Buying a Used Camper Shell: Tips and Compatibility Info
A Guide to Buying Used Camper Shells
Given the overwhelming number of questions I have received about used camper shells, I thought it might be useful to write a little guide to buying used tops. First I'll tell you a few things to watch out for, and then I'll break down the major changes in truck bed dimensions for different makes in the last few decades.
A used top, selling for far below what it cost new, sounds like a great deal, but you should be aware of a few things before you buy.
What to Look for and Watch out for in a Used Camper Shell
- A used shell that is damaged may not be cost-effective to repair.
- A used shell may have come from a different truck than the one it’s sitting on, so you want to measure your own truck.
- Truck beds, especially more recent ones, aren't necessarily rectangular; they may be narrower in the rear than in the front.
- Sometimes the shape of the rails and the shape of the cab and tailgate may complicate the fit.
- The third brake light has to be visible in trucks made 1994 and later, and may complicate the fit for mid-'90s trucks. New shells since 1995 have brake lights built in.
- Tonneaus need to fit more exactly than shells do.
- If a used Leer or SnugTop shell has a serial number, you can call the company and try to find out what truck the cover was made for.
A Damaged Shell May Not Be Much of a Deal
Keep in mind that if major parts of the top you are looking at are broken, you need to look into the price of replacing those parts before you take advantage of that "deal of the century." Far too many times, I have seen used tops for sale where the seller thinks the repair is simple. In the photo above, the glass is coming away from the frame leaving a big gap. This part of the window should be sealed. The repair in that photo is at least $250, and that's just for the parts.
The Seller May Not Even Know What Truck the Shell Was Made for
I saw the top above for sale on Craigslist. The ad says it came off a 2000 Ranger, and it now sits on a 2001 S-10. I can tell this is an old SnugTop—by the ridge in the roofline—and it probably came off a pre-'93 Ranger. The dimensions though are close enough.
It’s important to remember that sometimes people will have tops on their trucks that they themselves have bought used, and often that top was not designed for that truck. A dead giveaway is if the top is not the same color as the truck. If you think the fit looks good, and your truck is the same as theirs, no problem; but if you’re trying to make a top made for an unknown truck fit your own truck, you’re on your own, to a certain extent.
Truck Beds By Make and Year
Here is some information, broken out by make, about which years had which body styles. It will help you know what to expect when you shop for a used top to match your truck bed.
1980-1996. From 1980 to 1996, Ford F150/250 trucks had essentially identical beds.
1997-2003(4). In 1997, the Ford F150 was radically changed, most notably by making the bed tapered, meaning it’s wider in the front than it is in the rear. This was initially only done to the F150 line; the F250 and F350 heavy duty trucks remained the same until 1999, when Ford introduced the Superduty.
2004-2008. The F150 changed its body style and bed again in 2004 (except that in the 2004 F150 Heritage Edition, the bed and body are the same as the '97 to 2003 truck). The F150 would remain the same until 2009, when the bed changed; but it changed only slightly, check the top of the rear corners of a new F150 bed and compare it to a 2004-08, you’ll see what I mean. Superdutys really haven’t changed much, as far as the bed is concerned, except that in about 2008 some Superdutys, not all of them, began including a fold-out step built into the tailgate. If your truck has it, the shell door will need to compensate for it. Leer and SnugTop shells have special molded pieces on the bottom of the door to account for it.
2009 -2014. The F150 has gone through some changes, mainly the rear, and the bow to the tailgate area that most of the new trucks have now.
2015- present: If you look at the back end of the new F150's, you'll notice that the bow to the rear tailgate area is wider, and angled, in a way. Overall the bed looks the same from the previous generation, but this wider rear bow will most certainly affect top compatibility.
