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Old 12-06-2016, 02:00 PM   #1
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Beefing up shocks/suspension/tires on trailers

I'm interested to hear from anyone out there about beefing up shocks/springs suspension and tires on Airstream trailers (i'm looking at 22ft or smaller) to better handle washboard fire service roads etc.

Are there people that specialize in this? Any recommendations? Costs? Does it work?

Thanks!
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Old 12-06-2016, 02:25 PM   #2
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First, when you say "washboard," do you mean a dirt road with a ripple in it, or do you mean a nasty, rutted, back-country trail?

Airstream stopped using actual mechanical springs back in the 50's. Ever since then, trailers have been built with torsion axles which use elastomer rods inside the axle as the "spring," though they still have a seemingly conventional shock absorber to dampen the bounce.

So, if you want to beef up a torsion axle, you can put a stiffer axle on the trailer, for example a trailer with an expected gross weight of 4000 lbs will have a torsion axle sized/designed for the 4000 lb weight. You could replace that axle with a 5000 lb sized axle, in which case your trailer weighing 4000 lbs will have a stiffer, harsher ride. I would hazard a guess that for washboard roads, you don't want a stiffer suspension, just one that is capable of digesting the washboard bumps. If your axle is appropriately sized for the weight of the trailer, and you have a functioning shock absorber, you should already be optimized.

Cost for replacing a single axle is in the vicinity of $700 if you do the work yourself (4 bolts).

Now, you can get kits to "lift" the trailer up off of the axle tube in order to get more clearance, if that is what you are looking for.

good luck!
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Old 12-06-2016, 02:31 PM   #3
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Thanks. Yes, whatever will keep the cabinets on the walls which based on replies to my last question re fire service roads seem to have a habit of being found on the floor when you reach your destination.

Yes more clearance would be good and whatever shocks and larger? wheels and all terrain tires.
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Old 12-06-2016, 02:35 PM   #4
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I mean washboard fire service roads.... in my brief time on them I'd say 70% of the time they run from bumpy to washboardy as in slow down or lose your fillings. I wouldn't attempt anything like a "nasty back-country trail."
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Old 12-06-2016, 03:15 PM   #5
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https://kelderman.com/shop/torsion-a...air-suspension

The best thing you could do is make your trailer ride as smooth as possible. My suggestion would be to research Kelderman trailer suspension.
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Old 12-07-2016, 11:22 AM   #6
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I take my little 20ft FC on a lot of back-country roads out here in Idaho and Montana. Added 16-inch Michelins, and go as slow as needed to not tear up shell or insides. Never had a problem despite being fairly bold...the key issue I worry about are the sharp rocks I pull across with only 2 Bambi tires. On the few occasions I bottomed out I had checked the stretch beforehand, and went very very slow. Never felt the need for a lift kit. jon
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Old 12-07-2016, 06:03 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belegedhel View Post
First, when you say "washboard," do you mean a dirt road with a ripple in it, or do you mean a nasty, rutted, back-country trail?

Airstream stopped using actual mechanical springs back in the 50's. Ever since then, trailers have been built with torsion axles which use elastomer rods inside the axle as the "spring," though they still have a seemingly conventional shock absorber to dampen the bounce.

So, if you want to beef up a torsion axle, you can put a stiffer axle on the trailer, for example a trailer with an expected gross weight of 4000 lbs will have a torsion axle sized/designed for the 4000 lb weight. You could replace that axle with a 5000 lb sized axle, in which case your trailer weighing 4000 lbs will have a stiffer, harsher ride. I would hazard a guess that for washboard roads, you don't want a stiffer suspension, just one that is capable of digesting the washboard bumps. If your axle is appropriately sized for the weight of the trailer, and you have a functioning shock absorber, you should already be optimized.

Cost for replacing a single axle is in the vicinity of $700 if you do the work yourself (4 bolts).

Now, you can get kits to "lift" the trailer up off of the axle tube in order to get more clearance, if that is what you are looking for.

good luck!
Recommendations on "lift kits"? We are acquiring a 23d in a couple of weeks, and the rear clearance below the discharge valves looks lower than on our existing 19'. Thx.
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Old 12-07-2016, 06:30 PM   #8
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The Axle is made by Dexter. Look up Dexter AS lift kit
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Old 12-07-2016, 07:13 PM   #9
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We often tow our AS on USFS/BLM dirt roads. Some are maintained and others are not. We generally drive slow but know that we will have repairs to do because we also drive off the roadbed and into the trees. Our 1976 29' Ambassador has a 5" channel frame. We have repaired one crack and bolted 3/16' plate steel to the frame to strengthen it. What allows us to be so bold is that we paid $5000 for the trailer.

