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Old 09-07-2009, 02:46 PM   #1
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Question Suicide door? I get it now.

I always thought that the orientation of the door was just begging for trouble. I was right. My son and I went to Burning Man and took the Twinkie (1960, 18') on it's maiden voyage for us. All went well, but on the return home my son needed something out of the trailer and didn't latch the door well. I noticed it about five miles later. At least the door was still attached, but it tore the aluminum holding the lower hinge and the door is now no longer the same curve as the trailer. The doorknob will latch but it's base got pulled into the body of the door. It still latches but will need some serious work. Now I really understand the term "suicide door".

I guess the up-side of the deal is that the door was a bit flatter than it was supposed to be when I bought the Airstream. I planned on getting it re-curved anyway, so now I'm motivated to do it sooner rather than later.

This type of body work is beyond my skill set, so my question is this. Does anyone have a bodywork person in my area that they can recommend to work on an Airstream? I live in La Honda, south of San Francisco and north of San Jose. Palo Alto/Redwood City is closest, but I could easily get out to the coast (Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay)

Also, does anyone have experience in the strength of welding the aluminum as a repair component instead of replacing a panel? It seems that a weld should hold, but you would have to live with a visual line. I've got scars myself so I can't hold that against the trailer. We'll call it personality.

Thanks,
Bob
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Old 09-07-2009, 03:18 PM   #2
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Hate to hear your story.

My '63 Trade Wind has a similar tear in the aluminum at the hinge but mine is on the door panel, not the body panel. I have considered buying a relatively thick piece of aluminum or stainless steel and making a patch over the tear. The thicker patch would serve to strengthen the area and be more aesthetically pleasing than its current appearance. Would love to hear from anyone who has done so.

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Trent
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Old 09-07-2009, 03:45 PM   #3
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There are definately more experienced people to answer this than me,but I don't think welding is an option, just would create another place prone to cracking and that time you might not be as lucky to keep the door on. The hinge, if damaged can be replaced, Vintage Trailer Supply does sell them. I think a nicely cut patch is your best bet, sealed up well, with an even bigger backer behind it. You'll probably need to pull back the lower interior panel to do it right. As far as the door repair, call Andy at Inland Rv and have him go through the process on how to rearch the door, it works great.
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Old 09-07-2009, 04:05 PM   #4
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I'am sure that their have been a whole lot of damaged Airstreams, and upset owners, over the stupid #*)&%# "backwards" door, that AS continues to use.
Some early models used a "non-suicide" door, why Wally changed is beyond me.
A nicely fitted patch(s), will, I'am sure, work fine,,,, we all have our scars.
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Old 09-07-2009, 04:18 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by rangebowdrie View Post
I'am sure that their have been a whole lot of damaged Airstreams, and upset owners, over the stupid #*)&%# "backwards" door, that AS continues to use.
Some early models used a "non-suicide" door, why Wally changed is beyond me.
A nicely fitted patch(s), will, I'am sure, work fine,,,, we all have our scars.
Two comments,

First, whether you have a "suicide door" or a front-hinged door depends on the location of the windows. So far as I know Airstream has always used both. If you have a window forward of the door which would be covered by the open door, then you will have a "suicide door".

Our 1960 Pacer had a regular door, our 1980 Caravelle has a "suicide door". Ours has a deadbolt lock and we must always make sure it's locked before rolling. Folks who don't have a deadbolt lock commonly fashion some kind of an external safety bolt, which has the advantage that you can see it in the curb side rear view mirror and know you're safe. As you have learned, you never, never want to let that suicide door come open at road speed!

And I agree, I think what you want in the way of a repair is a riveted patch with a doubler behind the skin for additional strength. Standard kind of aircraft repair. One old Piper I used to fly looked like it assayed about half rivets by weight. Good old airplane, though.

