2010 Interstate - Cabinet Fell From Ceiling
This thread will be a series of long posts so it will take a few minutes for me to gather all the information and enter it into this thread. Please give me time to post all the information before replying to ask any questions. There will be six (6) additional posts after this initial thread starter post.
Let me say that what is described below may be peculiar to our van or it may be a broader issue with 2010 Interstates. There are threads on similar topics but no threads that I'm aware of show how to repair the problem. I wouldn't be surprised if the issue is present in other year models and may persist in recent models too. Yes, our van is nearly 10 years old but the problems described in the following series of 6 posts are surprising and I hope Airstream has addressed the issues.
Part 1: What Happened and Why it Happened
For reference take a look at the thread shown HERE to see how we repaired the overhead locker (in the driver/passenger compartment) a few years ago. As depicted in that thread, Airstream build quality is obviously lacking.
Fast forward a few years and another overhead cabinet fell from the ceiling of our van. This time it was located over one of the twin beds. We were driving down the road and heard a thud but it's not uncommon to hear noises when driving our van. I presume other Interstate owners hear squeaks, rattles and unidentified noises from time to time. It was already dark and we were headed back to our campground for the night. Imagine our surprise when we opened the rear doors to access the 30A shore power cord and this is what we saw! What the he!!?
So we spent the next hour or so figuring out how to remove the remaining screws in order to fully remove the cabinet. We were busy for the next few days so we had to simply secure the cabinet between the passenger seat and the 3rd seat so we could continue our trip. Oh well, that meant we couldn't use the sliding side door.
After dissecting the carnage it was obvious, once again, that Airstream uses less than optimal design and build practices to fabricate and install the cabinets on our 2010 Interstate. In this case there may have been a sufficient number of screws (7 total) attempting to secure the cabinet to the ceiling, wall and adjacent cabinet but the method used when installing the screws was clearing lacking in the engineering thought process department.
The three screws installed into the ceiling panel were just that - only installed into the aluminum ceiling panel. Two of these three screws could have been (should have been) installed in the two ribs that provide structural support to the body of the van. The two screws installed into the wall were installed into the steel inner skin of the van (okay, that's good) but didn't have a chance at holding secure because there was a large air gap between the cabinet and the interior skin of the van (very bad).
Consequently, one of the wall screws pulled out of the steel inner wall and the other screw broke. I suspect that's the thud we heard - the final screw breaking and the cabinet falling onto the mattress.
Part 2: Rebuilding the Cabinet
It became very obvious the cabinetry in this van is not built as well or installed as well as the cabinets in our 1992 Airstream trailer. We have over 100,000 miles on the trailer and nothing has fallen from the ceiling. We have 80,000 miles on the van and two cabinets have fallen from the ceiling. What's next?
We added screws in several locations to give the cabinet more strength. You'll notice in the first picture that part of the cabinet remained attached to the ceiling, albeit loosely, while the majority of the cabinet separated and fell down. Adding screws from rib to partition, partition to end-cap provided more structure to the cabinet overall.
We had to bend one of the hinges back into position to get the front door of the cabinet to close properly. When the cabinet fell (actually tipped) to the mattress one of the end caps remained in place so the hinge bent. We were pretty pleased with the results of our rebuilding efforts and particularly glad were able to perform the repairs at our campground. Woo-Hoo, all we need now is a few extra hands to install the cabinet.
That's when we realized the cabinet over the other bed was also in poor condition. We added a screw or two to that remaining cabinet but decided we should muddle our way through the trip, with one less cabinet, and take a closer look at all the cabinetry when we returned home.
Part 3: Preparing the Van
We didn't want this to occur again. No more cabinets falling from the ceiling! It was decided to completely remove both of the overhead bedroom cabinets, rebuild the second one too, add some mounting points in the ceiling and reinstall the cabinets.
The pictures show that we made a flat steel sheet that would attach to the ribs in the van to provide support for the ceiling mounts. Aluminum angle was added to the steel sheet for added rigidity. The distance between the ribs is about 24 inches but the ribs are full of holes so it's difficult to ensure a screw through the ceiling will actually drill into the rib. Therefore, the steel sheet with angle support behind it. That provided nearly 24 inches of uninterrupted area for securing new screws.
