VIDEO: Filiform Corrosion

Posted In: Airstream, Video

It goes without saying that I love Airstreams. Their legacy in the RV travel industry is unmatched. Their design is iconic. Airstreams are pretty much the only travel trailers that can occasionally pass as art. They’ve been doing it for eight decades.

By extension, I have a great fondness for the Airstream company. It’s an American institution, one laden with folksy charm. We have friends who work there. They are good people. They build and support the products we all admire and enjoy.

With that said, at times decisions are made at the Airstream factory (or in this case, directions that are handed down to the Airstream factory from above) that leave me scratching my head. The infamous Thor stickers of the early 2000s are a good example.

Someone, somewhere, decided that all Airstreams should be gifted with plastic stickers right next to the door. The stickers tout Thor, Airstream’s parent corporation. (“Woo hoo! Go Thor!”) I’m sure this was a policy that extended throughout the Thor corporation. I also suspect that the stickers caused few problems on fiberglass RVs.

Alas, during certain years, the stickers were applied with glue that had nasty side effects. It invited “filiform corrosion,” a type of corrosion that affects aluminum – especially aluminum that’s been treated with a clearcoat finish, as have all modern Airstreams.

Filiform corrosion degrades the beautiful appearance of the aluminum Airstream exterior. The corroded areas appear like white spidery veins throughout the aluminum skin. Or, if you don’t like spiders, think of filiform like worms. The corrosion may affect different areas of an Airstream. It’s not simply the stickers that were causing the problem; it can happen any place on the skin where the integrity is compromised.

Nasty stuff.

The upshot of this mess? The factory was installing stickers that harmed its own premium product. This is a special problem in a product that not only costs a small mint, but is expected to last for generations. People buy Airstreams with longevity in mind.

Liv’s red light district.

Once you have the corrosion, you can’t remove it. It will continue to spread if you do nothing. All you can do is treat it and hopefully stop its progress. If you catch it early, so much the better.

Ain’t that a shame…

There are three products to consider when tackling this task.

The first is called Goo Gone. It’s a general ‘goo removal spray’ that comes in handy for a variety of tasks. (For example, we used it to also remove some remnant factory glue from our Airstream’s kitchen wallpaper.) Goo Gone will at least loosen the bits of sticker that are able to be loosened.

To actually remove the sticker, you may need what we’ve been calling a ‘bone tool,’ which is simply a dull plastic knife. You obviously don’t want to use a metal knife, as that would scratch your aluminum skin. The plastic knife offers a harmless means of scraping away the old sticker.

Then there’s Corrosion X. Touted as a ‘lubricant’ and a ‘penetrant,’ this stuff helps to stop the corrosion in its tracks.

Note that not ALL years got the destructive stickers. There are some Thor stickers out there that do not damage Airstreams. But if you own a unit in one of the affected years (such as our 2003), you are well advised to remove your stickers ASAP.


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