Locked out of your Airstream

 

It seems to happen at every large Airstream rally:  someone, somehow, gets locked out of their trailer or motorhome.

I have seen it far too many times.  There’s panicked look of owners as they realize they can’t get back in. They think about their wallet, pets, cell phone, and everything else they need that’s inside.  Then the the slow circulation of bystanders begins, anxious to help but not capable of doing much.

Then someone suggests climbing in through a cargo hatch.  This can work (and I’ve done it) but it only works on a few floorplans that have an exterior cargo compartment that goes under the bed—and you’ve got a very thin person on hand—and the bed is on hinges—and the hinges are not locked down.

Finally the inevitable call to a locksmith goes out.  An hour or two later, and a $100 bill, and they’re back inside.

Why is this such a common problem?  Several reasons:

  1. Some Airstream door locks have an “interesting” ability to occasionally self-lock when slammed
  2. It’s easy to drop your Airstream keys when you’re out and about
  3. People don’t think to stash a spare key
  4. Local locksmiths don’t usually have the correct blank in stock for Airstream door keys

Fortunately it’s very easy to prevent the shock of being locked out.  We sell blank keys for most Airstream trailer locks (door handle and deadbolt), Basecamps, and some motorhomes.  As I mentioned, you can’t find these at most locksmiths, so you need to order the blanks in order to get duplicates made.

After you’ve had the duplicates made (I suggest two spare sets), put one set in a hidden place. There are lots of interesting hiding places on the outside of an Airstream if you think about it for a while.  I won’t mention them all here (why help potential thieves?) but if you walk around the outside and look closely at the trailer A-frame, various unlocked access hatches, underside, wheel wells, and compartments I bet you’ll come up with a few ideas of your own.  A magnetic Hide-A-Key is helpful for fastening your keys to steel parts.

Another place to keep spares is in your tow vehicle, but that assumes you’ll have access to the vehicle even if you’ve left your Airstream keys inside.  Or, hide a spare key for the tow vehicle on the outside of the Airstream, and hide an Airstream key inside the truck.

But whatever you do, get a couple of spare sets of keys for your Airstream now!  Someday you’ll be glad you did.

 

The secrets of “Drinking Water Safe” RV hoses

While there are a lot of “drinking water safe” hoses you can use with your Airstream, there are a lot of poor choices and only a few really good ones.

Commonly these are called “white hoses” but really the color doesn’t matter. What matters is that they don’t leach toxic chemicals into your water, they don’t leak, and they hold up under tough conditions.

We have tested many types of RV drinking water hoses over the years, and sadly the bulk of them are terrible. While the initial purchase price is low, you end replacing them frequently because they just don’t hold up.

The most common problem is pinhole leaks. For example, the typical RV hose is made of thin vinyl that can’t take being dragged across the ground, or isn’t UV stable. That means eventually the sun or the earth will cause cheap hoses to start leaking.

Also, thin vinyl often kinks, or forms bulges (like an aneurysm) that eventually burst.  Sometimes people try to avoid this problem by using a water pressure regulator on the end of the hose, but that’s just an extra expense to protect a disposable product. And if you drive over the hose while it has water in it, it will usually burst anyway.

If you’ve ever tried those white fabric roll-up hoses (sold on a reel) you know they’re even worse: with just normal use and abrasion on the ground they’ll spring pinhole leaks like a sprinkler.  See the ice in the photo above?  It’s from pinhole leaks spraying all night long.

So cheap hoses are really not cheap, because you’ll be replacing them every year or two.

Another common weak spot with drinking water hoses is the fittings.  There are four general types:

  • plastic — the worst choice. These tend to crack or leak quickly.
  • aluminum. Because aluminum is soft, the fittings eventually bend out of shape from repeated screwing on and off the hose bib, which causes leaks you can’t stop.
  • brass.  Brass is traditional because it’s durable and non-corrosive, but brass also normally contains lead. This can leach into your water even when the hose is labeled “lead free”. To prevent this, some manufacturers cover the brass with nickel or chrome plating.  This is an OK choice.
  • stainless steel (pictured above).  This is the best.  Zero lead content, and food-grade connectors that will never corrode or bend in normal use. Very few hoses use stainless because it’s more expensive.

Personally, I get frustrated with hoses that stiffen up in the cold.  When it’s chilly outside I don’t want to be wrestling to coil up the water hose.  That’s why I like hoses that stay flexible in all temperatures.

I’ve also become a big fan of pre-coiled hoses like the one pictured below. These things are awesome because they never “forget” how to coil back up.  I’ve stretched this one out until it was entirely straight, and it sprang right back to its original shape afterward.  Plus they’re much lighter and pack smaller than traditional hoses, so I can carry a longer hose with less weight and bulk.

Finally the biggest consideration is safe water for you to drink. All drinking water hoses are supposed to be free of lead, phthalates, and BPA. They should never be made from poly-vinyl chloride (PVC), and they should be completely light-blocking so algae can’t grow inside.

They should also be rated as safe for hot water use, because that tells you the hose won’t deteriorate or leach chemicals when it is sitting in the direct sun all day.

There are a few hoses that meet most of these requirements, but we’ve found only one that meets all of them.  That’s the only drinking water hose we sell, and we back it up with a 5 Year “No Hassle” Replacement Warranty. Check it out here.

