The beautiful autumn leaves have fallen, and the crisp chill in the air has developed a bite. Winter is right around the corner, and with it comes freezing temperatures that can wreak havoc on your motorhome, camper, or trailer. Expensive havoc.
If you’re not planning to invest in a climate-controlled storage facility there are a few actions you’ll need to take to winterize your RV, and protect it from damage-causing winter weather. This checklist will help you make sure you’re not forgetting anything essential.
1. Clean Your RV Thoroughly
First, completely clean and dry your RV’s exterior and interior. Be sure to remove all food, and vacuum thoroughly, including all crevices, cabinets, and drawers — even tiny crumbs can attract pests like bugs and mice. Don’t forget the inside of the fridge! Also be sure to take out all items that could freeze and cause a mess, like hand soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc.
2. Install Screens On The RV’s Exterior Vents
To prevent infestations, you’ll want to cover all exterior vents with screens (if they aren't already covered). As the weather gets colder, insects begin looking for warmer environments, and your RV is an ideal location for them.
3. Apply Fresh Sealant
Sealant on seams wears out over time, leaving them vulnerable to moisture. When you’re preparing your RV for storage, you’ll want to carefully inspect all seams and apply fresh sealant wherever you see cracking. Look at seams on the roof as well as underneath the RV. If water creeps into the seams and then freezes, seams can open up.
4. Replace Damaged Seals
Seals on doors, windows, and slides can become brittle, so it’s a good idea to examine them before storing. Replace any seals that are worn, to prevent moisture issues.
5. Winterize Your RV's Water System
Water in tanks and pipes can freeze, causing significant harm to your RV. Winterizing prevents these issues. While you’ll want to check your owner’s manual to see if your specific type and model has any special requirements, the following winterization steps apply to most RVs.
- Step 1: Disconnect the water source.
- Step 2: Drain the black, gray, and fresh water tanks.
- Step 3: After it has cooled, remove the water from the hot water heater. Note that if you leave a faucet open on the hot water side, air will equalize the pressure, making this process easier.
- Step 4: Turn on all hot and cold water faucets, flush the toilet, and turn on the shower to drain all the pipes.
- Step 5: Open all low point drain lines, hot and cold.
- Step 6: Recap and close all the drains and faucets you opened.
- Step 7: By-passing the water heater is optional, but recommended. If you choose not to bypass, the water heater will fill with antifreeze. You can purchase a by-pass kit if you don’t already have one (and the by-pass kit will be cheaper than the 6-10 gallons of antifreeze that you’d otherwise be wasting).
- Step 8: Pump antifreeze through your water lines. Note that you’ll need RV/marine antifreeze, which is safe for winterizing plumbing systems. You can easily pump antifreeze through your water system by installing a valve with a tube onto the water pump (some newer RVs have this valve and tube already installed). When you turn on your water pump, it will draw the antifreeze directly out of the bottle and into the water system.
- Step 9: Now it’s time to spread the antifreeze throughout the system. Beginning with the closest faucet, slowly open the hot and the cold water valves, one at a time, until you see antifreeze coming out, then close them. If you have a shower, use the same method with its valves. Then flush the toilet until you see antifreeze. Your ice-maker and washing machine will also need to have antifreeze run through them, but you’ll need to consult your owner’s manual since models differ. You’ll probably need more than one bottle of antifreeze, so watch to make sure you switch out bottles when one empties.
- Step 10: Turn off the water pump. Open a faucet (any faucet) to release the pressure, and then close the faucet.
- Step 11: If you have a city water intake, remove the small screen over the intake and push on the valve until you see antifreeze, then replace the screen.
- Step 12: Pour about 2 pints of antifreeze down sink and shower drains.
6. Add Fuel Stabilizer
Fuel stabilizers protect engines from gumming and corrosion and keep fuel fresh. Both gas and diesel engines can benefit from stabilizers. Gasoline degrades over time, and the longer it deteriorates, the more engine damage it causes. While diesel doesn’t degrade, it does develop microbial growth that causes problematic slime. Stabilizers solve these issues.
