5 awful mistakes Airstreamers can easily avoid

You've got a new Airstream and now you're paranoid about "something bad" happening because you don't really have a lot of experience at RV'ing. We understand. We were new to Airstreaming once. Every Airstreamer was. 

That's why we enjoy providing people with information for using and enjoying their Airstreams with less hassle. We've made many of the same mistakes you're about to! 

Here are the top 5 most easily-avoided errors I see over and over again–along with ways to avoid them.

1. Lost keys and lockouts

Airstream gives you two sets of keys when you take delivery. That's great until you lose a set. And in my conversations with hundreds of Airstreamers, it seems many people often do.

I've talked to those who've owned their Airstreams for less than a year and they're already down to one set of keys. That's a risky proposition, because if you lose the second set you'll be out of luck. Why? If you lose all your keys and you don't know the original key codes, you're screwed.

Unlike a modern car, you can't just go to the dealership and have the service department make you a new set from the VIN. You'll have to break into the trailer, as well as replace the deadbolt at some point (that is, if you ever want to lock it again).

I've always recommended having at least one set of keys for every adult in the Airstream, plus a set hidden somewhere in your tow vehicle or on your Airstream, where you can get to it from the outside.

Be sure to get extra sets of at least the entry door keys before you need them, and/or write down the key codes for the two door keys in case of emergency. 

We offer a unique custom key-cutting service which gets you a new set of keys without physically sending your keys to us. All we need is the original key code  numbers that are printed on the keys and we custom-cut and ship them to you in 7-10 days.

2. The dreaded "chocolate fountain"

In my guidebooks I stress the importance of arriving before dark and using checklists so that you don't make an expensive mistake. This is particularly important when you're new to Airstreaming.

Nearly every year at Alumapalooza, I've witnessed or heard about the horrifying "chocolate fountain"—a literal river of sh*t coming out of the rooftop plumbing vent and spilling down the side of the Airstream.

Here's how it happens:

  1. New owners arrive after dark
  2. Fumbling around to hook up the water, they accidentally connect to the "Black Tank Flush" just above the water connection
  3. The black tank fills with water 
  4. A few minutes later, the water pressure forces its way out of the black tank, either by overflowing the toilet or going up and out the rooftop plumbing vent (along with everything you recently flushed down the toilet)

And now you know where the name comes from.

Don't make this mistake. Arrive before dark. Study the locations of the Water Fill and the Black Tank Flush. 

3. Bent power hitch jack

At one time replacing a power hitch jack was the most common repair the Airstream Service Center did (it probably still is). These days it'll cost you about $1,000. Ouch.

Avoiding the problem is dead simple. Use a checklist. Checklists keep you from forgetting things, especially when you're in a hurry or under stress. In this case, "Raise power hitch jack" should be one of the final items in your Pre-Departure Checklist. You can find sample checklists in The Newbies Guide to Airstreaming (a free copy of this book comes with every new Airstream so if you're awaiting delivery, you'll get one automatically).

By the way, the second most-common repair is bent entry steps. (Airstreamer forgets to put up the entry steps and said steps get creamed when they contact a speed bump or something.) Make sure "Raise entry steps" is also on your checklist.

4. Body damage from tire blow out

I've harped on this subject a lot, so I won't re-hash it here. Suffice to say, you can't tell that the pressure in trailer tires is low by just looking at them, and eventually a tire with low pressure will fail. You won't feel it from the driver's seat, either.

When it fails, the shreds of blown tire will almost always damage the body of the Airstream, so a simple flat tire turns into a multi-thousand dollar repair job. And it's so easy to avoid! Get a Tire Pressure Monitoring System.

You can read this blog if you want to know more about tire pressure monitoring.

5. Damaged plumbing from freezing

I ran into new owners who had towed their 2019 Airstream to Rhode Island and left it there for the winter. They had never heard of winterizing. When they took the trailer out to camp the following summer, it flooded on the first night. Frozen water had cracked some plumbing fittings in the bathroom over the winter, and about 40 gallons of water flowed into the bedroom while they were out for the day.

They came to me for advice, and I had to give them the bad news that the leak in the bathroom wasn't the worst part. The worst part was the other leaks they didn't yet know about. They had to cancel their big trip and haul off to a service center to have the entire plumbing system pressure-tested.

"Winterizing" is one of the topics that seems to baffle new owners the most. It seems like such a technical and complicated thing, but it's really not. Basically, all you are doing is removing all water from the water system and replacing it with air or RV antifreeze so the parts of the plumbing don't crack in the cold. 

You can easily winterize your own Airstream. Instructions are in both of my guidebooks as well as online. You can also pay a service center to do it for you. 

But either way, don't forget to winterize!

By the way, another common problem stemming from failure to winterize is a dead water pump. If you find you need a new water pump every spring, it's probably because it's not being winterized correctly.

Photo by Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash

2 comments

Paolo

Paolo

As for getting yourself locked out, most owners don’t realise their Airstream has a “weak link” that makes it no different than any other travel trailer – the CH751 key that works the storage trunk locks. Virtually every travel trailer shares that key, meaning ANYONE with that key can get inside of an Airstream via the storage area. Have someone use their key to open your Airstream storage trunk, remove the contents and crawl through if you are a small person, or get a child to do it. Open the door from the inside and you are good to go! Of course this depends on the model and size of the “trunk”. Most Airstream owners have no idea this can be done.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Paolo, that’s correct about the compartment locks. That’s why we sell a compartment lock upgrade that gives you a different key. You can find it here:

https://store.airstreamlife.com/products/airstream-compartment-lock-upgrade-kit

However, Airstream has changed the storage locker design so that the “crawl through” trick won’t work on most floorplans. Owners should still have emergency spare keys on hand.

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