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Old 07-19-2019, 06:03 AM   #1
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What Airstream can I tow?

Hello Folks:

I'm a newbie who wants to buy an airstream. Going to full time it over the winter (in SW USA) , have it on my property next year in Montana when I build, and use part time thereafter.

My tow vehicle is a 2018 Honda Pilot EX, 3.5 L engine, 6 cyl. This has a tow kit package on the vehicle with a sticker that indicates I can tow a trailer with a max GVWR of 5000, hitch weight of 500 lbs.

Pretty sure I'll need a weight distribution hitch, electric brake controller. I have a standard ball hitch and 4 prong electrical hookup.


What is the max size airstream you folks feel I could go with? What do you suggest for hitches, etc? Names, models are still confusing but I like the Flying Cloud and Caravel 19cb.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!
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Old 07-19-2019, 06:30 AM   #2
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Due to hitch weight it appears that you're limited to the 16RB Bambi & Caravel or the 22FB Bambi.

I prefer the aesthetics of the Caravel line but I'd suggest the 22FB Bambi. I love the 22FB floorplan!

My personal recommendations from my own experience are the Andersen WD Hitch and Prodigy wireless brake controller. A Furion rear view camera definitely aids when towing on the highway and backing up.
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Old 07-19-2019, 06:48 AM   #3

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Buying an AS is the one time when putting the 'cart before the horse' may be the best option. Choose the size you want and then look for the horse.
If you start with a 16' you will more than likely go larger before long and end up in the same place.
There are quite a few of the smaller AS's on the used market so if you are set on starting advise is, get a gently used and see if it works for you.

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Old 07-19-2019, 09:13 AM   #4
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I'm normally the guy saying "small vehicles can tow!" But I think you're pushing it with the Honda. You note that you'll be using this as a temp home while you build, so you might consider getting the AS you *want* (not an AS dictatedd by your Honda), use it as that temp home while you build, then look for a larger (at least more powerful) vehicle when it's time to travel.
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Old 07-19-2019, 11:35 AM   #5
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If you research the forum, you will find folks towing ASs that are bigger and heavier than the mfg's specification for the tow vehicle. Examples include a 34 towed with a minivan; a 25 towed with an MDX; a 25 towed by a Camaro and a 23 towed by a Corvette.

There are legal considerations. There are hitch design considerations. There are driving skill and knowledge considerations. Older trailers are lighter. Your gear load (fire wood, anvil for blacksmithing, chainsaw, and a year's supply of provisions) makes a difference as does your passenger and pet load out. So, it's not just "what trailer can I tow". It's what do I need day to day and to support my RV lifestyle.

Everyone goes through the problem of figuring this out. It's not unusual. The Pilot is a more capable vehicle than most realize, but it is not a 3/4-1 ton truck that most manufacturers want to sell you.

The other issue is that twoftitis is very expensive. If you buy now and trade up later you loose a lot of money. So get it right the first time.

The Sport 22 is a perfect coach if it works for you. The 19 and 20 have advantages for some. New models come with better features and a three year warranty. Older coaches can provide more space with less weight/features for less initial cost.

You are building. Do you need a reliable inexpensive truck for that project? How long do you plan to keep your Pilot? Do you like a truck, SUV, Van, Sedan ..... for your daily driver. Do you need a lot of daily use payload (10 kids or a ton of surveying tools)?

Montana - Niece purchased a Toyota Sequoia with great off road capability, but that's how it was used and the front suspension components wore enough to make it unsafe. Vehicle reliability/maintenance is a consideration. That is why many folks in Montana must have a heavy duty truck. However, brother drives slow, uses a 1/2 ton to tow and has never owned a big truck. It's a different use profile. Your use profile will make a difference in what you need to do.

There used to be a practice of buying small and working your way up to bigger and better. The budget used to be the driver for this approach. It saved a lot of folks from themselves. They learned how to do things a bit at a time. Now with high credit and the never-never payment plans, those same folks buy big and have to learn in very big chunks. Examples include motorcycles, boats, RVs and homes. Not directed at the OP. Just a point I have wanted to make for some time and this morning seems to be the time. Sorry for a bit of a thread hyjack.

Living in Montana is cold. The AS is not a four season coach. You might be better off to build a garage with living quarters and then build the house. A four season trailer might be a better solution than an AS.

