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Old 03-26-2010, 08:19 PM   #1
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2012 19' International
1986 25' Sovereign
St. Tammany , Louisiana
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 38
First-time towing advice?

Hi Everyone,

After searching for many years and joining AirForums in October 09, we're finallly taking the plunge and buying a 86 Sovereign, 25-footer! Have to go pick it up in a couple of weeks. Which brake controller do you all recommend? Have a Tahoe 2WD to tow the new baby with. Trailer has sway bars and electric hitch. Please help with getting nervous. Have to tow this thing hundreds of miles back home. Thanks for any help you all can provide. Sandy

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Old 03-26-2010, 11:11 PM   #2
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Menlo Park , California
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Originally Posted by 3blessed View Post
Hi Everyone,

After searching for many years and joining AirForums in October 09, we're finallly taking the plunge and buying a 86 Sovereign, 25-footer! Have to go pick it up in a couple of weeks. Which brake controller do you all recommend? Have a Tahoe 2WD to tow the new baby with. Trailer has sway bars and electric hitch. Please help with getting nervous. Have to tow this thing hundreds of miles back home. Thanks for any help you all can provide. Sandy
First of all, relax . If there's an airgap between your back and the seat, something is wrong.

I'm not sure what you mean by electric hitch....

So, before setting out:

Make sure your 7 pin connector is wired and working.

Install the brake controller. Tekonsha Prodigy is a good one; there are several. Test it.

Verify the trailer connector w/ the seller. Most likely he's got a 7 pin connector on his tow vehicle as well; I don't know which connector that trailer has... for my 71 I needed to make a special cable.

Make sure the hitch assembly comes w/ the trailer, or arrange to buy one.

There's a starting point... I'm sure there's a lot more.

If you're really new to this, bring along a friend who isn't...

- Bart

Bart Smaalders
Menlo Park, CA
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Old 03-28-2010, 07:49 AM   #3
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1986 34' Excella
Conroe , Texas
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3blessed, don't be nervous. These Airstreams pull like a dream. Be sure you have all the parts necessary for the trip. What you think is a swaybar is probably the bars for the load leveler. This will need a different ball assembly than what comes with the truck.
As barts said, the 7 pin connector needs to match the truck. I had to rewire mine to work with the new plugs. There is a post on here showing the AS vs Standard 7 pin connector, you can do a search and find it. Don't forget a spare tire.
I pull a 34' Excella with no problem, and she pulls like a dream..
Keep us posted on your progress and show us some pics of your new toy.
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Old 03-28-2010, 09:29 AM   #4
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The 2 most important things regarding towing an Airstream for the trip home are, brakes ans front axle position.

It is important that you follow the manufactures set up procedure for adjusting the brake controller before you get out on the road. This will only take a few minutes and is all important.

Not knowing what you are getting for a sway control hitch I will just say this. If the trailer has more than one axle it is very important that the trailer ride parallel to the ground while towing. This is because of the type of axles used, they do not compensate for the trailer not riding parallel to the ground. If the trailer is riding tongue high more weight is put on the TV. If the trailer is riding tongue low there is less weight on the TV. These conditions effect both effect sway control while towing.

If it is a weight distributing hitch, and just for the trip home, check the following. Before hitching up to the trail, preferably on level ground, measure the height of the front fender well on the tow vehicle. After hitching up remeasure that height. Ideally it should drop, say 1/4 in or so. If it rises you need to adjust the hitch to put more load on the front axle. Failure to drop the front axle will reduce the steering control of the TV and will add to sway.

I mention these steps just for the tow home. Once home you will want to go into this a bit further before heading out over the road. The following is a what I generally tell individuals on how to set up a WD hitch. You can read it over before going to pick up the trailer to get a clearer picture of what I am suggesting above.

Suggested procedure for setting up a WD hitch

As for your WC hitch. I have never found a dealer that had any idea as to how to set up a WD hitch.

