Revitalizing your motorhome prior to each new travel season is just as important as properly prepping it for a long winter nap.
By Gary Bunzer
It starts with that little twitch that begins to stir inside. That’s the first symptom. Then it spreads throughout your whole body. It happens each year about this time, right? Oh, there may still be a little nip in the air, but you do see some new growth sprouting, the skies are clearer, the birds are chirping a bit, and you’re ready “” ready for that first RV excursion of the new season. Spring fever has hit!
So, now what? Grab the pet, throw in some canned goods, put the soda in the fridge, top off the tank, fire that puppy up, and pull out, right? Well, a few RVers may choose to follow that pattern, but those RVers who have a true appreciation for their vehicles know better. One cannot spend one’s discretionary dollars and approach the RVing lifestyle with such a cavalier attitude. No, the initial shakedown cruise each season should be approached only after a complete check of all the major systems and components found in and on the motorhome.
As promised, this is the follow-up piece to last fall’s article, “The Basics Of Winterizing Your Motorhome” (September 2003, page 60). As in that article, the following procedures will follow a systematic theme to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Once you are properly equipped with a systematic methodology and a few hand tools, this crucial walk-through and prepping of your coach can be accomplished at a leisurely pace. Correctly performed, this task can save you from the painful results of spending needless repair dollars and from enduring those annoying delays while traveling. Here we go.
The degree of difficulty in performing the spring shakedown is directly proportional to how well it was winterized last fall. A coach well-prepped for storage makes for an easier time when getting ready for another camping season. If the motorhome was stored outdoors for the winter, it’s best to begin the spring preparation ritual by completely washing the exterior. Starting the inspections with a clean coach makes identifying problems easier.
After carefully washing the exterior, begin the inspection on the roof. Here is where you want to pay strict attention to seams, edges, and those areas around roof vents, plumbing vents, or any additional add-on item attached up there. Now is the time to find and repair any cracked sealant or damaged rubber membrane. If these issues are ignored, construction damage to the roof, ceiling, or wall panels may result, which could prove to be expensive to repair at a later date. Most minor roof repairs are relatively easy to fix, given the abundance and the quality of products available now.
Look closely around the windows, storage compartments, and the entry door. It may be time to reseal these areas. In some easy cases, all that is necessary to restore their leak-proof integrity is to apply a thin bead of clear or white silicone sealant from a standard caulking gun. In severe cases, it may be necessary to have the door or window completely removed, the old sealant scraped and cleaned from the mounting flanges, and the door or window reinstalled and resealed using the proper materials. Attention to detail at this juncture will go a long way in keeping the RV in the best of shape.
12-Volt-DC Battery Systems
The first of the major systems to check and prepare for use is the 12-volt-DC system. Again, it depends on how you stored the motorhome last fall as to how you should approach preparing it now. Some owners remove the batteries from the RV altogether. Usually personal preference, degree of security, and severity of conditions during the storage period combine to dictate whether it is best to completely remove the batteries from the RV or to simply disconnect them. The bottom line: ensure that each battery is clean, dry, and secure. Check the tie-down brackets or other methods to secure the battery. Sparks may fly “” literally “” if batteries become loosened during travel.
Take extra care and clean the battery terminals and all contact points where wires and cables are attached. On each battery, be sure to pay as much attention to the negative post and terminal as you do the positive. It seems that, typically, the negative (or ground) side of the battery gets neglected. Understand that the negative path to ground is just as crucial electrically as the positive side of any DC circuit; this fact often is overlooked.
When considering any electrical connection or contact point, three words are paramount to proper conductivity through that connection or contact: clean, dry, and tight. Check all terminals, cables, and wires accordingly.
Check the electrolyte level in each cell of each battery. Be careful not to overfill any cell. Too much water (use only distilled water) added to the electrolyte will only weaken that cell and help promote boiling or gassing during the charging process.
Finally, fully charge each battery system in the RV. While charging, the specific gravity of each battery will rise, accepting the charge until it reaches a point that it simply cannot accept any more. At that point in time, the specific gravity will stop rising. Charge each system and monitor regularly until the specific gravity does not rise at all over a three-hour period. It’s best to use a temperature-compensated hydrometer to monitor the specific gravity.
Now go through the coach and operate all the 12-volt lights, fans, and other battery-powered devices. This is the time to replace those burned-out bulbs and fuses, and be sure to carry a few extras in the coach.
Next, turn your attention to the 120-volt-AC system. At the shoreline cord, check the prongs for cleanliness and for any burn marks or melted portions of the molded rubber around the prongs. Do not take any chances by ignoring burns or melted areas at the plug. If the prongs are corroded, it’s easy to brighten them up with soft steel wool, emery cloth, or even fine sandpaper. Remember, clean, dry, and tight!
Plug the shoreline cord into an acceptable receptacle and check the 120-volt appliances for proper operation. Listen for an audible click when you plug in, signifying the apparent operation of the AC-to-DC convertor. In addition, the 12-volt lamps should brighten slightly when the convertor is activated.
