Top 9 Airstream Accessories

You’ve got a new (or new to you) Airstream—what upgrades should be first on your list? Alumapalooza 7 attendees learned about these favorites from Rich Luhr, author of Airstream Life’s (Nearly) Complete Guide To Airstream Maintenance and Terry Halstead, an ASE certified master mechanic and Airstream factory-trained service tech.

“This is by no means a comprehensive list,” said Luhr. “There’s probably five hundred more things that we could add, and not everything on this list is for everyone. These are just a few great upgrades that you might want think about having, and see if they fit your lifestyle.”

1. A cordless drill

“…so you don’t have to kneel on your hands and knees in the mud to put your stabilizers up and down,” said Halstead. Use it with a Camco 57363 Leveling Scissor Jack Socket, available on Amazon for about $5.

“It’s a really great timesaver.” Luhr agrees. “Whatever brand of drill you choose for this purpose, make sure it’s 18-volt or stronger.”

2. In-line water pressure regulator

In-line water pressure regulator
In-line water pressure regulator

“Airstream trailers come with a built-in pressure regulator, but that does absolutely nothing for the hose,” said Halstead. “This goes on the spigot at the campground to give protection to your hose. I’ve personally been to a couple of campgrounds over the years that have had a horrible amount of pressure. So this little ten dollar device will save your $30 hose.”

[NOTE: If you have our Ultimate Water Hose you won’t need a regulator at all! The Ultimate Water Hose can take up to 360 psi without damage.]

The regulator prevents bursting by reducing what could be 120 psi on the spigot end to about 50 psi on the trailer end— and you won’t further reduce your water pressure inside. “Don’t forget to put this on your checklist so you don’t drive off and leave it at the campsite,” added Halstead.

Another pro tip from Luhr: “Put your water filter on the trailer end of the hose in case the hose itself might be a little bit contaminated.”

3. Range hood LED

Your newer Airstream came with a Baraldi, “the Italian sports car of range hoods,” said Halstead. “They look really great, and they work really great, but they do have one minor thing that could be upgraded”: the lights above the stove are halogen.

Range hood LED
Range hood LED

“Those do two things,” he said: “generate a lot of heat, and use a lot of power.” “Fifteen watts,” added Luhr. “That’s a fair amount for one light when you’re boondocking.” Simply pull out the bulb and replace it with an LED—problem solved. “That will cut your power consumption about 90% off those halogens,” said Halstead. “You can find them in various places online and at RV stores,” said Luhr. “Good LEDs aren’t cheap, and cheap LEDs aren’t worth it. They usually have a very short life. Ten to fifteen bucks is pretty reasonable for a good-quality LED of this type.”

4. Voltage monitor

“These are really simple, and they do a couple of things,” explained Luhr. “Just put it into any outlet in your Airstream when you’re plugged into shore power, and it will tell you the voltage that you’ve got available—which is super important. It’s quite possible that the electrical pedestal at your campsite has a wiring problem, and that can actually be hazardous to your health.”

Voltage Monitor
Voltage Monitor

There’s a reason we need to worry about the voltage coming into our trailers. “We know that it’s supposed to be 120 volts,” Luhr explained. “Rarely is it actually exactly 120 volts; there’s a tolerance. Your appliances are going to be fine plus or minus ten percent.” Drop much below that, though, and you’re at risk of burning out certain appliances—especially your air conditioner.

“Under-voltage is by far more problematic,” said Luhr. “Your air conditioner typically can go down to 105, but when you fire up your air conditioner that big compressor draws more power.” If your voltage meter shows 108 you might be okay, but keep an eye on it as it starts up; if the voltage suddenly drops down near 102 for more than a few seconds, “you’re going to very quickly burn out the motor in your air conditioner and you’ll be facing a big bill, either to fix it or replace the entire unit,” he said.

“You read online sometime, guys who say ‘it’s okay, I run my Airstream off a 15-amp outlet, I do it all the time.’ Well, you can get away with some things, but I don’t recommend playing Russian roulette with your air conditioner, with your plug, with your cord. Watching your voltage is very important, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a brand-new campground—especially on hot humid days when everybody’s cranking. So this is an item you definitely should have.” On a summer day, leave the meter plugged in and periodically glance at the voltage readout to make sure it doesn’t get below a safe level. The AC compressor could be cycling on and off, and each time it will draw extra power.

