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Old 10-14-2006, 07:21 AM   #1
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Frame Rust/Belly Pan Moisture Retention?....2000 and Later Year ASs????

Hi All...I posted the message below on a thread regarding serious frame rust on a 2000 Airstream. That thread also had input from other 2000 and later AS owners that had frame rust the extent they were having to do repairs. Some thought that driving in the winter had "started" the issue and others were concerned that "sea air" may have been the problem.

My QUESTION is...what has AS done on new(er) Airstreams to prevent frame rust and moisture intrusion into the belly pan area?...are they still using the bat type "sponge" insulation that causes the area to stay wet WHEN (not if) it gets wet in there? Got little response on the below post as the other thread was "fading".

I truly am interested if there is an answer to this question?...or if it is something most would rather not other poster called it the "elephant in the room" issue of Airstream?

I would like to buy a new or nearly new used 28'-34' AS but will likely avoid if the frame/belly pan moisture issue is unchanged from the earlier versions...that are discussed soooo frequently here by the restorers.

I truly appreciate any constructive comments...seems like others would like to know more about this also...those that want to buy or already own a 2000 and later year AS.

Thanks You All for your input...Tom R in Two Harbors, Minnesota...with road salt ALREADY in play.

I am hoping that there are actual changes that have been made to prevent this issue in new ASs? I live in Northern Minnesota and would likely end up on the road on occassion when there is salt applied...even though I would try to avoid.

PLEASE...don't tell me to "wash it off" or take better care of it. An $80-$100K product should have automotive level rust prvention...whatever that is. My autos used to begin to rust in two-three years due to the salt. Now...I just traded a 200K mile 10 year old auto that had no rust that was visible...the auto companies have discovered how to "essentially" eliminate (bit of an overstatement) the terrible rust issues of years ago...HAS AS SOLVED THE FRAME RUST/BELLY PAN MOISTURE RETENTION ISSUE?

AS reminds me of Harley Davidson...BEFORE they "fixed" their product.

Harleys have always been more expensive than their competition but that is was OK since the brand brought other emotional benefits to a Harley owner. In the late '70s and early 80s...and continuing today...HD management determined that to keep this product premium they had to offer products that were at least as good (quality/reliability/features) as their competition. HD has invested slowly (but steadily!) in their product and now is as good or better as the competition as a quality reliable motorcycle. No flaming from any non-HD fans...and can maintain a significant brand premium.

My wife and I want to move toward an RV as we reduce our cross country motorcycycle touring (getting older...on the birthday list yesterday!)...and we both love the AS brand and history...along with the AS aluminum and shape. As with our HDs...we are willing to pay a significant premium for a quality AS.

However, my research (and lurking) causes great concerns about spending $80K-$100K for a new 30'-34' Classic Limited...I just don't think AS has
"fixed" the issues they have that are discussed in this thread and many others. There ARE other quality TTs...Titan/Arctic Fox/Bigfoot/Sunline and likely others...that sell in similar lenths and features for less than 50% of a comparable AS. If you want to "spend up" toward an AS price there is New Horizon. These SOB TTs match AS features and in the opinion of many are actually better in the quality/fit and finish arena.

Please don't take my message as trying to degrade AS...I would like to buy one!...If you can honestly say they have solved the issues of moisture intrusion and serious rust and floor rot from whatever causes it?

Most seem to feel the primary design flaw is the combination of plywwod flooring/"sponge" type under floor insulation, frame steel that is not adequately "treated" to resist the enevitable moisture and road/sea salt it is bound to expereince and finally a "belly" pan that retains the moisture that finds its way into the under floor frame area.

Amazing that the SOBs may have less frame rust/moistyre retention/floor rot issues because they do not put the "sponge" type insulation under the floor and the frame is exposed to the air...and can allow moisture to disipate and dry??

OK...that said...please tell me why I am wrong??? Please be factual and not emotional. What has AS done on a 2007 model to assure a new owner that you and very unlikely to have the problems that are surfaced here by owners of 2000 and later years ASs...let's ignore the older issues...not relevant to this question...except for what AS should have learned.

