How to Winterize an RV Trailer: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide


Having a four-season RV or trailer doesn’t mean everything is going to be perfect when you pull it out of storage in the spring – not if you don’t take the necessary steps to winterize it in the fall. Whether your rig is brand spanking new or has many miles on its axle’s you always need to prepare an RV for winter. Let’s go over the complete step-by-step guide to getting ready for what’s just around the bend!

Covered RV Trailer
Photo ID 107196935 © Izanbar | Dreamstime.com

How to winterize an RV trailer. Here is a complete step-by-step guide. Winterizing an RV involves maintenance and attention to a range of systems, such as plumbing, electrical and engine. Winter preparation also includes structural, insulation, interior and pest control steps.

If you live in a region where winter brings snow and below freezing temperatures you will appreciate this easy to follow guide packed with tips and tricks for prepping your rig for the big freeze.

Winter is Coming: What’s an RV-Owner to Do?

Summer has come and gone. Only the memories remain as the leaves begin to fall. It’s happening whether we are ready or not. Winter is upon us, and now is the time to spring into action.

Just as we transition to the seasonal changes by pulling out our sweaters and scarves, Our home on wheels need to get prepared as well. We’re talking about prepping your big metal baby inside, outside, under and over for cold temperatures. Leave no fluid, vent, or pipe unchecked!

Packing Day (Storing for the Season)

For those that are preparing to store their RV for the season, this section is geared towards you. Since you mainly use your motorhome seasonally, there will be things that you need to pack up and move out.

Unlike full time RVers who live in their rigs, the only guests feasting in a stored RV or trailer are the visitors you don’t want. Everything that is in the cabinets will have to get packed up and removed so it doesn’t go rotten, moldy or attract pests.

Besides making sure that you have your sneakers and your phone charger, you will also want to pack up any liquid cleaners and spray cans to ensure they don’t freeze, crack or leak.

Keeping Pest Out of Your RV Over Winter

While we’re on the subject of food, let’s talk about how to keep all of the critters out of your motorhome. Unless you don’t mind if the rodents and their friends squat in your RV for the season. I didn’t think so.

ID 124367123 © Landshark1 | Dreamstime.com

During the cold months, they will try to weasel their way in to find warmth and of course, food! And they can be very determined at getting in regardless of the damage they may cause.

Repelling Unwelcome Winter Visitors

The most popular remedy for keeping rodents out is shaving up bars of “Irish Spring” soap and scattering it around the entrance doors and inside of the cabinets and storage compartments. No idea what is in there that repels them, but it works! Of course, with this method, there is always the factor of cleanup. You could suck it all up with a shop vac come springtime, or you could try the next remedy.

If you’d rather go a simpler and cleaner repellent route, essential oils are amongst the most effective methods of making pests of all kinds feel unwelcome. Peppermint oil is great at repelling rodents and insect invaders. And it makes the entire place smell minty fresh and wonderful!

  • Douse a few sheets of paper towel with drops of peppermint oil and toss the sheets into your cabinets & storage compartments.
  • You can also dilute it in a spray bottle and spritz the surfaces and carpets with it.

Arm yourself with whichever repellent best suits your needs and throw in some traps for added insurance. Although, traps should really only be used if you are going to be checking on the rig once a month, or more.

That takes care of the rodent repellents.

Sealing Up Your RV Cracks

Now on to checking all of the cracks, crevices, and openings where they might come in to get out of the freezing cold and snowy weather.

First, the exhaust pipe, exhaust vents, storage compartments, and around the chassis. Cover it, cap it off, do whatever you have to do to make sure nothing crawls in. It is critical to prevent them from entering your home on wheels and possibly causing some expensive damage.

And we also want to protect them from getting injured or stuck trying to get in through dangerous passageways.

While you are covering up the leaks in your exterior, keep an eye out for any cracks and gaps in the seals around the windows, doors and exterior trim. If the weather permits it’s a good time to add any caulking, sealant or spray foam before your rig sits out in the winter weather.

Fluid Checking Your RV Fluids

We will talk a lot about getting rid of water and liquids for winter storage, but now we are going to cover topping some fluids up.

Before you park it for the season its a good idea to give your RV some under the hood love. This includes stabilizers for the gasoline tank and generator.

  • Oil change. Give the motor a full oil change, even if you have not hit the suggested mileage on the little sticker on the window. This will get a lot of the dirt out of the system before it gets a chance to settle to the bottom of your oil pan.
  • Antifreeze. Top off the engine’s antifreeze and check the fluid mixture ratio. Using an inexpensive antifreeze hydrometer tool like this one from Amazon is a simple way to check the ratio.
  • Gasoline. Add a bottle of fuel stabilizer before filling the tank to keep it fresh for the next few months. Be sure to use the stabilizer correct for your fuel type. Gasoline and diesel fuel stabilizers are different. The combination of stabilizer and a full tank will prevent moisture build up in the tank and fuel.
  • Generator. If your generator has its own gasoline fuel tank try to run the fuel as low as you can when you are getting close to the end of the season. At that point add fuel stabilizer to this tank and top it up to full to ensure it is as fresh as possible for next season. Refer to your manual for additional winterizing instructions for your model of generator.

