Most RV owners either head South when the temperatures hit below freezing or tuck their units in for a long winter’s nap. However, with better insulation, dual pane windows, and basement heat, more brave souls are hitting the powder and experiencing other winter activities. During my seminars, I ask the audience how many people are going to camp in the winter and it’s surprising how many raise their hands. Then I like to joke with them and ask how many are going to camp in the winter where it’s warm??? You may not want to camp all winter long in freezing temperatures, but what about taking a late Fall trip into the mountains or early spring? You can still run into some freezing weather and should be prepared and know a few tricks.
Front Engine Compartment
My first real winter test was in 1989 with an Itasca Suncruiser that I drove to Colorado for Christmas with my girlfriend and her two daughters, now my wonderful wife and lovely step daughters! We were going to spend the holidays with her folks, sister and brothers and then I was taking the unit on to sunny California for dealer training. The trip out was a nightmare, below zero temperatures and the unit was brutally cold. So much cold wind came in from the front engine compartment that I had to drive with snow boots, insulated coveralls, gloves, and a huge blanket. My girlfriend and the girls had to huddle in the bedroom with the door shut and rely on the auxiliary heater Winnebago uses called “Motor Aid”. It routes engine antifreeze back to the bedroom through an automotive type heater to provide supplemental heat while driving and also heats the water heater tank. My advice, if you are going to do any winter driving and camping in a motorhome, is put the unit in a dark shed or when it’s night, place a very bright shop light in the engine compartment and go inside and look for light coming through! We later found about 4 holes that came into the cab with no sealing insulation and the cover for the fuse box was not there and cold air “RUSHED” into the driver side compartment! Any place you see light shining through, cold air will follow.
Cold air also came inside the rig through the single pane windows, so once we got to Colorado I went to Home Depot and bought the residential window insulation kits that you stick on and then use a hair dryer to shrink fit! If you don’t have dual panes, this is a quick and inexpensive fix for cold windows.
For water, I drained all the tanks and blew out the lines with compressed air. Make sure you turn the air compressor down to 30 psi or you will be replacing a few fittings…I learned the hard way! Also, put a small amount of RV antifreeze down the sink drains as there is a “P” trap underneath that is designed to hold water and prevent odors from coming up from the tank into the rig. If there is water in the trap, it will freeze as well. Then I carry a few gallon jugs of water placed in the shower pan to use the toilet and dump a gallon of RV antifreeze in the shower pan and toilet. We use the sanitized wipes or gel to wash our hands so there is no need for water from the sink faucet as well. Keep in mind, if you use the sanitized wipes or gel with paper towels DO NOT THROW THEM INTO THE TOILET! They do not dissolve and will cause problems. Keep a small plastic shopping bag handy to throw them away.
This next “tip” is from Ron “Diesel” Knudtson, an RV magazine editor from the Northwest who lived in his Class C all year. Although his RV was a basement model with a heat duct routed to the water pump and water lines, his plumbing still froze even in moderate temperatures of 20 degrees! The problem with an RV is even though you have a heat source going into the compartment with the water pump, tank, and lines, there usually isn’t a cold air return so there is limited circulation and “pockets” can limit the amount of heat going to a very small water line. If you want to use the fresh water system and protect it from freezing I would suggest getting the heating pad option available on models or do what I do…install a 120-volt outlet in the compartment and plug in a small ceramic heater with a thermostat…credit goes to Ron “Diesel” Knudtson!
On another dealer training trip, I was heading to Fargo ND in January and my furnace would not operate. Later I found it was due to a defective thermostat that had an inadequate-sized wire for the temperature. To save money, most appliance manufacturers use components designed for moderate temperatures rather than heavy gauge wire and such. Long story short, if you are planning to spend the night in cold temperatures, get a Catalytic Heater as a supplement or backup. It’s safe for inside use, no condensation, and no carbon monoxide exhaust.
Cold Weather Camping Accessories
Here is a list of some good accessories and gadgets for winter camping:
- Heated freshwater hose – Freeze Ban or Pirit
- Catalytic Heater – Mr. Heater or Olympian
- Window Insulation – 3M Window insulation kit
And finally, know the road use laws for winter driving. There are some highways that will require chains during severe weather. Also, make sure you have your RV winter emergency kit packed and ready to go.
About the author:
Dave Solberg: Managing Editor, RV Repair Club
For the last 25 years, Dave has conducted RV maintenance and safety seminars, developed dealer and owner training programs, written RV safety and handyman articles, authored an RV handbook reference guide and logged over 100,000 miles on the road in an RV.
RV Repair Club is your go-to online resource for enthusiasts who want quality RV maintenance, repair, and upgrade information – a community where passionate RVers can come together to gather knowledge and share their experiences.
Ray M. ~ “We’ve had a service plan with Coach-Net with 2 different RVs and we’re so glad we do. Twice in less than a month we’ve called with tire issues. Both times your representative helped us to get back on the road in a short amount of time. Thank you from two happy campers.”