Thanks...Tom R in Two Harbors

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Old 10-14-2006, 12:13 PM   #2
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[quote=TomR]My QUESTION is...what has AS done on new(er) Airstreams to prevent frame rust and moisture intrusion into the belly pan area?...are they still using the bat type "sponge" insulation that causes the area to stay wet WHEN (not if) it gets wet in there?

Tom, as you are a possible purchaser of a new trailer, it would be great if you would write to Airstream and ask that question. I'm sure many of us would be interested to hear any reply. That elephant is not going away, however much it's ignored!

Nick Crowhurst, Excella 25 1988, Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins Diesel. England in summer, USA in winter.
"The price of freedom is eternal maintenance."
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Old 10-14-2006, 01:26 PM   #3
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Hi Nick...I think it was you that mentioned the "elephant"?...and how you could ask for suggestions about something like drape color and get MANY responses...but ask a question such as I have and it is "invisible"! I guess it is..."if I don't see it it doesn't exist"!

I am going to try and contact the factory and maybe a couple of dealers that have good reputations for repair work (particularly on older units so they would at least understand the "issue") and ask if there have been any improvements...or if this "moisture in the belly" and resulting rust and rot can be expected on new ASs?

The irony is that I am trying to find an answer that justifies purchasing a new or near new I get is "don't let it leak" and "maintain it". No one has any input as to how the new ASs have been "fixed" or improved to prevent the issue (as opposed to fixing it after the fact)...s/b automotive quality rust prevention for $80K-$100K...Thanks...Tom R
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Old 10-14-2006, 02:36 PM   #4
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Arrow Frame rust reply

Hi TomR; Tommorow morning I will post a reply which will help you understand why frames rust and how to minimize the possibility for the future. Sorry but I am out of time tonight."Boatdoc"
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Old 10-14-2006, 03:46 PM   #5
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You could import an Airstream from Europe. There they have galvanised frames . And aluminum sheathed foam floors . And surge brakes.
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Old 10-14-2006, 09:16 PM   #6
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"You could import an Airstream from Europe. There they have galvanised frames . And aluminum sheathed foam floors . And surge brakes."

Mark (I think?) are you serious?...or just giving me a hard time?

If you are serious...why don't they do this in Ohio?

I see you are in Minnesota...where are you located and what AS do you have?

Nice to hear from you...Tom R currently in Eden Prairie, MN
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Old 10-14-2006, 10:20 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by TomR
If you are serious...why don't they do this in Ohio?
I wish they would do this. It appears they are having the entire chassis built by BPW in Germany.

I'm sure someday, someone will import a European Airstream, if just for the novelty. They are very narrow.

We live in Minnetonka.
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Old 10-14-2006, 11:24 PM   #8
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I found a recent Jackson Center visit report that may be good news for you, confirming that the fiberglass under-floor insulation is now replaced with bubble foil insulation. Certainly makes me feel better, anyway.

Now, if only they'd just go ahead and galvanize the frame first...

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Old 10-15-2006, 06:47 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by 5cats
I found a recent Jackson Center visit report that may be good news for you, confirming that the fiberglass under-floor insulation is now replaced with bubble foil insulation. Certainly makes me feel better, anyway.

Now, if only they'd just go ahead and galvanize the frame first...

Thanks JD...Check one off! At least there may/should (?) not be the sponge effect when (I don't think it is IF?) moisture gets in the belly pan.

Now I wonder if there is a way to allow the moisture to escape? The belly pan is no doubt an aerodynamic asset when towing?...but it provides a collection area for that ALL DAMAGING moisture. It seems nearly everything in your life is damaged by moisture if you don't both keep it "coated" to protect it from the moisture AND allow for some type of drying...often by exposure to the moving air.

