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When the world starts to defrost, you automatically start thinking about the next big adventure in your RV. Getting your RV ready for the first road or camping trip of the season is essential. If you race off without appropriately de-winterizing an RV, you risk running into a lot of problems that could completely ruin your trip.
That is why we are going to walk you through the process of de-winterizing an RV and give you some additional steps. That way, when it comes time to head out on the open road, you can do so confidently.
When You Need to Dewinterize an RV
Since de-winterizing an RV takes only about an hour at home or at a service center, this is something you can do over a weekend or whenever you have time throughout the week. A few setbacks may arise, such as a dead battery, that could affect the time. So do leave enough time to take care of repairs before a road trip.
Therefore, the when and where you decide to de-winterize an RV is based on personal preference. The only thing you need to make sure of is the temperature. Don’t de-winterize when there is a chance of the temperature falling below freezing. Wait until temperatures are consistently warm enough before preparing your RV.
In the event, unseasonably cold temperatures do roll through and you’ve already de-winterized, warm the RV’s interior and empty out the holding tanks. That will be enough.
Dewinterizing an RV Exterior
The best way to begin the de-winterizing process is to clean the exterior of the RV. By doing so, you can locate any exterior damages that need to be repaired.
While most folks start this important process by dealing with their water system, many start by airing out their rig. This process would include opening all the outside compartments, the ventilation fan covers, and all the windows. This would also be the time to inspect your window seals for any signs of water damage or any cracks that may have occurred over the window. Also, be sure to check your screens for rips or tears at this time too.
Here are some things to do to get your RV exterior ready:
- Wash and wax the outside of the rig.
- Check for holes, cuts, and cracks around the windows, roofing, and seams. If you find anything amiss, use a sealant once your RV has dried. If the damages look more like standard aging, purchase and apply a roof treatment or take the rig to a service center.
- If there are solar panels, wipe those down so they operate well.
- Inspect the air conditioner shrouds, vent caps, and stink pipe vent covers for pests.
- Clean the awning, if you have one. Make sure it can deploy properly and that nothing broke.
- Check for damages to gas, plumbing, and electrical lines.
- Wash gaskets in soap and water. Once that is done, replace the gaskets. Use a UV protectant to keep the gaskets from sticking in the future.
After this, I would plug my RV into shore power, make sure all my breakers are turned on, and then I would turn on my refrigerator and the freezer. I wouldn’t put anything in them at this time, but I liked to have them on for six to eight hours and then I’d check the appliance’s temperature to make sure it was working correctly.
If you have a motorhome, and you tow a vehicle or boat behind it, you should check your hitch and electrical plug on them just to be sure they are securely attached and working correctly too.
Dewinterizing an RV Battery
How did you winterize your batteries? Did you uninstall them from the RV but leave them charged up? Or do they need a charge? If it was the latter, be sure to recharge them before returning the batteries to the terminal.
Do keep in mind that for every month in storage, a battery loses about 10 percent of the charge. It might take a few hours for the charge to complete, but that also depends on the size of the battery.
You should also inspect the batteries for wear and tear. If you notice any corrosion on the batteries or around the terminal, that could be a bad sign. Inspect the culprit to see what is going on. Wash away any corrosion with baking soda and hot water. If you find any cracks in the batteries, replace them.
Note: Never add water to lead-acid batteries without first fully charging the battery. However, if the water level is below the plates, you will need to add a little. The plates need to be covered. After the lead-acid battery is charged, add the required amount of distilled water.
If you aren’t comfortable working with batteries, consider taking your RV to a certified repair facility for assistance. Make sure your house batteries are fully charged and if you remove them during cold months reinstall them to be sure your 12-volt electrical system is working correctly. For those of you that rely on solar power, check that system to ensure it’s working properly too.
If you have a factory-installed generator in your RV, it’s a good time to check this as well. Oil, gas, and exhaust should be checked on your generator and you should let it run for at least 30 minutes to ensure it’s working properly. Be sure to check these fluids before starting your motorhome too. Be sure to read my full guide on starting and maintaining your RV generator.
