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Old 08-13-2009, 07:45 PM   #1
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1978 31' Sovereign
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Pre-purchase inspection

I'm about to purchase a '74 International Sovereign. After months of searching, this one came up at the right price. I would like to know what items I should check and inspect in Airstreams in general, and for this year and model.

It has the rear bath with a double bed in the center. Also has awnings on individual windows, not one giant awning across the front.

I am totally new to Airstreams, but have learned a ton just by reading the forums. Would love some input from the experienced.

One more thing, I plan to take this on a 5 to 6 month roadtrip. Hopefully you have some advice of what I need to certainly have checked out for such a trip.
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Old 08-13-2009, 10:09 PM   #2
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Pre-purchase inspection

Greetings adwriter73!

Quote:
Originally Posted by adwriter73 View Post
I'm about to purchase a '74 International Sovereign. It has the rear bath with a double bed in the center. Also has awnings on individual windows, not one giant awning across the front.
Your best resource is the Airstream Trailer Checklist found here on the Airforums. This checklist is comprehensive and contains all systems that should be considered regardless of the coach's age.

One thing to consider regarding the window awnings in the front is that they provide little or no protection from road debris while in-transit. The wing windows are particularly expensive to replace so good protection from road debris is desirable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by adwriter73 View Post
One more thing, I plan to take this on a 5 to 6 month roadtrip. Hopefully you have some advice of what I need to certainly have checked out for such a trip.
An expedition of this scope is going to identify any shortcomings in the coach. Particularly if the coach has been lightly used in the past several seasons, any appliance getting ready to fail will likely take the opportunity of a long extended trip to demonstrate its intent. The items that would concern me most in inspecting the coach prior to embarking on an extended trip would be:
  • Axles and Running Gear:
    • If the axles are badly worn or have taken a "set" or seized, an extended trip could provide quite a beating for the coach--resulting in popped rivets and other evidence of the resulting rough ride.
    • Bearings should be inspected and serviced to insure safety.
    • This coach is from the period when Excella Hydra-Vac Disc Brakes were first madea available. If the coach has these brakes, they open up another area needing close inspection since parts are relatively difficult to find -- Inland RV probably has the biggest selection of these parts.
      • If you plan to tow with a diesel or a tow vehicle's who's motor produces limited vacuum, this is a major consideration with Hydra-Vac Disc Brakes as they require a constant vacuum source from the tow vehicle in order to operate properly. It is possible to install a new aftermarket actuator on the coach that resolves this issue, but it is expensive.
      • The calipers, pads, and rotors all need thorough inspection as getting parts while on the road could be a potential headache.
      • The hydraulics should be inspected to verify that all lines and subassemblies are functioning properly and that corossion is not a problem.
    • If the coach has standard drum-type electric trailer brakes, you will want to have them closely inspected.
      • If many new parts are required, new fully-loaded backing plates will have all new wear and electrical arts to refresh the brakes.
      • For best braking performance, the drums should be turned and matche to the shoes -- I had never had the operation performed prior to having a local Brand X dealer service the brakes on my Overlander -- the improvement in performance is remarkable!
    • You will want to be certain that the coach is not suffering from rear end separation or frame sag. Taking an extended trip in a coach already suffering from either of these maladies, could result in worsening of the existing condition.
      • Rear end separation ocurrs when the botls attaching the body to the floor in the rear no longer are able to do their job. The condition can be identified by having someone stand on the rear bumper and measuring and movement between the body and the frame extension upon which the bumper rides -- the larger the measurement, the greater the concern.
        • If separation is present, there will almost certainly be some floor rot in the rear as well -- the extent varies greatly and in part is related to the amount of time that the condition has been left untreated.
        • The factory has issued a service process to correct the condition, and there are a number of dealers who routinely perform this repair -- it can be relatively costly.
      • Frame droop or sag is a problem that can usually be identified by an unexplained bulge in the side panel(s) either immediately behind or over the wheel well.
        • In a worse case scenario, there may even be a crack in the frame near the axle mounting plates.
        • The factory has a service bulletin regarding this problem and offers a repair kit to remedy the problem. Many coach's of this era have already had this fix applied.
    • You will want to be sure that you have good quality tires mounted on wheels known to be good. Careful inspection of the wheels for evidence of damage, particularly if they are alloys is a good idea prior to an extended expedition.
    • The coupler should be checked for condition. A rebuild kit itn't terribly expensive and would be good insurance for a reduced stress expedition.
    • The break-away switch should be inspected for correct operation. Again, it is a comparatively inexpensive part that can easily be replaced as an "insurance" measure prior to an extended expedition in an "unknown" coach.
    • Hitch parts including snap-up brackets, weight distribution bars, chains, and hitch head should be inspected for wear with worn parts being replaced.
    • The tounge jack should be inspected and lubricated. If the gears appear to be slipping or binding, repair or replacement may be advisable. A broken tongue jack can really ruin a day because it nearly always results in a huge inconvenience.
    • All LP appliances should be inspected by a qualified service technician.
      • The automatic LP switch-over regulator should be inspected for proper performance.
      • The LP tanks should be examined for up-to-date inspections and the presence of OPD valves. If the tanks need new valves, aluminum tanks usually indicate new valves and insepcition while it is usually less costly to go with new tanks if your existing tanks are steel.
      • The water heater should be inspected and the burner adjusted. The most frequent problem is an air intake tube that is plugged by spider nests or mud dauber nests. If the tank is original, it has reached such an age that leaks could appear at almost any time.
      • The refrigerator should be inspected for proper operation on both propane and 120-volt AC electric. It would be wise to have the burner and chimney cleaned to insure safety.
      • If you plan to use the furnace, it should be examined very closely as the furnaces used in this era were known for problems with heat exchanger rust that could result in carbon monoxide being released into the coach.
    • Fixtures that use water should be checked for leaks as well as corrossion damage. Most faucets were major brand names such as Moen so replacement parts are often still available.
    • The house battery should be inspected for age an condition as well as to be certain that it is actually a deep cycle RV/Marine battery.
    • The power converter should be checked for proper performance -- if it is the original Univolt, it is not known for its kindness to batteries.
    • The air conditioner should be inspected and serviced, particularly if it is the original Armstrong Bay Breeze. If it is the original Bay Breeze, it should be repairable if it isn't operating up to expectation -- just be prepared to locate a technician who normally services commercial cooling equipment and RV technicians will nearly always condemn the air conditioner due to its age.
I have routinely taken six or eight week expeditions with my '64 Overlander, but my first wasn't until I had owned the coach for three years. What you propose shouldn't be particularly difficult with adequate pre-trip preparation.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin
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1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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Old 08-13-2009, 10:45 PM   #3
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1978 31' Sovereign
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Wow. Thanks for taking to the time to go through all this. I have heard concerns about the rear sag issue, but wasn't real sure how to check it. This Airstream has sat unused for 5 years. On thing that concerns me is it has been used for storage. It is packed from floor to ceiling, front to back with heavy boxes. You can see that this weight has lowered the trailer quite a bit. Would this hurt the suspension permanently? I had planned to re-pack the wheel bearings as just routine maintenance, but I'm thinking maybe I should just have the axles replaced with all new gear. The brakes are not the Vac system, but should probably be checked out. Thanks again for the tips. I wil be inspecting the trailer fully this weekend.
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Old 08-13-2009, 10:56 PM   #4
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Pre-purchase inspection

