How to prep your RV for winter |

How to prep your RV for winter

Colleen O’Neil
The seasons are changing, so it's time to prep your camper for winter.
Montana Miller / Provided |

With frost starting to glaze the grass in the morning, snow up high on the peaks and campgrounds shutting down for the winter, it’s probably time to get your RV ready for its long winter hibernation.

Parking your RV for the winter requires some special procedures so you’ll be able to use it next spring. You’ll also be glad you did it when you don’t have to make expensive repairs due to freezing pipes or water damage.

You can pay someone to winterize your camper, or you can save a bundle of money and do it yourself. Here’s a simple checklist to help you get ready for the upcoming months of cold.

Before you get started, these are some things you’ll need to buy from your local auto store.

Nontoxic RV antifreeze (two to three gallons will normally do, depending on the length of your water lines).

A water heater bypass kit, if not already installed.

A wand to clean out holding tanks.

A water pump converter kit, or tubing to connect to the inlet side of the water pump.

Basic hand tools to remove drain plugs.

Now you’ll have all the tools to winterize the water system to protect it from freezing. Be sure to read your owners manuals for unit specific winterizing guidelines. Follow the steps below that apply to your RV.


If you have any inline water filters, remove and bypass before starting.

Drain the fresh water holding tank.

Here’s the most unpleasant part: drain and flush the gray and black holding tanks. If your RV doesn’t have a built-in tank-flushing system, clean the black tank out with a wand, or use a product like Flush King that allows you to clean both the black and gray tanks. Lubricate the termination valves with WD 40.

Drain the water heater. Remove the drain plug and open the pressure relief valve. Remember: Never drain the water heater when it is hot or under pressure.

Open all hot and cold faucets — don’t forget the toilet valve and outside shower.

Locate and open the low point drain lines. There will be one for the hot and cold water lines. Using the water pump will help force water out, but turn it off as soon as the system is drained.

Recap all drains and close all faucets.


Bypass the water heater. If you do not have a bypass kit installed, the water heater will fill with antifreeze before it goes through the water lines, wasting six gallons of antifreeze.

Install a water pump converter kit, or disconnect the inlet side of the water pump (the line coming from the fresh water holding tank). Connect a piece of clear tubing to the inlet side of the pump and put the other end into a one gallon container of nontoxic RV antifreeze.


Turn the water pump on and pressurize the system. Starting with the closest faucet, slowly open the hot and then cold valves until antifreeze appears. Replace the antifreeze container as required.

Repeat this process on all faucets from the closest to the farthest away. Don’t forget the outside shower, if equipped.

Flush the toilet until antifreeze appears.


Turn the water pump off and open a faucet to release the pressure. Go outside to the city water inlet. Remove the small screen over the inlet and push in on the valve with a small screwdriver until you see antifreeze. Replace the screen.

Pour a cupful of antifreeze down each drain. Pour a couple of cups in the toilet and flush into the holding tank.

If your water heater has an electric heating element make sure it is turned off. This will protect the element if the unit is plugged in while being stored.

Make sure all the faucets are closed.

Consult your owner manuals for winterizing icemakers and washing machines.


Now that your water system is ready to go, make sure you have a safe place to store it over the winter — your front yard can be a good option, or find a self-storage facility with RV parking spaces.

If you can, make sure your RV is parked under a roof. Avoid parking under trees or in places with lots of grass and weeds. If you’re planning to cover your camper with a tarp, be sure the material is breathable. This will help in preventing mold and mildew.

Wash the exterior and interior thoroughly so nothing grows in there while you’re gone. Close all the window blinds to keep the sun from ruining your carpet and upholstery.

Chock the wheels front and rear, and leave the parking brake off. Then inflate the tires to the manufacturer’s recommended max cold pressure. Cover the tires to protect them from the sun and keep them from rotting. Then put some material between the tires and the ground, making sure whatever you use is larger than the actual foot print of the tire.

Inspect all roof seams, body seams and window sealant for cracks and openings. Remember, water can get in the smallest openings. Also inspect the underside of the unit, looking for anywhere mice or other rodents can get in, and seal as necessary.

Service all locks with a graphite spray lubricant. Lubricate all hinges and moving parts with WD-40.

Remove all perishables and anything that can freeze, but leave doors, drawers and cabinets open. Defrost the freezer compartment and clean the refrigerator. Leave the refrigerator doors open, and place some baking soda inside to absorb odors.

Clean the air conditioner filters, and cover the air conditioner.

Turn off the main breaker and unplug all appliances. Turn off any gas-powered appliances.

Remove dry cell batteries in clocks, flashlights and other items. Remove your deep-cycle batteries, clean them and put them in storage as well. Charge them and make sure the fluid levels are full. Make sure they won’t freeze in storage.

Fill the fuel tank prior to storage and add a fuel stabilizer. Run the engine and the generator long enough for the stabilizer to get through the system.

Change the oil and oil filter on the engine and the generator prior to storage. Acids accumulate in used oil and can corrode engine bearings.

Check the engine radiator for the proper concentration of antifreeze. Also, drain the windshield washer reservoir or add the appropriate antifreeze solution to prevent it from freezing.

Do a full chassis lubrication prior to storage.

Now your RV is totally winterized, and you shouldn’t have any problems when you do your spring maintenance checks next year!

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