1999 - 2008 The heavier duty trucks, i.e., the F250 and 350s, came in the form of the new 'Superduty' in 1999. It pretty much remained the same, with the exception of adding a pull-out tailgate step in 2008, which is technically an option. This is important because tops on 2008 or newer Superdutys will have rear doors that can accommodate this step, that is if the truck has the option. If you try to put a top from a 2004, for example, on a 2009 that has the step in the tailgate, it's not going to fit over that bulge. Yes, most top manufacturers can change out that rear door, but beware, those rear doors are NOT cheap.
2008 - 2016 -the F250 and F350s in these years are mostly the same. The only footnote has to do with the step in the tailgate (see above). It wasn't until 2017 that Ford made in major changes to the Superduty-most notably, the rear tailgate that has that octagon shape to it.
2017 to current -The brand new Superduty trucks are slightly different than the previous years, most notably the octagon-shaped tailgate, there are other changes as well.
A 1997 F250 top on a 1999 F250
Superduty Top on a 97 - 2003 F150
Chevy (1996 Silverado) Top on Ford F150 (2004 to 2008)
1983-1992. Ford Rangers have been around since 1983, and stayed the same all the way up to 1992.
1993-present (2012). Rangers haven't changed much since 1993, except that the flareside bed, also referred to as the Ranger Splash bed, is different. It should be noted that there isn't a huge difference between the 83 to 92 Ranger beds and the 93 to 2012 beds, in other words, an old Ranger top fits the newer Ranger beds, the cab is just a little boxier in shape.
Any Mazda truck built from 1994 to now is identical to a Ford Ranger, for our purposes. In the 1998 to 2006 Mazda B-Series trucks, there is a slight difference: basically, the bed on those trucks has slightly narrower rails. Most shell manufacturers did not change their molds to deal with this variation. I think SnugTop is the only company that has a specific Mazda mold, if that is even still available. But honestly, it’s not that much different than the Ranger mold.
Older Mazda trucks, from 1985 to 1993 have three different beds, the long bed, short bed regular cab, and the cabplus bed. The standard cab trucks have nearly identical bed dimensions to the old Toyota beds, and even the first gen Tacoma beds. Most of the old import mini trucks are around 60" wide and 75-76" long, and the old Mazdas are no different. Just remember that the old extended cab Toyota trucks have a lean or angle to the front of the top.
Nissan/Toyota Shell on Mazda
Chevy / GM Trucks
Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra
1973-1987. It’s important to remember that from 1973 to 1987, full-size GM trucks had perfectly rectangular beds. That changed in 1988 when they became tapered, much like Ford's did in 1997. If you have a crew cab 1988 Chevy/GMC, however, it still has the 1987 body and bed.
1988-1998. The full-size Chevy Silverado pickups and GMC Sierras are the same from 1988 to 1998.
1999-2006: The Silverado/Sierra changed in 1999; however, some '99 models, specifically the heavy duty 3500 model crew cabs, are the older body style. The full-size GM trucks changed again, like I said, in 1999. The 1999 to 2006 models are called the "classic" Chevys.
2007-2013. The full-sized GM trucks changed again in 2007, but you have to be careful with 2007, because GM introduced the new truck mid-year. Thus a few 2007s still have the ‘06 body, which GM refers to as the "classic" body. The heavy-duty trucks retained the classic body until 2008.
Up until 2007, the beds were the same between a GMC and Chevy, but for the 07 to 13 generation, the bed on the Silverado is actually NOT identical to the bed of the Sierra. The insides of the beds are the same; it’s the outside rails that are slightly different. The differences are very subtle, but they do affect the fit of most hard tonneau covers and bedliners. Try putting an over-the-rail GMC liner in a Chevy bed of those years and you’ll see what I mean; one is just slightly wider than the other toward the rear of the bed. Could you fit a new Sierra shell on a Silverado bed? Yeah, probably the fit would be fine, but for a perfect fit, you’ll want to match make to make.
