Buying an airstream can be an exciting, even a life-changing purchase, so it will really make sense if you take your time and equip yourself with the necessary information needed before purchasing one.
The History behind the Airstream
Airstream is the oldest brand in the industry, which began in the early 1930’s. Wally Bryan had a dream to build a travel trailer that moved like a stream of air, hence the name, Airstream.
It takes approximately 350 skilled workers to produce one trailer, which explains the cost. The Airstream was used by NASA for Apollo 11 to quarantine the astronauts until they were cleared.
Pros of Airstream Over Other Trailers
The Airstream Community is like no other. Owning an Airstream is belonging to a family. They hold major Rallies and Events. Which is a good place to talk to others before purchasing an Airstream?
Check out the Wally Byam Caravan Club International which includes forums, rally info and more.
The company originally started in California then moved to Jackson Center, Ohio. It is the oldest Brand in the industry. The plans used to be sold on the back of magazines.
The Manual Raw Mechanical Nature of an Airstream
On most motorhomes and RV’s, the mechanical features are automatic. Which just like cars when anything electric breaks and it will, it can become costly to repair. The mechanics of the Airstream are complex.
It’s got an aluminum structure and an aluminum body and of course an aluminum exterior put together entirely with rivets.
The good thing about the aluminum structure is you kind of get a little more bend and flexibility than you would with other trailers. This might not sound like a really good thing but if you’re on a super rigid road and you have a really rigid structure and you hit a big bump, it has a harder impact on the trailer if rigid.
Each Airstream is different when it comes to storage. Some Airstreams have more windows, which then eliminates storage and vice versa. Although the Airstream design is genius at utilizing every inch of space.
About 60% of airstreams on the road today are from the 50’s and 60’s. Due to their durable nature, most airstreams can last for over 40 years. For a travel trailer or a motorhome to last that long you will really have to “baby” and take really good care for them to last long if possible.
The interior such as the wood cabinets, mattresses, heater, and microwaves are made of high-quality materials which last longer.
As said, ” Silver is Green”. The materials such as aluminum, steel, and wood used to make airstreams are can be recycled. When using an airstream, you’re indirectly saving the environment.
Unique Patented Aerodynamic Shape
Thanks to the unique aerodynamic shape of the Airstream trailer, their tow vehicles require 20% less fuel than a box type of trailer. This results to a 10 to 20% saving of fuel on each trip.
Also, airstreams are known for that slippery shape that enables it cut through the wind, whether is a headwind, a side wind, airstream trailers don’t get pushed around, so you feel comfortable behind the wheel.
One of the things that have made Airstreams famous over the past years is the ease of towing. This really starts at the bottom, Airstreams are made such that the center of gravity is kept really low.
Most travel trailers manufacturers build above the wheel but with Airstreams, they are built between the wheels. This brings the floor down, the frame down, which lowers the center of gravity.
To enhance that, the tanks are kept within the frames so the huge water tank is closest to the road. This means that, in an emergency lane change situation, or a lane change, the trailer is much less likely to sway behind the vehicle and not fall over.
Airstreams use rubber torsion axle rather than spring suspension, not only are they more durable but they provide a better more stable ride.
Towing an Airstream can be stressful and dangerous if your tow vehicle isn’t the correct weight capacity.
Compared to other travel trailers in general, An Airstream can cost you anywhere from $139,000 and above. This is due to their durability and how well-built they are. You can sway some of the cost by purchasing a used Airstream.
You Can’t Access the Airstream While on the Road
Not unlike any travel trailer, you can’t access the Airstream while on the road like you can in a Class A motorhome. Although they are easier to pull over and do an overnight in a Walmart parking lot than a fifth wheel. Setting up camp is also a bit easier because you don’t have slides to deal with.
An Airstream tends to be a bit more crowded and narrower. Don’t be surprised when you tend to bump your head and your elbow. Also, the ceilings are 6 inches shorter than an average travel trailer and if you’re 5’6 and taller you will have to duck each time you are going through the doors. There is very little counter space and also the water storage is 6 gallons instead of 10.