Before you add the stabilizer, fill gas tank to the top to prevent condensation in the tank. After you add the stabilizer, be sure to run the engine and the generator so the stabilizer spreads throughout the system (according to the manufacturer’s instructions).
7. Remove and Store the Battery
Batteries shouldn’t be allowed to freeze, so you’ll need to remove them and store them in a cool, dry place. It’s a good idea to check the battery power level as charge drains, and recharge when the level dips below 80%.
8. Use a RV Cover
A breathable RV cover will protect the exterior of your motorhome, camper, or trailer from rain, snow, and ice. It will also solve the problems that can occur from any seal or sealant damage that you may have missed. A cover will give you peace of mind.
There are a few measures you’ll want to take to ensure your cover is doing its job properly:
- Keep roof vents cracked to allow airflow.
- Flatten antennas.
- Apply the RV cover so that it’s completely sheltering all parts of the motorhome, camper, or trailer.
- Secure the cover to prevent it from slipping off.
9. Don’t Forget Tire Covers
Even when it’s cold, the sun’s UV rays can rot out tires that aren’t moving. Although tires are made with UV-protectant built in, if the tires aren’t moving, the UV-protectant doesn’t rise to the surface of the tire where it’s needed. Tire covers will prevent UV damage to RVs that are parked for long periods of time. Before you cover your tires, be sure to place something between the tires and the ground and inflate the tires to the manufacturer’s recommended max cold pressure.
10. Regularly Clear the Roof
Even if you’re using a cover, snow will accumulate on the roof. Too much snow can cause denting, so you’ll want to clear the roof in between snowfalls.
11. Park Away From Trees
Snow can cause tree branches to break. If your RV is under them, you’re looking at an expensive repair. Be sure to park far enough away from trees so that if branches fall (or the tree itself falls), your RV won’t be hit. And don’t forget to chock the wheels.
If You Want to Brave the Winter Weather
But what if you want to keep going? After all, there are plenty of places to explore that are gorgeous in the winter, and snow sports are the perfect way to enjoy vacation destinations. It’s possible to thoroughly enjoy RVing in the winter, as long as you take measures to stay safe and warm. Jason and Nikki Wynn have done just that, and they documented their winter RV adventures in their blog, Gone With The Wynns. (They have a couple of great videos you might want to check out.)
Here are some tips to keep you going through the winter, if the idea of cold-weather camping appeals to you.
- Cover the windows with heavy curtains or foam board to keep heat in.
- Keep condensation away. Condensation causes mildew and mold problems, so you’ll need to keep fresh air circulating. Crack a screened window and keep a fan going. You may also want to use Damp Rid.
- If you don’t have heated bays, install a skirt and an electric commercial heater under the RV to prevent pipes and everything else underneath the RV from freezing.
- Decide on an additional heating source. You’ll need extra heat, and there are a few different options. Most RVers use either propane heaters (be absolutely certain these are vented properly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning), pellet stoves (requires significant installation hassles but are very economical), or space heaters (generally safe, but expensive to operate).
- Insulate exposed pipes and use a heated water hose.
- Replace your standard sewer drain hose with a PVC pipe and wrap with insulation.
- Depending on the type of fuel you use, there are different additives or supplements you can get to prevent the fuel from freezing.
- Use an engine block heater.
For Those Who Go South
If you’re one of the many people who follow the birds and head south for the winter, you might want to check out our post on how to avoid the hazards of Florida’s sun, humidity, pests. Florida is a fantastic place to spend the winter, as long as you’re prepared!
Winter is an ideal time to rest and recharge. It’s also perfect for planning your next adventure! No matter how you decide to spend it, we hope these tips help make it more enjoyable for you.Next Article: 20 RV Winter Storage Tips to Help Prevent Costly Damage