Checking the Tires
One essential step that you cannot look over when de-winterizing an RV is the tires. Inflating the tires with the proper air pressure is crucial in a lot of ways, such as safety. You don’t want your tires wearing faster than normal, poor handling, or a flat.
Always be certain that they are properly inflated and visually inspect them for sidewall cracks or bulges. I recommend checking the air pressure and if they are low, fill them to appropriate tire pressure. Be sure to check on them a couple of days later to see if they’ve lost any pressure. If they have, it’s likely you have a problem.
When in storage, tires lose about 2-3 psi a month. In other words, you are definitely going to need to put air in them. When reinflating the tires, do the following:
- Check the tires—spare included—before reinflating for any cracking along the sidewall and tread.
- While the tires are cold, measure the pressure in each one with an air inflation gauge. Then inflate the tires to the correct pressure, as stated by the manufacturer or in the owner’s manual.
- Tighten the lug nuts according to the owner’s manual or manufacturer.
Always be sure to include this task in your RV departure checklist before starting or continuing on your journey. Good? Now, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Prepping the RV Water System and Plumbing
There are many important steps when de-winterizing an RV, but dealing with the water system is at the top of your list of priorities. The water source in the RV can’t be compromised, because you use it for almost everything—cooking, showering, washing dishes, and drinking.
Before storing your RV for the winter, you probably winterized by adding non-toxic antifreeze to the system to prevent the plumbing and water system from freezing and bursting. Now, you need to get rid of it.
So you have four tasks ahead of you:
- Flushing out the antifreeze from the system, unless you used compressed air to remove water from the system when winterizing. In that case, you can skip removing the antifreeze.
- Disinfect and sanitize the water system to make the water safe to use.
- Refill the water heater.
- Checking for leaks
Note: If the water heater wasn’t on bypass mode during the winter, you will need to drain antifreeze from the tank and collect it.
Let’s break down these four tasks into steps.
1. Remove the Antifreeze
In order to completely cleanse the water system, you will need to do the following:
- Close off all the faucets.
- Reconnect any water lines you may have disconnected when placing the water heater on bypass mode.
- Connect a hose to either the city water inlet or directly to the freshwater tank. Turn on the hose. During this time, listen for any dripping or leaking.
- Start with the faucet that is farthest from the source of water. Turn on the cold water then switch to the hot water. Keep going back and forth until the water is clear. Do the same thing for every faucet, including the toilet and shower. You might notice the water looks pink. Don’t worry, it’s just from the antifreeze.
- Once every faucet is running clear, turn off the hose and disconnect it.
- Fill the tank with fresh water. Once again, flush every faucet.
- Next, turn on the water pump. Flush each faucet again, repeating until the water runs clear.
2. Sanitizing the Water System
After cleaning out the antifreeze, you still can’t drink the water. Failing to sanitize the freshwater reservoir in the RV could lead to illness because bacteria and mold build up over time. Here is how to sanitize the water system:
- Close all the drains or use drain plugs.
- For every 15 gallons of water that goes into the tank, you will need ¼ cup of bleach. Mix the bleach into the water. Make enough to fill a 1-gallon container.
- Pour the mixture into the holding tank.
- Run water through each faucet. When you smell bleach, close the faucets and let the mixture soak there for about 8-12 hours.
- Once enough time has passed, drain out the water tank and then refill it.
- Run the faucets until the bleach smell dissipates.
- Drain water from the tank one more time.
- If you can still smell bleach in the water, continue refilling and running the water until you don’t.
- Using water filters? Now is the time to change them out.
3. Refilling the Water Heater
Next, you need to work on the water heater.
- Reinstall any water heaters that were removed over the winter and turn the bypass off.
- Install an anode rod or drain plug in the water heater, if it is missing or had been removed.
- Open a faucet and turn it to hot to get the pump running and water moving into the water heater. Note: Do not turn the water heater on when there is no water in it.
- If you forgot to dump the gray and black water tanks before winter, now is the time to do it.
- Clean the black tank. Some RV models have a built-in flushing system. If your RV doesn’t have that feature, you can use a flushing wand or specialized product.
