How To Buy A Vintage Airstream
We have now enjoyed the experience of purchasing two Airstreams, and have learned so much with each purchase. We have had quite a few people ask us what to look for in an vintage Airstream that they intend to remodel, and boy do we wish someone had given us a few tips when this all began! So here is what we look for in an Airstream:
Let's start of with exterior bits:
Skin condition : Be sure to keep your eye out for worming, dents or scratches as these can be difficult and expensive to remove. Our first Airstream had bad worming, and before polishing it, we had to sand the entire exterior to remove the worming. Scratches and dents can be removed by either popping the dents out (if they're large) or replacing an entire panel (best for small dents and scratches) - as you can imagine, this is a cumbersome and costly task. Especially pay attention to the end caps. If you have a dented end cap, it is significantly more difficult and expensive to replace than the other panels.
Tires : If you're picking your new Airstream up and towing it home, make sure the tires are in decent shape and the bearings have grease in them.
Trailer Lighting : Especially if the Airstream hasn't moved in a long time, be sure to bring temporary tow lights so you don't risk damaging your tow vehicle (trust us, this is no fun...)
Windows : Having all original windows in tact is a bonus! While you can find replacement windows (we order ours from Vintage Trailer Supply) , they are pricey and can be can be challenging to install.
Rear End Rot : A good way to check rear end rot is to step on the bumper and give it a good bounce. If the shell doesn't move with the bumper, then it's a good indication of rear end rot. In this case, you'll want to take your remodel down to the frame and inspect overall frame rust/damage. This is a step we always take, rather be safe than sorry when it comes to preserving and repairing your frame before rebuilding on it.
Axels : It doesn't hurt to know the different styles of Airstream axels and how to spot whether or not they may need to be replaced. They're pricey, so if they need to be replaced that should be considered in your purchase price. As a basic rule of thumb: a typical axel that's in good condition, will have an arm that slopes downward. If the arm is level or sloping up, then they need to be replaced.
Lastly, interior items:
Interior Skins : Depending on the scope of your project, you may find yourself looking at purchasing an in-tact Airstream or an abandoned project. Speaking from experience, the more you have to work off the better. Removing and saving old walls, cabinets, and interior skins can give you a good template for rebuilding. If you don't have the original interior skins or want to make new ones for flawless new walls, check out our blog post on building new interior skins. This process is timely, expensive, and fairly strenuous, and was the most difficult thing we had to learn how to do.
Floor Rot : Common areas for floor rot are around the door and in the rear end. A good way to inspect the floor is taking an ice pick or screwdriver and poking at the areas in question. Don't be afraid to look inside the cabinets around the perimeter, and be weary if someone tells you they replaced the floor but can't show you pictures of the work done. Just because there's new wood or vinyl down, doesn't mean the repairs were made.
Smell : Pay attention to the smell when you walk in. A bad odor could be a sign that something is in the walls that shouldn't be (mouse poop, dead mice, we've seen it all...).
Systems : If you're looking at an airstream that is still in-tact (we have only purchased mostly gutted units), then be sure to confirm that all the systems work (plumbing, electrical, propane lines, etc.)
We've also come to appreciate a clean title in-hand. Our first Airstream did not have a title, and while we were able to get a replacement title, it involved multiple phone calls and trips to the DMV, letters sent to previous owners, and various checks.
There are so many things to consider when purchasing a vintage Airstream: the scope of your project, your budget and your handiness, among others. This list encompasses some of the main things we keep in mind when looking for our next project, and we've found it to be helpful while assessing a trailer's value, and we hope you will to! HAPPY HUNTING!