Airstreams are great campers but they do have their problems.
Most people have a very romantic (and maybe unrealistic) picture of Airstream trailers. We DON’T want to scare you away from these shiny beauties but we think you should at least be warned.
Airstreams do require more work than most RVs and camper trailers.
Here are the most common problems with Airstream campers.
- Difficult to Find Replacement Parts
- Difficult to Repair The Exterior
- Poor Performance in Cold Weather
- Poor Battery Performance
- Combined Waste Water Tanks
- High Maintenance
- Floor Rot
- Faulty Window Opening Latches
- Potentially Dangerous Electrical Systems
- Poor Off-Road Capabilities
- Sharp Metal Edges
- Walls Too Cold or Too Hot
- High Price Tags
- Talkative People
- Quality Control Issues In Past Years
- Tough to Mount Items On The Roof
So for a moment we will take the position of a skeptic and go over all the things that can frustrate owners of Airstream trailers.
There have been problems with the quality of the Airstream trailers.
Another day we will do a post about all the WONDERFUL things there are to say about these campers. Because they are also many.
Metal can be corroded and Airstreams are made entirely out of metal. One cause of corrosion can come from magnesium.
You may be thinking, how could magnesium make its way onto my Airstream?
Magnesium is often used to treat roads because it can melt ice and snow.
Make the mistake of driving behind a truck with a magnesium spreader and your Airstream can be ruined in the blink of an eye.
This type of corrosion is called filiform corrosion and the manufacturer is aware of this but you rarely hear anything about it.
Rivets look great on almost everything. I love rivets so much that I bought myself a tool for applying rivets so that I could make DIY projects at the house with them.
Unfortunately, rivets don’t last forever and they are much more difficult to replace than a screw or nail.
To replace a bad rivet on your Airstream, you’ll have to drill the rivet out before you can put a new one in. You’ll then have to seal the rivet hole properly or it will almost certainly leak.
If you decide to buy an Airstream, you’ll need to inspect your rivets on a regular basis and if you have a leak you can bet there is a good chance it is coming from a rivet.
After you’ve had to repair a few rivets you probably won’t think they are so great looking anymore.
As we said a moment ago, Airstream rivets make it more prone to leaking.
However, this isn’t the only possible way for an Airstream to leak.
An Airstream is made from aluminum which tends to expand and contract based upon the weather conditions. Over time this can weaken the seals around windows, doors, and vents.
This eventually leads to leaking and you’ll have to figure out whether the leak is coming from one of these sources or from one of the many rivets built into your RV.
Here’s a complete step-by-step guide on how to fix a leaking roof on your RV.
(There’s a section dedicated to aluminum roofs.)
Aluminum can become dented.
Airstreams are beautiful when new but they aren’t quite so beautiful after they’ve been subjected to hail.
Hail isn’t the only thing that can put a dent into the side of an Airstream. You can get dents from road debris, tree branches, and any number of things that might bump into your Airstream.
Taking a dent out of an Airstream is not an easy task and it can become quite costly. Not only this, but each dent is a threat to your rivets and a dent can lead to your Airstream leaking.
5) Scratches On The Exterior
An Airstream can become scratched as easily as a car.
This wouldn’t normally be a problem but remember you’ll be backing your Airstream in and out of campsites that may or may not have tree branches growing in and around them.
Getting a scratch out of an Airstream can be tough!
Just do a quick Google search for scratches on my Airstream and you’ll see there are many forum threads devoted to helping people get scratches off of their beautiful camper.
Many Airstream owners actually refer to polishing their Airstreams as a never-ending job. When I dream of camping, the last thing I want to think of is a never-ending job.
6) Difficult to Find Replacement Parts
Airstream puts all sorts of custom drawer slides and cabinet hardware throughout their interior.
The interior of an Airstream is considered to be a luxury interior and it really looks great.
Unfortunately, these parts can often be hard to find and when they break you may end up having to spend a lot of money to find a replacement.
Make sure you have a repair shop in the neighborhood that can fix Airstreams if you plan on buying one.
Especially if you are not the type of person to fix it yourself.
7) Difficult to Repair The Exterior
Interior repairs can be difficult for a few different reasons.
- The first reason is that replacement parts can be hard to find.
