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Old 04-26-2014, 01:27 AM   #1
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I am on the verge of purchasing my first airstream

I have been an RVer for the last 5 years. I currently use a 14' popup that weighs about 5,000 lbs loaded (it is literally the biggest popup I have ever seen).

I am considering taking my family on the road full-time next year and a popup just ins't going to cut it. I have a lot of questions. Most of them are about towing but I thought I would just list them all. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

What model/length airstream do you recommend I buy for safe and efficient towing with my Tahoe? I have a family of 4 and we are working on #5. I want to get as much space as possible but not if my gas mileage is gonna be terrible.

Are there any good places online where I can get a used/restored airstream? I live in Michigan and I have checked a few places but the selection is very limited.

Have any of you gone full-time in an airstream? Anyone know of any good blogs about it?

Is there anything else I should consider? Should I upgrade my tow vehicle first? New or vintage? Go ahead, comment, I am just looking for some folks to point me in the right direction.

Every time we go camping my wife points out the airstreams to me. I am fascinated by them. It has become sort of a dream...an obsession of mine. I am ready to make it happen. I apologize in advance for all of the questions I will be asking.
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Old 04-26-2014, 05:34 AM   #2
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A well-restored vintage airstream is hard to find. If you do, make sure it is well done and well documented. The common term around here for improperly done restorations is "polished turds". You'd be best served enlisting the help of an experienced inspector or a professional to inspect.

What size for a family? There are so many factors. I'd start browsing blogs of other full-timers. Here is a good place to start.
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Old 04-26-2014, 06:19 AM   #3
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We've got three young kids (two year old twins and a four year old) and own a1984 34' International.

The kids sleep in the back bedroom. We installed a bunk across the back so they all have their own bed and there's still space enough for toys on a rainy day. It works really well.

We then pulled the sofa forward by a foot and added an upholstered spacer into the empty space created. That created a very comfortable queen sized bed for me and my wife.

We love all the space in the 34' and how well she tows. Our model is very light, lighter than many a modern 27' trailer, which makes it possible for us to use our Honda Odyssey as a tow vehicle. Ready for camping, she only weighs in at about 7000 lbs.

Two thing I particularly like are the space in the galley, it's easy to cook, and the dinette to feed the hungry mob. When we're camping we usually just cover our bed with a large quilt during the day and use it for reading and naps for everybody. There is enough wardrobe space for everybody and even I at 6'6" can take a shower.

For us, it's the perfect setup. We are planning to take half a year off the year after next to travel across Canada and I have zero worries about doing this with our trailer, although I will most probably swap the van for a F150 for the trip so we can carry bikes and kayaks.

We bought our trailer from CanAm in London. Everything that needed fixing had been fixed, and it came with a 90 day warranty. We then paid extra for new flooring and upholstery work, which turned out really well. This year we are getting a dishwasher installed and next year we'll install a composting toilet.

Another good full timing family blog is malimish.com
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Old 04-26-2014, 07:04 AM   #4
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I wouldn't worry to much about size and fuel economy. There is actually very little difference in towing an 18 footer vs a 30 footer unless you are towing extensively in mountains. At highway speeds wind resistance is the key factor which is one of the reasons Airstreams tow so well. Get the best size for your family's needs.
I get better fuel economy towing my 28' Safai than I did with my ultra liight box type 18' which weighed only 2300.
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Old 04-26-2014, 07:14 AM   #5
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How big to go?

This is a tough question and you will get lot's of different answers. So, here is my 2 cents:

With two adults and two/three children, I would seriously consider one of the larger units. Look at the 30 foot front bunk, this is a great unit for a family. Go to National RV in Belleville and Woodland RV in Grand Rapids to see what they have on their lot. It's important that you see the unit you are considering in person and not just in a brochure. Travel to Colonial in NJ if you have to, they have one of the biggest inventories around and you will be able to see one of just about everything there.

Don't let your current tow vehicle constrain you. In the big picture, the cost of upgrading your tow vehicle should not be such a big factor. Select the unit you want, then match the tow vehicle to it.

Good luck, and take your time! Oh, and have fun!

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Old 04-26-2014, 07:24 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quizzo View Post
Anyone know of any good blogs about it?
Check this link out. More blogs than you can blog about!

Airstream Blogs - Aluminarium

Or, just Google airstream blog
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Old 04-26-2014, 10:09 PM   #7
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I have found a few good vintage trailers on here that I like. I am concerned about this "polished turd" thing now. Can anyone post some examples for me or give me pointers on what to look for?

Also, we have decided that our main criteria are
-Under 6500 lbs (dry weight)
-Private front or rear bedroom for the parents
-Dining table
-Nice, spacious shower

If any of you like to search for these kind of things online and want to hook me up with some links I will share my beer with you when I see you on the road!
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Old 04-27-2014, 07:14 AM   #8
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Good luck with the "spacious shower!" I"m 6'2" and have to be "fold" myself gently into our shower! ;-)

Your weight restriction is going to limit you to an older AS (recent ones seem to weigh a lot more than the older ones) or a newer 23 foot long unit which will be a challenge given your family and desire to full time (note that in quoting the size limitations based on your weight limit, I am assuming you mean the gross weight of the trailer including your possessions.) I'm not an aficionado of older trailers so someone else will hopefully chime in with some suggestions regarding older trailers that will meet your weight limit and your desire for room for a family of four/five.

