Last updated on September 26th, 2023 at 06:30 am
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Every RVer instantly recognizes the classic streamlined design of an Airstream and for many RVers, it’s love at first sight. Sometimes the simplest designs can be the most striking and this certainly proves true for the Airstream’s rounded edges and silver coloring.
But what are Airstreams made of?
Airstreams are made of a lightweight, durable aluminum alloy metal. Each sheet of metal is treated to resist mold and environmental damage and also has protection from UV rays and intense heat. The structure is inspired by aircraft design and the final touch is a signature silver Airstream finish that’s still recognized and loved.
Aluminum is a staple of the Airstream, after all, there’s a reason Airstreams are nicknamed the silver bullet, and it’s not because they are made from real silver! There’s no argument about these classic trailers – they are functional and stylish, and aluminum is the reliable material they are constructed from.
Why Do Airstreams Use Aluminum?
The use of aluminum has many benefits for Airstream and their customers from assured quality and ease of transport to natural cooling and environmental protection. Yet, all of this is also reflected in the market, so buyers should be aware of how these unique features affect pricing for Airstreams!
Lightweight = Easier To Tow
Aluminum allows the Airstream to be easily towed and transported whilst also remaining strong and secure on the road. Some may not expect a vehicle built from around 1,200 square feet of metal to be lightweight.
Aluminum is unique, however, as it’s both durable and malleable, giving Airstream the best of both worlds. Of course, Airstream does make other RVs, but even their class B rigs are still silver!
The malleability of aluminum means it’s ideal for crafting the unique shape of an Airstream. The metal can be bent, curved, and cut into different pieces which can then be connected by rivets. Each Airstream uses around 3,000 rivets connecting the aluminum shell to the frame of the vehicle, which is also aluminum.
Owning a rig with a strong frame is vital for safety when camping and the longevity of any motor. The frame is the first part that’s built with any new Airstream, so the company has to get things right from the ground up! Airstream is the only manufacturer I’m aware of to have all the holding tanks built into the frame itself, and this is a strong example of the company’s intuitive thinking.
Building the tanks into the frame helps with weight distribution by optimizing the position of the vehicle’s center of gravity. In turn, the overall weight becomes lighter, making things easier when transporting an Airstream trailer around! This also means over half the Airstream’s entire load is carried below the floor, greatly increasing stability and balance when towing.
Great Temperature Regulator
Aluminum doesn’t just help make vehicles lightweight and comfortable to drive. It also serves as a great temperature regulator, keeping an RV cool in summer, making Airstream trailers a popular choice for hot weather. Aluminum doesn’t hold heat as much as other metals, instead naturally dispersing temperature to better regulate it when the sun is beating down on an Airstream.
To further help against the sun, the roof also includes white enamel to help reflect sunlight away and keep the inside cool. The aluminum is also treated to help battle harmful UV rays, and the silver finish aids in expelling heat rather than absorbing it like a black finish would.
Does this mean that in sweltering 90-degree weather, you won’t need an AC unit? Unfortunately, no, but Airstream will naturally handle intense heat better than most other rigs, allowing for less work on your part in cooling things down.
How Does The Use Of Aluminum And Other Materials Affect Airstream Pricing?
Airstream rigs are by no means the cheapest RVs on the market, but this isn’t just caused by the primary use of aluminum. Along with the materials the company uses, there are a few other reasons why Airstream RVs have a high-pricetag.
Labor Intensive Build
Airstreams are recognized for a few different things such as their unique funky design, classic appearance, and high price tag! The aluminum used to coat the outside is a pricey material, and the labor behind the construction of Airstreams is intensive, taking around 350 hours of labor.
Watch the video below for a peek inside an Airstream factory!
It’s clear Airstreams are constructed to the highest possible quality, and it’s the accumulative hours of labor that bring these trailers to life. The volume of manual labor and handcrafted finishes are a big contrast in comparison to the 50 hours needed to construct most other trailers.
Free From Pressboard And Laminated Paper
Often, other branded trailers have interiors made from pressboard and laminated paper. During construction, the electrical system and water pipes are run through the frame, and the floor is then installed alongside any tiling or carpeting.
