Anytime you buy a new RV—regardless of what brand—there are likely to be little bugs that need squashing after you take delivery.
For first-time owners, the disappointment of having to go back to the dealer with a new travel trailer or motorhome can be hard to handle. But when you consider that you bought something that's both a vehicle and a house with thousands of individual parts, and that it is largely hand-built, you can appreciate how hard it is to get everything perfect.
This is why some Airstream dealers try to get you to commit to a followup service appointment on the day you take delivery. They're not just doing it to boost their service business, they're doing it because they want you to know that any problems you encounter will get dealt with.
Still, some people (like me) prefer to fix the small things at home rather than hauling the rig to a dealer. Whether you're inclined to DIY or take it to the service center, read on for my advice on how you can navigate the early months of ownership without pulling your hair out.
Do a "Shakedown Trip" (Or Two or Three)
Probably the most important thing you can do is to take a few short shakedown trips with your new baby before you embark on more ambitious trips. I've discussed this many times before but it bears repeating. The "shakedown trip" is almost always going to bring to light various questions, packing needs, and problems.
For example, during the first three shakedown trips in our new 2020 Globetrotter, we had major (read: trip cancelling) issues with the brake controller and we had a number of screws and rivets come loose. But all of this was easily addressed because we weren't far from home and the trips were short.
The shakedown is great but it won't be the end of the process. A new Airstream needs a certain amount of "breaking in" and it can take a few trips before you've got the bugs out and feel confident that you fully understand everything. Plan to keep your initial trips close to home, or close to services (like RV shops and hardware stores), so that if you have an issue you can get it resolved easily.
I discuss the specifics of shakedown trips in my book, "The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance" along with other tips for routine inspections and maintenance, so if you don't have a copy you may want to pick one up in our online store (or Amazon).
Do A 3-Month Checkup
After a few trips, I recommend doing a thorough inspection of the Airstream and all the associated gear, to see what needs adjustment, repair, maintenance, or tweaking.
Here's what I would check:
Hitch and Tires
The trailer hitch is a critical piece of equipment and it needs to be right, every time. If there are things you don't really understand about it, or you haven't weighed your rig to see if the hitch is adjusted correctly, take the time to learn about it now. (The weighing procedure is discussed in my Maintenance Guide.)
Take a moment also to walk around your trailer or motorhome and look at the tires carefully. Check the pressure in all the tires too, including the spare. If there's a problem with balance, alignment, inflation, or damage, you'll catch it early and save yourself from a much bigger problem.
Don't forget to check the torque on the lug nuts! You should have a torque wrench and verify the correct torque every time a wheel is removed. Read my Maintenance guide, your Owner's Manual, or the sticker that is just above the wheel well, for details.
If an electronic device is going to fail, it often fails early. This includes:
- circuit boards in the appliances (fridge, water heater, power awning, "smart" thermostats, and other control systems)
- LED lights (interior and exterior—don't forget the entry door light and taillights)
- DVD player, TV, stereo, and any other electric appliances
Turn on all those items and make sure they are working exactly the way you'd expect.
The important thing to check is whether it's holding a full charge. If you suspect it's not – if it seems to be draining faster than you think it should – you can get it tested at most automotive service centers.
The dealer is supposed to install a new battery before delivery but even then it's possible that the battery was allowed to go dead a few times. The good news is that AGM and Lithium batteries are much less susceptible to damage from being run down.
It's not uncommon for a few of the interior pop rivets to break, leaving a hole. Fortunately these are easy to replace yourself. For more on that subject, check out this blog (item #5).
Loose screws, trim, and missing plastic bits
You probably found a few screws, rivet stems and wood dust on the floor after your first few trips. This is normal—usually it's detritus left over from manufacturing, which migrated out from under or behind the furniture during travel.
But it's possible some screws have come loose. So check furniture, interior window frames, screen door, dinette mounts, air-return ducts (in the ceiling), TV mount, hinges, etc., for loose or missing screws.
If you have a screw that keeps coming out and it's threaded into something else made of metal, try a little threadlocker (found in our Maintenance Essentials Kit) on it.
If a screw is in wood and the hole no longer holds the screw, you can use a little wood glue and a toothpick or match stick to make the hole tight again. I keep a little of both on hand, along with some butyl tape, because this is often a problem with hinge screws.
You might also find plastic pieces lying on the floor, and wonder where they go. Don't throw them out! Save them, because eventually you'll figure out where they came from. For example, the plastic caps on the ends of roll up window shades sometimes come off during travel, as do the round flat caps that cover screws on the furniture, and white shelf clips in the refrigerator.
Loose trim is not uncommon. Often the fix is just a matter of some appropriate glue and a clamp or two, to hold it overnight while the glue sets.
Like electronics, plumbing weaknesses tend to show themselves early on. Fortunately, the problem is usually just a loose fitting, which you can fix yourself easily with a little Teflon tape. If you spot some wetness inside, here's how to track it down (and maybe fix it yourself!).
Final Advice: Keep Learning
The best thing you can do to improve your Airstream experience is to keep educating yourself about how everything works and how it's put together. Often the problems that new owners complain about are really just the result of not understanding things fully, and everything always seems more daunting when you don't understand.
When real problems do manifest, having some knowledge (along with a few basic tools and supplies) will make you much more confident about solving the problem—usually without having to derail your trip and head to a service center.
I want to put in a big AMEN to Mr. Luhr’s book “The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.” Chops have been saved due to that work. Thanks a bunch for writing it, Rich!
Airstream should consider a one week school in Jackson for an in-debt look at how things work.
i have completed two trips; first one was perfect; second one I had no water coming out of the kitchen faucet. I think its debris in the water line to the pump. But to take it apart (somewhat) on a trip is not fun; and didn’t get any results. Today I am going after it. Also, The winterization process should be a step by step video. Yes a two or three day course would be excellent. Where you try out everything.