Final point - Read the tow vehicle and trailer choice threads. Talk directly to CanAm. Research and figure out your RV lifestyle. Take a trip over to Boise and look at all the coaches they have in stock. The more you learn the better your decisions will be.

Hope to meet you down the road. There is some nice trout fishing in Montana. Pat
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Old 07-19-2019, 12:06 PM   #6
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Lots of good advise here...I owned a Pilot when I purchased my first AS many years ago...gas mileage hasn't changed much, and as a TV, you are surely limited to what size/tongue weight TT you decide on. In my case, I purchased an AS 25', and I quickly went from Pilot to a new Tahoe...which I replaced with a newer Tahoe...which I replaced again in a year with an F150 Echoboost...which served us well for 5 years and 2- 25' AS's.

Unfortunate your starting with the "horse looking for a buggy" to pull within it's limits, given your talking about living in it while building...limits your overall ability to find a decent size AS for that purpose...assuming your single, perhaps it will work out. I know this summer has been exceptionally cool and wet up here in MT...we have had to run the furnace in July while up in Glacier and recently while in WA mountains, while waiting out the rains...can get cramped in small trailer for 2. Take all into consideration. If you can upsize into a 1/2T TV, opens up a lot more options of size plus if your going to build on your property, you have utility of hauling in back...just some thoughts. Let us know what you end up doing!
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Old 07-20-2019, 09:25 AM   #7
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Like others I drove over to the AS dealer in a Pilot. I later traded it on something to tow the AS with. One (as yet) unmentioned issue is payload capacity. Like a lot of SUV's the Pilot does not have an enormous payload rating. Put four full sized people in it and a pile of gear ... you aren't going to tow very much. Gross combined vehicle weight rating is another number to watch out for.

Even a "cheap" new AS costs way more than the "trade up" on a Pilot to something a bit more heavy duty ( I have data on this ... ). The trailer should be a ten to twenty year sort of item. Cars and trucks rarely hang around here a fraction of that amount of time. Get the trailer decision right and then worry about the tow.

You *will* need a hitch to connect the TV to the AS. A weight distributing / anti-sway hitch is way more than a simple "ball on the bumper" setup. They can easily weight a couple hundred pounds. That gets in along with the tongue weight to load up the back end of the Pilot.

Airstream tongue weights are ... errr .... optimistic ... in many cases. They also do not include what happens when you fully load the trailer. Some trailers have very modest payload capacities. Others have pretty large ratings. Net result is that you are way more likely to see more than the spec tongue weight than less.

The only real way to figure out what you can or can't live in is to go over to a dealer and spend a good chunk of time in each of the candidates. There are an enormous number of subtle issues ( this seat is uncomfortable after 30 minutes ) that you just can't work out on the internet. Plan on spending at least a day hopping between models.

If this is for full timing, consider where everything goes. There is not a ton of storage in any AS. There is even less in some of the smaller models. You will have a lot of this and that along with you. Both volume and weight matter. If the trailer has a modest payload number (like a couple hundred pounds) *and* the SUV (after passengers and hookup ) also has a modest number (like 50 pounds) you don't have anyplace to put stuff. People have been known to go over to full sized vans as a tow for this reason.

None of this is to say you *can't* find something to tow with the Pilot. I'd bet you will upgrade the hitch setup to increase it's capacity if you do. It's more to say you should not let the tow vehicle dictate which trailer you get. It also is not really AS specific. The same basic issues will apply to any trailer you look at.

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Old 07-20-2019, 10:04 AM   #8
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The reality is that the trailer size (GVWR, Hitch Weight) you desire should determine the size of TV you need to pull-it and NOT the other way around. Your HP could nicely tow a T@B which is 1600#. Also need to consider your end use remembering that an AS is NOT a 4 season unit.
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Old 07-20-2019, 12:37 PM   #9
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New owner of a 2018 sport 16. I agree with the others, decide on the trailer that fits your needs, then decide on tow vehicle. Since I was a first time buyer, I focused on 1-3 year old used models. We wanted something easier to tow, under 22 feet. We tow it with a Jeep Grand Cherokee, I think 6K tow capacity, don't know it's back there until we go up a climb. We added a brake controller, rear view camera, and an internal EMS controller.
We are enjoying our purchase, frustrated by lack of bike carrying options on an airstream. Have only done short trips, hopefully a longer one this fall.
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Old 07-20-2019, 01:24 PM   #10
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Thumbs up payload?

