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Old 07-13-2022, 10:02 AM   #1
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2016 28' International
Trois-Rivieres , Quebec
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Takeaways from the front end separation (FES) saga

Over the past year, there have been many many discussions on the problems experienced by Airstream owners with what is called Front End Separation (FES), where the front panels become loose because of rivets shearing or worse the aluminum skin buckles, dimples or cracks.

This happened to me (rivet shearing), the problem was corrected in 2021 by Andy Thompson’s team at Can Am RV and it was an opportunity to learn about our trailers (https://www.airforums.com/forums/f23...am-225389.html)

I thought it would be useful to note what were my “takeaways” from all this, in a succinct form so that other Airstream owners may get something out of it, and to throw in some recommendations, for what they are worth. Feel free to jump in.

- As far back as the early days of Wally Byam, Airstreams have been a different beast when compared to the other travel trailers on the market. They are a hybrid steel frame – aluminum monocoque/shell construction. The shell is rigid, the frame flexes. Most of the other brands of trailers will have a steel frame with a fiberglass/aluminum clad stapled wooden particle board body on top of the frame. A stapled particle board construction has lots of opportunity to flex if the frame flexes (but long term structural integrity is not one of them), this is not the case for a rigid monocoque construction like an Airstream.

- Because of this type of construction, paying attention to frame flex is very important with an Airstream because if the frame flexes and the body doesn’t, something will eventually give, as we have seen with FES.

- In an Airstream, the hitch becomes an integral part of the trailer, it is not an afterthought. Hitches, depending on their characteristics and their setup, will have an impact on frame flex. This is particularly true for weight distribution which transfers weight to the TV’s front axle by putting pressure on the trailer frame. Depending on the hitch (WD stiffness), this pressure can be multiplied by the road condition dynamics.

- This may not be rocket science, but there are a sufficient number of opinions on this topic to promote it to a “tricky” problem status, worthy of serious analysis by folks who have studied and worked on such problems.

- Beyond the obvious interest of Airstream owners who are rightly concerned about their expensive trailer, Airstream headquarters should also be concerned since, from the testimonials gathered on Air Forums, a number of owners had their FES problem repaired under warranty in Jackson Center. This is costly.

- I believe that Airstream should 1) certify hitches according to certain engineering specs to prevent excessive frame flex and reduce, if not eliminate, the FES problem, and 2) Airstream should train and certify dealers in certified hitch installation. It is in their interest, since this should reduce the cost of FES warranty repair and it would reduce the underserved concerns of Airstream owners. With a CAT scale, it is possible to measure the pressure placed on the frame for a given hitch and installation and to make sure it is well within certain specs (to be determined by Airstream and their frame manufacturer).

- And for those that have an FES problem, Airstream should offer an extended warranty program. It would seem pretty clear that Front Bed models with a front end storage compartment are particularly prone to FES, and many have been repaired by Airstream but it would seem that some have not been because of warranty expiration. This is not right. The automobile industry does offer such warranties in certain situations for certain parts and there is no reason that Airstream/Thor could not offer this for this particular problem. Airstream is their premium travel trailer brand and their price point has now reached that of premium automobiles.
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Old 07-13-2022, 01:39 PM   #2
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Thank you, this is a useful summary. As someone who has a trailer with FES that Airstream has declined to offer a goodwill repair for several months out of warranty, these are my thoughts exactly.
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Old 07-13-2022, 05:26 PM   #3
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Hermes,

Thanks for your post as I feel itís a timely topic. Most are aware I had the FES issue six months after purchasing my Globetrotter. Airstream repaired it under warranty within my 2 year warranty period. I requested, and they agreed, to extend my warranty for another year after the repair since the new Globetrotters had a 3 yr warranty.

The repair failed again. I decided it wasnít worth my time to go back-and-forth with Airstream as it was apparent to me they didnít know how to fix the issue.

