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Old 11-20-2023, 11:28 AM   #1
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2018 Interstate Grand Tour Ext
San Diego , CA
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Serious Roof Rust Damage Caused by Poor Sealing of Solar Panels

We made a claim for a serious manufacturer defect on our 2018 Airstream Interstate-3500 EXT ) but were denied. We are the 2nd owner of the vehicle and two years ago (2021) we had the entire roof re-sealed by an authorized Airstream service center (Airstream Inland Empire; Temecula, CA). Upon completion of this service, they performed a pressure test which ensured that the vehicle was sealed completely.
When we recently wanted to upgrade the factory-installed solar panels the installer identified that serious rust had developed on the vehicle’s metal roof at each hole that was drilled into the roof when the original solar panels were installed. The installer indicated the problem is a result of not sealing each drilled hole properly during solar panel installation at the Airstream factory. This rust/corrosion problem is so severe that the entire roof needs to be replaced, as rust has penetrated through the roof in several locations. The installer performs body work on Sprinter Vans and RVs and has quoted us $30,000 for the repair of the vehicle!! In addition to installing new roof panels, a majority of the repair cost is the many hours it will take to remove and reinstall interior items such as the bathroom, ceiling cabinetry and other items in contact with the roof to prevent fire due to welding and grinding.

We then visited our Airstream service center who then submitted a warranty claim to Airstream on our behalf. We were told that, because we had our vehicle roof sealed at an Airstream service center two years ago, Airstream would appreciate that we have taken proper care of the vehicle roof. We also learned at this time that the original “build” of the vehicle included just one (100W) solar panel whereas the vehicle window sticker clearly shows 300W solar panels were installed. Thus the 2nd and 3rd solar panels were installed when it was decided that the 2018 Airstream would have 3 panels.
We recently heard back from the Airstream service center that Airstream would not approve a warranty claim. We were told :
(1) “The owner’s manual states a maintenance repair schedule of roof inspection must be performed at 6 months post the original vehicle purchase and every year after”. Because the vehicle never had the 6 month or annual roof inspections, our claim was denied. We cannot find any such requirement in the 2018 Airstream Interstate owner’s manual, nor is there a maintenance schedule anywhere in this manual referring to the vehicle roof.
(2) Second, we learned that two additional solar panels were installed at a later date than what the factory “build” shows. This is very odd, and we would like to further understand this as it relates directly to our claim of faulty installation.
To summarize, this rust corrosion problem was caused by faulty installation of the vehicle solar panels at the Airstream factory. The three solar panels sold with the new vehicle were not installed together for some reason as shown by the “build” sheet. We requested that Airstream Company work with us to defray some of the costs associated with getting new roof panels installed so that we can then upgrade our solar panels but were denied. We have been attentive vehicle owners and have conducted proper maintenance on our vehicle and re-sealed the vehicle roof in 2021.
The photos on the pages below show the rust/corrosion on the roof of our vehicle and what the solar panels look like after removal from the roof (after being re-sealed in 2021).
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Old 11-20-2023, 12:36 PM   #2
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If you don't get any help from Airstream or MB, and you are not up to litigation attempts which could be a waste of time and money, here is what I would do:

I would look into just having the rust filled in and repaired as good as possible with body filler and then possibly put Eterna-Bond over those sections and/or a good coating product like Bus Kote.
When that is finished I would secure a roof rack system to the edges where good metal can still be found to fasten it, then attach the solar panels to the roof rack system.
(This is going to assume there is still good metal at the edges)

If there is no way to get enough solid metal to attach a rack system the last resort would be to repair as stated then use flexible solar panels with adhesive.

Unfortunately upper body and roof rust is not altogether uncommon on Sprinters.
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Old 11-20-2023, 01:07 PM   #3
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Steel sections can be removed and welded to the existing deck. I'm sure cutting the whole thing off and replacing it would cost a lot, but when cars are repaired, sometime sections of sheet metal are cut out and new re-welded to the existing sheet metal, sanded to make it smooth and repainted. This is particularly prevalent with restoration of cars where fenders and such may not be available.