Draining Your RV Water Heater

The holy grail of surviving RV life for most people is the hot water heater. Without it, steamy showers and dishwashing would not be possible.

Ensure that it will continue to operate when called upon by properly preparing the system for the cold. Turn off the power to the hot water heater hours in advance before attempting to drain it, or you run the risk of seriously burning yourself. Never attempt to drain a hot water heater while it is still hot or pressurized!

After depressurizing and allowing time for your tank water to cool it is still wise to wear eye protection, gloves, and long sleeves during this process. Safety first!

  • With your water pump turned off and the water system disconnected from city water, open your hot water taps to release any pressure in your hot water tank.
  • Next, remove the water heater anode from the heater’s exterior access panel on the side of the RV. This will drain the remaining water from the tank.
  • If the anode is old and corroded you may want to replace it with a new one.
  • Apply plumbers tape to the threads of the anode and screw it back into the tank to seal it.

Any amount of water left in your lines or pipes is a potential freezing hazard. Should you ignore this next step, you could be setting yourself up for an expensive, messy, and time-consuming repair come springtime. Get ahead of that headache now, before the damage is done.

Winterizing your Black and Grey Water Tanks

Oh, the beloved black and grey tanks…

If you’ve been RVing for any amount of time you’ve likely come to terms with dealing with your sewage. Though it’s nobody’s favorite part of the RV lifestyle it is necessary.

Not only is it important to completely empty tanks for winter storage, but it is also just as important to properly clean and prep them so that they will be ready to go for next season. If you skip the disinfectant step for your black and grey tanks the bacteria will rot over the winter and you will walk into a toxic smell after pulling the rig out of storage.

Draining water from pipes should be done before emptying your tanks.

  • Step one is to open every water valve inside and out of the coach. This includes sink faucets and your shower taps. Also, be sure to flush the toilet several times and open any exterior hose connections. Be patient as every last drop comes out.

4 Steps To Disinfecting Your RV Black Tank:

  • Emptying the tank if it is over half full of wastewater.
  • Put in a few gallons of freshwater, a cup of bleach and a bag or two of ice cubes.
  • Go for a drive around the block a few times to get the liquid moving around in the tank. Those ice cubes will act like tiny scrubbers as they move around the tank with the bleach.
  • Dump all the water out of the black tank.

Do not forget about the freshwater tank.

This will definitely need to be drained, as well. If you forget about it, you could come home to a 20-gallon block of ice. When water freezes it expands so that huge block of ice could bust your tank and slowly start to melt all over. All that water can cause damage in hidden areas that will not be seen until it’s too late.

Freshwater tanks should have a drain hose and valve that usually drops out the bottom of your rig. The overflow pipe will act as a vent allowing fresh air to enter the tank as the water exits out the drain. This prevents an airlock from occurring in the tank.

Important note: The freshwater tank is the only holding tank that will not get an antifreeze treatment.

Preventing Busted Water Lines

There are two main ways to prevent your RV water lines from freezing and bursting.

  • Add antifreeze to your water system which will lower the freezing point of water to -50 or below and prevent any residual water in your pipes from freezing.
  • Compressed air can be used to blow out your lines removing any water that may be sitting around inside of them.

The Antifreeze method

Using antifreeze in your pipes is a good way to prevent any freezing from occurring in the winter and causing damage to your pipes and connections. RV antifreeze is very different from regular automotive antifreeze so be sure to get the proper type. Read more about how to safely dispose of RV antifreeze in our article, Will RV Antifreeze Harm a Septic System?

Using RV antifreeze in your trailer or motorhome water system will prevent your pipes from freezing but there are a few drawbacks to be aware of.

First of all you will probably want to avoid getting and antifreeze in your freshwater tank and water heater because it can be difficult to remove. Secondly, RV antifreeze, usually pink or blue, is not harmful to ingest but can leave a strange taste in your water system. The third thing to be aware of is that RV antifreeze made is made of alcohol and can dry out the seals of your water system possibly causing leaks in the long term.

Remember to remove water filters and bypass your water heater before you even open the jug of antifreeze! Obviously, you do not want to taint your drinking filters with antifreeze.

RV/Marine antifreeze is generally available for a few dollars per gallon making these crucial steps very affordable. The damage caused by split pipes will cost much much more.

