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Old 03-09-2010, 10:02 PM   #1
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pitfalls of buying vintage refurbished

Hi all,

I've been lurking on here for the past few years and have picked up much great information. After kicking tires for a few years, we think we are finally ready to take the plunge. My wife and I (and our 8yr old son) are looking for an airstream that is in ready to camp condition, in the 20 to 23 ft range. Mostly plan on weekend getaways, and maybe one longer trip each year.

We love the look of vintage trailers, but are not particularly handy so can't really contemplate buying a real vintage that has sat out for some time and expecting to do the repairs ourselves.

It seems that a vintage trailer that has already been refurbished would be our best bet. The trailers on vintage-airstream look particularly appealing. There are several currently listed in the $17k - to low $20ks that look like they would fit the bill. The ads say that all systems are working, they are freshly polished, new tires, etc..

Has anyone on here had experience going this route (i.e., vintage refurbished)? Will the costs of owning this be much greater than a more recent year model?

If this route involves too much risk, we are also tempted by some of the new sport models (the 22' sport), or an almost new '23FB model. But those are going to run us in the upper 30ks or higher.

Thanks for any suggestions or ideas you might have!
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Old 03-09-2010, 10:05 PM   #2
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Honestly, if you aren't handy (either with tools or a credit card), you should probably go with a new(er) unit. That way, at least in theory, by the time the trailer needs work, you will have been around it enough to have the basics down as far as working on it.
The purchase price of a vintage unit is generally considered the down payment of the ownership.
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Old 03-09-2010, 10:24 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by overlander63 View Post
The purchase price of a vintage unit is generally considered the down payment of the ownership.
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Old 03-09-2010, 10:30 PM   #4
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Discerning the actual condition of any used Airstream is very complex. Understanding the degree and quality of a restoration is ... apply any adjective you want. Polish looks very nice. Did they really spend as much attention on the LP system, furnace, HW heater, fridge, running gear, etc. Did they really replace the axle(s)? One of the leakiest Airstreams I've seen was done by a very reputable restorer. You'll probably not get a warranty worth a ream of inkjet paper. Paraphrasing the guys on theVAP.com -- hiring out a full and quality vintage restoration will cost you something in the neighborhood of a new Airstream. Guess which one will require the least amount of time for a busy or not-mechanically-inclined owner?

I first heard the following term from theVAP guys but it's been around longer than that -- know what you're getting and make sure it's not a "polished turd."

Were I to go this direction, I'd talk to Colin Hyde to have him do a resto the right way and get his suggestions on how to acquire a promising Airstream for him to work from.

You're asking the right questions. Keep it up!
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Old 03-09-2010, 10:38 PM   #5
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You can get lucky. We bought our '65 Caravel in 2000. It had been used often and with care. The PO had replaced many things and everything was in very good working order. The same goes for our '83 Excella. Both trailers were, and are, in great condition. Much depends on why the trailer is being sold. The caravel was being sold because the guy met a new lady with children, and needed a larger unit. The Excella was sold because the owner wanted more room, a slide, a walk around bed etc.

Very good used Airstreams are out there. You just have to "be in the right place at the right time". You must be ready to buy now. Good use Airstreams sell fast. Usually, smaller vintage Airstreams will sell for more then larger units because they are "cute".

That's just the way it is.
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Old 03-09-2010, 10:48 PM   #6
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telebuck,
Let me know if I can help, I live right up the road from you.
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Old 03-09-2010, 11:38 PM   #7
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hi 'buck

here's what we know...

1. u'd like to spend ~20k$
2. aren't handy OR don't wanna spend a year fixing one for camping
3. mostly weekends maybe 1 long trip
4. want 20-23 foot
5. 2 adult and 1 child.
________

i don't like the term vintage and sellers USING that term want more money...

the choices are NEW, nearly new/USED, modern/USED and really old trailers (ROT)...

20 k IS a reasonable purchase price, but don't forget insurance, ONgoing repairs/up keep and is this CASH or finance?

20-23 is a VERY restrictive/limited size range...

these aren't TRUE bambis but they aren't double axle trailers either...

it a size range that may not have a FULL bathroom (wet bath) or 2 sensible sleeping areas, full size fridge OR dinette,

and ONLY one axle makes for the squirrel-y-est handling ...

