The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Failures in my 2007 SAFARI SE 20'
When I found the floor rotted out of my Airstream in May, I took a closer look back on all the problems I've had with my brand new, built-to-last Airstream trailer. I had also been discussing my problems with other Airstreamers I had met on the road and I clearly hadn't been getting the Airstream experience I paid for. I decided to raise an issue with the company and wrote a lengthy letter to Bob Wheeler (president of Airstream) and Larry Huttle (chairman of Airstream) in preparation for my Airstream service appointment in Jackson Center on June 20, 2011. The day after I sent the letter (via email), I received a response from Larry Huttle who agreed to meet with me on June 21 when I would be in Jackson Center.

In a nutshell, here are the major failures in my 2007 Airstream Safari SE that occurred in 3.5 years of ownership:
• Hot water heater failure - almost immediately after I picked it up
• Water pump was broken from the beginning
• Furnace failure
• Converter failure
• No-fuss flush failure
• Stablizer jack fell off
• Awning piece fell off
• Major panorama window leak that subsequently soaked and damaged the floor
• Gray water drain pipe leaked
• Shower hose connection leaked
• Air conditionter broke
• Interior rivets fall out

Here's a more detailed outline of my unit's failures and service center history: The Silver Snail factsheet. Since purchasing my trailer in Sept 07, I have always been very vigilant about maintaining it and always consulted the owner's manual, as well as Airstream service technicians for guidance and service. Since my trailer was so frequently in Jackson Center, I believed I was getting expert advice and service and it was always confirmed that I was maintaining my unit properly.

It's important to note that Airstream is aware of widespread floor rot issues in their late-model trailers, particularly '06-'09 model years. A search on the Airforums will reveal other people's experiences and Airstream's poor quality control. There are at least 20 different users reporting major leaks and rot issues for those model years and everytime I have been in the Jackson Center service center, there has been at least one trailer in the garage with a major floor rot issue.

Here are pictures of the rotten floor in my Airstream:

Airstream floor rot

Airstream floor rot

After pulling up the linoleum, I felt between the floor insulation and floorboard and it was damp. A month later, by the time I was ready to leave Cleveland for Jackson Center, it had dried. On the drive to Jackson Center, it was raining. When I arrived at Jackson Center, it was wet again.

The first two days at the Airstream service center were spent with Dave Schumann (general manager at Airstream) and Rick March (service coordinator at Airstream) overseeing the repair efforts on my trailer. They were focused on finding the entry point of the water and agreed that water should not have gotten in there in the first place. There was a lot of head-scratching during these two days from the Airstream service department, as it was not clear where the water was entering. By pressurizing the interior, they did a test with soapy water on the exterior to find any leaks that might be of concern. Many leaks were found and sealed around light fixtures, windows and the belt line. Then the bed and front interior skin were removed to further check for leaks. More leaks were found and sealed around the panoramic window. Remember, I had just had this window re-sealed 10 months prior. When they pulled the belly pan and floor insulation off, lots of water drained out. It was clear that water was being held at the lowest point, trapped between the floorboard and insulation.

Airstream floor rot

With the attempt to repair the leaks completed, it was next a matter of repairing the rotten floor, which would not proceed until I spoke with Larry Huttle about the situation to determine the best course of action. I waited a couple of days beyond our planned meeting date before he was actually available to meet with me. My trailer was towed back to the TerraPort where I was able to stay in it despite its state of disrepair and incompleteness, and when Mr. Huttle finally had a spare moment, we had a very pleasant conversation about Airstream in the conference room. Larry told me about his years of experience with Airstream and his love of the brand and its community. He asked me about my dog, told me about his family and his daughter's dogs. His efforts to make our conversation personable seemed smooth and natural. I started to believe that he really did care about the brand's integrity and that he had an interest in ensuring that customers received the quality product they were promised. When he made a weak offer to repair the floor, I said I wasn't interested in this trailer anymore. I have only had continuous problems with it and now that the floor had failed, I would never trust this unit again. Remember, major leaks had been found again at the panorama window that I had JUST had sealed at the factory 10 months prior. I wanted to trade it in for a new model. He immediately said okay and that he would give me my full purchase price towards a new model, fresh off the line. Great. I felt like we had arrived at a fair arrangement and trusted I would get fair pricing on the 2012 Airstream models. He also agreed to consider my request for an extended 5-year warranty on the floor, and later agreed to the extension, but only for four years. We wrapped up our face-to-face communication on June 24. Larry was about to start traveling and assured me he would be available by phone and email and that his staff would get me the appropriate pricing and scheduling information quickly.

