Friday, March 12, 2021

Ups and Downs with My Airstream Dealership

Pick-up day at RV One in December, 2020

One of the reasons my wife and I chose to buy an Airstream Basecamp was that there was an Airstream dealership nearby, and by "nearby," I mean that the RV One dealership is in Des Moines, two and a half hours away. Two and a half hours may not seem to be nearby, but the trailer my wife and I had been considering along with the Basecamp was a Canadian Safari Condo Alto, which is based in Quebec and has no US dealerships. Twelve hundred miles or one hundred twenty? We went local.

We have experienced ups and downs with RV One, Des Moines, but we still feel that they are sincere in their efforts to make us happy customers. Perhaps the fact that our camping experience is based in tiny trailer experiences--that we're moving from a smaller (as in "tiny") trailer to merely "little"--has something to do with our ups and downs. Whatever the reasons, my wife and I have come to realize that we have to closely pay attention to our interactions in order to make sure that our needs are met. Being fair, I also realize that the need to stay alert when dealing with dealerships is not limited to just our RV dealership. Cars, boats, RVs . . . let the buyer beware--somebody wants to make a sale and get a commission.

One of our most positive experiences with RV One in Des Moines came on the day of our Basecamp pick-up. We were in the process of completing our orientation when I said to Michael Farland, the Airstream salesperson, "Hey, where's our visor awning?" He replied that they didn't come with the 2021 models, but he'd check with Airstream. He came back later and said, "Nope, they aren't included with the 2021 models. The Airstream rep just said to check the 2021 brochure." I explained the obvious, that we had purchased the trailer in June of 2020, and then showed him the brochure that we had referenced with the salesperson when buying the unit--which said the visor was included. "Pretty tacky," I said, "making a sale and then changing the agreement after the sale." Michael came back later, after having checked with RV One higher-ups, and said that RV One was going to mail us the visor for free, saying that even if Airstream didn't reimburse them, it was still the right thing to do. That was definitely an "up" experience with RV One, a class act.

Our first rough experience with our dealership was when we bought our Airstream Basecamp from a non-regular salesperson and experienced some difficulties. We had been told that lithium batteries were standard for the Basecamp by that salesperson when we bought the unit and later learned that they were not, that rewiring and expensive battery purchase were required for a lithium set-up. We were transferred during our six-month wait for the trailer to the more experienced and knowledgeable Michael Farland, who resolved the issue by providing us with two AGM batteries for free, not lithium but still an upgrade.

On pick-up day, we were first told that our weight-distribution, anti-sway hitch, which had been included free in our original purchase package, wasn't necessary for our Nissan Pathfinder. Would we like an electric hitch jack instead? My wife and I deferred to the superior experience of the dealership and went with the electric hitch jack. I have to say the trailer tows well, although there is a slight "squat" to the Pathfinder when hitched up, but it's very slight. Our big surprise is that the rear hatch of the Pathfinder cannot open when hitched. The electric jack's mast blocks the hatch's opening arc. We are going to live with this for a while, but there's a very good chance that we will eventually revert to the manual crank so that we can open the rear hatch when hooked up. Although it is a somewhat picky point, we feel that dealership should have known and mentioned this situation. 

On pick-up day, we were also told that the Zamp outside plug on the trailer that is wired for hook-up to a portable solar array could only take one hundred watts of input, that a 200-watt suitcase package would require the trailer to be rewired with heavier gauge wire from Zamp plug-in to battery. We were also concerned that the door hinges were not secured strongly enough on the aluminum siding, something we had read about online and saw for ourselves with the give of the back door when opening. Our salesperson assured us we could come in later and have metal disks placed behind the hinges to strengthen the attachment surface. Finally, during our orientation session, the technician told us that if we wanted to, we could have our unit winterized / de-winterized at the dealership, and the technicians would show us the process. 

We hooked up, and my first experience with the electric hitch jack was that it was incredibly easy . . . and incredibly slow! We had a great drive home. We parked the trailer, plugged it in to our 110 outlet from our garage, and began the process of moving in. This was a great time, even though the 2021 January and February storms were excessively cold, snowy, and icy. March eventually came, and I called RV One to set an appointment to take care of four things that had come up from our original talks and from my interaction with the trailer.
  1. Have the Basecamp wired to be able to handle solar packages of more than one hundred watts.
  2. Have the metal disks mounted behind the weak points in the door system.
  3. Have a wire secured in the driver-side kitchen cabinet that had been left loose when the electric hitch had been mounted. The wire was catching on the cabinet door when the door was opened and closed.
  4. Have the technicians take me through the de-winterizing process.
I called RV One in early March and talked to someone in the service department about the four items on my list, wanting to make an appointment. He wrote down the items and said he'd get back to me with an estimate. During the conversation, though, he did mention that the rewiring would be expensive because it would require removing panels. He also said that the winterizing and de-winterizing processes are done in the shop without customers present; in fact, when I told him I had been told at pick-up that I could observe, take notes, and ask questions, he said, "Who told you that? We don't do that."

