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Old 12-16-2002, 10:23 PM   #1
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1982 34' Limited
Tidewater , Virginia
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Buying used Airstream

I am a newbie that has been looking at Airstream trailers for several months. I had seen a fairly comprehensive article describing the pitfalls of the older Airstream. Since I have located a '76 Soverign 31' trailer I would like to give the vehicle a good review with some sort of expert advice at my disposal. Does anyone know where I can download a comprehensive checklist of things to look for or out-for.

Thanks in advance for your kind assistance.

Dinoburb, '82, 2500, 454 w/Holley 950 Fuel Injection.
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Old 12-17-2002, 06:50 AM   #2
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I'll jump start this....

Welcome to!

From my own experience:
1. Check the axles, go to , Andy has a good article on how to determine axle condition.
2. Rear end sag, or "saggy bottom". Rear part of the shell becomes seperated from the floor. Could be caused by several things, mostly wheels and hubs out of balance, causing vibration, that works things loose.

I would say those are the two major things to look for, other than the obvious, things you would look at on any travel trailer, such as leaks ,mouse damage and rotten floorboards. I am not sure what you mean by "pitfalls of an older Airstream". I own a 31 footer, and I really can't think of any "pitfalls". I got a good deal on mine, and expected to do some work on it. You have come to the right place, and we all welcome your questions. People here really like to help!
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Old 12-17-2002, 07:04 AM   #3
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Buying used Airstream

The following link to the Vintage Airstream Club's FAQ page will help to some extent:

Vintage Airstream Club Frequently Asked Questions

Some things to consider are the major systems and components.

1.) Does the exterior need to be polished or the Plasticoat replaced? - - It this becomes an issue, and you anticipate having it professionally done, be prepared for a cost in the vicinity of $175.00 per linear foot (rear bumper to coupler).

2.) Is the flooring sound? - - This can take some carefuly examination with a small awl or similar tool - - especially around the perimeter near windows or other openings. Again, floor repair (or replacement) can become quite expensive if done professionally - - a 3' x 6' section in my Overlander ran in excess of $2,000. Two places that seem particularly prone in most vintage Airstreams are near the entry door and near the rear one-stop service center access hatch.

3.) Is there evidence of frame problems or body separation? Bulges behind either of the wheel wells can indicate a frame droop problem - - a factory repair is available, and the last time I heard of the cost to have it professionally done, the estimate was approximately $1,900. Body separation can be identified at the rear if the bumper moves independent of the body - - this problem is quite often accompanied by floor problems (rotted wood) at the rear of the trailer - - repair of this problem can become quite a project and costly if done professionally.

4.) Are the appliances functional and suited to your intended use? A new RV refrigerator will cost in excess of $1,000 especially when professional installation is factored in. Water heater, furnace, or Air Conditioner if replacements are needed can run between $400 and $700 each.

In addition, you can basically plan on servicing the wheel bearings and replacing the tires if there isn't good substantial evidence that the tires are less than five years old. Brakes should be inspected and brought up to full functionality if necessary. A complete brake rebuild using fully loaded backing plates on my '64 Overlander ran approximately $750.00. A set of new Good Year Marathon ST trailer tires ran approximately $400.

Another area that you will likely want to investigate is the condition of the axles. The Dura Torque axles are wonderful devices, but can be quite costly to replace. To learn more about identifiying an axle with problems, check out the following link:

Dura Torque Axle Inspection Information

The above are just some general suggestions. I am sure that someone with information more specific to the '76 Sovereign will reply. Even if all of the above major items check out to be in sound condition, there will be dozens of small fixes and upgrades that you will likely want to make along the line.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin D. Allen
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Old 12-17-2002, 07:33 AM   #4
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Thanks for the information. I found Inland RV last night on the Internet following one of the posts I had read.

I really appreciate the general information and, as I am going to look at the trailer today, your post was most timley, thanks.
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Old 12-19-2002, 09:49 AM   #5
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Airsteam Purchase Lessons

As an individual who just completed the search for a 70's thru 80's model AS, I believe that you have just received some very sound advise from the experts. Some other things that I found that could bite you are: (1) Windows: a number of the 70's units had condensation problems in the windows. There is an excellent thread on repairing the windows, but the cost and inconvenience can add up, (2) Water system: ensure that the system is fully operational and has been properly winterized throughout it's life. My purchased unit had not, and I new it, but the repair was very timely and not for the faint of heart. and (3) Interior condition: while the interior can be update, the costs add up, especially if you plan wholesale color modification. Price it out if you are not happy with the current interior condition. Finally, a bit of good advise from my AS dealer: Don't allow your invested cost to far exceed the loan value of the particular year and model if you plan to sell the unit in the near future. If the costs are for you pleasure, spend away! Often a newer model will hold it's worth better than one that is an obvious fixer upper.

