There are mistakes, and then there are serious mistakes.
Serious mistakes can seriously damage your Airstream, and even get you killed.
There's one serious mistake that I am seeing over and over again, and for some reason it seems like hardly anyone is talking about it–except us. I'm referring to overheated and melted power plugs. And summer is the perfect time to discuss the issue, because it's the season when it's most likely to occur.
When it's hot and you're running the air conditioner a lot, your power plug is under a lot of stress. If the connectors on the plug are dirty, the plug will overheat. And if it overheats, it will melt—or even start a fire!
In the past couple of years Airstream has switched to SmartPlug connectors on many models, which is a big improvement over the old "twist-lock" plugs everyone used for decades. The SmartPlug has more robust connectors and is less likely to melt down. But that doesn't mean it won't. You still have to maintain the electrical connections, even if you have a SmartPlug.
I recently got this email from a customer:
Quick question: do you think if I clean the prongs this will be safe to use this weekend? Probably not :)
My response: Definitely not.
Yes, this is a SmartPlug. And yet, it still overheated and melted. That's a $95 mistake if you can replace only the plug end, or a cost of $225-250 to replace the entire cord.
Think that's crazy expensive?
Well, heaven help you if you have a 50-amp connection on your Airstream. The price for the plug end only is $137 on Amazon, or you can replace the entire cord for about $400.
And just a few hours after we posted this originally, we received this email from a friend:
While at a play in Jackson, WYO, our connector blew, in fact, neighbors said it sounded like a transformer blowing up. The park manager heard it from a couple of rows over and immediately called the local fire station which brought out EMTs and an ambulance.
Since our truck was there at the time of the incident our neighbors knocked on the door and heard our mutties bark, but of course we weren’t at home AND of course our cellphones were turned off in the theatre.
When I think that we could have lost our mutties, oh my. Fortunately, the fire station crew chose not to break a window as there was no longer any risk to the Airstream.
Why these plugs melted
Simply put: the electrical prongs got dirty and corroded. This entire problem could have been avoided easily if the owners had taken a moment to look at the electrical connections once in a while, and clean the connections.
To inspect the power cord plug, receiver prongs, and the 7-way plug, just check to see whether the metal no longer looks shiny, and for evidence that the connections have a green, pink, or black coloration. If you see anything like that, it's time to clean them before things get out of hand.
See the dark corrosion on all three of the prongs above (especially the left one)? This is where the problem started. These prongs should be shiny brass at all times.
This can happen even to experienced Airstreamers!
Lest you think I'm being a bit preachy, I'll admit that this exact problem has happened to me. You can read about it and see the photos (and video) here.
And even after switching to SmartPlug a couple of years ago, I've found that it nearly happened to me again! Fortunately this time I spotted the dirty prongs and cleaned them before I had another meltdown.
So, the moral of this blog is: look at your electrical connections so a meltdown doesn't happen to you. Because if it does, and even if you have only a partial meltdown of the plug, it won't be safe to use. Which means you will be without electricity until you can replace the cord or plus, and it's not easy to get a replacement SmartPlug while you're on the road.
We asked our friends Lauren and Sam from A Little Bit Unhitched to demonstrate how to inspect, clean, and protect the power cord and connections. As they explain in this fun and educational video, they too have personal experience with this problem.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Remember: avoiding this serious problem is simple. All you have to do is inspect and clean the power cord connections regularly. I recommend you do it every month or so if you're traveling a lot, or whenever you're getting ready for a trip.
We have tools to help you keep the power connections clean and safe. They're part of our exclusive AIR GEAR Maintenance Essentials Kit. With this kit and just a few minutes of your time, you can avoid a problem that would cost you much, more more.