More winter enthusiasts are taking to the slopes and frozen tundra in RVs to support their cold-weather hobbies and activities. Winter festivals are becoming popular such as the “Color Of The Wind” in Northern Iowa, Polar Bear plunges all over the US, and one of the largest festivals, The Winter Carnival in St Paul, MN.
An RV, whether it’s a motorhome or truck and trailer, makes a great warm getaway, mobile hotel room, or cozy “Chalet”! However, just like any winter activity, caution and some preparation is required to make sure your event or journey is a safe one.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Make sure your chassis battery has been checked and fully charged as well as your charging system. If you will be dry camping or camping “Off The Grid” make sure your house batteries are in good working order and you have the ability to recharge them with either a generator or solar panel system. If you do not have an on-board generator, a portable is a good idea in case of an emergency. Make sure it’s a generator/inverter as this will provide a pure sine wave and will not damage delicate microprocessors in electronics.
Check Your Weight
It’s a good idea any time you pack a vehicle for a trip to get your vehicle weighed to make sure you are not exceeding the weight ratings. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum weight your rig can weigh with all water, LP, cargo, and passengers in the case of a motorhome. Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight that can be on each axle. Visit www.catscale.com to find a Cat Scale near you to weigh your rig. A safe rule of thumb is to make sure your rig is at least 10% under maximum GVWR and GAWR. Being at maximum weight or over is dangerous for tires, bearings, and makes it especially harder to stop!
Check your tires every day you hit the road for proper pressure and any obvious defects and wear such as sidewall weather checking, or poor tread. Most states require replacement of tires when the tread depth reaches 2/32”. This is fine for normal driving conditions, however when there is wet or snowy pavement, the moisture must be channeled or directed away from the surface of the tire and the road. This is what the tire tread is designed for and most tire manufactures recommend at least 4/32” to reduce hydroplaning. A new tire typically has 9/32” tread depth. This not only applies to drive tires on a truck or motorhome, but also to other tires on the steering axle as well as a trailer as water and snow needs to be channeled away to prevent a breaking loose situation when applying brakes.
Keep in mind that several states have laws requiring tire chains over certain roads during a storm. If you do not have chains, you will receive a hefty fine! Most RVers don’t carry chains as they are expensive, hard to put on, and can cause damage to the RV if they slip off. Most simply wait out the storm until the plows clear the road and they can drive normal. If you are on a time crunch, do some homework to find out what areas you might be traveling to and what you might run into for chain requirements. There are some other options such as cables and even socks that are legal in many states that are worth researching for your rig as well.
Make sure your engine cooling system has the appropriate antifreeze mixture for the temperatures you will encounter. This also includes a windshield wiper antifreeze to keep the windshield from icing over. Larger motorhomes especially are difficult to keep heated and many RVers carry a bottle of windshield deicer as well. A new product in the RV Repair Club shop called Clarity Defender has been proven to reduce the amount of snow and ice buildup on windshields.
The cheapest fuel is not always the best in the winter. Use a premium blend to reduce gas line freezing, keep the tank at least ½ full, and use an additive such as Sea Foam or other Isopropyl.
Winter Safety Kit
It’s a good idea to carry a few winter essentials in case of emergency.
- Extra Winter Clothes – Gloves, Coat, Blanket
- Bag of Sand, Cat Liter, or Salt
- Windshield Scraper
- Jumper Cables
- Tow Rope
- Warning Triangle or LED Lights
- NOAA Emergency Radio/Charger
- Portable Jumper/Charger
Tips For Driving
Take it slow
Fast acceleration or stopping will cause your vehicle to break loose and loss of control. Remember, it will take you almost twice as long to stop on wet or snowy roads so adjust your speed and following distance accordingly. The National Safety Council recommends a 2 second following distance on normal roads. Most RVs take twice as long to stop, therefore requiring a 3-4 second following distance on dry roads! Factor in wet and snowy conditions and you will need twice that. Don’t be in a hurry, it’s easier to stay out of trouble than it is to get out of trouble!
Don’t use cruise control on wet or snowy roads as the drive wheels can break loose easily and increase speed.
Understand what happens when your vehicle does lose control or “breaks loose”. In most situations, simply taking your foot off the pedal will help correct the situation. There are two types of skids, rear wheel, and front wheel. In a rear-wheel skid, take your foot off the pedal and steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. This is referred to as oversteer. Do not apply the brake as it will enhance the skid. A front-wheel skid typically happens when the brakes are applied. Remove your foot from the brake pedal and steer the front again to the direction you want the vehicle to go known as understeering.
Scan ahead of you and see how other vehicles are reacting. Keep a safe following distance and adjust speeds when others are having issues with driving conditions. You do not want to stop in the middle of a hill so maintain a moderate speed at a safe distance to carry you up the hill and reduce speed at the top to limit the amount of braking required when going down the hill.
Look for slippery conditions on bridges and open road areas commonly referred to as “Black Ice”.
Understand Your Brakes
If you have Anti-Locking Brake System (ABS) a sensor will provide a pulsing brake application if the tire starts to skid. This allows the wheel to start spinning again and the driver to regain control. If you have ABS brakes, keep your foot on the pedal and allow the sensor to help regain control. If you do not have ABS brakes, keep your heel on the floor and apply a slight pumping of the brakes.
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.
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