I personally know someone who is a engineer and had this issue back in 2019 like me. He is aware of what needs to be done to fix it. Airstream would not put in the steel vertical plate in the front area that existed in pre-front storage compartment Airstreams. However, they agreed to do a much more extensive repair than what was done on my RV and others like mine if he agreed not to file a class action suit. He has not had the issue recur. Airstream added access to the front area from the inside of his RV once the front area was removed to strengthen the front shell area. I thought the repair was excessive at the time and now I know better. He had the knowledge and expertise to argue his position and knew what needed to be done.

Here are my big picture takeaways;

1. Airstream will not add a vertical steel plate to the front end (that existed before they put front access exterior storage) because that would be an admission of a design failure.
2. Although warranty repairs of this item are costly, it has not been costly enough for Airstream to make any changes. Airstream adds in warranty costs to each unit sold. In my mind, costs to repair the units sold have not exceeded their expectations or, they have increased the warranty cost into the price of the units sold to make up the shortfall.
3. Iím not saying this is true but it is possible, related to item #2 that Airstream just has to design the front end to not separate before 3 years are up. Or, repair it once as in my case, during that time to last through the warranty period. Then the cost shifts to the consumer.
4. The person that repaired my FES issue also did the repair for a current high level officer of WBCCI and someone in a company that does related business with Airstream. If they didnít have any luck getting Airstream to fix it correctly I figured my chances were pretty slim as well.
5. Airstreams are a premium priced towable RV. Not everyone can afford one. At some point in time, this issue is going to be important enough to someone who is important enough to file a class action suit. At that time, Iíll submit my out of pocket costs. If this does not occur I will be enjoying my Airstream at as many places across North America as I can. Life is too short to be worrying about what Airstream will or wonít do related to this issue.
6. I personally feel Airstream should remove the exterior front access hatch and move access to the inside. I had this done with my repair and it works nicely. This works better on the twin bed models than the queen bed. A lot of people end up putting their lithium batteries there anyway. Even if they donít use the steel vertical plate, closing up that big hole would allow for better reinforcement of the front area ( like the rear bedroom models have).
7. Airstream management has been silent regarding this issue. If the consumer is doing something wrong, we should be educated on what we should be doing by the RV and Hitch manufacturers.
8. The person that repaired mine had the opinion that Airstream makes a good RV. They just dropped the ball in this area. To me, it was a no brainer to have a qualified 3rd party to fix the issue once and for all. I also look at this as a safety issue. I wanted to confidently use my Airstream and not spend time taking it back to Ohio when they couldnít fix it correctly the first time.
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Old 01-05-2023, 07:09 AM   #4
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I have an upcoming trade up from 27fbq international to classic 30 rbq. The previous has a propride, and the dealer is promoting the blue ox now--any background on which hitches if any contribute to FES or prevent?
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Old 01-05-2023, 07:42 AM   #5
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Our '03 Classic does NOT have an across the front storage compartment.

I use the lightest round bar WD that will move the needed weight.
I believe the stiffer the lash-up the more chance of damage,(not just FE sep).

JC made the simple mistake of just cutting a hole in the front and calling 'more storage'.

Step 1: State the Problem. What is the problem that needs to be solved?
Step 2: Generate Ideas. Where can information be found related to the problem? ...
Step 3: Plan and Select a Solution. ...
Step 4: Build the Item. ...
Step 5: Evaluate. ...
Step 6: Present the Results.


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Old 01-05-2023, 01:02 PM   #6
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Takeaways from the front end separation (FES) saga

Quote:
Originally Posted by jdhdavis View Post
I have an upcoming trade up from 27fbq international to classic 30 rbq. The previous has a propride, and the dealer is promoting the blue ox now--any background on which hitches if any contribute to FES or prevent?


I donít believe weight distribution hitches have a primary effect on separation. If you go through the dynamics of the stress on the frame, all the rotational force is between the tow vehicle and the attachment point of the weight distribution bars.

