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Old 05-18-2007, 09:53 AM   #1
Little Radio
1966 28' Ambassador
Chicago , Illinois
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Angry Parents seriously injured while towing Airstream

On Friday, May 11th, my elderly parents were towing their Airstream back from a few weeks' vacation at Myrtle Beach, SC, when their 31' Classic suddenly, violently -- and inexplicably -- began fishtailing at 65 mph.

Within seconds, the trailer had jerked the rear of their truck sideways and slammed them into the guard rail. They bounced off the rail and away from the 40-foot drop behind it and careened across the roadway where their truck and trailer rolled 3 or 4 times (according to witnesses) down a grassy slope.

The cab of their truck resisted collapse, but its interior design proved quite unfriendly to both its passengers.

My father broke 4 ribs and his lungs were nearly punctured. His head and hands received severe lacerations, too, in addition to multiple bruises elsewhere on his body.

My mother broke an equal amount of ribs, broke her shoulder, got a hematoma the size of a loaf of bread on her hip and suffered internal bleeding.

Miraculously, they survived.

Both were conscious the entire time and remember the sequence of events. My father confirmed that he had done nothing to cause the trailer's instability, that there were no cross-winds or other road anomolies, and that there was no warning. Our review of the accident site showed he was actually ascending a slight grade when it occurred.

I can attest to experiencing a similar sudden instability last year when I borrowed this trailer to drive to Florida and back with my wife and kids.

I too experienced sudden and violent fishtailing as I was ascending a 4-5% grade in Tennessee. My tow vehicle's sheer heft and size kept me from having the rear kicked out, but I wrestled with the trailer across 2 full lanes of highway, futilely dragging the trailer brakes as I accelerated. I only recovered after I applied my tow vehicle's brakes. I was "that close" to losing it all (I'm holding my thumb and forefinger 1 mm apart).

Here's where I have a real issue with Airstream:

After repeatedly taking his trailer to the selling dealer to fix a laundry list of items which included tire alignment and brake issues, he finally made an appointment and took it to Jackson Center. He specifically told the technicians that he was sure that the axles and/or wheels were out of alignment, and that the brakes were not working correctly. He told them that he had replaced a wheel because of severe wear as evidence of his first assertion, and that stopping distances were poor and inconsistent as evidence of his second concern.

When he came back a few weeks later to pick up the trailer, the technicians told him everything was "in spec," and the wheels and axles were fine and in alignment.

Odds are, they weren't. Either the Airstream technicians were incompetent, or they never bothered to verify the toe/camber/caster measurements of the wheels nor the proper alignment of the axles.

I'd like to know if anyone else has experienced a similar sort of instability in a late-model Airstream trailer. My parents' unit is a 2005 Classic. It has never been in an accident, and it was purchased brand new from an Airstream dealer.
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Old 05-18-2007, 09:57 AM   #2
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I am sorry to hear of your parents wreck. I hope they have speedy recoveries and get back to their normal lives as soon as possible.


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Old 05-18-2007, 10:10 AM   #3
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Sounds like the rear axle caused the problem...
Either, came loose, lost both tires, or suddleny shifted possition (loose)

Does not take a Airstream to do that,
Any twin axle trailer that is made off balance by load resting on front axle would do that.
If single axle, would do it too, probably worse.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:12 AM   #4
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Sorry to hear about your parents and am happy they are doing better.

Can you tell us more about the hitch setup? What kind of hitch and if you are using weight distribution bars and an anti-sway bar.

Also, what make/model is the tow vehicle and what kind of tires (tire pressure) are you using on the Airstream?
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:17 AM   #5
Little Radio
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Chicago , Illinois
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I visited the wrecked Airstream and all 4 wheels were intact, axles and wheels didn't visually betray any mis-alignment. Tires were still inflated.

My father used a Reese setup, with sway bar and load leveling bars. He's used this hitch on all three of his Airstreams ('68, '76 and this '05) and he is an experienced RVer.

Tow vehicle was a brand new 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 heavy duty quad cab. He had a 1500 Ram QC last year and used it to tow the same trailer to Myrtle Beach and back several times.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:19 AM   #6
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I wish your parents a very speedy recovery!

One thing I'm sure everyone on the forums is wondering about is the description of the tow vehicle, and the hitch setup. If you could fill us in with this information it would be sincerely appreciated. The weather at the time of the accident - especially in mountainous terrain - could also be very significant. It's not impossible to get very unusual high winds coming up a mountain slope. Just ask sailplane pilots! I once flew shotgun to a remote island in the Pacific where the pilot described a previous accident he had experienced on that island in an old Lockheed Loadstar. The Japanese runway had been cut into the side of the mountain and on his final approach he got hit with a wind from astern that completely killed his apparent airspeed. He said that the plane literally dropped almost vertically, landing on some tall coconut palms and sliding down their trunks onto the ground. He walked away from the accident but got hepititus (sp?) later while trying to salvage parts from the wreck!

