Airstream vs Winnebago Compared: The Ultimate Battle

When it comes to RVs, Airstream and Winnebago are probably the two most popular names. They immediately come to your mind when you think about RVs and they offer some of the most iconic designs in RV history.

They each have their own advantages, and despite being very popular, are very different. We’re going to review each in detail and then leave it up to you to decide which better suits your needs.

The Main Differences Between Airstream and Winnebago

The main differences between Airstream and Winnebago are:

  • Airstream features an iconic design, whereas Winnebago styles their RVs more traditionally.
  • Airstream is very expensive, whereas Winnebago RVs are more reasonably priced.
  • Airstream uses a lot of recycled materials and tends to be more eco-friendly, whereas Winnebago does not.
  • Airstream does not offer a wide variety of models, whereas Winnebago has motor coaches, fifth wheels, toy haulers, and travel trailers. 

Airstream

Airstream has perhaps the most recognizable look of all RV manufacturers. They’re shaped like silver bullets. You can immediately recognize an Airstream from its signature shape and aluminum siding. But there’s a lot more to an Airstream that you can’t see that makes it worth the cost.

Chassis

The Airstream chassis sits on a steel frame with the outriggers forming a sort of ladder design underneath. This shape gives the trailer extra stability. After the chassis is constructed, the house portion of the trailer is situated on top and secured.

Axles

The axles on an Airstream trailer are a bit different than on a lot of other trailers. Airstream uses torsion axles, which means that each tire has a rubber torsion arm on it. They attach separately to the axle, allowing each tire to move independently.

While livable space and comfort are of excellent importance, many people don’t consider how the axle construction affects your ease of towing. There are no springs in these axles, making these trailers ride much smoother than other brands.

Airstream axles offer superior ease of towing by absorbing shock, vibration, and bumps in a different way to give you not only a better ride but to protect your belongings inside. This type of axle also requires much less maintenance than a spring suspension.

The wheels are made of aluminum, and Airstream equips all new trailers with high-quality, American-made Goodyear tires. The wheel well itself is made of thick, heavy-duty plastic.

Tanks

Airstream claims that half of the weight of the trailer is below the floor, keeping the center of gravity very low, especially on an extremely light trailer, helping even more with the smooth ride, stability, and shock absorption.

The grey and black water tanks are built directly into the frame, so they sit very low, and even when they’re full, you’ll have a smooth ride and an easy towing experience.

Housing

Airstream trailers are very efficient, due to their aerodynamic shape and their weight. Many owners claim that you can save up to 30% on fuel costs simply by choosing an Airstream over a comparable trailer made by any other brand.

The housing is built differently than any other trailer on the market. They use aircraft-grade aluminum on the outside and spray it down with a formula that protects it from corrosion, UV light, mold, and other types of damage.

Each section of the aluminum housing is cut separately and then attached to the aluminum ribbing that’s on the inside with rivets. It takes two people to put in each rivet because one person has to stand on the outside and push the rivet in while the other has to stand on the inside and smooth it out.

On each seam, they seal it with a thermal barrier that helps protect the trailer from heat. They fill the walls with eco-friendly batting insulation made up of at least 62% recycled material.

Windows

Airstream windows are made of single-pane tempered glass, sealed with polyurethane, placed in an aluminum frame, and riveted in place against the aluminum housing. While you might think this would make them very energy efficient, it’s actually one of the things Airstream doesn’t do all that well.

Each set of windows has a unique awning that extends via a set of arms attached to the housing. When pulled all the way out, you can lower the awning over the windows and clip it in place to give you extra shade or privacy inside.

Air conditioning and heat

Airstream, like most other RV manufacturers, places the air conditioning unit above the ceiling inside and uses ducting to carry the air throughout the trailer. While you won’t see the air conditioning unit from the inside, the unique thing about Airstream is that you also won’t see it from the outside.

They place their air conditioning units between the ceiling and the rooftop, so while other RVs experience an increased height profile due to the air conditioning units on top, Airstream is much more sleek looking with the air conditioners hidden.

