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Old 01-15-2020, 09:21 PM   #1
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Question What things should I look for?

Hey everyone. First post on the forum. Excited to be part of the community. I hope this is the right place to post this.

I've been living in a van conversion full-time for three years, but am just dipping my feet into the Airstream world. Looking forward to joining it.

I am looking at purchasing a 31ft 1975 Sovereign. Going through past threads on this forum I've learned a lot about what to look for. The interior of this potential acquisition is completely renovated, and I'm confident I can handle any needed repairs or upgrades on the items.

What I'm less familiar is what to look for structurally on an Airstream of this generation and size.

It seems like checking the frame is a critical part of due diligence, but difficult to do without removing the shell or drilling holes. What are the best ways I can go about checking the condition of the frame? In a worst case scenario, what would be the total cost of a replacement?

Additionally, what are the top things (in terms of risk/cost of failure) that I should be checking before a purchase? Which things would you replace upon purchase regardless? Shocks/springs/breaks/tires etc?

Anything else specific I should know about this generation/model of Airstreams? I'll be towing it full-time.

Thanks in advance for your wisdom!
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Old 01-15-2020, 09:24 PM   #2
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If I could piggyback off my own thread, anyone have the loaded weights of their AS? For 1976/31ft I've seen roughly 6,000 pounds. Hoping my F-150 with 9k pounds towing can handle something this size.
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Old 01-15-2020, 10:30 PM   #3
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On the right side of the page you will see an Airstream Inspectors heading. Below that you will see Trailer inspectors Checklist. Print it off and take with you when looking at a trailer. Helps to prompt you to look for things. My biggest concern would be axle's and frame seperation if it is a rear bath model. I did a lot of work renovating/rebuilding my 1976 Sovereign centre bath model.
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Old 01-16-2020, 02:36 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by CBWELL View Post
On the right side of the page you will see an Airstream Inspectors heading. Below that you will see Trailer inspectors Checklist. Print it off and take with you when looking at a trailer. Helps to prompt you to look for things. My biggest concern would be axle's and frame seperation if it is a rear bath model. I did a lot of work renovating/rebuilding my 1976 Sovereign centre bath model.

Awesome, thanks CB. I was able to find several checklists by searching the forum. Didn't think of that before!

The interior has been completely renovated, so apart from my inspection there, it would seem that frame/axle/bedpan issues are the biggest concern via water damage yeah? Any rough guesstimate of a worst-case scenario to replace all of the expensive issues that may exist there?
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Old 01-16-2020, 03:12 PM   #5
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The biggest risk with any of these trailers is floor rot. Even if the trailer has been recently rennovated, you should check all along the interior perimeter with an ice pick or sharp little screw driver and look for a rotting subfloor. The chance of floor rot is prticularly high under the windows, around the doors and hatches, behind the refrigerator, and along the back edge.

Hand in hand with floor rot is rear end separation. The rearmost piece of plywood subfloor rots away, compromising the connection of the rear of the shell with the frame. before long the two begin moving independent of one another and the frame begins to droop. You can often identifiy this separation at a glance from outside, but if you step up on the rear bumper the frame and shell should move together, no gaps between the two.

There is a right way and a wrong way to "rennovate" a 50 year old trailer with a rotten wooden subfloor. The wrong way usually involves taking shortcuts such as slapping brand new flooring over a rotting subfloor. Have the owner show you pictures of the work that was done during the rennovation and explain what they did. There are many "polished turds" out there, where someone bought an old wreck, did some superficial sprucing up, masking the foundational problems, and then sells it as a "completely rennovated" unit.

Every trailer this old should have the axles replaced. They only last 20-25 years. Read up on these forums how to check the condition of the torsion axles. If this trailer is still sitting on its original, sagged out axles, then it is a definite red flag regarding the quality of the job they did on the remainder of the rennovation.

If the trailer has rotting floors and rear end separation, you are looking at major surgery to repair. I certainly wouldn't pay "rennovated" prices for a trailer in this condtion. Axle replacements are in excess of $1000 per axle if you have the work done by someone else.

