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Old 04-19-2007, 10:28 AM   #1
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The Great Frame Debate

I am debating whether or not to sell Ol Bessie. After doing a ton of work to her, I always have the frame issue lurking in the back of my mind. Neither I nor my husband have the time or expertise to address any issue that may be or may not be happening under the bellypan. We haven't dropped the bellypan to see if anything is happening to her frame (that seems like a HUGE deal to me!), but according to this forum, there most likely is. I am considering upgrading to a newer AS from the later 80's to try to avoid this issue. Am I (or should I say, my husband) being paranoid? Should I keep her until she tells me from the outside that there is a problem? No rear sag now, & axels are good. Should I sell her & not worry about it anymore? Does anyone know anyplace near Chicago that might take a look at her frame before I do anything rash? Sorry....I had to vent! Thanks for your replies!
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Old 04-19-2007, 10:52 AM   #2
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By the way, are there issues with frames on later 80's models? Thanks
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Old 04-19-2007, 10:52 AM   #3
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Becky-

I think that if frame hsn't sagged yet and axles are good I'd resist feeling that you had to do something quickly, unless you'd enjoy a newer trailer...

Value today and value if problem occurs in future won't be much different, as some do-it-yourselfer would probably take on project if remainder of trailer in good shape...
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Old 04-19-2007, 10:53 AM   #4
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Becky----I don't know the Chicago area so can't help with a professional reference. You are doing the right thing to seek help with an area that should be looked at and is more than you can tackle. Some on this forum have signed up to do inspections for folks who can't travel to see a prospective purchase. Perhaps one of these folks may be available to help you or suggest a professional shop in your area. Good luck.
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Old 04-19-2007, 10:58 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beckybillrae
Should I keep her until she tells me from the outside that there is a problem? No rear sag now, & axels are good.
Why not use it until you see something happening, then worry about getting it fixed? It's not like it's going to suddenly fall apart on the road. When you do have a problem you can haul it to someplace qualified to fix it, and then you'll be back on the road with the same trailer you've had for years.
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Old 04-19-2007, 11:32 AM   #6
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If it will ease your mind, take the trailer to someone that knows what to look for, pay them a couple hundred buck to drop the belly pan, and check it out. If there is no problem, they can put it back together and you can be on your way. If there is a problem, then you can make a decision at that time with certain knowledge, instead of a "what if?" suspicion.
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Old 04-19-2007, 12:44 PM   #7
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I have only experience w/ one trailer, forgive the merely pedestrian observations..

If you want some confirmation w/o removing belly skins stretch a string taut across belly skins from hitch frame rail back to bumper frame rail to observe if there has been some 'Dukes of Hazard' jumps that have massively re-alligned the frame rails... Sighting up mine I see the axle mounting plates hold maybe an inch above front and rear ladder frame ends. No cracks, no rust - just a hard life; both sides are evenly relaxed <cough> ... If you sight down the rivet lines on sides of trailer they should be nearly arrow straight, and perhaps the best tell-tale is the flare of skin above the back wheel well opening from rear shell being pulled down by frame movement, Andy explained all older trailers have this to some degree so don't panic, just get photos and post 'em ...
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Old 04-19-2007, 05:23 PM   #8
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So are you saying the newer models (later 80's or so) have just as many potential problems at the 70's models, or are they generally better constructed as far as the frames go?
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Old 04-19-2007, 11:56 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beckybillrae
So are you saying the newer models (later 80's or so) have just as many potential problems at the 70's models, or are they generally better constructed as far as the frames go?
Hi, Mom said "Don't worry about anything until it happens."

Mechanic's saying, " The deeper you dig, the more you find."

You have gone this far with it, use it and enjoy it. Stop worrying and stop digging.
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Old 04-20-2007, 12:58 PM   #10
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On mine 1985 32 ft and on a frend of mine's 1986 32 ft
We both have frame rot in the rear section .
I had te replace the last two Ft of the frame on both sides.
he has to do the same on one side
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Old 04-20-2007, 04:20 PM   #11
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I have read in several places, though have not confirmed it personally, that in late 1985 Airstream made the frames 1" deeper in section height. That would greatly increase their stiffness, and help resist frame sag/deflection.

