Weights & Towing
Q: How much does an Airstream weigh? Can any car tow an Airstream?
A: Airstreams have gotten heavier over time as more features are added. For example, an 22 foot Safari weighed 2980# in 1955, by 1965 the same Safari weighed 3360#, by 1975 it was up to 4090#.
Airstream maintains a table of many trailer weights. To these weights add 800-1100 pounds for personal belongings, LP gas and hitch parts. Add for water which weighs 8 pounds per gallon. Airstreams are light, the contents are heavy.
Q: Can any car tow an Airstream?
A: This is a common myth. Two things.
An Airstream is just as heavy as other similar aged brands of trailers, and in many cases heavier. What makes the difference is the enhanced towabilty and trackability of the Airstream owing to its aerodynamic shape, low center of gravity, and distributed weights. This gives people the impression that Airstreams are lighter.
People see old pictures of cars pulling Airstreams. Post 70’s cars are not the same as the older cars! Cars were essentially trucks with seats back then – with their chassis frames and large engines. The uni-body construction and smaller gas efficient engines removed autos from the tow vehicle arena.
Q: Can a newer SUV tow an Airstream?
A: Larger engines, beefier frames and longer wheelbases have crept back into the design of the SUV. Many of the larger ones can now tow mid and shorter trailers.
Q: How do I determine if my vehicle can tow an Airstream?
A: Determine the towing capacity of you vehicle, either from the manual or asking a dealer. This is your “never to exceed” weight. Reality will be lower based upon factors such as trailer length, weather, terrain traveled, Combined Gross Vehicle Weight and your experience level. Determine the max loaded weight of your trailer (see above). Compare the two. You will find that most Mini-Vans, SUV’s, older autos and lighter pickups are limited to the smaller sized (<22ft) trailers, and in most cases even the smaller trailers (<18ft). Q: But I want one of the longer trailers, can’t I just pack it light?
A: Nope. Now you are setting yourself up for the “tail wagging the dog”. The longer trailers need the mass and wheelbase of the larger tow vehicles to withstand truck passings, wind, stopping power and bad weather.
Q: Are there ways to make a trailer more secure?
A: By the use of sway control and load distributing hitches from such manufactures as Reese, Hensley and Pull-Rite. They bolt or weld onto your trailers tongue, and secure into your hitch receiver, providing additional linkage between you your tow vehicle and trailer. In the case of the sway control, it acts as a shock absorber to any sway or fish-tail tendencies that might occur. Load distributing hitches, on the other hand are usually complex mechanisms involving link arms. Their main purpose is to decrease the single point of contract hinging effect between the trailer and vehicle – making the two almost like one chassis. This will distribute the trailer tongue weight to a point forward on the tow vehicle, reducing rear end sag and increasing stability. Some complex units (expensive) combine both features.
Q: Are these hitch devices necessary?
A: Depends on the length and weight of the tow vehicle and trailer. A smaller lighter trailer combined with an adequate tow vehicle probably doesn’t. Some modern Uni-Body tow vehicles can’t use load distributing hitches. But if you are towing a 24 foot or greater trailer, they are almost always used. Some people are comfortable towing without one, many people can’t without one. See this restoration topic for a comparison.
Q: How tall are interiors of Airstreams?
A: Width and height has increased over the years, matching the US population change in general. The years and models didn’t always have a clean break, but for the most part they were 75 inches from 1947-1951, 77 inches from 1952-1957 (13/15 end panels), 80 inches from 1958-1963 (7 end panels), 81 inches from 1964 to 1968 (5 end panels), except the Bambi II and Caravel, are 75 inches, then from 1969 to 1982 all trailers became 83 inches.