In Depth

Deadbolt installation and troubles in a 1976 31' Airstream Excella 500

  • 13 October 2016

This project was fraught with more complications than I expected. And no, the hole for the deadbolt is not supposed to look like the MasterCard logo.

My '76 came with a KT lock. Replacement KT locks can still be purchased, but they are $400-600 and they aren't any better than the originals. Spare parts are available as well. When I bought my trailer, the lock latched, but wouldn't lock. After a bunch of research, I decided that adding a deadbolt would be better than trying to fix the KT lock, both in terms of security, and in preventing door fly-opens when towing at speed. I hope that I've documented my process well enough to save you some headaches if your airstream is similar. The deadbolt I chose is sold through Vintage Trailer Supply, and is an RV deadbolt, modified with a 3/8 steel rod by Colin Hyde of Colin Hyde Trailer Restorations. The instructions were moderately helpful at best, and in their worst, they caused me to drill a hole in the door jamb in the wrong location.

Hidden Rivets

The panel I needed to remove was quite small, in a great location, and looked like an easy task.

  1. Remove the blinds.
  2. Remove the plastic handles on the window open levers.
  3. Remove the screws on the window trim (careful, mine were two different lengths.)
  4. Drill out all the visible rivets around the panel.
  5. Panel still doesn't move. Hunt for more rivets.
  6. Using a sacrificial wood chisel, I chopped the top off two rivets that were under the door frame (green arrow), as I didn't want to remove the whole door frame. These were not replaced.
  7. I drilled out the rivets on the light switch, but I probably didn't need to.

After all this, I still couldn't get the panel out. I kept drilling out more rivets, then could finally pull the panel out at the base. Pulling laterally towards the front of the trailer, I got the bottom half of the panel out from under the door frame. I never figured out what was holding the top in, but I was able to bend up the panel for relatively easy access.

Surprise Rib

With the interior skin panel off, or at least out of the way, my next step was to drill a hole in the door frame, centered horizontally and place the lock. Of course, nothing is this easy. The lock wouldn't fit, as there is a structural vertical rib exactly where the lock assembly should go. I looked online at as many installations as I could find, and none of the photos of other people's airstreams had a rib there. I only found one mention: One person in one forum mentioned they couldn't use a deadbolt on their Argosy due to a rib. I have no idea which trailers have this rib and which don't, but now that you know this, it should be pretty obvious with just a quick glance at your exterior. Do you have a vertical run of bucked rivets between the door and the window?

The instructions simply say: "2. Decide on a location for the lock where it will not interfere with wall framing or other obstructions." But if there is no location that works, do I cut into a structural rib? After several days of unsuccessfully seeking advice, I decided to make the smallest possible hole (pink dashed outline in the picture below) in the web part of the rib and slide the lock through.

Still Doesn't Fit

I thought I'd solved all the problems and was ready to finish the job. But as I slid the lock through the hole, I saw that the distance between the rib and the door jamb was too short to fit the lock in! I had to extend the hole up to allow the lockset to get high enough to allow the 3/8 steel rod to get to the hole in the jamb. After doing this, I was able to force (and it still required a little force) the rod through the hole in the jamb and get the lock assembly horizontal.

Centered Isn't Centered

Now we're basically done and everything is looking good! Not so fast. I had some house paint at hand, so I put a nice dab of it at the end of the deadbolt rod, closed the door, and closed the deadbolt as far as it would go, hoping the paint would mark the door frame clearly. The paint worked great, but it showed me that my hole, centered left to right, as instructed, was way too deep inside the trailer. I needed to move the hole almost to the outside edge to get the rod to be centered in the doorframe.

I followed these instructions, step 3: "The 3/8" hole should be centered on the jamb left to right (horizontally)." and 15: "Drill a hole in the door to receive the bolt when the deadbolt is locked." I hope you learn from me and don't follow these instructions. Assuming, of course, that your trailer is like mine. I can't vouch for other years or models.

Drilling the new hole solved the problems. I'm now just left with the knowledge that I dremel-ed a hole in a structural rib, hoping it won't cause any issues, and I have the embarrassment of the mastercard logo shaped hole in my door jamb for all to see. See a more typical, less problematic installation here.

Bedroom stripout

I stripped out the bedroom to the floor and began scouring airstream forums for ideas on the best way to convert...