I'll begin by saying I have no connection to the Airtabs company. They didn't ask me do a review nor did they pay me for the review in any way such as via a discount or a sample or a promise of anything else. I don?t know anyone in the company and the only contact I had with them was during the ordering process.
I am driving a new 2009 Ford F150 4X4 pulling a Keystone Passport trailer which is officially 30 ft long. (My husband measured it and swears it is actually 28 ft long, but whatever.) We bought the rig and truck because we are retiring soon and we want to be able to escape the Canadian winter. If all goes well for us we may even become full time RVers. We are both scientists by training. He?s a physical chemical guy and I?m a biologist. I do all the driving.
Before we bought the Airtabs we took our new rig on three shorter test runs designed to help us become accustomed to the rig before we started to California. Our first trip was to a provincial park 60 kilometers outside of Winnipeg on secondary roads. The first time a big eighteen wheeler passed me I nearly went into the ditch so sharp and unexpected was the "whoosh" effect. Our second trip was down the TransCanada (same as an interstate) to Portage La Prairie about 70 kilometers. We were actually planning on going a lot farther but the whole whoosh thing was so much worse on the highway and so unnerving we decided to cut our trip short. We took secondary roads back towards Winnipeg and stopped at St Ambroise provincial park instead.
It was there that I first encountered Airtabs. The campground host spotted our obviously new rig and decided we might be newbies who could benefit from his many years of experience. He gave us plenty of tips including showing us his Airtabs. He said he had no idea if they saved him any money but they did get rid of the whoosh.
"You'll hardly notice the big trucks passing you,? he assured me. "I don't care if they save me any money, that stability alone makes them worth the $200odd bucks they cost me.?
Our third trip was our longer test run designed to see how we did in the USA on a longer trip away from home. We drove the rig from Winnipeg Manitoba to Lakeside Laboratory Iowa. We took secondary roads all the way down because I was so nervous about the whoosh thing. The trip down went without any issues except for the whoosh fro passing trucks. The trip back we had one day of quiet and one day of a really heavy north north east wind, not quite a tailwind 30mph with gusts to 45mph. As long as we were heading north the trailer was manageable though bucking like crazy, but if we turned east for any stretch, the cross winds and the force of the wind made is impossible to go above 45mph without kicking the engine up to high throttle and having the trailer bucking so much I felt I might lose control.
Ordering the airtabs turned out to be a lot more difficult that it should have been. The silly website doesn?t work because we are in Canada and each shipment over the border has to be hand calculated for shipping costs. They should put that ON the website. I tried to telephone them but I wanted the trailer pack and got someone who didn't know how to finish the order. I am a persistent *****. I think they've likely lost orders due to that issue. On the bright side, I e-mailed the owner and he got back to me by e-mail the same day and then he telephoned at home to make sure my order was correct. Later on the same ordering company somehow decided I had ordered two sets instead of one but he caught it and called me to confirm so I avoid the hassle of purchasing two sets and returning one. I think he needs a new ordering company but he is responsive enough that problems get avoided so I'll give him kudos for that.
We installed the airtabs on our return to Winnipeg. I read a lot of reviews on the topic (including one here) and I decided that even if they didn't save me money, a marginal improvement in trailer stability would make it worth $240. From the reviews I read it seemed to be most important to follow the steps for precleaning and installing carefully or they would just blow off first trip out.
I used this white granulated stuff I bought from Canadian Tire for $1.97 that you dissolve in water. This stuff is supposed to take tar off driveways and prepare surfaces for painting. (I am writing this in a campground in Montana and I left the stuff at home but I think it's called FSP or FPS or something with three letters.) I then rinsed the trailer very very well with the hose on full and took my grandsons out for a couple of hours so that when I got back the trailer was completely dry. Air temperature was 9 degrees Celsius. Just before I applied the airtabs I used a tissue soaked with rubbing alcohol to wipe the area clean and let it airdry. I followed the directions for applying the airtabs using the enclosed spacer thingie. The application of the airtabs took less time than the cleaning with the whole thing taking about an hour and a half including thinking time. I think the precleaning makes all the difference because once those babies are on, they are not coming off. In fact a couple are just slightly off centre because they stuck ferociously before I had gotten them placed just so.
One weird note, for some nutty reason the airtabs attracted a lot of wasps. I had to work very carefully, checking each airtab visually before picking it up because so many of the stupid things hung around watching me and walking all over the airtabs like they were fascinated. I thought maybe they were after the glue, but they didn?t touch the glue. They seemed to be attracted to the airtab itself and to want to sit in it. Who knows what goes on in the brains of wasps.