5. A rivet tool

“A rivet tool is a surprisingly easy thing to learn how to use,” assures Luhr. “Basically you just stick a rivet in, hold it tight, pop the handle of the tool a few times, and the stem of the rivet breaks off when you’re done. It’s so simple. It’s easier than a screwdriver, honestly.” Halstead said, “That’s actually an advantage of owning an Airstream trailer. The rivets are extremely easy to install.”

Rivet tool
Rivet tool

Do you really need to travel with a rivet tool? Luhr says yes, and here’s why. “Someday there will be a corrosion problem where the aluminum and steel frame meet on your belly pan, and it will rot out around the rivets and fall down and drag on the highway,” he said. “If you don’t have a rivet tool, that’s a major problem. If you have a rivet tool and some aluminum pop rivets it’s only a five-minute problem that you can fix yourself, right there by the side of the road.”

A rivet tool is handy for replacing popped interior rivets as well, and can save you a lot of money. “Missing one or two inside rivets is not a serious problem; it’s actually perfectly normal,” said Luhr (“especially after traveling over rough road,” agreed Halstead). With your handy rivet kit you can solve the issue yourself, no trip to the service bay necessary.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Luhr. “There are 5000 rivets in the average Airstream. You should probably be able to replace one of them.”

6. A tire changing kit

…is another item Luhr feels strongly about. “Your Airstream did not come with any tools to change a tire. This is baffling to me. They give you a spare tire, but no way to put it on.” Luhr believes that a AAA membership is not a good substitute for knowing how to change a flat.

“Everybody should know how to change their own tires, even if they don’t plan to do it,” he said. “You may be physically unable to, but if you have the knowledge and you have the tools with you, then at least somebody else can change the tire. The alternative is calling for roadside assistance, which might seem to be a great solution, but you’ll be sitting by the side of the road for hours, in a place you often do not want to be,” he said. “Waiting to have someone come to change a tire for you is like hiring somebody to dress you. If you could just do it yourself it would be so much easier.”

“It’s not hard to change a tire,” Luhr said, who offers a tire changing kit in the Airstream Life store. “I sell it because I believe people need it, but if you buy all these items yourself you’ll spend the same amount of money. Just buy the tools.”

The basics are a torque wrench (essential for correctly tightening the lug nuts when you put the wheel back on); a breaker bar (used for removing the wheel); an extension, and a socket.

The complete tire changing kit is also packed with a safety vest for roadside visibility, a pencil gauge to check the air pressure, and a six page instruction manual that explains exactly how to change a tire. “If you read that manual and take the kit out and try it, you’re going know how to do this simple job,” said Luhr. “Then you just throw the kit in the back your trailer and never think about it again until the day you need it.”

If you choose to buy all the parts separately, “make sure you don’t skimp on the torque wrench,” said Luhr. “Cheap torque wrenches are not worth the money.”

“Remember, the torque wrench is for tightening,” added Halstead. “It is meant to be used in one direction, and it will let you know when you’ve reached the proper torque setting, usually with an audible click. If you use it to loosen the lug nuts, you’re going to throw off the calibration and it won’t be accurate after that. Bad things happen when you don’t torque the lug nuts correctly.”

7. MegaHitch lock

“Storage facilities are not safe,” cautioned Luhr. “I hear reports almost every month from people who have lost their Airstreams out of supposedly secure RV storage that had 24-hour management living on site, with video cameras. Just last month some friends of mine found out that someone had broken into their stored trailer and the thousands of dollars worth of their tools inside were all gone. Management didn’t even know—and it turned out that the videocameras were fakes.”

MegaHitch Lock
MegaHitch Lock

Cheap hitch locks provide zero security. “You can see a video on my website where they take about ten different hitch locks and defeat them all anywhere from between five seconds and two minutes,” said Luhr. “If you spend about $40 or $50 on a lock I guarantee a thief could break into that it within thirty seconds.” Thieves can’t break a MegaHitch.