To keep an airstream looking shiny and new you must keep on top of maintaining the exterior. It is a labor-intensive process. To have it professionally done can be expensive, depending on size and deterioration.
Buying an Airstream
What to Look for When Purchasing a Pre-owned(Vintage) Airstream:
Airstreams are relatively rare, and if you restrict yourself to the purchasing pool that is available in your immediate community could changeling. As mentioned above, consider attending Rallies and Events to get a close-up view of all different designs and sizes of Airstreams.
By doing a nationwide search will typically result in better prices and more options. Finding the right Airstream at the right price might be worth having it shipped to you.
When we purchased our fifth wheel (not an Airstream), we drove from Northern Michigan to Florida. We inspected it ourselves, paid for it and had it delivered.
After searching our area for months, we began a nationwide search for a Mobile Suite fifth wheel. Even with travel expenses, it saved us money and we got the RV we wanted.
There are a few more Airstreams that are in good shape out West but there are also some good finds on the East coast.
When considering a type of Airstream to purchase, try not to involve your emotions in the process. Do not let the excitement about buying an Airstream overwhelm your good judgment.
In fact, you need to be attentive to the bad. That is while looking for the right trailer, you need to completely ignore the good things, and look for the bad things such as the condition of the exterior, structural damage, any electrical wiring that might need to be worked on.
Making a checklist will help you see things clearly.
I highly recommend you use third-party tools when conduction your airstream search. In addition to looking on eBay and Craigslist, we used RVtrader to find our fifth wheel.
The point of using the third party is, you don’t let emotion rule the process because emotion will draw up the price.
Questions to ask…
Ask to see maintenance records and receipts (if pre-owned)
If a private seller, why are they selling?
How old are the tires (verify the year on the tire)?
Verify the year of Airstream
Does it come with an extended warranty?
Research thoroughly before making a purchase.
Have they made any electrical upgrades?
When purchasing a vintage airstream from a private party, you need to have someone look at it or better still you. I highly recommend you get an airstream expert to look at it for you and conduct a pre-purchase inspection.
With some of the vintage Airstreams, you’ve got to be concerned with some of the wiring
Usually, if it hadn’t been tampered with, it’s good because it’s only taking 12 volts through the wiring, but a lot of the trailer owners often convert the wiring to run-off a 110 volt and some of the trailers have aluminum wiring which can become brittle over time.
If you have a problem with your wiring, most at times it’s going to be right behind the light fixtures, electrical outlet source, and areas where you can get to and examine and make sure there are no real issues. Very fairly will you see a lot of damage in the inner walls where you really cannot get to?
In addition, make sure to check out the frame. The frames have an underbelly which tends to protect them over the years however, it is easy to take the underbelly off to examine the frame.
Usually, if you’re going to have problems, it will be the part that is exposed in the front of the trailer, so check that really well and make sure that there is no bad surface rust or holes through the frame.
For the aluminum skin, usually if it’s not too damaged, then you don’t have to replace it, but if the skin is in bad condition it will have to be replaced. This is a very labor extensive process to get all the rivets out, re-rivet and replace the panel. Whether you get a good replacement panel or you have to repair the panel, it can be costly.
You wouldn’t want the wood subfloor rotting. The flooring can be pretty expensive if you’ve got a lot of floor rot. Very often, it is easier to remove the whole body from the frame of the trailer to be able to get the wood frame back underneath the walls.
A majority of airstreams do sit on the wood flooring, so there can be rot around the perimeter, you’re better off in time and money to go ahead and lift off the whole body of the trailer off the frame.
How to Clean and Maintain an Airstream:
*Note -Airstreams are built completely different from any other type of RV out there. So, if you’ve owned other types of RV’s or travel trailers in the past, forget everything you knew, Airstreams are unique. Below are general instructions for how to wash and care for an Airstream trailer. Always refer to your owner’s manual on which products are recommended and safe for your trailer. One of the most recommended products is Megviars Carwash, Click here for the current price.
