As the founder of Airstream Hunter, I have the fun job of locating and acquiring Airstream travel trailers all over the United States for buyers around the world. I review hundreds of Airstreams for sale every month across the country and I see asking prices from under $1,000 to $100,000 or more.
What creates such a huge price range in these aluminum treasures? If you are ready to buy or sell a vintage Airstream the market can be very confusing.
Here are 11 factors (and one Trade Secret) to consider when valuing a vintage Airstream for sale or making an offer to purchase.
1. Year, Model and Size
Generally speaking, the older and smaller the Airstream, the higher the price. Older Airstreams, especially prior to 1970, are getting more and more scarce and command a premium price. Certain models of early Airstreams are particularly valuable since they were made in small numbers or for limited years - for example the original Bambi model which was only made from 1961 to 1963. Size does matter in Airstream pricing, and in this case, the smaller the trailer, the higher the price.
2. Completeness and Originality
The more complete and original the trailer, the higher the price. "Time Capsule" trailers are rare and get a premium value over incomplete or modified trailers. Look for original appliances, original interior Zolatone paint, original light fixtures and original flooring as cues.
3. Structural Integrity.
Airstream trailers have an aluminum body which weathers very well over decades - which is why so may old Airstreams still survive today. Unfortunately the wood floor and steel frame under the floor do not stand the test of time the way the body does. Rotting, water damaged sub-floors are very common and can mean a small fix or a big problem to repair. Light surface rust on the frame is not a big deal, but I have seen frames literally in pieces. Structural integrity of the trailer is one of the hardest things to evaluate in a vintage Airstream since most of the frame is not visible and is hidden beneath the belly pan.
4. Rolling Gear - Axles, wheels, wheel bearings and tires
Moving mechanical parts wear out and old trailers are no exception. Old wheels and tires may require replacement even if they look good - don't be fooled by a full tread on a tire that is 40 years old. Wheel bearings require regular maintenance. Axles may require replacing depending on the age and condition. These all add cost to a purchase, so if some or all of them are already taken care of it will increase the asking price.
5. Interior and Exterior Condition
Exterior body damage is very expensive to fix on these aluminum beauties. Body panels are riveted in place and replacing them is a very specialized skill. Small nicks and scratches are expected, but major body damage definitely detracts from the value.
Interior condition is a factor as well, but is often easier to remedy than exterior repairs. Many vintage Airstream trailers are being converted to other uses such as pop-up stores where original interior condition is not important.
6. Systems operating condition.
What works and does not work affects the value of the trailer. Electrical, plumbing, and heating systems should be checked and evaluated for working condition to determine what repairs or replacements are needed. All of these affect the market value of the Airstream. If you are a seller, take the time to hook the trailer up to electrical and water and see what is working and what is not. If you don't know, the buyer will assume they do not work and will negotiate the price accordingly.
The more I know about the history of the trailer, the more I'm willing to pay. If you just bought it at a yard sale last week and do not even know what model it is, you may be leaving a lot of money on the table. Take the time to do your homework as a buyer or seller to learn as much as you can about the particular model and the exact trailer you are buying or selling. You may have something very special on your hands.
Is there a valid title? Current registration in the sellers name? No title or proof of ownership can dramatically affect the trailers value. Incorrect or lost titles are common in trailers that are 50 or 60 years old - these issues can be dealt with but they will affect the negotiations. Original manuals, purchase receipts, and other items that confirm the provenance of the trailer add value. Service and maintenance records are also a bonus if they are available to the buyer.
Where the trailer is located affects the market value. The same vintage Airstream in Vermont will not bring the money that it will in California. Remote locations can also mean higher shipping cost which factor into the total cost of the vessel. I have gone to purchase trailers and had to abandon the transaction because they were so buried in the property it would cost thousands of dollars to extract them. Location and ease of retrieval matters in pricing.
A sparkling clean trailer inside and out brings more money than a dirty one. A trailer that looks like the one pictured above? You get the idea. I have added thousands of dollars to a trailers value simply from removing a dumpster load of garbage and washing off 30 years of dirt and dust from the outside. If you are selling, take the time to clean things up or the buyer is going to take that off of the price they pay.
11. Buyer and Seller motivation
Motivation levels of sellers and buyers in the transaction can have a huge affect on the final selling price of a the trailer. The more you learn about the seller's circumstances and motivations, the better position you will be in to negotiate. Same goes for the buyer. If this is the trailer that the buyer absolutely has to have, the seller is in a great position to get top dollar or even above.
That Trade Secret ....
This may seem like salemanship 101, but there are a lot of buyers and sellers out there, and the easier you are to deal with, the more likely you will be to negotiate a favorable deal. Life is too short to deal with unpleasant or uncooperative sellers. Be nice and it will pay off in your wallet.