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"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Industry Secret! Airstream – and “the Worst Case of Filiform Corrosion Ever”


Hooking up to our diseased Airstream, which has always been protected in barn.

©Bert Gildart: After almost three full months of negotiating with our insurance company we have finally reached a settlement regarding damage to our Airstream Travel Trailer.

To make an extremely long story short, our trailer was blasted by a direct hit of magnesium chloride this winter resulting in what the industry calls “filiform corrosion.”

Damage was extensive and because repairs would have been very costly, our insurance company decided to total our trailer.


Our insurance company, however, is a good one and they provided a substantial buyout, enough so that we could replace the old trailer with a new one.  Because this most likely will be the last major investment we will ever make, we added a little more so that we could upgrade to a Classic.  Those were some of the facts that placated us last week as we watched a driver prepare to tow our trailer off to Missoula, Montana, where it will soon be auctioned off. Someone could get a very serviceable trailer — and if that someone then tows it to P&S Trailer Service in Helena, Ohio, and has Steve or Kevin buff it out —  that person will have a trailer that looks like new.

We could have gone that route, but the draw back is that the trailer must then be registered as a “salvage trailer.” As a “salvage” trailer, should insurance issues crop up again, a salvaged vehicle does not command the payout that normal registration provides. Yet another option would have been to replace all affected panels. In my case, 10 panels would have had to been replaced but that would have been costly and could have weakened the strength of our Airstream, the reason our insurance company concluded our Safari  should be totaled.


Some may now ask: “Well how will you prevent corrosion from occurring again?”

First, this was a freak accident, and it happened because a careless state driver dropped his load just as he was passing us.  His actions produced what several Airstream dealers described as being “the worse case of filiform corrosion we have ever seen.”


Filiform corrosion, closeup

Those were their exact words, and the corrosive action began almost immediately after the truck dropped its load. Corrosion began because the magnesium blasted our trailer so pitting the clear coating of our trailer, allowing the magnesium to contact with the aluminum where the “disease” established itself, and then began to metastasize.  In appearance — and from a distance — it reminded me of a wild billy goat in spring shedding its winter fur; up close it looked like frost on a window. But this stuff is not pretty, it is butt ugly!

Here I want to emphasize that there was no negligence on our part, meaning the trailer has been waxed religiously (”Walbernized” to all you Airstreamers) and even stored when not in use in a shed we built to protect it.

To actually prove care I provided images from all over the country (see “This time last year,” below)l,  showing that our trailer had been used to produce professional Airstream images, and that it was in absolutely perfect condition prior to the events of several months ago.


Obviously the best solution is to stay off roads when magnesium chloride is being applied, but we knew nothing of filiform at the time,  and up until now it seems to be an industry secret.  No one, not even Airstream, really talks about the issue.

Another solution could be to form a group and march on the state capitol, as many have suggested. I’m not a new-comer to the state, having graduated from MSU, so believe I can make such a suggestion without fear of being called a Carpetbagger. In the past, use of magnesium in Montana has been a political issue.


Diseased Airstream being towed away -- forever!!

Baring a march, residents should group together and petition the state to post signs about the problems magnesium chloride can produce.  Magnesium is a salt and is much worse on vehicles than even sodium chloride.

Magnesium chloride does melt snow but it remains unpopular among most who live in the few states that use it. Montana is one and so I believe are Idaho and Utah.


We are buying our new Airstream trailer from George Sutton in Oregon and will be picking it up this Tuesday. This is our second trailer purchase from this Airstream dealer and the company is  very sympathetic to our plight.

In the future we will refrain from driving winter roads in Montana with our new Airstream and wish the state of Montana had provided a head’s up prior to this sad situation.  Our insurance company attempted to obtain financial help from Airstream but I will probably never know the results of that discussion. Through time and sometimes neglect some Airstreams do develop filiform, but  in my case this was not an Airstream problem.  Our trailer got blasted and only then did corrosion set in. Corrosion would not have been as deep or as complete had not something extreme occurred.


We remain devoted to the product and expect that we will derive immense enjoyment for the next decade (at least) as we travel the nation looking for more stories and generally enjoying the gypsy life style Janie and I been describing in blogs, magazine stories and books.  What’s more, Silver IS Green, and we enjoy the ease of towing, which facilitates adventure.

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L to R  showing   happier times: Airstream (all published images) used for family camping (image appeared this past month in Montana Outdoors);  used as base while kayaking Apostle Islands; used for camping in Jasper, Alberta — all showing happier times, but one that we will soon enjoy again!

We also enjoy meeting all RVers and hope this heads up helps prevent others with aluminum trailers (or other aluminum road products) from experiencing what has truly been a heartbreaking situation for us.

And so endeth this sermon.



Actually an Airstream Post,  Showing Very Happy Times


5 Responses to “Industry Secret! Airstream – and “the Worst Case of Filiform Corrosion Ever””

  1. Tom & Sandi Palesch Says:

    Bert & Janie:

    Sandi and I wish you two lovebirds at least another decade of happy trails and tales while enjoying your new silver time-machine. You have given us over 100,000 miles of great pleasure from your photos and stories this last decade and we know you have that and more for us in you this next decade.

    Enjoy and be safe and keep those stories and pics coming.

    Fond regards,

    Tom & Sandi Palesch

  2. Dean Says:

    Interesting article. We are getting ready to buy a new Airstream from Mark @ Sutton RV. The corrosion thing really does scare me as well as talks of leaks – at least in the past. My trailer will be living most of its life outside very close to saltwater.

    I’m used to maintaining boats in saltwater, so I’m prepared for some elbow grease time!

    Have you been happy with Sutton? Did you work with Mark there? Thanks for any info! Cheers. -Dean Olympia, WA

  3. Bert Says:

    Yes, we worked with Mark and believe he really knows what he’s talking about. For one thing, he owns two (I think it’s two, but certainly one) himself. What’s more, after owner George Sutton came through on some repairs I’m really a fan. Our recent purchase makes the second Airstream now that we’ve purchased from Sutton’s.
    I’m not an expert on corrosion, but believe my corrosion issue was unique and may be a Montana, Idaho, Utah problem. These three states use magnesium chloride to melt snow rather than sodium chloride. The former is death on aluminum. If you will be using your trailer in environments where corrosion is an issue, regardless of substance used on roads, I’d follow Mark’s advice and get your trailer coated with Zylon (sp?). It’s expensive, but cheap compared to the replacement of panels when filiform corrosion sets in.
    Hope this helps and feel free to follow up on any more questions.

  4. Abbers Says:

    Actually it is not the magnesium that causes filiform corrosion, it is the chloride.

    Chemist in Canada

  5. Bob Yeager Says:

    We have a 25 ft. ‘06 classic and various areas have filiform showing. What do you think about electrolysis as being a contibuting factor in this problem? I have dealing with a similar problem with copper tubes that once the protective coating is destroyed by acids or the elements a corrosion starts that eats away at the copper. Many times we have stopped this by adding a zink anoid to a steel shell wich is touching the copper also. The zink gets eaten away and can be replaced and this stops the corrosion of the metal. How about a ground strap bolted to the frame of the airstream also? Thanks