- The second reason is that Airstreams have aluminum walls.
If you need to take a wall panel out to work on your plumbing you’ll need to find a way to get through an aluminum wall.
The outside of the Airstream can be even more difficult to repair.
Dents, leaking rivets, and holes all call for repair skills that the average DIYer simply does not have.
Not only this but Airstream has used different aluminum thicknesses on different model years. In order to buy the appropriate aircraft grade aluminum needed to replace panels, you’ll need to find out exactly what aluminum thickness was used.
Even though Airstream has been around for quite a while, they don’t always have this type of information readily available.
I imagine they’d much rather see you buy a new Airstream rather than repair your old one.
8) Poor Performance in Cold Weather
An Airstream isn’t built for winter camping. Airstreams get cold and their water tanks will freeze up in cold weather.
Also, you’re more likely to fall victim to the corrosion we talked about earlier in cold weather so you really don’t even want to bring your Airstream out onto the road in the winter.
9 Poor Battery Performance
Most Airstream owners complain that the batteries in Airstreams are too small.
While most campers will have 100 or 110 amp batteries, Airstream typically provides 80 amp batteries.
Not only this but Airstream does not provide a gauge to tell you if your batteries are getting low. Most new RV makers put battery gauges on their battery systems so that you know how low you’re getting and you can properly maintain your battery by not running it down too low.
With an Airstream, you just have to guess.
One way to get around this issue would be to install an aftermarket solution. This does add to the cost but it is much cheaper than replacing a battery whose life was ended early due to too many full discharges.
You can read all there is to know about RV battery life here.
It’s important that you are ready for voltage spikes on campgrounds when you connect your RV to the power outtake.
There are often voltage spikes on the electricity you get at campgrounds and we need to insert a surge guard to make sure these spikes are avoided before they enter our systems.
10) Combined Waste Water Tanks
Smaller Airstreams do not have black water and gray water tanks. These Airstreams have one tank that both gray water and black water run into.
This effectively makes the tank a black water tank only.
This means that you’ll never be able to just dump your tank out into a field or onto your lawn like you might have done with a simple gray water tank.
Use your kitchen sink to wash your hands and you’ll end up having to take a trip to the dump station to empty your tank out.
11) High Maintenance
An Airstream requires more maintenance than most campers.
In order to keep your Airstream looking new, you’ll have to engage in camper washing and waxing and you’ll need to treat the aluminum better than you’d have to treat a simple vinyl lined camper.
Regular polishing is needed and you have to be careful when washing your Airstream with a pressure washer as high pressures used too close to the Airstream can cause dents to form and rivets to leak.
For more information on this, check out the bottom of this post about detailing an RV.
There, you’ll find information from Airstream on how to and how not to clean an Airstream camper.
You’ll also see information on how to clean other campers so you’ll know how much more work is involved with cleaning an Airstream.
You’ll also have to inspect rivets and look for signs of corrosion.
If you do happen to drive on the road during a snowstorm, you’ll have to make sure you quickly wash your Airstream off as soon as possible to prevent any additional harm from coming to your Airstream.
While you’re doing all of this maintenance, your friend down the street with the ugly looking camper is already sitting at a campground relaxing.
12) Floor Rot
Even though the Airstream has metal all around it, it still has a wooden floor.
All wooden floors can eventually fall prey to rotting and an Airstream floor is no exception.
The trouble with an Airstream is that it can be harder to tell when a floor has begun to rot. This means that the floor can be left to rot for a long time before you realize it needs to be fixed.
Since the Airstream shell is mounted on top of the trailer’s floor, you may find that replacing certain sections of the flooring is more complicated.
Luckily Airstream shells are quite light so if you do end up having to take the shell off to completely replace the flooring you probably won’t have much trouble finding people who can help you lift it.
13) Faulty Window Opening Latches
Airstream windows open out and up. This style of window is great as it provides good air flow and protects against the rain.
Unfortunately, this type of window has latches on it that are prone to breaking.
A window isn’t great if you can’t properly open and close it anymore.
On top of this, it can be difficult to find the window latches and you’ll have to get them from a specialty store or directly from Airstream themselves.
