How to Install Airstream Wrap-Around Gravel Guards
Protect Your Classic Airstream Trailer
For owners of both new and vintage Airstream travel trailers it is important to maintain the exterior of their RVs and to protect the signature shiny look Airstream campers are known for. One way of keeping the front of the travel trailer pristine is to install gravel guards which cover the most exposed area of the Airstream.
Though not inexpensive, these gravel guards will take the punishment caused by rocks thrown up by the rear tires of the towing vehicle instead of allowing the debris to strike the front of the RV. When we installed a pair of these guards on a friend's Airstream Sovereign travel trailer, we discovered the instructions and blurry photos were not precise enough to do the job easily.
The following article is intended to assist the average handyman or RV owner in installing the gravel guards easily and safely with no damage to the guards or the Airstream itself. While the supplied hardware is sufficient for the job, we had to make a few adjustments to some of the pieces. I hope my hands-on experience will be of some use to those performing this project.
Getting the Perfect Fit for the Gravel Guards
Preparation for Installation of the Gravel Guards
Assuming you’ve already checked through the parts essential for installing the Airstream wrap-around gravel guards and found everything to be included, it is time to make the correct measurements to ensure a proper and sturdy fit.
The gravel guards utilize L-shaped hinges connected to the front seams on the Airstream Sovereign to support the majority of the weight and stress when the installation is complete.
The seams are riveted to the aluminum girders making up the framework of all Airstream travel trailers. It is important to mount the hinges along this seam line for proper support.
It will take at least two people to install the guards with one holding the guards in the proper position while the other marks the holes for the hinge mounts.
The guards we received had long rivets protruding through the metal and made it difficult to hold them in place without scratching the Airstream exterior.
The use of padding, or the bubble wrap packaging the gravel guards were delivered in, is strongly recommended for use behind the guards when pre-measuring and shaping the gravel guards.
Allow clearance for the brackets when checking the fit for the new guards. The space between the guard and trailer body will be the thickness of the bracket plus the nut holding the retaining bolt to the bracket itself.
Measuring the Gravel Guards for Hinge Mounting
Drilling the Holes in the Seam
Matching the Trim
In order for the trim--in this case black and blue, along the bottom of the guards-- to match up perfectly, and the yellow reflector too, you must check and recheck, as well as, lightly bend and form the gravel guards to fit right over the original fixtures.
Begin by measuring the distance between the top hinge hole and the top of the trim on the guard to be installed. Both guards may measure differently.
Measure the same distance--in our case 20 5/8” for one and 20 9/16” for the other--from the original trim on the Airstream up to where the top hinge hole will be drilled. Check this carefully several times to be sure the trim on the new guards matches up with the original.
We installed the right front--your left in the picture--first because we had to deal with a battery box located adjacent to the seam where the hinge would be mounted.
We figured it would be easier to match up the other side if we had to slightly move the guard because of the battery box.
Despite our concerns, we only had to adjust this guard a minimal amount to allow enough clearance for the battery compartment after all.
Fastening the Hinge to the RV
After marking the top hinge hole it is recommended you use a sharp punch to guard against the drill bit slipping off and scratching the exterior of the RV. Use the size bits recommended in the instructions for the screws and rivets.
Using masking tape while drilling the pilot holes may help keep the drill bit from slipping and protect the finish of your particular Airstream model. It's easy to make a mistake using sharp bits and screws.
We had no trouble with these particular pieces of hardware, but we decided against using an electric or air powered screw gun, and opted for a ratchet screwdriver instead to prevent the screws from stripping out or breaking off. Your choice, of course.
Once we completed fastening the top hinge screw we tested the fit again before drilling the other hinge screws.
The bottom screw will bend the hinge so it will fit the curvature of the Airstream along the bottom. This is normal and was no problem for us during the installation process. Once again, some slight forming of the guards by hand may be necessary at this point.
The new gravel guards are covered with a protective film which is also marked at the factory at the point the brackets are to be mounted. Do not drill the holes in the indicated places until you get the hinge mounted.
It may be necessary to move the lower bracket up a bit to prevent it from being on top of the original bottom trim. We encountered this problem but had not drilled a hole yet. Lucky for us.
Another thing we did to increase the strength of the mount was to move the marked spot a little further into the thick aluminum trim surrounding the guard. Otherwise, the bracket bolts would have been part way on the trim and the panel.
Your marks may be different so don’t drill the bracket holes until the hinges are mounted and you can check the brackets for proper clearance.
Finishing Up the Job!
Installing the Gravel Guard Brackets
These particular guards required three brackets per side, with two on the end opposite the hinge and one where the gravel guard makes the sharpest bend.
One problem we encountered while installing the brackets was some had holes pre-drilled which were too small for the rivets supplied with the guards to fit through.
In this case, we simply drilled them out to the proper size and continued the installation. Some were drilled correctly while others needed enlarging a bit.
I suggest testing all holes to be drilled for screws and rivets by using a thin piece of scrap tin or aluminum to ensure you are using the right drill bit.
Installing the top middle bracket—the one used at the sharp bend—first is important to keeping the correct distance between the guard and the Airstream itself, but be sure the guard still matches up with the original trim before drilling the holes and riveting the bracket in place.
Be careful as there is no girder beneath these points and the exterior metal may bend if too much pressure is applied while drilling and riveting the brackets in place.
When the middle bracket is installed you should easily be able to mark the holes, drill them carefully, and mount the remaining two brackets to the Airstream body..
At this point, this side is complete and the process is repeated for the other side.
These guards will protect the exterior surface of this wonderful old Airstream Sovereign for many years and perhaps decades if the trailer is maintained properly.
Protecting your Airstream camper trailer from rocks and gravel will insure you'll get top dollar if you ever decide to upgrade to a larger trailer or sell your current model to another RV enthusiast.
Good luck with your Airstream gravel guard installation and I hope this article will help you in some way.