By the way, you might be wondering why we sell a narrower hose than most others on the market. (Our Ultimate Drinking Water Hose is 3/8″ inside, versus 5/8″ in most hoses.) It’s because the 3/8″ size coils up better and is easier to handle.

Sometimes people will think that the hose has to be big in order to get good water flow, but this isn’t true in this case.  All of the plumbing in your Airstream is 1/2″ diameter and the fixtures are designed for a maximum flow of 2.5 gallons per minute. Our 3/8″ Ultimate Drinking Water Hose can deliver nearly 5 gallons per minute, so it’s still more than you need.

Bottom line: there’s no need to wrestle with a traditional stiff and heavy hose that’s bigger than the Airstream’s plumbing can accommodate!

Here’s why you really do need a torque wrench

Every Airstreamer should know how to change a tire, but many don’t.  That’s why we do tire changing demonstrations at most of our Aluma-events.

Lots of people want to learn the technique, but there is usually one point at which they start to resist the idea: they don’t want to buy a torque wrench.

I can understand why.  A good quality torque wrench is a moderately expensive tool, and if you don’t need to work on cars regularly it will probably sit in your Tire Changing Kit most of the time.

Also, people often wonder why they need a torque wrench for their Airstream trailer wheels, when they don’t apparently need one for their car.

The reason is that the aluminum alloy wheels found on all late model Airstreams are prone to allowing lug nuts to loosen in the first 50 to 100 miles of towing.  To prevent them from completely coming loose, you need to check them with a torque wrench a couple of times, any time that the wheel is removed.

Each lug nut must be tightened to a specific tightness.  Usually this is about 110 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of torque for aluminum alloy wheels.  (If you use metric specifications that’s 150 Newton-meters.)  To get the correct torque spec for your wheels, check the Specification page in your Owner’s Manual or ask Airstream about the wheels you have.

The wheel studs (the part the lug nuts thread on to) are designed to stretch a tiny amount to clamp the wheel on. This elasticity of the stud is what helps to secure the wheel on the hub. If the lug nuts are put on too tightly, the threads on the wheels studs can stretch beyond their elastic range. In the extreme, this can cause the studs to break and the wheel will come flying off.

Too loose, and the lug nuts will gradually work their way loose, which is just as bad.  When a wheel comes off, the wheel is generally damaged beyond repair, and the Airstream tends to get collateral body damage that can run into the thousands of dollars.

That’s why you don’t want to guess at the proper tightness. Even if you work with cars every day, you can’t accurately estimate how tight those nuts should be.  The torque wrench is the way smart professionals verify the job is done right.

A few other tips: 

Before putting lug nuts on, check that the threads are clean (no dirt or grease).  Wipe any contaminants off with a paper towel or clean rag.

Don’t use any kind of lubricant (oil, grease, moly, anti-seize compound) on the studs.  Those things will make the torque reading inaccurate and you’ll end up over-tightening the nuts.

If you need a good torque wrench, we offer an excellent choice at a good price in the Airstream Life Store.

If you need a full set of tire changing tools, we have a complete kit with instructions and a carry bag.

 

Why is there a “Zamp only” plug on your Airstream?

Does your Airstream have one of these?

Ever wonder why the factory installed solar port says “Only use Zamp”?  Well, it’s not because other solar panels won’t work.

This is an industry standard (SAE) port with a big label to scare you into using Zamp brand solar panels.  In fact, any solar panels will work with this port, since it’s just a way to connect to the trailer’s 12 volt wiring.

Now, I like Zamp’s portable solar panels just fine, but they are among the most expensive in the industry.  I think you should be able to consider other portable solar panels, such as the Go Power solar kit we recommend, if you want.

All you need is a simple adapter, which is included in our kit, or which you can buy separately. And then, voila! You’ve got solar. It will work just fine.

By the way, if you don’t have this port, we have another adapter that goes right into the 7-way cord found on every Airstream.

We’ve made an exact-fit replacement label, which more accurately describes this solar port. Starting in November 2017 we’ll include it with every adapter and solar kit we sell.  Truth in labeling!

 

 

Salt damage from camping at the beach?

We recently received this letter from a customer about his concerns for his gleaming new Airstream:

My wife and I bought a 2017 Serenity with dreams of travel, including beach locations. We were more than disappointed to learn, unfortunately after we bought, that sea air and beach life is brutal regarding rust and corrosion to our rig. Right now, lots of buyer’s remorse has set in as we had visions of time spent at many of the beach locations mentioned in your latest article.

We can see why that’s concerning, particularly with a spanking new rig. Yes, salt air is corrosive to just about any metal. But why limit your fun just because of that?

Seeing signs of use on our Airstreams makes all us smile. A few marks of wear remind us of adventures at beaches all over the USA. It doesn’t make sense to us to deprive ourselves of the fun of beach camping just so the Airstreams can stay new-looking longer.

Our take: “We bought this Airstream to use it,” and so we go to the beach whenever we want. Just make sure to rinse off the trailer with fresh water at a local truck wash as soon as possible afterward. (It’s risky to go to car washes because often they don’t have enough height clearance and/or turning radius for trailers to maneuver. Truck washes are harder to find but much easier to access.)

If someone were to be parked at the beach for a long time after their trailer has been exposed to salt spray, it would be a good idea to pull out and rinse off the salt, then return to the campground. It’s a shame to see a bit of that new-trailer shine dim a little, but that won’t really take anything away from the glow of good times on the road.