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Motorhoming | Family Motor Coach Association

Mark Polk, motorhome and motor coach maintenance expert

By Mark Polk
RV Education 101

When my son headed off for his freshman year of college, he was not allowed to have a vehicle on campus. So, we changed the oil in his Ford Ranger, added a fuel preservative to the gas tank, removed the battery and parked it in the garage.

After a year of sitting idle, the truck needed some preventive maintenance before I considered it safe for him to travel in.

Now, if you put your house-on-wheels in storage over the winter, consider what needs to be checked in order for it to be safe and ready for another camping season. Here are my top 7 post-winter checks for your RV.

1. Battery(ies)
Let’s start our checks with the batteries, since it’s possible you removed them for winter storage.

The condition of the batteries is dependent on how well they were cared for over the winter. Batteries in storage will lose a percentage of current through internal leakage. It’s not uncommon for a battery to discharge up to 10 percent a month when it is in storage.

If you checked and recharged the batteries periodically while in storage, they should be ready to go. If not, the first step is to fully charge them. Water should only be added to lead acid batteries after fully charging them -- unless the water level is already below the plates. The plates need to be covered at all times.

After the battery if fully charged, check and add distilled water as required. If the batteries were removed for storage, reinstall them and make absolutely sure they are connected properly.

2. RV water system (de-winterize/check for leaks/sanitize)
Depending on how the unit was winterized, it needs to be de-winterized. If you used non-toxic RV antifreeze to protect the water system, run fresh water through the entire system until all traces of the antifreeze are removed.

Hopefully, no antifreeze was added to the fresh-water holding tank. If it was, the first step is to drain any remnants from the tank. Add potable water to the fresh water holding tank, turn on the water pump and open all of the water faucets. When clear water is running through the system, turn off the pump and close the faucets. Take the water heater out of the bypass mode (if applicable). If the water heater wasn’t bypassed, the antifreeze needs to be drained from the water heater tank. Replace any water filter cartridges you removed for storage.

This is a good time to check the plumbing for leaks. With water in the fresh water holding tank, turn on the 12-volt water pump and pressurize the water system until the pump shuts off. If the water pump cycles back on, even for a short period of time, there is a leak somewhere. Locate the leak and repair it or take it to an authorized RV service facility to be repaired.

At this point I like to sanitize the water system. Make sure all of the drains are closed and the drain plugs are installed.

Take a quarter-cup of household bleach for every 15 gallons of water your fresh-water tank holds. Mix the bleach with water into a 1-gallon container and pour it into the fresh-water holding tank. Fill the fresh-water holding tank completely full of water. Turn on the water pump and run water through all hot and cold faucets until you smell the bleach. Close the faucets and let the tank sit for 12 hours.

Drain all of the water and refill the tank with potable water. Turn on the water pump and open all faucets, running the water until you no longer smell any bleach. It may be necessary to repeat this process to eliminate all signs of bleach.

3. Appliance checks
Open the LP-gas valve and check the operation of all LP-gas fired appliances. Make sure the water heater tank is full of water before testing the water heater. If an LP-gas appliance is not operating properly, have it inspected by an authorized RV service facility.

Insects are attracted to the odorant added to LP-gas, and nests can prevent the appliance from operating properly.

The LP-gas system should have a leak test and gas operating pressure test preformed annually. These tests should be performed by an authorized RV repair facility.

Plug in the unit and test 120-volt appliances and accessories for proper operation. Note: Make sure you have an adequate electrical source (30 to 50 amps) depending on your unit, before testing items such as the microwave and roof air conditioner(s). After checking the refrigerator in the LP-gas mode, turn it off and, with the doors open, allow sufficient time for it to return to room temperature before checking it in the electric mode.

4. Tire check
 Just like a battery looses a percentage of its charge in storage, tires lose a percentage of air pressure. Your tires can lose two to three psi a month while sitting in storage. Check the tire pressure with a quality tire inflation gauge and adjust the inflation pressure to the manufacturer’s recommendation based on the load.

Remember: Failing to maintain correct tire pressure, based on the load, can result in fast tread wear, uneven wear, poor handling, and excessive heat buildup, all of which can lead to tire failure. Tire manufacturers publish load and inflation tables that should be followed for proper inflation pressure.

5. Vehicle engine and generator
Check all fluid levels. Check the transmission, power steering, engine coolant, engine oil, and windshield washer and brake fluid. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for proper levels. If a fluid level is low try to determine why and correct the problem. Service the engine and engine fluid levels according to specified intervals found in the owner’s manual.

Start the engine and check for proper readings on all gauges. Check the operation of all lights. Make sure the vehicle emissions/inspection sticker is up to date.

Check the oil level in the generator. Service the generator according to specified intervals found in the owner’s manual. Inspect the generator exhaust system for any damage prior to starting. Never run a generator with a damaged exhaust system.

If you didn’t run the generator during storage, start it and run it for about two hours with at least a half-rated load. Check your generator owner’s manual for load ratings.

If you didn’t use a fuel stabilizer and the generator won’t start, or continues to surge after starting, have it checked out and repaired by an authorized service facility.

6. Sealants and Seams
If you didn’t inspect the seams and sealants for potential leaks prior to storage or if the RV was stored outdoors, this is a good time to do it. I recommend inspecting and resealing seams and sealants at least twice a year and possibly more depending on conditions.

Inspect all roof and body seams and around any openings cut into the RV for signs of cracking or damage. Reseal any seams or sealants that show signs of cracking or separation.

It’s important to consult your RV owner’s manual, or RV dealer, for sealants compatible with different types of materials you are attempting to seal. If you don’t feel comfortable performing the inspections or repairing seams and sealants, have the maintenance performed by an authorized service facility. Be extremely careful working on the RV roof. A fall can cause serious injury or death.

7. RV Safety Checks
Re-install any dry-cell batteries or fuses that were removed for storage. If batteries were not removed from safety devices replace them with new batteries now. Test the operation of the carbon monoxide detector, LP-gas leak detector and smoke alarm. Inspect all fire extinguishers to make sure they are fully charged. If you have dry powder fire extinguishers, shake and tap on the bottom to release the powder from the bottom. 

These are what I consider to be essential post-winter checks so your RV is ready to roll when you are. You can add to this list and tailor it to your specific needs. Be safe and have a great camping season.

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