Follow these steps to bring your motorhome out of hibernation and prepare it for the travel season ahead.
By Gary Bunzer
Some winters seem to linger a little too long, don’t they? No matter where you’ve been holed up this winter, if you’re like throngs of other RVers out there, you’re itching to get back on the highway and start another season of exciting, unabated motorhome travel. Before the ice had thawed (even for those of you in Florida), you were making plans to head to the next FMCA international convention, chapter gathering, or other interesting destinations. You just want to get back in the motorhome and go!
Patience, fellow traveler; it’s not as though we can just throw off that coach cover, fill up the tanks, pack the canned goods, grab the necessities, and head out on the open road. The conscientious motorhomer knows that a requirement at the start of each season is to perform the process we call “dewinterizing.” Yes, if you were meticulous last fall, you must be equally diligent in the spring and properly dewinterize the motorhome. This involves completing a few tasks that are best addressed in a systematic manner so that nothing falls through the cracks. So let’s begin the process of removing the motorhome from hibernation.
If you followed the advice published in the November 2009 issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine (“Motorhome Hibernation,” page 44) and winterized the coach accordingly, you understand there is a method to the madness of following a detailed, methodical approach to these procedures. It is desirable to begin the next camping season knowing that all the major systems are checked; that nothing is overlooked; and that if additional maintenance is required, it is addressed before minor nuisances become inconvenient, on-the-road crises that may involve repairs and lengthy travel delays.
Keep in mind, you’re not only dewinterizing the motorhome, but you’re also performing a mini predelivery inspection of sorts, just like the pro technicians do before delivering a new coach to its buyer. Always have a pad and pencil on hand to jot down any items that need attention. During any comprehensive procedure such as dewinterizing, don’t rely solely on your memory. I’d tell you why, but I can’t remember. But you get the point.
So, armed with a couple of days and a few maintenance supplies, let’s begin.
It has always been my philosophy that a clean motorhome will more clearly reveal potential problems than a dirty one “” especially when inspecting the exterior surfaces of the unit. So, unless you employed a total coach cover during the winter, chances are a thorough washing of the motorhome is necessary. Begin by removing and storing the protective boxes used to cover the plastic roof vents. Also, remove any tape or foil you applied over exhaust vents, such as at the furnace assembly.
After the coach exterior has been cleaned, remove the insulating foam inserts that were placed in the windows and roof vents, open the apertures, and begin airing out the unit. While you are at each window, double-check the weather stripping and the exterior weep holes, ensuring they are still in good shape. If necessary, lubricate the slider tracks on any window or screen that opens.
Perform a complete and detailed inspection of all the roof components, seams, and edges. Now is the time to seal any areas that need attention. Inspect the roof air conditioners for damage incurred during the winter months. Carefully straighten any bent or damaged fins that may be exposed on the condenser coil. Once you get inside the motorhome, clean or replace the return air filters.
Inspect and operate all compartment bay doors, access doors/panels, etc. Check the sealant around every window as well as all components attached to the exterior sides of the motorhome. Lubricate all mechanical latches and keyed locks. I recommend a dry lubricant, but any type of lubricant is better than nothing. (Note: WD-40 should not be considered a lubricant; it is a water displacement product that prohibits rust and corrosion.)
Operate and lubricate the moving components of all the manually operated awnings (according to awning manufacturer recommendations). Remove any mold or mildew that may have developed on the awning material since last fall. Nip deficiencies in the bud now!
Don’t forget to check under the motorhome and look for anything out of the ordinary, such as darkened areas on the ground that may indicate a leak. Inspect the areas that you made repairs to during the winterizing procedure last fall. You’ll want to make sure those repairs can withstand another season of travel.
Inspect and lubricate all the slideout mechanisms. Be sure to use only a dry lubricant on these mechanisms, however. Once you are satisfied that the exterior of the coach is in ready condition, turn your attention to the three major onboard systems.
Begin with the 12-volt-DC electrical system. Reinstall the batteries you removed last fall, including any dry-cell batteries. If you failed to charge the house batteries and the chassis battery when winterizing the motorhome, do so now. Chances are they’ll require topping off anyway. Check the electrolyte level first and then charge each battery fully. Always give the batteries the advantage of having a full charge at the start of any camping season. Whenever you’re working with the batteries, make sure to wear gloves and safety glasses to prevent injury from electrolyte that may splatter.
Side note: Here’s how to tell when a lead-acid battery is fully charged. Monitor the specific gravity of the electrolyte in each cell as the battery accepts the current from the charger. As the battery charges, the specific gravity will continue to rise in each cell. At some point, the specific gravity will stop its ascent and remain stable at one reading (hopefully around 1.260). When the specific gravity remains at its highest reading (regardless of the value of that reading) for a period of two to three hours, the battery is fully charged. It simply cannot accept any more current. If it plateaus at a much lower reading than 1.260, further troubleshooting is in order; it may be time to replace that battery.