14) Potentially Dangerous Electrical Systems
Metal is a great conductor of electricity. An Airstream is comprised almost completely of metal.
When an Airstream’s electrical wiring is run through the camper it is put through plastic junction boxes within the ribs of the Airstream so that the wiring can run properly and safely.
But what happens when your Airstream becomes damaged and these wires are no longer where they should be?
An Airstream can actually become electrified which can cause serious injury to whoever touches it. Even if the Airstream doesn’t become dangerous it can cause fuses to blow and your electrical system won’t work properly.
Again this isn’t an easy fix since you can’t access the walls as easily as you might in a camper with a wooden interior.
15) Poor Off-Road Capabilities
Airstream has recently come out with a Base Camp model which does have some off-road capabilities but most models do not fair well off the beaten track.
If you’re looking for a camper to go off-roading in, you may want to look elsewhere.
This is also true for Airstream motorhomes as they do not offer a four-wheel drive option and Mercedes isn’t exactly known for its off-road capabilities.
Besides, would you really want to risk taking your Airstream down a road with unmanaged tree branches?
In the end, you’d probably just end up with scrapes and dents on the sides of your beautiful new camper.
16) Sharp Metal Edges
I’ve never experienced any trouble with sharp edges but some people have complained that this has been a problem for them.
This makes sense since all of the interior walls are metal and any exposed edges could become sharp.
My guess is that people having trouble with jagged edges have probably received models with minor quality control issues.
A quick trip to the dealer or some time spend smoothing out these edges should rectify a problem like this.
17) Walls Too Cold or Too Hot
I think most people can agree that Goldilocks had the right idea when it came to temperatures. You don’t want a camper wall that is too hot but you don’t want a camper wall that is too cold either.
The aluminum walls of an Airstream get hot quickly and they cool down quickly.
This can cause discomfort inside and can be downright painful when touching the outside.
18) High Price Tags(!)
Even with all of the issues that come with owning an Airstream, at the end of the day it is still a beautiful looking camper that many people would love to own.
Unfortunately for most people, the price of an Airstream is just out of reach.
(This sections should probably have been at the top but we assume you can afford one since you are researching on Airstreams.)
While most people are willing to pay six figures for a house and the land it’s sitting on, most people just aren’t willing to pay six figures for a camper that isn’t quite liveable in the winter.
19) Talkative People
I might be in the minority but I’m an introvert by nature.
When I’m out and about, the last thing I want to do is to talk to someone new. I like to quietly visit places without being noticed.
With an Airstream, you get noticed. Owning an Airstream in the RV world is like owning a fancy looking sportscar.
Airstream enthusiasts and anyone who finds your camper will stop to chat with you.
Luckily, this isn’t a problem for everyone and stopping to chat with strangers can be a fun experience for many. This makes this common problem a common benefit for some people.
20) Quality Control Issues
Some Airstream owners have mentioned quality control issues in past years. This was especially true for 2017 model years. If you’re in the market for a new Airstream then this problem won’t affect you.
This being said, if you’re looking to buy a used Airstream, it may be best to stay away from Airstreams from the year 2017.
Coincidentally, I see more 2017 models for sale than any other model year on RV Trader right now.
21) Roof Mounting Issues
With most campers, mounting things like solar panels and roof racks onto the roof is a fairly simple process.
If you know how to use a drill and you know how caulk works, you can mount your own solar panels and roof racks without having to worry about any unforeseen issues.
Airstreams are different. The shell is made of aluminum and you can’t even walk on top of them without denting them.
If you do decide to mount something onto the roof, you’ll have to make sure the ribs can handle the extra weight without bending down and out.
Make a big mistake when mounting items on the roof of your Airstream and you could end up with structural issues all over your nice camper.
For this reason, you’ll notice that people aren’t using their Airstreams to transport kayaks or to hold any large items on the roof.
Some brave folks have mounted lightweight solar panels onto the roof but that is probably because their batteries are dying quicker than they should.
Even though Airstreams look wonderful and provide a great user experience for most people, they do have many drawbacks for you to consider.
Unfortunately, most of them revolve around their iconic aluminum cladding and to many people the way an Airstream look is its best feature.
Before you buy an Airstream make sure you’re buying it because you think it will meet your needs and not because you think it looks cool.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.