In addition, we added a narrow strip of steel in the wall, just above the window, to provide uninterrupted surface for securing screws to the wall.
Some of this is definitely overkill but we hope to never do this again. It was a multi-day job to disassemble, rebuild and reinstall the cabinets but it probably would be less than $25 in materials for Airstream to have done this right the first time.
Part 4: Installing the Cabinet
The cabinet is not particularly heavy (30 pounds or so) but it's awkward to hold it in place while attempting to align existing holes, orient correctly, etc. We decided some sort of jack was needed to hold the cabinet in place tight against the ceiling while allowing a tweak or two to finalize the location of the cabinet. Looking around the garage, we came up with a floor jack, some cribbing from a previous care repair project and a folding work platform. The jack in the picture worked well to gently lift the cabinet into position and hold it in place while we twisted and coaxed the cabinet into position.
Our goal was to use more screws and better screw joints. We accomplished this by 1) Installing the ceiling screws into something more secure than just the aluminum skin (facade), 2) Installing more than two screws into the wall along the bottom edge of the cabinet, and 3) Ensuring all the screws were actually clamping two or more materials securely rather than allowing an "air gap" to be part of the equation.
Part 5: Background of a Bolted / Screw Joint
Screws are intended to attach two or more pieces of material in intimate contact. The theory of a screw joint is the materials in contact are compressed (an infinitesimal amount) and the screw stretches (an infinitesimal amount) to ultimately create a rubber band effect. The compressed materials want to return to their initial state and the screw wants to return to its initial state. These two opposing forces keep the items in place.
So if that's the theory of how a screw works, why did Airstream assemble the cabinets with large air gaps between the cabinets and the wall? Your guess is as good as ours. Cost is the likely answer. But does a piece of steel and some shims really cost that much. When the "bean counters" get involved there are certainly production compromises that must be made. But ignoring basic engineering practice and making a three piece sandwich of materials in which one of those components is air just doesn't make sense.
Part 6: Lessons Learned
In hindsight, we could have been much more diligent tracking down squeaks, rattles and thumps to understand which noises may be significant. Should we have to do this? I don't think so. Would we have avoided this problem? Maybe.
If you have an Interstate, particularly a 2010, twin bed model, you should take time to see if your cabinets are reasonably secured to the ceiling and the wall.
We found our galley cabinet mounting to be substandard too. We didn't remove the entire cabinet but we did add a screw into one of the ceiling ribs and we added three screws to the wall (there were none from Airstream). The galley cabinet in our model has the advantage of being affixed to the closet on the left end and a small storage cubby on the right end. Being fixed on both ends aids in securing the cabinet. But no screws into the wall seems to be an obvious oversight!
Nutserts would work too.
Sorry for your troubles, guys. :sad:
Looks like you found a creative fix, and may you resume traveling without further issues.
When we renovated our trailer with new cabinets, where there had been one screw in a particular location we replaced it with 2 slightly apart set in a X. This cross method really increased security.
SAD to see..But not unique
One of the things sales persons at Airstream inevitably say when asked "why does an airstream interstate cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the competition?" is "the build quality is far superior" and they usually demonstrate this by opening and closing a cabinet door saying something like: "Just look at this solid wood cabinetry!" and often remark "Those SOBS (Some-Other-Brand(s)) use presswood construction and don't mount it to the frame of the van like we do!"...
Yep. If you've spent any time with an Airstream salesman you've heard the story.
It's easy to make statements about build quality when referencing features and benefits not readily confirmed.
It's easy to make vague, generalized comments about things like "quality control" when most buyer's have no idea how to independently verify such claims.
We were no different when we bought our (pre-owned "fully reconditioned (by-the dealer)" 2009 AI Lounge.
Except. We didn't know that the build quality is actually sub-par.
The engineering and design are faulty in so many ways and the expectation of a superior product for the price is fatally flawed.
First of all, Airstream made the right choice for chassis.
The Mercedes (Freightliner) sprinter van is a proven product, sold for decades across Europe and has a track record of reliability and performance that makes it a great choice to build on.
