Spare parts for Airstream road trips: 21 tips

Back in February, we shot a video about the tools we carry on long trips, and exactly why they’re essential. (You can read the blog and see the video here.)

This week we’re following up with a discussion of the spare parts, tapes, and lubricants that we also bring on every trip. In the course of shooting this 23-minute video we came up with 21 separate tips for you, so it’s probably worth your while to watch the whole thing.

If you prefer to read the Cliff’s Notes version, here’s the summary of the tips:

  1. Choose spare parts based on your travel style & abilities
  2. Carry spares of cheap consumables like grease
  3. Bring spares that are hard to obtain on the road
  4. Tapes: Teflon, butyl, electrical, silicone, masking, body
  5. Threadlocker: great for screws that keep backing out
  6. Consider bringing spares of “dumb but essential” parts
  7. Light, small, handy items like zip ties and storage bags
  8. Gloves! Mechanics and vinyl
  9. Spare propane hoses and tools needed to change them
  10. Lubricants: silicone spray, Boeshield T9, grease, etc
  11. Little items: drain plug, fuses, latches, rivets
  12. Hensley owners: get the spare parts kit
  13. If you might replace the drain plug: 15/16″ socket
  14. Your Fantastic Vent and power hitch jack may need a glass fuse!
  15. Extra #8 wood screws for furniture
  16. Replacement refrigerator bulb
  17. “Travel size” containers of glue, lube, cleaner, etc
  18. De-Oxit and burnishing tool for electrical connections
  19. Organize your supplies into kits
  20. Pre-made kits available in the Airstream Life Store
  21. “Free-flowing” Y connector for big rallies

The tools that are always in our Airstream

Over years of extensive Airstream travel, I’ve encountered a lot of situations that required on-the-road repairs. I’m talking about the type of bug that crops up and threatens to ruin your trip—but could be fixed in a few minutes if you just had the right tool handy.

When this happened to me (since I knew nothing about fixing Airstreams at first) I’d call my Airstream lifelines Brett, Super Terry and Colin for advice. Then I’d go buy whatever tool or small part they recommended, and I’d make the repair according to their instructions. In this way, my kit grew along with my skills.

For a while, it seemed like every repair needed a different tool, and the tool bag was in danger of becoming a tool chest. Eventually, I learned what tools got the most use, and pared down the kit to the essentials. It’s still a fairly heavy bag but it fits easily in one of the exterior side compartments of our Globetrotter.

Tothie and I sat down for 15 minutes to go over some of the stuff I carry. She learned a lot about what’s useful and how I use it—perhaps you will too. Check out the video:

If you want the short summary, here are the most frequently-used tools in my Airstream tool bag:

  • Screwdrivers (especially a #2 Philips)
  • Cordless drill
  • Headlamp (for hands-free work) & flashlight
  • Small adjustable wrench and a set of 5 assorted US-spec open-end wrenches
  • Cutters (clipper and/or kitchen shears)
  • Allen wrenches (US-spec)—useful for Hensley Hitch owners in particular
  • Rivet tool
  • Drill bits
  • Wire stripper/cutter
  • Voltmeter

This doesn’t count the specialized repair and maintenance kits I carry, which I developed myself and we sell in the Airstream Life Store:

And it doesn’t include the parts and supplies I carry, such as lubricants, glues, tapes, spares, fasteners (screws, rivets, bolts), electrical connectors, etc. I’ll do a separate blog (and possibly a video) on those later.

Your mileage may vary. If you don’t ever want to fiddle with the 12 volt electrical system, you won’t need a voltmeter or a wire stripper, for example. I have a full set of tools and spare parts for PEX plumbing, but since the plumbing rarely needs anything more than a bit of Teflon tape on a leaking thread, I leave the heavy PEX tools at home for future projects. Think about what you might encounter and decide how much you’re willing to tackle, and let your kit build up according to your own skills and needs.

Stop the squeak! 9 places your Airstream wants lube

An Airstream trailer only has a few moving parts, so taking it to the dealer for an old-fashioned “lube job” isn’t normally part of the program. But occasionally things squeak, grind, or stick, and that can make the whole trailer seem old long before its time.

Fortunately, it’s an easy fix—and easy to prevent. Other than wheel bearings, you can easily take care of all the common lubrication points by yourself, with no tools other than a rag, and no special skills. (You can do the wheel bearings yourself, too, but you’ll need a few tools and a willingness to get greasy; the procedure is documented in my book “The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance”.)