It was not until July 20, FOUR WEEKS LATER, that I finally received the purchase order for the unit I requested.

I had decided on a 25' model with some small special requests and many options. The final trade value was approximately 8% off MSRP and I confirmed with my bank that I was approved for the additional cost. The new model was scheduled to come off the line September 6. I thought the price was high, but agreed to the deal in order to get the trailer into production. The trade involved an additional investment in Airstream, but I was willing to take the risk just one more time. Remember, I purchased a brand new Airstream trailer in 2007 because I believed they were built to last. Mine failed, but I had heard that others had not. I was willing to make this deal with a bigger, better model and give Airstream a second chance to prove that my failed model was not representative of Airstreams’s standards.

With the purchase order finally in hand, I was able to finalize the arrangements of my loan. Once the bank received the p.o., I was informed that there was an error and the bank would not finance the full amount necessary for this larger, newer trailer. So, a week after I had received the final p.o., I sent an email to Larry Huttle explaining the situation and requesting pricing on smaller models with less options. I sent that email on July 31. Ten days later, on August 9, I received a response stating a ballpark trade value for a 23' would be just over the MSRP. An additional nine days after that, on August 18, I received a response that a trade value for a 20' model would be close to $2k over the MSRP. 

It should be noted that a salesperson at a major Airstream dealership in New Jersey informed me that a discount of 12-15% could be expected off the MSRP of new models.

Since I have been intending to pick up a replacement trailer from the Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, I have not ventured far from it. When I met with Larry Huttle in June, I was under the impression that things would be resolved fairly and quickly. It has not.

The deal that Larry Huttle and I agreed on was the full purchase price of my trailer applied to trade for a current model, with a 4-year extended warranty on the floor. A fair price on a current Airstream model should be 12-15% off  MSRP.

The new pricing on the smaller units is clearly marked way up and I am not, in fact, getting the full purchase price that Larry Huttle had agreed upon.

Airstream's parent company, Thor Industries, includes this section on Fair Dealing in their Business Ethics Policy:

"We are committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity and fairness within our Company. You must not take unfair advantage of anyone (customers, employees, contractors and even competitors) through manipulation, concealment, abuse of privileged information, misrepresentation of material facts, fraud or any other unfair-dealing practice."

It seems this policy is being ignored. So I have written another letter, this time to Peter Orthwein (president of Thor Industries) and Christian Farman (vice president of Thor Industries). This letter was sent on August 22, 2011 via certified mail.


8/25/2011 I filed a complaint against Airstream at Consumer Watchdog. I encourage you to do the same if you've got a failed late-model Airstream with floor rot and other warranty issues. Consumer Watchdog | File a Complaint

8/2/20116 I received an email correspondence from Larry Huttle (after he had already closed communication with me on this issue via an email in the evening of 8/22). Airstream's best offer is a trade for a similar unit for an additional $19k. Remember, in our first meeting, Larry offered me my full purchase price in exchange for a new 2012 unit. My purchase price in 2007 was $41k. The trade price he is offering is $19k. $41k + $19k = $60k. The 2012 MSRP of a similar model unit is $55k. His offer is $5k over the 2012 MSRP. Furthermore, I could have paid the MSRP of my model in 2007, which was $47k. $47k + $19k = $66k. This would make his offer $11k over the 2012 MSRP. Larry’s offer is $5-11k over the 2012 MSRP. This not only discredits Larry’s promise of a full purchase price exchange, it also shows unfair dealing and crooked leadership. Keep in mind that the trade value on the 25' unit was around 8% under MSRP.

8/31/2011 I filed a complaint against Airstream with the Ohio Attorney General. I found that there were already two complaints against them.
Ohio Attorney General | Search Consumer Complaints

8/31/2011 I also sent a second correspondence (via email) to Peter Orthwein, president of Thor. In it, I included this information: The Silver Snail Factsheet, which documents the warranty issues and history of my unit in detail. In addition to the floor rot, nearly every appliance, system, and structure on this trailer has failed, some repeatedly.