I agree the frame should be "treated" better than it currently AS prices they should be able to afford a galvanized frame. BTW...I assume galvanizing is automotive "state-of-the-art" and would go along way to solving this issue????

Anyone else have some positive news or comments???? I wrote a constructive but challenging "essay"...please read carefully and comment...What say you?... Tom R Currently in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
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Old 10-15-2006, 01:54 PM   #10
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Check out thread = mystery of rust by boatdoc... he has a very good idea..
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Old 10-15-2006, 02:17 PM   #11
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Boatdoc prepared a very interesting and informative response on a new thread...I have included below with my comments to keep the flow of the discussion.

In my opinion, Boatdocs comments apply mostly to older and coaches under restoration...and likely do not represent the types of "fixes" a buyer of a new Airstream expects to have to do (or have done) to their newly purchased, premium priced AS. Maybe I am wrong...and many expect to add new insulation in the belly pan, cut multiple drainage holes and install air dry fans in the brand new $100K AS? Or maybe have a new frame built that will not rust?

It seems to me that there is very little interest or understanding of the moisture/frame rust it applys to NEW ASs. When some of your members with 2000 and newer year ASs post to discuss the frame rust on there near new AS...very little discussion of what the factory could/should do to prevent this. My goal was to determine if a new AS is a good purchase...I seem to be nearly the only one with this question. If I learn anything helpful I will post...otherwise I will just go back to my corner...and wait for the snow to fall. Tom R in Two Harbors, MN

Boatdoc Reply...from other thread

Mystery of frame rust revealed.
First, I need to assure everyone that I am not connected to AS manufacture in any way. Therefore, no favoritism will play a role in this article. First of all I am tired of hearing all this belly aching about AS, without a proper understanding how complicated moisture control can be. For those who do not believe this statement, they should buy a better product and not AS. Since this is a subject that affects all, I may get the “most crap” award contained in one article, but for your benefit just bear with me. Today in the field of global economy all manufacturers are facing number of economical issues, not to mention [why should I care] attitude in regards to workmanship. Since further discussion on this subject is not the goal of this article, let’s address the causes to which some remedies may not be economically possible to institute by the manufacturer.
 #1 is Condensation [most difficult to control] and not easily avoidable unless complicated measures are instituted.
 #2 is Road salt.
 #3 is exposure to adverse effects of towing on wet roads.
 ]#4 is placement of the trailer [your parking spot.
Since the condensation is the biggest and most difficult subject, I like to save it for last.
Unavoidable road salt is avoidable if you do not tow your AS in the snow. Let’s look at this realistically. YES, you should rise off the salt Tom, after towing on salted road. This is not the Factory’s responsibility, it is yours. You take a shower daily or when you get dirty? You cannot compare automobile to AS. AS does not expel lot of engine heat which can dry up quickly open and exposed to heat metal, thus minimizing the salt effect on metals while it is in a dry state. Just wash and blow dry the AS and it will be fine too.

Exposure to adverse effects while towing, is to some degree avoidable if you maintain the integrity of the belly skins. While towing your AS at 65 miles per hour, fighting a strong head wind, the water will be forced in to the low pressure area inside the belly skin through most minute gaps. Unless your belly skin is maintained and totally sealed [which is just about impossible] water will enter it. Solution for that is to provide a clam shell effect drains, in back of each compartment within the frame. The exit end must face rear or you will create a ram effect for water to enter.

Where, your AS spends its life is equally important. We all park our cars in a driveway don’t we? Does your AS sit in the grass or unpaved lot where the condensation process occurs twice a day? Have you ever noticed a dew on the grass on days when the temperature changes drastically once at the evening and then on the morning? Where do you suppose that moisture goes on the morning? Pavement acts as barrier, preventing the moisture from being raised up at night by the warm air from warmer than air and moist ground.

Instead of parking your AS in the weeds, park it on large tarp if you cannot park it in the driveway. Tarp will provide a moisture barrier.

