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Old 04-05-2011, 12:04 PM   #1
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A/S Quality-A Different Perspective

In the last couple of years, I "retired" from 20+ years of recreational sailing/cruising and started Airstreaming which has turned out to be a great transition. This forum has gone a long way to help shorten my learning curve.

But, I have to say I have been a little surprised to see the numbers of people unhappy with their Airstream in terms of quality, leaks, etc. Consider the perspective of an ex-sailor. There are lots of parallels between high quality, production sailboats and Airstreams. Both can last virtually forever given care. The manufacturers build the "structures" and use other manufacturers' components in construction. But for sailboat electronics, their complexity is similar. The manufacturing techniques in both industries is not very high tech.

Here are a couple of quality examples from the sailboat side of things. I owned a "near vintage" high quality, production boat. It's ports(windows) had always leaked. I finally went out and spent nearly 3K on the best set of new ports I could find; then, I spent many hours installing them. Eighteen months later, the leaks started again. I finally learned, in use, the structure flexes and moves-leaks happen. I chased leaks the nearly 20 years I owned the boat. Met a gentlemen who had a brand new version of the same brand boat that I owned who offered me a tour. With the boat at six months old, his warranty "punch list" had 72 items. And, he had paid approximately 3-4 times what a similar sized A/S would have cost.

From a value perspective, I feel the A/S is a very good bargain. After a factory tour, I understand both why the trailers can last so long and why there can be some initial problems with a new one. They are largely built by hand which can be both a plus and a minus.

To pass along a boat tip. If you never want to have a leak or a problem with your trailer again, here's what you do. Store it in a building and never, ever use it. Or, otherwise, just use it and have a great time.
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Old 04-05-2011, 12:26 PM   #2
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Automotive quality has become so good these days I think people are expecting the same in their RVs.

But you're right, they're mostly hand built. Also they have nowhere near the extreme testing done on any automotive platform before it is released. Hot/cold cycles, rough roads, ultra hot conditions, corrosion resistance, tens of thousands of miles of driving.

Could you see this scenario: Here's our new 23' Flying cloud, we're going to hook up five of them to all forms of tow vehicles and pull them 75,000 miles to see what shakes loose. Then we'll put the model on sale after we correct all the fundamental problems.

I think if our trailers were subjected to the kind of testing and quality control which would bring them to the reliability of modern car, we'd be shocked at the price. Its the economy of scale issue and the small model runs. Bottom line the tinkering and repairing is part of the cost of admission here. Before buying any RV one should factor this into the ownership experience.
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Old 04-05-2011, 01:02 PM   #3
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Truth

This is so true. If you are not prepared to check, research, repair and update as needed, then you better not buy, or else plan on trading it in as soon as the warranty has expired.
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I think if our trailers were subjected to the kind of testing and quality control which would bring them to the reliability of modern car, we'd be shocked at the price. Its the economy of scale issue and the small model runs. Bottom line the tinkering and repairing is part of the cost of admission here. Before buying any RV one should factor this into the ownership experience.
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Old 04-05-2011, 02:15 PM   #4
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Hello Sailorii: I've just semi retired from 28 full time years as a yacht captain....starting in your neck of the woods on smaller classic yachts like Trumpy's and moved up the years to my last command of a 220' Lurssen (German build) that logged 96K n.m. over 4 years on a double world tour.
On a whim I did a WTB on craiglist and within 24hrs owned an '05 25' Safari WB which I pick up tomorrow.
I've learned that there is still quality out there but it's reserved to the 1/10th of 1% of the wealthy who pay dearly for one-off's and can order internationally.
Before buying the AS I went to the Portland RV show and within an hour I knew it was an AS or nothing. The Safari I bought was'ent cheap by any means but it's light years better than any other trailer even discounting the "image" and "cool factor".
Mine has at least one leak that I noticed but for once I don't have to worry about leaks from below unless it's air out of the tires. It's going straight into my barn and I'm going to remove and bed every exterior fitting before it sees the light of day again.
And I'm going to enjoy it as that's what it takes as "the cost of admission"....the owners of yachts that I've worked for suffer often from the same delusion that things fixed stay that way.....some boats fight back more than others but as Sir Francis Herrishoff said "a crew will work hard to keep up a good boat where as crew will walk away in disgust at a poorly built/looking one. And so it goes with AS's...bring on the caulking gun and gaskets!!
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Old 04-05-2011, 02:37 PM   #5
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Another way to look at the "Why aren't Airstreams as solid/tough/reliable as modern cars" thing is this: A modern midsize sedan in the US these days weighs about 3500 lb. (That's Fusion/Camry/Malibu/Accord sort of vehicle.) This vehicle is a tight fit for 5 full-sized humans sitting still, has no toilet, no galley, no bed.

Moving up to the full-sized Taurus pushes you over 4000 lb before you even get to AWD, and still no shower on board.

