When you’re getting ready for your first camping trip of the season, the last thing you want to find are leaking water pipes, flat tires or dead batteries in your recreational vehicle. Take some extra time in the fall or you might disappoint your family in the spring with a canceled trip and a huge repair bill.
Preparing your RV for storage means more than draining the tanks and parking it in the storage lot, explains Randy Biles, president and founder of Pikes Peak Traveland in Colorado Springs, CO. Biles has seen plenty of ways that sun, weather, and time can damage RVs since he started his RV business in 1982.
Winterize the water system
“The first thing that comes to people’s minds is winterizing the water system,” Biles said. Water expands as it freezes. When water is trapped between valves or elbows in the pipes, it can push out with over 25,000 psi of force – more than enough to break copper. The plastic pipes found in RVs are no match for the strength of freezing water.
A low-pressure compressed air plug can blow out most of the water, Biles explained. “But you have low points and fittings where the remaining water can collect, so we pump in non-toxic antifreeze designed for marine and RV water systems,” Biles said. “You need to make sure antifreeze runs through anything water goes through – toilet, shower fixtures, even built-in ice makers in newer coaches.” A water heater bypass valve is usually installed to protect the hot water side of the system without filling up the whole heater with antifreeze.
Protect the exterior and tires from cold
Give your trailer a good cleaning inside and out to avoid damage to the exterior finish and prevent mold and mildew inside.
Ultraviolet rays “are the biggest thing for deterioration of fabrics and vinyl striping,” Biles said. “If you don’t have an RV cover or can’t store it indoors, a good preservative like Protect All or 303 Protectant can be used on the vinyl and rubber. Vinyl striping can peel up in sections, and that’s a huge job to replace that.”
Park the RV for the long term with the tires off the road or concrete surface on wood, plastic blocks or vinyl floor mats. “You want to separate the tires from the ground, whether it be dirt, gravel or concrete,” Biles said. “Any of those things will leach the petroleum from the tires, which over time can lead to premature tire failure.”
Inflate the tires to the maximum pressure listed on the sidewall once you’re parked. “The reason for this is to reduce the potential for a flat spot in the spring,” Biles said. Be sure to bleed off air to the recommended travel pressure before driving again.
Unplug now so you can unplug later
Unattended deep cycle batteries will eventually self-deplete and run dead. Deep-cycle batteries will self-discharge about 1 percent per day, and a partially discharged battery will freeze and crack at as high as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. “We recommend taking the battery out of the coach, put it in your garage and charge it once a month,” Biles said. Refill the battery with distilled de-ionized water and keep it charged to make it last longer and hold a stronger charge.
Deter unwanted visitors
Winterizing an RV requires more than proper systems maintenance—you also need to prevent uninvited guests from entering your rig. Keeping pests out is a tough job, though, thanks to the large holes manufacturers leave around plumbing and electrical lines. “A mouse can get in the tiniest opening,” Biles said. One smart fix is to use spray foam to fill any openings around plumbing, wiring and other openings.
Carefully choose your storage facility to keep your RV safe in the off-season. “The biggest thing is to make sure it’s well-lit and well fenced,” Biles said. “I’d pay a few more bucks a month for a better facility. And definitely make sure your insurance company knows where your coach is being stored.”
Quick tips for de-winterizing and heading out in the spring
Even the most thorough winterizing routine can be undone in less than half a day, Biles said.
- Drain and flush the antifreeze from the water system, then use a non-chlorine bleach sanitizing solution to sanitize the fresh water tank and pipes.
- Set your tires to traveling pressure.
- Inspect the brakes and re-pack wheel bearing grease on trailers.
- Re-attach the battery.
- Head out for the open road!