You also don’t need to stock up on a lot of fancy lubricants. Most simple jobs can be done with common silicone spray, which is available in any hardware or auto parts store. We also use and recommend Boeshield T-9, because it quickly dries to a waxy, waterproof finish that inhibits corrosion and lasts longer. It also doesn’t capture dirt like grease does. (You can find Boeshield in the Airstream Life Store both as individual bottles and as part of our Maintenance Essentials Kit.)

If you are going to use silicone spray, wear grungy clothes and consider wearing gloves too. It’s a little messy, and the smell tends to linger even after you wash off your hands.

Let’s look at eight typical lubrication points that can be found on most Airstream travel trailers. Several of these also apply to the Nest, Basecamp, Interstate, and Atlas.


1: Awning arms and rollers. Start with the aluminum arms and telescoping tubes that hold up your Zip Dee awning, whether manual or powered. Zip Dee recommends wiping them clean (use soap and water for stubborn dirt) and then spraying the telescoping arms and tubes with silicone. For a manual awning, don’t forget to spray the springs near the claws at the end of the upper rafters (see arrow in left photo).

If you have a power awning, don’t use silicone spray on the two small holes in the support arms. Put a little white lithium grease in those.

If your manual awning squeaks as you unroll it, spray the ends of the rollers (pictured above), or drip a little Boeshield T-9 at that point. The awning should be quiet as you deploy it.


2: Stabilizer jacks. The four stabilizer jacks under the trailer tend to get noisy over time. In fact, they can eventually develop a loud squealing noise when you put them down or take them up, which can make you quite unpopular at the campground. They may also squeak as you move around the interior of the trailer.

A quick shot of silicone will cure this, but the trick is knowing exactly where to aim. Often the squeak point is at the innermost end of the jack, where it is fastened to the underbelly of the trailer. Spray in this area and run the jack up and down a couple of times to confirm that the noise is gone. If it still squeaks you can try a few other locations on the jack (you can’t add too much silicone spray here) and have an assistant run the jack up and down as you work, to help distribute the lube. Just be sure not to lie directly under that point when you spray it, or you’ll get a face-full of silicone dripping down on you.


3: Door hinges. Your Airstream door should not sound like the entrance of a haunted mansion. But don’t use silicone here; it tends to make a messy black streak (the result of silicone and aluminum oxide mixing) that you’ll find after your first tow or rainstorm.

Instead, a few drops of Boeshield T-9 lubricates more cleanly. Apply it to the top of each hinge and work the door back and forth a few times to make sure the lubricant has dripped down the length of the hinge pin. Use a rag or paper towel to wipe up any excess that drips out.


4: Folding entry step. The entry step doesn’t usually need much help, but if it’s making noise, generating black dust (on an aluminum step), or hard to move, it’s time to lube it up. Silicone or Boeshield can be used on the hinge points. Work the hinge a few times the way you did with the entry door.


5: Locks. There seems to be a fair bit of debate about the proper way to lubricate a lock. Some people swear by light machine oil, others like silicone, some use “graphited” oil, and others use only powdered graphite. To make it more confusing, there are just as many “authorities” who say to never use any of those products.

Don’t stress over it; almost any lubrication is better than what most locks get, which is nothing at all. If a lock is getting sticky or fussy, just put a small amount of your lube of choice in the keyhole, or lubricate the key itself and work it in and out of the lock several times. In this case, more is not better, so start with less than you think you need and only add more lubricant if the lock is still sticky.

Remember, locks can rust just like any other steel product, so it’s good preventative maintenance to lubricate the locks even before they start to get difficult to turn.


6: Window and vent seals. The black rubber seals around Airstream windows and Fan-Tastic Vents tend to stick shut if they aren’t maintained. You may have noticed little decals under the windows warning you not to force them open from the inside if they stick shut—that’s because you can break the glass if the seal is really stuck.

Fortunately, all the seals need is a quick wipe-down with a rag and some silicone spray, and then they won’t stick. Don’t spray directly on the seal, or you’ll have to clean up overspray afterward. Open the window or vent fully, wet a paper towel or clean rag with the silicone, and wipe the seal with that.

Let the silicone dry on the seal for a minute or two, to minimize mess on the glass, before you shut the window.