Airstream could "build it like a car" at least in theory... but if it were built like a modern car, you'd need a Superduty to tow a Bambi. And don't even think about what it would cost.
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Old 04-05-2011, 03:54 PM   #6
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I get what you're trying to show there, but it's not really enough to simply equate weight to quality. After all, a car has a very heavy engine and drivetrain, plus a lot of structure to accommodate crash loads. A trailer lacks that density.

There is a whole different level of quality when it comes to mass-produced automobiles than with RVs. A typical defect rate for a new car in its first year is around 20 problems per 100 cars. Judging from postings here, it's not atypical for a new Airstream to have a first year warranty list of a dozen or more items. As noted above, the hand-built nature and the variation in different floorplans and trims, spread over 2500 or so trailers a year, means they aren't going to have the quality level of a car.

The issues that are more troubling to me are simple fit and finish issues. I'm not talking about the micrometer-tight gaps that you get in car interiors. I'm talking about laminate edging that's misaligned or peeling off or globs of glue. When I walk into a new trailer, it should look good. Readily apparent defects lead one to wonder what else they missed. To be fair, the recent units I've seen at shows (especially the Serenity models) have had better finish.

The leaking thing would be less annoying if Airstream didn't make a big deal in marketing of showing off its spray test booth. Or if they matched other companies in building trailers with composite rot-free floors.

Is Airstream better than other RVs? For the most part, probably. I get the same experience of walking through RV shows that others mention in this thread - other than Roadtrek/PleasureWay Class Bs and maybe Born Free motorhomes, not much else looks that well assembled.

But a new 25FB Airstream pushes $80,000 - on the other hand, you can buy a 30' white box with two flat screens for $19,999. You'd hope you're getting your money's worth with the Airstream. A well-assembled trailer is part of that.

Tom
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Old 04-05-2011, 04:10 PM   #7
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The reality is that as a product's price goes up, there is the expectation that there will be fewer problems that a lower priced product. Unfortunately that line of thinking doesn't always carry over and to many of us, that's not acceptable.

We are dealing with a handbuilt trailer that at this point isn't automated. One of the successes of the automobile industry that we point to as an example is created from the level of automation used. I toured the GM full size van plant here in the STL area a few years back. It was riveting to watch the windshield installation. A robot picks up the windshield and then pivots the windshield while another devices applies the sealant. The amount of sealant is precise with the placement right at the correct spots. The robot then places the windshield into the framed opening of the van. It's fast efficient and probably has a rate of failure which is miniscule compared to humans doing the same task. And unless something breaks, it's done the same way every time...

As long as you have a human in the picture doing the work, you can never build a vehicle with the level of uniformity and quality that the robot can put out.

Will I still be disappointed to find that whoever installed my water pump put it so close to the wheel well that I can't put in a winterizing valve without having to remount the water pump? Sure, but I'm a realist enought to understand that the installer has an area to put it into, and unless someone in quality control steps up and says, "we need a template to make sure we install this in exactly this spot", I going to be subject to human judgements or frailities.

That's where management has to step in and determine what the market will bear, as far as pricing goes, and the cost to improve the quality level of the trailer. The biggest issue that Airstream has to handle is that they build 25-28 trailers a week. Hard to get a good return on investment in developing and building an automated process to improve quality in contrast to the numbers of automobiles built.

Jack
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Old 04-05-2011, 05:02 PM   #8
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I see that I wasn't particularly clear in where I was going... I really meant to relate (rather than equate) weight to solidity and durability (rather than initial quality.) It was a thought that came to me in reading about the development of problems over time and use in the expensive yachts referred to above rather than quality of assembly. As an illustration of that point... the solid, durable modern compact cars weigh around the same as their midsized ancestors did 25 years ago... the powertrains didn't get that much heavier. The design for dissipating crash energy certainly does add weight, but it also adds some of that long-term solidity.

I certainly agree that it's reasonable to expect a high-quality build in an $80k trailer. I'm about to find out the other part... how much work goes into keeping a trailer functional and nice to use.
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Old 04-05-2011, 05:19 PM   #9
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A wise RV tech once said to me, "Folks forget that these things [RVs] get dragged down the road at 60-75 mph in all sorts of weather and on all kinds of roads... They need to remember that things will shake loose and come unscrewed. It's the nature of the beast. It doesn't mean that it's a bad rig. It's just physics."

That having been said, I am happy to report that we have had far fewer issues with our Airstream than we had with the moho...
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Old 04-05-2011, 06:43 PM   #10
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Take the interior wall panels off a vintage airstream and it's not uncommon to find a craftsman's signature & date. Behind the panels of new ones, airforum members have found hamburger wrappers and trash from the factory. Our 2007 International CCD had trim fall off all over, too little glue, too much glue, things installed crooked, screws that went all the way through and out the other side (or just the few threads on the tip holding things together). The fit and finish on our 2010 Flying Cloud is fantastic though. Everything fits like well built furniture. Maybe things are getting better. BUT last week the plastic clip that keeps the magnet strip from sliding out of the track on the shower door broke and I had to use duct tape until I can come up with something to replace the plastic clip (that won't be a warranty item because I don't want another plastic clip).

