Check out the companion article on how to WINTERIZE YOUR BOAT
Like many fun summer activities, RVing is generally a seasonal activity for most people. Unless you have retired (and retired well), have work that can travel with you, or are a rock star, you probably can’t spend your entire year traveling the country in your RV (or tour bus, as you like to call it). It is important to store your RV properly and prepare it for the inactivity it is going to face in the coming months. Storing your RV properly means that you and your RV will be ready to hit the road again next summer without missing a beat.
Where your RV is literally stored is an obvious part of the storage of your RV. Preferably, your RV should be stored inside a garage of some sort where it can be shielded from the elements, pollutions, wind, sand, salty air, and extreme temperatures. Where you store your RV largely depends on the size of the RV and your resources (physical facilities and monetary). If you can keep your RV on site at home and have it protected, then great. If not, consider looking into a local storage company. The best storage companies will actually complete most of the rest of this storage list for you along with protecting your RV over the winter.
Winterizing is the broad term for preparing your RV for the coming inactivity. For the most part, all RVs require the same process for winterization. Cold weather dwelling RVs may require slightly more work, but in general most RVs are prepped for winter basically the same.
Remove ALL food, yes, even nonperishables. Even nonperishable items tend to perish inside a hot or cold, inactive RV. Other food items may expand and explode due to temperature conditions. Not pretty.
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.
Pipes take the inactivity of winter hard. Stagnant water can rust and pollute holding tanks. Other liquids in the RV can freeze and burst pipes. All of this just means a big headache for you and lots of $$$$. Good news, you can save the aspirin and cash with a few simple steps.
- 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.
Anti Freeze Protection
- 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 vents for your gas system actually create an interesting problem for winterizing. Animals tend to like to crawl in the vents and set up shop. Mesh screens should already be in place but you need a total lockdown. Cover any and all openings with cardboard, foil, or any other suitable material. It doesn’t have to look pretty. It just needs to keep the raccoons out!
Top all propane tanks off before storage. A full take fairs better than one that has any room in it. Shut down the gas completely and cover tanks to protect them. DO NOT PLACE REMOVABLE TANKS IN THE RV. 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 fridge door and remove everything. Yes, everything. If there is a freezer let it thaw and catch the dripping with some pots. Scrub your fridge and freezer down.
Top off the charge by connecting to shore power. Try doing this on a last weekend getaway before storage. Top of water levels in the battery and if your RV is going to be stored in a cold climate consider removing the battery during storage and keeping it somewhere warmer. 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.
If you have a leveling system consider using the jacks to support the weight of the RV during storage. Long term storage with the weight of the RV on one spot of the tires can ruin even the best tires and tread. Consider incorporating 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.
The engine and motor of your RV can take the winter inactivity pretty hard. The first thing you should do to protect your engine is top off the fuel tank. Full tanks handle the break better. However, the fuel in your tank MUST be treated with a fuel stabilizer. Otherwise the fuel in your tank will end up ruining components of our engine (which is exactly what we are trying to avoid!). Once you add the stabilizer, idle the engine to allow the additive to make its rounds throughout the system.
Consider using Maxx Fuel Supplement all year round in your RV. Maxx increases fuel economy (RVs are notorious fuel suckers!) and overall engine performance. Maxx is also a fuel stabilizer so you can be sure that your fuel is always stabilized and that the fuel in the lines will be stabilized when it comes time to winterize. Plus, Maxx can be used with gas and diesel fuels.
Finally, 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…because it is. But when RV time comes next year, you will be happy that your RV is ready to hit the road rolling! By the way, when you are ready to roll onto slick roads or have to endure winter driving, here's a handy article called Winter Driving Tips that may assist.