the trunk. I won’t get any extra storage space under the trunk panel, but now will be enough room to carry a full-sized spare tire, important when you drive on a lot of gravel roads!

      • GregD April 30, 2015, 4:56 am

        Hi Nikita

        Thanks for the help with attaching photos. I have added the photos to photobucket and copied the link here. Hope this works. Let me know if it doesn’t. Cheers, Greg 🙂

      • Nikita May 1, 2015, 3:42 pm

        Hmm, I’m not seeing a link. I’m not sure whether the site blocked it? Or if you forgot to attach it? Or I’m just blind right now.

    • Stan July 31, 2015, 1:53 pm

      We have a 2001 Echo, and would like any pics or comments on making conversion to micro camper. My carpentry skills are zero, so will probably take your pics to someone to have them do modifications.
      Thanks, Stan and Chuchi, Oregon Coast

  • Angel V. February 11, 2015, 4:07 pm

    Interesting. I’ve been looking to buy a Toyota Echo to take on camping trips. Have you tried car camping with your partner yet? Does it fit both you two comfortably?

  • Joe Lehan April 19, 2015, 11:14 pm

    I had an ’84 Honda Accord 2 door and the front seats were so comfortable, I could just tilt them back and sleep. I also pulled a black sleeping bag over me so no one could see inside. I had no trouble with this arrangement.

  • John April 20, 2015, 2:56 pm

    Clever micro Camper. For privacy have you looked into the cost of have the cars windows tinted?

  • Carol April 20, 2015, 6:37 pm

    Can this be done with a Yr 2000 Honda Civic? It doesn’t have much resale value, so I wouldn’t need to return it to original configuration. Also, how does one get fresh air when sleeping in a car while also keeping the little critters out? I am new to stealth camping and tire of putting up a tent just for a quick overnight en route…

    • Kris August 27, 2015, 9:03 pm

      For ventilation, I’ve used a battery powered ‘tent fan’. The single D size battery last about 2 nights. I just hung the tent fan from the seatbelt on the side of the car (sandwiching the seat belt between the magnetic fan & it’s back plate). Fan cost about $10.

      For bugs, I recently bought a roll of screening & magnetic tape from Walmart for under $15 & this covered 2 windows. I measured & cut the screen about 2″ wider than the window. I lined the edges by sandwiching the screen with the magnetic tape (taping on both sides/sticky side always towards the screen). I haven’t used this yet; but I think they will work nicely. Also, being on the outside of the window, if it starts to rain, I can just roll up the window & leave the screen on the outside til morning. This is more useful for rustic camping. Urban stealth camping with screens…good luck.

      I don’t have any window deflectors; but they seem like a good idea for raining nights/getting ventilation.

  • Greg Burns April 20, 2015, 8:00 pm

    “Stealth Camping” is ALSO GOOD for when one has a widdle bit TOO much to drinky-poo! HICCUP! If you just recline the front seats or lay down in the back seat, and the police shine their flashlights inside, you be CAUGHT! WHOOPS! So I used to literally “sleep in my trunk”! I’m a 6 foot 3 inch tall guy, who used to own a 1994 “Ford Aspire” 3-door hatchback. I lef the rear seat unlocked, and the cargo hiding shelf “loose”, so would just slip in and out without having to actually open the hatch up to climb in. I progressed to a 2001 “Mitsubishi Mirage” 2-door coupe with an actual trunk. It, too, had a split, fold-down rear seat back, but it was a much narrower, “heart-shaped” opening between the trunk & rear seat area. I could literally sleep sideways in the “fetal position” with no problem. My first attempt was a 1981 “Plymouth TC-3” 3-door hatchback, on which I installed some matching “Levelor” miniblinds across the huge glass hatch, then made little white cardboard window inserts for the side angular panes of glass. I used a “universal-fit” shower rod over the front seatback to hang a deep red shower curtain to block THAT “view” as well. Worked out GREAT! Thanks for bringing up some fun memories (and a couple of awful hangovers! OW!) :-O Greg

