By Mark Polk, RV Education 101
We enjoy using our RV year-round, but doing so requires some cold weather preventive maintenance. Do not confuse this winter RV checkup with winterizing or preparing the RV for cold weather storage. All we are doing here is preparing the RV to better deal with the cold temperatures.
In no particular order, here are my top 5 RV preventive maintenance winter 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 warm water, if necessary. If you have lead-acid batteries, check the electrolyte level in each cell and add distilled water if any cells are low. If you look inside the battery cell you will see a plastic ring that extends down inside the cell roughly 1 inch. This is the split-ring or fill-well. Use distilled water, and only fill the cell to 1/8 inch below the bottom of the split-ring.
A discharged (or partially charged) battery freezes faster than a fully charged battery. Use a digital voltmeter to measure voltage and get a quick picture of the batteries’ depth of discharge. Charge any batteries that are at or below an 80 percent charge.
Battery Tip: A charged 12-volt battery should read 12.6 to 12.7 volts. Readings of 12.5 or less indicate the battery state of charge is below 80 percent and the battery needs charged. A charged 6-volt battery should read 6.31 to 6.37 volts. Therefore, readings below 6.25 indicate the battery state of charge is below 80 percent and the battery needs charged.
Note: If you are not comfortable working on or around batteries have a qualified RV service center perform battery maintenance for you.
2. Test automotive antifreeze
The antifreeze in your tow vehicle’s or motorhome’s radiator should always have a 50 to 70 percent concentration of antifreeze to water. Water cools the engine, but it freezes during cold temperatures. It causes certain metals to rust and corrode too. Therefore, 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. Refractometers are more accurate, but cost more too. You can purchase a float hydrometer at any auto parts store for a few dollars.
Note: It is a good idea to flush the cooling system and add new coolant at regular intervals, especially during heavy use like towing a trailer. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for recommended intervals.
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 any leaks. Finally, inspect all hose clamps for secure mounting and replace any damaged coolant hoses or clamps as required.
3. RV furnace checkup
One LP gas appliance overlooked during warm weather is the RV forced-air furnace. The majority of service requirements need to be accomplished by a qualified RV service facility. However, there are a few things owners can do to prepare the furnace for cold-weather operation.
The battery plays a vital role in the proper operation of the RV furnace. Water lead-acid batteries, and keep them fully charged to prevent many furnace-related problems. Furthermore, inspect the furnace ducts that are above floor level for any damage, like crushed ducting or obstructions that could affect the operation of the furnace. Make sure the furnace air return is not blocked or restricted. Finally, test the operation of the furnace.
4. 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. Tell people what carbon monoxide symptoms are, and explain what to do if you are exposed. Instruct individuals on what to do if they hear the smoke alarm or LP gas leak detector alarm. Replace dry-cell batteries annually, and if a detector makes a chirping sound.
Check the CO detector expiration date and replace it if it is expired. Tip: Write the expiration date on the outside cover of the CO detector so you know when to replace it.
Make sure there is at least one fully charged fire extinguisher in the RV, and that you and other adults in the RV know how to operate it.
5. Plan for non-use
If you do not plan to use your RV over the winter months you need to winterize the plumbing system to prevent it from freezing and prepare all other systems and components on the RV for short or long-term storage.
These are 5 easy checks we as RV owners can make to help ensure our RV is prepared for some cold weather camping.
To learn more about using and maintaining your RV, check out our e-book and video courses at RV Online Training.
Mark J. Polk
RV Education 101