RV De-Winterization Basics for Beginners & Checklist
Spring is in the air, and you know what that means: the start of a new camping season! If you’re going a little stir-crazy after the cold, dark, and (in some areas) VERY snowy winter months, there’s no better cure than de-winterizing your RV as soon as temperatures allow.
If your RV has been in storage for the off-season, you’re probably dreaming of dusting off the snow and taking it out for its first warm-weather trip of the year. But don’t hit the road before you follow these 11 steps to get your RV travel-ready!
#1: Inspect the Exterior
You don’t have to inspect every inch with a magnifying glass; just do a general visual inspection to check for any leaks or cracks—especially on the roof. If you store your RV outside, snow and ice can create structural damage or crack seals along seams. Check the roof sealant for any cracks and inspect the roof for tears or damage.
While you’re up there, check the AC cowlings for cracks near the screws and reseal around those if needed.
Finally, check all of your windows, doors, and slideout seams, and replace sealant as necessary. The goal is to find any places where water could get in, and seal them tight to keep your rig leak-free for the season ahead.
And since you’re going around checking these things anyway, take the time to lubricate your doors, stabilizers, hinges, steps, and any other metal-on-metal contact points.
#2: Don’t Forget the Underbelly
Now that you’ve climbed up on the roof to make sure it’s clean and crack-free, it’s time to go low. Crawl under your RV at least a little way to check your shocks and running gear for cracks or other signs of damage. The first time you hitch up, squeeze the trailer brake and check for proper brake function.
Think about the last time your bearings were repacked, and have that done if you’re due. RV wheel bearings should be repacked once a year or every 10,000-12,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Inspect the underbelly for tears or openings that could allow pests to come inside, and fill any holes.
#3: Charge Your Batteries
Hopefully, you kept your batteries charged during the off-season, either at home using a battery tender or by periodically checking and charging them on-site. Keeping your batteries charged extends their lifespan and allows you to skip this step next spring!
Before you take your first trip, make sure your battery has a full charge. Depending on the type and size of battery you have, this could take a few days, so plan ahead.
If you have a lead-acid battery, check the water level and replace as needed with distilled water. Water should fully cover the plates before charging for optimal battery health.
Finally, reinstall your battery so that it’s secure and ready for travel.
#4: Flush and Sanitize Your Water Lines
Pink RV antifreeze is non-toxic, but you still don’t want to drink it! Before you travel, flush your water lines to clear out all of the antifreeze before using them. If you put antifreeze directly into your fresh water tank, drain that tank fully before filling it with potable water.
Then, flush the antifreeze from your system using these steps:
- Fill your fresh water tank with potable water and turn on the water pump, or connect to a city water supply. If you’re using the water pump, wait a couple of minutes for the system to pressurize.
- Open all cold water faucets, one by one. Don’t forget all sinks, the toilet, and your indoor and outdoor showers.
- Run the water until it’s clear
- Take the water heater out of bypass mode. Usually, this involves turning a couple of valves; your owner’s manual will show the correct configuration.
- Allow the water heater to fill with fresh water for a few minutes.
- Open all hot water faucets, one by one. Again, include all sinks and indoor and outdoor showers.
- Replace any water filters that were removed for storage.
- Dump your gray and black holding tanks at an appropriate dump station.
Spring is also the perfect time to sanitize your fresh water system and remove any bacteria or mold that may have grown in your tank or water lines during storage.
Follow these steps to sanitize your fresh water tank and lines:
- Close all fresh water and low point drains.
- In a large water jug, create a chlorine mixture using ¼ cup of household bleach for every 15 gallons of fresh water capacity in your tank, plus a gallon or two of water.
- Add the chlorine mixture to your fresh water tank using a funnel. Then, fill the rest of the tank with potable water.
- Turn on the water pump and run water through all hot and cold water lines. Take special care to fill any lines used for drinking water. Run the water until you smell bleach, then turn off your faucets.
- Let the solution sit for between 4 and 12 hours. Make sure not to leave the solution in any of your tanks or lines for longer than 24 hours.
- Drain all water from the fresh water system at an appropriate disposal site.
- Fill the fresh water tank with clean potable water.
- Run water through your lines until the bleach smell dissipates.