I'm out of advise and the lacerations have about healed up from the water system replacement effort. Good luck.
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Old 12-19-2002, 10:21 AM   #6
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Interesting post CO_Don.And welcome to the "commune" What did you find? (yr./mod/floorplan). Where did you go to get it? What is your plan? Retro-Refurb? Mordernize/Custom? Detail/resell?

It would be of interest I think, if you would go into detail about the water system redo. Am not sure that there is a thorough account of that proceedure in any one place. BTW how did you know it was pourous prior to purchase? And where on the trailer did you "lacerate" yourself?

Testing the holding tanks for leaks is a proceedure that is tough to do before purchase, and from what I have read the only way is to fill them up with water and observe. Of course being under the bellyskin this can be a tall task.

Checking the electrical system is also a big task. Many used units have no batteries at all or very dead ones often.

I read somewhere that refers need to run for 24 hours minimum to accurately check them out, Now does that mean 24 on gas? or on elec? and does running on elec and cooling fine disguise the check-out on gas (without letting it go back to room temp)? Obviously time consuming. If the prospective trailer is out of town you might have trouble checking all systems over time. And that is if the seller would allow all the testing!

Dinoburb wrote:
"I had seen a fairly comprehensive article describing the pitfalls of the older Airstream.
Dino where did you find the article you mentioned about pitfalls of buying a used Airstream?
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Old 12-19-2002, 11:08 AM   #7
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I'll be happy to describe my "adventures" in detail, but don't want to tie up the forum with a lot of info that would not be of interest to the majority. Send me your email address, as your profile does not permit emailing you direct, at and I can run through it with ya. Don
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Old 12-19-2002, 11:36 AM   #8
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Exclamation Room for ALL Things Airstream

Don wrote:
"don't want to tie up the forum with a lot of info that would not be of interest to the majority."
Don you are certainly welcome to PM me. However I must disagree with your premise of what this forum is for. Although some use this as a "coffee shop" to chat, and that's fine ; many use it as a "workshop", a reference library, and an educational resource. A few I jest use it as a church, Airstream being a religion to them .
Oh and a few use it to sell their wares..and that's fine (with me) too. So long as they are Airstream related.

I for one don't think we can ever have too many "detailed descriptions" of any thing regarding Airstream. I attempt to ask questions that will help others as well as myself. Much of what I now know has come exactly that way. Reading old questions and answers that have been left on the "trail" to help whomever may come along.

Furthermore I can only guess at what "would be of interest to the majority". There are around 1400 members and only a couple of hundred ever post much at all. I gotta believe the majority are interested in ANY and ALL things Airstream.

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Old 12-19-2002, 01:08 PM   #9
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OK, here goes:

I bought an '85 Excella in the Denver area. It had been setting for over 1.5 years due to a death. It is the rear twin, center bath model. Was in basically good condition, but was in a storage yard with flat tires, etc. Checking it out in the yard is very difficult as you may have already discovered. Most often you can get power through the kindness of the manager, but that's about it.

I checked the electrical systems first and found the normal things like bulbs out and connections bad. Was able to get through that one easily. Next I tackled the propane system. Had to start by filling the tanks, leak checking exposed fittings with liquid leak check and fixing a few of them and then starting through the systems. Heater started after a good cleaning, stove the same. Spider webs are the usual culprit here. Replaced supply lines in the installation and went to an auto swithing regulator. Visually checked water lines and found evidence of freezing (a broken line in closet and cracked trap. I then made and offer based on my gut feel, experience with several trailers of lesser quality than Airstream and what I had learned through hours on the forums here. The offer was accepted.

After getting the tires stems replaced, jacked it up and removed them one at a time in the lot, I got a 2 5/16" ball and attached it to the F-250 and drug it to my house with all of the covenants that we love so much. Parked it in the driveway and started into really learning what I had purchased.