If you have a craigslist ad or some pictures to post, I am sure the Forums users could give you a lot of advice as to what jusmps out at them as potential problems.

good luck!
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:38 PM   #6
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Yes.

Biggest and worst case, most common scenarios with 70s trailer are:

Floor rot and rear-end separation. Search the forum for a plethora of threads on how to tackle this, should this trailer need it.

Unless axles have already recently been replaced with new, you can be nearly certain you'll need to replace the axles and horizontal shocks.

Brakes, tires, running gear.

These are all the primary, foundational issues. Everything else is cosmetics and conveniences. Don't do anything to the trailer unless and until you've established these base issues are safe and viable.

It's sort of like buying a used car. Would you buy a car that had a great interior, but the frame was rusted, the suspension busted?

Regarding TV (tow vehicle in forum-speak):
This is a religious topic here with fervent believers, heretics, agnostics and so on. Many will opine that you should not even think about towing a large AS with anything less than a 3/4 ton diesel, others will advise that as long as you have your hitch system set up correctly, you might be ok, depending on where and how you are towing, etc...
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:48 PM   #7
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I own a 1972 31', it's stunning and the envy of every camper in a plastic box at the campgroud!
If you're a total newbie, find someone who can inspect, if no one available take the advice above ! 31's are quite common and not as rare or valuable as shorter versions, no need to overpay.
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Old 01-16-2020, 07:13 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by betheroad View Post
If I could piggyback off my own thread, anyone have the loaded weights of their AS? For 1976/31ft I've seen roughly 6,000 pounds. Hoping my F-150 with 9k pounds towing can handle something this size.
Your truck will be fine as long as weight of trailer tongue, passengers, and cargo don't exceed payload capacity that is written on the door placard. And, gross combined vehicle weight rating is not exceeded.

This manual has a lot of information that might help with the weights and how to plan/load>
https://www.airstream.com/wp-content...-manual-56.pdf
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Old 01-17-2020, 10:36 AM   #9
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I have a 1976 31' Excella and empty it weights 6300 lbs. Your truck will be able to haul it but even with a WD hitch but you'll be tail squatting and at the limits of your trucks emergency maneuverability and safety. I recommend a 3/4 ton for a 31'. That's my opinion but I firmly believe that if you have to have WD then you need a bigger truck.
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Old 01-17-2020, 11:45 AM   #10
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Your F-150 should do the job assuming you have brake controller, mirrors and payload capacity...

You might be interested in reading my article on the exercise we did in choosing a tow vehicle for our Int'l 25 Airstream.

https://www.marriedwithairstream.com...-your-trailer/
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Old 01-17-2020, 01:09 PM   #11
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I would avoid any trailer that has been “completely renovated “ on the inside! That’s the easy part. The stuff that really matters is what you can’t see. There is a good chance you will need to remove a good part of your “new” interior, to fix the floor and frame. Try not to be blinded by shiny things. Don’t ask me how I know.
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Old 01-17-2020, 04:16 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belegedhel View Post
The biggest risk with any of these trailers is ...
(points at Belegedhel) What he said!

Getting one of these antique trailers and thinking, "It's done" is a huge mistake. You'll find that most folks on this Forum are enthusiasts that dig fiddling (or doing the "Full Monty") on their Airstreams. Hey, I'm one of those guys, but some like to think that buying a fixed up 40+ year old Airstream is the equivalent of buying a new RV. Remember, the little Airstreams cost waaay more than the big ones, so don't instantly think that you're getting the deal of the century

So, not dissing my very correct brethren, here is my short list for Airstream purchase:
1. Does it look good? Is the inside at least tolerable? Use your nose to detect weird smells (interior rot/dead things), and try to step everywhere, looking for the dreaded spongy-floor.
2. Jump up and down on the bumper. Does it move independently from the rest of the shell? That would indicate a bad frame and separation.
3. Look at the distance between the top of the wheels and the trailer. Mine is like 4-5". Most of these older trailers need new axles (suspension is in the axles, not leaf or coil springs). It's not all that hard to change them out if you're a handy person, but it's definitely non-trivial.

