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Thursday, January 18, 2001

De-Winterizing the RV - The Spring Shakedown!


Follow these steps to bring your recreation vehicle out of hibernation and properly prepare it for another travel season! 

By Gary Bunzer

Some winters seem to linger a little too long, don’t they? No matter where you’ve been holed up this past 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 RV travel. Before the ice had thawed you were making plans to head to the next rally, convention, chapter gathering, or other interesting destinations. You just want to get back in the coach 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 RVer 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 this spring and properly de-winterize the RV. 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 any RV from hibernation.

If you followed the advice published in an earlier installment of the RV Doctor Newsletter 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 just dewinterizing the RV, but you’re also performing a mini pre-delivery inspection (PDI) 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, like 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.

Exterior 
After reconnecting the propane pressure regulator in preparation for spring travel, make sure to bubble test the connection to check for leaks.


 It has always been my philosophy that a clean RV 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 or stored it indoors, chances are a thorough washing of the coach 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 coach, 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 RV. Lubricate all mechanical latches and keyed locks. I recommend Boeshield T-9. (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 RV 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. I like Protect All's Slideout Lube. Probably a good idea to check all the seals on each slideout. Be sure they are soft and pliable. Once you are satisfied that the exterior of the coach is in ready condition, turn your attention to the three major onboard systems.



Electrical 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/or the chassis battery when winterizing last fall, 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 safety glasses to prevent eye 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 1.265 or so). 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 0.050-point difference between any two cells after the battery has been fully charged.
  • Always use a temperature-compensated hydrometer.

Verify that all battery connections are clean, dry, and tight. Go through the RV 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, 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 RV is 120 volts, plus or minus 10 percent. Also, verify that heavy current draws in the coach, 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 RV. Turn each subsequent circuit breaker on, one at a time. Now go through the coach and plug in any ancillary AC component that was unplugged during the winterizing process. Remember, in the winterizing article I advised unplugging AC appliances that weren’t hardwired, such as the refrigerator, microwave oven, televisions, entertainment centers, etc. to guard them from damage caused by rogue 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. And if you have an electric option  for the water heater, do not activate it until the tank is full of water. 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.

Plumbing Systems 
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 RV, so you may opt to capture the antifreeze as you drain the fresh water tank and the hot/cold low-point drains.

Then, 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 branch 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.

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 its outlet, 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” step-by-step instructions, located here, about how to properly chlorinate the fresh water system. Once you have fresh, sanitized water, activate the icemaker 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. It's quite possible they need to be lubricated, so if you failed to accomplish this task last 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.

Propane 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 propane system, contact your local RV service center and have them perform a propane 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 gas 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 propane 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 entire gas piping system, light a burner at the cooktop to eliminate the air and atmospheric pressure that have permeated the  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.

Pre-cool 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.

Generator 
Check the oil level in the generator. If you did not change the oil and filter when winterizing the coach, do so now. In addition to the oil filter, check and replace the air filter element and any fuel filters in the system, if so equipped.

Check the condition of the flexible fuel line to the generator. Depending on the age of the RV, 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. 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.

Motorhome Chassis Considerations 
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 owner’s 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 owner’s 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. 



Trailer Chassis Considerations
Wheel bearings should be cleaned and repacked every couple years, so if you can't remember the last time you've done that, chances are it's time! Always replace the grease
seals when packing the bearings.

I personally recommend inspecting one brake assembly on each axle, at a minimum. Check for abnormal wear on the magnets, the shoes, drum and armature plate. If deep gouges are evident, have a professional service technician determine if replacement is required. 

Test the break-away switch for proper operation. With one tire raised off the ground, manually spin the tire as someone pulls the pin on the break-away switch. The tire should come to an immediate stop and be "locked" in place. While activated, you should not be able to rotate the tire in either direction. Note: the 12-volt battery on the trailer must be charged for the break-away switch to operate.


Inspect all spring shackles, U-bolts and all hitch components carefully. Lubricate the hitch ball or fifth-wheel surface.

Test all running lamps, turn signals, stop lamps, etc. Be sure all ancillary equipment such as antennas, entry steps and other accessories are operating as designed. 


If everything appears in order, hitch up and take the trailer on a short road test. If necessary, adjust the modulation of the brake controller. Take note of strange noises, vibrations and perhaps other other abnormalities with steering, handling or braking. You must convince yourself that everything in order!

If so, then you’re ready to load the refrigerator with the lobster tails and prime rib. Let’s get this RV on the road! And remember, RVing is more than a hobby; it’s a lifestyle.




Disclaimer:

In all instances, every effort is made to ensure the correctness of all content on the RV Doctor Website. It is imperative that if you choose to follow any instructions or procedures outlined on any page of this website, you must first satisfy yourself thoroughly that neither personal nor product safety will be compromised or jeopardized.

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If you are in doubt or do not feel comfortable about a procedure, do not continue. Simply call your local RV service facility and make an appointment with them. The advice, recommendations and procedures offered by the RV Doctor are solely those of Gary. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions, procedures and recommendations of our sponsors or advertisers.