Winterize a Camper – Step by Step Guide
As winter rolls in and the temperatures start dropping, most owners of campers and RVs begin their plans of winterizing their vehicles to tuck them away after the good times of spring and summer.
If you’re new to the camper world, you may think it’s enough that you park your car in a safe spot inside a garage, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll find your RV ready to roll once you bring it back out the following spring – enters winterizing!
This is why we’ll be walking you through the entire process with our step by step guide for how to winterize a camper, so keep on reading to learn all about this crucial task.
What Does it Mean to Winterize a Camper?
To “winterize” something, typically means that you need to provide all the means necessary for this thing to be able to endure the cold temperatures of winter months and come out of this cold period in a stable working state. This process applies to all sorts of stuff including houses and automobiles.
Since your camper or RV can simultaneously act as a home as well as a vehicle of transport, this means you’ll need to consider preparing it in light of both aspects when it comes to winterizing.
Unfortunately, many camper owners tend to overlook this fact and put all their focus on winterizing the plumbing system of the RV, neglecting other parts of the vehicle.
However, as we’ve established, a camper needs a full winterizing job which includes preparing its entire interior and exterior for storage during the harshly low temperatures.
In this guide, we’ll be covering the whole camper system, from the inside and out, to help you winterize your RV as efficiently as possible.
When Should I Winterize my Camper?
While it can be tricky to pinpoint the ideal time for you to winterize your camper, most professionals, as well as long-time RV owners, recommend winterizing your camper when the temperatures where you live drop to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
This process is incredibly important if you want to maintain the good condition of your camper and avoid spending money, effort, and time on future repairs.
In fact, some camper owners start winterizing their vehicles once the temperatures hit 40 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the chances of compromising the performance of the camper, they just don’t want to take any risks!
Winterize a Camper – Your To-Do List
Before we get down to business, it’s always a good idea to formulate a list for your winterizing tasks to get them in order and make sure you don’t miss anything by staying on track. Here’s a shortcut:
- Find a Secure Parking Spot
- Clean Your Camper’s Interior
- Unpack your belongings
- Wash sheets, doors, and windows
- Clear out all food
- Fortify against insects
- Drain all the Water Tanks
- Winterize the Camper’s Plumbing System
- Turn off and Disassemble – electronics and components
- Shut off the Gas
- Manage the Oil – change and stabilize
- Cover and Seal Outlets and Gaps
- Check the Roof
- Wash and Dry the Exterior – body, wheels, tires, and awning
- Cover up Your Camper
Winterize a Camper – The Work
Now that you have your to-do list up and ready, it’s time that we walk you through each step, so let’s get started!
Park Your Camper in a Secure Place
Alright, so the first step in your winterizing project is to find a secure and suitable spot to park your camper during the cold months. Here, you need to achieve 2 things: stabilizing your car and preventing flat spots from forming on the tires.
Stabilizing your camper means that you make sure it won’t be moving from its parking spot when you’re not looking to avoid any sort of accident. To do this, you’ll have to locate your camper on level ground and then proceed to fix the position of the wheels.
Some options to keep the wheels in place include using leveling blocks or chocks. Either way, you should center the tires as much as possible without leaving any edges hanging off. You can also install camper jacks and stabilizers to maintain stability and level positioning of your vehicle. Also, remember to park with the emergency brake activated if your camper is motorized.
As for flat spots that develop on your tires after sitting for extended periods, you may want to consider raising the camper above ground and securing it with concrete blocks for stability.
Clean Your Entire Camper’s Interior
After landing the perfect parking situation for your camper, you can now start cleaning its interior, and when we say interior, we’re talking about absolutely everything that’s residing inside your camper – starting from your belongings, all the way to food and appliances.
First, begin by clearing out all your valuable items and objects that you often use or need. Then, take out all the food inside your camper, whether stored in cabinets or frozen. Yes, you’ll have to remove any shape or form of food to avoid attracting unwelcome visitors such as insects and rodents.
