De-winterizing your RV (and yourself!)
By Mark S. Nemeth  #45776

This article originally ran in the March/April 2002 issue of
Escapees magazine
Reprinted by permission

I love this time of year! The days are getting longer, green is replacing white as nature's color of choice and summer days are on the way. If part of your summer plans include that RV you put into storage last fall, then it's time to get that rig out of hibernation!

First, let's remove any covers that you put on for storage. Make sure to get them all, especially if you covered up the refrigerator or furnace vents. If you removed your house or engine starting batteries, re install them, paying careful attention to positives and negatives! Whether you removed the batteries for storage or left them installed, now's a great time to top off the water and give them a good charge. While those batteries are coming up to speed, check all tires for correct inflation pressure and give the whole rig a bath and a window washing if it needs it.

Pull out those steps (maybe a drop of oil if they are squeaky) and let's go inside! Open some windows and let some fresh air in. Do a visual inspection of the interior and keep an eye open for telltale signs of leaks. Discolored ceilings or paneling near windows and vents may indicate a problem that developed during storage. Open cupboards and storage areas and evict any unwelcome residents. (Spiders, bugs, mice, etc.) Go back outside, open up the water heater and refrigerator compartment doors and clean out any spiders or critters. Now is a good time to grab a spray bottle of soapy water and make sure that there are no open flames or ignition sources nearby. Turn on the main propane supply valve and carefully spray a bit of soapy water on each and every fitting. Watch for soap bubbles forming at connections that would indicate a leak. Wipe excess soapy water off with a paper towel or two as you go. Don't forget to sniff! If you find a leak or smell gas, turn that main valve off right now and get a propane service person to check your rig out. Don't take any chances with propane!

Do a careful visual inspection of the whole outside of the rig. Make sure that everything is in place and in good repair. Open any storage compartments and have a look inside. If you placed desiccant or heat sources inside (such as a small electric light), remove them now. Evict any additional unwelcome residents.

If your rig is a motorhome, do a careful check of all fluid levels and look under the hood and under the rig for critter nests and cobwebs. Grab your owner's manual and follow any manufacturer recommended procedures for removing the rig from storage. Once you're sure that you've covered all those bases, fire up that engine. While the engine warms up, test your headlights, brake lights, turn signals and running lights. A drive around the block will help shake off that winter stiffness and give you a chance to listen for any new worrisome noises. Hopefully, everything sounds good.

If your rig is a towable, take a close look at all hitch components. Look for rust, wear or damage and replace any items that look questionable. Clean off old grease and re-lubricate the hitch components following the manufacturer's recommendations. Go ahead and hitch up, plug in your light umbilical and test all those lights. Remember to test those trailer brakes manually before moving the rig down the road. A simple, non-technical test is to slowly pull the rig forward and manually apply the trailer brakes to bring the RV to a stop. Sometimes electric brakes will grab fiercely at first after a long period of storage. This is caused by corrosion on the drum's inner surfaces. Grabby brakes should go away almost immediately… the first few times you apply the brakes should clear up the problem. If the problem persists, get those brakes looked at before you take off on a trip! This may also be a great time to have those wheel hubs serviced and the brakes inspected for wear. Do it yourself, or have the local RV shop take care of it. Many RV manufacturers recommend servicing the hubs every 12,000 miles or once a year.

Now, let's deal with the plumbing! If you don't have fresh water available where your rig is stored, then you need to move it. We need to flush out the plumbing system, especially if RV antifreeze was used. One possibility is to take the rig to a local RV Park or campground and use their water and sewer hookups. Hook up your water hose and fill your fresh water tank. Run your water pump and open each faucet in the rig one at a time and allow water to flow for a minute or so. If you used antifreeze, let the water flow until all color and odor is gone. Don't forget the toilet and the shower! Remember to open your gray water dump valve before you get too carried away! Turn off the water pump and hook up your hose to the city water inlet. Run some more water through the system to get that last bit of antifreeze out, then unhook the hose again. Be sure not to un-bypass the water heater until you've flushed all the lines. To put your bypassed water heater back in service, reset the valves for normal operation and make sure that the drain plug is in or that the drain valve is closed. Now run the water pump and open a hot water faucet. Once the water heater tank is full, shut all faucets and wait until the pump turns off. Listen for a few minutes to make sure that the pump does not cycle again. If the pump cycles on and off repeatedly, it may indicate a leak somewhere in your fresh water plumbing. If a leak is suspected, take a flashlight and visually inspect all the plumbing under your sinks and see if you can spot any leaks. Look carefully in compartments and inside of cupboards and storage areas until you find the drip. Fix any leaks before continuing.

Now, let's sterilize your fresh water tank and plumbing. Mix about a cup of plain household bleach in a gallon of water. Pour this mixture into your fresh water tank and top it off with the hose. Turn on the water pump and run each faucet until you can plainly smell the chlorine. Top off the fresh water tank again and let the system set for at least a few hours, longer is better. Then, drain the fresh water tank and refill with clean water. Flush the system out by running the clean water through each faucet again. Use lots of water, until the chlorine smell is gone.

This procedure will usually result in clean, odor free water in your RV. If you have problems with lingering antifreeze taste or chlorine odor, you can re-flush the system using I cup of baking soda dissolved into 1 gallon of water and follow the same procedure as above.

Since we have water, propane and electricity, let's test some appliances. Turn the refrigerator on and test operation for both gas and electric. Light the water heater and make sure that it functions. Fire up any air conditioners and see if they cool. Does the furnace work? Lights? Radio? TV? Any additional optional equipment (Generators, Washer/Dryers, Ice makers, Leveling jacks, etc.) should be placed back into service and tested by following the manufacturer's recommendations.

That's it! Your RV should now be ready for a full summer season of fun. What's that, you say? What about dewinterizing yourself? Well, that's easy! Pack away those sweaters and long johns. Break out some shorts and T-shirts and stock up on sunscreen and bug repellent. Don't forget the swimming suits, sunglasses and sandals! Oh, Boy! I can't wait!

This page last updated on July 6, 2003