All of the heat comes from ducting in the furniture, giving you a cleaner look. It eliminates weak spots in the floor or extra places that can collect dirt or food droppings.

Flooring

Airstream uses a ⅝-inch plywood flooring screwed into the subfloor with a one-piece vinyl covering it, so there’s no carpet, making for easier cleaning and maintenance.

Cabinets and upholstery

Airstream uses two types of cabinetry depending on the size and model. Neither type uses MDF. It’s either an Italian light-ply wood or a hardwood.

They also use two different types of upholstery: ultra-leather or spradling. Both are stain-resistant and durable. They don’t crack or scratch.

Warranty

Airstream offers a 3-year warranty on new and used products, which is something unique you won’t find in many other manufacturers.

They’re buying back old trailers, taking them back to the factory, restoring them to factory standards, and then reselling them with a brand new, 3-year warranty. While Airstream claims there’s no price to their warranties, that’s not necessarily true. They’re working the cost of the warranty into the price of their used trailers, so you’ll likely pay a little bit more for a used Airstream trailer from the factory over buying one from an individual.

Appliances and features

The appliances and extra features included in an Airstream are going to vary by model. All have heat and air conditioning, but some may have a sunroof or two. Some have refrigerators and more spacious living areas while others are meant for a quick weekend getaway with minimal amenities.

Cost

Speaking of pricing, we all know that Airstream trailers are very expensive. The assembly is labor-intensive, the materials are top-notch, the design is iconic, and the ride is superior.

More than half of the Airstream trailers ever built are still on the road today, thanks to their excellent build quality, and for that, you will pay a premium. They also hold their value very well.

Pros

  • Very towing efficient
  • Iconic design with beautiful interiors
  • High resale value
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Comes in touring coaches or travel trailers
  • Variety of sizes sleeping from 4-8

Cons

  • Manual stabilizer jacks
  • Not very energy efficient
  • Very expensive

Winnebago

Winnebago is also a very well-known brand, but its design is less iconic and more in keeping with traditional RV styles. There are plenty of different floor plans from which to choose, so there’s likely to be one that suits your needs. You’ll pay much less for this than you will an Airstream, but whether it’s worth the savings or not, you may have to decide for yourself.

Chassis

Each Winnebago model is built on a completely different chassis. They are efficient in the sense that they don’t reinvent the wheel in their own factory. Instead, they purchase each chassis from other manufacturers, have them shipped to the factory, and then build housing to fit.

They’ve used at least one chassis from almost every auto manufacturer from Ford to Mercedes-Benz. The benefit to this is that the RV construction is much less time-intensive, so it helps to reduce cost.

For motorcoaches, Winnebago has to follow any outbuilding guidelines set in place by the manufacturer of the chassis in order to retain the factory warranty so the end-user will have warranty coverage.

Tanks

One important distinction on Winnebago that you may not find on other trailer manufacturers is that your black and gray tank valves are located in the underbelly. Most trailers have tanks situated very low on the trailer to help with weight distribution and center of gravity, so that’s nothing new.

However, rather than placing tank valves on the connection panel, Winnebago places them directly on the outside of the tank in the underbelly of the RV. The tanks are ducted so they stay warm, and hiding the valves here helps reduce dirt and grime build-up.

While this positioning isn’t exactly the most convenient when you need to reach in and open or close them, it is much better for keeping them clean as well as warm when you’re traveling in the winter months.

Housing

Winnebago uses aluminum framing throughout the roof and the walls to create support for any joints or openings, but the roof and walls are actually made of fiberglass. The aluminum framing interlocks with the fiberglass at the joints, which is unique to Winnebago’s construction.

This design helps give the entire RV more support. There’s a better seal at the air conditioner and window openings this way, and you’ll experience more energy efficiency as well as an RV that’s less prone to leaks.

You’ll also find steel framing in most Winnebago RVs, making them sturdy and durable. Each piece of fiberglass siding is secured to the steel frame to provide support for the entire structure.

Wheels

Winnebago uses aluminum wheels, much like most other trailer manufacturers. They’re lightweight but durable.