7: Window latches. If you have standard Airstream windows with two chrome latches (like the one pictured at left, not the Hehr windows that use a round black knob to open), it’s a good idea to lube the latches once in a long while. Just a drop or two of Boeshield where the latch rubs will make them operate smoothly.


8: Hitch coupler latch. This is probably the most overlooked lube point on any trailer. Failing to show the coupler latch a little love once in a while will result in a rusty and difficult latch. A little paint scrapes off the latch every time you use it, leaving bare metal that will rust, so lubricating it with Boeshield is good insurance. Just a few drops on the sliding parts will do the job here.


9: Coupler ball. Technically, the ball isn’t part of your Airstream, but I’m including it here because it’s important. If you don’t lube it, the chrome finish of the ball will wear off (a process called “spalling”) and it will begin to make some really awful squealing noises as you tow.

Put a coat of good-old-fashioned grease on the ball so it will last longer. You can just smear it on with a paper towel or put on a pair of disposable gloves and apply the grease with your fingers. You can also put grease inside the coupler, from beneath.

Ordinary grease or white lithium grease will do; you don’t need to spend more for something exotic. If you have ruined a few pairs of pants by accidentally brushing up against the greasy tow ball, try putting a plastic grocery bag over it when you’re not using it.

If you use a Hensley Arrow or ProPride 3P hitch, the coupler ball rarely sees the light of day. But it still needs lubrication. Make a point of unhitching the ball at least once a year to load up the ball and coupler with grease.


Doing all the lubrication points listed here will take you only about 30 minutes the first time, and probably half that the second time you do it. So the investment is small, and the rewards—blissful silence, an Airstream that feels new again, and longer-lasting components—are big.

Six tapes for your tool bag

I’d like to be able to say that once you get your new Airstream you don’t have to worry about anything going wrong with it for years, but that’s not the reality of RV ownership—no matter what brand you buy. Bouncing down the road inevitably takes a toll, specifically in the form of leaky plumbing fittings, loose screws, and broken rivets. The wise Airstreamer travels with a basic kit of tools to deal with those little on-the-road problems.

A perfect example came up a couple of weeks ago when we towed our 2020 Airstream Globetrotter 300 miles out to the quiet desert town of Borrego Springs, CA. After seven hours of driving all I wanted to do was go for a nice walk through the state park campground, but a mysterious puddle of water on the floor changed my priorities. I traced it back to the Airstream’s water pump, where a plastic screwed-on fitting was spitting water.

Tightening the fitting didn’t stop the leak, and it leaked badly even when the pump was off, so I had these options:

  1. Camp for 4 nights without water
  2. Hitch up and tow 60 miles to the nearest RV technician
  3. Fix it myself

Ten minutes later, the problem was solved, thanks to just one indispensable item: Teflon (plumber’s) tape. A few wraps of that stuff on the threads of the fitting and the leak was gone—and our camping trip was saved.

Tape is amazing stuff. There’s a tape for all kinds of problems, and it’s incredibly easy to use. Having a variety of specialized tapes has gotten me out of dozens of jams while traveling. Here are the six types of tape that I always have in my Airstream tool kit:

  • Teflon
  • masking
  • double-stick molding
  • electrical
  • silicone
  • butyl

Let’s go over all six types and see where they’re useful in an Airstream.

Teflon tape (AKA plumber’s tape)

As I mentioned, Teflon tape is great for sealing leaking threads on plumbing. If you get a type that is also rated for gas use, you can use it on propane “pipe thread” fittings too, but keep in mind that most of the propane fittings on an Airstream are flare or compression fittings that shouldn’t get tape. I use it routinely on all threaded water fittings, especially the drain plug for the water heater. This is the tape I use the most overall.

We include Teflon tape that is rated for gas and water in our Maintenance Essentials Kit, and our Propane Maintenance Kit, so if you have either of those, you’ve got a roll already.

Masking tape

I don’t use masking tape a lot in the Airstream, but when I have to replace a pop rivet inside the Airstream, masking tape is ideal for protecting the surrounding metal surface. You can see an example in this short video. Sometimes the rivet tool “bounces” and can scratch the aluminum. A few layers of masking tape prevents that.

Double-stick molding tape

This stuff is surprisingly handy. The 3M “VHB” (Very High Bond) version is great for hanging pictures on smooth walls, and making other attachments where you don’t want to drill a hole. I’ve even used an automotive version of this to secure wires on the Airstream’s roof, and it held up through all kinds of weather and the relentless Arizona sun for years.