Later the same day, I was contacted by phone to a more senior representative who had an update. First, he provided me with good news. He had contacted Airstream, and the wiring for the Zamp connection was for up to three hundred watts, so no rewiring was necessary. I really appreciated the time he had taken to research the situation, although I would have appreciated not not having been given the wrong information when picking up the trailer. The second bit of information was that he had never heard about reinforcing the door hinges or open-door latches, and that he'd have to research that and get back to me. Regarding my being shown how to de-winterize my trailer (as part of the company's doing the job for payment), the service rep said, "Winterizing and de-winterizing are a big money-makers for us. That's the reason why we don't train our owners to do it themselves." I guess I understand that, but I was willing to pay them for their time.

The unsecured wire in the cabinet I decided to deal with myself, since that one item wasn't worth the trip to Des Moines. After pulling out the pots and pans in the cabinet, I discovered the reason I couldn't just pull on the wire to grab a little more slack so that I could move it out of the way was that the gauge of the wire made it difficult to pull. Sticking my head into the cabinet, I was able pull to the wire out from the hole in the wall and then re-bend the wire so it fit along the cabinet wall. Then, of course, I duct-taped it to keep it secure. Tom Kepler, handyman!

The service rep had said he'd get back to me on the door hinge reinforcement but hasn't done so yet. There could have been some miscommunication, though, since I had told him I wouldn't be coming up. That's the whole thing, really--lack of communication and miscommunication. This blog post really isn't one long complaint. I believe everyone is trying and wanting me to be a continuing happy customer. The number of times information has been lacking or incorrect has made me cautious, though--and maybe that's good. Dealerships have many customers, but there's just my one trailer for me to look out for. 

A frozen morning on our second trip out

My wife Sandy and I have decided to just get on with the new camping season with our new camper. We can now order a suitcase solar panel kit, most likely Zamp's 230-watt unit. And as for the doors, we'll just be careful with the doors and their open-mode fasteners, especially when it's windy. 

As for the de-winterizing, I've made an appointment with Bowling RV in Ottumwa, Iowa, for them to de-winterize the Basecamp. First of all, they come with high recommendations. Secondly, they are only a bit over a half an hour away, much closer than Des Moines. When setting up the appointment, I was also told that it would be fine for me to watch the de-winterizing procedure and to ask questions. Actually, I feel pretty happy about having an RV connection close by. Also all the appliances, such as the refrigerator and the Truma heater, can be fixed by any dealer authorized for a particular system, so if some appliance goes bad, I may not have to travel to Des Moines.

As a final thought, my wife and I talked this morning, and we've also decided that we're going to probably retro-fit our camper back to its manual hitch jack. I had no problems with my old trailer's manual jack, and being able to open our car's back hatch while hitched is important. I'm going to contact RV One, though, and talk to them because when they attached the electric jack they did not give me the parts to the original jack.

All this RV dealership stuff is new to me. I bought my first trailer, the RTTC Polar Bear, the "Green Goddess," used from a private party (also in Des Moines, actually). The builders in North Carolina are a small company and were very willing to work with me when I called them. Perhaps the small companies that build tiny trailers are more mom and pop down-home than the bigger companies. Of course, there is always the danger with tiny companies that they will not be in business long. As for RV One, I fully expect I will interact with them in the future and have no problem with that. On the whole, they've been very helpful, and we're happy with our experience--more ups than downs, although we are reminded to pay attention to details.

At any rate, the weather is getting better, camping season is ahead, and maybe a lot of my confusion has just been because I am new to the bigger, more complex nature of modern trailers, even though the Airstream Basecamp is still a little travel trailer, at just over sixteen feet, hitch to bumper. I thank all who have helped us, and wish everyone health, happiness, and success--I'll be out camping and hiking to ensure mine!

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  1. Seems like the original salesperson you spike with had little knowledge about what was really available, but told you what you wanted to hear to make a sale. And the part about not wanting to train you to winterize because it was a money maker for them? That statement would guarantee they never got another dollar from me.

  2. I hear you, Dawn. The three closest AS dealerships are Des Moines at 90 miles, St. Louis at 160 miles, and Chicago at 200 miles. I will deal with Des Moines, but will keep my eyes open. Thanks for the comment--and enjoy the improving weather.

  3. I Agree with Dawn, that comment and lack of willingness to help with a basis operation would of had me buy from someone else, regardless od distance. Dealers need clear communication as to what you expect, and be up front with the truth. RV One is now Blue Compass, who have bought up several RV dealers over the past several years from what I was told by the Tampa FL Airstream. As we are full timers, and travel all over, we are looking for the best dealers to work with. After dealing with some duds over the years, I’ve learned that most of the time working with the best dealers is a much better investment in your time and dollars then convenience. I hope your able to sort out the rear door issue, we are in the process of researching this issue to see what the fix was, and has it been addressed in the newer models.

  4. The rear door hooks were replaced with longer screws. This probably didn't fix the problem of the door fastener blowing out when a strong wind catches the door. I've "solved" the problem by using a foam swimming noodle at the door hinge and a bungee cord to fasten the door open. Crude but safe and effective.