2014 - present. The brand new trucks have this different shape to the rear (tailgate) area there, which for a brand new top means the back door is unique to this model year. Other than that, most of the dimensions are roughly the same. I know the lumber rack part numbers have not changed. Thankfully, the Chevy/GMC trucks are back to being the same in every way for fit and compatibility, unlike the 7 to 13 trucks.
Chevy S-10/Colorado, GMC S-15/Sonoma/Canyon
1982-1993: The "S-10 years." GMC called this truck the S-15 or Sonoma.
1994-2003: The S-10 totally changed in 1994 and stayed that way until 2004.
2004-2012: After 2004, the old S-10 became known as the Chevy Colorado or the GMC Canyon. The shell for a '94 to 2004 S-10 will most likely not fit the new Colorado/Canyons.
2015-present: The all-new Canyon/Colorado is a very different truck compared to its predecessors. Tops from previous years will most likely not fit these trucks.
Older Top on 2016 Fullsize Chevy
A 2010 Shell on a 2018 Chevy: Doesn't Quite Work
F150 Top on a Chevy/GMC
"Toyota Truck" (SR5), Tacoma
The basic Toyota Truck is sometimes called the SR5.
1984-88. Some pre-1989 Toyota Trucks have have what is called a "Japanese" bed, meaning the bed rails roll to the outside. On just about any truck today, you access the underside of a bed rail from the inside of the bed, but a "Japanese" bed rail is only accessed from the outside. I don’t know much about what will fit Japanese beds, since by the time I started selling camper shells these trucks were fairly old and I rarely saw one come into the shop looking for a shell.
1989-94: From 1989 to 1994, the basic Toyota truck didn’t change much, except for the addition of a third brake light in '94, something I already talked about. The bed is essentially the same as on the 1984-88 truck.
1995-2004: Midway through 1995, Toyota introduced the Tacoma, a name still used today, and the Tacoma stayed the same up until 2004. Will a shell from an older SR5-type Toyota fit a 1996 to 2004 Tacoma? Kind of. It will sit lower than the height of the cab, but the inside of the bed is actually the same as the older SR5 trucks. There are also differences between extended-cab shells and standard-cab shells on the 1989 to 2004 models.If you take a shell built for an extended cab and try to fit it to a standard cab, it will most likely rub the top of the cab, since it has an angle to it to compensate for the angle of the extended cab.
2005-2015. In 2005, the Tacoma changed a lot. The new Tacomas have a composite bed: basically it’s all plastic, except for the outer skin and rear pillars. You cannot fit anything on these trucks that is not designed specifically for the post-2004 Tacoma. Whether you have an "access" cab, crew cab, or standard cab, there is no angle built into the shell, so you can swap one over to the other—just make sure you have the right bed length for the crew cab.
2016 - The all-new 2016 Tacoma IS different than the previous body style, the bed went through the same type of change we saw on the F150's and other types of beds.
Current Tacoma vs. 05 to 15 (2nd Gen)
Toyota Truck Shell on Tacoma
Chevy S-10 Top on a Tacoma
Tacoma Shell on Toyota Truck
01 to 04 Frontier shell on a Tacoma
Toyota T-100, Tundra
1993-1998: In 1993, Toyota introduced the mid-sized truck called the T-100 (which later became the Tundra). It came as a short-bed extended cab or long-bed standard cab.
1999-2006. In 1999, the T-100 became the Tundra. Now here’s the confusing thing to remember about the 1999-2006 Tundra models. They made both extended-cab or "access cab" trucks, and crew cab trucks. The crew cabs had slightly larger rear doors, and the beds are technically different, although they look very similar. The only standard-cab 1999-2006 Tundra was a long bed.
2007-2013. In 2007, the Tundra completely changed. It’s not only larger in overall size than the previous years, but comes with a long-bed access cab, standard cab, short-bed access cab, or even a short-bed standard cab. The CrewMax (Toyota’s name for the Tundra’s crew cab model) only comes with the extra-short bed.
2014 - present The Tundra, like many others, has seen some subtle changes to the bed in 2014 on to the brand new trucks.
