Sadly, for many of us, RVing is only a seasonal exercise. That nasty foe known as winter often puts a cap on our adventures just when things are getting interesting. It’s important to winterize and store your RV properly, so it will be ready to go for the next season. Here’s how you do it.
Where your RV goes during periods of nonuse depends primarily on its size and one’s given situation. Ideally, vehicles should be shielded from the elements, temperature extremes, pollution, blowing sand, salty air, and other troublemakers. Storing your RV inside is preferable to outside. Homeowners may be able to devote some or all the garage to pop-ups, truck campers, van campers, and maybe some low-profile Class Cs and trailers. With enough room in the driveway or yard—provided neighbors or local ordinances won’t be irked—an RV might fit there nicely. In cases of outdoor storage, some kind of covering is strongly recommended. (A number of companies produce specially designed canopies and covers to fit the contours of any size RV.) Otherwise, seek the aid of a professional storage facility. Some campgrounds, RV dealerships, and service centers rent space for such occasions. The best of the best will do the necessary prep work (as outlined in the following section) for a fee to get the vehicle ready, if you’d rather skip the work.
After finding a comfy spot for the RV, the task then becomes how to negate the possible damaging effects of such inactivity on one’s vehicle. This practice is usually referred to as winterizing, regardless of the temperatures the unit faces during its downtime. At this point, industrious owners roll up their sleeves and prepare the vehicle, both inside and out. Although slightly more involved for those vehicles facing cold-weather climates, the process is basically the same for everyone. A few extra steps are required for motorized vehicles.
Start by removing all food, even nonperishables. For one thing, the inside of a closed-up RV can get very hot or cold, depending on the season, and items can surely spoil, become stale, attract bugs, and so on. Also, anything canned or bottled could potentially freeze and burst. Few sights are more disheartening than an exploded two-liter bottle of root beer inside your RV.
Remove clothes, blankets, and linens for laundering. Unless the vehicle remains on your premises, there’s no reason to leave any valuables aboard, so take home any key items or anything you’ll need while the RV is away. Because dirt and debris only get more stubborn over time, a good cleaning—both inside and out—is recommended before storing.
A lengthy sabbatical is harder on the pipes and holding tanks than any other system onboard. Stagnant water turns nasty and pollutes holding tanks. Remaining liquids can freeze and burst the pipes during frigid temperatures. The end result is the same: unnecessary costs and a headache come spring. Fortunately, a few simple steps eliminate this mess.
- Empty both the fresh and wastewater tanks at a nearby dump station or during the last campout of the year. You won’t get out every drop, but it’s a good place to start.
- Unlatch tank drains to purge any remaining fluids and turn on faucets and the shower to clear the lines as much as possible. Don’t forget any water left in the toilet and the water heater, which must both be emptied.
- Give the holding tanks a thorough scrub-down. Close any opened faucets and drain plugs before beginning. A water wand (an attachment that delivers high-volume water pressure) is best for rinsing black water tanks, allowing users to access the inner reaches of the tank via the toilet and blast tough nooks free of any accumulated materials.
- Gray and fresh water tanks require a more subtle approach, because there’s no straight shot inside like most black water models. Although a few cleaning agents can do the job (most RV supply stores are full of remedies), it’s just as easy to fill the emptied tank with fresh water, add some baking soda or bleach (1 cup per 15 gallons of water), and drive down the bumpiest road in town for a few miles. The sloshing motion will coat the tank walls and do the dirty work for you. When done, drain the tanks completely, and close all water escape points (faucets, valves, and so on) before signing off.
Of course, you can’t get every bit of water out of the lines and tanks, which can be a problem if your storage location experiences a yearly deep-freeze come January. But there are ways to get id of those last drops.
- Blow out any collected water in the lines with compressed air. RV supply stores offer numerous devices up to the task. Note: Although the pipes will most definitely be voided of water, this high-pressure procedure could damage weaker plumbing and more antiquated systems.
- Add a few gallons of RV anti-freeze to the fresh water tank. (This stuff isn’t the lethal, automotive type you’re accustomed to, but rather a product specially formulated to be nontoxic, and designed for use throughout the RV’s water systems.) Activate the water pump, open the various faucets, and let the stuff work its magic through the plumbing system. Like its name suggests, anti-freeze won’t go cold on you, acting as an overzealous babysitter for the plumbing system while you’re away. As a further precaution, add an additional cup to each drain afterward, including the sinks, shower, and toilet.
- A water heater bypass kit eliminates the middleman, in this case, the water heater, which would otherwise require having to fill 6 or 10 gallons of RV anti-freeze into the unit as well. Pricier RVs probably already have such a device. Otherwise, it’s a cheap alternative to excessive anti-freeze.