Our Airstreams, for all of their great aerodynamic characteristics, are still relatively light vehicles, like a plane, that can be tossed about willy nilly by high enough winds.

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Old 05-18-2007, 10:26 AM   #7
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Heart of Dixie , Alabama
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Sounds spooky...
Everything you have should have done a fine job.
No signs of axle or tire problems, hitch OK, truck OK...

Could they have put some really heavy stuff in the rear of TT?
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:31 AM   #8
Little Radio
1966 28' Ambassador
Chicago , Illinois
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My dad's had 40 years of trailer-towing experience, plus, he's a mechanical engineer. He knows better than to improperly load the trailer or drive in a manner that would induce such an utterly terrifying event.

The road was dry, it was not windy, it was 7:30'ish in the evening with plenty of light still present. The highway was a slight grade upwards. He was not changing lanes or being passed by a semi.

All in all, what happened was inexplicable.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:33 AM   #9
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Wasn't there an axle recall for 2005 Classics with disc brakes?
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:34 AM   #10
Little Radio
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This Classic had drums, not discs.
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Old 05-18-2007, 10:49 AM   #11
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Sorry to hear of your parent's terrifying ordeal. From the description of both your parent's accident and your near mishap with the same trailer (I take it you were using your own TV at the time), the road grade (ascension) seems to be the common denominator. I'm assuming no 18 wheelers were blowing by you at the time to cause any instability.

Hopefully a detailed analysis by a qualified engineer assigned by the insurance company can get to the root cause of the mishap.

Good luck and keep us apprised of any new developments.


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Old 05-18-2007, 11:00 AM   #12
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That's a very strange twist of events. NO WAY wind would cause that. Even with a small van (aerodynamics of a refigerator) and a trailer that's near capacity I've driven in gusty 30+ mph winds and you get bounced around but not suddely thrown out of control.

I'd suspect something in the truck like a broken weld in the driveline or hitch except you said you'd experienced a similar incident with your own vehicle. How about a cracked weld up in the area of the tongue? I can see where that would cause what you've described and jive with AS reporting no problems since there attention was focused back at the axles? -Bernie
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Old 05-18-2007, 11:34 AM   #13
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That is odd, I am glad they both survived. I don't know if the wheel bearing recall also included the early 2005s.
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Old 05-18-2007, 11:35 AM   #14
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My heart goes out to your parents, and I hope they fully recover.

Your father may want to check his trailer's axles, tires and wheel bearings to see if these may have contributed to his accident.

My 2004 30' Classic was built during the early spring of 2004, shortly prior to when the 2005 model production began.

I noticed on my trailer shortly after purchasing it that the tires were not balanced, although my owner's manual stated they were balanced before leaving the factory.

One of the first things I did was to take my trailer to a local frame and alignment shop, to not only get my tires trued and balanced, but to get the entire running gear balanced as well. The owner of this shop (a large place, very experienced, and in business for a considerable time) and two of his experienced mechanics worked for almost 3 hours to balance one of my tire/wheel assemblies, and it took almost 16 oz of weight to get it in balance -- strongly suggesting that the hub/axle was not properly machined.

About this same time, I was informed by another 2004 Classic owner on this forum that I had also better check the grease in my wheel bearings, after his bearings had seized up due to inadequately greased wheel bearings coming from the factory. I believe he had had an accident as a direct result.

Sure enough, mine had almost no grease in the bearings as well, and it was only through the grace of God that I caught it soon enough before incurring any serious problems.

I then went to Jackson Center soon thereafter and met with 3 managers to review my concerns on these 2 issues, plus a myriad of other quality issues with my trailer. Several of the service technicians also examined my trailer, tires, wheel bearing, etc. during that visit. They seemed more concerned that I may have put too much grease in my wheel bearings, and didn't express any concern about the fact that they originally came from the factory having little or no grease in them. Of course their checks showed that my bearings were properly greased, only because I had had that done on my own.

Although I had talked with Dave Schumann by telephone about these issues before going in person to the factory, and I thought I was going to also meet with him there at Jackson Center, he was not present when I got there. However, I later again reviewed my concerns with him about these issues, and he totally rejected the fact that there was any problem that Airstream should be held accountable for. (Within a couple weeks afterwards, Airstream announced a recall of trailers manufactured around this time period due to inadequately greased wheel bearings.)

Of course there are many factors that may have caused your parent's accident. However, I know there were many trailers shipped from Jackson Center around the time period when your parent's trailer was built with the above mentioned deficiencies, so they may be worthwhile checking as potential causes.


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