I have assumed that the trailer was riding level before attempting to make these adjustment. If not set the hitch height so as to have the trailer level while making these adjustments. In some cases you may have to move the ball height so much as to have to start the WD adjustment again. Trailer level is best measured from the frame to ground front and rear. Do not use a bubble level unless you know you are on a concrete slab known to be level.

Most trailers use springs and the trailer level is not that critical however Airstreams and other trailer that use torsion bar axles it is extremely critical that the trailer be parallel to the ground. So completely disregard any suggestions as to ball height as a starting point. Once you have the trailer parallel to the ground measure the height of the ball cup on the trailer. Set you ball about in. above that as a starting point.

If you are using a Straight Line Cam, SLC, system this is how I suggest people set them up. The SLC system is the one with adjustable cam bolts. I will comment on the older Dual Cam system at the end.

With the cam bolts loose and both backed off at least an 1 in. from the last towing position tow the trailer around the block and come to a stop while towing at least 100 ft. in a straight line on level pavement. Disconnect the trailer from the hitch while everything is in place. Put a piece of masking tape on the front and rear fender well of the TV with masking tape on the center line and above the wheel. Measure the height of front and rear fenders and mark a line on marking the tape, say 39in. front and 38 in rear. Hook up the trailer and again measure the fenders. They should both come DOWN. Depending on the springs stiffness of the TV I look for about a 60/40 ration of the rear drop to the front drop on my Excursion. Heavier sprung truck will be more like a 70/30 ration.

If you do not see this result unhitch. Loosen the bolts on the hitch head and tilt the head backwards towards the trailer putting more load on the bars. Rehitch and measure again. Continue this until you see noticeable load on the front axle. Generally you should have 5 chain links between the hanger plate of the Straight Line Cam and the hanger. Do not attempt to adjust the hitch by changing the number of chain links but rather only by adjusting the hitch head angle. If you reduce the number of chain links you run a risk of having the bars and the yoke of the cams hitting on a turn and braking the bolt in the cam.

Once you think you have it go around the block again and come to a stop using the manual trailer brakes. This put everything in a straight line with the trailer in the position it would be while towing, tight on the ball. I would suggest another unloaded and loaded fender measure just to check things out and rehitch.
2004 Excursion 4x4
1991 34 ft. Excella +220,000 miles, new laminated flooring, new upholstery, new 3200 lbs axles

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Old 03-28-2010, 10:27 AM   #5
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As far as a brake controller the Tekonsha Prodigy is a great choice. I have had it for two years and it is by far the best controller we have ever had.
Tom & Lori

2013 27 FB Classic Limited
2016 Nissan XD Turbo Diesel
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Old 03-28-2010, 10:57 AM   #6
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First-time towing advice?

Greetings Sandy!

Congratulations on your new acquisition! I am sure that you will find the 25 foot Sovereign floorplan to be a wonderful traveling commpanion.

Originally Posted by 3blessed View Post
Hi Everyone,

After searching for many years and joining AirForums in October 09, we're finallly taking the plunge and buying a 86 Sovereign, 25-footer! Have to go pick it up in a couple of weeks. Which brake controller do you all recommend? Have a Tahoe 2WD to tow the new baby with. Trailer has sway bars and electric hitch. Please help with getting nervous. Have to tow this thing hundreds of miles back home. Thanks for any help you all can provide. Sandy

Some data that may help in your pre-trip preparations:
  • Weights and Measures
    • Empty/Dry Weight of Coach -- 4,900 pounds
    • Empty/Dry Hitch Weight of Coach -- 755 pounds
    • Factory Hitch Height -- 18.75"
      • Remember that these factory weights do not include any options nor do they include the weight of any fluids (water, propane, etc.) or personal possessions that may be carried in the coach.
      • Remember that the factory hitch height reflects conditions when the coach was new before the axles may have taken a set or "sagged" so is only an approximation of what will actually be necessary to setup the hitch for level towing.
  • Trailer connector wiring (7-pole Bargman type plug)
    • Airstream hadn't yet adopted the current industry standard for wiring of the trailer connector in 1986 so you may find that it is not compatible with your tow vehicle that is likely wired to the current industry standard -- see file below titled Trailer Plug Wiring Diagrams.
    • Today's tow vehicles and most late model RVs are wired to an industry standard as reflected in the document found at this link.
  • Receiver drawbar
    • You indicate that the hitch is being included with the coach, but you need to be aware that the drawbar may not be the appropriate one for your tow vehicle.
      • Some coaches from the era that you are pruchasing may have had weld-up hitch heads which means the ball height and angle can only be adjusted by an experienced welder who is familiar with trailer hitch setup.
      • The more recent trend has been toward bolt-together hitch heads that can be easily adjusted to reflect changes needed for different tow vehicles or differences brought about by changes in loading characteristics.
  • To prepare for a long-distance first tow, you will want to insure that you can get the ball/hitch height correct as well as ball angle.
    • Obtain measurements of drawbar drop or rise to determine whether the current drawbar will work with your tow vehicle.
    • If the darwbar does not offer enough rise or drop, determine the make of the hitch so that you can obtain the appropriate drawbar -- since your Tahoe is two-wheel drive, there should be a standard issue drawbar that will work with your tow vehicle that is readily available.
    • Be prepared with a selection of wrenches that you may need to adjust the hitch prior to travel.
  • If the hitch isn't either a Reese Straight-Line that includes the Dual Cam sway control or an Equal-I-Zer that includes the built-in sway control, you may want to consider your sway control options -- the Reese Dual Cam system (classic-type) is fairly easy to add to an existing Reese or compatible hitch even if you are not particularly handy (I am not handy and have setup this system on my coach).
    • A more buget oriented option would be a friction sway control, but be forewarned that there is a penalty to pay in terms of convenience as a friction system requires adjustments when towing conditions change such as weather (loosened for rain/wet/slippery roads), tightened for gusty winds or heavy semi traffic, etc. The friction device may also need to be removed prior to parking if tight cornering is necessary to gain access to the parking spot.
  • You will also want to verify that the coach has safety chains installed on the hitch and that they are long enough for your particular tow vehicle/coach combination. It is unusual to find them to be too short unless you have a tow vehicle with an external spare mounted on the tailgate which usually requires an extended drawbar and longer safety chains.
  • You may also want to carry a spare BreakAway switch. These components tend to deteriorate with time and weather exposure and are quite easy to replace. The device is required by many states for coaches over 3,000 pounds, and even if not they are an essential safety device.
    • Even if the coach's breakaway switch is functional, you may find that you need a new tether cable to match the coach to your tow vehicle (existing cable too short) - - or to replace a tether cable that has been degraded by rust or abrasion.
    • For the breakaway system to be functional, a fully charged house battery needs to be in the coach as well.
  • Running gear checks.
    • Bearing service and brake check. Particularly if there isn't proof of the last service on the bearings, a bearing repack and brake check would be highly advisable. Stopping a 25' coach with only the Tahoe's brakes could produce an unwelcome surprise so being sure that the coach's brakes are in good shape will make your journey home much safer.
    • If the need of brake repairs is revealed by the inspection, you will likely find that fully loaded backing plates may be the most economical response to the need as all wear parts are replaced with this component.
    • Tires are also a consideration since you note that the tow home will be a long distance. If the existing tires are more than five years old or show weather-checking; replacement would be indicated. A blow-out on an Airstream can produce extensive and expensive body damage that far exceeds the cost of four new tires (if installing new tires, metal valve stems are generally recommended as well).
  • Trailer brake controllers are something of an individual choice - - what one person finds perfectly acceptable would be the last choice of another. Among the more frequently recommended options are:
Good luck with your preparations!

