All You Need to Know Before Buying an RV Airstream


Airstream is one of the oldest brands in the industry, dating back to the early 1930s. The creator, Wally Bryan, wanted a travel trailer that moved like the stream of air, hence the name. Airstream is another choice of rig that you have when you want to start your life on the road. Knowing the requirements that you need to meet is essential to living comfortably while on the move.

What are the RV Airstream requirements? Towing weight should not exceed the towing capacity. You can determine this by adding the RV Dry Weight, Passenger’s Weight, Cargo, and Liquids. Proper understanding of the towing rate is crucial if you want to go the Airstream route.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to have the proper knowledge of choosing the right RV Airstream for your needs. In this article, I will talk about the tow vehicle you should purchase for your Airstream, some terminologies you should take note of when choosing your Airstream, and a better understanding of your Airstream’s tow weight. Aside from that, I’ll also talk about the laws that you need to keep in mind when traveling in an Airstream as well as its advantages and disadvantages in owning an Airstream.

Consider the Type of Tow Vehicle for Your Airstream

When it comes to choosing the right tow vehicle for your Airstream, you need to know a lot of factors. First, you need to determine the number of people that will live in the Airstream. When this is done, it will help you determine how many seats you need in the tow vehicle as well as how much storage space you need. 

For example, a family of six will be best in an SUV than a pickup truck, especially when there’s a dog in the mix. For the couple or solo adventurer, a lighter Airstream would be best for them. Lighter Airstreams are best to be towed by a capable hybrid.

Second, you need to consider the room that you need for your belongings. Consider the volume and nature of your kit as well as check if it is capable of hauling your gear and personal belongings.

Third, you also need to know how you will spend outdoor time. You need to make sure that your tow vehicle can handle any environment. So, if you like staying in the mountains, a tow package is important. You need to consider diesel vehicles for pulling heavy loads up steep climbs.

If you plan to do some boondocking on your trip, it is best to have a four-wheel-drive as a tow vehicle. Standard SUV or a hybrid can navigate through urban streets, which is perfect for people who have lighter Airstream models. This is best for people who love visiting cities, towns, and different tourist attractions.

Lastly, you have to think of the other purposes of your Airstream. A car, truck, or van will rarely be dedicated to towing Airstreams. You need to remember not to ask your vehicle to do too much. Always consider the demands for tasks and purpose. If you are planning a long commute, you might not be satisfied with the gas mileage from trucks.

It’s All About the Weight: Important Terms You Should Know

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The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and Hitch Weight play a significant role in choosing the perfect Airstream for your needs. Once you have settled on the tow vehicle that you want to use, you need to understand the following weight considerations and limits. You need to remember that excess towing capacity is better than barely enough. 

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum allowable loaded weight of the tow vehicle or the Airstream, which the manufacturer sets. The overall weight includes the passengers, cargo, and the vehicle itself. When exceeding the said weight, it won’t be easy to control, slow, or stop your tow vehicle.

Now, the two important GVWR limitations are 6,000 and 8,500 pounds, whereas some states restrict vehicles that are 6,000 pounds. With this said, you have to check each state’s limitations to make sure that you won’t be breaking any laws.

Tow Rating

The Tow Rating is the vehicle manufacturer’s rating of the maximum weight that a vehicle can safely tow. To get this number, you have to add your Airstream’s weight and your vehicle’s weight. You will also add the additional cargo and any liquid in the tanks that you may have.

Your tow rating shouldn’t exceed 75% to 80% of the published tow rating in every state. This way, you can’t exceed the safe towing capacity margin.

Net Carrying Capacity (NCC)

The Net Carrying Capacity is the total weight that your Airstream can carry, which would include the cargo and the passengers. However, this doesn’t include the weight of the unit itself. You just need to make sure that you do not overload your Airstream since it can create plenty of inertia, making it hard to stop.

The added pounds can take a toll on your tow vehicle’s brakes, suspension, frame, as well as engine. 

Hitch Weight (HW)

The Hitch Weight is also known as the Tongue Weight. The hitch is attached to the tow vehicle’s frame, and exceeding this will push down the rear of your tow vehicle. On the other hand, not enough weight on the front axle will lead to difficulty steering and possible loss of traction.

The distribution weight inside the Airstream can influence the Hitch Weight. You always need to consider the distribution hitch and ensure that it can help level out the Airstream and your tow vehicle. The Hitch Weight includes the batteries and propane tank weight.

Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity (OCCC)

The Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity (OCCC) is the maximum allowable weight for everything that you have on board. This would include the people, pets, food, tools, total water, and LP tanks. It also consists of all of your personal belongings.

Diesel Vs. Gas Engines of Tow Vehicles

Another feature that you need to consider when it comes to your tow vehicle is whether to choose a gas or diesel engine. Well, there is not much of a difference when it comes to the two. The only difference is diesel two vehicles usually have better gas mileage.