Pumping Antifreeze Into The Water System.

  • Turn on that all-important bypass
  • Remove the inline water filters from the water system.
  • Take a length of clear tube and insert one end into the gallon of RV antifreeze and connect the other end of the tube to the inlet side of the water pump.
  • Turn on the water pump and open your faucets only on the cold-water side.
  • Run until you see antifreeze come out.
  • Flush the toilet until you see the color of antifreeze come out.

Blowing Out Your RV Water Lines With Compressed Air

If you have an air compressor on hand, using it to blow out your RV water system is a great way to prevent your pipes from freezing. This technique will also avoid the flavor that antifreeze may introduce to your system.

The key to blowing out the water pipes in your RV or trailer is to open the faucets one at a time and blow air through the pipes. This will eject the water from each arm of the piping circuit.

In my RV the best access points to inject the compressed air are the water pump outlet and the hot water tank connections. The low point is the toilet supply however it is tough to drain from that point without blowing water all over the floor. For this reason I blow out as much water as possible before opening the toilet connection.

With your hot water tank empty, twist off the hot water output pipe and blow through the pipes while alternately opening the hot water taps. Once that is complete do the same into the cold water inlet pipe from the hot water tank.

Once complete, disconnect the water pump outlet and blow through it while alternately opening the cold water taps. After these steps are completed place a towel below the toilet disconnect at floor level, open the connection and blow the water out from both ends. That should ensure there is no water left in the plumbing system.

Finally, dump a jug of RV plumbing antifreeze down the toilet so that it can drain into the black tank. After the black tank is winterized, we will move on to the grey tank. Divide a jug up between the sinks and your shower drains. Feel free to add more if you feel like it is not enough. That’s it for draining and winterizing the interior of the pipes and tanks! Check it off the list.

Preparing Your RV Batteries For Winter

When it comes to RV batteries it’s a toss up between removing the house batteries for winter storage or not. Some owners never store their rig for the winter without removing the batteries. On the other hand many choose to leave them in.

Deep Cycle RV Battery

Leaving your batteries exposed to extremely cold temperatures over the winter can shorten the lifespan of them, especially if they are not connected to a trickle charge. So, taking the time to remove them and transport them to a warmer place can save you time, hassle and cash in the long run.

If you decide to store your batteries in a basement or garage with concrete floors, make sure you place a buffer between the battery and the cold floor. Even a scrap of cardboard or piece of plywood would work just fine.

Place the batteries at least a few inches apart from each other, and away from other items in storage. Of course, away from sparks and open flames, as well.

If you decide to leave them in the RV for the winter it is a good idea to have a trickle charge connected by having it plugged into shore power or by using a solar panel. Otherwise it is advisable start the engine or generator monthly to top up the charge during cold weather months.

Give your batteries a once over service before walking away and forgetting about them for the next few months. Check the electrolyte and water levels, topping them off if they are low. Charge them up to full power, and then you are good to go!

Fridge and Freezer

When you reach the fridge and freezer, refer to your owner’s manual for model-specific instructions on winterizing your unit.

You’ll, of course, want to turn the thermostat to high temp and the selector switch to off at the unit. you can also shut power down at the breaker panel.

Empty out all the contents and clean thoroughly before slightly propping the door open to dry and air out over winter. We use a piece of pool noodle to keep our fridge and freezer doors open. Leaving a box of baking soda inside won’t hurt either.

Does your unit have an ice maker? Be sure to empty the holding compartment and drain the water line, so it doesn’t freeze!

The Tires

Your RV world revolves around the health of your tires. Treat them right when you pack your RV away for the winter!

Check the tire pressure and add more air if they are low. Keep them full for winter storage. If you haven’t already, invest in tires covers. Not only are they handy for blocking the damaging sun, but they are also perfect for protecting them from wind, snow, and ice.

If you are storing the motorhome directly on the dirt or grass, make yourself some platforms to drive onto. Measure the base of your tires and cut some wood to fit under them. We want to get the tires off of the ground, but also keeping it as level as possible through the process.

Lowering your stabilizer jacks will help take some of the load off your tires and suspension as well. However, the manual style of jack is not made to lift the wheels off the ground, just to assist with a little bit of load.

If your Rig has a hydraulic system you can lift the majority of the weight off of the suspension and tires. It is still not advisable to lift the tires totally the ground.

General Cleanup

Do your future self a favor by taking the time (once the packing up and winterizing is completely finished) to give your rig an hour or so of good old-fashioned elbow grease.

You might even consider washing the exterior, as well. Unless it has recently been detailed, you probably have some squashed bugs in the grill, mud caked in the wheel wells, and road dirt all over.

Allowing the dirt and grime to sit on the paint through freezing temps will prove to be triple the work it would be if you just did it now. That is if you’re lucky enough to be able to scrub it off next year!