I ended up with a lot of spare airtabs. I had 18 spare regular airtabs and 6 spare kemlite roof ones. I'm not sure if I had ordered them separately that I would have saved anything but it's working checking. Since they apparently can crack and break off, I?m going to keep the spares.
Results for stability: VERY IMPRESSIVE
Recall I was after any improvement in the whoosh effect. I was so unnerved by the whoosh that I was avoiding interstates. First trip out with them on, I was fiddling with the radio when I noticed a big rig passing me on the perimeter highway. It was already passing me, no whoosh. Nothing. No pull, no rocking, no vibrations. My first thought was it was just a fluke. The truck must have been going slowly but when I checked the speedometer, I was doing 95km/h. Three more trucks passed me and three times no whoosh or only the tiniest whoosh.
Our second day we had to travel in very heavy winds, starting with a tail wind like that previous day which then turned to be a head wind about lunchtime. I must say I noticed a very big improvement in the trailer's stability and handing even in a heavy wind. The no whoosh effect continues to hold with the exception of the some squat ambulance style vehicles which do make a very slight whoosh passing me. I have had no pulling on the wheel and I can easily control the vehicle with one hand even when a big semi is passing me. (Okay I know I shouldn't do that but I had to try.) So I can definitely say expect a very big improvement in handling.
Results for gas mileage: 17% IMPROVEMENT!
We traveled the exact same secondary highway we took to Iowa south the first day. The wind was almost nothing so the conditions were a good match to our first trip trip south. I checked tire pressure before we left on both truck and trailer and made sure it at the recommended level for both. My truck has a mileage meter thingie that gives you precise litres/1000 kilometers for a trip. On the trip to and from Winnipeg to Iowa we got 12.5 mpg (after conversion of units) on the trip going down and 13 mpg on the trip back (recall we had that heavy near tail wind and lots of bouncing about so I don't think that trip back was a fair representation).
On the matching trip after I installed the Airtabs we got an astonishing 14.5mpg or an 17% improvement. Temperature were 4 degrees lower on the trip south with the Airtabs. So unless there is a temperature effects these things make a real diference. On our trip between Fargo and Billings Montana, we got 20 mpg which is really surprising given we had a heavy cross wind and climbed up into the mountains. If we continue to see this kind of excellent result my husband calculated the Airtabs will have paid for themselves after about 19 tankfuls of gas.
Conclusion: These airtabs work for me! They have dramatically increase stability and handling and they have improved my gas mileage by 16%. My package of airtabs came with the company's bumper sticker. I was not going to put it on my lovely trailer. As soon as I get out of the Montana snows to a place I feel safe and have some time, that bumper sticker is going on my trailer. My husband wants me to use the spare ones to add to the truck itself to see if that helps. We'll see. The Airtabs look pretty classy on my trailer but I'm just not sure about putting them my nice new truck. For one thing the truck isn't built like a box.
Cautionary note: My trailer is boxy and ugly and about as aerodynamic as a lead brick. I don't know if a 4 degree average temp difference could explain. That's one variable I couldn't control. Your results may vary.
Although I have an engineering background, and I "know a lot about a lot", these things kinda mystify me. There have been several reported success stories - mostly on small cars but now also for a much larger application. But the skeptic in me still hesitates to buy anything like this without really understanding how they work.
Having said that, I'm even more tempted than before to get some and see what happens.
Also, you kind of allude to something that I'd like to see discussed a bit more - even though your gain is only 3 - 4 MPG, that is a 19% reduction in the fuel you use. I think that as a society, we stand more to gain by trying to reduce the fuel used on the big vehicles than to try to squeeze more MPG out of our tiny cars. The simple answer is for everyone to drive small cars, but that's obviously not something that everyone can do (although there are many unnecessary huge SUVs in the soccer-mom crowd - different subject there).
A lot more of us should try to do the best we can with what we have.
I'm pretty sure they stick on with double stick foam tape. Easy enough to remove, take a heat gun to it and it will come off. As far as painting, they can be primed and painted like any other piece of trim.
Does anyone have any experience with using them on a full size pick up? If so where were they mounted (I have a tonneau cover) and would like to know more about where they mount and how they worked out.
My writeup is the first one on the page. I've notice the stability improvements that others have commented on as well. I have since attached Airtabs to my '04 Crown Victoria above the rear window to eliminate flow separation over the rear window, reducing turbulence over the back of the car. There are two additional Airtabs installed ahead of the rear wheel wells to re-energize boundary layer flow.
I plan on adding some to my motorcycle to see if there is a mileage improvement. Stability will no doubt be improved at highway speeds.