Pre-winter RV Checks

October 1, 2011 by Mark Polk · 11 Comments  
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As we head toward colder temperatures, I would like to suggest a few preventive maintenance checks to prepare your RV  for the fall and winter camping seasons. Please don’t confuse these checks with winterizing your RV or preparing it for winter storage.

In no particular order, here are my top 7 pre-winter RV checks:

1. Inspect your RV batteries
Check all battery connections for secure mounting. Clean the batteries with a 50/50 mixture of baking soda and water, if necessary. If you have lead-acid batteries, check the electrolyte level in each cell and add distilled water, if necessary. Many older converter chargers provide a constant charge of approximately 13.5 volts, which is too high for fully-charged batteries and can cause the electrolyte to boiled off, resulting in an early death for the batteries.

Check water levels weekly, at a minimum, when using the RV. Test the battery state-of-charge and charge any batteries that are at or below 80 percent. A discharged or partially-charged battery will freeze much faster than a fully-charged battery. Use a digital voltmeter to measure voltage and get a quick picture of the batteries’ depth of discharge. If you don’t feel comfortable working on or around batteries, have a reputable RV service center perform battery maintenance for you.

Note: A 12-volt battery that is charged should read 12.5 to 12.7 volts. Readings less than 12.5 indicate the battery state of charge is below 80 percent and the battery needs to be charged. A 6-volt battery that is charged should read 6.25 to 6.37 volts. Readings below 6.25 indicate the battery state of charge is below 80 percent and the battery needs to be charged.

2. Test automotive antifreeze
The antifreeze in your tow vehicle or motorhome radiator should always have a 50- to 70-percent concentration of antifreeze to water. Water does a good job helping to cool an engine but it freezes quickly during cold winter temperatures. Water can also cause certain metals to rust and corrode over time. The proper concentration of antifreeze is necessary to provide freeze protection and chemical protection against corrosion.

To test the antifreeze, use quality test strips, a float-type hydrometer or a refractometer. A refractometer is the most accurate testing device.

Inspect all coolant hoses for signs of damage or leaks. Coolant hoses deteriorate from the inside out. Inspect all hoses for wear, cracks, soft spots, brittle areas and leaks. Inspect hose clamps for secure mounting and replace any damaged coolant hoses or clamps as required.

3. Use a fuel stabilizer product like STA-BIL
Fuel stabilizers provide excellent protection against stale fuel during periods of storage. They contain corrosion inhibitors, remove water and help to clean fuel injectors. There are fuel stabilizers designed for use with gasoline and diesel engines. I use a fuel stabilizer in gas-powered lawn equipment, ATVs, boats, motorcycles and RVs.

4. Furnace checkup
One LP-gas appliance that gets overlooked during warm weather is the forced-air furnace. Most service requirements for the furnace need to be accomplished by a reputable RV service center, but there are a few things the owner can do to prepare the furnace for cold-weather operation.

The battery plays an important role in the proper operation of the furnace. Keeping lead-acid batteries watered and fully charged will prevent many furnace-related problems. Inspect furnace ducting that is above floor level for damage, such as crushed ducting or obstructions that could affect furnace operation. Make sure the furnace air return is not blocked or restricted. Test the operation of the furnace before the day arrives when you actually need it. Have a certified technician test your LP-gas system annually for proper appliance operating pressure and leaks.

5. Inspect all safety devices and replace all dry-cell batteries
Carbon monoxide is deadly. Test the CO detector, LP-gas leak detector and smoke alarm for proper operation every time you use your RV. Instruct individuals on symptoms and what to do if they are exposed to carbon monoxide or if they hear LP-gas leak detector alarms. Replace all dry-cell batteries when you change the settings on your clocks in the spring and fall. Make sure you have a charged fire extinguisher on hand and that you and other adults know how to operate it.

6. Clean, inspect and reseal your roof as necessary
Not that this is directly related to fall or winter use, but I like to inspect the roof twice a year, at a minimum, and I think spring and fall are good times of the year to make these checks.

Note: Exercise caution any time you work on the roof of your motorhome. The roof surface can be slippery and a fall can result in serious injury, or worse.

Clean your roof with an approved cleaner for the type of roofing material your motorhome has. Every time you clean the roof, inspect the sealants around all of the openings and the seams on the roof. Water will take the path of least resistance, and if there is the smallest opening, it will find it. Thoroughly inspect the roof sealants for potential leaks and reseal any areas of the roof seams and around openings where you suspect a leak. Make sure you use sealants compatible with your roofing material. Keep in mind that your warranty can be voided if you fail to perform some of these required inspections. Check your motorhome owner’s manual for roof inspection intervals.

7. Plan for non-use
If you don’t plan to use your RV over the fall and winter months, winterize the plumbing system to prevent freezing. Prepare all other systems for short or long-term storage.

Check out our Winterizing & Storing DVD

Happy RV Learning,

Mark Polk

RV Education 101

RV Consumer

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11 Responses to “Pre-winter RV Checks”

  1. Montana Mike on October 1st, 2011 5:21 pm

    That’s interesting about the battery charge voltage. My charger stays on every day, 24 hours and is only off when we are dry camping. It charges at 13.6v minimum and my battery bank is over four years old. I have never needed to add water, and I check it frequently. And that is just the “maintainence” setting. It only BULK recharges at 14.6v, which is 4 volts less than Exide recommends. I quote:
    “There are two limits.

