Archive for October, 2011


Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Today I am going to talk about those rooftop vents and skylights found on most modern ravel trailers and motor homes, and some of the things I’ve seen people do to try to fix them.

The first type is the aluminum/ABS combination of vent lid found on many Airstream products during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  These are aluminum covers with white translucent ABS centers riveted in place so more light will enter the RV. The problem with this is the UV from the Sun attacks the ABS, and the sealant used will dry out, causing both air and rain leaks. I’ve seen everything tried to fix them, from a piece of a plastic milk jug (complete with expiration date) to a small sheet of aluminum over the hole, to duct tape and a plastic bag. If you have one of these lids, and want to save it, probably the best solution is to remove the inner and outer ABS center, and attach a square of smoke colored Lexan in its place. Run a bead of adhesive around the edge of the hole to keep rain out. Don’t use duct tape.

Skylights on later model Airstreams also tend to degrade and disintegrate, usually while in the middle of a vacation, and just before it starts to rain. I’ve seen everything from duct tape (again) to gobs of silicone and a hunk of plywood, trying to keep the trailer from becoming a mobile swimming pool. These parts, you can at least still get from your Airstream dealer. Again, a piece of smoke colored Lexan works well, you’ll just have to be sure to either put large flat washers around the individual mounting screws, or a piece of aluminum channel on top of the Lexan, with the mounting screws running through it.

Plumbing vents are also problem children. I’ve seen roofing tar and paint can lids used to try to stem the water flow.  The later model Airstreams are the cheapest to fix, a new vent cap and sealant is usually less than $10, if you want to DIY.

Then there are stove vents, the later model ones are made out of plastic, and, like the skylights, tend to disappear on the road.  On this one, replacement is pretty much your only option.  I’ve seen duct tape (it seems to be a favorite repair tool), as well as plastic shopping bags, shoved into the hole. That works until somebody tries to cook dinner, and the plastic bags either blow away or melt.

There are also the little battery vents, which some people block off to slow floor rot. That isn’t a really good idea, since that lets explosive gases build up in the battery compartment, and sometimes in the trailer itself. Combined with some of my uncle Mort’s home made chili, it can be a recipe to put another Airstream on the moon.

There are furnace vents, that either get clogged with insect nests, or blocked by the main entry door. I think running the furnace with the door open is counterproductive, but that’s just me. When I get work orders that state “furnace shuts down when operated with main door open”, I just shake my head.

Then there is the toilet vent on some 1970’s Airstream models. It is supposed to vent the noxious fumes from the toilet while it’s in use. It only does this when the fan is running, and both ends of the vent are not blocked.  I’d say it’s important…

About the Author

Lug Wrench is a long-time mechanic, multiple Airstream owner, and dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist. All tales guaranteed 100% true, although names and certain details may be altered to protect the guilty.