The best part of this tape is that it can be easily removed, even years later, without damage and without leaving a gluey residue.

Because this tape stretches rather than tearing, you’ll need some good heavy-duty scissors to cut it.

Electrical tape

If you get into little repairs of the Airstream’s 12 volt electrical wiring, you’ll want some electrical tape. But not everyone needs this. When I’m working on electrical stuff I tend to use splices and other (more permanent) connections so the electrical tape gets used very little. I think I’m still using up a roll that I bought in 2010.

Silicone tape

This is one that most people have never heard of, and I’ll admit that it’s only rarely needed in an Airstream. But when you need it, there’s nothing like it.

Silicone tape isn’t adhesive. It has the fascinating property that it sticks only to itself and only when you stretch it. This makes it perfect for wrapping around things to secure them like a custom-made rubber band. You just wrap it tight around the object you want to secure, and the silicone instantly fuses to itself. And it’s waterproof, which makes it a perfect (temporary) seal for leaking pipes.

Two months ago on a trip through New Mexico I noticed that two of the acorn nuts that secure a rockguard on the front of the Airstream had worked loose and fallen off. The rockguard was flapping in the breeze and threatening to come completely loose while towing. We pulled off the road but I didn’t have replacement acorn nuts available, and we were (of course) in the middle of nowhere. What to do?

Enter silicone tape. I wrapped the exposed threaded rods with a few layers of tightly-stretched silicone tape, essentially fashioning temporary acorn nuts made of silicone.This held long enough to get to Silver City and stop at the hardware store for new acorn nuts. (I also put blue Loc-Tite on the threads and bought two extra nuts for my tool kit, just in case.)

Like the double-stick tape above, you’ll need scissors to cut lengths of silicone tape. Cutting is also the only way it can be removed. Since it has no adhesive it always comes off perfectly cleanly.

Butyl tape

This stuff is the secret weapon of many an RV tech. It’s a putty that comes in a roll, so it can be stretched, trimmed, and formed into any shape you need. Use it to fill gaps around the underbelly (to restrict rodents from entering), plug holes, stop rainwater leaks at the windows, seal cracked glass, or use it as a replacement for glue.

It sticks to almost everything, stays gooey for a long time and makes a long-lasting seal against air and water. Think of it as a substitute for chewing gum.

Last week I found a new use for my roll of butyl tape. Two screws that hold an overhead cabinet hinge stripped out during a recent trip, and the cabinet door was hanging at an odd angle. The screw holes were so enlarged that I had to do the old matchstick trick to make the holes useable again. But the holes were in the upper part of the cabinet, facing down, so the matchsticks kept falling out.

Butyl tape was the perfect solution. I tore off a small piece and smeared the putty/tape around the matchsticks. This made them sticky enough to stay in place. After that, the fix was easy.

The one tape I don’t carry

Did you notice the tape I didn’t mention? Duct tape. Lots of people think duct tape is wonderful stuff, but I hate it. It leaves a gross sticky residue on things, it stretches when I don’t want it to, it’s not very strong, not waterproof, and not resistant to UV. If you carry the other tapes listed here, you won’t need duct tape.

And, if you have all six of these tapes and scissors in your Airstream tool kit, you will find there are a lot of repairs you can do even if you don’t think of yourself as being particularly handy. One of these tapes will probably save your camping trip someday, just like they did for us in the California desert.

All about rivets

Your Airstream is made of aluminum, but rivets are what make it strong. Take those 5,000 rivets away and you’ve got a floppy pile of soft metal.

In this age of robotic vehicle assembly you might be surprised to learn that each one of those rivets was placed on your Airstream by hand by a pair of skilled workers at the factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. Those two people had to practice relentlessly and demonstrate their skill on practice sheets before they had the ability to repeatedly install rivets with speed and precision.

It’s not an easy thing to get right. At Alumapalooza we have held Rivet Masters contests for several years, where attendees get a quick lesson on how to put in a rivet properly and then compete for the fastest times. Most of the contestants are lucky to get about half the rivets in correctly even with some practice.

“Bucked” solid rivets

Most of the rivets you see on the exterior of your Airstream are “bucked” (solid) rivets. They start life as little mushroom-shaped bits of aluminum. These very strong rivets hold two panels together, or fasten a panel to one of the trailer’s internal ribs. This bond will last the life of the Airstream, unless damaged in a collision.