Given this is in a roof area and will be covered by solar panels, I would question why anyone would rip and repl the entire roof for $30k. I would think that the repairs I am suggesting, that any body shop could do, could do this for far, far below $30k.
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Old 11-20-2023, 01:14 PM   #4
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+1 on the Eternabond fix mentioned above, and try not to give it another thought. Mount your new panels, and then go out end enjoy your coach.
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Old 11-21-2023, 10:17 AM   #5
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Old 11-21-2023, 10:19 AM   #6
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Hi

First off, if this came off the line ~ 5 years ago, that's a bit late for a warranty claim on the original build.

Next up, while the dealers do have an Airstream logo somewhere, what they do is up to them. They are not owned by Airstream. They are independent outfits. When they do an upgrade, that's their baby. The work they did would go under whatever warranty they provided you for that work.

The 100W vs 300W issue may well be a function of a running change. Digging into just when your van was built might be a way to rule that in or out.

Would I spend $30,000 to patch some rust? That's not typically how folks do it. Vehicles rust all the time. Patch and move on is what's done roughly 99% of the time.

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Old 11-21-2023, 11:01 AM   #7
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This is not a significant amount of rust. It seems you could have an auto body shop add a small 4"X4" metal patch of the correct to each hole--easy to spot weld or arc weld the patch and paint. You should be good to go. Too bad you are in California, I couldn't buy naval jelly there--it is a great rust converter.
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Old 11-21-2023, 11:13 AM   #8
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It can be repaired.
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Old 11-21-2023, 11:19 AM   #9
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A regular auto body shop can fix that problem… my neighbor is a body man Easy fix
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Old 11-21-2023, 12:46 PM   #10
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You trade it in for a trailer and forgo rust issues altogether (for the most part).
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Old 11-21-2023, 01:33 PM   #11
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This is another argument for not drilling the roof when installing solar panels.

The 3M VHB + Sikaflex solution has been largely described in our forum threads, and there have been hundreds of panels installed in this manner without any problems. I have five of them (500W) and its been 5 years and all is still rock solid.
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Old 11-21-2023, 01:55 PM   #12
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I've been in the vintage/collector car (and bus) world for many years. Rust much worse than this is repairable without having to replace entire roof panels.

Take the van to a good body shop.
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Old 11-27-2023, 12:05 AM   #13
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It’s discouraging that unsealed screw holes could lead to so much rust damage in such a relatively-short time. It doesn’t speak well for the rust-resistance of the grade of steel used for the roof, or the company’s willingness to deal with the consequences.

I won’t second-guess the good suggestions offered by others, but I’d remedy the damage by covering and reinforcing the damaged areas with brass patch panels, which you might later paint to match the roof. Done carefully, a casual observer shouldn’t be able to tell that the patch panels weren’t factory-installed. The total cost to a do-it-yourselfer shouldn’t exceed $100.

You’d need some sheet brass patch panels about 1 mm thick, some 1/8” stainless blind “pop” rivets 1/4” long, and a tube of Vulkem sealant. I have my own blind “pop” rivet gun and a caulking gun, but if I didn’t, I’d buy or borrow them.

First you’d sand or wire-brush the rust down to bare metal. Next test-fit a patch panel overlapping the rusted area, bending and shaping the panel (if necessary) to match roof contours. Then take the patch panel to the workbench and drill 1/8” holes along each edge about an inch apart. Next temporarily tape each patch panel in its final location and drill equivalent 1/8” holes through the roof. Next remove and discard the tape and spread a thin coat of Vulkem on the underside of each patch panel, and another coat on the area of the roof to be covered by that panel, especially the bare-metal area damaged by rust. Next permanently rivet each panel to the roof. Wipe away the excess Vulkem that will squeeze out around the edges of the panel. Then use a finger to dab some Vulkem over and around each rivet, especially over the hole in the center of each rivet.

