Between summertime trips your Airstream has to sit somewhere. Ideally you've got it under cover (as discussed in an earlier blog), but for many people – us included – that's not always possible.
So, what do you need to think about when storing an Airstream outside, fully exposed to the weather, in the summertime?
There's no place more challenging for summer storage than where we live, in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. The sun shines almost every day, baking the Airstream in temperatures that routinely exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
The intense ultraviolet light and heat are extremely challenging to everything exposed to the sun. Fabrics fade, sealants have a shorter lifespan, the white roof paint turns to chalk, and the plastic air conditioner shroud gets brittle.
Then, to make things worse, we usually get a "monsoon season" starting in July that brings severe thunderstorms that will test the waterproofness of the sealants.
Even in northern climates where the summers are cloudier, heat and rain can still be a one-two punch. But there are things you can do to reduce the impact of storing outside in the summer.
1. "Summerize" your Airstream
After each trip, remove everything from the interior that might be a problem if it gets hot. That includes:
- Food—especially foods with oils in them (crackers), anything carbonated, anything pressurized (Cheez-Whiz?), foods that melt or are particularly perishable (chocolate, wine). Not only will these things deteriorate quickly, they'll attract rodents and insects. Just remove everything edible, to be safe.
- Trash—it's easy to forget a little bit in the trash can.
- Items with rechargeable batteries
- Personal electronics
- Anything liquid that might break down or leak in extreme heat. That includes waxy items like candles, bathroom items like toothpaste and makeup, and liquids in sealed bottles.
2. Maintain the moisture level
Here in the desert our problem is mostly stuff drying out, so we generally put a pan or bucket of water in the sink. It's amazing how quickly that bucket will dry up.
But in most of the country, excess humidity is the bigger problem. Look into a product like DampRid to absorb moisture, and plan to replace it monthly.
3. Keep the batteries happy
If you have access to power, plug in at least occasionally possible to keep the batteries charged. If not, consider getting a small solar panel with a cheap charge controller, say about 30-50 watts, and connecting it directly to the battery. Little panels are now cheap enough that if it gets stolen you won't cry too much.
If you have wet cell batteries (not AGM or Lithium), check the water level before and after storage. The procedure for checking and topping up the water level is in The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.
And make absolutely sure that all lights—including compartment lights—have been turned off each time you leave your Airstream in between trips. If the Airstream can't be plugged in, also make sure the Battery Disconnect is switched to "STORE".
This is an example of why using checklists is important. Even the most experienced among us can forget to hit a light switch without one, and eventually that light will drain the battery while the Airstream is stored. (Ask me how I know that.)
Consider cracking a window slightly. If you have a vent with a rain cover like a Maxxair, crack that too. Be sure that the fan itself is off so that it can't run while you're gone and kill the battery.
Also, wipe down the interior of the refrigerator and leave the fridge door open so it can dry out completely.
5. Shade whatever you can
Close the curtains in the Airstream to keep the sun out. That will help protect the interior fabrics. For the best protection, see if you can put your Airstream where it will be protected from the sun for at least part of the day. Any reduction in ultraviolet rays is helpful.
However, don't worry that your Airstream's body will be damaged. The aluminum, with its incredibly tough fluorocarbon clearcoat from the factory, is very resistant to UV. You're really trying to protect the interior fabrics, as well as the sealants, plastics, and rubber seals both inside and outside of the Airstream.
6. Lube up!
Heat makes the window seals sticky. You can avoid this problem by lubricating the window seals, and doing that is really easy. Check out this video for details on how to lube the window seals (and other things on the Airstream), or look at The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.
You can also protect exposed rubber with an easy-to-apply product like 303 Aerospace Protectant (part of our Maintenance Essentials Kit). This is great stuff to put on the Fantastic Vent seals and the rubber seals that surround Hehr windows.
7. Prep the holding tanks
It may seem elementary, but make sure the holding tanks have been completely dumped after your last trip. Afterward, add extra RV toilet tank treatment chemical to both the black (toilet) and gray (sink) and wash it down with a gallon or two of water.
A product like Camco TST is cheap and easy to find at Wal-Mart or Amazon, and will help you avoid a possible stink-fest when you start to use the Airstream again.
8. Visit your Airstream
If you're going to leave the Airstream for more than a month, try to visit it once in a while. Not only will a quick visit cheer up your Airstream between trips, you'll have a chance to spot or sniff possible problems before they get serious.
On a recent visit to our trailer, we found a plastic bin that was dripping grease after the heat of multiple 110+ degree days burst the packaging of a tube of grease. I would not have expected the product to ooze through the plastic bin, but it did, and I was glad we caught it early so we could clean up the mess before we packed for our summer trip.
9. Check sealants periodically
The modern polyurethane sealants used on Airstreams are miraculous and last a long time. With a new trailer it should be many years before they start to break down and need replacement. Still, it won't hurt to check the condition of the roof sealants every couple of years.
This will require getting on the roof, so if that's not for you and your Airstream is more than a few years old—or if you suspect a leak—you can have it inspected at the dealership. The details about roof inspection and sealants are many. If it's a topic of interest for you, I've included them in the The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.