Now let’s get into the meat and potatoes of CONDENSATION mystery.
Whenever you enclose airspace, condensation becomes very hard to eliminate or to control. Condensation occurs when two opposing temperatures collide against, on a temperature transferring barrier such as the belly pan. This process was very helpful in the prohibition time to those who had homemade stills, it is however detrimental to AS. To be able to remedy this condition one must understand what takes place between the belly pan and the floor. If there were no temperature changes such as in a controlled environment, rust would not take place. Since the reason for having RV is to be in elements we must try to some extend control causes of condensation. While manufacturer can take additional steps to limit it, this can be very expensive to implement, and that can place them out of competitive pricing in today’s market.

There are some relatively inexpensive measures which can be implemented at rather low cost to the consumer wanting the best. However this is where custom options come in.

In order to minimize effects of condensation [which cannot be eliminated] in the belly pan, a temperature barrier of good “R” value must be in place. Ideally this barrier must provide a solid moisture barrier on both sides of it. On one side of this barrier, we must provide a dead air space for it to have a full effect. This means that we must prevent the cold and the hot air from coming in contact with each other. Let’s take a look at fiberglass insulation used in a house. Inside and outside walls form a sort of a temp barrier along with dead air space between them. One side of the insulation has treated paper which is your moisture barrier. The double thick edges of paper are stacked on top of the studs pinched by the sheetrock thus creating a good seal. In AS frame a good seal is almost impossible to create or maintain. Once the moisture barrier is compromised, plywood floor will get wet and eventually rot. Let us look at places where rot starts. It is always in the edges where the barrier seal is compromised and hard to maintain. Sealing the moisture barrier to the frame is a very difficult task, with the weak paper barrier used in fiberglass insulation. There is no easy way to seal the joints, and after time it may get torn up for number of reasons. When it does, it stops to function as what it was meant to do. While the frame coating can be improved at the factory, stopping the condensation is another story.

To minimize its effects we must provide a temp barrier, ventilation and drainage of the belly pan. This must include moisture barrier insulation such as Prodex, which provides an excellent double moisture barrier. This should be attached to the frame and cross members with dead airspace between it and the plywood floor. This dead air space can be obtained by cutting a closed cell urethane foam ¾” thick to 2” strips glued to the floor at about 18” apart to which you can glue the Prodex. The second area of dead air space will be below Prodex and the belly skin. This area however will require drainage and nominal ventilation. Each section between cross members should have a drain. The cross members at the bottom edge are bent up providing perfect spot for pooling of water. Factory should provide a small horizontal drainage at the belly pan level to eliminate this condition. Drainage from the belly pan can be achieved by making a ¼ “ cuts in the center of belly pan facing across, just in the front of each cross member which may stop the water from draining into next section. By placing a small flat screwdriver pull the front side of the cut, thus creating a small clamshell drain. Be sure that the opening is less than 1/8” in height to keep yellow jackets from entering. My AS will also include a small screen protected computer fan in the belly skin in the rear of underbelly. They operate on 12 or 24 Volt DC and draw only about 0.17 Amp which is no threat to any battery. In the front in the underbelly I will cut a 2”x 8”opening for intake air, sealed with SS screen.

To keep water from entering, a small clam shell with the opening facing rear will prevent water entry when towing. This will create air exchange, preventing the dead air from condensing and speed up the drying process in the underbelly below the insulation. Instead of complaining, there are things you can do to considerably slow down the decay process. Nothing made by us lasts forever. We are the throw away society and are used to it. While all the complaints are valid they do not resolve any issues unless someone does something about it. I did not wanted any rust in my frame I have made new one from Stainless Steel without complaining, because it would accomplish nothing. This article does not represent views other than my personal research in the boating industry for past forty years, where cold water and hot sun create ideal climate for condensation. We to had to come up with a solution to the problem, you can to.

Thanks, “Boatdoc”

Tom R response

Boatdoc...Thanks for the interesting discussion. I wish I too had the ability and desire to create my own new frame and restore 30+ year old ASs ...but I concluded awhile ago that I do not have the time, skill or desire to go to such lengths...thus my change in focus to the new or "near" new ASs.