Don’t use aluminum blind “pop” rivets, because they might slowly react with the steel of the roof. The Vulkem will take about a week to cure, but once cured, it makes an airtight weatherproof rubber-like bond that will last indefinitely. Be sure to remove any excess Vulkem immediately, because once it cures, it’s essentially impossible to remove without some damage to the underlying surface. It helps to cover such surfaces with masking tape; then the excess Vulkem will come off with the tape.

An added benefit of using brass patch panels instead of steel ones is that you don’t have to worry about future rust when mounting solar panel brackets in the same locations as before. Brass doesn’t rust and doesn’t react with steel.

If you decide go this route, Amazon has everything you’d need. Amazon sells “2 Pcs Brass Sheet, 6" x 6", 18 Gauge(1mm) Thickness” for about $15 (also other sizes), “Tremco 116 Vulkem Polyurethane High-Performance Sealant, Black” for about $15 per tube (other colors available), and “Antrader 1/8" x 1/4" 304 Stainless Steel Blind Rivets Pull Rivets Rivets Core Decoration Rivets Pack of 100” for about $8. (No, I don’t own Amazon stock.)
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Old 12-07-2023, 11:51 PM   #14
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Were these flexible panels attached directly to roof with no space underneath?

We have seen other instances where the panel rubbed off the paint and then rust formed from moisture and debris trapped under the panel.

Best practice is to use rigid panels and space them above the roof and support them with towers to the roof rails.

All the best,
Hein
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Old 12-08-2023, 03:43 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 1957Custom22 View Post
….It doesn’t speak well for the rust-resistance of the grade of steel used for the roof, or the company’s willingness to deal with the consequences.
…..)
That’s a leap of logic (blaming the steel alloy) without analysis of the alloy…without consideration also of the installation-fasteners used and the possibility of electrolysis corrosion from improper fasteners…not to mention environmental (sea-coast ?) (outdoor storage ?) (improper use of cleaning-chemicals ?) etc etc.

Many warranties don’t extend to subsequent owners…. How was that addressed?

I agree that This is a repair…not a total replacement matter.
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Old 12-08-2023, 05:39 AM   #16
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As has been said in the posts above, I would never even consider replacing that entire roof. Any competent body shop could easily patch those holes and repaint the roof for a fraction of that cost. With a little care, the interior panels would remain in place. I can see why Airstream shot down the claim.....
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Old 12-08-2023, 11:11 AM   #17
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I agree with others those tiny rust spots do not necessitate full panel replacement. Well unless you are going for a pristine "car show" vehicle or maybe needed on a sedan where you can easily see the roof. Once new solar panels are installed how hard will it be to see a less then perfect repair that may be covered with caulk way up there?
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Old 12-08-2023, 06:26 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hein View Post
Were these flexible panels attached directly to roof with no space underneath?

We have seen other instances where the panel rubbed off the paint and then rust formed from moisture and debris trapped under the panel.

Best practice is to use rigid panels and space them above the roof and support them with towers to the roof rails.

All the best,
Hein
DIYvan

Yes this is how Airstream has installed solar for many years now. Flexible panels screwed directly to the roof with no spacers - the worst possible way to install solar. They also no longer option OEM roof rails as I had on my 2013 Interstate. Airstream has gotten real cheap with their build quality that was never that good in the first place.

Even worse on my new 2024 Interstate - Airstream cut a 2” diameter hole right into the roof rail channel space on drivers side for a waste tank roof vent. It will now be difficult to install roof rails if I wanted them.
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Old 12-09-2023, 08:09 AM   #19
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I added two 200 W panels. One side of the panels are connected to the drivers-side roof rail and the other side has sticky feet brackets attached to the roof panel. I was a bit skeptical of sticky feet versus a mechanical connection, but no problem after 8 years and 90,000 miles. Awning would make it difficult (impossible?) to have used roof rails on both sides as shown in post 14.
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Old 12-09-2023, 09:59 AM   #20
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We do have a solution for vans without roof rails.


All the best,
Hein
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