Winter Is Coming: How to Winterize an RV and Prepare for the Chilly Months

When winter approaches, there's a lot to do to prepare for the colder months—and tending to your RV is no exception. For those who don't plan to do cold weather camping, you still need to make sure your RV is ready to rest through the winter months.

If you don't, you can potentially face costly repairs and delays in any RV-ing you plan to do once spring and summer roll around. To protect your investment and have a seamless transition into using your RV when the time is right, follow these steps and learn how to winterize an RV.

Necessary Supplies

Before you get into the process of actually winterizing your RV, you'll need to pick up all the supplies in advance to get ready. Things that you'll want for this process are:

  • Nontoxic RV antifreeze (usually two to three gallons, depending on your plumbing lines) - $25 to $30 per gallon
  • Tank cleaning wand - $10 to $15
  • Water pump tubing or converter kit - $12 to $15
  • Water heater bypass kit (if your RV does not have one installed on the water heater) - $15 to $30
  • Hand tools

If you're winterizing an RV for the first time, you should be able to get everything you need to complete the process for around one-hundred dollars, depending on which supplies you need for your RV and which brands you get. For winterizing in later years, you'll be able to reuse most of these supplies again, save for purchasing fresh antifreeze.

For best protection over the winter, you'll also want to use an RV cover to prevent the snow from causing rust and corrosion, which can also be a substantial repair cost in the future. While plastic tarps may be inexpensive, they don't provide as much protection as custom RV fabrics or even breathable fabrics. A quality RV cover will easily cost anywhere around or upwards of $150.

How to Winterize Your RV

With all the supplies at hand, you're ready to begin the process of winterizing your RV. While we'll cover all the essential steps in this guide, it's important to check your RV's user manual, which will have specific winterizing instructions. Be sure to follow those to ensure the best way to care for your RV.

Also, note that some RVs will have built-in systems to help with winterizing. Follow the steps on this list that apply to your RV.

Empty Water from All Plumbing Lines

Water left behind in the plumbing lines can freeze over the winter and cause excessive damage. You want to drain out as much water as possible before parking your RV for the winter. Start by removing any inline water filters, drain the fresh water and other holding tanks (it's recommended to dispose of these at an approved RV dump station), and the water heater tank.

You want to be especially cautious with the water heater tank. Ensure that there is no water connected, the pump is in the "off" position, and that the water is cold. You can also open a hot water faucet and the pressure relief valve to prevent excessive buildup of pressure as you drain.

After you've emptied the tanks, you'll want to open all faucets as well as the low point water drain lines and flush the toilet help clear out any remaining water from the plumbing lines. You can also use the twelve-volt water pump to help with this process. When done, reclose all faucets and recap all drains.

Bypass the Water Heater System

Your next task will be to pump antifreeze through your water lines, but it's critical that you bypass the water heater system first, so as not to waste your antifreeze. If your RV has an installed bypass kit, you can use it; if not, purchase a bypass kit and follow its instructions. For those that don't feel confident enough to install the equipment on your own, an RV service facility can do it for you.

Introduce Antifreeze to the Water System

With the water cleared out and the water heater system bypassed, it's time to bring antifreeze into the equation. Installing a water pump converter kit will make this process simpler, but it's also possible to connect a section of tubing from the water pump inlet directly into the jug of antifreeze, so long as you set it up correctly.

Once you've connected the antifreeze, turn on the twelve-volt water pump so that it can start pumping the antifreeze throughout the water system. From there, start at the faucet closest to the pump and slowly open the valves until you can see the antifreeze come through, and repeat for the rest of the taps, including the outside shower if you have one equipped.

You'll also want to flush the toilet several times until you see antifreeze come through. Afterward, pour at least two pints of antifreeze into each drain, and flush more down the toilet. Once you've tended to each valve, close all faucets and make sure that the switch for the electric heating element of the water heater is off.

Store Your Battery

It's best to remove your RV battery, charge it, and then store it in a safe location until you are ready to use your RV again. If you live in a climate where the battery isn't at risk for freezing, you should still disconnect the cables for safety. Be sure to wear appropriate protection when handling batteries.

Top Off Fuel Tanks

Your fuel tanks can develop condensation over the winter if you're not careful. Top of any fuel and propane tanks. Additionally, add a fuel stabilizer and allow the engine to idle so it can work through the system.

Clean Out the Interior

Remove all food and drink from your RV, including packaged foods, to prevent attracting pests. Even canned and bottled foods have a high chance of freezing and bursting in low temperatures. While you're at it, it's also best to remove any clothing and bedding to wash, as well as take out any valuables like TVs, especially if you store your RV at a lot.

Check Exterior

Winterizing is an excellent time to check all exterior areas of your RV. Don't neglect to chalk any door and window seals if necessary, and also pay attention to other damages. Damage to the roof can lead to leaks, so clean away any leaves from autumn and make sure that the top of your RV is in good shape before storing it for the season. This time is also perfect for washing and waxing the vehicle before storage.

Park Properly

When you're putting your RV into storage or parking it one last time before winter arrives, you'll want to make sure it's securely in place on a concrete or paved surface. Put on the emergency brake and use wheel chocks to keep it from rolling. You'll also want to make sure your RV is stable enough that it doesn't rock when you walk inside of it.

When it comes to your tires, you'll want to make sure they don't develop flat spots while the RV is inactive. Some RVs will come with leveling jacks that you can use, or you can make use of external jacks instead. If you don't have access to either, move the RV one half tire rotation at least once during the winter.

With the proper preparation, your RV will be ready to face the winter months, and the only task you'll need to worry about before hitting the road is de-winterizing your system.

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