To install these requires a team of two people working together like dance partners.

How to buck a rivet—The outside installer holds an air-powered rivet tool, which is sort of a miniature jackhammer that pounds on the mushroom head of the rivet.

The inside installer holds a shaped metal tool called a “bucking bar” that is pressed against the tail (or stem) of the rivet. The rivet gun very quickly hammers the rivet, pushing it inward and squashing the tail against the bucking bar, which causes the tail to get shorter and wider. This fills the hole and locks the two pieces of aluminum together very strongly.

Under normal circumstances, this rivet is in place forever, and it seals so tightly to the body panel that sealant is not needed for the rivet to be waterproof.


Timing is critical. Stopping too early means the rivet won’t fully deform and thus it won’t fill the hole for maximum holding power. Hammering too long will flatten the rivet too much, which also lowers its strength and can look cosmetically awful on the exterior.

The difference between “too short” and “too long” is less than a second, so the riveters rely on their experience and the tone of the hammering to know exactly when to stop. Then, as a pair, they move to the next rivet without delay. Good teams can put in a perfect rivet every three or four seconds.

Blind rivets

Also known as “POP” rivets, these are mostly found on the inside of the Airstream. (POP rivets was the original brand name.) These rivets are easy to install and replace, using a different kind of rivet tool. Since you can put one in without needing access to both sides of the aluminum, it only takes one person.

Hand held rivet toolA hand-operated rivet tool is something that should go into your everyday tool kit, because blind rivets do occasionally break and replacing them is a very easy job if you have a few spares and the rivet tool on hand. If you buy a tool, don’t skimp on quality. A good rivet tool is a pleasure to use, whereas cheap ones can be awkward and prone to jamming.

A single broken or missing blind rivet is not a serious issue. You’ll know a blind rivet is broken because it will either be obviously loose, missing, or you’ll see a little ring of black around the head of the rivet. (The black ring is aluminum oxide, caused by the loose rivet head rubbing.)

To replace a blind rivet, you put the thin end of a new rivet in the tool (the thin end is called the mandrel) and press the wider tail end of the rivet into the hole. Hold the rivet tool firmly against the surface while squeezing the handle three or four times. This makes the rivet expand in the hole and eventually the mandrel snaps off, which tells you the job is done.

The video below is a quick demonstration of how easy it is to install a blind rivet.

Blind rivets and drill bitsAirstream uses a variety of pop rivets, but most are aluminum and most have 1/8” diameter body or 3/16” diameter body. You can find the basic type in hardware stores. There are also specialty rivets with extra-wide heads, used for belly pan repairs. It’s a good idea to have a few of those in your tool kit too. Check the Airstream Life Store for those, and for a good rivet tool.



Shave-head or “Olympic” rivets

These provide the same function as bucked rivets but have a major advantage: they can be fastened from the outside by one worker. This is really useful when an exterior body panel has to be replaced. To do that repair with bucked rivets would require removing the interior furniture and interior panel so that one worker can get access from the inside. This adds considerable expense to a repair, and so quite often owners (or their insurance companies) opt for a shave-head (often called “Olympic”) rivet instead.

The design of this rivet is clever. It is installed just like a blind rivet but when you squeeze the handle of the rivet tool, three legs of the rivet billow outward like petals of a flower, on the opposite side of the panel where you can’t see it. These three legs enable a strong bond—not as strong as a bucked rivet, but adequate for repairs and patches.

After a shave-head rivet is installed, it has an obvious bump in the center of the rivet head that doesn’t look as nice as a solid rivet. It’s a remnant of the rivet mandrel that broke off during installation, kind of like a belly button is a legacy of an umbilical cord. To make the rivet look just like a bucked rivet, there’s a tool called a “rivet shaver” which cuts off the bumpy part of the rivet stem and polishes the head so that it’s much harder to tell it was installed as a replacement. Now you know why these are called “shave-head rivets.”

Interestingly, current technology could allow Airstream to build aluminum trailers using only adhesives instead of rivets—but you probably wouldn’t want that. Rivets are more than just a way of fastening the metal together. They’re part of the “look” of an Airstream, thousands of little reminders of the strength and durability of your travel trailer, and a connection that reaches all the way back to the origins of Airstream in the 1930s.

For more on rivets and riveting, check out our video: