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Old 07-10-2011, 01:12 PM   #1
1 Rivet Member
1994 28' Excella
Edwardsville , Illinois
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 5
New Member with Lots of Questions!

Hi. My husband & I have decided to buy an Airstream trailer, and are VERY excited, (well-nigh obsessed) with the idea! We almost bought a 2004, 28', but have no tow vehicle and had 2nd thoughts about weight and expense. We are now looking for an older trailer and a comfortable dependable SUV. Here are my questions right now:
1. We want a "self-contained" trailer. Some ads address that, but others don't. How can we tell if a trailer is self-contained?? What are we looking for? (Yes, we are very new to this, but trying to do our research!)
2. We really like the rear twin design, but I am not seeing them in what I see for sale 1960s-1970s. Can people share what models/years I should be looking for?
3. We are learning a LOT about tow weights and capacities, but even after reading the towing forum are still not sure what to calculate as a ball park on whether or not we are making a good match as we make choices for both tow vehicle and trailer. If our TV has 2,000 lbs. more capacity than our trailer does weight (plus correct hitch weight match) are we good to go? I'm not sure we'll tackle the Rockies, but if we get off the midwestern flat land and into mountains what do we need to consider in terms of power??
Thanks so much, and looking forward to meeting you down the road,

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Old 07-10-2011, 01:57 PM   #2
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2006 30' Classic
Yonkers , New York
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Welcome to the forum. I'm not an expert but can offer little advice while waiting for the experts.
1) Try and visit an AS dealer if one is near to see couple of AS and decide how self contained you want to be or found affordable . Once you have an idea of you dream AS, then you can scale down or up on size depending on full time or part time camping; wt that you feel comfortable towing; and how heavy a tow vehicle you can afford. ( 1/2, 3/4 & 1 ton are kind of the popular TV categories for = or below 23 ft,; 23ft - 28ft ; and above 28ft respectively)
2) Once you set your mind on your dream AS / TV combo, then shop around Forum for sale, EBay, AS Dealers, Craig-list and others.
3) From my personal experience, I will set my mind on my dream AS and then find a TV that can tow it and leave room (tow capacity) for future AS upgrade if there is any family # increase.
Good luck and don't rush till you find your dream AS.

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Old 07-10-2011, 02:11 PM   #3
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1977 31' Sovereign
1963 26' Overlander
1989 34' Excella
Johnsburg , Illinois
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You are pretty close to St. Louis. Bill Thomas is a very good Airstream dealer there. He does carry some trade ins. There is a WBCCI unit in Southern Illinois and another in the St. Louis area. Drive in to one of their rallies to tour and talk. There upclose and personal experiences will be worth it. You might try renting a trailer for a weekend trip before you commit to buying a trailer and tow vehicle. Do you homework before you spend your money. A lot will depend on how you intend to use the unit.
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Old 07-10-2011, 02:15 PM   #4
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2005 30' Classic
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So many things to consider here! I'm sure you will get many helpful replies, I will just add a couple of remarks.

I'm not sure, by the way, what you mean by "self contained" Just about any reasonably modern travel trailer you might consider will be self contained in that you will have

- 110v wiring for shore power
- installed 12v batteries to provode power when 110v is not available
- usually an air conditioner (that only works on 110vac)
- city water system to connect with a hose
- a fresh water tank and 12v pump to use when you don't have 110v available
- waste water tanks, usually two, one for gray water from sinks/shower, and one for black water from the toilet.
- a furnace that operates on propane plus 12vdc
(note that when your trailer is plugged in to 110v there is a built in converter that provides 12vdc to run the lights and appliances that need 12vdc)
- a fridge that can run on 110v or on propane when not connected - and in some cases on 12vdc from your tow vehicle
- a hot water heater that will run on propane and often on 110v as an alternative

Is that what you mean by self contained?

Generally you will not have solar cells nor a generator that would increase your degree of self sufficiency but you can add these. Many of us, including me, carry small portable generators.

You are correct in that an older Airstream will be lighter and more likely towable by a smaller SUV, but a couple of things to be aware of ......

If you buy an older unit you are more likely to be plagued with malfunctioning appliances, I have found that corroded electrical connectors on alder units can cause lots of headaches. It can be a real pain if every time you want to use the trailer something doesn't work until you spend an hour or two fiddling with it!

Not to say you won't have problems with a newer unit, but your chances are better.

As a rule of thumb, lots of folks say that it is good to tow a trailer whose GVW is no more than about 75% of your tow vehicle's capability. I try to adhere to that myself.

In my mind, a consideration of equal importance is wheelbase. Some SUV's have a rather short wheelbase compared to say a pickup truck.

Generally, the longer the wheelbase, the more stable you will find the rig to be in towing.

In the last three tow vehicles I have moved each time to a longer wheelbase and found the towing experience more and more relaxing and enjoyable.

If you do consider a shortish SUV, you may be wise to consider a specialty htch such as a Hensley Arrow or a ProPride. They do an excellent job of eliminating dangerous trailer sway.

You will doubtless hear many opinions, but I'm in the camp that believes the bigger the tow vehicle the better from a standpoint of safety, reliability and general satisfactory experience. So far I have had no regrets whatsoever in moving to larger vehicles. We are retired and use our tow vehicle as a daily driver for shopping and such. At first my wife wasn't thrilled with getting groceries in a 3/4 ton truck, but she's fine with it now - although it still can be a bit of a pig to park in tight carparks!

Good luck - you'll have a great time with your future Airstream!

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Old 07-10-2011, 03:50 PM   #5
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Burkburnett , Texas
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Originally Posted by Wingeezer
- a fresh water tank and 12v pump to use when you don't have 110v available...
I think Wingeezer meant to say "when you don't have city water pressure available".

To me "self contained" means I could stay at a location for several says or more disconnected from the grid. The trailer would have adequate battery power for electrical needs, tanks to store fresh water and effluent for that period, and fuel to support heat, refrigeration and cooking, and some semblance of a bathroom. Many would not consider staying in a national park campground boondocking, but you have to suffice without connections. A broader view might include electric, water and sewer connections for extended stays in an RV park or campgrounds with hookups.

Wingeezer pretty much covered it. I must agree that you want a tow vehicle that is up to the task regardless of the make of trailer. A minimal TV may pull a trailer on flat highways without much apparent effort, but you will likely venture out where the grades are steep and the elevations high and the path winding only to discover lacking ability at a minimum, or worse, the tail wagging the dog. Stopping is more important than going, so extra margin is always good advice.

I consider the storage on our Airstream to be adequate, but not generous. There are some items I would like to keep in the trailer, but need to keep in the TV. An SUV or a pickup with a securable bed is typically what is needed to stow and tow.

See if there is a rally in your neighborhood and make a visit. You will then be able to size up what they are towing and how they tow it. I've found most Airstreamers to be a friendly lot who are eager to share their opinions and suggestions. You'll likely see a Honda Ridgeline towing a Bambi, while the bigger trailers are following a Suburban or a 3/4 ton pickup.
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Old 07-10-2011, 04:50 PM   #6
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1994 28' Excella
Edwardsville , Illinois
Join Date: Jun 2011
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Thanks to everyone for responding. Yes, off the grid, wherever, is what I meant by self-contained. I noticed several ads saying that the trailers were not self-contained, which is what prompted the question.
We are starting to look at newer model trailers (1990s) and are finding more rear twins. Also we are going for bigger towing capacity than we originally planned (is that going to mean premium gas??) We definitely do NOT want the tail wagging the dog!
Thanks again. We are feeling much more confident as we continue our search.
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Old 07-10-2011, 05:34 PM   #7
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Any trailer from 1974-on was self-contained from the factory, with black and gray water tanks, a coach battery, a propane system, and appliances that run on the propane. Make sure a previous owner didn't get rid of the RV frig (expensive) with a AC-power only "dorm" fridge (cheap).

Rear twins in shorter trailers only became commonly available in the mid-80s. A mid-80s to early-90s Sovereign or Excella 25-footer would fit the bill for you; they are "narrow-body" modern trailers which helps keep the weight down.

Watch for soft spots in the floors in this era of trailer. The floors were made of OSB rather than plywood and they're less resistant to an Airstream's inevitable leaks.

Towing capacity is mostly an indication of powertrain cooling capacity and, to a lesser extent, the robustness of factory hitch mount capability. It has little to do with power or stability or braking. Things like a long wheelbase, short rear overhang, and properly setting up the hitch (with weight-distribution and anti-sway) and brake controller do more for avoiding the "tail wagging dog" issue.

Some tow vehicles call for premium gas when towing, but most don't. Keep in mind that the ability to rocket up a long hill is nice indeed, but it's a luxury. (You can let other cars pass you.)

Tow ratings don't really correspond to power either. For instance, a 2003+ Ford Expedition (a nice tow vehicle with independent rear suspension) or a similar-era Toyota Sequoia/Tundra has a much higher tow rating than a lighter, 100-more-horsepower, new Ford Flex Ecoboost - but the Flex is faster. The rule of thumb (excluding turbodiesel trucks to some extent) - the faster the vehicle is when not towing, the faster it will be when towing.

Hope this helps.

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Old 07-10-2011, 05:49 PM   #8
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1994 28' Excella
Edwardsville , Illinois
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 5

Even more things I would never have thought of! Thanks for the tips about the floor and the refrigerator, and the direction of models to be looking for.
All this tow information has been SO helpful - I feel as if we are really starting to wrap our heads around the idea of having all that weight behind us and still feeling safe and in control. We don't need to zoom up the hill - I just don't want to be worrying the whole way up whether or not we're going to make it!
Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.

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Old 07-10-2011, 08:27 PM   #9
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The blackwater tanks started with some of the 1973 models, Excella I think and then standard with all 1974 models. One problem started showing up with rear bath models. The tanks were placed far back in the frame with little regard for strengthening the frame. This was one of several problems which led to rear end sag. I purchased a '77 rear bath 31' model which had a slight rear end seperation problem. For this reason, when I found a '86 mid bath, corner bed 25', I jumped on it. The option was a twin bed model which would have been fine for me. The '85 and later had taller, sturdier frames which is a plus in my opinion. Forum members can correct me but I think the wide body trailers started with the '96 year when they went from 8' to 8.5' wide. Many of the '90 models had plastic coat problems.

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Old 07-10-2011, 08:55 PM   #10
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1994 28' Excella
Edwardsville , Illinois
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Models and options

I am in awe of the wealth of information everyone has shared, and in such a short time! Craig, thanks for yet another piece of the model and option puzzle! We were drawn to the mid bath b/c the rear twin seems to offer (at least from the pictures) more floor space and a more open feel, and with three dogs, we are looking to optimize both. I didn't even think about the water and tank weight - thanks!!
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Old 07-11-2011, 09:12 AM   #11
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1997 34' Limited
1970 27' Overlander
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We tow a 1997 34' (that is the longest and heaviest model Airstream made/makes) with a 2009 F150 5.4L gas (not diesel) four door truck. When we camp, it is usually with the entire family 2 adults, 2 children (11 & 13), and one largish dog. There is plenty of room in the truck for all of us when traveling, and plenty of room in the trailer. (Truth be told, we would probably be just as happy in a 28' or so sized Airstream. My wife really likes having a dinette, and that is the shortest it came in, I think.

I wouldn't take this setup into the Rockies, but it is fine here in the South and up through the Smoky Mountains. I do augment the setup with a ProPride hitch setup. Initially we had a Reese Weight Distribution hitch, but I didn't like the sway when passed by 18 wheelers. The ProPride has completely eliminated that problem!

Our '97 does have a rear twin setup and this is really nice as it provides some privacy and space between my wife and I and the children in the front of the trailer. Carol is also somewhat claustrophobic and the rear queen bed makes it feel to tight for her.

Our trailer does have dual batteries which allows for several days of off grid use. The addition of solar would allow us to be off grid indefinitely. NOTE: ALL Airstreams from the mid '80's(?) on have the wires for solar installed at the factory, so hooking up panels and a controller are fairly straight forward. If that is a direction you want to go in, there are lots of threads here about how to do it. Many with a great set of pics to go along with the install instruction.

Did you have a chance to see any of the trailers at Du Quion at the beginning of July? The WBCCI had there international rally at the fairgrounds there.

Happy Hunting,

Craig and Carol
1997 34' Excella 1000
1970 27' Overlander, International
2009 Ford F150 5.4L
ProPride hitch with 1400# bars

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Old 07-11-2011, 09:22 AM   #12
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2010 27' FB International
Birmingham , Michigan
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No matter what you purchase...either tow vehicle or Airstream length...put your money into a dependable, trailer sway killing hitch. Both the Hensley and ProPride are the very best on the market. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Every single penny. Don't tow without them.

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rear twin beds, self-contained, towing capacity

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