4. Check For Leaks
Before you start driving your RV down the road, you want to find any and all leaks. Look underneath the sinks for any cracks around the drains or along with the piping. Turn on the water to see if anything leaks. Don’t forget to check around the base of the toilet and the area near the waterline.
Another way to check for leaks is with the water pump. Do this:
- Shut off access to outside water, so your RV has to rely on the water tank.
- Turn the water system off. Close all faucets. Wait until the water pump reaches maximum pressure, which is when it will stop running.
- Wait. Keep your ears open for the pump. If it remains off, there are no leaks.
- If the pump doesn’t stop running, it means there is a leak in either the pump or the waterline.
Be sure to get leaks fixed as soon as possible.
Dewinterizing an RV Interior
Having worked on the exterior, the tires, and the water supply lines, it is now time to turn our attention to the interior. Dewinterizing an RV is more than just putting it back together. You also want to make it inhabitable.
First, check the interior for any critters, such as spiders, mice, and squirrels. If you left any bug or mice traps inside during the winter, pick those up and throw them away. Once you have cleared the RV of pests, vacuum the carpets, and wipe down all the surfaces, including the driver’s area.
Open up the windows and air the vehicle out. Again, you can look for signs of damage around the windows. Look for any signs of dry rot, discoloration, or moisture. Since moisture can introduce mold into your RV, it’s best to repair cracks in the windows, holes in the screens, and so on.
Lastly, you are going to want to open the refrigerator and freezer. The interior shouldn’t smell terrible, but if it does, you could have mold. Wipe everything down before turning on the appliances.
Test Your Appliances
The last thing you want is a faulty microwave or inoperable stove. Make sure all the appliances are in good shape.
Since your cooking area is powered by propane, you are going to want to take care of that first. Do a quick check on the propane for leaks. You might want to replace the tanks if they were low the year before.
If you suspect that your propane tanks have a leak, it is best to take your rig to a service center, where they can run a few tests in a safer environment. They will also inspect the LP connections and pressure.
Test your propane-powered appliances first. Some rigs have an LP gas mode, in which you can test your appliances. If you find that any of the LP appliances aren’t firing up correctly or aren’t turning on, it is best to take your RV to a licensed repair center.
Afterward, check the fridge for power then switch into electric mode. Do the same for all the appliances, taking your time to make sure all the controls work and that they are responsive.
You will also want to make sure the GFI or GFCI plugs are in working order. You can find these receptacles around the kitchen and bathroom, usually near a water source. If the plugs detect a change in electricity flow, the circuit breaker gets tripped.
You will find a reset button on the plug. Push it. If the button clicks into place and doesn’t move, you’re fine. However, if the button continues releasing, you need to find a service center.
Now You’re Ready for Adventure
Dewinterizing an RV might seem like a time-consuming task (and it is), but it does set you up for success. There is so much to do to ensure that your RV is ready for the road, and for you and yours to live in it. As you de-winterize an RV, remember to keep an eye out for any damages that will need repairs. Don’t leave anything to chance!
Want to simplify your winterization process? Check out this guide on the best RV winterization kits. Other related pages:
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How much does it cost to dewinterize an RV?
If you take your RV to a dealership to get it de-winterized, as most sell de-winterizing packages, it will cost you between $130 and $170 on average. This depends on the class and size of the RV. You could reduce this cost, however, by doing some of the de-winterizing yourself. As long as you check the appliances, flush out the water system and antifreeze, and make sure the tires are in good shape, de-winterizing your RV doesn’t have to cost nearly as much.
How do you flush antifreeze out of an RV?
Having antifreeze sit still in your RV all winter long and then revving the system without flushing it could be a huge strain for it. Instead, you should flush out the antifreeze. The easiest way to do that? Run fresh water through the entire water system. You can send water through the freshwater holding tank with the water pump. Open all the faucets and let the water run until the color is clear. After you have flushed out the water system, there shouldn’t be any more antifreeze, but if you continue to taste it in the water, try disinfecting the holding tank.