Airstreams exterior and made of aluminum. As you know, aluminum creates oxidation by reacting to the oxygen in the air. The chemical reaction between the two doesn’t damage the exterior, it actually dulls the surface and darkens it.
All Airstreams are not created equal. Meaning, depending on the year of the Airstream the grade of the aluminum varied. Because of that, it will result in different degrees of shine.
A protective covering called Plasticoat is applied to all Airstreams to slow down the oxidation process. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever. After a time, the UV rays start to burn off the Plasticoat. Which you probably have seen on vintage Airstreams.
Just know, that polishing isn’t for everyone and every Airstream isn’t the same.
How to Wash the Exterior
The first thing, rinse entire Airstream with water only. This is to get as much debris and dirt off the coach as possible before we start the washing process, and this will help keep scratching down. Best done on a cloudy day or park in the shade if possible.
The second thing is to identify where the grain is in the aluminum. Every metal has grain in them. For most Airstreams, the grain runs from side to side and that is how you are going to wash your airstream.
The reason why you shouldn’t wash from top to bottom is that, if there is something on the wash brush or cloth, it may cause a scratch that will be visible. However, if we go with the grain of the metal, it will help eliminate scratching.
When washing, use a mild soap or Megviars Car Wash solution together with a microfiber sponge. You can also use a very soft bristle brush to get to some of the high spots.
Stripping and Polishing – Because this is a very labor-intensive procedure and critical steps in the process, this is not a weekend task. This should be left to the professionals. If you feel you are up to the task, there are many how-to videos on this topic. Truly, no two videos are the same. Be prepared for a workout. Not to mention the tools and products that you will need.
How to Clean the Interior
For the interior of our Airstream, we are going to use a lot of products that we may even have in our homes or even a lot of products we use in our homes.
When cleaning your aluminum walls, wood, you can use Pledge. This works really great and it’s going to give your surface that shines and also protect your surface. Microfiber cloths or 100% cotton rags work best, especially when dealing with the aluminum on the inside, just to keep scratches down.
And again, make sure to go with the grain of the metal when wiping. It’s important to turn or change the cloth often when cleaning to prevent small shards of metal from scratching the surface.
You can use a regular household sponge with a mild soap and water solution, or a multi-surface cleaner to clean most surfaces of your airstream such as the countertops.
If you have something harder to get off on a laminated surface, countertop or the woodwork, you can make some paste which consists of you multi-surface cleaner and a little bit of baking soda, put it in a cup mix it up till you get some sort of a paste and you use your sponge soaked with a little bit of warm water to get rid of the stain.
When cleaning, do not exert so much force on the surface. Instead, let the product do the work for you this would prevent scratches on surfaces.
If you have to clean the curtains, use a regular dry eraser to wipe the surface of the curtains and you will be good to go.
Lysol is another product that is talked about a lot when we talk about airstreams and you can use to clean the bathroom, glass, shower wall and things like that.
When cleaning the inside, make sure to try light-duty products and mixes before trying to get aggressive with stuff, and that should keep the inside of your airstream nice and clean. lasting long time and looking great in the future.
Mistakes to Avoid When RVing With Your Airstream:
Pay Attention to Your Tires
One major mistake many people make when they purchase an airstream is not to pay attention to their tires. Tires are important and easy to overlook. This is because most people think that as long as they are inflated, they should be good to go.
Well, it’s not just about the thread, it’s the side wall, and especially in warmer temperatures, if the side wall has cracks in it, you have a higher chance of causing your tire to blow. Especially when you have so much weight on them and you are going about 70mph.
Know the age of your tires, and check the tread at least once every week. And when in doubt, change them out and don’t just change the one faulty tire but try to change them all out especially if they are all getting old. This will ensure that the tires are in sync. Installing a TPMS is also an option.
- If You’re in Doubt About Your Hitch, Figure it Out
If you have a problem with your hitch making odd noises, be sure to have a professional look it over, the hitch is a major safety feature when towing. Yep, better safe than sorry.