While you’re using your water pump to flush and sanitize your water lines, listen for evidence of leaks. When you turn your water pump on, it’s normal to hear the pump run for several seconds while it pressurizes the system. But once the system reaches full pressure, the pump should shut off. If you hear the pump turn back on while all the faucets are closed, or if it fails to shut off, you have a leak somewhere in your plumbing system.
While a leak is never fun to find, it’s much nicer to know before you take your first trip of the season!
#5: Replace Propane Tanks
Fill your propane tanks and ensure that they are correctly mounted and connected. Open the valves to allow the propane to flow, then apply soapy water to the connection points with a spray bottle or sponge. If any bubbles form, it could indicate a leak. If this happens, tighten any fittings and check again. Now is also an excellent time to check that your propane tanks don’t require recertification before they can be refilled.
Once your propane is connected, test propane appliances like your furnace, stove, water heater, and oven. However, don’t test the water heater until you have a full hot water tank! Make sure you’ve taken your water heater out of bypass mode and either connected to city water or filled your fresh tank and turned on the water pump.
If you find any propane leaks or issues, have a professional RV repair tech or service department inspect the system. Propane leaks can be deadly.
#6: Check the Tires
Your tires will lose approximately one to two PSI of air pressure each month that they sit unused. Depending on how long your RV has been in storage, it’s very likely that you’ll have low tire pressure. Inflate the tires to match the PSI recommended by the manufacturer based on the load.
Make sure to complete this step before driving! Underinflation (low pressure) is the leading cause of blowouts, not high pressure. Speaking of which, test your TPMS sensors to make sure they’re working as they should. With the TPMS turned on, remove a sensor. The system should start making a sound to alert you that something is wrong!
Also, check your tires for cracks in the sidewalls or uneven wear in the tread. Perform the penny test to ensure your tires have sufficient tread for safe travel: put a penny into the groove of your tread with Lincoln’s head facing down toward the tire. If the top of his head is visible, you need new tires.
P.S. Don’t forget to check the spare!
#7: Check Electric Appliances
Now that you’ve tested your propane-powered appliances, it’s time to test everything else, too. First, test your 12-volt devices with the battery connected at a full charge to ensure it’s supplying sufficient power to your coach. Then, connect your RV to a home outlet (if available) and test individual appliances to make sure they’re working correctly. You don’t want to discover that something is broken when you’re miles away from home on this season’s maiden voyage!
Note that you will probably need a 20 amp circuit to test the air conditioning. This kind of circuit can be tricky to access in a home. If your dryer circuit is accessible, that should do. Otherwise, you may need to visit an RV park with a 30-amp or 50-amp pedestal.
#8: Check the Lights
Whether you have a motorized or towable RV, check that all headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals illuminate and function properly. Replace bulbs as needed.
#9: Replace Filters
Clean or replace all air and water filters. These collect dust and debris while you’re camping, and sitting in storage certainly doesn’t make them any cleaner! Start the season with clean filters so that your systems run as efficiently as possible.
#10: Test Safety Devices
Finally, test your safety devices before the camping season starts. Replace old batteries with new ones in any battery-powered devices. Then test all safety alarms: the smoke alarm, carbon monoxide detector, and LP detector.
Inspect your fire extinguisher, and check the expiration date. Purchase a new one if it’s out of date. If you have the dry powder style of extinguisher, shake it and tap the bottom to distribute any powder that has settled.
Operate and test all emergency exit windows to be sure they open smoothly.
Hopefully, you won’t need any of these safety devices—but this final check ensures that they are ready if you do!
#11: Inspect all Engines
Check the oil level in your onboard generator, and top off if necessary. Then start the generator to make sure it runs without issue.
In a motorized RV engine, check the following fluid levels:
- Engine oil
- Brake fluid
- Power steering
- Engine coolant
- Windshield washer fluid
Top off any low fluids and visually inspect for leaks. Make sure all regular maintenance, such as oil changes, has been completed if it’s due.
If you’ve done all the above steps and still want more, here are a few ways you can go above and beyond for ultimate travel-readiness.
- Wash and wax the exterior
- Clean the awning
- Clean corrosion from batteries
- Rinse window screens and fan vent screens
- Inspect interior (including inside fridge and cabinets) for signs of mold or other damage
- Clean appliances
- Inspect sewer dump hose