Purchase a polarity tester and test each receptacle in the coach. It’s also wise to check for correct polarity in each and every campground prior to operating air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, or any other 120-volt appliance. Avoid the pitfalls of having reversed polarity or an open conductor in a circuit.
After ensuring that the polarity is indeed correct, test the GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) circuit. This circuit protects bathroom, kitchen, and outside receptacles. To be sure the circuit is functioning properly, push the test button and the reset button on the receptacles. By using the plug-in polarity tester, you can verify that the circuit is open when you press the test button. Remember, you must be connected to 120-volt power for the GFCI to be functioning.
For obvious reasons, the 120-volt-AC system is not one to neglect. If you experience a problem or are unsure, do not take any chances. Schedule an appointment at your service center.
Fresh Water System
With all electrical power now restored and in use, turn your attention to the fresh water system. Clean and flush out the fresh water tank. If you used an RV antifreeze last fall, be sure to flush the tank thoroughly.
If you installed a water heater bypass kit (a recommended procedure), open the valves to the water heater and flush it out also. For specific procedures, follow the recommendations outlined in the owners manual. Either attach a fresh water hose to city water, or fill the tank and use the demand pump to flush out the system. Aftermarket water fresheners can be added to the fresh water storage tank and pumped throughout the system to aid in getting the system ready for final filling prior to that first trip.
If the water pump has a filter or a strainer, clean or replace it now. Also, be sure to look for any sign of fresh water leaks anywhere in the system. Check under the coach as well. It’s a wise RVer who finds and fixes small water leaks early rather than waiting until arrival at the destination site.
As you did with the fresh water storage tank, fill and flush the black and gray water holding tanks. Check the operation of the termination valves, hoses, adapters, etc. Be sure all fittings and clamps are ready to go.
Next, after flushing and cleaning the tanks, treat both holding tanks for odor control using commercially available products. Be sure to inspect the flexible sewer hose closely. Look for pinholes that will surely put a damper on your first overnight stay at your favorite campsite.
Inspect the LP-gas container for damage or rust spots. If you have any doubt about its structural integrity, have it checked out by a professional. Like the electrical system, this is one area where you do not want to take risks.
If all the fittings and hoses are still intact, turn on the flow of LP gas by opening the service valve at the container. Use a soapy solution or a commercial leak detector solution to carefully bubble test each fitting or connection that is exposed to the exterior of the rig. Be sure to use a soap solution that does not contain ammonia.
Inside the coach, light one or two stove burners. This will get the LP gas flowing and will help burn off any air that may be in the system as well. If at any time you smell LP gas, immediately turn off the burners and the service valve at the container and call the service facility. Have them run a comprehensive LP-gas leak test and approve the entire piping system.
If it’s been awhile since you have had the LP-gas system serviced and the regulator checked for the proper pressure adjustment, now’s the time to schedule this procedure at your local service shop. At least once a year it is wise to check the LP-gas pressure regulator. Do not attempt to adjust the pressure regulator unless you have had specific training on the use of a manometer and fully understand the basics of propane. Leave this one to the professionals.
Once the general LP-gas system has been checked, focus your attention on each of the propane-burning appliances. Light each one and run it through its sequence of operation. Two notes of caution: be sure the water heater is filled with water, and make sure the refrigerator is level.
Run each appliance through its functions at least a couple of times prior to pulling out for that first trip. A little extra caution at this point could very well save you annoying downtime during your excursion. Satisfy yourself fully that each appliance is working as intended.
Keep in mind that cooling the refrigerator prior to loading it up with goodies is recommended. Finally, activate the LP-gas leak detector, carbon monoxide alarm, and smoke alarms and check them for proper operation.
Inspect the rooftop air conditioner(s) for damage. Carefully straighten any bent or damaged fins that may be exposed on the condenser coil. Now’s the time also to clean or replace the return air filter located inside the air conditioner. Never operate the air conditioner with the filter removed. Once the filter is cleaned and back in place, plug the shoreline into an appropriate receptacle and operate the A/C. Run it through the cooling cycle and be sure you hear the compressor start and run.
Activate the slideouts and wipe down each extension rod. Look for any corrosion that may affect the operation of each room. Be sure each room extends fully and retracts to a tight traveling position. Most extension rods are self-lubricating, but be sure each is free of dust and grime.
Check the oil level in the generator. If you did not change the oil prior to storage, do so now. Get in the habit of checking the generator oil daily. In addition to the oil filter, check and replace the air filter element and fuel filters, if applicable on your unit.
Check the condition of the fuel line to the generator. Depending on the age of the motorhome, it may be time to replace those rubber hoses. If you discover small cracks or a certain amount of stiffness to the hoses, replace them.
Start the generator and allow it to stabilize. Keep in mind it may groan, belch, and blow blue smoke until it warms up a bit. If, however, it does not stabilize but continues to rev or blow ugly-looking smoke, further troubleshooting may be in order. Maybe it’s simply time for a tune-up. Be sure to check the remote start switch for proper operation as well.
