By Mark Polk
RV Education 101
If I said it once I said it a million times, motorhomes are a major investment like your house or automobile. To protect your investment and get many years of reliable service and use from your motorhome, there are certain measures you need to take. One important measure is how you store it.
For many RVers, the camping season is winding down. It’s time to start thinking about storing your motorhome for the winter months ahead. The most important aspect of storing your motorhome is that it is ready to use next spring when you take it out of storage. For many of us, this includes winterizing the RV to protect its water system from damage due to freezing temperatures. But winterizing the RV is only part of the preparation required to protect your motorhome while it is being stored.
There are plenty of storage topics we could discuss, but today I want to cover what I consider to be the most important. Here are my Top 7 Tips for Storing Your Motorhome.
1. Rodent Control
When your motorhome is stored for the winter it’s not uncommon for mice and squirrels to make their winter home inside. These animals are notorious for chewing through vehicle wiring and plastic and rubber components, resulting in extensive damage to the motorhome. Start the engine periodically to keep any chewing squirrels out of the engine compartment area.
Possibly, the most important step is to try to prevent mice and other rodents from being able to access your motorhome. This can be difficult because mice can enter the RV through very small openings. Start by inspecting the underside of your motorhome for any gaps or holes. Fill these gaps using silicone or expanding foam.
A word of caution: If you never used expanding foam before, experiment with it on something other than your motorhome first. When it dries it can expand a great deal more than you expect.
Next, open drawers and cabinet doors inside your RV. Look in all of the corners and crevices, especially where plumbing and wiring enter the RV. If you can see any daylight, mice can get in. Fill these areas with silicone or foam.
Remove all food from the motorhome when it’s being stored and thoroughly clean the RV to remove any remnants of food that might attract mice and other rodents. Some people say mothballs help deter mice from making their home in your RV, and others say an alternative to mothballs is dryer sheets, like Bounce. I have talked to people who swear they work and the smell is much more pleasant. If you are close to where your RV is being stored, you may want to use conventional mouse traps and check for mice every week or so.
2. Interior Preparation
Defrost the freezer compartment and clean the refrigerator. Leave the doors propped open and place baking soda in the compartments to absorb odors.
If the RV is in long-term storage and won’t be plugged in to electricity, it’s a good idea to turn off the main breaker in the distribution panel. Also, turn off the LP-gas supply valve at the LP tank.
Close the window blinds/shades to avoid sun exposure to the carpet, drapes and upholstery. Leave doors, drawers and cabinets open. Clean the A/C filter(s).
If you have vent covers installed on the overhead vents, which prevent rain from getting inside, leave the vents cracked open to allow for ventilation.
Remove any dry cell batteries from devices like clocks, flashlights, etc. Remember to install them again next spring.
3. Exterior Preparation
When you store your motorhome outside for extended periods of time it begins to show signs of wear, caused by the constant exposure to the elements. Ozone in the air and ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun start to take their toll. Ozone causes the paint to fade and makes rubber and vinyl dry out, crack and start to deteriorate. The UV rays make this aging process happen quicker.
Wash the exterior of the motorhome. Whenever I’m washing or cleaning anything, whether it’s an automobile or the motorhome, I start from the top and work my way down. It’s a good idea to clean the roof before storage, too. The type of roof your RV has will determine the cleaner you will need to use.
If you’re really motivated, wax the exterior using a quality wax formulated for the type of exterior surface your motorhome has. A good coat of wax helps protect the finish the same as it does an automobile.
When cleaning the exterior, inspect all roof seams, body seams and window sealant for any cracks and openings that would allow water to get in. Consult your RV dealer for sealants compatible with these materials, and re-seal as required. Don’t forget to clean any awning fabrics, and let them dry completely before storing.
Ideally you should try to store your motorhome under a covered area and on a solid-surface like concrete. If this isn’t possible, avoid parking under trees or in tall grass, fields or wooded areas.
If the motorhome won’t be parked under some type of covered shelter, you may want to invest in a cover. Covering your RV can be a logical and cost-effective way to help protect your investment. If you decide to use a cover make sure it is made of a breathable material.
Service all locks with a spray lubricant and lubricate all hinges. Insects are attracted to the odorant added to LP gas. You may want to cover LP-gas appliance vents to prevent insects from making their winter home inside them. If you do cover the vents, remember to remove the covering next spring.
Just like the exterior of the motorhome, the tires can be damaged by the harmful UV rays from the sun. Inflate the tires to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure and cover the tires with covers that will block out the sunlight. Place something like a piece treated lumber between the ground and the tires. Frozen ground and petroleum based surfaces, like asphalt, can damage tires over time. Make sure that whatever you use to block the tires is larger than the footprint of the tire. No portion of the tire should hang over the edge of the tire block; this can cause internal damage to the tire.
Battery maintenance is an important part of winter storage preparation. If you plan to start the motorhome’s engine while in storage, and to periodically plug the unit into shore power, leave the batteries in the unit. Plugging it into shore power once a month for about eight hours will help keep the coach batteries topped off.
Make sure battery disconnect switches are disconnected to prevent parasitic loads from discharging the battery(s). At a minimum you should check and adjust the water levels in all batteries and make sure they are fully charged. A discharged battery will freeze much quicker than a fully charged battery.
If the RV is in long-term storage it’s better to remove the batteries and store them where they will not freeze. If it would be difficult to remove the batteries, make absolutely sure they are fully charged and then disconnect the negative battery cable. In either case, keep the batteries fully charged while they are in storage.
Note: If your converter charger doesn’t have a three-stage charging system (or storage maintenance mode), don’t leave the unit plugged in constantly. This could overcharge the batteries and deplete the electrolyte levels.
Change the oil and oil filter on the vehicle engine and the generator prior to storage. Acids accumulate in used oil and can corrode engine bearings, especially while sitting for long periods of time.
Check the engine radiator for the proper concentration of antifreeze. Consult your owner’s manual for the correct type of engine antifreeze. Drain, flush and refill the system according to recommended service intervals.
Check and adjust all fluid levels for the transmission, power steering, engine oil, windshield washer and brakes. Add the appropriate antifreeze solution to the windshield washer reservoir to prevent it from freezing. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for proper fluid levels and the type of fluids to use.
7. Fuel Stabilizer
Fill the fuel tank prior to storage and add a fuel stabilizer (follow manufacturers instructions). Run the engine and the generator long enough for the stabilizer to get through the entire fuel system. If possible, exercise the generator for at least two hours every month with a minimum of a ½-rated load on it. Consult your generator owner’s manual for load ratings.
Fuel stabilizers work well, but there are many other reasons to start and exercise the generator on a regular basis. Moisture buildup can cause damage to your generator. When you exercise your generator it heats up the generator windings and eliminates this moisture buildup. This monthly exercise regime also lubricates all of the engine seals and components and helps to prevent carbon buildup.
I mentioned at the beginning of the article that this is a partial list, but it’s a good start. Depending on the type of motorhome you own, you can add to the list and adjust it to accommodate your needs. Consult your vehicle and RV owner’s manual for additional storage tips specific to your motorhome.