With the recent record attendance at the January shows, people are getting ready to enjoy camping the minute it warms up. You can already smell the campfire and taste the s’mores, but first things first – before taking your RV out for its inaugural adventure of the season, be sure to take the proper steps to de-winterize it.
Inspect Your RV
The first thing you need to do when bringing your rig out of storage is inspect the entire coach for any damage or signs of deterioration. If you put a tarp or cover, make sure all snaps, cords, and fasteners are loosened and nothing is in the way or binding when removing it. It’s also a good idea to get up on top to see if there is any standing water, branches, or other items that you need to be aware of. If there is water or even ice, make sure you brush it off before removing the cover, especially if you left a vent cracked open slightly (which I don’t recommend!). Remove any covers or plastic you might have installed over the refrigerator vent, water heater vent, furnace vent, or roof vents!
Now do a good walk around the rig to see if there is any bulging in the sidewall, signs of rodents or other animals, and go inside and look for signs of moisture penetration. This is also a good time to wash the rig and apply the appropriate conditioner for the roof material. Then visually inspect all the sealants on the roof, sidewall, and end caps for signs of cracking, separating, or deterioration. If there are suspect areas, you can clean it with denatured alcohol and apply more of the appropriate sealant for the roof material. I suggest the self-leveling lap sealant from Dicor for roof sealants and then find the appropriate sealant for other areas. Windows generally use Butyl tape which is a material, not silicone! Other components use a special silicone known as 321 or 301 depending on the application. Check with your RV manufacturer for the appropriate sealant. Generic silicone is not recommended.
If you removed your batteries at the time of storage, reinstall them and make sure to clean the posts and terminals and check fluid levels. If you stored your rig hooked up to an electrical source, check the fluid levels and the condition of the batteries.
For motorized, you may have dead engine batteries which means your engine computer has lost its settings and may need a series of steps to bring it back to normal operating condition. My parents had a Chevy Vortec that they stored without hooking up and every spring we have to jump start the rig, let it idle for about 15 minutes, drive for 15 minutes at a lower speed, and then drive for another 15 at 55-60. Otherwise, it will not get over 1500 rpm and won’t leave the storage lot! Check your owner’s manual for specific steps for engine computer resets.
For motorized units, hopefully, you stored the unit with a full gas tank and some type of preservative. If not, the gas tank can develop condensation and rust and you will need to change the fuel filter more often. If you have not stored the unit with full fuel for the last few years, it might be a good idea to change the filter this spring. Check your owner’s manual to see if you should change oil and filter before putting it in storage or after. Always check all engine fluids and perform recommended maintenance on the chassis.
For both motorized and trailers, check all marker lights, brake/tail lights and others light for operation.
Check your tires for sidewall cracks (weather checking), bulges in the sidewall, or uneven lumps in the tread that would indicate a split in the steel belts. Also look for any signs of irregular tread wear or even chunks of missing tread! Check pressure and lug nut torque specification. For trailers, it’s a good time to have the bearings checked and repacked if necessary. Also for trailers, clean any rust off the trailer hitch and pin, lubricate to the manufacturer’s specification, connect the cord to a tow vehicle and test all the lights and especially the trailer brakes. You can drive slowly and manually apply the brakes to verify they are working correctly.
Hopefully, you removed the water heater plug and drained it or filled it with antifreeze.
Otherwise, your next step is to replace the water heater tank! Ouch. If your water heater is the type with an anode rod, inspect the rod to determine if it should be replaced. Remove any antifreeze with fresh water throughout the system. This is also a good time to disinfect and sanitize using a bleach and water solution. Depending on your fresh water tank size, you can use about 1 qt bleach to 40 gallons of water and run it through the entire system. This will sanitize and eliminate any stale odors. There will be a slight bleach smell/taste which should dissipate shortly, however you can use the scented bleaches that will be less offensive, or the fresh water odor products from Thetford and others.
Open the LP tanks/cylinders slowly as the excess flow valve will shut the system down if pressure exceeds the normal flow. This is common on DOT tanks used on trailers, 5th Wheels, and even residential grills. This is a good time to check all connections and valves at LP appliances for leaks. Get an approved leak test solution, not just soapy water as some detergents will start to disintegrate seals and gaskets! Just dab some around all connections and look for bubbles. If there are any present, shut the system off immediately and take it to a certified RVIA mechanic for inspection.
It is also a good idea to open any slide rooms that have awnings and pull out your patio awning as it’s common to get condensation and moisture on the fabric/vinyl. You may need to clean it with the appropriate cleaning solution for either fabric or vinyl. Find your brand and model number and check the owner’s manual or website as there are specific cleaners and conditioners recommended. You do not want to use the wrong cleaning solution on acrylic fabric will remove the waterproofing layer. If the awning is clean but wet, let it dry before rewinding it as mold will form.
Next, you will need to bring all your LP appliances back on line such as the refrigerator, stove top, furnace, and water heater. Keep in mind that you do not want to turn on the 120-Volt operation of the water heater without water in the tank or you will ruin the heating element. I typically start with the stove top as the LP system needs to purge the air in the line and I can actually see the flame trying to start.
Usually, the refrigerator is close enough to the stove top that it will light with a few tries on the LP mode. Same thing with the furnace and hopefully you won’t need it until the fall.
Air Out The Unit
Finally, air out the unit and look for any condensation that may have formed in cabinets or closets and clean it out. You may want to add a little DampRid to remove the moisture.
To ensure you have easy access to this handy checklist every year, feel free to download, print, and share with your RVing friends.
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.”