Once you empty the fridge, make sure you unplug its power cord and defrost its components. If there’s an ice maker, clean it and leave the doors of your refrigerator and freezer slightly open to keep the interior aired and prevent mold from forming.
Proceed to wipe down the windows, cabinets, closets, seats, tables, and basically any other surface where crumbs can be found. Following that, sweep and mop the floors to make sure you got rid of all the food crumbs and bits.
Additionally, remove all the sheets, pillowcases, and curtains to wash them so that they, too, don’t invite pests and such.
Don’t forget to check for any holes, gaps, or crannies inside your camper from where bugs or rodents could possibly enter to seek shelter from low temperatures of the winter season. Seal them up to protect the camper from stubborn infestations.
Drain all the Water Tanks
The next step is to make sure there’s no water left in the camper’s tanks. This is particularly crucial because if you leave water inside the plumbing workings of your vehicle during the winter, it’s probably going to freeze, expand, and break the fittings as a result.
Fixing such a disaster can be very costly, so it’s better if you take the time to simply drain water from all the tanks of your camper, including the gray and black tanks, the water heater, as well as the fresh water tank.
Winterize Your Camper’s Plumbing System
Winterizing the plumbing system of your camper is really the highlight of the entire process. It’s an extremely crucial step and many RV owners consider it to be what winterizing is all about.
This doesn’t mean it’s too complicated to do on your own, you’ll just need to be careful in following the sequence of the steps and understand that this process does take the longest to complete.
So let’s start by listing out all the items you’ll need to have before getting to work:
- Non-toxic RV antifreeze – the number of gallons you should buy varies according to the length and layout of your plumbing lines. As an average estimation, most campers require 2 to 3 gallons of antifreeze.
- A water heater bypass kit, but only if your camper doesn’t have one already installed.
- A tank wand to clean and flush out the water holding tanks, but only if your camper doesn’t come with a built-in tank flushing system.
- A water pump converter kit or tubing to connect to the inlet point of the water pump.
- Basic hand tools to help you remove and reinstall drain plugs.
Now that you have all your supplies and tools ready, it’s time to actually winterize your plumbing system.
The following steps will guide you through the process, but you should be aware that your camper may require extra steps, or you may need to skip some steps. So be sure to check and read your owner’s manual for any specific guidelines regarding your unit.
- Remove all inline water filters (you should install a bypass hose on the sink faucet if it also had an inline filter). Then, find and drain the fresh water holding tank. After that, locate the gray and black holding tanks to drain and flush them.
If your camper doesn’t include a built-in flushing system, this is when you should use the flushing wand we’ve mentioned above to clean out the black water holding tank. Do this at a dump station.
Next, drain the water heater by removing the drain plug and open the pressure relief valve to speed up the draining. You should never drain your water heater while it’s hot or under pressure.
- Open every hot or cold faucet in your camper, and don’t miss the toilet valve. If there’s an outside shower installed, let it run as well.
After that, locate the low point drain lines and open them by removing their plugs. You should find one corresponding to both hot and cold water lines. This would be a good time for using the water pump to push most of the water out of the system.
Once the system is drained, be quick to turn the pump off to avoid damaging the pump. Proceed to close all faucets and recap all drains.
- The next step would be bypassing the water heater. It’s an incredibly important procedure to do for campers that aren’t equipped with a bypass kit.
Otherwise, when you add antifreeze, the solution will fill up the water heater tank before reaching the water lines. This will waste at least 6 gallons of antifreeze which will cost you more money.
- With this step, you can choose between installing a water pump converter kit, or detaching the inlet side of the water pump (coming from the fresh water tank) and connecting it to a 1-gallon container of non-toxic RV antifreeze via a piece of clear tubing.
Either way, the goal is to successfully introduce the camper antifreeze into the water system.
- Turn on the water pump to pressurize the system and start pushing the antifreeze through the water lines.
You want to locate the faucet closest to the water pump and slowly open the hot and cold valves until you can see the bright color of the antifreeze.
