Properly winterizing your RV can be a daunting task, particularly if you have never done it yourself. This is why many beginning and seasoned RV owners hire an RV maintenance professional to winterize their unit. However, for the do-it-yourselfer, we have put together the following tips and techniques to assist you should you decide to tackle it yourself.
While it is possible to live in an RV during the cold winter months it is certainly not without some inherent problems. Expect to add RV antifreeze through your pump and fresh water tank. You can still hookup to city water if you wrap your water hose with a heat strip covered with foam cylinders. Also, plan to dump your tanks when they are near full, and be sure to store your hoses when finished to avoid freezing.
All lines must be free of water.
Option 1: Not recommended
Clear your lines using compressed air through the system. Some folks claim this is the best way, but it’s certainly not foolproof since some water residue can remain in the lines and freeze causing future problems the following spring.
Option 2: Preferred method
Add RV antifreeze to the system. You can do this by bypassing your fresh and hot water tanks once drained. If you add RV antifreeze to directly to your fresh water tanks it may be difficult to remove it from the system come spring, depending on the location of the drain. The location of the drain on some RVs is near the bottom. If you particular model is set up this way, an uncertain amount of antifreeze will remain in the system if the valve is left open.
The best way is to insert a bypass hose directly into the jug of RV antifreeze and put it through the system. Start by opening the water faucet farthest from the pump. Proceed by turning each one on (including the shower), until you see antifreeze coming out. Then, flush the toilet until you see antifreeze coming out, and pour a small amount down the toilet and through the grey tank as well.
Special Note: If you plan to use your RV in temperatures below freezing and your tanks are not located in a heated compartment, you can add about a 1/2 cup of RV antifreeze to both the gray and black tanks after dumping. This will also allow the antifreeze to collect next to the valves.
Caution: NEVER add windshield wiper antifreeze into your system! Make sure you are using only approved RV/Marine antifreeze which is safe for you and your unit.
If you are going to use your RV in the winter, and you don’t have the water hoses wrapped in heat strips, don’t connect to campground hook-ups. It is better to carry water with you in containers, or if your fresh water tank is heated, fill the tank, disconnect the water hose and then store it where it won’t be subject to freeze. Take the same precaution with your sewer hose. Wait to dump your tanks until they are near full and then connect your hose, dump and then store it. Any hoses which are not protected by heat strips, or properly stored will be subject to freezing and splitting.
Top up your batteries with distilled water, but be careful not to overfill them. If you don’t plan on using your RV over the cold months, you can remove the battery and store it in a cool and dry place. Draw out a diagram of the connections so you will remember how to install the battery when it comes time to use it again.
Start with the refrigerator. Clean it thoroughly and then turn it off. Keep the door of the refrigerator and freezer open to ensure mold and mildew does not grow. Place several boxes of baking soda inside the refrigerator and freezer. Cover all external vents and openings where pipes and cords come into your RV. Many RV owners use steel brass wool (not steel wool which can rust) into the cracks and crevices to prevent rodents and other pests from moving in your unit! Also, cover your air conditioner unit with an appropriate cover or tarp.
You can use a commercial product such as Dri-Z-Air to control moisture build up. You can purchase it from most RV
parts stores or online.
Close all drapes and blinds
This will help to keep the sun’s rays from fading and deteriorating the furnishings in your unit. It is also recommended to crack open a vent or window to properly ventilate your RV.
Turn off your propane tank and then make sure that your RV is level for storage. Extend/add jacks to stabilize your unit which helps to relieve stress on your RV’s frame.
Whether inside or out, there are many small tips that you can follow which will extend the life of your RV’s exterior, while preventing costly repairs and headaches in the future.
One of the major problems experienced by RV owners with regard to caulking is around the running lights on the top of your RV. This can, and usually will – given time, allow water to leak through the front and back windows causing mildew build-up and other challenges. It is first necessary to remove the lens covers as well as the old caulking on your running lights.
Once the running lights and old caulking have been removed, clean the area well and then re-seal the running light unit with a bead of approved RV silicone. Once complete, simply put the lens cover back on, or use a new one if necessary.
If you don’t consider yourself to be mechanical, don’t worry…
Simply place a piece of colored tape to each of the wires and terminals before you disconnect it. You can use a different colored tape for each combination, and then when it’s time to reinstall, all you have to do is match the colored pieces of tape.