A Job For the Pros

The majority of motorhome owners enjoy DIY projects, such a getting their rig ready for winter, but sometimes we just don’t have the time. Life gets pretty hectic.

If you do not have the time or energy to devote to winterizing your RV, there are professionals that can handle the job for you! Don’t stress! Help is just a phone call away.

Many local RV repair shop provide services to winterize your motorhome. The technicians specialize in RV systems and they have the experience with most styles of motorhomes and trailers.

Mobile RV mechanics are available for those that can’t travel, or that wish to have the service delivered to their doorstep. Often times, these services are competitively priced to a standard shop. Sometimes having lower overhead gives them the ability to charge less.

Typically, a winterizing service will cost you between $100-$200 depending on the size, year, and location. Phone around and get some quotes. Otherwise, the DIY method will help build familiarization with your rig. Either way its a win!

Choosing the Right RV Storage

The location that you store your RV or trailer has a large bearing on how well it survives the down time. If you’re not lucky enough to have storage room at your residence then consider the following points when searching for the best facility in your area.

Choose a facility with a fully gated compound and fence style gate to stop any unwanted visitors from visiting your rig while nobody’s looking. Having a lift arm gate may prevent people from driving into the facility bit they won’t prevent walk-ins from ruining your motorhome or trailer.

RV recreational vehicle storage parking covered garage
Photo 79279978 © Mike2focus – Dreamstime.com

A facility with onsite staff will not only make the experience of booking easier and more inviting but it will also decrease the likely hood of your neighbor blocking you in. The organization of a facility with onsite management personnel is much better than a free for all property.

The hours of access to your RV storage facility is something to be aware of. If you are only storing your rig for the off season then having access after hours probably won’t be an issue. However, if you plan on operating your camper from the facility it could be difficult to get an early start on your vacation and you may feel rushed to get back before closing time. Overall a facility open only during business hours is less likely to have vandals visiting.

A good storage facility will have a high tech security system including video cameras and motion detectors that cover every square inch. Security codes will be under tight control making entrance limited to customers only.

The final factor to keep in mind is the location of the facility in relation to your home or regular travel route. Regardless of the quality and security of the storage facility you choose, you will still want to visit your rig monthly to ensure it is handling the downtime well.

Regular Inspections While Your RV Is In Storage

Checking up on your rig a few times during the winter is the best way to prevent any surprises when you arrive for your first springtime adventure. Even if you are 100% positive that your winterizing was top-notch Murphy’s law is applicable year round.

While you are there checking up on it, be sure to start the engine and let it run for awhile. Running the engine of your Motorhome or RV will ensure that all the seals within the engine and cooling system don’t dry out and crack. This will prevent issues with leaks and premature engine wear. Running your engine can be done while you are ticking off your checklist. 15-20 mins should be perfect for both.

A general once-over should be sufficient enough. Open the cabinet doors and have a quick look over the piping and your hot water heater for signs of leaks, damage, or rodents. You may want to bring a flashlight along to make the inspection easier.

If your RV has an onboard generator that operates on propane you can start it up as well to help keep it in operational condition and to charge the batteries.

Have a look underneath your rig for signs of fluids leaking from the exterior tanks and plumbing as well. These quick checks should address most of the main concerns during winter storage.

RV Trailer Covers

Even if your rig is going to be parked in an indoor storage unit, covering it up gives you that added protection.

  • Tire covers
  • Vent covers
  • Skirting
  • Full-size motorhome cover

Tire covers are quick and easy to put on, typically with a wire form that slips around and hugs the wheel. Most have a soft backing, but a resilient water and weather resistant front material.

Investing in an RV cover can prove to be a worthwhile purchase. It is the next best thing to having a garage. Installing a full-size RV cover will likely require using a ladder and having a helper around to assist with installation.

Also, investing in a skirting that goes around the bottom of your RV will keep wicked winds and temperatures blocked as much as possible. Typically, this adheres to the motorhome with heavy-duty Velcro, clips, straps, snaps, or a combination.

Vent covers are affordable and simple to install. Vents are typically there to allow systems to breathe, but they don’t need as much air circulation in the winter. Keep cold temps out as much as possible with these covers!

The RV Winterizing Checklist

As you can see, winterizing your RV or trailer isn’t a difficult task however there are a lot of steps that need to be taken to ensure it comes out of hibernation in the same shape it goes in.

For this reason it’s a good idea to create a checklist or log of the steps you went through in the fall. It’s good to include any water connections you may have opened, breakers that may be shut off and other details you don’t want to miss.

Beau

Beau is an electrical engineer with a knack for DIY repair and construction. When he's not tinkering with his projects he's on the road travelling and enjoying an exciting lifestyle with his young family.

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