That said, I believe a hitch of any sort does have a secondary effect in that it does contribute to the impulse and oscillation caused by any bump the TV or trailer tire encounter when driving.

Some have suggested that a Ďsoft dampeningí adjustment of the WDH helps mitigate the stress and that might be true depending on your whole system of TV, hitch, and trailer.

But in the end, an airstream has a monocle aluminum shell with mass that has zero flex and its attached to a steel frame with mass that does flex (or tries to). That means every bump puts stress on the limited attachment points. And with enough bumps those attachment points will fatigue.

Bigger trailers have more mass and FB models have less attachment points (or really less attachment surface area) and these are the trailers with the largest experience of shell separation
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Old 01-05-2023, 01:21 PM   #7
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"I donít believe weight distribution hitches have a primary effect on separation. If you go through the dynamics of the stress on the frame, all the rotational force is between the tow vehicle and the attachment point of the weight distribution bars."

There is an equal resultant force on both ends of the spring bars. The rear is a vertical force at the jacks or snap up brackets, depending upon design. The force is downward and quite large, even when only 50% FA return is desired.
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Old 03-11-2023, 01:25 PM   #8
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Has the design changed at all in newer models to reinforce the area and avoid this problem altogether?
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Old 03-11-2023, 03:43 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eecom7 View Post
Has the design changed at all in newer models to reinforce the area and avoid this problem altogether?
Only time will tell.

I believe JC has come up with a fix without admitting a fault.

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Old 06-12-2023, 08:59 AM   #10
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Kinda late to the party, but very concerned with the FES being tied to a WDH stiffness. We have a (new to us) 2014 23' FB Flying Cloud and wondering if any FES has happened on these smaller AS.

My "perceived" problem is the amount of stress I have to put on the WDH to meet owner manual tape measure numbers & per CAT scale weights it comes out to about 93% FALR. I'm about to pull the trigger on a new hitch with more flex in the bars, I have a Curt with 1000lbs bars.

I just went through a lengthy process of educating myself on TV & TT towing & followed through with a few CAT scale visits & a bunch road testing different set ups.

We have 3000 mile trip planed this week & after reading about FES I'm thinking to tow with less stress on the system and get a new hitch with softer bars when we get back. I towed with less stress for about 5K miles but never happy with how it handled.

Should I be concerned with FES on a 23' AS ?
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Old 06-12-2023, 09:59 AM   #11
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Takeaways from the front end separation (FES) saga

Quote:
Should I be concerned with FES on a 23' AS ?

If you donít have a front storage locker, and you shouldnít, you donít need to worry about this issue with a 23.

The ďFESĒ issue creates a lot of stress for owners, some founded, some not. The forum could use a sticky on this topic.
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Old 06-12-2023, 01:27 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by starlite29 View Post
If you donít have a front storage locker, and you shouldnít, you donít need to worry about this issue with a 23.

The ďFESĒ issue creates a lot of stress for owners, some founded, some not. The forum could use a sticky on this topic.

Thank-you ! Yeah that's me in a nutshell to worry about a problem I don't have. A sticky would be great & a list of models, years that's it's happened too. I sure feel for anyone who's gone through it warranty work or not.
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Old 02-11-2024, 07:27 AM   #13
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My question to final thought would be- did they fix the problem on all models going forward? When something like this happens to many people, if something isn't done, brand reputation tanks with fears of bad product. Is the flaw corrected?
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Old 02-17-2024, 05:08 PM   #14
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I posted in a related thread something along the same lines. Do we have any definitive proof that AS remedied this across the FC, Int’l, and GT lines?

Related question, as it seems the WDHs with a friction bar assembly seem to be in question, would not something like an Anderson help alleviate some of this? Especially for those of us that have enough payload to take the tongue w/o much squat, would an Anderson be a good idea? It’s not the best at moving weight (which is fine for those that can take the weight to begin with) and it does have the friction sway in the head of the unit.