If it passes these tests, then go on to a more thorough checklist (or inspection). Or throw caution to the wind and get it it anyway! That's probably what most of us did here on the Forum!
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Old 01-20-2020, 05:31 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Belegedhel View Post
The biggest risk with any of these trailers is floor rot. Even if the trailer has been recently rennovated, you should check all along the interior perimeter with an ice pick or sharp little screw driver and look for a rotting subfloor. The chance of floor rot is prticularly high under the windows, around the doors and hatches, behind the refrigerator, and along the back edge.

Hand in hand with floor rot is rear end separation. The rearmost piece of plywood subfloor rots away, compromising the connection of the rear of the shell with the frame. before long the two begin moving independent of one another and the frame begins to droop. You can often identifiy this separation at a glance from outside, but if you step up on the rear bumper the frame and shell should move together, no gaps between the two.

There is a right way and a wrong way to "rennovate" a 50 year old trailer with a rotten wooden subfloor. The wrong way usually involves taking shortcuts such as slapping brand new flooring over a rotting subfloor. Have the owner show you pictures of the work that was done during the rennovation and explain what they did. There are many "polished turds" out there, where someone bought an old wreck, did some superficial sprucing up, masking the foundational problems, and then sells it as a "completely rennovated" unit.

Every trailer this old should have the axles replaced. They only last 20-25 years. Read up on these forums how to check the condition of the torsion axles. If this trailer is still sitting on its original, sagged out axles, then it is a definite red flag regarding the quality of the job they did on the remainder of the rennovation.

If the trailer has rotting floors and rear end separation, you are looking at major surgery to repair. I certainly wouldn't pay "rennovated" prices for a trailer in this condtion. Axle replacements are in excess of $1000 per axle if you have the work done by someone else.

If you have a craigslist ad or some pictures to post, I am sure the Forums users could give you a lot of advice as to what jusmps out at them as potential problems.

good luck!
This is fantastic information. Spent the last few days reading more responses like this on the forum. Definitely feel more confident in assessing my potential purchases thanks to everyone here.
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Old 01-20-2020, 05:32 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SuzyHomemakr View Post
(points at Belegedhel) What he said!

Getting one of these antique trailers and thinking, "It's done" is a huge mistake. You'll find that most folks on this Forum are enthusiasts that dig fiddling (or doing the "Full Monty") on their Airstreams. Hey, I'm one of those guys, but some like to think that buying a fixed up 40+ year old Airstream is the equivalent of buying a new RV. Remember, the little Airstreams cost waaay more than the big ones, so don't instantly think that you're getting the deal of the century

So, not dissing my very correct brethren, here is my short list for Airstream purchase:
1. Does it look good? Is the inside at least tolerable? Use your nose to detect weird smells (interior rot/dead things), and try to step everywhere, looking for the dreaded spongy-floor.
2. Jump up and down on the bumper. Does it move independently from the rest of the shell? That would indicate a bad frame and separation.
3. Look at the distance between the top of the wheels and the trailer. Mine is like 4-5". Most of these older trailers need new axles (suspension is in the axles, not leaf or coil springs). It's not all that hard to change them out if you're a handy person, but it's definitely non-trivial.

If it passes these tests, then go on to a more thorough checklist (or inspection). Or throw caution to the wind and get it it anyway! That's probably what most of us did here on the Forum!
Awesome additions. Looking forward to using your tips in practice.
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Old 01-20-2020, 05:40 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by tbashin View Post
I have a 1976 31' Excella and empty it weights 6300 lbs. Your truck will be able to haul it but even with a WD hitch but you'll be tail squatting and at the limits of your trucks emergency maneuverability and safety. I recommend a 3/4 ton for a 31'. That's my opinion but I firmly believe that if you have to have WD then you need a bigger truck.
Thanks for the headsup. Wow TVs can be controversial (just read many other threads). I've seen many others tow long distances with this truck (3.55 3.5l v6 F-150 max tow package) and I rarely drive above 60 anyway and have done a few hours of driving on the Interstate over the past 30k miles and don't mind going really slow, so seems like the TV/TT combo can be done without too much safety sacrifice or wear and tear costs.

