Biting winter predicted, easy prep RV storage

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Farm Forum

With the Farmers’ Almanac predicting a “biting” colder-than-normal winter for much of the country, RVers need to start winterizing their Recreation Vehicles.

The number one concern during cold weather is the damage that freezing temperatures can inflict on an RV’s water system, including its supply lines, holding tanks and hot water heater.

“Frozen and damaged water lines and water heater tanks are in fact the most common problem related to not winterizing your RV, or not properly winterizing your RV,” said Mark J. Polk, an RVDA/RVIA master certified RV technician.

“You’ll be amazed at how simple it really is,” said Polk, host of “Winterizing and Storing your RV” DVD ($24.95) available through RVEducation101.com. “Anybody can easily winterize and store their RV by following a few easy step-by-step instructions.”

While people usually remember to drain their fresh and waste water tanks, some overlook the hot water tank, said John Melaas, manager at Chuck’s RV (chucks-rv.com) parts and service center in Mead, Wash., a few miles north of Spokane.

“We get really cold winters and a broken water heater can be a costly mistake.” Depending on the type of tank and labor costs, it could easily run between $500 and $1,000.

RV technical expert Polk said that high up on his list of winterizing concerns are the RV’s deep cell batteries. “Your RV batteries should last at least six years if they are properly maintained,” he said. “Unfortunately lots of RV owners only get one or two years of service from their RV batteries — and improper winter storage is a big reason why.”

If you don’t plan to use your RV for tailgating or winter camping, Polk recommends charging the batteries then removing and storing them where they cannot freeze. “If you plan to start the unit while in storage, and/or to periodically plug the unit into shore power,” he said, “you can leave the batteries in the unit. Just make sure they stay charged. Plugging the unit into shore power once a month for about 8 hours will help keep the coach batteries topped off.”

Another major concern of storing an RV for months is the rig’s exterior, its roof and sidewalls. After thoroughly cleaning the rig, inspect all sealants for signs of damage or cracking where water might seep into the RV. “There can be a tremendous amount of water damage done over the winter,” said Cooper, a 40-year veteran of the RV business. Water can leak into the smallest surface cracks, freeze and expand, making the situation worse, he said. “Soon a large gap opens up, allowing water to enter the attic and interior of the walls.”

As for inside your RV, give it a complete cleaning and take out anything that could possibly freeze, including fluids and aerosol sprays. Also remove any food items that might attract rodents and insects.

“Clean under the cook top burners. Grease and food debris attract critters — big and small,” said Cooper. “Leaving the refrigerator doors slightly open to allow air inside will help keep the mold and mildew down. While a box of opened baking soda does wonders to help control moisture and odors,” he added.

Polk recommends removing any dry-cell batteries from devices like smoke alarms and clocks, “but remember to re-install new batteries next spring. Leave doors, drawers and cabinets open so they can air out. If you have roof vent covers installed on the overhead vents that prevent rain from getting inside, leave the roof vents cracked open to allow for some ventilation inside the RV.”

Once your RV is cleaned and winterized, it is ready to take a safe snooze for the winter. If it is stored outside you may want to consider a good RV cover. Always keep the tires covered to block sunlight UV deterioration of the sidewalls. And, finally, place tires on plywood sheets or plastic panels to prevent ground-to-tire contact.

For those who do not have the time or desire to do-it-yourself, most RV dealerships and service centers will winterize RVs. Call for estimates on your specific rig.

Without a doubt, it is best to take a few basic precautions “before the first cold snap,” said Terry Cooper president of Mobile RV Academy out of Somerville, Texas. “Just set aside a Saturday to go over your rig and take care of things.”

Armed with an extensive do-it-yourself checklist available free on MobileRVAcadmey.com, a couple of gallons of pink nontoxic RV antifreeze (never use the poisonous green automotive antifreeze), and a few handy tools — you will be able to save thousands of dollars in repairs next spring.