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Old 12-26-2021, 06:10 AM   #1
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Polished Exterior Corrosion Damage

There are lots of information from Airstreamer's experiences with polished exterior skins. Water spots, bird dropping stains, tree sap and road deicers to name a few. Polish once, and figure on doing it again and again. Well, here is my sad tale.

I polished our 86 Limited 8 years ago. I believe it was built with H3003 aluminum skins. It is certainly not Alclad material. Polishing is a bear and not fun, but yields dramatic results.

Three years ago I drove through a snow squall over both Vail and Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 in mid-May of 2019. It was snowing like crazy and the temp was 30F. The highway was really wet and I worried about ice forming. But the deicer on the road was working well. Both the truck and trailer were a mess when we got home. I thoroughly washed both, but much to my chagrin, the "stuff" on the Airstream polished skins did not come off, even with hard rubbing. Road deicers are hellish on bare aluminum. I tried different automotive products like aluminum polishes to no avail. Even "compounding" with a wool pad wasn't very effective. So I am back to square one. I'm using an 8"sewn cotton wheel and Caswell brown polish. It works, but real slow. I do about 3 square feet in an afternoon. Very boring.

My situation is a good reason not to strip and polish an Airstream. The resulting workload and mess is most significant.

David
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Old 01-13-2022, 04:57 PM   #2
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I was hoping I would get a few sympathy replies like: Such bad luck, you poor man, starting over is hard, hang in there, I'm sure you will fix it good as new. Oh well, moving on.

As posted above, I have started reworking the polish job. It is not going all that well, but I believe I have developed a reasonable polish process that will get me back to shinny again.

I'm pretty sure by the documents found on these Airstream Forums our trailer was built with 3003-H18 controlled milled finish aluminum. It certainly isn't Alclad and it doesn't polish up as easily.

I purchased some polishes and buffing wheels from Caswell and started experimenting. I found a sewn 8" cotton wheel and the "brown" polish worked pretty well on the badly corroded lower curb side mess for the first pass. I was also getting quite a bit of dark "shadow" areas which is polish residue. Even lacquer thinner wouldn't remove it.

I did find using the Cyclo and Nuvite "S" does remove the residue pretty good and also removes the "cut" marks (not swirls) caused by the buffing wheel. I also found switching to the Caswell "white" polish and a sewn buffing wheel worked better with less residue shadows.

After about 40 hours of work I have maybe 15% of the exterior re-polished. Oh you poor man.

David
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Old 01-13-2022, 05:04 PM   #3
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I was tempted to polish my Ď86 Sovereign until I read posts like yours. I am sure it will be beautiful when you are done.

Rest often. Stay hydrated. Never tow in snow again
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Old 01-13-2022, 05:58 PM   #4
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That is good info to know, thank you! I am about to start stripping mine to prepare for polishing which I know is going to take a long time. Unfortunately it does really look nice in its current condition.
Would waxing after polishing help in preventing what you encountered?
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Old 01-13-2022, 06:13 PM   #5
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I've used automotive waxes which help, and which also makes the skin hazy. I understand a product called "shark skin" works pretty good, but I have not tried it. I usually just wash it frequently with a mild automotive soap and dry thoroughly. There is no doubt in my mind that a polished trailer is more work than a clear coated trailer. I'm sure that is why Airstream started doing it back in the early sixties.

David
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Old 01-13-2022, 06:32 PM   #6
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After polishing our 55, we kept getting water spots that wouldnít wash off. Since we had polished a few years ago, we felt using Nuvite or Caswell was a little rough on the surface. This is 2024t3 Alclad. Anyway, we polished some areas recently with Motherís aluminum polish using the Cyclo with 100% flannel on a foam head. So, we wipe on RejeX, let it dry and wipe off the haze. This is an experiment, so weíll see how it holds up. After about 5 months the test areas are spotless. RejeX is a polymer coating. Good luck
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Old 01-14-2022, 06:52 PM   #7
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I've read that Nuvite and Cyclo were the preferred method for polishing airplanes way back when. The process was guaranteed not to hurt the aluminum. I found the Nuvite process to be rather slow on my non Alclad aluminum Airstreams, but it does eventually work.

So I tried buffing with Jestco polish and had no idea what I was doing. BubbaL, you are right. Buffing is very hard on Alclad as the material has a cast on layer of pure aluminum on the outer surface. It is there for corrosion protection so I read. I did a lot of damage to my 66 Trade Wind by buffing the Alclad layer off. Buffing has a lot of process variables like how much polish, how often to rake, how fast to spin the wheel, how hard to push, how fast or slow to traverse the wheel on the skin, and more variables which escape me at this moment.