    2.5V per cell and 25A.

    In parallel, two 12V batteries can be charged at 15V and 50A at the charger.”

    That matches several other battery maker’s recommendations except for Trojan who only wants golf cart batteries charged at 14.8v.

    I have been doing an upgrade (solar system) on my trailer and have had the batteries disconnected from the charger (for safety purposes) for over a week now, and using the lights and so on, the two rather expensive voltmeters on the rig each show 12.8v. It just now got down to that.

    To restate, when my rig is in winter storage for up to six months, I leave the charger on the whole time. And I never need to add water. And my batteries give as good a service now as they did when new.

  2. George on October 1st, 2011 7:14 pm

    Anti-freeze is also very important during summer driving. With a 60% mix of anti-freeze to water, and with a properly working 15 psi radiator cap, your coolant won’t boil until 258 degrees Fahrenheit.

  3. George on October 1st, 2011 7:17 pm

    Taking regular axle grease and coating your battery posts and connections thereto, which prevents air getting to the post and connection surfaces, will 100% eliminate corrosion. Clean the post and connections first, flush with baking soda and water, reattach connections and coat with grease. If you don’t have axle grease Vaseline will do as will any other type of grease.

  4. Mark Polk on October 3rd, 2011 7:51 am

    Montana Mike,

    13.5 volts has always been the threshold of what I consider acceptable for a continuing float charge for lead acid batteries. 13.6 is at the upper limits. (2.25-2.27 per cell) Of course this also depends on ambient temperature. The float charge level should be lowered at ambient temperatures above 85 degrees F.

    I have seen hundreds of RV batteries ruined in less than 4 years because of older style converter chargers (not 3-stage chargers) overcharging the batteries when the unit is plugged in for periods of time, usually during storage.

    Charging a lead acid battery above the acceptable levels creates heat and the battery starts gassing resulting in a loss of water. Even with a 3-stage charger I have always had to water my RV batteries over time. You are very fortunate to have never had to add any water to your 4 year old batteries.

  5. Geoffrey Pruett on October 3rd, 2011 9:22 am

    The 13.6 voltage level seems to be fine with sealed batteries, have never tried it with add water types. Now is the time to consider plumbing protection unless you do the whole drain down package. We do not as the unit gets some use during the ugly weather. Since the water pump is just inboard of the left tail lamp a drop lamp goes into the cabinet above it which is plugged in as needed. Not a perfect answer but a fuss free style with a low temp sensor leaves me with the question of where to sense the low temp. Inside could be too late starting and outside could develop chicken little effect. No hoses are connected and the unit is under a cover. Anyone with experience on this one?

  6. Frank H on October 3rd, 2011 9:41 am

    I leave my 1997 unit on all the time too and I did the same with our 1983. I think the only danger is if your unit’s charger goes faulty. I guess if you are really worried a commercial battery maintainer would be the way to go as they are at a low amperage output to start off with. If you don’t keep the batteries up during extreme cold they will freeze and burst the battery casing so there is a fine line to be held. The thing to consider is if you are out for 3 weeks and never use the unit’s batteries and never have any issues with your batteries, chances are that will hold for 52 weeks. The chargers on the RVs seem to be of a good quality.

  7. RV Backup Camera on October 6th, 2011 3:01 pm

    Those are some great suggestions. I’d like to suggest one other preventative measure: a back up camera system for your RV. Having one helps the driver remain safe while protecting the vehicle from being damaged. Great post though–thanks for sharing!

  8. Linda on December 9th, 2011 5:22 am

    I have a 1995 Ford c-class that is in very good shape physically. My husband passed away very suddenly 4 months ago and I would like to keep the RV running so I can use it when I visit my children. There are two batteries under the hood that are connected with a wire and the main battery has a cut-off switch on top of it to disconnect the other battery. When we were camping, we had to make sure the switch was flipped off ro our primary battery would drain down. Do I need to put a charger on both batteries when the RV is stored or would using one and keeping the switch on work?

  9. Steven on January 1st, 2012 3:51 am

    This is a great web page. You helped me find the best GPS system!!!

  10. stan the man on January 2nd, 2012 7:01 pm

    I keep a battery charger “maintainer” on all winter (sub-zero temps) for approx. 6 mos. every winter on my 2004 Dodge (this is for 2 batteries), so far so good.
    On a 5th wh. trailer, I had 2-6 volt batteries charged with a 150 amp. solar panel during the winter, never, took them out of the trailer & never replaced batteries for 9 years. Just made sure that the solar panels are always clean & that the water level was covering the plates.

  11. spy software handy gibt es hier on September 4th, 2012 9:06 pm

    I usually do not drop a leave a response, but after reading through some of the responses on this page Pre-winter RV Checks.
    I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or do a few of these comments appear like they are coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are writing at other online social sites, I would like to follow anything fresh you have to post. Would you make a list of all of your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?