Cut a piece of plexi-glass to cover the screen and then attach brackets allowing for easy removal. Now you can enjoy the sunny days, without experiencing the cold.
Although automatic leveling jacks certainly add to the convenience of setting up your RV, be sure to purchase only ones that are heavy enough to support your specific unit. Some RVs come with leveling systems which are sufficient to stabilize, but not lift the unit.
It is always best to place a board or pad between the jacks and the ground, as well as chocking your wheels to avoid rolling off the jacks. This is especially true if you are parked where mud will be possible, or soft dirt.
While cleaning your awning, apply a coat of soapy solution to the top and bottom of the fabric. Then, roll up the awning and wait for about 5 minutes, then extend it again and rinse thoroughly with a water hose. Sometimes it is necessary to repeat. Be aware that using harsh cleaners can damage the water resistant ability of the fabric. While there are many solutions available, which are designed to clean awnings, see our recommended awning cleaner here.
And, don’t forget: always roll up your awning if you plan to leave the RV for awhile since winds can come up unexpectedly and destroy your awning!
If you are traveling with your spouse or travel partner, make sure you switch off often to ensure you’re only behind the wheel when well rested. If you don’t like driving at night, arrange your schedule so you only travel during the day time.
While eating does help you stay awake, it can add extra calories to your diet since your sitting the majority of the time. Chewing gum accomplishes the same thing but without the weight gain.
Some medications cause mild to severe drowsiness and often will make you extremely tired. Also, avoid mixing medications which can also have adverse affects, and impair your driving ability.
Yawning and heavy eye-lids are two of the most common signs of drowsiness. If you experience these, stop your vehicle as soon as you can and switch drivers. If you’re traveling along an interstate, pull off at the next exit, or better yet a truck stop or rest area. Walk for a bit or take a cat nap. Making frequent stops will help with drowsiness.
Since tires are one of the most important parts on your RV and your tow vehicle, learning about the proper care for them can mean the difference between a memorable vacation or one filled with anxiety. While more RV tires have a life span of 4-5 years, always be sure to check the sidewalls for any signs of cracking.
If you particular unit has dual tires, its best to consider spending money on a high quality set of valve extenders. Once installed (which you can do yourself) it will make it a lot easier to reach the tire valves on the inside tires on a dual system. One end fits onto the valve, and then the hose gets clamped onto the hub of the wheel giving you easier access when reading and increasing tire pressure. Also, since checking your tires at a gas station can be a bit awkward, you may consider carrying an on board air compressor.
One of the commonly overlooked safety items on an RV is the brake system. Most people don’t realize how important their brakes are until they don’t work!
All brake systems should be routinely checked and tested. This is especially true after driving through water. While driving in wet conditions, apply pressure to the brakes (brake, release, brake, release…) until you have safely stopped your vehicle. If you have an automatic transmission, you can avoid going into a skid if you shift to neutral. Once the wheels grip the road you can then shift to drive and begin to maintain a safe speed.
Don’t brake and turn at the same time: While turning, momentarily take your foot off of the brake.
Most vehicles are now equipped with an anti-lock braking system which automatically goes through a repeated brake-release actions as soon as the brake is depressed which eliminates the need for pumping the brake.
1. Threshold Braking: this is when you press as hard as you can on the brakes without locking them up or skidding the tires. Release brake pressure if the wheels lock and then re-apply without pumping the brakes. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use your toes to apply a firm, yet steady pressure on the pedal just shy of locking up.
2. Steer Around An Object: Use the threshold braking method above, and then steer to the left or right. If you are attempting to enter another lane, make sure there is a clear path before proceeding. While this may sound like common sense, many new RV owners forget they are in an RV and not a car!
3. Four Wheel Lock Braking: You’ll use this method mainly when you need to stop quickly. Press the brake as hard as you can and hold it down until you lock the brakes. While this is the fastest way to stop, with locked brakes the vehicle will continue in a forward direction and you will have no steering capabilities.
While RV owners don’t require any special license to operate one at this time, make sure you are up to date on safety regulations, and keep yourself educated by doing your own training and be sure to practice, practice, practice!