Check it out yourself?

A new (first time RVer) Airstreamer asked me a couple of weeks ago whether they should take their newly acquired 2006 Airstream trailer to a dealer to have it checked out. At first I said, “Do it yourself and don’t take it to someone else.” Then I thought about it and recast my opinion. There are definitely things it would be nice to have done for me, especially if I’ve never done them.

I’ve done some things I don’t really have a hankering to do again. There are people who do these things very frequently and are much more practiced, plus they have the right parts on hand. Later, when I gained more experience with my RV trailer, I was more willing to take on adventurous maintenance tasks like replacing the wheel bearing seals. This is an incredibly messy but rewarding job. I can take or leave it, provided I really trust the person I’d pay to do it.

Back to the question, Would I recommend a new Airstreamer take their trailer to an Airstream dealer to have it checked out? Yes, but not, “Please check everything out”. Rather, I would ask the service department to inspect specific things on my new (or proposed) acquisition.

If I was to take a newly acquired rv trailer to ODM for “inspection”, I would ask for the following:
leak test all propane connections
replace grease seals on both wheels
check brake lining thickness
check electric brakes operation, including break-away switch
check tires tread and condition
re-torque hitch ball to hitch head
check refrigerator for compliance with relevant recalls
re-torque weight distributing hitch attachments
tighten battery connections,
check battery condition

The above are the essential things to inspect for such a new trailer.

A couple of other essential things. Wouldn’t you hate for a wheel to fall off while towing? You need, if you don’t already have one, to get a torque wrench for the trailer wheels. I use an old Sears 150 ft-lb one I bought in 1970 for $19 — I think they might be $25 now.

Plus you’ll need a 3/4″ wheel lug socket (I use a deep socket) and a six-inch long 1/2″ drive extension. These are necessary for trailer owners because your wheels, after any removal/replacement (like grease seals replacement or brake service, for example) must be retorqued at the first 25 and 50 and 100 miles. And we check the torque on our wheels lug nuts at least weekly on driving days. This is very important.

Okay, back to inspection issues.

My opinion, aside from the first-time inspection items above:
Don’t take your trailer to any dealer. No disrespect toward your very good local dealer — we bought our first A/S from them and they performed all our warranty maintenance. We are glad they are in Colfax, NC, serving the Southeast since 1964. Way to go, ODM!

But to me, it is like asking a dealer to tell you if your car is any good after you bought it. You already are stuck with it, and you are asking them to try and find stuff wrong. They might be having a really excellent day and give it a careful review. Or they might be busy and only look over it cursorily. If the latter, then you think everything is hunky-dory and it might not be. If the former then, at the time they look at it, they might find stuff and make good recommendations.

But, it is your trailer and your project. Unlike a car you will be driving and depending upon daily for reliable (and safe) trips on the freeway to and fro work, this trailer is actually a lot simpler and you have rather less depending upon it. It seems complicated at first but it really is nothing compared to the intricacies of any late model (especially post-1992) car. You will become much more knowledgeable and self-reliant if you do the inspections yourself. Find something fishy, arrange for an Airstream friend to help you with looking deeper into and correcting it. Or make an appointment with ODM for the known problem.

I guess I will start building an experienced RVers maintenance checklist. It would include such arcane things as check tightness of sink drain connections, and periodically sanitize fresh water holding tank. There are many many things to include. Or, even better, see my friend Howard Lefkowitz’s expert guide. He has done a fabulous job on this maintenance manual for Airstream trailers.

There are tremendous guides for these self-inspections. One snapshot of such is to see the wire is intact to each drum brake. Crawl (or roll) under the trailer at the back of each wheel’s hub, where the backing plate mounts to the axle. There is a 12 volt wire through each wheel’s backing plate into the drum to power the brake (when you push the brake pedal or pull the emergency breakaway switch). I was peering underneath a year ago and found the wire hanging loose outside the backing plate — clearly not going in there. Easy to spot.

The trailer had just been into service for wheel service (new bearings and grease seals) and the Airstream technician didn’t look and spot this easy-to-find and very important disconnected wire. Not what he was there to work on, you could say. But he was right there, and if he’d been having a good day . . . You are in control of the quality if you do it yourself. And you become better prepared to identify and respond to problems if you learn to look for these simple things yourself.

Where to find the guides? One, for what equipment is recommended, is here. And go to AirForums and search all posts for “checklist”. You’ll get a lot of interesting anecdotes and some nice checklists. Your Airstream owner manual has inspection checklist and maintenance suggestions, as well.

Bottom line:
A great way for RVers to learn more about maintenance and safety with their motor home or trailer is through WBCCI (Airstream owner’s association) rallies, Escapees Boot Camp, FMCA rallies, Good Sam rallies and others. You will find a lot of people who know more than you do and they are very willing to help you.

If you are a first-time RVer (or don’t want to learn because you don’t plan to tow more than once or twice a year) then you may need and want a good mechanic to do all your routine inspections and work for you.

If you have any mechanical inclination at all then you should learn and do all you can about your RV’s inspections and maintenance.

And some states require an annual safety inspection performed and documented by a certified technician. We absolutely recommend you comply with all applicable regulations of your state or province.

We fix what we can. Our RV is our home, and we want to understand and be able to respond to at least 90 percent of what comes up. We cannot fix everything we face, but we assess whether we should or not. If we can fix it ourselves we almost always save money and usually only spend more time. But it is our time and we are willing to chalk it up to “education”. We wouldn’t trade anything for the ability to identify and attempt to correct problems we encounter.

Jim and Debbie
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©2009 Dreamstreamr


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