Some key points to remember:
Do not take a hydrometer reading immediately after adding water to the cells.
Replace any battery that has a 0.05-point difference between any two cells after the battery has been fully charged.
Always use a temperature-corrected hydrometer.
Verify that all battery connections are clean, dry, and tight. Go through the motorhome and operate all 12-volt lamps, fans, and other devices except the fresh water pump and the appliances, verifying all are ready and good to go.
Run each slideout through a couple cycles of full extension and retraction, leaving them in the fully extended position as you continue your dewinterizing process. Listen and watch for any binding, grinding, gnashing of teeth, or any other abnormality as the slideout extends and retracts. Make a note if any irregularities occur. You still have that pad of paper with you, right?
Turning to the 120-volt-AC system (AC), take a look at the plug cap on the shoreline cord. Do the prongs look dull or corroded? If so, clean and brighten the contacts and apply an electrical protectant to the metal prongs. If you will be using a source of AC power that is unfamiliar to you, measure the voltage and check the polarity of that connection before plugging in. The industry accepted voltage coming into the motorhome is 120 volts, plus or minus 10 percent. Also, verify that heavy current users in the motorhome, such as the air conditioners, are in the “off” setting prior to plugging in.
If your usual 120-volt-AC source is available, plug the coach in and turn on the main breaker at the panelboard distribution box inside the motorhome. Turn each subsequent circuit breaker on, one at a time. Now go through the coach and plug in any ancillary AC device that was unplugged during the winterizing process. Remember, in the winterizing story I advised to unplug AC appliances that weren’t hardwired, such as the refrigerator, microwave oven, televisions, entertainment centers, etc. to guard them from damage caused by rouge lightning strikes or voltage spikes.
Once all AC accoutrements are connected and powered, operate each one through their respective cycles to ensure all are operable and ready for use. Be sure the absorption refrigerator is level prior to operating it. Don’t forget to test the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Be sure the “test” button pops out and resets. It also is a good idea to test the exterior AC receptacles for the proper polarity. After the air-conditioner filters have been cleaned or replaced, run each unit through a cooling cycle. Check for unusual noises or vibrations.
What you do next at the fresh water plumbing system depends on which winterizing method you performed in the fall. If you chose the dry method, as a starting point simply add enough fresh water to the fresh water tank so that it is about half full. If you expected subfreezing temperatures over the winter and chose the wet method, you’ll first have to drain the RV antifreeze from the system.
Keep in mind, RV antifreeze can be salvaged and reused the next time you winterize the motorhome, so you may opt to capture the antifreeze as you drain the fresh water tank and the hot/cold low-point drains.
Fill the fresh water tank about half full. Remove the water heater from the bypass mode; seal and tighten the water heater drain plug (Atwood) or anode rod (Suburban); and reinstall any water purification equipment you removed last fall.
Now turn on the water pump and begin flushing out the lines. Open each faucet, hot and cold, to eliminate any residual RV antifreeze that may remain in sections of the tubing. At the water heater, open the pressure and temperature (P&T) relief valve to aid in filling. Once water begins gushing from the relief valve, close the lever. When water is flowing smoothly from every faucet, close them all. It may take a few minutes of pumping the water to rid the entire piping system of the antifreeze and to fill the water heater.
Flush the toilet a couple of times, and don’t forget the exterior showerhead or the washing machine, if so equipped.
After water is flowing freely to every component, turn off the water pump. Open the water heater’s P&T relief valve one last time and leave it open until water stops dripping from the outlet, and then close it. This establishes the necessary expansion space on top of the water inside the tank.
As a final consideration for the fresh water system, attach the fresh water hose to the city connection and verify everything still operates normally via this water source. Take a quick look around to see whether water is dripping or seeping anywhere.
Once you are satisfied that the fresh water system is up and running as it should, top off the fresh water tank and begin the chlorination process. Refer to the “Chlorinating The Fresh Water System” sidebar for detailed instructions about how to properly chlorinate the fresh water system. Once you have fresh, sanitized water, activate the ice maker if so equipped.
There’s nothing special to do for the waste systems if you followed the recommendations during the winterizing procedures, primarily regarding the lubrication of the termination valve seals. They do need to be lubricated, so if you failed to accomplish this task in the fall, address it after you evacuate the holding tanks for the first time in the spring. Finally, treat all the holding tanks for odor control. Use an environmentally friendly, non-formaldehyde product. 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 campground.
LP-Gas System And Appliances
With the final of the three major systems, begin by removing the pressure regulator from its protective baggie and make sure it is still clean. If you did not plug, cap, or tape off the service valve outlet, quickly open and close the valve to expel any contaminants, then attach the regulator assembly to the service valve and open the valve fully. Immediately bubble test the connection by applying some children’s blowing bubble solution to the fitting to make sure there is no leak. You can use liquid dishwashing detergent mixed with water as a leak detection solution as long as it does not contain ammonia or a chlorine derivative. Rinse the soapy solution off the connection with water following the test.