Water system was plastic, which has it's advantages over copper from a repair standpoint. You don't have the bulging so that nothing fits problem. Built a fitting for the aircompressor and checked it out at 60 psi. Found I had a leak under the floor on the cross over line from closet to sink. Not what I wanted. Normal access would be from below, but since I was planning on replacing flooring anyway, I elected to go in from the top. Drilled some 3" holes in floor to find lines or line. Was pretty lucky to find them where I felt they would be. I drilled very slowly, 'cause the holding tanks are within about 1.5 of the floor. Found the line and replaced it entirely and inspected the rest of the lines (line to shower and bath sink and water heater). Found another leak in low pressure line near pump, so just rebuilt the entire system in the closet including the low point drain, which didn't work anyway and was probably the source of the initial freeze up. There are a lot of places to cut yourself in that simply stated process and I managed to find a few. Probably would cut a few more holes to get better access, but I got it done. Turned out the cross line was on top of the holding tank and would have been really hard to get to from below. Sometimes we luck out! Replaced the sink trap, inspected the shower trap and the bathroom sink and found them good. Shower trap access panel is underneath and looks like a bear to fix if it is broken. Removed the toilet and replaced the cracked flow valve and I was ready for water. Water was a pleasant experience after the air testing. No leaks, and I left city water on the unit for several days.

Next to the holding tanks. Don't know how to check them except look for obvious visual damage and use them. Did that and both worked well. Always hard to exercise the black water system in the driveway and as you all know it can be "full" of surprises. If I could take it to a campground for this one I'd do it.

Next I replaced the floor using the removed holes and standard drywall methods and a lot of liquid nails. I concentrated on the traffic areas and the repair is probably sounder than new. In the closets I covered them with metal panels. Finally, I was ready for Armstrong wood flooring (Pergo look alike). This is well documented in the forums and went well. There are a lot of cuts to make and only patience will make them go well. As usual the bath is the most time consuming. Really like the way it turned out and the only thing that I can add here is that "trim screws work well in the wall angle areas and be aware of where all of the nails and screws are going. It went well, but I selected the minimum length nails I could use for my nail gun and spent some time thinking about what was below the area. Spent a lot of time adjusting and replacing latches, etc.

Then turned to the outside. Remove and inspected the brakes, lubed the axles and checked out all trailering electrics. Found 2 brakes were not working electrically and redid all connections under trailer and they worked great. Checked and lubed all awning bars, sewed up the pull down loops on them and they are good to go.

Next lubed the steps and still can't "get them to fall upon releasing the top bar." Think it is just like my knees, just old, but functional.

Finally got the other parts of the Reese equalizer hitch and set it up per instructions. I was lucky the trailer came with owner's manual, shop manual and notebook of all system booklets. One thing that went into the gut thing on the purchase. Ran all of the systems in the drive for a couple of days and took it for a 60 mile test pull. All was normal.

I'll replace the tires in the next month, do some final cleaning, a friend will sew the bedroom curtains (she already made fitted sheets and cover) and we'll be ready for the road.

It was a fun filled 10 day adventure, but well worth it. I can't say how much the forums helped. I learned what to look for and what to avoid in a purchase and a lot the systems.

Hope this helped. Don
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Old 12-19-2002, 01:26 PM   #10
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Helped immensely! Honestly one of the best reports I have seen!
Amazing that you got it all done in such short time. More amazing the plumbing repair thru those holes in floor.

Happy Trails
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Old 12-19-2002, 01:27 PM   #11
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How much $$$$ did you take off the value for all the work that was needed ?

or did the storage lot already have it priced as a "fixer upper "
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Old 12-19-2002, 02:06 PM   #12
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I'll second the complement

That was the best capsule description of breathing life into an older Airstream that I have read in this forum. That's the kind of info thatreally helps someone with little experience and a largely unknown trailer on their hands.

All that work will pay off in a lo of enjoyment, I'm sure.
John W. Irwin
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Old 12-19-2002, 02:31 PM   #13
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The cost reduction off the asking price was much greater than $1000, but certainly not enough to have done it unless I had possessed some of the skills and tools to do the job. I think the seller and I struck a fair price. And thanks for the comments.

I forgot that I did install heater by-pass and antifreeze pickup in the rebuild process and did a nice job of winterizing it before I returned it to the storage lot for a breather.
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