It also has longer engine life, more torque or pulling power, and higher maintenance costs. Lastly, diesel tow vehicles may not be available in all gas stations. However, neither is a wrong choice, and it is really up to you on what type of tow vehicle you choose.

Better Understanding of Tow Weights of Airstreams

When it comes to an Airstream, there are three primary size levels that you need to consider. All Airstream models within these levels share some commonalities. In the following section, I will discuss how they are different from one another.

The Small Level Airstream

Image Source: www.airstream.com

When it comes to the small level Airstream, you can choose from eight models. Four of the said models fall under the small lightest weight Airstream category. These are Basecamp, Nest, Bambi, and Caravel. The following models have an average GVWR under 4700 pounds, and the length ranges from 16 to 22 (21.8) feet.

At this level, you would need a tow vehicle balance pulling power with fuel efficiency. Midsize pickups, which are also known as a quarter-ton, are the best tow vehicle for this level. Full-size SUVs are also a great option.

The Midsize Level Airstream

Image Source: www.airstream.com

The midsize level Airstream includes models like Fly Cloud, Internation, and the Globetrotter. These models measure between 23 to 30 feet in length with a GVWR of 7475 pounds. The best tow vehicle for this level must focus on the pulling power. The best option for these trailers is half-ton trucks. The Ford Expedition with a heavy tow package is perfect for the midsize level Airstreams because it has a capacity of up to 9300 pounds.

Plenty of manufacturers, nowadays, have been doing a lot to make their half-ton pickups more fuel-efficient. Even with the Airstream models mentioned above, a truck will get more miles per gallon today than the previous year’s models.

The Full-Size Classic Airstream

Image Source: www.airstream.com

Lastly, we have the full-size Classic Airstream, where it has a GVWR of 10,000 pounds. It usually comes in either 30 or 33 feet in length. Now, towing this type of Airstream would require a muscle vehicle. RAM 3500, a three-quarter-ton truck, has the power and size to pull the Classic Airstream comfortably.

The RAM 3500 has the capability of towing up to 15,000 pounds. Now, if you don’t like the RAM 3500, you also have other options, such as the Ford F-150’s 3.5L EcoBoost V6, which comes with a towing capacity of 13,000 pounds. Make sure to talk to your dealership for more options and details on what tow vehicle is best for your Classic Airstream.

Driving Laws When it Comes to Airstreams

Now, there are different laws when it comes to Airstreams in different states. Familiarizing yourself with the laws is important so that you are safe wherever you go. For instance, in California, the speed limit on the freeways should be 55mph. In Texas, on the other hand, the speed limit during the day should be 70mph and 65pmh at night maximum. So, make sure that you are aware at all times, so you don’t get ticketed. 

In these types of cases, it is easy to get lost on the speed limit laws. For example, Colorado’s speed limit is at 75mph maximum, and when you are entering Texas, you have to be aware of the speed limit since they have different laws.

If you are pulled over in New Jersey, and police found that you have a firearm that’s not purchased in New Jersey, you are breaking the law. In New York, they don’t allow trailers in all parkways. While in other states, they don’t allow right turns on red lights anywhere if you have an Airstream. Though, other states allow them as a rule but with only specific street restrictions.

Now, most speed laws are posted prominently along the highway, so they are not hard to miss. However, other laws are harder to determine and are only located in the book. These laws are right turns, towing regulations, and propane limitations. With the proper research, you can never go wrong when it comes to your journey on the road. Awareness is the key!

In states like Alabama, Arizona, Washington, D.C, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, they have a width restriction for trailers of eight feet.

On the other hand, California and Arizona allow Airstream but with more strict restrictions than other states. Several states also have trailer brake and hitch requirements. For instance, in Iowa, they require equalizing hitches for sway control and brakes on all trailers that are over 3000 pounds. In Minnesota, they require trailers of 6000 pounds or more to have breakaway breaks.

In North Carolina, they require an independent brake system for Airstreams of 1000 pounds or more. However, in Utah, they require a breakaway braking system for Airstreams that are over 3000 pounds.

If you are traveling the Illinois to Iowa route around the bridge, between Fulton, IL and Clinton, IA, Airstreams are prohibited on that bridge. Make sure that you find a different route to get to your destination.

On the other hand, if you are passing through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel or Fort McHenry Tunnel in Maryland, propane tanks are not allowed to pass through. Lastly, in Virginia, you are only limited to two portable bottled gas tanks of 45 pounds with two valves closed when passing through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and Norfolk-Portsmouth Tunnel.

With all of the laws that you need to follow for each state, you have to constantly review them before hitting the road or before entering a state.

Know What Airstream Insurance to Get

Now that you are aware of the laws and the capacity requirements, it is now time to know what is the best insurance to get when you are living in an Airstream. I have provided a couple of tips to ensure that you are getting proper coverage while living your life on the road.

