Winter’s finally in the rear view.
You’ve been champing at the bit to get back out on the road. Now it’s time. Winter is behind you, and you’re ready to get the rig prepped for that first trip of the season.
If you’ve properly winterized your vehicle, much of this process is going to feel like winterizing in reverse. One afternoon is all it will take to get your RV fine-tuned for all the fun ahead. (That is, unless your batteries need some serious love.)
Okay. Uncover your rig or get it out of storage, and let’s get to work!
Spring into action
Before we jump into how to dewinterize your motorhome, travel trailer, pop-up camper, or fifth wheel, here’s a suggested list of items and supplies you might need. You can find these at most RV parts stores, hardware stores, or online retailers.
- Air compressor
- Air filters
- Battery charger
- Damp sponge
- Garden hose
- Household bleach
- Latex gloves
- Potable water
- Propane tanks
- Safety glasses
- Tire pressure gauge
- Torque wrench
- Wash and wax cleaner
- Waterproof sealant/caulking
- UV protectant
- Silicone spray or lubricant
- Spare fuses and light bulbs
- Toilet chemicals
No leaks. No drafts. No errors.
Begin dewinterizing by giving your vehicle a good wash and wax. Scrubbing, washing, and rinsing your vehicle allows you to get it nice and clean while inspecting it for any cracks where water could get through during camping season. (Obviously, if you see a gaping hole, take care of it before washing your rig.)
Pay special attention to the roof. Look for any cracks, cuts, or holes and seal them with the recommended sealant once your rig is dry. Then, if your roof looks like it’s aging, coat it with liquid rubber. There. (It is recommended that sealants be inspected yearly.) While you’re on the roof, now is a good time to inspect vent caps, stink pipe vent covers, and air conditioner shrouds for damage or bird and wasp nests. If you have solar panels, you might want to give them a good cleaning so they can operate at peak performance.
Now inspect all the body seams of your RV, as well as the seals around your doors and windows. It’s a good idea to open all windows and doors to make sure they are in working condition. Wash the gaskets with soap and water to remove dirt and resin from the gasket material, which can cause sticking. Then apply a UV protectant.
Make sure to clean your awning material, too, if you have one. Also check that they are deploying and retracting properly, and lubricate moving parts as recommended.
Then take a gander under your rig for any spider webs or animal nests. Check for road damage to any plumbing, wiring or gas lines. All good? On to your battery.
All charged up
Start by inspecting your batteries and cleaning up any corrosion around the terminals.
Getting your batteries all charged up is going to depend on what you did with your batteries for winter. (Download How to Winterize Your RV for more information.) If you kept them charged, they should be good to go. If not, you’ll need to recharge them.
Here’s how to charge your battery:
Don’t charge the battery until after you have checked fluid levels as mentioned below! Always keep flames and sparks away while charging because off-gassing could cause the battery to explode.
Keep the battery charger in the “off” position as you connect it to the RV charger. Connect the red cable to the red indicator on your RV, and then connect the black cable to the black indicator. Check that voltage is set to 12 volts. Now turn your power on “charge.”
Charging your batteries can take a few hours—or as long as a few days—depending on their size and the type of charger you are using. Go ahead and charge them overnight if your rig has more than four.
While your battery is charging, you can move on with the rest of your endeavor.
Just add (distilled) water
Another aspect of maintaining your battery is topping off your water levels. You should do this after fully charging the battery unless the water level is already below the plates.
Check the water level and add distilled water as necessary to the point where the water just covers the plate. Never use any water with minerals in it, including tap water, as this can damage the battery. Also, keep the plates covered at all times.
If you stored your batteries away for the winter, now it’s time to reinstall them. Spray both terminals’ ends with a solution to keep them from corroding. Then attach and tighten the red (positive) battery cable. Next, attach and tighten the black (negative) battery cable. Finally, double check that all your cable connections are tightened.
Caution: Make absolutely sure you connect your batteries properly. If you’re uncomfortable working with them, an approved RV repair facility can perform this maintenance.
Three battery tips for the road
#1: Check your RV batteries frequently.
Remember that your rig can draw out battery energy even when you’re not camping. When you are camping, plug your RV into shore power for about 8 hours at least once a week. And keep an eye on your power levels.
#2: Check your water levels before each trip during camping season.
#3: Know the amp usages of your RV system.
Determine how much power each feature of your RV system uses. This will allow you to calculate how much power you’re using and how long your power will last when you’re running certain features.
One of the most important steps in keeping your rig and tow vehicle safe on the road is inflating your tires to the proper air pressure. The last thing you want is accelerated tread wear, uneven handling, or a blowout.