NOW

once u get past the SHELL and RUNNING GEAR and size,

it's the interior, appliances and TANKS that largely determine cosmetic appear AND usefulness...

so a refurbished ROT may not have 3 holding tanks or ANY modern appliances....

a BRAND new one has ALL of those things, plus a warranty...

while in between the nearly new/modern USED units...

typically have 3 holding tanks, plenty of gadgets, but often have DATED upholstery and carpets...

so the search should be EXPANDED to 23-25 footers from the early 80s ONward...

these are LESS likely to need axles, may NOT have floor rot yet and often have FULLY functional appliances...

but MIGHT need new 'software' interior bits (curtains, uphostery, carpets) which are the EASIEST/least expensive upgrades to do...

living in ohio, one would want WORKING air conditioning AND a working furnace,

and 80s or newer will/shoud have those things along with MORE space, 3 tanks and so on...

the exterior shape may not be AS appealing as a ROT but get past that into the features and NEEDs for camping...

again IF buying older/used try to buy the VERY BEST example that is within budget,

LESSer trailers (cheap purchase price) will generally cost MORE to make livable/useful...

in fact go a TAD larger (27 foot) and prices may be EVEN lower for NICE fully functional units...

lots of threads on the new/used/ROT issues...

here are a few (ignore the titles they are ALL on point)...

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f353...new-56911.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f142...new-36995.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f348...new-32343.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f48/...-it-21921.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f293...ity-27019.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f161...eam-21411.html

cheers
2air'
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Old 03-10-2010, 04:56 AM   #8
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Hello and welcome, My 23' safari is a good size for a small family as yours. It is also a tandem axle. Being a 71 I did have some work but all appliances worked but thats what you get for 3k. 10-20k will buy you a nice unit of this size that has been taken good care of, It will take time and travel. Let me know if I can help down my way. Robert
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Old 03-10-2010, 06:18 AM   #9
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Thanks to all for the very informative replies and offers of help. They are much appreciated! Quite a bit of food for thought, which is exactly what I need. I'll dig into these other threads as well. Will keep you posted on which direction we go.
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Old 03-10-2010, 08:54 AM   #10
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Various thoughts:

- Different people have different ideas what "restoration" means. I've seen trailers advertised in the mid-teens with cosmetic alterations like new hardwood floors (heavy), new cabinets (heavy) - yet sagged-out axles and no mention of checking for frame or subfloor integrity.

That doesn't mean that you can't find some really well-done older trailers in your price range. You need to keep an eye out for them and know what to look for. And you're more likely to find one of those listed through here (or through forum word of mouth) than on Craigslist.

- If you like the Sport 22', lightly used (or leftover new 2008s) at one point were selling for $25k-$27kish. (Prices seem to have rebounded a bit recently.) I know my local dealer has two 22' 2008s sitting there. My perception is that it wasn't exactly the most popular model.

It's a narrow-body trailer; we've learned to really like that for towing. That 22' floorplan gives you 2 sleeping areas, with a big front dinette (if you skip the newer 22FB Sport models), and a rather nice full bath across the back.

The things I dislike about it are the fuzzy inside walls (2010 went to aluminium), the lack of a rear bumper (careful backing into a campsite), and windows that don't fully open. There is a dealer-installed kit for a second curbside window - that's a nice addition that became standard on later trailers. 2009 brought an optional front panaromic window (we love those on our Argosy), but those were selling for $30k last time I looked.

Honestly, if you aren't that handy (we aren't either) and you like that trailer, and you have that budget (we didn't at the time we bought our Argosy), the 22' strikes me as a pretty logical way to go - go find one and bargain hard!

I also think you could find a recent 19' or 20' trailer for under $30k. My current daydream trailer is a 2007 20' Safari SE - they seem to be selling for right at $30k and have a great floorplan.

Finally, I want to second (third? forth?) the idea that the initial cost of buying vintage is only the down payment. Let's just say that I've doubled my initial investment in my Argosy, and that was on a fundamentally very solid trailer. Stuff adds up, and labor isn't cheap.

Tom
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Old 03-10-2010, 11:18 AM   #11
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I ended up buying new after deciding that I didn't have the time or inclination for a restoration project, having taken on any number of house, car, other old building, furniture, etc restoration projects over the years. I looked at newer used trailers (last five years) and came to the conclusion that the market is overvaluing them and the new ones are a better deal. I know the market varies regionally so your situation may be different.

As with cars, by buying new you get to experience a trailer's best years and have the opportunity to reap the benefits of proper use, maintenance, and storage later on if you keep it for a number of years. While there is the possibility of shakeout problems it is really our expectation that any maintenance over the first ten years will be minimal, and limited to the occasional leak and appliance, plumbing, or electrical problem. Obviously parts availability and fit won't be a factor.

I'm shopping for an Avion truck camper of the late 1960s vintage and realize that even one in good condition will be a different story where I'm going to be dealing with floor rot and older appliances where parts availability is sparse and replacement units won't fit without considerable adaptation. But I can camp in the traylah in the meantime so it won't matter as much.
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Old 03-10-2010, 07:53 PM   #12
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Great question and sage advice from all who have posted so far.

