2001 Bambi frame/belly corrosion .. a working vacation
While I only wanted to check on my Bambi's brakes before a planned two-week trip, the work gods conspired to give me something more to do. First I notice that the bellypan is sloppy with many missing rivets and some of the clamps holding the propane lines are loose. The shocks have rusted out. The axle has heavy surface rust. So I remove the shocks and drop the axle to clean and paint it.
Then I see that the outriggers fore and aft of each wheelwell are heavily rusted (under the paint I had applied four years ago.) Exploring that I find soaked insulation in the banana wrap area fore and aft of the wheelwells. Removing the wrap the outriggers and the 3-in C-channel, along with the axle mount plate are heavily rusted in this area. Most of the rivets are nearly gone. The bellypan, where it contacts the frame, is heavily corroded, in some places completely through, such as in between the axle mounting plate and the axle bracket.
The outrigger forward of the curbside wheelwell has actually cracked about an inch from the weld to the channel. Judging from the corrosion at the crack it has been like this awhile.
So what started as a pre-trip inspection has turned into quite a project. At this point I'm still removing the banana wrap and the aft bellypan. Fortunately the frame is only significantly rusted in the area around the wheelwells; the forward end exposed in the spare tire area and the tongue are in good shape as I had cleaned and painted those several years ago. And where I've dropped the bellypan forward of the grey water tank the crossmembers are in very good shape, except for the corrosion at the rivet holes.
The banana wrap aft of the right wheelwell held alot of dried up mud and the years of road moisture had wicked through the insulation along the outriggers and frame channel to cause alot of corrosion. It is troubling to me that I let this go- the symptoms of a gap at the aft outrigger base to banana wrap I filled with caulking the first months I had it but it didn't work. With the frame having only the simplest flash paint job as received at Airstream, corrosion is guaranteed. Living in the Northeast and at the coast as I do it gets even worse.
I have spoken to my dealer and Airstream customer service about the poor preparation quality of the frame as early as 2001, hoping that my experience would urge them to spend a bit more money to prepare the frame with a better, more robust finish.
Meantime, I would urge owners to inspect the underside of their trailer for loose rivets, loose propane line clamps, and corrosion through the aluminum where the steel frame meets the belly and banana. These are warnings to inspect further.
While I'm at it, I'm replacing all the banana wrap dark grey aluminum, replacing the shocks and upgrading to electrohydraulic disk brakes (from Inland RV).
My "vacation" so far has been spent under the trailer. But at least I'll be doing the job that should have been done at the factory, hopefully it will last longer than six years, and I now have an intimate knowledge of these details of my trailer.
2001 19-ft Bambi
2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL
Greensburg, PA - Falmouth, MA