Tires normally lose about 2-3 psi for every month they’ve been in storage. Check each one, including the spare, for cracks along the treads and sidewall. Then check the pressure of each tire with an air inflation gauge. Always check the pressure when tires are cold. Inflate them to the correct pressure, according to manufacturer guidelines. Also know the torque specifications for the lug nuts before tightening with a torque wrench.
Brave the broom duty.
Okay, now it’s time to check the interior. Investigate for evidence of any unwanted inhabitants like mice, squirrels, or spiders—starting with any mouse traps you may have left.
Now face your fears and clean like there’s no tomorrow. Seriously. Vacuum the carpets. Get those cabinets sparkly. Replace your towels and linens.
Also air out your vehicle by opening the doors and windows. Then look closely for signs of damage. See any discoloration on your ceiling? That’s a sign of a water leak you’ll need to take care of posthaste.
Open your refrigerator and cabinet doors to check for mold. If you smell anything unpleasant, that could be a sign of mold. (You can install a small dehumidifier next offseason if you’re worried about moisture.)
Bye bye, buggy
Maybe you did this when you winterized, but if not, now is a great time to change your air and water filters. Also check your owner’s manual for anything specific to your model. Go ahead and rinse or vacuum your window screens while you’re at it. There you go, all clean and bug-free.
You getting fresh?
You have two main tasks when it comes to restoring your water system:
- #1: Removing RV antifreeze from the system. (Note: Some dealerships and RV owners use compressed air to force the water out of the system when they winterize. They only use RV antifreeze in the drain traps and toilet so this step may not be required.)
- #2: Sanitizing the system so it’s safe for you to use.
We’ll start with how to remove antifreeze from your plumbing system.
Start by making sure all of your faucets are closed. Now reconnect any water lines that you may have disconnected, while leaving your water heater in “bypass” mode. Next, connect a water hose to your rig’s city water inlet and turn on the water supply. Check for leaks by looking and listening for any water drips.
Starting with the faucet farthest away from the water source, turn on the cold water, and then the hot water until it runs clear. Repeat this at each faucet, shower, and toilet, as well as the outside shower and low point drain. Remember, your antifreeze is most likely a pink color, so the pink water draining out is natural.
After a few minutes, the water will run clear in every faucet. That’s when you can turn off the water supply and disconnect the hose from the city inlet. Then fill your fresh water tank with enough water for you to flush each faucet again. Turn on the water pump and repeat the flushing at each faucet as you did before.
Bleach, be gone!
Failing to properly sanitize your fresh water system can lead to illness and, in some extreme cases, death. First, make sure all drains are closed with drain plugs installed. Then use a quarter-cup of household bleach for every 15 gallons of water your fresh water tank holds. Mix the bleach with water into a one-gallon container. Pour it into the fresh water holding tank.
Run water at each faucet until you can smell the bleach mixture. After 8 to 12 hours, drain the fresh water tank and fill it completely with fresh water. Then run each faucet until you can’t smell any bleach. Finally, drain the remaining water from the tank, and—finito. (If you still smell some bleach, refill the tank and repeat the process until the odor goes away.)
Now install any water filters and turn the water heater bypass to the off position. With the pump running let the water heater fill with water. (Make sure you have installed the exterior water heater drain plug.) Never turn on your water heater if there no water is in it.
Water, water everywhere
It’s crucial to find any water leaks before you’re camping in the middle of nowhere. So crawl under your sinks with a flashlight and look for any cracks in the drain traps. Turn on the water and let it run. Any leaks?
Shine your flashlight anywhere water might leak like the edge of your toilet and behind at the water line.
While you’re on the lookout for leaks, make sure there’s not one in your water pump. First, shut off the outside water and ensure you’re just using your RV water tank. Now, turn on that sucker, making sure all the faucets are closed. Give it a few minutes to reach full pressure, and it should stop running. Wait and listen. Did the pump start again? If not, you’re all good.
But if it doesn’t stop, you might have a leak in the line or within the pump. Listen for a few minutes before you determine whether this is the case. If it is, you’ve earned a leak detective badge. Get it fixed.
So that’s why it’s called the “black tank”!
Hopefully, you dumped your black and gray water tanks when you winterized. If not, it’s definitely time to do it now!
You’ve got two waste tanks on board: a gray one that collects water that goes down the drain of your sinks and shower, and a black one that collects waste from your toilet.
Find an RV-approved place to dump these tanks. (It is illegal to dump your RV water tanks in an unapproved location.) After reading the manufacturer specs, hook the waste hose to your RV, and secure the other end to the dump station.