If you have any doubts concerning the integrity of the LP-gas delivery system, contact your local RV service center and have them perform an LP timed pressure drop test. This is one area you do not want to overlook!
In addition, if it’s been awhile since you have had the LP regulator checked for the proper pressure adjustment, this is a good time to schedule an appointment at your local service shop. At least once a year it is wise to check the operation of the LP regulator. Do not attempt to adjust the regulator unless you’ve had specific training in the use of a manometer and fully understand the basics of liquid propane. Leave this one to the certified technicians.
If you are satisfied that no leaks exist anywhere in the LP-gas piping system, light a burner at the cooktop to eliminate the air and atmospheric pressure that have permeated the LP-gas system while it was disconnected. Then turn on each appliance and run it through its sequence of operation. Be sure to test the operation of the refrigerator in the LP-gas mode; again, make sure it is level first. Satisfy yourself fully that each appliance is working correctly.
Precool the refrigerator prior to loading it with food “” overnight is best. Finally, activate the test mode of the LP-gas leak detector, carbon monoxide alarm, and smoke alarms and check them for proper operation. Also check the readiness of all fire extinguishers on board.
Check the oil level in the generator. If you did not change the oil and filter when winterizing the motorhome, do so now. In addition to the oil filter, check and replace the air filter element and any fuel filters in the system.
Check the condition of the rubber fuel line to the generator. Depending on the age of the motorhome, it may be time to replace those hoses. If small cracks are evident or the hoses lack suppleness and flexibility, replace them.
Start the generator and allow it to stabilize. Keep in mind it probably will groan, belch, and blow smoke until it warms up. Once the generator begins running smoothly, allow it to power the coach by switching off the 120-volt-AC main panel breaker. With the generator providing the power, again cycle the air conditioners and allow the generator to carry this load for at least 30 minutes or so.
Check all fluid levels. Those typical to most gasoline-powered motorhomes include: engine oil, transmission fluid, rear axle gear oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid, radiator coolant, battery electrolyte, windshield washer fluid, fuel tanks, and leveling system reservoir. For diesel coaches, please refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations in the owners manual for your particular chassis.
Check the odometer to see whether it is time for a tune-up or a brake inspection. Next, check the operation of all running lamps, turn signals, headlamps, etc., as well as antennas, entry steps, and all other accessories not mentioned specifically here. Verify the integrity of engine drive belts and coolant hoses. Check all tire pressures and set to your tire manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure for your motorhome’s axle weights.
Schedule a couple hours to take the motorhome on a short road test. When doing so, be aware of strange noises, vibrations, and issues with steering and handling. Be sure the chassis is ready to go in every aspect.
One final step is to review your motorhome owners manual to verify nothing was left out of this “get ready” dewinterizing process. As always, in the unlikely event of a contradiction, the manufacturer’s recommendations trump any advice in this article.
Okay, now you’re ready to load the refrigerator with the lobster tails and prime rib. Let’s get this motorhome on the road! And remember, RVing is more than a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.
Chlorinating The Fresh Water System
1. Drain and flush the fresh water tank; leave empty.
2. Using a mix ratio of 1/4-cup of liquid household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) with one gallon of fresh water, make up one gallon of chlorine-water solution for every 15 gallons of fresh water tank capacity.
3. Pour the chlorine-water solution directly into the fresh water tank through the gravity fill. Note: If the RV is not equipped with a gravity fill for the fresh water tank, use a funnel to pour each gallon of the mixture directly into the fresh water hose prior to connecting it to the city water source.
4. Top off the tank with fresh water.
5. Remove or bypass any water purification equipment and/or filtering cartridges.
6. Turn on the water pump and open every faucet in the RV, including the exterior faucets and showerheads.
7. Allow the solution to pump through the system to the toilet, through the water heater, and to every hot and cold faucet at each sink until the distinct odor of chlorine is present at every fixture. (You can open one faucet at a time or all at once.)
8. At the city water inlet, using the eraser end of a pencil, push in on the check valve spring, allowing the solution to pump out through the city water inlet until the chlorine odor is detected in the discharge.
9. Close all the faucets and turn off the water pump.
10. Allow the chlorinated water to remain in the system for four hours. This should chlorinate and disinfect the fresh water tank, the water heater, the faucets, the complete piping system, and all fittings to a residual level of 50 ppm (parts per million).
11. Once you reach four hours, drain and flush the system once again and top off the water tank with fresh water.
To avoid damage to delicate plumbing components found in some water pumps, do not allow the chlorinated solution to sit longer than four hours in the fresh water system. If 100 ppm residual concentration is required or desired, use 1/2-cup of bleach instead of 1/4-cup with each gallon of the solution and let it stand for one to two hours.
If the odor of the chlorine is still very strong after you have drained and flushed the system, drain, flush, and refill the tank again until you are satisfied. This process should be performed after any extended period of nonuse, such as after storage; whenever stale or distasteful water is experienced; or at least once per camping season.