God luck!
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Old 04-27-2014, 07:42 AM   #9
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I am not sure where the spacious shower will come into it. I am 5'7' and my husband is about 5'10". We find the shower a bit cramped.
With 3 children and wanting to full time I would be looking at the largest trailer I could find. Nice weather is no problem. Rainy days could become a nightmare and as the children grow space will be at a premium.
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Old 04-27-2014, 08:21 AM   #10
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Our 1984 34' International has a dry weight of 6250 lbs on paper, about 6300 lbs in real life.

Weight varies quite dramatically from model to model, year to year. I would not call or shower spacious, but it's large enough for me to shower in, relative, comfort.

If you want a private bedroom for the parents, then the bunkhouse is pretty much your only option, unless you're prepared to tiptoe past the sleeping kids every night. I am finding it far easier to have them in a private room leaving the rest of the trailer for me and my wife to use.
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Old 04-27-2014, 08:28 AM   #11
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Full time in an Airstream with a family of five? Not for me. Our 25 gets awfully small for the two of us in a couple of weeks. And in the winter, forget about it--insulation is nill.
But for someone who wants to try, I think the best value is a 30 foot plus Excella about 15 to 20 years old. The big ones don't seem to be as popular as the smaller ones and those years' models don't have classic appeal. Often the clear coat looks ugly which doesn't effect function but makes the price reasonable.
Prices vary all over the map. Fair value is less than 15k in my opinion. If you look hard enough you will find one.
They are heavy and might tax your Tahoe but I wouldn't buy a new tow vehicle until you have tried it with your new trailer. Good luck.
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Old 04-27-2014, 09:52 AM   #12
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... I am concerned about this "polished turd" thing now. Can anyone post some examples for me or give me pointers on what to look for?
...
Since I first mentioned the "polished turd" comment, I should explain.

The top half of an Airstream is a riveted aluminum shell -- strong and resistant to structural problems. The bottom half is a steel frame, covered by a plywood floor. This is the area of concern, since the floor is a critical part of the structure. If the floor becomes wet and rots, it needs to be replaced. The steel framing, if exposed to water, can rust and become weak.

The proper way to repair this damage is to remove all the furniture and at least the inner skins, raise the shell off of the frame, repair and reweld the steel frame, replace the plywood and reinstall the shell. Yes, it is a lot of work.

A "polished turd" is one that has inadequate floor repair, hidden structural damage, but shines beautifully.

IMHO, there is nothing better than a well restored vintage trailer. They are about half the weight of the new ones and are very cool. They are hard to find.

Specifications? Look here.

Photo Archive is here.
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Old 04-27-2014, 10:05 AM   #13
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I had a feeling that's what you were talking about. Are there any tricks to help determine if there is are any structural issues?
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Old 04-27-2014, 07:41 PM   #14
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Lots of things to consider. The older Airstreams are a bit lighter than the new ones. Our 25' 1988 is listed as 6800 GVW and actually weighs 6300 or so when we go. We also have a 32' the same year that is of course longer and heavier. Both get about the same fuel milage when towing. Both have a twin bed setup in the back with a door that can be closed off. The longer trailer does have a huge shower. Excessively big, in my opinion. It also has a lot of closet space and room to seat people in the front. Ours does not have the dinette so it has more chair space and moving around space. Additional sleeping would be on the gaucho.
The only way I would want to live in an Airstream is if I could keep it in a fairly moderate climate. Very cold weather and very hot weather are problematic.
My pick would be a 25' rear bedroom from the mid 80's on up because it is a good blend of livability and tow ability. 25 probably commands the highest resale price though. The longer, older trailers are the cheapest. the shorter vintage trailers are the most expensive. I have bought 2 used Airstreams and have had problems to fix with both. Things to look for are leaks and subsequent damage to the floors and frame. Pay particular attention to the A frame where it goes into the aluminum. Poke it with a icepick. Check the floor in all of the compartments, under the gauche, and where ever else you can get to it. I would just not buy a rear bath model. On the big trailers check the connection between the frame and the skin. If the trailer smells bad it could be bad.
Check the classifieds on this site. If you could find a way, there airstreams post for sale on the bulletin boards of Airstream parks. Check the TCPC website and the Travelers Rest Resort website. It would be nice to buy one from someone who used it, cared for it, and now wants to sell it. There were a half dozen for sale when we left TRR this year. There were 6 on the board at TCPC this weekend. Trailers that have sat for years without use are a very heavy risk.
Work on airstreams is expensive. Just for information, I paid around $12000 for each of mine and then spent around $9000 on the 2 together in terms of repairs and upgrades. I could have done the repairs cheaper but took them to Jackson Center for a lot of the work. One needed a new A frame. The moral might be to pay a bit more up front to get one that does not need work.
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