When it comes to insurance companies, they don’t understand the unique needs of RVers, so you need to know the right coverage. Get insurance coverage that is designed just for RVs, which may be obvious, but others tend to overlook this fact.

Another insurance coverage that you need to take a lot at is the full replacement cost coverage. This would cover your Airstream when it’s stolen or totaled. Now, this type of coverage can be expensive. When you let your insurance company decide how much your vehicle has depreciated, you may not be happy about their decision.

Personal effects coverage will protect your belongings, where most homeowner insurance often doesn’t have this. Full-timer coverage, on the other hand, is when your Airstream is your home. This is your primary residence protection where the tow vehicle is also covered in the insurance policy.

You also have vacation liability coverage that covers injury and property damages. This would be necessary if you are using your Airstream as a vacation home and not as a full-time living. Also, this would be great if you have visitor trips leaving your Airstream.

You would also need awnings and permanent attachment coverage. Your awnings would need replacement frequently so that you can make sure your Airstreams are in their best shape. Another coverage that you can avail of is the emergency expense coverage that pays for lodging while your Airstream is being repaired.

If you have pets during your life on the road, you need to make sure they are safe. Getting pet injury coverage would be excellent protection for your furry friends. Aside from insurance coverage, you also need to know about the available membership discounts and multi-vehicle discounts.

Having membership discounts are great if you love joining RV clubs and groups, while the multi-vehicle discounts will always come in handy. Now, not all insurance companies offer a multi-vehicle discount, so you need to make sure to ask them first if they offer this type of discount.

Some terms that you need to know are diminishing deductible and single deductible. The diminishing deductible reduces your deductible every year when you don’t claim them. Single deductible, on the other hand, is when your Airstream or a towing vehicle is damaged. This is when you pay only one deductible.

It is always great to know that you have protection in case everything goes south. Choosing some of the coverage that I have listed above will make sure that you are safe during your life on the road.

The Good and The Bad of Airstream

Now, aside from the requirements that you need to own an Airstream, you also need to know the good and the bad when it comes to it. Airstream offers comfort, which is huge for those who plan to spend extended periods of time on the road as well as living permanently on the go.

Advantages of Purchasing Airstream

Owning an Airstream is great for driving across the country with your whole house on a tow. However, Airstreams are not as big as a fifth wheel but still spacious and comfortable. It has a simplistic design which makes it the best feature. It hitches on the bumper rather than the truck bed, which may not seem like a huge advantage. The extra in the back of the truck bed can be a huge benefit for you.

You can fit an Airstream in different types of roads and not just highways. It is perfect for bringing along tourist spots with rough roads or narrow roads. You can also easily park an Airstream compared to a fifth wheel. 

It also can fit on low-hanging overpasses where Airstreams are usually measured about ten feet tall. Before hitting the road with an Airstream, you may want to research different driving routes to make sure that the top doesn’t get torn. 

Now, considering the Airstream’s size, it is easy and light to tow. Since you are living in a small space, maintenance will be low rather than living in a stationary home. Airstreams also offer environmentally friendly materials such as aluminum, steel, and wood, which are the primary materials used to make the rig.

Airstreams are also customizable where you can gut it and fix it to your liking. It is easy to add fabrics, colors, and other items that you please add to your rig. Lastly, the rent cost is very low when you opt to live in an Airstream. RV park rents are affordable, and you can get all the amenities that you need, such as power and water.

Disadvantages of Purchasing Airstream

Of course, there are always downsides to everything, and owning an Airstream has its own disadvantages. First off, Airstreams can be expensive, ranging from $38,000 (Basecamp) to $160,000 (Classic). It would be best to keep in mind that smaller vintage Airstreams tend to cost more than the larger units.

Airstreams are also pretty narrow and don’t offer extendable slides. So, when you are buying an Airstream, you have to take a long look at the inside before purchasing them because what you see is what you get. Large Airstreams usually provide 200 plus square feet for a living. Also, some don’t offer bunk beds, but you will find two twin beds in the layout.

Now, when it comes to storage, it can get pretty tiny. When you purchase an Airstream, you hardly have any basement or outside storage. You can only store waste hoses and a few tools in the outside storage. When you need extra storage, you can buy a tow vehicle that can hold your extra belongings.

Airstreams usually have plenty of windows, making it hard to control the temperature during the summer and winter. It is hard to keep the heat in and out, so when you buy an Airstream, you have to invest in some quality Reflectix as well as good insulation for temperature control.

There are always different reasons for avoiding buying Airstreams or any rig, for the matter. If you are invested in permanently living on the road, you wouldn’t mind the different disadvantages that you can get from an Airstream. 

Conclusion

Airstreams offer excellent living space while you are on the road. There are many requirements that you need to take note of and laws that you need to follow in each state. Making sure that you meet these requirements and follow the laws you can never go wrong when living in your Airstream. Knowing the disadvantages and advantages of your Airstream will help you decide whether Airstreams are the perfect rig for you.

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