We enjoy using our RV as late in the year as possible, but this requires some cold weather preventive maintenance, especially if you reside or travel in a colder region of the country. Do not confuse this RV winter check-up with winterizing or preparing the RV for cold weather storage. All we are doing here is preparing the RV to better deal with the cold temperatures.
In no particular order, here are my top 7 RV winter checks:
1. Inspect your RV Batteries
Check all battery connections for secure mounting. Clean the batteries with a 50/50 mixture of baking soda and warm water, if necessary. If you have lead-acid batteries check the electrolyte level in each cell and add distilled water if any cells are low. If you look inside the battery cell you will see a plastic ring that extends down inside the cell roughly 1 inch. This is what is referred to as the fill-well or split-ring. When you add water to a battery you only fill the cell to 1/8 inch below the bottom of the split-ring.
Lots of older converter chargers provide a constant charge of approximately 13.5 volts, which is too high for fully-charged batteries and it can cause the electrolyte to evaporate, resulting in an early death for the batteries. Check the water levels weekly, at a minimum, when you are using the RV. Test the battery state-of-charge and charge any batteries that are at or below an 80 percent charge. A discharged or partially-charged battery will freeze much faster than a fully-charged battery. Use a digital voltmeter to measure voltage and get a quick picture of the batteries’ depth of discharge. Note: If you are not comfortable working on or around batteries have a qualified RV service center perform battery maintenance for you.
Battery Tip: A 12-volt battery that is charged should read 12.5 to 12.7 volts. Readings less than 12.5 indicate the battery state of charge is below 80 percent and the battery needs to be charged. A 6-volt battery that is charged should read 6.25 to 6.37 volts. Readings below 6.25 indicate the battery state of charge is below 80 percent and the battery needs to be charged.
2. Test Automotive Antifreeze
The antifreeze in your tow vehicle or motorhome’s radiator should always have a 50 to 70 percent concentration of antifreeze to water. Water does a good job cooling an engine but it freezes quickly during cold winter temperatures. Water can also cause certain metals to rust and corrode over time. The proper concentration of antifreeze is necessary to provide freeze protection and chemical protection against corrosion.
To test the antifreeze use quality test strips, a float-type hydrometer or a refractometer. A refractometer is the most accurate testing device, but more costly too. Note: It’s a good idea to have the cooling system flushed and new coolant added at regular intervals, especially with heavy use such as towing a trailer. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for recommended intervals.
Inspect all coolant hoses for signs of damage or leaks. Coolant hoses deteriorate from the inside out. Inspect all hoses for wear, cracks, soft spots, brittle areas and for any leaks. Inspect all hose clamps for secure mounting and replace any damaged coolant hoses or clamps as required.
3. Use a Fuel Stabilizer Product
Fuel stabilizers provide excellent protection against stale fuel during periods of storage or non-use. They contain corrosion inhibitors, remove water and help clean fuel injectors. There are fuel stabilizers designed for use with gasoline and diesel engines. Add the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer and run the engine and generator, if equipped, long enough for the stabilizer to get through the entire fuel system.
Tip: I recommend using a fuel stabilizer in gas-powered lawn equipment, ATVs, boats, and motorcycles too. You will be glad you did when the lawnmower starts right up next spring.
4. RV Furnace Check-Up
One LP-gas appliance that gets overlooked during warm weather is the RV forced-air furnace. Most service requirements for the furnace need to be accomplished by a qualified RV service facility, but there are a few things the owner can do to prepare the furnace for cold-weather operation.
The battery plays a vital role in the proper operation of the RV furnace. Keeping lead-acid batteries watered and fully charged will prevent many furnace-related problems. Inspect furnace ducting that is above floor level for any damage, such as crushed ducting or obstructions that could affect the operation of the furnace. Make sure the furnace air return is not blocked or restricted. Test the operation of the furnace before the day arrives when you actually need it.
5. Inspect all Safety Devices and Replace all Dry-Cell Batteries
Carbon monoxide is deadly. Test the CO detector, LP-gas leak detector and smoke alarm for proper operation every time you use your RV. Note: Check the CO detector expiration date and replace it if it is expired. Instruct individuals on carbon monoxide symptoms, and what to do if they are exposed to carbon monoxide, or if they hear the smoke alarm or LP-gas leak detector alarm. Replace all dry-cell batteries when you change the settings on your clocks in the spring and fall. Make sure you have a charged fire extinguisher on hand and that you and other adults in the RV know how to operate it.
6. Clean, inspect and reseal your roof
Not that this is directly related to cold weather use, but I like to inspect the roof twice a year, at a minimum.
Note: Exercise caution any time you work on the roof of your RV. The roof surface can be slippery and a fall can result in serious injury, or worse.
Clean your roof with an approved cleaner for the type of roofing surface your RV has. Every time you clean the roof, inspect the sealants around all of the openings and the seams on the roof. Water will take the path of least resistance, and if there is the smallest opening it will find it. Thoroughly inspect the roof sealants for potential leaks and reseal any areas of the roof seams and around openings where you suspect a potential leak. Make sure you use sealants compatible with your roofing surface. Keep in mind that your warranty can be voided if you fail to perform some of these required inspections. Check your RV owner’s manual for roof inspection intervals and the type of sealant to use.
7. Plan for non-use
As part of the RV winter check-up, if you don’t plan to use your RV over the winter months you need to winterize the plumbing system to prevent it from freezing, and prepare all other systems and components on the RV for short or long-term storage.
Mark J. Polk