The biggest precaution concerning your LP gas system isn’t so much the appliances, propane container(s), or fuel lines, but rather the vents used for many of the LP appliances. Various members of the animal kingdom have been known to use such open avenues as intake and exhaust vents to set up a homestead onboard. Mesh screens should already be in place for everyday use to keep out birds and varmints, but we’re talking total lockdown here. To ward off potential freeloaders, cover any vents and openings with cardboard, aluminum foil, or the material du jour. A little duct tape here goes a long way, too. Mice are particularly partial to a dormant RV, making their home via unchecked openings and sometimes bringing along the spouse and kids. Meanwhile, birds favor exposed roof vents; ants and spiders are attracted to sweet smells onboard. Spray the perimeter with bug spray for an added layer of protection.
Remember, you’re not going for style points here, so shore up the exterior by any means necessary. This includes going underneath the RV and making the chassis impenetrable. Visit the roof and cover the air conditioner (special covers are made for this very purpose) and repair any exposed seams with sealant (available at RV supply stores). Go inside and turn off the dashboard temperature controls and close vents, thus shutting off a potential rodent freeway in the making. Keep windows closed. In the event things get a tad buggy onboard, call an exterminator or use conventional pest-ridders.
Propane container(s) should be topped off before storage; a fuller tank weathers dissipation better than a half-empty version. Shut off the LP supply completely, and cover the tanks to eliminate dust, debris, and the elements from causing premature wear. Removable tanks can be taken off, covered, and stored—but should never be placed in the RV, which is the very last place you want LP gas fumes. If you take off the fitting to remove a DOT LP cylinder, be sure to cover the open end with a baggy and rubberband to keep critters from intruding. Also, always plug the fitting on the tank outlet with the appropriate plug. Finally, all LP appliances (ranges, oven, refrigerator, furnace, water heater, and so on) should be turned off during times of storage.
Prop open the refrigerator door, empty out the contents (yes, even the mustard), and, if equipped with a freezer, allow it to completely thaw out. Enlist a few pots and pans to catch any drippings. This is a golden opportunity for a quick fridge scrub-down with warm, sudsy water to remove any odors. Leave the door open for the remainder of the storage, unless you have a penchant for mold. An opened box of baking soda tucked away inside gives smells the boot.
Assault and Battery
During storage, the 12-volt battery system is safe, a fully charged battery handles this incarceration best, most easily accomplished by connecting to shore power (a weekend camping trip, for example) prior to storage. Top off the battery’s water levels, which dissipate over time. In colder climes, it’s best to remove the battery altogether, storing it in a dry, warm location for its protection. Otherwise, disconnect the cables (negative cable first) to safeguard them electrically during storage. All this may seem like a lot of work, but remember, these batteries are the heart of the 12-volt electrical system.
Flip the off switch on the RV’s main breaker panel (see owner’s manual for location) to safeguard the 120-volt system. All electrical appliances should be unplugged, and dry cell batteries, which can corrode over time, should be removed from alarms, detectors, and any devices inside. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the onboard or portable generator (if so equipped). At the very least, the unit should be cleaned and the exhaust pipe covered to prevent unwanted intruders. Draining the fuel filter, changing the oil, and adding a rust inhibitor are also advisable.
Consider the plight of your RV’s poor tires, enduring thousands of pounds of pressure all day, every day. Storage worsens the effects considerably, because the weight is stationary, resting squarely on one rubbery spot. After a few months of this torture, even the finest treads may begin to resemble a donut with a Homer Simpson–size bite out of it.
Those lucky dogs with leveling systems should consider using them to support the vehicle’s weight on the jacks instead of the tires. Always consult the device manufacturer and review the owner’s manual regarding long-term jack use. Otherwise, incorporate a set of outside jacks or blocks for each axle—money well spent considering the expense of replacing messed-up tires. A cost-free but more doting method is to periodically move the RV one-half revolution (once or twice over the winter should do it) to distribute the weight over other portions of the tire’s surface.
As previously mentioned, inactivity is hard on any vehicle, but most taxing on the motor—particularly in harsh climates. Start by protecting the fuel source by topping off the gasoline or diesel tanks. A fuel stabilizer, found at most any automotive or RV supply store, is a must. Just be sure to add the right one for your engine type (gasoline or diesel). Idle the engine to allow the additive to make its rounds throughout the system.
As always, strive for full tanks and fluid compartments in the engine, to lessen the chances of them freezing or drying out. Top off the radiator with anti-freeze matched for your climate; flush and replace with a batch suited for Siberia-like temperatures if that is indeed the case. Inspect levels throughout the engine (windshield wiper, oil, brake fluid, and so on), and refill as needed.
This may seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it when you get your RV out of storage next spring and it’s all ready to go! Happy RVing!