You've probably already gleaned this from the excellent postings on the subject on these forums, but to recap, there are several different issues that can occur:

1. Separation - this is where the shell comes detached from the frame. This is where you do the test of have your 200lb buddy jump up and down on the back bumper while you eyeball the juncture of the shell to the frame. If you see the gap changing size, you've got separation. This happens to a bunch of them. Some people will tell you it's from having a rear bath or from traveling with the black tank in the rear bath full. But, I tend to agree with Inland Andy that a rear bath doesn't really put anymore weight on the aft end than a rear bedroom, and so the real cause of it is having out of balance running gear combined with a 10' cantilever bouncing around like a fishing pole, combined with a questionable strength shell to chassis connection in the first place. At any rate, if you do the test and see the differential movement, you gotta fix it.

Inland Andy has posted the complete and proper way to fix this. It ain't easy, but it's not impossible. It's actually pretty straight forward, just a lot of work. You have to drill out some rivets, and rivet in some new metal.

2. frame sag - this is where the actual frame itself takes a bend. The 70's trailers (and maybe the older ones too for all I know) had frame rails of a 4" or 5" deep section, and they weren't very thick at all (aka the metal gauge was thin in them to keep the weight down). When the trailers started getting to the 30' mark, you've got a lot of overhang and this spindly little light gauge metal frame. The frames couldn't take it and just bend. Tell tale signs are a buckle in the skin at the rear wheel well. If you see a buckle here, just aft of the back wheel, you've probably got this.

There's not a good and easy fix for this. My personal idea is a new frame. But that's a tremendous amount of work. There are some doubler plates that are made to help with this; you bolt or weld them onto the side of the existing rails and that stiffens them. You could design your own doublers and get them welded on. It's a lot of work either way you slice it.

I do believe balancing your running gear is a big deal. Keep them balanced and have good axles that actually have some suspension left and you should be OK. But who knows what a PO has done.

I'm building a new frame for mine. A monumental task, but I think that's the best way to go. I'm going to make it deeper than the oem one too.

Of note, I looked at a '77 Avion that had a 6" deep frame and was of a much heavier gauge. Same year as my coach, and whereas mine is spring city, the Avion was like the Rock of Gibraltar. I know which way I'm going.

Anyway, hope I didn't scare you with all this. It sounds like your's is fine as-is. The 27's aren't immune to it, but the extra 4' of the longer ones really aggrivates the situation.

Best of luck,
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Old 04-30-2007, 08:09 AM   #12
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Airstream owners like yourself are the reason that I am in the process of restoring/refurbishing my 77 Sovereign, and starting a business doing this type of work. Why buy a newer trailer when your love and joy is still going strong, but might need a little work. On the 77 it needed some frame repair, but the shell was in near perfect straight shape. As it sat the last 10-15 years at a trailer park. Personally I would send the trailer to a repair facility to have the frame inspected. Even if you spent a couple thousand dollars, you'd still be way ahead of buying a newer trailer.
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Old 04-30-2007, 08:38 AM   #13
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bad frame design!
i have a 2003 22' int
the original frame cracked in to and the factory put a new frame on.
now that one is cracking also!
the factory is having it welded up.
it is just a bad design, not strong enough.
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Old 04-30-2007, 01:40 PM   #14
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Quote:
bad frame design!
Maybe on the new ones but I don't think that applies to the older ones.

Much has been made of the 70s frame issues but I think that it was very functional for what it was designed to do. The 70s era units were much lighter and the monocoque design works great as long as all three parts (shell, floor, frame) hold their integrity. Leaks (plumbing, exterior, rear seal) lead to floor rot, which leads to frame rust/corrosion, which combined with degraded axles (rough ride) and you have the recipe for rear end sag and or separation. (Improper loading/weight distribution could be a problem as well.)

I have done frame repairs on both a '72 Overlander and a '73 Sovereign (and I've seen every inch of the '73 frame), I have yet to see a stress crack.

While a heavier frame may take more abuse, I don't think it is necessarily the answer to these issues. Once proper repairs are made, the real key is maintenance!
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