While boondocking last weekend in Patagonia, AZ, I pulled the tank cover off to check propane levels and caught a whiff of gas coming off the tanks. In most cases, it's nothing to worry about – propane odor can build up over time inside the confines of the tank cover. Still, the smell of gas is always something to pay attention to.
That's why I always keep a small plastic spray bottle filled with water and a few drops of dish soap in my tool bag, to check for a propane leak.
Thankfully, the test was negative. But without this handy little diagnostic, I could not have been sure.
When is the last time you rifled through your tool bag to make sure you've got everything you need to address common issues that come up on the road?
As all of us prepare for the travel season, now is the time to look through your tool bag and make sure all the items you think are in there actually are in there, and—in the case of perishable supplies like thread locker and sealant—haven't gone bad.
Here's a checklist of some of the most-used tools we travel with–all of which fit in an average size tool bag (except the drill).
1. Cordless drill and drill bits
Many Airstreamers would never leave the driveway without a cordless drill, since it's useful for so many tasks. But if one has been in your tool bag for years, it might be time to replace the battery. Also, open the drill bit case to make sure the bits are all in there before you hit the road.
Screws loosen over time and during towing. While it's fine to carry a basic set, the only screwdrivers most Airstreamers will ever use are a flat head and a #2 Philips. Philips head screws are the most common ones used inside an Airstream.
3. Allen wrenches
Again, it's fine to throw a whole set into your bag, but the primary sizes you'll actually use are the 2 mm and 2.5 mm – which fit the bathroom door handle and towel bars. We include both in our Maintenance Essentials Kit.
4. Utility shears
So many uses for these, up to and including snipping wires if you don't travel with a wire snipper.
5. Small pliers and wrenches
Below are my most-used. From left to right: adjustable wrench, needle nosed pliers, and pliers. I also carry a few sizes of open-end wrenches in case I need to replace a propane hose.
6. Extra screws and blue thread locker
Screws occasionally work their way out after hundreds of miles. Make sure you've got a few #8 screws (long and short) along to replace them. And when the screw is stripped, use thread locker to make sure they stay put. We include all of these items in our Maintenance Essentials Kit.
These can be an Airstreamer's best friend, and we've used various tapes to fix everything from an under-floor plumbing leak, to a stone guard nut that flew off while we were towing.
I always have Teflon, electrical, butyl, and three other types of tape in my tool bag. Check out this popular blog I wrote for the list of all six tapes, as well as how to use them in the Airstream.
The edges of roof penetrations such as the plumbing and ceiling vents, TV antenna, skylights, solar panel mounts, etc., are the usual spots that need re-sealing. If you have a new Airstream (purchased within the last few years), it's unlikely you'll need to worry about sealants this season, but after you've traveled for a few years, it's smart to throw a non-silicone sealant in your tool bag.
And if your tube is a few years old, take a look to be sure it's not gunked up, solid, or otherwise in need of replacement.
If you're working with sealants you'll also need a scraper, so add one of those to your tool bag as well. My black plastic scraper has lasted for years.
9. Products and tools for cleaning electrical connections
The best way to avoid melted power plugs, braking problems, and connectivity issues between the tow vehicle and trailer is to keep your electrical connections clean. That means cleaning and protecting the male and female ends of the 7-way plug, power cord, and extension cords. This maintenance task is especially important during hot and humid summer months when you are running the air conditioning for long periods.
We include a brass brush, burnishing file, and other products necessary for performing this important maintenance task in the Maintenance Essentials Kit–and, we travel with all of them.
10. A good quality torque wrench
You need one be sure your aluminum trailer tires are tightened to 110 foot pounds after a tire has been removed for any reason (flat, new tire, etc).
If you don't have a good torque wrench, we include one in our Tire Changing Kit–along with all the other tools and instructions for changing an Airstream trailer tire.
11. Rivets and a rivet tool
Occasionally, you may notice holes inside the interior of your Airstream, where a pop rivet has fallen out. It's not a big deal to replace a rivet, if you have the right rivets and a good quality tool.
12. Zip ties
Someone should write a blog on 100 uses for zip ties. You just never know when they will be helpful to secure cords, provide a temporary fix to something that's loose, or in our case most recently: secure a shoe organizer to the bottom of the entry door.
13. Flashlight and headlamp
We travel with both. A headlamp is really helpful when you've got to stick your head under the trailer or into a dark spot, but still want to be hands free. Invest in a good one–the cheap ones fail quickly.
A sealant scraper, headlamp, and zip ties are always in my tool bag
This device allows you to check voltage, amperage, and electrical continuity (to make sure your electrical outlets and appliances are connected). It's invaluable when you are trying to troubleshoot an electrical issue on the road.
15. An organizer filled with little "bits and bobs"
Here's one side of the two-sized organizer I use. It includes useful things like wire nuts, spare fuses and fuse puller, screws, rivets and more. Your organizer might include specialty fuses and lightbulbs for appliances, a spare water hose washer and the like.
Whether you use an organizer like the one below, or the kit bag that comes with our Maintenance Essentials Kit, having these "little things" on hand when you travel will save you time trying to find a hardware store and interrupting your trip.
16. Extra batteries
We travel with an extra 9-volt for the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and a few 2032 coin batteries for late-model (2nd generation) TST sensors.
Sticky windows, vents, locks, and latches aren't necessarily trip-killers, but they can be quite annoying. Your awning, entry steps, and hitch need lube too. I wrote a blog about all the places your Airstream needs lubricant. Check your bag to make sure you've got what you need.
18. Small plastic spray bottle
Last but not least is the simple diagnostic tool that got me to write this blog in the first place. Fill the bottle with water and a few drops of dish soap for the season, and keep it in your tool bag. Any time you smell gas, and each time you remove and replace the regulator on the propane tanks, spray a bit of soapy water on the connections. If you see actively forming and bursting bubbles, you've got a propane leak to address. We include this tool in our Maintenance Essentials Kit.