The $200 price tag “is a big expense,” Luhr admits. “And it’s heavy. But it works. If you’re keeping a $70,000 or $100,000 Airstream on a storage lot, $200 is not a lot of extra money. I strongly recommend it.” Halstead added, “Check with your insurance company. If you have proof that your trailer was locked with one of these, in most cases they’ll waive the deductible for theft.”

8. Tire pressure monitor

A flat tire can do lot more damage to your trailer than you might think. “It doesn’t just go flub flub flub and then you come to a stop,” said Luhr. “Often you have no idea that you’ve had a flat because it’s ‘way back there on the trailer as it starts to shred. It rips up your Airstream, destroys the wheel, creates a hazard on the road, and it leaves you with a thousand dollars of damage that could’ve been prevented.” While highly recommended, the TST tire pressure monitoring system is again, not cheap, but it’s the best. “There are many others out there that are frankly garbage,” said Luhr.

Damage from flat tire
Damage from flat tire

9. Portable solar panels

If you’ve noticed the items on this list have been increasing in price, you’re correct—and solar panels are definitely one of the most expensive Airstream upgrades. If you’re considering going solar but don’t want to make too great of an initial investment, portable panels are a good alternative.

Portable solar panels
Portable solar panels

“You can get anywhere from 40 to 200 watts; they fold up into a carrying case, they have their own charger, and they’re easy to use,” said Luhr. “Just plug them in, and they charge your batteries.” Luhr prefers the Go Power brand over Zamp. “They’re a little bit less expensive and the quality is excellent,” he said. “The 120 watt system comes with everything you need, and you can get a 7-way adapter that plugs right into your umbilical cable, no special wiring.”

If your trailer came with a factory-installed solar port that says “Use only Zamp”, the Go Power panels will plug directly in and work with it! Click here for more info on that.

Fixing mysterious electrical problems

The worst problem you can have with any vehicle is not a total failure. It’s an intermittent failure. Those little quirks that crop up but can’t be reliably reproduced can drive you batty, especially when you haul the Airstream into the dealership and they come back to you with a note: “No problem found,” or “Unable to reproduce customer complaint.”

Of these, the most common are electrical problems. Flickering LED lights, problems with the refrigerator or electric brake actuator (if your trailer has disc brakes), short battery life, and dim lights can all be symptoms of one common problem: bad electrical grounds.

In 12 volt DC wiring systems, every device (light, water pump, fan, furnace, etc.) has a 12v+ (positive) and 12v- (negative) connection. The negative connection goes to “ground” (or “earth”) in British English) to complete the circuit. Generally, all of the ground connections in a travel trailer or car end up being attached to the metal frame of the vehicle.

When the ground connectors get corroded or loose, all kinds of strange problems can occur. Electricity wants to find a path, so if the ground is poor, the current may run in unexpected ways, even backwards through a circuit. This can cause appliances to fail, work incorrectly, or intermittently.

Late model Airstreams usually have one or two external grounding points that provide the main electrical path to the frame. On vintage Airstreams the ground may be inside. Once located, these grounds can be easily checked. On a late model Airstream one is usually toward the front, possibly beneath the A-frame where the propane tanks sit. Look for a thick bare copper wire that is bolted to the frame or to a propane gas line with a small copper clamp. The location may vary—on some trailers it is located near the front curbside stabilizer jack.

If this wire looks corroded or exceptionally dirty, unscrew the clamp that holds it in place and clean up the clamp and wire with sandpaper or wire brush. The copper should be shiny where the wire makes contact with the clamp, for a good electrical connection. Don’t paint it!

There may be a second ground wire located inside the rear bumper compartment, which can be serviced in the same way. After cleaning, you can coat the area with dielectric grease (or pure silicone grease) to reduce future corrosion.

Checking the grounds is not just a good diagnostic step, it’s good maintenance that might help you avoid mysterious electrical symptoms later. Since it’s easy to do with just a screwdriver and sandpaper, considering doing this procedure once a year.

Be seen!

“I don’t think Airstreams come with enough reflectors to be safe,” said John Irwin, seminar presenter at a recent Alumaevent. “One night I went to a meeting in my neighborhood, when my Airstream was parked in front of my house. Afterwards, I walked up the street towards the trailer and I realized that I couldn’t see it at night very well. So one of the first things I did with my new trailer was to increase the amount of reflective surface.”