Continue to repeat this process with all faucets going from the closest to the farthest away, replacing the RV antifreeze container as often as required. Again, remember to do this with the outside shower if your camper has one.
- Flush the toilet repeatedly until the RV antifreeze solution appears, then pour a cupful of the antifreeze down each drain.
Next, you should also pour some antifreeze in the toilet, and flush it to get the solution into the holding tank, ensuring that none of the remaining water in the tank is going to freeze.
- Lastly, double-check that all the faucets are tightly closed. If your water heater is equipped with an electric heating element, be sure to turn it off for protection in case your camper is plugged in while in storage.
Turn off and Disassemble – Electronics and Components
After you’re done dealing with the plumbing system of your camper, it’s time for you to turn off and disassemble any part of the vehicle that requires so.
So start by winterizing all the electronics you can find on your camper by switching them off and unplugging their power cords. This includes coffee machines, microwaves, TVs, and other items that connect to an outlet.
Don’t forget to remove all the batteries all keep them in a place with room temperature. If you leave them inside the camper during harsh winter temperatures, their life span will be significantly cut short.
Shut off the Gas
Next, move on to winterizing your gas tank. If your camper uses a built-in propane tank, then you’ll probably find it in a compartment outside of the vehicle. Locate its “shut off” valve and turn it all the way to ensure it’s tightly closed.
However, if you use portable propane tanks, simply remove them and fasten any lines.
Manage the Oil
The following step is to manage your oil situation to avoid damaging the camper’s engine or generator. It’s always recommended to change the oil and filters of a camper before parking it away for long periods.
Also, consider adding fuel stabilizer to the generator as well as the engine. Let them run for a couple of minutes to let the stabilizer function through the system.
Cover and Seal Gaps
Check for any outlets, inlets, holes, or gaps that are left open and cover them securely to prevent pests from entering inside your camper. This also includes covering the exhaust guard.
You can use mesh screens to cover vents or even seal and insulate your windows with double-sided tape.
Additionally, make sure you carefully look around the edges of all windows and doors in your camper and check on the condition of existing seals. If needed, reseal any holes to keep out water from leaking inside and further fortify against insects.
Check the Roof
Continue your sealing mission by inspecting the roof. Find a ladder to climb up there so you’re able to closely examine your camper’s roof. Take extra care while looking at the areas surrounding wiring, antennas, exhaust pipes, vent fans, as well as air conditioners.
Check for leaks and proceed to seal any compromised spots or gaps you’ve found. Some camper owners will apply a full coverage sealant over the whole roof to add a couple of extra years to its service time if they feel the roof getting old.
Wash and Dry the Exterior
Don’t worry, you’re almost done! One of the very last steps of winterizing your camper is to wash the exterior, and by the exterior, we mean everything on the outer side of the camper so you can look forward to a sparkling clean vehicle once spring comes around.
This includes washing the exterior surface of the camper, the wheels, the tires, the awning, as well as any corners and crevices that may be hiding dirt.
When cleaning the fabric your awnings, stay away from dish detergents or any cleansing agent containing degreasing materials, because they may cause cracks to form in the awning once they’re dry. Instead, use a dedicated camper awning cleaner.
After you’ve washed everything, take the time to thoroughly dry it all. You don’t want to leave any moisture that could cause corrosion on the camper’s surface during storage.
Cover up Your Camper
Finally, it’s time to tuck in your camper! You’ll need to use a cover made of breathable fabric that’s customized to protect campers in cold temperatures.
This is important because you don’t want air or moisture to get trapped underneath the cover and form mold or mildew.
Make sure you’re covering the tires to protect them from the sun. Also, if there are any sharp edges on your camper, put some rags or towels over them to avoid puncturing the cover.
All that’s left to do now is that you relax! Yes, you’re now officially done winterizing your camper. Remember, knowing how to winterize a camper doesn’t only save you money and hassle, but it also helps maintain the good condition of your camper for many years to come!
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