  • Greg Burns April 21, 2015, 7:35 am

    Hey, for ANYBODY who DOESN’T WANT TO “make/construct” a “stealth camping car” yourself, I’ve got an even EASIER “solution”: buy a “classic” NASH or RAMBLER car that came “standard” with a “seat bed”. Literally, since the late 1930’s “NASH” publicized their vehicles as “ideal” for both “hunters” and “traveling salesmen”! Recently saw an online ad for a 1939 “Lafayette” model for around $16K that offered it, and showed the actual magazine ad photos. In fact, “Nash” was the FIRST to use “safety belts” but NOT to prevent injuries in frontal car crashes. NOPE! It was to keep your sleeping Grandma from “rolling off the seat while turning sharp corners or hard braking”…LOL! Also saw an online ad for a 1959 “Rambler” in a GREAT pale coral color with matching upholstery that had that feature! Again, the car only had extremely LOW miles on it (something like 15,000 ORIGINAL miles!), and again, it was offered at a ridiculously low co$t: somewhere around $15K! NICE! So you’d be keeping a piece of American automotive history (which can be insured for WAY LESS than a recent model vehicle…), enjoying the compliments, looking WAY “cool” (LOL!) and having your “stealth car bed” without having to raised a saw or drill or screw driver or a finger! Thanks again for the GREAT story and photos! 😀 Greg

  • Lynnette April 24, 2015, 1:40 am

    Holy smokes Greg. You’re a beast! lol 🙂

  • Greg Burns April 24, 2015, 10:17 am

    Lynette, um, not so much a “beast”, as just a bit, um, “zany” (OKAY, EVERYBODY: please start humming the “I LOVE LUCY” theme song NOW! LOL!). The “Mitsubishi” salesman who sold me my 2001 “Mirage” coupe DID look at me a bit “dubiously” when I climbed into the trunk and laid down in the “fetal position”! WOW! Perhaps he envisioned me as being some kind of “hit man” or “kidnapper”, needing enough room for my, um, “victims”? YIKES! No WONDER he SCREWED ME on the price! >:-/

  • David Swanson May 24, 2015, 9:49 am

    Way to go Echo Dweller! I call my Prius my ultralite motor home. I’ve lived in it happily for almost a year. An advantage of a Prius is being able to run the AC or heat off the big hybrid battery safely. I can run almost any kitchen appliance off the big battery and the on demand 50KW genny. My 10 1/2 ‘ long sleeping space leaves lot of room for gear. An OMG, yes, I am almost invisible for sleeping and stealth parking.

    • GregD May 25, 2015, 1:44 am

      Hi David

      Living in the Prius sounds awesome. Is it OK to ask a few questions?

      Did you have to modify it in any way to get the 10 1/2 feet room, or did you just fold the seats down?

      Which generation is your Prius?

      How long can you run appliances off the big battery? And how long does it take to recharge it back up?

      Do you ever get hassled by the law by sleeping in it, or do they never know you’re in there?

      Sounds like you have a great little setup going there.

      Thanks
      GregD 🙂

    • Kris August 27, 2015, 9:09 pm

      JEALOUS!!!

  • David June 7, 2015, 12:28 pm

    10 1/2′ is standard for a gen 2 with seats down. A gen 3 (09-15) has seats that do not lie completly flat but can be made to work.
    A Prius can sit in “ready” mode indefinately. In that position, the car electrical system is on, and any use of electricity or driving will cause the engine to auto start as needed to recharge the hybrid battery. I can run all my appliances and the engine starts to recharge less often then from the AC. A Prius can be set on AC or heat and the engine will only run to recharge a few minutes an hour. This makes it safe to sleep in in any weather. I find It uses about $2 in gas to heat overnight at below freezing.
    I have carefully built velcroed bug screens for the windows AND black towels with button hook holes and 3m stick on hooks for privacy. I’ve had cops drive right past me and kick out vans parked in lots and ignore me.

    • Greg June 14, 2015, 12:52 am

      Thanks David

      The Prius’s really have a good reputation from what I’ve read so far.

      Cheers
      Greg

  • George Meirelles June 13, 2015, 10:46 am

    I’d be willing to pay someone to make my 2001 Prius like that. Is there a website for such a service provider in Northern California?

  • Jody September 10, 2016, 2:34 pm

    Hey Greg!
    This is ingenious! I love it. AND you’re funny too 😀 I’m going to be taking a small road trip this coming week for my B.D. with my Scion XA and will probably just be using the back seat for sleeeping. Not too roomy but it’ll do. I’ve never done it before but always wanted to, I’m just a little nervous. I just need window black out options. I’ve heard of black cardboard, cut to size?
    It’s cool to see your conersion, you thought of everything. You did an awesome job! Thanks so much, and for all the pics too!
    To see an awesome jeep conversion, follow iamjake on YouTube. He lives in his Jeep and is starting a 50 state tour soon. He’s awesome!

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