We Only Wanted To Adjust The Airstream’s Brakes

We’re leaving today for a Carolinas Unit of NC airstream club rally in Mt Airy NC then Sunday for points west and way west. The preparations for today seem to have snuck up on us although we’ve known all summer we’d be leaving this week. We forget how much there is to do when you unpack the trailer and move out of it for a little while (like all summer, off and on).

Jim planned two not-so-major tasks for yesterday afternoon, having already lined up almost everything else. He only wanted to refill the fresh water tank we drained last night and adjust the Airstream’s four drum brakes. Neither job is complicated and neither takes much time, maybe an hour total for both.

We’ve been clicking along really well this week, marking things off our list each day and feeling pretty good about everything. Wednesday Jim thought he should run the little Yamaha 1kw generator an hour or so just to keep it happy. Unhappily, it wouldn’t start. Seems Jim has fallen down on monthly test runs on the poor little genset and the gas just went bad.

Happily there is a new outdoor equipment place only one block away from where we’ve been staying all summer. Time passes so quickly on some things — we had no idea we had been using (mostly carrying around) this generator since 2006. It has worked so well, always starting right away whenever Jim pulls on the cord. And Thursday afternoon Kannapolis Power Equipment gave us the generator with an oil change, a new spark plug, new gasoline, and a cleaned-out carburetor.

But back to the breaks. I mean, the brakes. Jim adjusted the two street-side brakes and started on the curb-side rear wheel brake when he saw he needed to reattach the water heater’s propane gas line under the trailer and replace a missing rivet in the belly pan nearby. He completed these and adjusted the brake without incident.

When he prepared to adjust the front curb-side wheel’s brake he noticed the shock absorber was missing the washer and nut at the top mount. Jim tried to reach over or around the tire and just couldn’t get access to the mounting with the tire in the way. But also cannot remove the wheel while it’s in the air because cannot break the lug nuts loose on a spinning wheel.

Jim lowered the trailer to the ground, loosened the lug nuts, raised the trailer, and removed the wheel. He used a thick washer and a nut from his junk box to refasten the shock to the mount and realized he would need to check all three other wheels for the shock absorber mounting. Guess what he found?

The other curb-side wheel’s shock also was missing the washer and nut at the top mount, although the two street-side wheel’s shocks were fully attached. Again with the loosening of lugnuts, removing the rear curb-side wheel, installing another washer and nut while again busting knuckles in the tight clearance of the wheel well.

We don’t know when these shock absorber mounting nuts came loose or why. Jim used Loctite threadlocker blue on these two repairs so they will hopefully be good until time to replace shocks.

And we’ve added another inspection point on our trailer’s annual brake inspection and bearing lube job — check shock absorber mounts, top and bottom. We might encounter no surprises when we only want to adjust the Airstream’s brakes, eh?

Jim and Debbie

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8 responses to “We Only Wanted To Adjust The Airstream’s Brakes

  1. You are making us nervous about going full-time. So much work! While you folks are handy mechanically, we are not. Cannot imagine how much all this would cost for someone else to do the work…..

    • Hi Rob,
      The Airstream is far less work and fewer surprises than with our former house. Let’s see, the doorbell quit, the front porch lights died from an old cloth wire fraying and burning in two, hot water supply pipes wore through (and sprayed hot water everywhere), bats infested the attic, roofing shingles blew off occasionally, windows and trim needed occasional repainting, garage door operator quit, basement took on water in heavy rains, driveway was cracking, house interior was due for repainting and refinishing the floor surfaces, storm windows were pretty crummy and on and on and on.

      As with the house, the trailer’s little things don’t all require fixing at once and some could go without any care. We are sure many trailers (yes, even Airstreams) survive with deferred maintenance. Jim isn’t twitchy just about maintenance issues, he’s just twitchy. So he goes after these little maintenance issues as a sort of release. He’d just as soon hit tennis balls but the courts are a few miles away and the trailer is sitting in the driveway thinking, “Uh oh, here comes Jim . . .”

      Just kidding, we think and hope Jim’s work keeps our trailer out of the shop and off the highway shoulder. But we don’t think the trailer NEEDS all the work he bestows on it as much as he needs to something to do.

      All that said, we agree it is important to do, or have done, an annual inspection of your trailer. Emphasis on the running systems (wheels, tires, shocks, brakes and associated wiring), the propane gas piping and connections, the electrical 110v and 12v panels and battery connections, the fridge back-office side, the three life safety alarms (CO, smoke/fire, and propane detector), hitch (coupling, breakaway switch, and 7-way plug). These are, we believe, critically important and could save you a lot of trouble and anguish by checking or having someone check these out annually. [disclaimer: the above is only our opinion and may not address all the issues for your RV or trailer — see your dealer or certified RV Technician for safety advice.]

      If annual inspection and maintenance cost for your RV was $1,000 annually it would be a good deal compared to annual upkeep of a house, wouldn’t it?

  2. Okay, I’m wondering if Rob will ever be able to fix all the things that go wrong. He’s not very handy. hmmm…..

    • Jan,
      Debbie keeps up with everything, I just go outside and mess around with her trailer. Tweaking, twiddling, and enjoying spending time on, around, or under the trailer and truck. Not all the time, just when we have a smooth paved parking surface and it’s not too hot and not raining and I don’t have something I’d rather do. Like right now I’m on my way to pick up a cool new tennis racquet. Since I’ve already done almost all my maintenance on the truck and trailer for the year I should be able to play tennis uninterrupted for the remainder of this year. Hope hope


  3. We’re about to stop at a friends home in North Carolina and get schooled on doing our own disc brake jobs and bearings. I already know the basics, but this time I’m going to get all the tools & supplies lined up so I can do it myself! I’ve had too many botched brake jobs along the way, and it’s not really hard to do these things yourself with a little training.

    But if you do hire it out, a few hundred bucks a year (at most) will cover routine maintenance for the brakes and bearings. Jim’s right — it’s much cheaper than a house’s maintenance.

    • Rich,

      We’re grateful for the great work we usually obtain from experienced mechanics and are glad we can get someone else to fix things beyond our capacity. Either we lack the tool or physical (or mental?) ability to fix some things and will pitch them to someone more experienced.

      DIY is a great option for us. We know exactly how it was done, what else was found and how (or whether) it was addressed. Not always true if we hire it out — we paid a service dept to repack our bearings and check our brakes. A few days later I’m behind the wheel looking at something and find the brake’s wire strain-relief missing and a wire not connected. Granted, we didn’t pay for this part to be checked — but it is right there in front of you when you take off a wheel. When you do it yourself you can afford the attention to inspect and choose or not to correct any other nearby conditions.

  4. Just found the same thing on my 2004 safari slide…missing nuts on top side of shock and separated brake shoes…..

    Add it to inspection list mist definitely !

    • Chris,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m a little surprised we hadn’t heard this from more folks. When I mentioned it at a local rally of our Airstream Club, the old guys responded that it’s no surprise for the curbside road components to become more rattled. That’s often the rougher side of the road, eh?

      Thanks for your comment, we look forward to hearing from you again.


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