Good luck,
Nuvi
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Old 09-07-2009, 04:42 PM   #6
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Lot of post here say a weld will not hold on this grade of aluminum. They're right. I took a section to a real pro, he told me the same. Just to prove the point he welded it, it looked perfect. He had me bend it, it held. Then he held a common vibrator sander agianst it as I put a little tension on it, it instantly cracked right next to the weld.... The fix for mine was an aluminum backing plate & buck rivits with a film of alum autobody adhesive between the two. Worked fine. Somewhere on this site is a pic of a handy little homemade wooden block that slides under the hand pull to the right of the door extending over the door a couple inches. Acts as a safty catch.
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Old 09-07-2009, 06:15 PM   #7
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the door has flown open twice on my Trade Wind. That's the only think I haven't redone (saving it for last). I hate the look of it, but re-arching the door seems really intimidating to me. Kinda funny, considering all I've done to my trailers... full exterior skin replacement (including a door, believe it or not!), axles, interior cabinets, birch walls, plumbing, patches, windows, yadda yadda... The door is intimidating, though, because nothing's straight.

What's the best way, other than bending it against a tree and continually test-fitting? I thought about a hydraulic press, and maybe inch it out. Right by the handle, my door flattens out and actually curves slightly the wrong way due to the impact against the body.

JP
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Old 09-07-2009, 07:43 PM   #8
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Ours is bent bad from impact.. it may or may not have been bent when we bought it, I didn't notice, but it DID come open in Topeka KS at about 75mph.. we will try to re arch it soon.. the service manual kind of tells what to do.. we will document the attempt..lol
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:24 AM   #9
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OK, I'm feeling better now. Welding is a no-go but a patch is something I can do. I'll use a front patch, backing plate, autobody adhesive, and rivets.

I have some aluminum left from replacing about half of my belly skin. It's .032 thick. Will that be thick enough to get the support that I need or should I get thicker material or possibly run it double thick?

Also, should I use some kind of a sealant under the patch for leak prevention?

Thanks for all of your input. Bummer to have it happen on a maiden voyage, but it could have been a lot worse. I'll contact Andy at Inland RV about the re-arching door technique. I have to go back to work so it'll likely take me another 2-3 weeks to get the repair done but I'll post the results.

Thanks again,
Bob
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Old 09-08-2009, 06:04 AM   #10
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Prevention

I have seen this happen a number of times. Years ago an old timer taught me to use a wooden block to make sure the door does not open. I have custom made one of those for each of my trailers. It goes through the door handle and spans both the door and the front skin that the handle is attached to. Also it has a boot lace that I tie it to the handle with so if it does come loose I still have it.

Great trick to keep the door from opening.
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Old 09-08-2009, 08:53 AM   #11
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Door Opening Mishap

I know all too well about the door popping open at freeway speed. Mine actually came off of the trailer and I had to hike back and get it.

At this year's Restoration Rally in Albuquerque, we replaced a few skins on Uwe's Flying Cloud so we took the opportunity while the curbside skin was off to strengthen the hinge support area. We used a thicker aluminum and bent it so we could buck rivet it to the closest rib. You can see on the second photo, we used 2024 - T3. We also notched the step side so we could bend it to match the curvature of the frame. It amazes me that the factory expected the hinge to hold by only riveting to the exterior skin without any re-enforcing support from behind.

I still need to re-straighten my door and like JP, am a bit leery of doing so. Once I get it fixed, I plan to put on a deadbolt with a long striker to keep this from happening again. The wooden block is also a great idea but think it would act as a back up instead of the sole preventer.

Brad
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Old 09-08-2009, 01:01 PM   #12
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That's interesting. I thought they came standard with a backing plate. My '59 had one for each hinge, made out of steel. Really sturdy. Here's a few pics from a million years ago when i was replacing the skin. If my '54 doesn't have this, I'll definitely do what you did with the aluminum. I don't like the dissimilar metals in my '59.

jp
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Old 09-08-2009, 06:36 PM   #13
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...and never trust anyone else to latch the door for you.

Get out of the truck, unlock and open it, then close and lock it (with the key) before you move.

Pat
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Old 09-08-2009, 08:12 PM   #14
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Woodywhite, if you're gonna use the patch method here's a little more detail. We used flat .032 & alum adhesive behind the break [well blocked and clamped] primarily to stop the cracks from running. All that shows on the outside are the hairline cracks. Behind this I made aluminum plates from .050 or .060 ? very similar to the above pics from A-Merry-Can. This ties the door frame, door hinge, & adjcient rib togather nicely. While you have her opened up you may want to check the latch side of the door frame for cracks & the anchor points on the floor. Two more fixable weak points. If your door frame is cracked by the latch let me know I have a few ft of scrap extruded aluminum that fits the back side of the door frame like a glove! N.C. postage only. Good luck..
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