- Without a Doubt, Don’t Bottom Out
Airstreams do not have a lot of clearance, and most airstream owners tend to overestimate what they can handle in terms of ditches, steepness of roads, and end up having a pretty nasty bottoming incident.
Should You Get a Smaller Airstream or a Bigger Airstream?
One major decision to make is choosing the right size of the airstream to fit your circumstances. The answer really depends on what you want to do.
But generally, the longer your rig, the more difficult it is to maneuver and limits access to remote areas. If you like to boondock, this should be an important factor to consider.
For a couple with no kids who full-time RV, a 25-foot Airstream might be all you need. However, you might want to consider some factors when deciding on size:
- What size bed
- A Desk and Space (Working Area)
There is nothing wrong with going big, again it depends on lifestyle and budget. For instance, if you plan on staying at RV parks for a month at a time than you might want a larger trailer. But if you intend on boondocking in remote areas a smaller trailer might be best?
How to Hitch Your Airstream
This process is broken up into three stages, the first will be attaching the hitch ball, the second stage will be attaching the spring bars to the arm, and lastly, you’re going to attach the safety chain and brake cables.
There are four stabilization jacks on an airstream trailer, two on each side. Before you begin, make sure to double check that all four stabilization jacks are in the raised position. Also, do not forget to put a wheel chock behind your tires to prevent any form of rolling.
We are going to start with the electric jack, and we are going to use it to raise the coupler high enough that the ball can fit the underneath.
Now the coupler is higher than the hitch ball, go into your car and reverse. It’s always a good advice to have someone behind you who can guide you as you reverse. Make sure that you’re lining the ball to the coupler.
TO unlock your coupler, pull the larch forward, and then raise it up.
Now you have your car lined up so that the ball is under the coupler, the coupler is unlocked, you can use the electric jack to lower the coupler on top of the ball.
With the coupler on top of the ball, lock the coupler and close it with a safety pin.
For stage two, we are going to assemble the two spring bars, from the hitch assembly to the arms. There are two reasons for attaching the spring bars,
- The first is that it helps redistribute weight across all the axles of your vehicle and the trailer.
- The second one is, it gives you three points of contact besides the spring ball which helps reduce sway when you’re on the road.
The spring bar is going to fit between the hitch mouth and the arm. But to begin, you are going to have the bar facing the vehicle. Place the bottom in and into the top and swing it around.
Lower the snap-up bracket by taking off the pin. You will realize that the spring bar doesn’t quite reach onto the arm, now what’s going to help is raising the trailer. When that is done, place the spring bar on the arm.
Now you are going to secure your snap-up bracket by raising the chain straight, and counting three lengths and grabbing the fourth and allowing the three fall, and you’re going to take the fourth length and put it onto the snap-up bracket and then you secure it with a safety pin.
Repeat this process for the second arm of the other side.
For the third stage, we are going to touch three things, first – Attach the safety chains.
- Secondly, attach the emergency brake cables
- Third, attach the 7-pin connector which controls the lights and the brakes.
The last step of the hitch up process is to retract the jack and remove the jack stand.
Why Should You Get an Airstream?
Airstreams have been around since the 1930s and are the oldest RV company in existence. There were 400 RV companies around in the ’30s but airstream has stood the test of time.
The Airstream trailer outlasts and outperforms other RV product on the market. From the design to the aerodynamics, to the solid rivet construction, makes the airstream so different from any other product.
Unlike most RVs, Airstreams are built like yachts and airplane, thus the outside shell is built first. The outside shell is built with a riveted construction made of aluminum when makes the airstream durable.
Other Rv manufacturers depend on the furniture to build their rig, but with the Airstream, the shell is the heart of it. Also, the structure is made of aluminum, which means there is no wood inside that is going to rot and mildew.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did, do not forget to leave a like and share with your friends. Feel free to leave any comment or question below.
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From Author of the book: by Patrick Foster “Airstream: Americas World Traveler“
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