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Old 05-14-2015, 05:01 PM   #1
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Things a newbie should look out for

We're finally going to pull the trigger this year and buy and renovate a vintage Airstream. The first step is obviously deciding which one to get. We want to completely gut it, so we thought that buying one on the cheap would be the best idea since we don't care if it looks like a bomb went off inside. What we care about is buying a cheaper one and then realizing that something gigantic needs to get repaired and if we'd just bought one a little "better," it would have been the wiser move. So, the question is - are there certain things you'd say "don't buy if..." Or things to look for that are really expensive to fix? This is going to be a giant, daunting undertaking and I don't want to be banging my head against the wall IMMEDIATELY. I know that'll come later.
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Old 05-14-2015, 05:12 PM   #2
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The first question to ask yourself if whether you are OK with doing what is referred to as a "frame off" restoration. If you are, then the condition of the floor is of less importance to you than if you are going to try and save the floor. Understand that most Airstreams that would have an interior that is bad enough to justify a complete "gut" will also likely have a floor that is rotted in key areas (as well as some frame damage.) Since the floor is an integral part of the trailer's structure, the best way to deal with a rotted floor is to replace it in it's entirety (and to repair/reinforce the frame in the process). If there is only minor damage to the floor in a non-critical area and the frame is good, you can sometimes get by with a partial replacement that does not require removing the shell from the frame but as I indicated, if the interior is bad enough that you want to gut it, chances are that the floor and frame will have issues as well.

If you are skilled and knowledgeable enough to do all of the work involved yourself with a frame off restoration, be prepared to spend upwards of 1,000 hours of your time and well over $15-20,000 in parts to get the job done properly (more if the aluminum skin needs work.) If you were to contract out the entire job, a proper restoration that involves gutting the interior will cost you upwards of $60,000 to $75,000!

Bottom line, a properly restored Airstream that involves a frame off restoration can cost as much as a new one.
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Old 05-14-2015, 05:19 PM   #3
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Thank you!! We won't have the space to do a frame off restoration, so that is GREAT advice.
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Old 05-14-2015, 05:29 PM   #4
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OK. If a frame off restoration is out of the question then the #1 thing you want to look for is a trailer that has not been subject to a lot of water infiltration. That means steer clear of a trailer that has sat in a field or that has not been used regularly and recently. Trailers that have sat around for many years without use will inevitably have leaking issues and rodent infestation issues. You can do a visual and physical inspection for water infiltration and if things look OK, then use a moisture meter to check the floor everywhere. Below is a link to an example of a moisture meter you could use. Beware of any wet or soft spots in the floor!!! A small area not near the edge of the trailer can usually be repaired easily, but a large area near the perimeter of the trailer could require the frame off.

By the way, the labor hours and parts cost figure I gave you is still generally valid for a frame on restoration (assuming a full gut.) While needing some specialized equipment and space, the 'frame off" part of the restoration is not the biggest cost factor to this kind of project.

I'm sure others will give you other hints.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0000224DA/...I151MQVTTR235N
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Old 05-14-2015, 06:36 PM   #5
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Someone here had mentioned being able to look at the frame for excessive rust or frame damage, hence removing the belly pan. That seems a bit much if your looking around as not to many sellers will let you remove their belly pan to peek underneath. However it does make sense because those are the biggies. Floors and frames once you know they are bad you can't really ignore them.

There is a good thread here somewhere that talks about project paralysis. Know yourself and how you dive into a project. Is time or money an obstacle. Are you more of a perfectionist or easy going. Its very similar to an older house. One fix is usually tied go another and another and another.

Our guideline was to keep it camp able and not sweat the small stuff. Right now we have a 35 yr old house and two 50 yr old Airstreams, when it rains outside it also rains inside....all three. )

There are quite a few gutted shells on the classified where floors or frames may have been done already.
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Old 05-14-2015, 07:28 PM   #6
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Welcome and don't shoot yourself in the foot when you "pull the trigger".
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