Preparing for Winter RV Travel
Summer is by far the most popular time for RV camping and road trips, but that doesn’t mean winter provides fewer opportunities for RVing. However, winter travel presents a different set of challenges for your RV, so you’ll have to adjust your pre-trip preparation to suit the colder weather.
To get you started on your next winter excursion, we’ve put together a list of things you’ll want to install, pack, or check on before you head out. While it might seem like more preparation than a typical summer vacation, your family will thank you when they’re warm and comfortable in the middle of their own personal winter wonderland.
Protect Your RV’s Plumbing During Winter
Will your RV’s pipes freeze? If the temperature drops below 32 degrees, there is a chance any of your fluid systems could freeze. Frozen water and sewage lines will quickly spoil any camping or road trip, so it’s worth it to take preventative measures. Keeping pipes from freezing doesn’t take too much time, and you’ll thank yourself for it when you can enjoy all the amenities of your RV in even the coldest weather.
- Apply heat tape to pipes so they don’t freeze
Heat tape is used to wrap your water and sewage lines. It helps to prevent the pipe itself from freezing, making it more likely the liquid inside will stay unfrozen as well. Heat tape can also be applied to valves which might be likely to freeze, such as those in exterior access areas or under your RV.
- Fill your fresh water tank before you leave
Rather than hook up to a fresh water line at a campground, use your internal fresh water tank whenever possible. This will help to reduce any ice-cold water from being introduced into your RV’s plumbing as well as keep your fresh water hose from freezing because it’s outside.
- Add antifreeze to your holding tanks
Adding a small amount of antifreeze to your holding tanks will help to make sure they don’t freeze. Don’t worry, since these tanks only contain spent fluids, the antifreeze won’t make it into your fresh water tank. We advise making sure you use the purple specialty RV antifreeze instead of the green or orange automotive varieties.
Winter Motorhome Engine Maintenance
For motorhomes, winter travel involves an extra step: taking care of your motorhome’s engine. It’s arguably the most important part of your preparation, as you could end up stranded in the cold if left unattended. A motorhome’s engine, just like most of its other components, isn’t always ready to go straight from summer weather to temperatures below freezing, but with just a few checks you can make sure your RV will stand up to the test.
- Inspect your RV batteries for signs of corrosion or damage, and that they’re charged
While this should be a part of any pre-trip check, it’s especially important during winter. Fully charged batteries won’t freeze so it’s important to keep them charged while in use or in storage. A compromised battery could leave you stranded or unable to use onboard heating controls in dangerously cold temperatures. We also have a comprehensive RV Battery Maintenance Guide if you need to brush up.
- Check your engine’s coolant
The last thing you want on a winter trip is for your coolant lines or radiator to spring a leak. To help prevent this, make sure the coolant fluid in your RV has the correct ratio of antifreeze to water. We recommend that your coolant be at least half antifreeze during the winter months, if not more.
- Make sure your block heater is working
Engine block heaters may be necessary for temperatures that are well below freezing. It’s important to remember that if you use a block heater, it should run for 4-5 hours before you start your engine.
Install and Upgrade RV Insulation
The first step in making sure that your RV is ready for a winter journey is to make sure that it’s well insulated. Think of insulation as a baseline to build all your other preparation off. Because your heating options on the road are limited to either your RVs built-in furnace or portable heaters, you’ll want to make sure that you maintain as much of that heat as possible.
- Make sure windows and doors are sealed
Check the weatherstripping on your windows, doors, and access hatches. Be sure to replace missing, old, or torn weatherstripping wherever possible, as this will help to keep drafts from getting into your RV.
- Install window coverings
Insulating window coverings, like reflective foil, are an inexpensive way to make even older RVs much warmer during the winter.
- Use heavy drapes instead of regular curtains
Replace any light window drapes with heavier ones. Like drapes for your home, you can buy drapes designed specifically to help insulate the inside of your RV.
- Insulate the floors
The best way to insulate floors is by installing foam board flooring, but if you need a solution that’s easier to install, heavy rugs and carpets can be used to keep cold air from creeping up into your RV.
- Install RV skirting
RV skirting is a good way to take care of two problems with a single solution. Skirting keeps cold air from being blown underneath your RV, meaning less of that air has a chance to make it up through the floor inside the cabin and it’s less likely to freeze any vulnerable water pipes and valves.
Prepare Your RV’s Furnace
RV furnaces are your primary source of hot water and in some systems your heating. It will be your first line of defense against the cold during winter travel, so it’s important to make sure it works as well as it can before beginning a winter RV trip. The first step is to test your furnace to make sure that it is working properly, then move on to improving how it performs.
- Clean your furnace and ducting
Make sure that your RV’s furnace is ready to be used for extended periods of time. This may mean that you need to clean the vents into the RV and the furnace itself. Use compressed air or a light brushing to clean off the furnace and check your ducting for major blockages or large amounts of dust that might be blowing into the cabin.
- When in doubt, take your RV to a technician for furnace maintenance
RV furnaces can be hard to work on. If you think that yours either isn’t working as well as it should or doesn’t work at all, don’t hesitate to take it to one of our professional technicians.
Winter RV Packing List
In addition to the prep work done to an RV, packing an RV with the right tools and supplies is an important part of preparing for winter travel.
- Tire Chains
Tire chains wrap over your wheels and help your RV keep traction over ice, snow, and other slippery conditions. Tire chains aren’t just a safety convenience, it’s required that you carry them by law in many areas.
- Flashlights and Lanterns
If your RV has electrical issues, these may be the only source of light available. Make sure you have batteries for them, too!
- Snow Shovel
A snow shovel is essential, even if you aren’t sure that there will be snow where you’re headed. The last thing you want is to be stuck at a campground after a snowstorm boxed you into your spot.
- Sleeping Bags and Blankets
In the case of being stuck in the snow or a broken furnace or heater, you’ll need something to keep yourself warm for an extended period. Blankets are an obvious choice but sleeping bags can double as blankets and can usually be packed into a smaller space.
If you need work on your RV on the road, you’ll want to make sure you have waterproof gloves to help protect your hands from the wet and cold.
Other Winter RVing Tips
- Prevent stabilizing jacks from freezing
If you park at a campground or other space where your jacks will be touching bare ground, as opposed to asphalt, there’s a chance that they’ll get frozen to it. Bring a set of wooden blocks to put underneath your jacks when you park to prevent this.
- Change batteries in safety devices
Make sure that devices like smoke alarms and flashlights are charged and ready. You might not use them often, but batteries can lose charge over time just from sitting. It’s especially important to check your carbon monoxide alarms.
- Keep your internal plumbing warm when you can
Keeping the plumbing on the inside of the RV can help prevent frozen pipes as well. When heating the inside of your RV, try to keep kitchen and bathroom cabinets with pipes inside them open to allow the heat in. Also, keep your bathroom door open when possible so it can share the heat from the main cabin of your RV.
- Dump tanks wisely
Full tanks are less likely to freeze than half-empty ones. Try to wait until tanks are full to dump them, that way they won’t freeze between dumps.