But, Airstream / Thor fails after that.
The superior cabinetry in our unit started failing within days of purchase.
The "hard wood cabinets" are actually inferior veneer over presswood and fiberboard in many places.
The craftsmanship advertised is actually low-grade plastic edging to make the inferior wood substrate look pretty.
We too have cabinets falling from the ceiling.
Upon examination, our cabinets are held to the flimsy thin metal inner skin with PLASTIC (brittle, low-grade, low-stregth, plastic!) "L" brackets that are failing at an alarming rate.
The PLASTIC brackets have ONE SCREW (A small wood screw) in each of the two arms of the small "L" shape. That's TWO LITTLE SCREWS AND A PLASTIC BRACKET meant to hold wood cabinets to a thin metal shell while traveling 70 MPH on a highway.
Doors are falling off hinges (again, not solid hardwood, but laminated, veneer so screws don't hold as well -- especially long term, especially in a MOVING COACH!).
The cabinet's are pretty. They look sleek and clean and modern. The beautiful extruded aluminum chase that runs along their bottom edge is flawless and tasteful.
The edging is color coded and the curve of the doors a thing of beauty.
But, under the surface and inside the cabinets the UGLY TRUTH is that they are like putting lipstick on a pig.
This might be okay if we didn't pay a massive premium for the brand and it's reputation (heavily relied upon by the acquiring maker, Thor). It might okay if there was a robust, reliable, honest and trustworthy network of shops qualified to address, mitigate, repair and honestly peddle their wares.
It might okay, if there was notices and systems of information dissemination to help consumers be aware of inherent design failures and engineering flaws.
It might okay if we were buying something MADE IN CHINA.
I couldn't agree more with all these comments.
Years ago, before our AS purchase, I was very concerned about quality construction. After viewing several online videos, I got sucked into buying a well-known Canadian SOB. Primarily based on their video presentation, where a QA guy is carefully checking out a unit before shipment and applying colored tape to areas that were not 'perfect'. Some items were identified as not meeting their tough quality standards and were thus 'flagged' for a re-do. So, stupid me bought one.
Later, I viewed a video showing the factory assembly line, where the 'perfect' output was lined up toe-to-toe as the completed units were heading to the outside storage lot. It didn't appear to have the guy with the 'boo-boo' tape anywhere in this particular video.
After a few months of ownership, the glass shower enclosure literally exploded, while sitting still in my yard. A call to the Canadian factory was made. The concern about this problem was voiced by their QA head dude. They would make every effort to make arrangements for replacement of the enclosure at their expense because, after all it was still in warranty. "I have another customer on another line. Can I call you back first thing in the morning to discuss where/when details for replacement?" Nothing. Even after we called again and again - "Mr. --- is on holiday, but I'll have him call you as soon as he returns."
Or "He's busy with a customer - Can I have him call you ASAP?" Still nothing. Called the selling (5-Rivet) AS dealer many times. Nothing. The discussions were over 4 years ago and we're still waiting for the call back!
Finally, the manufacturer of the shower enclosure was contacted and their rep sent us a complete unit - with an apology that they were sending us a completely re-designed unit - shipping, everything, all gratis.
So much for manufacturers claiming "Our quality is the best in the business!" Remember GIGO - Garbage-In-Garbage-Out. AS keeps raising prices and the customer assumes that if you pay more you get more. Wrong!
Knock, knock on wooden head...so far our AS is behaving OK!
Airstream Quality Sub- Par
After owning 13 A/S, both TT & MHs, over 30 years I have learned A/S products lack both quality of materials & workmanship. Bottomline, they are not a quality RV. This really became evident when they built MHs and customers quickly found out they were trash. That includes both classic and plastic MHs.
I learned the hard way but soon found Foretravel RVs and learned what a quality RV was.
If someone wants a top quality B-Van they should contract Advanced RV. Their van conversions run $250,000 to $350,000 depending on the custom features you choose.
Good to know . . .
I guess this goes for any Airstream owner no matter the make or model or year. We should all take the time to inspect all the overhead cabinetry. So glad you 'know a guy' and 'know a gal' to correct the issue.
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