Attached Files
File Type: pdf Trailer Plug Wiring Diagrams.pdf (64.3 KB, 39 views)
File Type: pdf Trailer Weights and Measures.pdf (122.6 KB, 39 views)
Kevin D. Allen
WBCCI (Lifetime Member)/VAC/Free Wheelers #6359
AIR #827
1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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Old 03-29-2010, 10:54 AM   #7
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2012 19' International
1986 25' Sovereign
St. Tammany , Louisiana
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 38
Many thanks for your responses

Thank you ALL so much for your wise and informative advice. I'm going over to the recommended installer to discuss and order the brake controller. I think I'm going to print out your advice and take it with us when we go pick up the AS. At least we do have friends there who can help us attach the trailer to the tow vehicle and then laugh at us as we drive off to begin our new AS adventure!
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Old 03-29-2010, 11:01 AM   #8
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I can imagine how intimidating this may all seem - but you have some great info here to help you out - just read, digest, read again, etc. till you feel comfortable with what you are being told - then ask more questions!

The folks here are SUPER and always willing to lend a hand!
John "JFScheck" Scheck
2014 Itasca Solei 34T in Red Maple
Freightliner XCS Chassis with Cummins 6.7 ISB & Allison MH Transmission
**I Love U.S.A.**
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Old 03-29-2010, 11:21 AM   #9
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One thing to add,after you have towed for a few hundred miles ,you may forget the trailer is back there,allow more distance for turns and lane changes. Dave
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Old 03-29-2010, 12:20 PM   #10
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Although there is some good info here in the forum there can be many unknowns and possible surprises when picking up a pre owned trailer.

If this is your first towing experience and the set up mat'l is mostly greek to you I would suggest taking someone with you who has some knowledge and experience with set up, checks, and towing.

A 2nd set of eyes can really help with double checking the connection, trailer lights,etc.

If you are buying from a reputable Airstream dealer who has qualified folks to do your set up and installation you may be fine on your own. Like the others mentioned.... when set up right the Airstreams tow very well.
Airstreams..... The best towing trailers on the planet!
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Old 03-29-2010, 01:06 PM   #11
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My best piece of advice... watch the Long, Long Trailer (1954) with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Puts that first towing experience into perspective!
The Long, Long Trailer (1953)

Enjoy your new trailer,
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Old 03-30-2010, 07:36 AM   #12
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1986 25' Sovereign
St. Tammany , Louisiana
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OK, another question for ya'll

Ok everyone, I ordered the Prodigy yesterday and it will be installed later this week. Thanks for the please help with more, if you don't mind
I'm probably opening up a can of worms with this one, but want you to take a look at the photos of the trailer we're buying and tell me if you see any red flags? PLEASE! Unfortunately, I'm having difficulty trying to post pics, but you can see the unit directly on the Airstream Forums Classifieds, dated March 14, 2010 for a 1987 25' Sovereign. It is actually a 1986 unit.
I saw this trailer in person back in October about 20 miles from my home(in a darkish barn) and someone from out-of-state bought it. He has now decided to sell because he has decided that he does not want to be towing any type of trailer and wants a Class C. Sooooo... the trailer is back on the market. I can see a bit of clear-coat peel on the rear of the unit and it appears that the A/C unit might be damaged on top. Other than that, had friends go take a look-see and there does not appear to be any obvious catastrophic issues. In the photo, you can see the electric tongue/hitch unit that I told you about. The tires are within a couple of years old and still have lots of tread and are in good shape according to my friends. How do I determine the condition of the axles when I get down there to view the unit? Please help with any advice, as I'm going down next week to complete the deal. Thanks so much in advance. Sandy
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Old 03-30-2010, 08:24 AM   #13
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One more big thing and one little one.

Big slow. It probably goes without saying but bad things happen when you drive fast. The small thing that I didn't see in any of the above is to make sure the tire pressure is correct. Low pressure can cause tire failure.
Oh, and good luck.

Randy Bowman
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Old 03-30-2010, 08:39 AM   #14
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Thanks Randy. I almost forgot that one! But at least my hubby will be the one doing the towing and he's used to pulling boat trailers.

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