10/12/2011 Airstream's legal representative responded to the complaint filed with the OH Attorney General. Here are some excerpts, followed by my response (in italic):

"While traveling the country, Ms. Pieniak’s unit was involved in at least two separate accidents causing heavy damage not covered by the unit’s warranty. Some of the damage repairs, including exterior body panel replacement, were done at other facilities chosen by Ms. Pieniak’s automobile insurance carrier."
• The only time I had anyone other than Jackson Center do body work was when I had a collision in Texas. I called Airstream for recommendations on service centers that would do the best job with the repair. Airstream recommended North Dallas RV, a factory-trained authorized Airstream service center. On two other occasions, each factory-supplied tire blew, causing extensive body damage. These tires are known to be poor-quality tires. Jackson Center did the repair both times. At no time did I utilize any facility other than one that was factory-authorized and Airstream-recommended. This attorney has her facts wrong - my automobile insurance carrier NEVER chose a facility.

"Upon inspection, she claims that she discovered a rotten hole in the floorboard and alleges this to be a manufacturing defect. Airstream denies this is a manufacturing defect and notes the water leak that caused this situation could have been caused by the extensive body repairs performed on the unit or from the lack of required owner maintenance."
• All body repairs were done by factory-trained Airstream service technicians. I was vigilant about maintaining my unit, consulting the owner's manual regularly and consulting with Airstream service techs everytime I was in Jackson Center, which was frequently (at least once, sometimes twice a year). They performed all of the maintenance that they recommended. How could this be an OWNER maintenance issue, if they were the ones recommending and doing the maintenance?

"Airstream has gone above and beyond to address Ms. Pieniak’s concerns and issues with her existing unit, including offering a full purchase price trade-in value on a 2012 unit, an offer that would not be given by an authorized dealership on an existing unit on its lot."
• Ummmm... yeah, except that they didn't actually give me my full purchase price.

Unfortunately, I was never able to discuss the case further, voice my rebuttals, or point out the false information in Airstream's response. The OH Attorney General's office immediately closed the case upon receiving Airstream's response. They stated that "your complaint specialist has made repeated attempts at resolving this issue with the supplier on your behalf." But in actuality, what they did was forward my complaint, receive the response and close the case.

10/31/2011 I see no hope for a better, more equitable resolution and I would like this dispute to be over, so I decide to move forward with Airstream's trade offer of $18,990. I manage to bring the price down once I receive a proper purchase order that included a $984 destination charge, which was an error as I would be picking up the trailer directly at Jackson Center. They admitted the error and the charge was removed.

11/21/2011 I am given a delivery date of December 10, 2011

11/28/2011 After one day of heavy rain in the Georgia mountains (parked, not driving), the front panorama window on the 2007 is leaking again, just five months after the Airstream Service Center's second major repair. There is also a leak near the door. Glad to have the floor covering off so that I can see this.


12/13/2011 The delivery date was moved to the 13th, and I arrive in Jackson Center that morning to take delivery of the new trailer, directly off the manufacturing line. Tim Maxwell, the National Service Director, personally gave me a warm welcome and thorough walk-through of the new trailer as soon as I arrived in the service center. They pulled the new trailer out and parked it next to my old trailer so that I could transfer my belongings. I stayed at the terraport for about a week, to make sure things were in proper order. I found these things that needed a half-day's attention in the service center: blinds were missing from the dinette windows, refrigerator door was marred, stabilizer jacks were loose, furnace was making a high-pitch sound and was installed crooked. In the noisy service center, none of the techs could hear the furnace noise, so nothing was done about that. It would require a future service appointment.

In the end, I paid more than I think was fair, but I certainly got a decent deal for the 2007 unit than I would have any other way. Mostly, I am glad to have the 2007 model off my hands and am glad to continue traveling. Many improvements have been made to the 2012 models, and I am hopeful that my 2007 experiences won't be repeated.

March, 2012: A reader recently contacted me about a 2007 20' Safari they were considering purchasing from Colonial Airstream in New Jersey. Through their vigilant research, they found my website and through emails we discovered that the serial numbers matched, and this was indeed my old trailer. BUYERS BEWARE!