Always empty your black water tank first. Why? It’s so the “cleaner” water can flush out any waste left in the hose from the black tank. When it’s emptied, close the valve, and then open the valve to empty the gray tank.
Both emptied? Now you’re going to eliminate potential clogs by flushing the tanks to take care of any waste and tissue build-up. Many RVs are equipped with a black tank flush valve. If that’s you, just hook a hose to the rinse valve and run water into the tank.
If your RV doesn’t have a built-in flushing system, you can clean the black water tank with a flushing wand. (Or use a product like Flush King to clean both tanks.)
This is a good time to check if anything is leaking past your dump valves. With water in the tanks and dump valves closed, remove the dump valve cap. No water should come out. Reinstall the dump valve cap and open one of the dump valves. No water should drip from the cap. Add treatment chemicals and a small amount of water to black tanks. You might want to give a quick look at your sewer hose to make sure it’s not damaged.
Okay. Now declare victory in what could have been an awfully crappy experience.
Propane shouldn’t be a pain
Check your propane system by looking for dried out or cracked seals and hoses. When you test your system:
- Turn off all LP items before you begin.
- Turn on the leak detector inside your rig. Most LP detectors are hard-wired to a 12-volt system so it should already be on. Test to verify.
This should go without saying, but don’t smoke as you do this, and keep your tanks away from sparks and flames.
First off, slowly, open the valve on your tank all the way. Smell for leaks. Then watch closely for bubbling or spurting as you apply a soapy water solution on the valve and regulator. Also make sure that mice haven’t mistaken your wires and hoses for cheese.
Note: Your LP gas system needs a gas pressure operating test and a leak test once a year. Head on over to an authorized RV repair facility if you’re due.
PRO TIP — If you have an older RV, check the manufacturing date on the LP tank collar. The Department of Transportation reduced the initial requalification period for DOT cylinders from 12 years to 10 years from the date of manufacture. You don’t want to be surprised on a trip when an empty tank can’t be refilled.
Apply some loving care to your appliances
Clean your propane gas appliances. When they’re spick and span, test them by lighting them and letting them run for a while. Think there might be a leak? Turn off the propane and rush on over to an RV service professional.
When you’re sure all LP gas appliances are working perfectly, check that your rig’s appliances operate correctly in the LP gas mode. Check your fridge, then turn it off and keep the doors open so it can return to room temperature before you test it in electric mode.
Next, test all of your other appliances in electric mode. Inspect the outside access covers of your water heater and fridge to ensure they’re clean and debris-free.
Test your GFI (or GFCI) receptacles (plugs) for proper operation. You’ll find these types of receptacles in the bathroom or kitchen area near water sources. If it detects any change in the flow of electricity (e.g., a short from water) it trips the circuit and kills the power. Push the reset button on the receptacle. If it clicks and stays, you’re good to go. If it keeps popping out, you’ll need to contact a professional. While you’re checking your receptacles, you might want to also use a polarity tester to verify all outlets are grounded properly.
Talkin’ ‘about my generator
If you have a generator on board, then you’ll need to check the oil level and get it serviced according to what’s in your owner’s manual. Also take a gander at the generator exhaust system for any damage before you start it; you never want to run a generator with a damaged exhaust system.
Head over to a service facility if you didn’t use a fuel stabilizer in the fuel system and the generator won’t start, or if it continues surging after you start it.
A few final things. Replace the batteries in your safety devices, including the carbon monoxide detector, smoke alarm, and LP gas leak detector. If you removed any batteries or fuses from these devices, it’s time to re-install them.
Test these devices to make sure they’re working. Then inspect your fire extinguishers to ensure they’re ready for an emergency. Replace or recharge the extinguishers as needed. All items mentioned above should have a manufacture or expiration date on them. Check and replace if they are outdated.
Finally, make sure your license plate is current, as well as any passes you might have for state or national parks and the like.
Now you’re all set.
PRO TIP — Download the Togo RV app to your phone and enter your license plate information, such as renewal dates. Then, you’ll always have quick, easy access wherever you are. If you don’t have Togo RV, be sure to visit your phone’s app store to get it today!
Time to hit the road
You’ve readied your ride by inspecting it from top to bottom and sealing up any leaks. You’ve charged your battery, inflated your tires, refreshed your water system, and filled up on propane. What’s left? A good night’s sleep. There’s plenty of adventure in your near future.
Did you find this Togo RV Guide helpful? Then share it with your friends in high—and low—places. Don’t forget to tell them that Togo RV got you to your first campfire of the season speedy quick. With a spotless rig, a smile on your face, and two tanks of propane to boot.