Questions Answers and an Airstream Buyer’s Checklist

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I sat down with Ann and Paul one rainy spring morning to ask them a few questions about what people should know as they begin the process of repairing or restoring their vintage Airstreams and trailers.

Q: What’s the most frequently asked question you get from folks who are looking to get a trailer repaired at A&P?

ANN: “How much will it cost is the number one question we get. A complete renovation on a vintage Airstream, averages $40-thousand. The list goes on. Currently (2015), on a 25’ or less length trailer, to take the shell off and replace the axle, frame and floor can be around $15-thousand.

Q:What advice would you give someone BEFORE they contact you about vintage trailer repairs?

“A potential vintage trailer owner can spend a lot of money on a trailer that’s in very good condition, and invest less in the restoration of that trailer. OR, they can spend very little on the initial trailer, and there’ll be more to spend on restorations and repairs. It’s like squeezing a balloon. You’re going to pay, one way or another.”Inspect the trailer before you purchase it.

Q:What kind of inspection would you recommend?

The following is a point-by-point list of things to look for when considering a new trailer, or inspecting a trailer you already own, for potential repairs by A&P. This list is available to you as a free download for your use. Just click the file at the end of the story to download your copy!

Expect axles over 20-years-old to be shot.

Expect appliances more than 20-years-old to NOT be trustworthy

Observe – look at the body to frame connection at the tongue and bumper

Look for significant corrosion on the frame at those locations

Look for outriggers that have rubbed through the belly pan or body (body to frame connection problems)

Airstreams from the late 1950’s to about 1961, with rectangular frames, need additional diligence when inspecting for corrosion (especially in the belly compartment that may not be readily visible)

Jump on the back bumper! If the body-frame connection is compromised, there’ll be movement

There are known issues with wiring in late 1960’s solid aluminum wiring in Airstreams.

Anything that has added additional weight to the back of the trailer is a RED FLAG! Additional weight in the rear of a trailer can have significant structural impact.

Look around at windows and doors. Check the floor around windows and doors and wheel wells with an ice pick. You’re looking for softness in the plywood floor in those areas.

Check the windows for weather seal. Missing Airstream windows can be very expensive and nearly impossible to find.

Smell – for fresh chemicals; caulk, glues and carpets under sinks, under windows and other areas prone to damaging leaks.

Look for leaks. Staying ahead of leaks is part of trailer ownership. Expect leaks. If the trailer you’re considering has leaks, and it’s been leaking a long time – EXPECT SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE.

Ask yourself, “Where has the trailer lived?” An Arizona trailer will not have suffered the rot and corrosion a Florida trailer suffers from. Ask for the trailer’s genealogy. Ask if the owner would share memorabilia or pictures.

If the plumbing has not been upgraded with new water pump / faucets / PEX, there may have been drips or leaks that also cause damage over time.

INSPECT THE HITCH before you hook your trailer up and take it home.

– interviewed in 2015 by the Loco Airstreamer

The Danger That Lurks… Airstream and Aluminum Wire

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People new to the world of vintage trailers often ask me if a particular trailer looks like a “good one”. Sometimes the trailer is a good one, sometimes it’s a trailer that looks like a good one but is really a shell on the verge of imploding on itself. Most are somewhere in between.

One of the trailers we are working on is a 1966 Airstream Safari. This trailer came to us to be gutted and turned into a mobile boutique trailer. At first glance the trailer really looked solid, however once we started removing the furniture and the laminate plank floor that covered, or more accurately hid, the plywood floor below, it became evident that this trailer, while having a great body, was in dire need of a lot of attention. Hidden below the plank flooring were areas of rot from where the windows have leaked over the years. And as is typical for mid to late 60s Airstreams, the floor in the rear of the trailer was shot. Not a big deal, plywood floor replacement is something we do on a regular basis. The surprise was that Airstream ran the ac power wiring for the refrigerator through a seam in the aluminum. No strain relief, no protective grommet, just the jacketed 10/2 w/ ground wire rubbing against the sharp aluminum edge of the interior skin. Granted, the wire had not shorted – yet; there is no way to tell how long the circuit would have remained intact. None the less, this was a hazard waiting to happen. A good example for thoroughly going through the systems on these old trailers and not just assuming that because everything works and is presentable that it will be safe and dependable; emphasis on the word ‘safe’

As a postscript to this hazard is another fact that every mid to late 60s Airstream owner needs to know if they are not already aware. Airstream used aluminum wiring for ac and dc voltage circuits starting in the mid 1960s. You can determine if your trailer has aluminum wire by reading the jacket of the wire – it will tell you the conductor sizes and if it is aluminum will have the notation AL. Airstream used 10/2 with a ground on the ac wiring circuits and 10/2 on dc circuits. Neither wire is ideally suitable for use in a travel trailer. The ac circuits are the primary concern. If you can’t rewire the trailer then I would recommend you purchase new duplex wall outlets that are designed for use with aluminum wire and replace all of the wall outlets. It would not be uncommon to find wires that are nearly burned in two at the outlet or insulation on the hot conductor that is discolored from heat. Also, I would make every effort to replace all of the higher load circuits, such as the air conditioner circuit, with copper wire. And lastly, I would look at the connections at each circuit breaker making sure they have not been overheated and are not loose.  For good measure I would dip the end of each wire in Noalox to help prevent the bare aluminum wire from oxidizing. Proper wiring design and techniques are crucial for a safe trailer.

Provenance

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It’s known and used as a place to gather electronically and share stories, talents, information and to socialize about all things Airstream. Airforums.com is not a new thing in this age of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, it’s been around for better than a decade, the membership expanding every year.

The popularity of vintage trailers, Airstream in particular, was already on the rise in the early 2000s. People that owned these aluminum jewels began to use the internet to learn more about them so that they could make repairs, customize them or just meet other people that owned a vintage trailer. One person in particular, a young man from Dallas, owned such a trailer and after becoming overwhelmed by the project that lay before him and the lack of information available,  conceived the idea of a forum dedicated to Airstream and www.airforums.com was born.  As the years have past, Airforums, has become the “go to” spot to for novices and experts alike to share information, socialize, buy and sell and foster the dreams that we all have in our love affair with vintage Airstream trailers.

Most of you probably already know of airforums.com and I’m honored to have in our shop the 1961 Airstream Bambi that planted the seed that would become www.airforums.com on which we’re known as “62 Overlander”, a name that we chose when we caught the fever in late 2002 after finding our jewel for sale in a snow bank high in the mountains of Colorado.ForumsBambi-1