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WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT AIRSTREAM, some excerpts from emails I've received:

ANOTHER FAILED AIRSTREAM STORY: "We just were told about your website while camping in the Florida Keys. We have a 16 ft 2006 Airstream Bambi sitting back at our home that we purchased new and are in our truck camper as I write this note. We are hesitant to use our Bambi. We've had nothing but problems with it such as leaks, floor rot and flat tires. What scared us was when the wheel sheared off the lug nuts and rolled past us on a return trip two years ago. The subsequent damage to the trailer ($8,000) and the unacceptable 8 months that it took the dealer to fix it have left us skiddish (to say the least) to use it. Plus we have discovered even more floor rot since their "repair". We are going to utilize your complaint links. Thanks for providing them. Airstream was our dream camper that's definitely become a nightmare."

...AND ANOTHER FAILED AIRSTREAM STORY: "I am also a solo streamer. I had the same trouble with my 2008 16 ft Bambi. I was never near a dealer when the floor dropped out (twice) so I had to have it fixed on my own. My position now is that my bank allowed me to trade up which was your original plan, as I remember. I am not happy with my new 27ft Flying Cloud because there are so many little things coming apart. I am stationary between a winter location and a summer location so now I keep the trail hot back to the dealership. This is not what I expected with the Airstream reputation. I loved reading your blog...and still do!"

"I signed up for your notices and have been captivated by your actually inspired me to start thinking about buying the "Eddie Bauer" edition Airstream to put on a beach in FL for the winter...And listening to your story, I would say the Airstream is extremely underbuilt. Thank you for sharing it. I will not buy Airstream product. "

"An Airstream WAS on my bucket list. Thanks for the heads-up!"

"I was going for a 27' Classic, I am now going for a 25' Bigfoot."

"I’m an engineer and after reading about some of your initial problems...a 2007 Airstream should not have such obvious design flaws and quality issues (considering the ‘state of the art’)."

"Having just read your thread re Jackson Center and their lack of concern for your situation, may I say there are companies that will say -What may I do for you Ms. customer" AND THERE ARE OTHERS THAT SAY" what will you do for us Ms. Customer" Airstream looks like the latter."

"Unfortunately, the owners of the company have chosen not to follow the original edict and principals which the company was founded on. Quality and workmanship and the use and selection of materials not commensurate with dynamic forces of moving vehicle have diminished the overall quality originally sought in the original design. Many improvements could be made and should be reexamined, revisited and redesigned."

"When I first discovered your blog. I thought I'd also like to have an Airstream. You've changed my mind for me. Good luck with your ordeals. Hope the Thor Co. stands behind its products."

"Damn - talk about a lemon..."

"Sharon, I hope Thor and Airstream step up to the plate... I wish you the best and I'll be waiting for the outcome."

"When I first came across your website, I had never heard of full-timing, at least not before retirement age. When my husband and I would go to campgrounds (we're tent campers), we would see older folks in their RVs and dream of retiring and traveling the country. Then I came across The Silver Snail website. The idea that you, a woman about my age, were traveling around and working on the road blew my mind. Actually, initially, I became angry and closed the website in a huff. My outburst surprised me, and after analyzing my feelings for a couple of minutes, I realized I was horribly envious. I love traveling and have always desired to see everything (yes, everything!), but reading your website was the catalyst that began this wanderlust in me that I just couldn't shake. You're the inspiration that led to me learn about full-timing. You're the reason my husband and I plan to sell our house in 10 years to go full-timing in an RV. I've loved reading about your travels and have made notes of the places you've been for when we begin our own journey. So to hear all the troubles you're going through, it makes me sad... angry... and worried. I know basic maintenance is necessary, and I know things can go wrong, even in a unit that comes brand new, right off the factory line. The amount of things that have gone wrong with your unit, though, and the severity of them and lack of concern from Airstream is very disturbing. I didn't realize that Thor was the parent company of Airstream, and my husband and I had been considering a Thor product (the new Redwood series) as our future home. It worries me, and while it doesn't deter me from wanting to continue my dream of full-timing, it does make me wary of Thor. I will be watching them over the next 10 years. I sincerely hope things are resolved very soon, and I hope you are back on the road soon. I would hate for this to stop your travels. I truly hope it doesn't. Thank you for your inspiration; we wish you the best."

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Jackson Center Ohio

This page contains the entire saga of my failed 2007 trailer, but I did not stay in Jackson Center the entire time I was disputing my case with Airstream. I stayed relatively close (eastern seaboard), but continued traveling to places I hadn't been...

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