Having been used for storage brings up concerns about the weight. Chances are very high that the suspension has taken a permanent "set" which will limit axle travel and suspension effectiveness. If the weight of what was stored in the coach was significant, it could have "sprung" the frame or damaged some of the cross-beams or outriggers. The use as a storage unit also would mean that rodents may have made the coach their home as well as other vermin that were able to find a comparatively undisturbed place to live -- it would indicate close inspection for possible vermin damage. This use would also point toward probable lack of maintenance which may have meant that leaks may have gone undectected for several years -- check carefully under windows and around doors and access hatches for evidence of water damage.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin
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WBCCI (Lifetime Member)/VAC/Free Wheelers #6359
AIR #827
1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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Old 08-14-2009, 11:04 AM   #5
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1978 31' Sovereign
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More good tips, thanks. How can I check frame or suspension damage? I may need to take it the local Airstream shop for a more thorough mechanical inspection. The storage items are old office files. Stacked, these can weigh quite a bit. You can see the trailer sitting low...I only assume it's because of the weight inside. The current owner is cleaning it out for me to inspect on Saturday. Hopefully there will be no big surprises.
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Old 08-14-2009, 11:24 AM   #6
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Pre-purchase inspection

The axles are fairly easy to check. Inland RV's website has an article that gives specific things to look for that will give an indication of the axle's condition -- see this link.

A cursory check for frame issues should include:
  • Irregularities in the floor such as buckling, undulations, and/or rapid changes in elevation.
  • Examine the banana wraps looking for vertical dents or slits. Vertical dents or slits indicate outriggers that are either failing due to rust or are being deformed and pushed throgh the skin due to other issues.
  • Rapping along the frame rails with a rubber mallet will indicate if there is excessive rust flaking -- identified by metallic soundss in bellypan -- this is not an absolute indicator, but excessive noise can indicate rust flakes lying on the bellypan -- or refuse from rodent infestation lying on bellypan.
An Airstream dealer could take measurements to identify a "sprung" or bent frame, but you may want to ask about the price for such an inspection -- it may more costly than anticipated.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin
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AIR #827
1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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