On the later 70s and 80s trailers, the skins are not Alclad, so I think buffing is a faster process. My Limited was so corroded with deicer (manganese chloride I think) that I had to have something more aggressive to grind it off. Seems to be working pretty good so far.

David
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Old 01-14-2022, 07:48 PM   #8
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Iíve heard ammonia based cleaners would also discolor aluminum. Do you think the de-icer had any of this as an ingredient?
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Old 01-15-2022, 09:17 AM   #9
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David, I feel your pain... if you tow in Colorado chances are good you'll have some challenging experiences. I've been through the exact same "shoulder season" storm scenario and my Argosy, while no beauty, was never the same. Last January, prior to towing the '68 Overlander to Tuscon I kind of freaked out and decided I wanted some kind of protection at least on the front of the trailer.I'd used Eagle One products before and liked their Nano wax line. Even have one that can be applied in full sun. It snowed twice on our way sown but the roads were mostly dry. The trailer was a mess and the first thing I did in Tuscon was go to a truck wash. Cleaned up pretty well and a year later still looks pretty good. I'm currently on some kind of crazy schedule where I polish about 1/4 of the trailer a year. Hang in there...
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Old 01-15-2022, 10:40 AM   #10
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We feel your pain...

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbj216 View Post
I was hoping I would get a few sympathy replies like: Such bad luck, you poor man, starting over is hard, hang in there, I'm sure you will fix it good as new. Oh well, moving on.
Right after replacing the entire streetside panel on our '55 Safari with a brand new, shiny, never-polished Alclad panel, we took our trailer out to RMNP for our New Year's Eve campout. We thought our polishing process would be shorter having ⅓ of the trailer having a new panel. Not so. That panel took as long to polish as any 60 year old oxidized panel

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbj216 View Post
My situation is a good reason not to strip and polish an Airstream. The resulting workload and mess is most significant.
Or, not to drive on wet winter roads. We chose the later...

Shari
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Old 01-15-2022, 11:14 AM   #11
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I've pretty much done it all regarding restoration of these old trailers and hands down, polishing is my least favorite part. The only thing worse, might be polishing it a second time like you are doing. My heart goes out to you. My old girl is safely in the barn and won't come out until the roads are washed clean - Mark
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Old 01-15-2022, 07:08 PM   #12
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Thank you Airstreamers for the sympathy and words of encouragement. I've got about 40 hours of standing behind my buffing wheel and a big basket of very dirty rags. And I have a long ways to go. But the DW will be pleased her Limited will look great again.

David
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Old 01-17-2022, 12:35 PM   #13
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I just donít think Iím going to do it. Iíd like to dress it up a little, but I donít think it is practical for us.

I maintained our sailboat for years, hauled it out, compound, polish, wax every few years. I can size up the scope of polishing this 28 footer and know itís not for me. Way too much real estate to keep a mirror finish. Your experience reinforces this.

When it is so highly polished, imperfections stand out. The chemical exposure is unfortunate. Most of us will not be there in that situation but anyone actively camping in shoulder seasons out west will.

Thereís probably not that many people on this forum that can relate. I think most here have modern airstreams, none of which theyíd own if it required polishing!

Hopefully you can find a way to make it right.

Happy new year, yíall. Mark, look forward to see what youíre doing w your ambassador after the thaw.
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Old 01-20-2022, 08:29 PM   #14
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Looking good! I would love to see some more progress shots of the results of your hours behind the polishing wheel! I'm sure it will be stunning! I didn't think the exterior had much to complain about when I saw it, I was quite jealous of how sleek it looked to be honest, but my eye is still untrained in these things I suppose.

I just don't know what rte to go with my 78 tradewind. The old clear coat is clearly in bad shape and a sore sight, so I think stripping it as a first step is nearly essential at this point if I want the exterior to brighten up . What to do at that point is still very undetermined.

As cool as the mirror finishes are, I'm not at all committed to the trend from r myself. The maintenance going forward is more hassle than the reward for me I think. I'd love a clean/nice finish that is also durable and medium the low maintenance. Does that exist? What are the real finish options/suggestions these days. I assume there is a current clear coat recommended that can be applied? Are there other options for a polished finish that are more durable and less prone to water stains, etc.? Your polishing is an impressive test of patience and I'm not sure I'm actually equipped to pass that exam.
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Old 01-21-2022, 06:47 PM   #15
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Hi Vagabond: My Sovereign friend is planning on stripping his trailer and then just leaving it. Like you mentioned, polishing is too much time for the benefit, unless you plan to show the trailer at rallies and the like. My DW says if your IQ is low enough, a guy can enjoy polishing.

