Airstream Central - Info for Airstream Owners -
Preparing for the First Tow Home
A longtime Airforums member and regular contributor. Kevin has restored several Airstreams and is a knowledgeable Argosy historian.  
By overlander64
Published on 08/10/2009
The first trip with an Airstream is often the trip to tow your new prize home. If you have purchased a used Airstream some distance from home, we can help you prepare for unknown situations and awkward surprises. Be safe and savvy  as you begin your Airstream adventure!

Preparing for the homebound adventure
Is your tow vehicle ready?

Prepping Your New Vintage Coach For The Journey Home:

  • Be prepared for the empty/dry weight of your coach as well as its hitch height requirements.
  • Be prepared for the likelihood that the Bargman trailer connector will be wired to a standard other than today’s standard.  The typical Airstream schematics are as follows:
  • Be prepared to double-check VIN against title and ownership documents.  Also, if purchasing out-of-state, be certain to check with your local DMV for the ownership papers that you will need to present in order to register your new acquisition.
  • Obtain a set of magnetic or strap-on temporary tail lights to provide for the event that the original tail lights cannot be persuaded to operate.
  • Plan on a new set of tires as well as rims if the coach happens to have original split-rim wheels.
    • Most Vintage Airstreams utilize the tire size:  ST 225 75 R15 in either load range C or D – almost all vintage Airstreams had load range C standard, but many have upgraded to load range D particularly on longer single axle coaches.
    • Most Vintage Airstreams from the point where Henschen Dura-Torque Axles were adopted utilize the following wheel specifications:
      • 15” X 6”
      • Six Lug on 5.5” centers
      • 4.25” Center Bore
      • 2,600 pound minimum load carrying rating
      • Must be able to handle 65 psi inflation or greater.
  • Plan on having the wheel bearings repacked – particularly if the previous owner does not have adequate documentation on when the bearings were last serviced.  Should more than a year have elapsed since the bearings were last serviced, repacking and inspection are a good insurance policy.
  • For coaches that have been sitting unused for any significant period of time, you might want to consider installing new fully loaded backing plates to be sure that the brakes and bearings are in tip-top condition -- the drums may also need to be turned to true and match the new shoes.
  • You will also likely find that the break-away switch will need replacing -- the part is inexpensive and is very easy to replace.  The break-away switch is required in many jurisdictions for trailers weighing in excess of 2,000 pounds.  Remember that the coach must have a fully-charged battery installed if the break-away switch is to be functional.
  • If the coach has a history of long stretches of inactivity, the Dura-Torque axle has probably taken a set and isn't likely to have much action -- you might want to consider a new set of shock absorbers that may give you a little additional protection for your coach on the long trip back.
  • Check the "A"-frame hitch for any obvious perforations or serious rust penetration -- surface rust is to be expected, but if there is any rust through or near rust through professional (welder, etc.) inspection is called for.
  • You will need a hitch with a ball of the correct size and rating for your trailer.
  • You will want to verify that the rear bumper is solidly attached to the balance of the frame -- sitting on it at either end as well as the center should highlight any excessive flex -- a small amount while not a good sign isn't necessarily a big danger signal (1/4 to 1/2" of movement might indicate rear end separation).
  • If you are concerned about frame rust -- one method is to use a rubber mallet and use it to strike along the main frame rails listening for excessive metallic particles bouncing around that might indicate rust flaking -- if this rudimentary test provides questions about the only way to determine if there is an extensive problem is to either drop the bellypan for inspection -- or cut an inspection hole in the bellypan to see what is going on.  Surface rust is to be expected, but quantities of flakes are reason for concern as are any rust-through holes.
  • Prior to towing the coach:
    • Carefully examine anything attached to the exterior of the coach to be sure that it isn't ready to take flight when you hit the road.
      • Check every access panel to be sure that it is securely attached and latched.
      • Check roof vents to be sure that the aluminum covers are solidly attached to the lifters and the lifters are firmly attached to the coach.
      • If the coach has an air conditioner, checking the shroud to be sure that it isn't seriously cracked posing a potential hazard should it decide to fly off.
      • Check to be sure that the LP tanks are securely attached to the tongue, and that the center rod is securely attached to the tank carrier (the cotter key or jam-nuts at the base of the rod are often corroded to the point where they are not capable of securing the tanks when on the road).
    • Check each of the windows to be sure that both the frame and window are secure -- the windows should be latched from the inside and the frames should be inspected looking for missing molding that secures the glass -- if you can see the raw edge of the glass, the window is a candidate to depart the frame under the pressures of being on the road -- duct tape or something similar can be used to temporarily secure windows that don't pass the basic inspection.
    • Check the refrigerator and range vent covers to be sure that they are firmly attached to the coach. If the coach has the original water heater and furnace, you will find exterior vent covers that you will want to check to be certain that they are securely attached.
    • Check the main door and be certain that it is secure.  A rather common issue with vintage coaches is worn latching mechanism – doors have been known to fly open while in-transit damaging both the door and coach.  A bungee cord or other non-damaging device to secure door in the closed position is a good insurance policy that the door won’t unexpectedly open while in-transit.
    • Be sure to make a final safety check before departing:
      • Be certain that your coach has working tail lights.
      • Be certain that the coupler is securely locked to the ball – use the tongue jack to raise the tongue and back of your tow vehicle several inches – this verifies that the connection is secure.
      • Be certain that your safety chains are of adequate strength and are properly crossed and connected.
      • Be certain that your break-away cable is connected to an appropriate point on your tow vehicle.
      • Double-check inflation pressure in trailer and tow vehicle tires.
      • Double-check lug-nuts/bolts for proper torque (particularly important for alloy wheels).
      • Check to be sure that trailer brakes are operating properly.
      • Pull-forward 50 to 75 feet, stop and get out of your tow vehicle and walk around your rig looking and listening for anything unexpected.
  • Some hints to make your first experience with your Vintage coach a success:
    • If you are not accustomed to driving your tow vehicle, a trick that can help you to cope with a larger vehicle than you normally drive is to place a 12” piece of contrasting color painter’s tape along the center-line of the tow-vehicle’s hood – you can then site down this line to align your rig in your lane.  If your tow vehicle has a stand-up hood ornament, it can be used for the same purpose.
      • If you have adjustable spot mirrors on your auxiliary towing mirrors, you can adjust the curbside mirror such that you can glance and see the relationship of your tow vehicle to the lane’s edge stripe.
    • Take advantage of rest areas along your route.  Stop, get out of your tow vehicle and walk around your rig.  Place your hand near each tire and wheel to check for marked differences in temperature from one wheel to the next.  A hot tire is a blow-out candidate and usually indicates a load/balance/hitch adjustment problem.  If the center of the wheel is hot it generally indicates a problem with bearing adjustment, a failing bearing, or a brake that is improperly adjusted.
    • If you are not accustomed to towing, limit your time behind the wheel.  You will need your full and undivided attention to the task of handling your rig during the first few trips.  Towing when tired is always dangerous, but particularly for the novice trailerite.
    • If this is the first time that you vehicle has towed a trailer, check your gauges and warning lights on a regular basis.  It is not terribly unusual for a problem to develop during a tow vehicle’s first outing with a trailer.  Temperature and oil pressure are the two most critical issues.

The items that I have mentioned are those that would need to be checked and attended to prior to towing. There are many more things that would go into inspecting a coach for purchase -- these are the towing safety related issues.

If you feel uncomfortable making the inspections yourself, you will usually be able to find an Airforums volunteer inspector near the trailer's location. Getting a coach assessed for travel is a familiar practice for most Vintage trailer owners.