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Old 06-16-2009, 04:01 PM   #1
rbr
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Another newbie, need buying tips

Hi, all-
My wife and I have decided to enter the Airstream world already being aware of the quality and durability advantages on offer. We are looking for a trailer in the 28-31' range and want a rear bedroom configuration. We don't want to spend more than 10-12K, so a late 70"s model is where we are looking and at that age some issues can arise. I have tried to search the archives for buying tips, inspection points etc. but can't seem to refine my search properly... Are there any specific articles/threads detailing what to look for in the various systems (other than "they work"), and how to go about the evaluation? I am a very competent shade tree mechanic/ home repairman who can fix anything that might be wrong but would rather enjoy more and fix less, and certainly don't want a basket case! Any advice and pointers will be greatly appreciated!
Thanks,
Bruce
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Old 06-16-2009, 07:15 PM   #2
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Bruce,

Welcome to the forums!

As long as you are not looking for something rare or exotic you should be able to buy a nice serviceable Airstream in your price range.

I guess my first piece of advice would be try to buy one that somebody is still traveling in (or has been quite recently) to have the best chance of not having many problems. Airstreams in which "everything worked the last time we used it X years ago" are "iffier".

Two pretty visible things to look at are the floor and the axles. Large rotted areas in the floor (mainly caused by shell or plumbing leaks) are very labor-intensive to fix. Small rotten spots are not necessarily disqualifying. A good soaking with penetrating epoxy (e.g. Git Rot) may be all it needs, or maybe a patch.

The Dura Torque rubber torsion bar axles last a long time, but not forever. As a rule of thumb the trailing arms should have small down angle (5 degrees or more) with the trailer fully loaded, in no case an up angle. Sometimes you can tell a trailer has tired axles just by looking at it. Another rule of thumb is that you should be able to see a couple inches of tire above the wheel below the edge of the wheel well. We just had new axles put on our 1980 Caravelle, $1,400 per axle (labor. materials, and tax included) at the factory repair center.

It might be good to have an experience Airstreamer look at a trailer you are thinking about buying. If you go to the Portal page there is a window on the right side of the page that will direct you to people on the forums who have agreed to serve as volunteer inspectors. (I have not used this service so can't say how well, or not, it works.)

But getting back to where I came in--you should be able to get a decent vintage Airstream in your price range that probably won't need much if any work to take it on the road.

Good luck, and welcome to the world of aluminitis!

See you down the road,
Nuvi
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Old 06-16-2009, 07:39 PM   #3
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Bruce, welcome to the forums. You have come to the right place for opinions, we all have them and love to give them. Though some may conflict.

-The first thing to ask is how much do you want to spend?
-Do you already have a tow vehicle and can it actually pull what you thought it would? I started out with a Ford Explore V8 the tow ability said it could but it was not heavy enough an made for a very scary ride.
-If $10-12k is your absolute total budget I would save a little for those small things that are necessary but did not account for or things that have to be fixed before your first trip.
-There are plenty of 60-70's in the range you are looking at just be patient and look what is available. IMO stay away from 80's due to partical board and floor rot issues.
-Beware of ebayers that make it sound a lot better than it is. If it says I dont know if it works generally it does not work and that is why they did not use it.
-Andy has some great posts about axles and a quick way to see if they are good or not. The $1400 per Axel thing is if you go the Cadillac route. I did both for $1200 and if I only get 10 years instead of 30 that is fine by me.
-Beware of the soft floor. That means the floor is rotted and it is going to be some work to fix. Not impossible but a pain.
-The skin is forever, find something with a good skin lot of dents are just unsightly and hard to fix.

Well enough of my opinions. Good Luck
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Old 06-16-2009, 07:48 PM   #4
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-Beware of ebayers that make it sound a lot better than it is. If it says I dont know if it works generally it does not work and that is why they did not use it.
I second all of Nick's suggestions, and add that I don't think I'd buy a trailer on eBay at all unless it was nearby enough that I could go take a look at it. A one-week auction just doesn't give you enough time.

The classifieds here on Airstream Forums are about as good a place as any. That, and eternal vigilance as you drive down the road! Airstreams are where you find them.

Cheers,
Nuvi
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Old 06-16-2009, 07:57 PM   #5
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Another newbie, need buying tips

Greetings Bruce!

Welcome to the Forums!

There is one possibility that will in some cases lead to a wonderful conclusion, and that is to contact your nearby WBCCI Unit. Often, when members "trade-up" to a newer model Airstream -- or "retire from traveling", their coaches will be offered for sale through the Unit Newsletter. In many cases, these units have been fastidiously maintained and in the case of an owner who is retiring from traveling, may include the matched tow vehicle. If you consider a coach via this type of source, don't be shocked if the owner inquires as to your intentions of keeping the unit active in the WBCCI.

Good luck with your search!

Kevin
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Old 06-16-2009, 08:31 PM   #6
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Hello and welcome to airforum.com, Bruce!

All I can add to the above is to take your time, plus read lots of the rebuilding threads on here to find out how much work the repair/replacement of key systems can take.

Taking time often changes buyers' outlook on what size, age or style you will make you happiest. Many people seem to go through big changes as a result of seeing more trailers. I know we did; we were originally convinced that a 25-foot unit was for us, but after looking for a good while, we realized that more can actually be better (for us), and now we are enjoying our 31' Airstream.

Enjoy!
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Old 06-16-2009, 08:42 PM   #7
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Welcome to the Forum, Rbr
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nuvite-F View Post
The Dura Torque rubber torsion bar axles last a long time, but not forever. As a rule of thumb the trailing arms should have small down angle (5 degrees or more) with the trailer fully loaded, in no case an up angle. Sometimes you can tell a trailer has tired axles just by looking at it. Another rule of thumb is that you should be able to see a couple inches of tire above the wheel below the edge of the wheel well.

I learned recently that the amount of tire showing is not a reliable indicator of the condition of these axles. Airstream made their trailers with different amounts of wheelwell cutout. Those who think they can tell by looking at a picture, weather or not a rig has good axles are mis-informed about this. The thing that makes these axles work is spring, and you have to move the axle in relation to the chassis to tell if it has spring or not. Anything less will be a waste of time if there is no spring left in the thing
You could remove a wheel and put a jack under the axle to see if the rubber is petrified. I've heard that you should see at least 1-1/2" of travel, and maybe as much as 3".
This was brought to my attention at the FCU Vintage Restoration Rally, which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
The only way to check this is in person, so I recommend that you define your search area to places that would not be too onerous to get to. I was searching as far as 600 miles from Boulder Creek, CA and was lucky to find one only 30 miles away. I hope you are as fortunate!
Rich
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Old 06-16-2009, 08:55 PM   #8
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Bruce,
A) my wife and I are in the same place as you. I'm 46 and we are looking for our first AS.
Take your time, is my only advice. Read everything you can.
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