You have some valuable advice in these replies but one aspect I wanted to emphasize was touched on by Bob, more often than not, max payload allowed for the tow vehicle is the critical factor. Payload is the combined weight of occupants and cargo that the vehicle must never exceed. It is determined at the factory and documented by a sticker inside the driver's door. Cargo weight includes not just the stuff you carry in the back seat, trunk or bed but any aftermarket add on's such as a tonneau cover, spare tire and, of course, trailer tongue weight.
For example, my 2017 Ford F150 Lariat with the max-tow package has an maximum payload of 1811 lbs, see sticker below.
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If it were easy, the PO would have done it.
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Old 07-20-2019, 01:24 PM   #11
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PKI posted excellent info.
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Old 07-20-2019, 02:47 PM   #12
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Last summer I towed a 30’ AS with a 2014 Tundra at least 12 over the continental divide in Montana & Wyoming. Saw many Tundras in the fly shops I visited. Used to have a Diesel and would have one again if I could afford one. Nothing pulls like a diesel!
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Old 07-21-2019, 06:06 AM   #13
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Thanks you all for your input. We definitely have a lot to consider moving forward!!
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Old 07-21-2019, 06:32 AM   #14
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One of the classic "gotchas" with buying an RV is not getting the right one. Often it's going to small, sometimes it's going to big. On other occasions it's missing some (later discovered) vital item (like a bed you don't crawl over your partner in ....). The result is a quick ( = < 3 years) trade of the vehicle and purchase of another one. On something the price of a new AS, that can turn out to be pretty expensive.

Much better to invest the time now and get it right the first time. Will everybody always get it right with a bit of work? Of course not, you learn things camping out for a few years. You do want to do everything you can to improve the odds of getting it right. There's a lot of money involved.

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Old 07-21-2019, 06:36 AM   #15
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We have a GMC 2017 Canyon Diesel and a 23 foot 2015 International Diesel p/u. Do any of the readers have experience pulling that combo? I hauled it 200 miles only on a ball hitch when I first bought the trailer and didn’t notice any sway or other issues. Anyone out there longer term usage with that combo. I have a equalizer hitch with sway control for it now and pulled about 100 miles with that configuration without difficulty. Without the trailer at 65, I get about 30 mpg, with the trailer about 16-17 on lightly rolling terrain with light head winds. Comments?
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Old 07-21-2019, 09:02 AM   #16
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I don't. Met a fellow out of Longmont CO that had the Canyon diesel and was towing a 25. They were in Durango and had just done Wolf Creek Pass with no problem. Very happy with the rig. Very unhappy with the factory solar components, but that's a different thread.

Do not tow the 23 without a WD/SC hitch. The Equalizer is a stiff hitch and not the best for an Airstream. Lots of folks use them. AS dealers sell them as a standard. You can do better. But if you own one do not jump into an alternative. Travel at conservative speeds and take extra care transitioning driveway entrances, pot holes and bad roads. Learn about independent sway and weight distribution control adjustment. Figure out what is best hitch for you and your RV style.

Hope to meet you down the road. Pat
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Old 07-22-2019, 01:43 PM   #17
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I have a 2017 Honda Ridgeline and 2019 Sport 22FB, seems to work pretty good. Have made two trips from Memphis to Tucson, down to New Orleans and other places the first year. I get about 17 MPG with a full water tank.
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Old 07-28-2019, 09:38 AM   #18
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I have a 2016 25' Flying Cloud and tow with a F-150 5.4 liter V8 with a Blue Ox SwayPro Weight Distribution Hitch Towing system. That allows me a buffer of almost a 4,000 pound difference between gross weight of the camper and the towing capacity of the F-150.
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Old 07-28-2019, 10:16 AM   #19
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Whew! Lots of great info that may need to be posted at the AS dealer window. Thanks for going through it methodically and all were necessary And great points!
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Old 07-28-2019, 11:41 AM   #20
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Towing with a Honda

Over the years Iíve towed trailers with too small of a vehicle, so let me make my point, donít do it. When you tow with a small vehicle, it can lead to many problems, not to mention safety issues. You wonít be satisfied with its performance on the hills ďslow moving ď plus you can run into mechanical issues. I have a ď52 Flying cloud and Iíve pulled it across California with a Yugo , it moved it there, but not very well. If youíre going to full-time RV as you described you would be better off increasing the size of your toe vehicle and get the trailer you want instead of sacrificing because of the tow vehicle.
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