The 1976 AS was originally built with 3500# axles underneath. When we bought it the axles were dead. I put new axles that are rated at 4000#under the trailer and replaced the shocks. Not sure the shocks do anything but the new axles allow us to carry more stuff. What that does is put more stress on the frame.

So far I cannot see any indications that the AS frame has developed any more cracks but I will not be surprised if one develops in the future. The air suspension system noted above might be worth looking at if you have an extra $3800 but I would make sure that the frame is protected from any additional stress.

There are kits that will allow you to lift your trailer two to four inches that you might consider but I would recommend that you strengthen the frame as well. The kits are too expensive but if you have a shop that carries plate steel you can have them make up two plates that can be bolted to the frame. They will strengthen the frame and, if cut appropriately, provide you with a lift. I spent less than $100 for the plate steel and that included the cutting that was performed by the shop made. I probably spent $80 for the many drill bits, grade 8 bolts, nuts and washers.

We drove to the Yukon and Alaska this summer. The kitchen cabinet pulled 1/2 inch away from the wall. The damage was probably caused by the holes and bumps on the paved surfaces more than driving off road. I will have to figure a way to move the cabinet back into place and secure it to the wall so that it never does it again.

The worst damage was done to the skin of our AS. Apparently Canada puts sodium and calcium chloride on the dirt roads. The dust collected on the aluminum and started corroding the unprotected skin. I now am in the process of trying to stop the corrosion chemically and sanding and polishing off all of the damage that was done.

Nevertheless, we will keep going wherever we want despite the road conditions. I just have to set aside time in the winter when I can do the repairs.
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Old 12-07-2016, 07:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SpletKay06 View Post
https://kelderman.com/shop/torsion-a...air-suspension

The best thing you could do is make your trailer ride as smooth as possible.
I agree "beefing up" the suspension will only result in a stiffer, bumpier ride and is likely to cause more damage to the Airstream because the rough ride is beyond the limits of the AS design. It is possible to reinforce the whole frame for 4x4 type of roads which would require extensive work and result in more, not less, stuff on the floor. Rebuilding the frame was done on Wally Byam's famous caravans in Africa and "Around the World" in the late 50s and early 60s.

That being said I have taken my 25 foot Tradewind on some bad road and not had a problem as long as the trailer was battened down and I took it easy. There are some places though taking an Airstream is just dumb. In those cases I park it and throw a tent in my truck. I also would not take an Airstream of any length down anything without a reasonable assurance I could turn the rig around.
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Old 12-08-2016, 11:30 AM   #11
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You may not need to do much "beefing up". The Dexter axles are pretty tough. Maybe a little heavier shock would help. If you decide you need a lift kit, Google Dexter to see if they have a distributor near you. They can supply you with a catalog that will have all the info you need to plan an installation. You should also put on new tires, either ST or LT types, and the largest size that will fit in your wheel well without contacting the body at full motion of the suspension. ST's have stronger side walls but LT's may give you a softer ride. Using the tire manufacturer's load table after weighing your loaded trailer, run the lowest pressure for the load you are putting on them to get the softest ride possible to minimize the stress on your trailer body and frame. Then have fun.
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Old 09-08-2018, 07:25 AM   #12
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Can the suspension unit on the Bambi freeze or corrode, lock in one position?

Whoever designed the wheel arches on the Bambi should be severely punished. Why aren't they stylishly round to make fitting tire fitting easier?

I jacked Bambi up with a combination of floor jack and static screw jacks and removed a wheel fairly easily. The tire needed replacement.

Rightly or wrongly i used a floor jack to take the weight and used the static jacks front a rear to hold the body up. With just a few strokes the wheel was clear of the ground, and removed. Fast forward and bring in new tire. Same nominal size and fully inflated. No way was it going to fit under the wheel arch and over the hub. So i deflate the new tire. Nearly there not still wont fit. Ah, i think, it is because all the weight this side is pushing the suspension arms up on the other side, and as the arms are linked it is pushing the arm up on the new tire side also. So i move to the other side. I use the floor jack and the support jack front and back until i have both wheels clear of the ground and still there is not enough room to get the wheel in. If the suspension arm could swing down maybe 2 inches i could get the new wheel in. In the end i kicked and used a bar to get it in. When i put the weight back on the wheels i didnt see any obvious movement back up into the body of Bambi.

