We're traveling in northern New Mexico this week and yesterday Tothie noticed something seriously wrong in the Airstream. One of the upper cabinets had begun to sag down from the ceiling, and was in danger of coming completely loose.
This is the sort of thing that rarely happens in an Airstream, but when it does it can signal the abrupt end of your trip—unless you're prepared to fix it yourself. If that cabinet had detached from the ceiling, it would have been a disaster.
The stereo and DVD player are wired up there, along with a few lights. Imagine opening up your trailer after a day of towing, to find a smashed cabinet laying on the dinette, wires ripped out, and everything that was in the cabinets spilled across the the floor.
At that point the options are not good. If you're lucky you might be able to find a mobile RV technician with experience working on Airstreams. Getting an emergency service appointment at an Airstream dealer nearby would be a miracle. For most people, the trip would be ruined.
The best option is usually to fix it yourself—and as serious as this problem sounds, the fix isn't really complicated.
Why I always travel with good tools
In my tool bag I always have a good quality rivet tool, an assortment of rivets and drill bits, a cordless drill, and a set of Philips screwdrivers. These were the only tools I needed to fix this problem myself, right in our campsite, in about 30 minutes.
Over the years these tools have saved my Airstream travels more times than I can recall. In my opinion, if you're a frequent Airstream traveler, you're crazy to take off on a long trip without these and a few other basic tools.
Invest in quality and avoid the cheap stuff
Since you're going to rely on these tools, do yourself a favor and get good quality tools. I occasionally see online comments and "advice" from people saying, "You can buy a rivet tool at Harbor Freight for $14.99".
Yes you can. And you will regret it.
There is a good reason that people who work with tools regularly choose to pay more for quality. The el-cheapo brand of rivet tool will never compare. It will be made of flimsier metal, jam frequently, fall apart, and be difficult to use. You will eventually toss it, having learned the hard way that it pays to get a quality tool the first time.
One of the high-quality tools I use is the Marson SP-2 rivet tool, which has a head that can swivel 360°. That makes it easy to adjust the tool so you can grip the handles with both hands to "pop" the rivet. On the sagging cabinet job, that made all the difference. It was almost a pleasure to put in 5 new rivets to hold up the cabinet.
Now that the job is done, I can assure you that the cabinet will not come loose again. Instead of two small rivets and two Philips screws holding up that end of the cabinet, I fortified things with five huge rivets. Unlike screws, the rivets will not work their way out over time.
That's the other nice thing about fixing it yourself: You can be sure that the job is done better than most RV techs would do, because it's your Airstream and you care enough to put a little TLC into it.