Thanks for the reply to my thread.

David
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Old 01-21-2022, 07:09 PM   #16
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I had a nice visit from Forums member mrdes8 this week. He has polished his 68 Overlander and certainly has made classic cars shine through the years. He brought some of his polishing gear with him and we experimented with this and that for the afternoon. My Limited is built with different sheet metal than his Overlander. I think different aluminum requires a different polishing process.

As reported, I started with Caswell "brown" polish on a sewn cotton buffing wheel. It did a pretty good job removing the bad corrosion on the curb side. But it left pretty heavy dark shadow "stains" on the polished areas. I really don't know why this happens. Anyway, mrdes8 tried "compounding" with a wool pad with his polisher, and a polish called IIF7 medium. It is a Nuvite product according to the fine print on the label. It smells like Nuvite, but it is reddish in color in the jar. Anyway, the wool pad and this polish removed the stains. Hooray. I had tried my Cyclo with F7 and C and S to no avail. And no solvents removed the stains.

The street side is not as corroded as the curb side. I'm using Caswell "white" polish which is a smaller grit size and with a sewn cotton buffing wheel. It is a bit slower, but does not leave the dark shadow stains, which will save me time overall.

So I press on getting maybe 6 square feet of aluminum polished with the first pass each afternoon. I got a long ways to go, but what else do I have to do?

David
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Old 01-27-2022, 06:47 PM   #17
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I have finished the lower portion of the trailer with the first pass using Coswell buffing wheels and their white polish (street side). Gee, it's nearly the first of Feb. I'm not working enough hours on it. Let's get it in gear and get going.

My second pass will be Nuvite and the Cyclo with C or S polish depending on which one I need to remove the very slight "swirls" from the polisher. Our Limited is a travel trailer, not a show piece, so a perfect polish is not my goal. I'm just repairing the corrosion damage.

I'm getting good "reflectivity" if that is a word. I look at reflections in the polished aluminum and judge how well I can see the reflection. Here is a photo of what I mean.

I also found that this polish White Diamond worked pretty well on removing the dark shadows from my curb side. It also would work removing small stains after the trailer hits the road.

David
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Old 01-27-2022, 08:21 PM   #18
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So, I'm just starting to process weighing the polish or no polish options on a 68 Overlander. Has anyone polished and then had a clear "wrap" done? Or how about polish and then ceramic coated?

Just wonderin'

Thanks
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Old 01-28-2022, 06:30 PM   #19
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Hi djarette: My Forums friend mdes8 has a 68 Overlander 26' that he completely renovated. He has polished it and uses an automotive wax product to help protect it from water spots and the like. The 1968 Airstream trailers were all built with aircraft Alclad 2024 aluminum sheeting, which has a thin layer of pure aluminum on the outside. Polishing this material is easier, but one must be cautious. It is recommended to use Nuvite polishes with a wool pad to remove corrosion and then finish with a Cyclo orbital for the final polish. You have to strip the clear coat off first. I don't recommend using a buffing wheel on Alclad. It is way to easy to cut through the thin layer of pure, soft aluminum.

I've not heard of anyone applying a clear vinyl wrap. Some do reapply an automotive clear coat. I no nothing about ceramic waxes.

David
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Old 01-29-2022, 09:08 AM   #20
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Hey guys, glad to see you working on your trailers. So, on your '68, all the clearcoat must be stripped. This is almost always desired because the clearcoat looks so bad. I decided to polish because 30% or more of the trailer looked bad in several different ways and polishing was going to be the best way to even it out, I did not necessarily want a mirror shine just more even. The two go hand in hand. Having applied ceramic to several vehicles (thankfully mostly rather small, think Porsche) I can only say WOW about putting it on a trailer. Great product - yes. Labor intensive - off the charts. For a good result, surface must be 110% clean which usually means claying the whole surface, many hours of hand work. Then a good 1 to 2 oz bottle is going to be a few hundred dollars. Wrap idea is interesting but they often begin to deteriorate after just a few years. Again, prep and experience with application is key to success.
Keep on polishing... Mark D
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