Just wondering.
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Old 02-20-2024, 03:40 PM   #15
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Greetings on the issue again.

Question, is it any Airstream with a front bedroom?
If not, what lengths are most impacted?

I am looking at a 25FBT and curious about the issue on a 25'
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Old 02-20-2024, 10:27 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hermes View Post
- I believe that Airstream should 1) certify hitches according to certain engineering specs to prevent excessive frame flex and reduce, if not eliminate, the FES problem, and 2) Airstream should train and certify dealers in certified hitch installation. It is in their interest, since this should reduce the cost of FES warranty repair and it would reduce the underserved concerns of Airstream owners. With a CAT scale, it is possible to measure the pressure placed on the frame for a given hitch and installation and to make sure it is well within certain specs (to be determined by Airstream and their frame manufacturer).

Sorry you went through all of that and I agree with many of your takeaways.

What's not so simple is what you're proposing above as its impossible to account for all the variations out there, including potential for liability. Confusing points as obvious by the amount of various comments in this thread already.

WD hitches have everything to do with this. Yet even more important than that is the tow vehicle of which the WD ties together. The TVs have been growing in weight, size, strength year after year.

CAT scales may tell how much weight is transferred. But do not begin to tell the story of stress across the structures. Transferring 50% FALR on a full size SUV from a decade ago is far and away different than 50% on a modern HD truck. It's actually shockingly different if one were to do the math.

Somethings got to give.

People often forget that towing a trailer creates an articulated vehicle. The primary goal of a hitch and ball is not to eliminate any possibility of sway, but to provide articulation. Any bridge built across that interface must always respect that it should continue to allow for articulation without creating undue stress on the structures.

FES potential is directly related to how much stress is put upon the monocoque structure. For those that have experienced it, fixing FES is only fixing the symptom.

More important is fixing the towing and hitch setup that caused it.
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Old 02-21-2024, 04:31 AM   #17
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This is a complicated topic for sure. On any tow vehicle forum I have ever frequented, any RV TT forum, etc. it was always preached payload is king and most half-tons will max out on payload when towing a decent sized TT. So I went and got myself a F250 preemptively so as not to have to worry about RAWR, payload, etc.

Now I find myself considering an AS and I’m reading my TV might be too brawny for it. I swear sometimes it feels like you just can’t win.

I’m guessing my best shot here of not experiencing FES is to by a RB model AS and tow it with a Blue Ox that isn’t linked up too tight? Definitely not getting rid of the truck.

I’d really like definitive proof that AS modified their build in the past year to brace the structure better across all lines and lengths that have front storage compartments.
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Old 02-21-2024, 05:39 AM   #18
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I have a 2022 27’ FBQ Globetrotter built in April ‘22, after the design of the structure around the front storage compartment was beefed up. I have a sheared rivet in the lower left corner of the storage door. It’s going to Colonial on 3/1 to be assessed for FES. I will update this thread when I get the diagnosis.
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Old 02-21-2024, 05:43 AM   #19
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I’m 15 minutes from Colonial so they’d likely be my dealer. Keep us posted pls. !
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Old 02-21-2024, 05:57 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rodsterinfl View Post
Greetings on the issue again.

Question, is it any Airstream with a front bedroom?
If not, what lengths are most impacted?

I am looking at a 25FBT and curious about the issue on a 25'
Itís been reported in 25FB twins. Iíve got dimples under my front storage compartment. A lot of 25s arenít pulled by the bigger trucks, maybe that makes a difference. There certainly isnít as much rear weight on a 25, maybe that impacts FES. The 25FB is the second most popular size AS, behind the 27, according to AS. But at least half are queens, and they donít have a front compartment so way less likely to see FES. I think FES hits more 27s vs 25FBTs as a percentage, but thatís just my take from reading FES threads. Iím getting the FES in my 25 addressed by my local dealer. AS has agreed to cover the repairs.
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