Pop Up Camper Remodel: Repairing a Coleman ABS Roof

How to Repair Your Pop Up Roof

UPDATE:  You can find a more detailed version on this post here on my new blog, The Pop Up Princess.  You can find information about where we ordered the roof seal and how we installed it there.  You’ll also find all our pop up camper related projects on the new blog.  Thanks for stopping by!

When we bought our pop up camper, we had been looking on Craigslist for quite some time for just the right deal.  I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted in a pop up, but I knew one thing — I did not want a Coleman with an ABS roof.  We obviously threw that right out the window when this little Coleman Santa Fe came along.

1999 Coleman Santa FeBecause our Santa Fe was in such fabulous condition for the price, we jumped on it.  I had read horror stories about the Coleman ABS roof situation, but I was confident we could head off any problems.  What is an ABS roof?  Well, in the mid-90’s, Coleman had this fantastic idea to make a one piece, ABS plastic roof on some of their higher end pop up trailers.  The idea was good, no seams for water to leak in, etc., but in reality, the ABS roof didn’t hold up on most trailers.  The sun really dried them out, and there was some severe cracking and delamination on many campers.  Coleman had to replace quite a few roofs.  The pop up camper division of Coleman/Fleetwood eventually went out of business, and now it is impossible to have your roof replaced.  Seems like a deal breaker, right?

Cracks in Coleman ABS Roof

I thought so, too.  After a lot of research, though, I realized that you could still repair that ABS roof, and, in many cases, the owners of the repaired Coleman ABS roofs were happier with the results than had they gone with a traditional pop up camper roof.  We had minimal cracking in our ABS roof.  There were a couple of medium sized cracks on one corner, a few small hairline cracks along the lip of the roof, and some spidery cracks under the awning rail.

After a lot of research, we decided the best method for repairing the roof, and preventing further cracking in the future, was the ABS MEK patch method, followed by a good coat of UV protectant bedliner.  The Pop Up Portal was an invaluable resource for all things repair related, and there is a good amount of information there about the MEK repair method.  If you have a pop up, and you haven’t checked the Portal yet, you are missing out!  So, what is the ABS MEK patch method?

Coleman ABS Roof RepairMr. TypeTwoFun started out by drilling a small hole at each end of the crack.  This is supposed to help keep the crack from spreading.

Repairing a Coleman ABS Roof

Then he used a cutting wheel to clean out the crack.  He wanted a nice clean surface for the patch to adhere to.

Now, I don’t have a picture of the next step, because the stuff Mr. TypeTwoFun used to patch the crack is pretty toxic.  He had to use a respirator when he was applying the stuff.  We basically took equal parts of MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) and white ABS plastic pellets and mixed them together in a glass jar with a lid.  MEK is a solvent that breaks down plastic, and it is pretty dang toxic.  Make sure you wear gloves and a respirator when handling it.  You can buy ABS pellets on eBay, but we just took white airsoft bb’s, which happen to be made of ABS plastic, and used them.  It takes about 24 hours for the MEK to melt down the plastic, but then you’ve got a nice liquid patch for your cracks.

Coleman ABS Roof RepairWipe down the cracks you are patching with a bit of MEK on a clean rag.  The MEK will eat into the plastic a bit and give you a nice surface for your patch to adhere to.  Use a Popsicle stick or paint stirrer to patch your cracks and then let them dry.  Again, use the respirator and gloves when working with your MEK patch “goo.”  Once you’ve got your crack patched to your satisfaction, you can sand it down a bit with some fine grit sandpaper or steel wool.

Coleman ABS Roof RepairOnce we had all of our cracks repaired, we used some steel wool pads in our sander to sand the whole roof down.  We wanted to make sure that we had a nice clean surface for our bedliner paint to adhere to.

Coleman ABS Roof RepairIt’s a little hard to tell from the picture, but when you sand, it will leave your roof looking a little dull.  That’s what you want.  Make sure the whole surface has been sanded evenly.

MEK ABS Roof RepairWe then used drop cloths and painters tape to protect the areas we didn’t want to paint.  Once you’ve got your camper taped up, you can don that hot respirator again and break out your MEK.  You want to wipe the whole roof down with MEK.  We used clean, old t-shirts cut into rags.  Make sure you protect your hands with gloves and check them periodically for holes.  (The MEK ate through Mr. TypeTwoFun’s gloves!)  :(   Once your roof is wiped down, it should shine like you see in the picture above.  Now you are ready to paint on your bedliner.

We used a product called Grizzly Grip, which can only be purchased online.  It is supposed to be incredibly durable, and it is a favorite product among Coleman ABS owners.  We purchased the 4×8 kit in Snow White.  Our camper is approximately 6.5′ x 8′ and we had PLENTY of product to finish the job.  We actually had about half a jar left over.

Grizzly Grip Coleman ABS RoofThis step was pretty toxic, too, so I stayed away.  I did manage to snap a picture of Mr. TypeTwoFun finishing up the first coat.  The paint goes on with a foam roller, and you want to apply a light first coat, wait 2-4 hours, and follow with a heavier top coat.  Same rules here — gloves and respirator — and don’t get it on your skin!  It is supposed to cure within 24 hours, but ours was still tacky 24 hours later, so make sure to allow for plenty of dry time.

Coleman ABS Roof RepairRemember that corner crack from before?  You can’t even see it anymore!  The roof looks amazing.  It’s now bright white, and it looks brand new.

Coleman ABS Roof RepairThe spidery cracks underneath the awning rail are gone, too.  You can see that the Grizzly Grip did leave a slight bit of texture, but I don’t really mind it.  It seems strong, and I am hoping it will last the life of the trailer.

ABS Roof RepairHere’s one last look at my brand new roof.  Isn’t it pretty?  Obviously, if you have a Coleman ABS roof with major cracks and/or delamination, the roof repair might not be so simple.  If you’ve just got a few cracks in the ABS plastic, like we did, this may be the repair to go with!  We’ll report back on how it holds up over the summer.  Now who’s ready for some camping?   :D