Pressboard furniture is arranged within and the walls are mounted on the perimeters of the RV’s frame, enclosing the interior. Contrasting this with an Airstream is night and day as pressboard and laminated paper are nowhere to be found! Airstreams are made from a strong frame acting as a foundation which is then supported by aluminum struts.
Any furniture is hardwood, which has far more longevity and durability than pressboard, but also a luxury price tag! Even if damage is sustained to a major piece of furniture, structurally an Airstream would be sound. The walls and roof are made from treated aircraft-grade aluminum which complements the already durable frame.
On the absolute lowest end, Airstreams cost around $40,000, with the higher end reaching over $160,000. Even 30 or 40-year-old classic Airstreams can cost tens of thousands, but this is another example of Airstream trailer longevity. Airstream states that some of their trailers from the 1930s are still on the road today which is an impressive achievement.
The high quality of Airstream materials and construction increases the overall price of these rigs, but Airstreams also work to reduce both maintenance costs and gas consumption.
These travel trailers are less prone to wear and tear as their baseline quality is far higher than other trailers. Furthermore, the sleek aerodynamic design allows for around 20% better fuel economy over time.
Are Airstream Campers Aluminum Or Stainless Steel?
Airstream’s iconic travel trailers are constructed from aluminum. Stainless Steel may seem like an obvious choice to many, but it’s heavier than aluminum, which isn’t ideal when looking for a tow vehicle like a travel trailer!
The company has mastered using aluminum as the primary material for their trailers, and since their rigs are everywhere, and have been for decades, it seems they’ve hit the nail on the head!
Aluminum has a moderately low strength-to-weight ratio when compared to stainless steel, making it a durable and lightweight option for trailers. It’s essential to use treated aluminum as the material can corrode particularly badly when in prolonged contact with water.
What Is The Body Material Of An Airstream?
Airstreams are constructed from treated aluminum alloy and finished in bold silver for a classic, timeless aesthetic the company is renowned for. Aluminum provides more than just rigidity. It also makes Airstreams strong and capable of tackling big journeys across the country, in all kinds of weather!
Some newer Airstreams are made from fiberglass, such as the Nest travel trailer. This is new territory for Airstream, and this small but mighty camper is hitting the campground by storm. It’s a pleasure to see Airstream testing the water and trying something new, without turning their back on the aluminum material they’ve used and trusted for so long.
Will An Airstream Rust?
So, we’ve already talked quite a lot about what Airstreams are made from, but will an Airstream rust due to its aluminum construction? Aluminum doesn’t rust! At first, this may seem like great news, but sadly aluminum can corrode. This unfortunately means Airstreams won’t rust, but instead may suffer corrosion over time. An Airstream travel trailer may suffer some filiform corrosion which lets moisture get into the metal – this is never a good thing!
If you scratch, dent, or generally spot some external damage to your Airstream, it’s essential to check if the top layer is still intact or if aluminum has been revealed. Either way, as soon as you spot bubbling, gently remove it with a scraper, use suitable corrosion treatment, and seal the area back up again so no moisture can get through. To keep an Airstream in the best condition possible, taking care of the aluminum is crucial.
An Airstream should be washed and waxed every 4 weeks or so to keep it shiny and tidy for years to come. These rigs may not rust, but they can experience problems if left to fend for themselves!
Take good care of your Airstream by treating any areas of aluminum corrosion as soon as possible and staying away from any roads where magnesium chloride has been applied as this is a surefire way for an Airstream to corrode.
Think of these rigs as immortal tin cans since Airstreams are made of aluminum! Every material included in the construction is geared towards ensuring its lifespan is at least double if not triple that of the competition. Even though there are many travel trailers and other aluminum rigs, Airstream is absolutely the most popular name for every kind of RVer.
Airstreams are some of the few rigs where value seems to only increase with time. Often when people resell, they do so for a higher price than what they initially paid. Very few rigs can accomplish this after 5 years, let alone 30 or even 50! Airstreams have a simple design but don’t let that fool you as there is nothing simple about the care and quality put into constructing each and every one.