Quote:
Originally Posted by telebuck View Post
I've been lurking on here for the past few years and have picked up much great information. After kicking tires for a few years, we think we are finally ready to take the plunge. My wife and I (and our 8yr old son) are looking for an airstream that is in ready to camp condition, in the 20 to 23 ft range. Mostly plan on weekend getaways, and maybe one longer trip each year.
IMO, 20 to 23 foot will work for a few years - but what about when the boy gets a bit older (and maybe wants to bring along a friend)? This leads to a situation that you should invest no more than what you are able to walk away from (miuch like playing the ponies, the stockmarket, or spending a weekend at a casino). This info leads me to suggest (as I did when I first dipped my toes into the AS way of life) to get what you think you want, get into this unit as cheaply as possible, and be prepared to lose a couple of grand when you decide to either get rid of the trailer or upgrade to a newer and/or larger trailer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by telebuck View Post
We love the look of vintage trailers, but are not particularly handy so can't really contemplate buying a real vintage that has sat out for some time and expecting to do the repairs ourselves.
OK - here is a FACT - ALL trailers need repair from time to time - older trailers reqiuire more repairs than newer ones - work this into your purchase budget. Figure most shop rates will be between 50 and 100 dollars per hour.

Quote:
Originally Posted by telebuck View Post
It seems that a vintage trailer that has already been refurbished would be our best bet. The trailers on vintage-airstream look particularly appealing. There are several currently listed in the $17k - to low $20ks that look like they would fit the bill. The ads say that all systems are working, they are freshly polished, new tires, etc..
Buying "Refurbished Vintage" could be your worst nightmare. Like my signature line says - suck it up and spend the bucks - hire a qualified Airstream Repairman - one who has actually repaired the frame, floor, and shell intersection - one who KNOWS what to look for - and one who would be in a position to give you an impartial and knowledgeable third party opinion. This outsourcing, just like travel to examine a potential purchase needs to be built into the final procurement price

Quote:
Originally Posted by telebuck View Post
Has anyone on here had experience going this route (i.e., vintage refurbished)? Will the costs of owning this be much greater than a more recent year model?
Unfortunately, I have seen units that "new" owners are very proud of, and all I see is a pretty shell and some fancy wood in the interior. What I have to bite my tongue about and shut up is the rear sag and rear separation that the new owner hasn't a clue is about to bite him in the butt. I do not point out the "new" floor simply laid on top of the old floor - a sure sign that the new floor will have to be ripped out, the lower interior panels removed, the bolts holding the "C" channel and the old floor removed and the old floor torn out and worked into the area between the "C" channel and the frame. Don't forget the time and bucks to do a proper "splice" patch between the parts of the old floor that might be able to be left (hopefully you don't have to tear out the cabinets, but you never know 'till you get "into" it and do a proper inspection). Oh, yeah, any "vintage" gas regulator or appliance you might want to trust your life to while you are sleeping - fridge, heater, stove/oven, water heater. Did I mention the 12 and 110 volt system yet? Univolts fail - boil batteries - fill the interior with hydrogen sulphide gas....

Yes, grasshopper, the cost of Vintage COULD be MUCH higher than a new unit - see first paragraph - don't put more into it than you are prepared to walk away from (less a very basic "as is - come and get it" price).

Quote:
Originally Posted by telebuck View Post
If this route involves too much risk, we are also tempted by some of the new sport models (the 22' sport), or an almost new '23FB model. But those are going to run us in the upper 30ks or higher.
Don't forget to add "the rest" of the cost of ownership - storage, insurance, depreciation, interest....

Just like RoseAnn RoseAnna Dana's mama says, "It's ALWAYS sumpin' ".


You gots to pays you bucks and takes you chances.
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Old 03-10-2010, 08:32 PM   #13
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Great, GREAT, stuff everyone. And my bubble is now officially burst. Or maybe just my wifes.

87MH... your thoughts on the real COST of the old appliances puts it all in perspective for sure. Leaning very strongly now towards "sucking it up, and spending the bucks..." Love your threads on the '78 Sovereign, BTW. Beautiful job.

2Air... you have broken down the issues better than I ever could myself.

Canoestream... will not soon forget the concept of a "polished turd."

Great to hear though that the vintage trailers have worked out for many of you.

Thanks again for all the offers of assistance, tips, and leads on available units. I'm looking into them all.

Can't wait to join all of you as a current owner, and not just a prospective! But the very helpful and sobering advice definitely hits home the point about not jumping in recklessly.
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Old 03-10-2010, 09:33 PM   #14
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IMO you will spend the dough either way, its all relative. If you buy new its dough up front, vintage you may spend less money up front but gradually repair/upgrade over time or as the budget allows.

The key is to go see em' and see how you feel in them, you'll know what you want when it feels right. We had our minds set on new, until we stepped inside the 66', we fell in love.

Keep us posted!
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