So if the suspension arms were corroded or frozen, could it explain the problem?

The smallest of lifts caused the wheel to clear the ground. If this was a car, i would expect to have to lift the body at least 3 inches before the tire started to lose contact. But thats will coil springs not rubber. This was almost immediate.

How far would i expect the suspension to swing down? Can i jack it down to make tire change easier? Does it need lubricating/servicing? And how?

Bright ideas please. I have to change the other wheel and tire.
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Old 09-08-2018, 07:26 AM   #13
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Or could the strutt/shock absorber be frozen?
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Old 09-08-2018, 09:41 AM   #14
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How old are the axles? Anything over 20-25 years or so old will start getting very stiff because the rubber torsion rods get a set to them as they dry out and harden with age.
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Old 09-08-2018, 11:26 AM   #15
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This kind of road? Or the straight and narrow?

The Airstream rides low to the road for less wind resistance on the Highways. It becomes a 'slight disadvantage' when on National Forest or BLM roads.

If you have excellent judgment as to where your tires are at all times... an Airstream will follow. If you have poor judgement after installing a lift kit and 16" wheels, they may give you a bit more flexibility towards errors of judgment.
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Old 09-08-2018, 01:03 PM   #16
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Sorry I didn't specify in my original post. It is a 2005 19' Bambi.
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Old 09-08-2018, 02:37 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Lumatic View Post
I agree "beefing up" the suspension will only result in a stiffer, bumpier ride and is likely to cause more damage to the Airstream because the rough ride is beyond the limits of the AS design. It is possible to reinforce the whole frame for 4x4 type of roads which would require extensive work and result in more, not less, stuff on the floor. Rebuilding the frame was done on Wally Byam's famous caravans in Africa and "Around the World" in the late 50s and early 60s.

That being said I have taken my 25 foot Tradewind on some bad road and not had a problem as long as the trailer was battened down and I took it easy. There are some places though taking an Airstream is just dumb. In those cases I park it and throw a tent in my truck. I also would not take an Airstream of any length down anything without a reasonable assurance I could turn the rig around.
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Suspension travel is more important than beef, torsion axles are not noted for their travel.

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Old 01-09-2019, 02:19 PM   #18
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Hey Ray! like the PICs - Well, 90% of our camping is dry camping off Forestry Roads and Provincial Parks so we are travelling on roads somewhere between pic one and two :-) I have always understood that to keep the AS cabinets on the walls and stuff in the drawers - SLOW DOWN! is the way to survive. We have never had problems with any of our trailers be cause of 'ruff' roads. Funny, we have had folk pass us doing 80K down these back roads and I often wonder what the inside of the trailer looks like went they arrive.
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Old 01-09-2019, 08:31 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mymd View Post
I'm interested to hear from anyone out there about beefing up shocks/springs suspension and tires on Airstream trailers (i'm looking at 22ft or smaller) to better handle washboard fire service roads etc.

Are there people that specialize in this? Any recommendations? Costs? Does it work?

Thanks!
One thing you didn't mention is the age of your camper. As mentioned in this thread (and many more) axle(s) on "older" trailers need to have the axle(s) replaced. This includes the shocks.
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Old 01-11-2019, 02:58 PM   #20
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The Airstream trailer is a higher end RV that wasn't really designed for off road. And the trailer's Wally built and used for international travel (in the 50's or earlier) are far from what is today's Air Stream.

With that said, keeping the cabinets on the walls (or not) usually is a function of speed. Assuming one would not drive into an area that one would get stuck, all remaining travel is a function of speed. The faster one travels on an uneven surface the greater the chance of damage.

How fast is too fast? It is difficult to answer that question other than to say, if you sustain damage it was too fast.

One other piece. Fire service roads in Arizona (not sure about your area) are not known for being wide. Some are and some are not. Again some owners that have ponyied up to serious 5 figures for their new or newer new Airstream travel trailer will be far from pleased with an Arizona pinstripe gracing the side of the aluminum body. To buff that out, if it can be buffed out is effort most are not willing to do. Most newer Air Streams of higher cost are kept on the paved surfaces.

If you are looking for or have a much used Airstream that you bought on the cheap and exterior appearance is not an issue, one might consider replacing the twenty + year old axle as that axle is almost done. Before stressing that older axle, replace it. Get a lift kit and enjoy the scratches at a very slow speed off road.

Good luck my friend.
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