One of the things to notice on some Winnebago trailers is that they have metal wheel wells. Most trailers have plastic wheel wells, which isn’t a bad thing, but if you were to have a blowout, plastic breaks very easily. These metal wheel wells help to minimize the damage to your trailer.

Jacks

Winnebago uses a variety of jacks on their RVs. They include manual, electric, and hydraulic jacks. It depends on the model of the trailer and the weight. However, some trailer designs may come with options for upgrading, so it’s something to research and discuss with your local Winnebago dealer.

Manual jacks aren’t particularly hard to use, but if you would rather have an electric or hydraulic jack to minimize the physical work you have to do, you may have the option to pay for that upgrade.

Windows

Winnebago uses acrylic windows on some of their motorcoaches, which is an interesting choice unique to them. These windows are much like door pane windows you might have in your house. However, they’re much lighter, so you get the weather and the sound protection of a dual-pane window, but in something that’s much more efficient in terms of weight.

On some of their other trailers, they frame out slider windows, which is what’s more commonly used on other RVs. They come standard in a single pane, but you can upgrade to double pane. They also equip some of their RVs with frameless windows, which are a bit more elegant, but harder to maintain.

Roof access

Winnebago does manufacture their rigs with ladders for roof access, which gives you the ability to perform maintenance, check for damage after storms, or install extra things you may need like antennas.

Variety

While every Winnebago is vastly different in terms of features, floor plans, and chassis, they’re all very well built. Perhaps the best thing about Winnebago is the fact that no matter what you’re looking for, they likely have a trailer or a motorhome that works for you.

They come in a variety of sizes and colors to suit the needs of most people who want to dry camp or travel with full hookups.

The other important thing to remember is that Winnebago uses different manufacturing techniques depending on the type, series, and model of RV, so while the information in this review is true across most Winnebago RVs, you may find some differences depending upon the model you choose.

Pros

  • Available models include motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, and toy haulers
  • Durable construction from a reputable brand
  • Tank valve location keeps them clean and dry
  • The variety ensures there’s a floor plan and price point for everyone

Cons

  • Design is not as iconic
  • Not as aerodynamic or eco-friendly

FAQ

If you’re thinking about getting an RV or you’re evaluating one of these two brands, here are some frequently asked questions that may help you decide what’s right for you.

Why is an Airstream so expensive?

Airstreams are much more expensive than other RVs because of the aluminum they use. It’s part of what gives it the iconic look we all know, but this aluminum body is very expensive and labor-intensive to assemble.
However, what you’ll find is that Airstream trailers last a lot longer than other RVs on the road because they’re so well made, so it might be worth the cost for you. They also retain their value really well, so when you go to sell your Airstream trailer later, you’ll get much more out of it than you would another RV that doesn’t hold up as well.

What brands does Winnebago own?

If you’re shopping for a Winnebago, it might be beneficial to know that there are a few other brands under the Winnebago umbrella. You can expand your search a little bit and still get the same quality build in many other floor plans if you can’t find a Winnebago branded RV you like.
Winnebago also owns Newmar, Chris-Craft, and Grand Design. In addition to motorhomes, fifth wheels, and travel trailers, they also manufacture boats.

Can you walk around in a motorhome while driving?

Given that Airstream and Winnebago both make motorcoach designs, this might be an interesting question to address. Whether passengers have to be belted at all times varies state by state, and many states are very gray about whether they allow this or not.
While the driver and the passenger upfront must have seatbelts on at all times, other passengers in the back may not have to be. However, motorcoaches do includes seatbelts on most of their furniture, so passengers in the back can buckle up through areas where it’s required by law.

The Verdict

Both Airstream and Winnebago offer unlimited potential for exploration and experience. If you’re looking for something that features an iconic design and eco-friendly construction, the Airstream is a great choice. It’s durable and long-lasting, so while the investment is huge upfront, you’ll be able to enjoy it for decades.

Winnebago is an excellent brand. It’s well-known and has been around for a long time. They feature much more variety of models and floor plans than Airstream, but their design isn’t as iconic. However, if you want something that fits your budget better, you’ll find the perfect one for you.

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