The truth is, a lot of crap has came out of the factory in recent years. No need to beat the issue to death, but we shouldn't give them a free pass either. Airstream's basically don't have direct competition and it's reflected in the price. Too bad Silver Streaks & Spartans aren't still being built. I guess it was just too hard to compete against Airstream back in the day when the craftsmen where proud enough to sign them.

After we sold off the '07 CCD we spent a good long time at a dealer going through a couple Earthbounds. It's not a worthy competitor for a well built Airstream. Not bashing them, but I'm not impressed with the design of some elements and the construction. It's not a direct replacement for an Airstream in quality, or The Airstream Experience.
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Old 04-05-2011, 07:01 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by newroswell View Post
Take the interior wall panels off a vintage airstream and it's not uncommon to find a craftsman's signature & date. Behind the panels of new ones, airforum members have found hamburger wrappers and trash from the factory. Our 2007 International CCD had trim fall off all over, too little glue, too much glue, things installed crooked, screws that went all the way through and out the other side (or just the few threads on the tip holding things together). The fit and finish on our 2010 Flying Cloud is fantastic though. Everything fits like well built furniture. Maybe things are getting better. BUT last week the plastic clip that keeps the magnet strip from sliding out of the track on the shower door broke and I had to use duct tape until I can come up with something to replace the plastic clip (that won't be a warranty item because I don't want another plastic clip).

The truth is, a lot of crap has came out of the factory in recent years. No need to beat the issue to death, but we shouldn't give them a free pass either. Airstream's basically don't have direct competition and it's reflected in the price. Too bad Silver Streaks & Spartans aren't still being built. I guess it was just too hard to compete against Airstream back in the day when the craftsmen where proud enough to sign them.

After we sold off the '07 CCD we spent a good long time at a dealer going through a couple Earthbounds. It's not a worthy competitor for a well built Airstream. Not bashing them, but I'm not impressed with the design of some elements and the construction. It's not a direct replacement for an Airstream in quality, or The Airstream Experience.
So, the Earthbound was of lower quality than your 2007? Or than your 2010?

I'm not being argumentative... I looked at the Earthbounds, and liked lots of aspects of the trailer. I cannot say that I would have bought one over a new FC or CCD if I won the lotto, but if I were spending my money on new I would certainly have considered them carefully.

As it turned out, a great vintage Argosy found me in a moment of weakness. Picking it up on Thursday.
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Old 04-05-2011, 07:45 PM   #12
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had a 2003 23' International that was PERFECT. Not a flaw. Sold it to go bigger.
bought a new 2008 27FBSE and ended up back at the mothership where they put 80 hours into fixing stuff that should have been done right before it went out the door.
Could blame it on the down economy and the fact that maybe AS had to let some of those who knew their trade go in defference to keeping less expensive labor. Could blame it on bad luck. Could blame it on maybe that our AS was built on a monday after the workers returned to the factory after a LONG weekend of drinking and partying. Could blame it on LOTS of things. Bottom line is now things are fixed, except the leaking Fantastic Fan over the bed which drips on wife's side. To her, this is inexcusable and cause for selling the AS.
Who wants to buy a 2008 27FBSE with midnight sun interior? (and a leak from the fantastic fan over the bed on the wife's side)
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Old 04-05-2011, 07:56 PM   #13
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Less quality than most Airstream eras. Everything was very thin, lots of plastic. The cabinets look beautiful, but the plywood was so thin the doors where bowed. Very light hinges, with tiny screws. One of the vents was actually installed out of square and screws torqued down so hard the plastic trim was cracked in several places. One of the three on the lot had noticeable water damage from a leak in the roof. Sometimes this happens, I've seen new Airstreams on the lot with really bad leaks already also. It'll be interesting to peek in on their forums and see how they are holding up if they ever get a following.
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Old 04-05-2011, 07:59 PM   #14
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Which side does she sleep on, streetside or curbside? Or is that Portside or Starboard? A good excuse to d***** s****.
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had a 2003 23' International that was PERFECT. Not a flaw. Sold it to go bigger.
bought a new 2008 27FBSE and ended up back at the mothership where they put 80 hours into fixing stuff that should have been done right before it went out the door.
Could blame it on the down economy and the fact that maybe AS had to let some of those who knew their trade go in defference to keeping less expensive labor. Could blame it on bad luck. Could blame it on maybe that our AS was built on a monday after the workers returned to the factory after a LONG weekend of drinking and partying. Could blame it on LOTS of things. Bottom line is now things are fixed, except the leaking Fantastic Fan over the bed which drips on wife's side. To her, this is inexcusable and cause for selling the AS.
Who wants to buy a 2008 27FBSE with midnight sun interior? (and a leak from the fantastic fan over the bed on the wife's side)
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