Pre-1994. It’s not very common to see a 1993 or older Dodge Ram truck. There just aren’t as many on the road as the older GM and Ford trucks, unless of course you’re cruising a badass old Power Wagon.
1994-2001: The 1994 Dodge Ram is so different from the older Rams, including a tapered bed, that I can guarantee those beds are not compatible with the older Ram beds. The new Ram style lasted through 2001.
2002-2008: The 2002 Dodge Ram went through some design changes and some bed changes. The front of an '02 to '08 Ram bed bows quite a bit.
2009-2018: The 2009 Dodge Ram made a lot of changes, including factory plastic bed rails and a strongly curved rear tailgate.
2019 - The all-new Ram is here, stay tuned, very little is even available for this truck, and it IS different than the 2009-18.
1987-1996. The Dodge Dakota, born from the Dodge Ram 50, has the distinct honor of being the only "mid-size" truck around. Model years 1986 through 1996 all have the same bed dimensions. One cool thing about the 1994 to 1996 Dakota is that the brake light, now required by law, was placed in the tailgate—meaning the shell itself doesn't need a brake light.
1997-2004: In 1997 the Dakota body style was totally redone to resemble the more popular full-size Ram truck.
2005-present: The Dakota changed again in 2005, to the current body and bed style.
2002 to 2008 Shell on a 1994-2001 Ram
Rams May Look the Same, but They Aren't
Dodge Ram has Curves
1986 (and a half)-1997: The most popular Nissan trucks were the infamous ‘hardbody” models, which later became the Frontier. Those body styles were around from 1986 (1/2)—the change was made in mid-year 1986—all the way to 1997. The 1994 Nissan presents a special problem, because, like I said before, that was the year it became law that all pickups have an additional brake light. On the 1994 Nissan, the brake light is highly obtrusive. In fact, you cannot remove it to install a shell; there’s a bracket inside that just can’t be taken off. That means your shell has to have a huge notch in the top of the roof to compensate for it. This is only an issue for the '94. Nissan did make long-bed standard-cab trucks for these years, but they are not very common.
1998-2001: The Nissan changed for 1998 and became the Frontier, and for the most part, stayed the same all the way to 2004, except that:
2002-2004: In 2001, Nissan put this bulging plastic cladding and logo toward the top of the tailgate, which affects shells and tonneau covers. So if you have a 2001 to 2004 year Frontier, and want to fit a used top from a 1999 Frontier, you will have issues with the back door. It will not sit flat on the tailgate. Hard tonneau covers will not work at all in this scenario.
2005-2019: The Frontier has not changed much since 2005, but it does have this wing-style tailgate piece, which in most cases has to be removed.
Back of '98 to 2000 Frontier
'01 Frontier With an Older Shell
'01 Frontier with Correct Tonneau Cover
Compatibility Tips for Older Trucks
- If you have an older S-10 type Chevy, 1982 to 1992, a shell from a mid-1986 to 1997 Nissan should fit it pretty good,. Of course the opposite is true as well.
- Shells from 1984 to 1994 Toyotas will generally fit the old Mazda B-Series trucks, before the latter essentially became Ford Rangers. If you do have a pre-1993 Mazda, before it became a rebadged Ranger, remember that the length of the bed on the cab-plus truck is different than the length on the standard-cab short-bed truck.
- For the older fullsize GM trucks (1973-1987), finding something very specific can be tough, but remember the beds on those trucks are almost the same dimension as a 1980 to 1996 F150. This helps too when you’re looking for a lumber rack for an old Chevy/GMC.
The information I provided here should cover at least 95% (OK, I’m totally guessing, but honestly it’s a good guess) of the trucks that are currently on the road. The LTAA has proprietary information on truck bed sizes, and other information is out there.
Always remember to measure your bed, front width and rear, and the top you’re looking to buy. Feel free to ask me a question if you have any, I have always responded.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.