I don't think Airstream wants to sell their trailers with a limitation of not using in the snowbelt...or near either prevent frame rust. I doubt many owners have facilities to wash off the belly and dry off if/when they use their AS during or after a snow...or after every trip to the beach...and I assume some will park on grass. Yes, moisture, salt and the elements are going to impact your trailer and should be considered by the manufacturer when designing their product..

Your insulation/drainage and airflow ideas may indeed be a great start...but why doesn't AS take these steps to protect their $100K trailers? I am sure some who read your ideas will be appalled that they, as new purchasers of an expensive AS, are expected to be able to make the modifications you have suggested. One thing as you restore a 33 year old AS...another if you spend $100K to buy a NEW one.

Auto makers have worked hard to make there products much more rust resistant than say 20-30 years ago and have been quite successful. I am sure they are still trying to do better...never had an auto company tell me to spray off the salt each day and dry off the underside...gets pretty cold up here when the salt is on the road!

Boatdoc...I am envious of the skills you have to perform such "deep" level restoration and fixes...but I don't think most/many new AS buyers feel they should NEED to make such modifications on such an expensive new product.

I hope others have some further insite regarding new(er) AS moisture/rust prevention factory fixes. Thanks...Tom R in cold and "salty" Two Harbors, MN.

P.S. Please don't resort to the "just buy SOB if you don't like it"...meant to be a positive discussion. BTW...maybe the lack of a belly pan on the SOBs is actually an advantage?...the frame and underneath can "air dry"?...TomR
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Old 10-15-2006, 06:16 PM   #12
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I am very interested in hearing more about this frame rust problem on ASs. My wife and I just sold our previous travel trailer and are only considering Airstream as our next TT. We have been looking at the 23 or 25 foot models and are ready to buy off the lot or order, but then I read read about another quality issue with Airstream.

Please keep us posted on this issue. Thanks.
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Old 10-15-2006, 07:41 PM   #13
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After owning and renovating a 1978 I purchased a 2004 in order to decrease the amount of upkeep. It was a great trailer, but... the upkeep wasn't any easier.

I did have a rust issue and the factory said that it was my responsibility. There were two things that aggrevated me about that. 1-the trailer was purchased in florida and was already rusting, but I lived in Atlanta where the climate is not terribly hard on metal. 2-I paid alot of money for my trailer. I would expect a lesser trailer to rust, but not an airstream. The execs at Thor are interviewed by Fortune and talk about all the profits they make, well... That is why they don't galvenize. We have to remember this is a passion for us, but just a business for them.

The good news is the rust is easy enough to mitigate. My new 1986 trailer had several cantilever supports rusted through and the frame was rusting throughout. I took my trailer up to RV-Restoration in Dalton, GA and he is doing a great job on restoring it. He is a true craftsman, and I will post pictures of his work. A small price to pay to get another 20 years of use.

However, one of the best parts of owning an Airstream has nothing to do with the factory. Every step of the restoration we are going through, I got off of this forum! If I could give everyone Karma points, I would. Gary from Rv-Restoration (a member of this website) and I were able to go through a detail plan to mitigate the rust and I am truly excited to have invested the money.

Thanks to all
Chris Keysor
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2007 Toyota Land Cruiser
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Old 10-16-2006, 07:42 AM   #14
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I believe that towing a large travel trailer in ice/snow is dangerous... sway control, braking, cross winds on ice...

So I just store the trailer for the winter... indoors. Less condensation, no rain or snow, no salt, no hail... no fun until spring. Mine will be in a pole barn from November thru March at a total cost of $260 for the season.

Salt and water rust frames, and also eat aluminum.

Light aircraft fly all winter... but they:

- are usually painted on the outside
- are often at least partially zinc-chromated on the inside
- don't use salt on runways
- are usually stored inside all-year
- most of the time they are in-use they are in the air, not on the runway

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