With spring upon us and warm, sunny weather soon to follow, now is the time to bring your motorhome out of hibernation and prepare it for the travel season.
By Mark Quasius, F333630
For those of us who are not fortunate enough to be able to enjoy our motorhomes during the winter months, it can seem like an eternity waiting for spring to arrive and the cold and snowy winter weather to subside. If you properly winterized your motorhome prior to storage, it should not have been damaged from freezing temperatures.
I’m sure you’re excited about using the motorhome again, but you can’t just hop in and go without a bit of preparation. You’ll need to undo most of the procedures you went through when you winterized it for storage before it will be ready for another enjoyable season of RV travel.
RV Fresh-Water And Waste Systems
The biggest task is preparing the motorhome’s fresh-water system for use. When you winterized the motorhome in the fall or early winter, you blew out the water lines and pumped RV antifreeze through the plumbing system in order to prevent freeze damage. Now it’s time to clear out the entire system again and refill the tank with fresh water.
RV antifreeze is nontoxic and safe, but it can leave a bitter taste in the plastic water lines. The best way to eliminate this taste is to flush plenty of water through the lines, so make this your first task. After you’ve done so, fill the fresh-water tank again and let the water sit in the lines for a few days to pull out any of the residual antifreeze taste. Then drain the tank one more time and refill it with fresh water. Run it through the entire plumbing system a second time until you have thoroughly flushed any residual antifreeze taste from the lines.
Finally, drain the tank one final time and refill it with fresh water. By now, the bad taste should be eliminated from your motorhome’s fresh-water system. Your motorhome may have one or more onboard water filters, so be sure to change them after you have completed the final flush. If there is a secondary filter for the refrigerator’s water supply, change it as well. Always wait until you have flushed all of the antifreeze through your system before replacing the filter, or the antifreeze will foul the filter.
Once the fresh-water system has been serviced, drain the black-water and gray-water holding tanks. After the dump valves have been closed for a day or two, carefully remove the drain cover. That area should be clean and dry. If any liquid comes out when the drain cap is removed, your dump valves have a leak. Most RV dealers stock replacement seals for these valves, but if the valve blade is pitted, you may need to replace the entire valve. Fortunately, replacement valves are inexpensive and are held in place with only four machine screws, so it’s easy to replace them. Dump your tanks and let them drain thoroughly. Replace the drain valves and you will be all set for the next season or two.
Some water heaters have anode rods in them; some do not. An anode rod is a sacrificial metal piece designed to erode in order to prevent corrosion of the tank. Heaters that are built with aluminum tanks, most notably Atwood, don’t utilize anode rods. Heaters with steel tanks, such as those made by Suburban, do have anode rods. The rod is attached to the drain plug, so when servicing the heater, remove the plug and inspect it. If it is more than 50 percent corroded, replace it. You also should peek into the tank. If you see sediment or lime buildup in the base of the tank, it’s a good time to flush it out so the water heater will operate efficiently. Inexpensive flushing tools are available at RV dealerships, camping supply stores, and online.
Motorhome Electrical Systems
The electrical systems also require service. Inspect your motorhome’s batteries. If they are flooded batteries, verify that the battery water is up to the correct level. Also, check for any corrosion on the battery terminals. If you do find corrosion on the terminals or connectors, remove the connector, clean the affected areas, and reinstall. Small felt washers impregnated with corrosion-resistant oil that fit over top of mounted battery posts are available at automotive supply stores. Place these on the posts prior to installing the terminals. These washers work amazingly well and are much neater than greasing your battery connections.
Once you have determined that your batteries are in good operating condition, plug in the motorhome’s shore power cord and verify that the charger is bringing them up to full charge. Batteries at rest should read 12.6 volts, but when the charger is running, the voltage may vary between 13.2 and 14.4 volts, depending on which mode the battery charger is operating in at the time. If you continually need to add water to your batteries, have the charger checked to ensure that it is not outputting excessive voltage, which is the biggest contributor to battery water loss and shortened battery life.
Make sure to check the motorhome’s tow lighting connector. If the terminals are corroded, there won’t be a good connection between the motorhome and the towed vehicle or trailer. It’s best to clean the connections at the beginning of the travel season rather than waiting until you hit the road. It’s also a good time to check all of the motorhome’s exterior lights to verify that the taillights, brake lights, turn signals, and clearance lights are functioning properly. Replace any bad bulbs or correct any wiring issues.
Check the appliances. Does the water heater make hot water? Does the refrigerator get cold? When the refrigerator is not in use, mold can grow inside if ventilation isn’t adequate. Be sure to clean your refrigerator’s interior thoroughly before you switch on the power and cool it down. Also, verify that the propane gas range and oven are functional. If your furnace or air conditioner uses filters, be sure to remove them and either clean them or replace them to maximize airflow. Replace the batteries in any smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors and test them to ensure a safe season of camping. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, inspect your fire extinguishers to ensure they are ready should they be needed.
Ideally, the engine and chassis will have been serviced prior to storage. If this was not done, then service should be performed before the travel season begins. Ensure that the oil and fluids have been changed and new filters installed in the engine, transmission, and other components that require circulating lubrication. Grease the chassis components and carefully inspect them for anything that doesn’t look right. Be sure that any maintenance is current per the recommended service schedules. Repacking wheel bearings is one item that tends to be forgotten, so make note of it on your to-do list.
The leveling jacks should be inspected and lubricated as necessary. Take time to walk around the motorhome and lubricate all of the compartment door hinges, door latches, etc. Use the correct lubricant, such as oil for hinges, light grease for latches, and door latch wax for striker plates. Carefully apply and then wipe off silicone spray on your weather stripping and compartment seals to help extend their life.
Tires are a critical part of your motorhome’s safety. Check the air pressures and look for wear, and especially sidewall cracking. RV tire tread typically doesn’t wear out as a result of excessive mileage. The sidewalls do dry out, however, and cracks will form from the motorhome sitting in one place for long periods of time. If your tires are starting to show signs of dry rot, they will need to be replaced to prevent blowouts when traveling.
If your RV is equipped with a generator, don’t forget to service it as well. Engine oil, filters, and other procedures are covered in your generator’s owners and service manuals.
You may not have used your motorhome during the off-season, but that doesn’t mean it’s been vacant. A motorhome is a top-notch resort for insects, mice, or other rodents during the cold winter months. Check for mouse droppings or any other signs of rodent activity. If you do find droppings, carefully check the motorhome for damage. Mice have a strange appetite for electrical wiring insulation and have been known to chew through carpet or furniture to make their nest. Insects, especially mud dauber wasps, like to build nests in refrigerator burner tubes, rooftop tank vents, and water heater and furnace chimneys. Should you find any obstructions, they need to be removed. If you’ve placed Bounce dryer sheets around your motorhome when in storage to keep pests away, you will want to pick them up as well.
The next step is to give your motorhome a thorough cleaning. RV storage areas aren’t particularly clean, and odds are that dust and dirt will settle on the exterior. Dirt doesn’t get better with age, so it’s best to clean your motorhome now rather than let the dirt accumulate, etch the paint finish, and become more difficult to remove later. Once your motorhome’s exterior is clean and shiny, seal it with a wax or poly sealant as recommended for the particular finish of your coach to provide a barrier to the elements and protect it. Also, check for any cracked caulking and recaulk any problem areas as necessary. Windows, door frames, vents, and any rooftop protrusions (plumbing, air conditioner, satellite, or over-the-air antennas) all need a good bead of sealant to prevent water intrusion.
After your motorhome is properly prepared for spring, you’ll be ready to enjoy another great season of RV travel without having to deal with service issues that could have been taken care of earlier.