Once it smoothes out and is running like a top, allow the generator to power the coach. With the generator providing the power, again cycle your rooftop air conditioner(s) and allow the generator to carry this load for at least 30 minutes or so.
Check the operation of all running gear and lights, turn signals, horn, etc. Your coach may have additional items, so be sure to operate them all. Check all the fluid levels; engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, rear axle differential lube, windshield washer fluid, and radiator coolant levels are not to be overlooked.
Take a short road test to try out the brakes, steering, ride, cruise control, and any other driving-related item. Be sure each facet meets with your satisfaction. When is the coach due for its next oil change and tune-up? Be aware of these necessary maintenance items as you plan your trips and destinations.
Inspect the tires for wear. Are they properly inflated? Don’t forget the spare!
Keep in mind that the procedures outlined in this article are generic in nature, so always consult your motorhome’s owners manual for any specific instructions that may apply.
Once you are totally satisfied and comfortable with the operation and function of the motorhome and all the components, now by all means, scratch that itch, pack the fridge, load the family, and indeed start that first RV trip of the season.
Knowing that your RV is in the best of shape will allow you to begin your camping season with a heightened attitude of expectancy, plus the satisfaction of having performed many of the necessary procedures yourself.
Technical consultant Gary Bunzer has written articles, presented educational seminars, and produced broadcast-quality videotapes for both the trade and consumer sides of the RV industry for more than 27 years. His video “Storing and Using Your Recreational Vehicle” is designed specifically for the RV owner. It visually details many of the steps discussed in this article. For information about ordering this video, send a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to Gary Bunzer, P.O. Box 2074, El Cajon, CA 92021. FMCA members will receive a 10 percent discount by mentioning that they read about the video in this article.
Spring Shakedown Checklist
- Remove the jack stands from beneath the coach
- Thoroughly clean the exterior
- Examine the exterior and make needed repairs, paint touch-ups, etc.
- Inspect the sealants around the roof accessories, plumbing vents, windows, doors, and storage compartments
- Make sure the vents have protective screens and are in good shape
- Remove the covers and any debris from the rooftop air conditioner(s)
- Deploy, inspect, and clean awnings; lubricate hardware if needed
- Apply rubber roof protectant if applicable
- Deploy, inspect, and clean slideouts; lubricate hardware if needed
- Inspect and clean all slideout seals; replace as needed
- Inspect and clean all tires; check tread and air pressure
- Inspect and clean all generator components; check oil level and install new spark plug(s)
- Start the generator and verify its operation
- Inspect the undercarriage and patch any cracks, separations, or openings in the storage bays
- Follow the manufacturer’s suggested dewinterizing procedures for fluids, tanks, etc.
- Inspect all exterior lights, clean their contacts and lenses, and verify operation
- Install the batteries (if removed in the fall)
- Inspect the tie-down brackets; repair as necessary
- Clean and inspect all battery cables; replace as necessary
- Clean all battery terminals and all contact points where wires and cables attach
- Check electrolyte level in each cell
- Fully charge the batteries
- Install new dry-cell batteries in clocks, radios, flashlights, and detectors
- Operate all 12-volt lights, fans, and other battery-powered devices
- Make sure all electrical connections are clean, dry, and tight
- Clean the contacts on the shoreline cord and plug it in
- Turn on all circuit breakers
- Check polarity at each receptacle
- Test GFCI circuit
- Plug in all 120-volt-AC appliances and test for operation
Fresh Water System
- Fill the fresh water tank; flush, drain, and refill (if you used antifreeze the previous fall, make sure it’s all out of the system)
- Turn on the pump and purge the air from the system at each faucet and at the toilet (don’t forget the hot water side)
- Connect to city water and verify that the system works properly
- Fill, flush, and refill the water heater, then turn it on and verify its operation
- Check the water tank compartment and beneath the coach for leaks
- Fill, drain, and flush both holding tanks
- Remove, disassemble, clean, and lubricate each termination valve, if necessary
- Clean and inspect all the holding tanks; repair any leaks or cracks, if needed
- Inspect all seals; replace if necessary
- Treat both tanks for odor control
- Inspect the container for damage and/or rust; replace if necessary
- Remove the plugs from the hose and valve
- Reinstall the regulator
- Remove the cardboard covers from the back of the refrigerator and water heater door
- Inspect and clean the refrigerator and water heater burners
- Remove the covers from the furnace exhaust port and air inlet
- Verify that all burners are in the off position, and turn on the LP-gas tank outlet valve
- Verify that there are no leaks in the LP-gas system
- Light all stove burners; verify that there are no obstructions
- Turn on the refrigerator and place it on the coldest setting; verify its operation
- Turn the furnace thermostat all the way up; verify the furnace’s operation
- Thoroughly clean the coach interior
- Repack cabinets with food staples and canned goods
- Remove all window coverings
- Check all fluid levels
- Take a short road test to check brakes, steering, ride, cruise control, and other driving-related items