Do airstreams seem to have less sway and drag (resulting in higher mpg) than other conventional boxy trailers? Seems like the case by reading this and other forums of people's real-world MPGs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by drbrick View Post
Your F-150 should do the job assuming you have brake controller, mirrors and payload capacity...

You might be interested in reading my article on the exercise we did in choosing a tow vehicle for our Int'l 25 Airstream.

https://www.marriedwithairstream.com...-your-trailer/
This was a perfect read. Thanks for sharing! No problem on brake controller, mirrors, payload capacity. We're 250 total pounds for two people and always take <100 pounds of gear in the cab.

Quote:
Originally Posted by A W Warn View Post
Your truck will be fine as long as weight of trailer tongue, passengers, and cargo don't exceed payload capacity that is written on the door placard. And, gross combined vehicle weight rating is not exceeded.

This manual has a lot of information that might help with the weights and how to plan/load>
https://www.airstream.com/wp-content...-manual-56.pdf


Quote:
Originally Posted by skyguyscott View Post
Yes.

Biggest and worst case, most common scenarios with 70s trailer are:

Floor rot and rear-end separation. Search the forum for a plethora of threads on how to tackle this, should this trailer need it.

Unless axles have already recently been replaced with new, you can be nearly certain you'll need to replace the axles and horizontal shocks.

Brakes, tires, running gear.

These are all the primary, foundational issues. Everything else is cosmetics and conveniences. Don't do anything to the trailer unless and until you've established these base issues are safe and viable.

It's sort of like buying a used car. Would you buy a car that had a great interior, but the frame was rusted, the suspension busted?

Regarding TV (tow vehicle in forum-speak):
This is a religious topic here with fervent believers, heretics, agnostics and so on. Many will opine that you should not even think about towing a large AS with anything less than a 3/4 ton diesel, others will advise that as long as you have your hitch system set up correctly, you might be ok, depending on where and how you are towing, etc...
Thanks for the acronym pointer. Now to figure out what TT stands for....tow trailer?
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Old 01-20-2020, 06:37 PM   #16
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welcome!

great info from these guys.....

You asked about cost, associated with various issues you could find on this or any other camper for that matter.....

It is a huge issue and hard to answer, because of the infinite variables, but, no matter what, come hell or high water, you have got to pull at least part of the belly pan, and look at the frame from underneath....Anyone that buys a vintage camper must do this....

Be prepared to be totally disappointed in what looks like a real nice camper, when you get a look at the frame.....

There will be some rust, but the issue is whether or not the frame is road worthy as-is....If it is not, you really need to remove the shell in order to fix it properly, and that means completely disassembling your Airstream, inside and out, and starting from ground zero.....And removing the shell is no small task.....if you hired the job out, and lets say you were going to do all the disassembly and reassembly yourself, but you were going to pay someone to remove the shell, rebuild the frame, and replace the subflooring, and reinstall the shell, you could count on spending $30,000.00 at a bare minimum, just to pay the shop...then you have to pay for all the other stuff that must be upgraded and updated, and it is significant......In my opinion, you could easily spend another $30,000.00 on all that stuff....
Maybe this gives you some perspective on the project.....all the little things add up, and while it may look good inside now, if the inside has to be gutted, much of what you see will not be reusable....it just will not survive being removed and reinstalled.....and one thing is for sure...there is nothing more unimpressive than an Airstream that was cheaply "renovated".....you can do stuff like that on an old Shasta or some other brand (SOB), but not an Airstream.....so everything has to be done very nicely, and some of it hired out, unless you are an amazing person with unbelievable skill !
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Old 01-26-2020, 06:55 PM   #17
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I suggest listening to the most recent episode (#327) of The Vintage Airstream Podcast. In this episode Colin Hyde talks about what to look for in a renovated trailer and a number of the nightmare scenarios he's seen.
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