Irwin—an Airstream Life contributor since the magazine began in 2004—is known for designing clever modifications that you can apply to your own factory-issue Airstream to make it safer and more convenient. Many are easy and affordable, and the following tips will keep you and your trailer more visible on the road and at your campsite.

Stick ‘em up.

Airstream reflectors“If you look at any 18-wheeler on the road you’ll find that they’re bedecked with red and white reflective markers,” said Irwin, who recommends affixing the same type of strips to your trailer as he uses on his third Airstream, a 2005 28-foot Classic.

“The Classic with the pull out drawer in the back is perfect for those,” he said, as the height of the bumper is precisely the same as a standard reflectors that you can buy at any auto parts store. The package usually contains three reflectors; peel and stick two to your bumper and get creative with the third one. “I cut that up in pieces and put the white portions on the front of the trailer and banana wrap, and the red ones on the back of the trailer,” said Irwin

“This has a nice side effect,” he said. “When we’re at a rally and we’re walking back at night, you can spot your trailer a mile away with a flashlight. Virtually everyone in our (WBCCI) Unit has additional reflectors on their Airstream.”

Convert to LED taillights.

Most recent Airstreams are installed with LED taillights, but if you don’t have them, Irwin suggests converting from incandescents to deter rear-end accidents. “LEDs are much safer at sundown,” he explained. “They can be seen with sun on the back of the trailer.”

Conversion kits are available for most Airstreams, but if you can’t find one for your model it’s easy to MacGyver a solution. “Get on the internet with somebody like LED4RV and start a conversation,” suggests Irwin. “They can most certainly come up with a way to convert your taillights to LED. They’ll be eager to work with you, and it gives them something new to sell to customers.”

Fire up your clearance lights.

“If you’re broken down by the highway somewhere, it’s a good idea to light up your trailer, particularly if a tow vehicle has to be unhitched and taken away for repair,” said Irwin, who recommends purchasing an inexpensive old-style clearance light blinker at any auto parts store. “Back in the old days before cars were computerized there were little blinker units that you can still plug in to your umbilical cord to make your lights blink,” he said. (Be aware that running the clearance lights all night without being connected to power will run down the battery.)

Travel with a safety cone—or two, or three.

Safety Cones - IrwinReflector Triangle - IrwinDistracted or sleepy drivers often hit disabled vehicles on the shoulder of the road, so carry several warning devices to place behind your parked or broken-down rig. Traffic cones—including space-saving collapsible models—are easy to purchase online and at hardware and RV parts stores. “I have three of them,” said Irwin. “They actually come in handy for a lot of things; put one by your ProPride hitch stinger to keep your friends from tripping over it, or set up cones by a hazard at an RV park or rally.”

“Even in the smallest Airstream you can have a few reflector triangles,” he said. “They don’t take up a lot of space, and they don’t cost too much money.” You might need to weigh them down with a wrench or rock to secure them against the wind from passing traffic. (Irwin suggests bean bags.)

“Invest in a really good LED flashlight,

and expect to pay forty dollars or more for it,” said Irwin. “You need a good light, and be able to get your hands on it when you need it.” It will always be accessible if you do what he did: screw the canvas case your flashlight came in to a wall inside a cabinet in your Airstream.

Blinky gadgets

TurboflareIrwin uses various emergency lights—like the flashy rotating Turboflare—for safety and misadventures. “I like to keep a light inside the trailer between the curtain and the back window,” he said. “It really makes the trailer show up to any traffic that’s coming down the street. Let it run all night.” Continuous lights inside give an unoccupied Airstream a lived-in look.

Double trouble

“Everybody—all my kids, all my grandkids—keep giving me LED lights,” Irwin laughed. “I have several LED trouble lights that I’ve collected over the years.” Trouble lights come in various nifty configurations and usually have a hook for hanging. “They are really nice if you have to change a tire or something like that at night,” said Irwin. “Those lights are worth their weight in gold.”

Check all gadgets once a year to ensure that the batteries are viable.

Try this old Army trick: when the device isn’t in use, flip the batteries around backwards (reversing the plus/minus direction) to prolong their life.