The 9 most neglected parts of an Airstream

As publisher of Airstream Life magazine (my other job), I get invited into a lot of Airstreams at rallies, and many of them are clearly in need of a little TLC.

What sort of problems do I see the most? Usually they're obvious things like sticky windows, a squeaky awning, abnormally worn tires, or a drooping belly pan. Sometimes the owners ask me why their water flow has dwindled, or why their hitch doesn't seem to be working as well as it used to.

Other times the owners haven't even noticed the problems because they've crept up gradually. But I notice them quite quickly when I taste the water, smell mustiness inside the trailer, or hear stories about "strange" problems that keep reoccurring.

I wrote a book, "The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance" specifically to address these problems, because most of the time the owner can do a little simple maintenance and fix or prevent problems. If you don't have a copy, I humbly recommend it. It's the best $30 you'll spend on maintenance, I promise. 

So what are the 9 most commonly-neglected parts of an Airstream?

1. Unsafe water

Whether you drink the water from the tap or not, it's important to sanitize the fresh water system at least annually. You're using that plumbing for showers, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and probably cooking. Don't let legionella or some other nasty bacteria take hold.

We made sanitizing easy in this guide (which also appears in my book).

2. Under-inflated or damaged tires

Tires might seem boring but they're a huge source of trip delays, especially on travel trailers. That's why I've done lots of videos about tire maintenance, including the "1 minute roadside inspection" that you'll find in this blog.

Do you know if the air pressure is right on your tires, on every trip, all the time? Not unless you have a tire pressure monitor. We strongly recommend them for everyone and here's why.

3. Squeaking and stiff parts

Why put up with awnings and stabilizers that squeal, and locks that are hard to turn? It's so easy to put a few drops of lube in the right spots, to make your Airstream happy again! Check out our blog "9 places your Airstream wants lube" for the full story.

We include a bottle of our favorite lubricant, Boeshield T-9, in our Maintenance Essentials Kit.

4. Neglected hitch receiver

Technically the hitch receiver is part of the tow vehicle, not the Airstream, but I include this because it's such an important safety issue.

You should inspect your hitch receiver every year. Failure to do so could be catastrophic! Read this blog to understand why, and what you should do.

5. Icky filters

Your Airstream may have several filters you're not thinking about. First, there are little foam filters above the air inlet in the ceiling, on all Airstreams with ducted ("QuietStream") air systems. If you use the air conditioning a lot, these need to be cleaned of dust every few months. Just unscrew the face plate, remove the foam filter, and brush it clean with a dry paper towel.

Second, if you use a water filter but haven't replaced it in a few months, it's probably starting to clog up with sediment and bacteria. You should chuck it now and get a better one. Check out the best water filtration system we have ever found.

6. Drooping belly

(I don't mean yours, I mean the Airstream's!)

Over time, rivets break away from the aluminum belly pan on the bottom of a travel trailer, and this leads to "drooping belly". It's an easy fix if you have a rivet tool on hand and a few of the special rivets that are needed.

7. Sticky window and fan seals

There's almost always a social media thread discussion going on about sticky windows and vent fans. These are simple problems to fix: you just have to clean and lubricate the seals, and that's easy. Check out the procedure in this video. (Skip to 3:08 if you want to go right to this procedure.)

8. Mineral build-up in the water heater

Wondering why you've been having problems with your tankless water heater after a couple of years of travel? Is the water flow slowing at some faucets? Seeing weird "pebbles" in the water?

All of these are symptoms of hard water problems, and they only get worse if you ignore them.

There's a procedure in my Maintenance Guide to "de-calcify" the water system so that hard water doesn't start to wreak havoc (pages 99-101). Even if you have a water heater with a tank, you still should flush it out periodically (page 232). And if you travel in the southwest a lot, or anywhere that the water is hard, you should seriously consider using a water softener.

9. Corroded electrical connectors

If you don't maintain the electrical connectors on your Airstream's power plug, or the 7-way plug, you're going to have problems eventually. One day your tow vehicle will say that trailer brakes don't work, or the power plug will melt when you're using the air conditioner. Yikes.

Both of those problems are easy to avoid. Check out this blog for details. 


Photo credit: Sebastian Huxley on Unsplash


Fran Schroeder

Fran Schroeder

What about corroding aluminum?
Our maintenance guy calls it “ cancer”.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Fran, see our blog on “Maintaining Your Airstream’s Exterior” for a discussion about filiform corrosion. (I think it’s a bit dramatic to call it “cancer”, but it can be an annoying cosmetic issue.)

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