Winterizing your Roadtrek Motorhome
by C. A. Campbell
Most new motor homers think of 'winterizing' as preventing water from freezing; old timers know there is a lot more to it. For me it means preparation for preventing any damage from the elements during vehicle storage, and doing preventative maintenance so I can, hopefully, get away again quickly and easily when the vehicle is taken out of storage. Damage done by hot sunlight, high winds and dust storms, or heavy rain and high humidity can be just as disruptive to your future 'trekking' plans as freeze-ups. Roadtreks have a few peculiarities of their own in this sense, both good and bad.
I am not a technical expert, just a cohort with experience from several motor homes and small boats which have similar systems and storage needs. I own a '96 Roadtrek 210 equipped with most options, driven about 22000 miles without problems. Like any other complex set of mechanical/electrical equipment, it has a host of detail to watch in order to avoid damage, lost time, and/or excessive cost.
There are many RV manuals, and many articles in RV magazines every year that cover these subjects. What follows is an outline of what I do, have done, or would do under various circumstances. It is a sort of primer for newcomers, but even an old timer may find a few worthwhile ideas.
The water system, engine & gasoline tank, tires, batteries, genset and both the interior and exterior of the coach should have attention for storage. First, however, run every system long enough to check that it now functions properly; include every control, switch, or valve. Clean or repair now rather than at the start of 'next season'. Also be sure to flush and clean both holding tanks,
The water system consists of potable water tank, pump, hot water heater, toilet, and black & gray water holding tanks with associated piping and valves. Roadtrek recommends that this system not be used during freezing weather, and that the system be either drained or 'winterized' per their instructions before freezing conditions occur. Draining is not an easy chore for many owners because there are two water traps that require disassembly, emptying and re-assembly: one under the sink in tight quarters, and one for the floor shower drain under the vehicle behind the holding tanks. If air for blowing is available, you should be able to clear these traps. The second method also requires draining and then filling the plumbing lines with 'pink alcohol' sold for this purpose ( a product not harmful if accidentally imbibed). Both methods are outlined concisely in the Roadtrek manual. I have always used the second, or 'pink alcohol' method both because I have never had compressed air available for blowing, and because I have seen too many examples of ruptured parts that had been supposedly blown dry.
Draining: Park with the rear wheels elevated a couple of inches (2X planks will do) to give a little slope forward to the plumbing pipes (plastic). For safety set the parking brake, chock the front wheels, close the LPG tank valve, and shut the water pump off.. The low point drain line for the water tank and cold water system is attached to the forward side of the sewer hose storage tube with a plastic clamp and has a threaded plastic pipe cap at the outer end. Back this pipe cap loose with a pair of wrenches (you may have to crawl under). Stand aside, remove the cap and water will start to flow out. Open the faucet valves inside and the water tank fill valves outside to let air in to the lines, also prop open the foot operated inlet flush water valve to the toilet. Do not forget the shower hoses and valves both inside and outside. I detach the shower hoses and store in plastic bags for the storage season. Draining may seem slow.
Next, drain the hot water heater tank. Remove the outside access door, open the pressure release valve by moving the lever up vertically, then back off the plug at the bottom of the heater (takes a 1 1/16" socket). Stand aside and ease out the plug; water may gush out, and may appear cloudy if there is hard water deposit. I usually flush with a jet stream from a hose until water comes out clear. A sacrificial anode rod is attached to the plug; if it is substantially eaten away buy a replacement; it is cheap insurance to avoid corrosion in the hot water tank
If compressed air is available, blow it though the system; you may be surprised at how much more water you dribble out..
Reassemble, using plumber's tape or paste on the hot water tank drain plug threads, and re-seat the pressure relief valve. Mop up and reinstall the door. Close the faucets and other valves. You can check to see if the water pump can push any more out of the lines to the sink or toilet bowl. Then dump anything left in your holding tanks which for me is usually just a couple of quarts..
Using 'pink alcohol': First install a bypass around the hot water tank unless you wish to use 6 gallons to fill it. My Roadtrek came with a bypass fitting; if you do not have one your RV supplier can show you how to make one up.
It is easy to fill the plumbing with 'pink alcohol' in a Roadtrek. Add a bit over ½ gallon (or 6 1/2 gal if the hot water heater tank is not bypassed) to the water tank. I put it in with a long spout funnel through the gravity fill point. Be sure all faucets are closed. Then turn on the water pump, and open one valve slightly until pink alcohol flows out. Repeat for each other valve. Do not forget the toilet valve and shower valve. Turn the water pump off. I usually use a plumbers helper to force as much water as possible out of the two traps, then pour about 1 1/2 cup of the pink stuff into each which fills the trap and puts the excess in the gray water holding tank and keeps the dump seal from drying out.. I also put about a cup down the toilet into the black water holding tank for the same reason, and leave a few ounces in the toilet bowl to keep its dump seal wet. Total 'pink alcohol' used is less than 1 gallon, and your water system is ready for freezing weather.
Engine, Gasoline Tank, & Generator: I like to change oil, inspect & cleanup under the hood, and inspect everything underneath before I go into storage, so I try to get the Roadtrek up on a rack for convenience at this time. It is also a good time to check/change transmission oil, brake fluid, or engine coolant. This is also my annual inspection of the generator. The gasoline tank should be filled to minimize air breathing and hence gum formation in the gasoline from oxidation. Some owners like to add an antioxidant like Stabil.
Tires: Tires deteriorate from exposure to sunlight I wash the wheels & tires with a hose and wipe on a protective coating like Protect All. Some also add tire covers, and I might if storing in a hot climate. Prolonged storage produces a flat spot from the weight of the vehicle on the tires. When you start moving again after storage, an annoying ( and to some extent damaging) 'clump, clump, clump' may be heard while the flat spots return to normal curvature as they warm up and flex. This can be avoided by jacking the car up on blocks which keeps the weight off the tires. I do this if several months of storage without movement is anticipated. Usually I store at my home, so I just run it 10 to 20 miles every few weeks which is also good for the engine and drive train as its fluids are circulated.
Batteries: All batteries discharge slowly when not in use, and somewhat faster if they are hooked up because of parasitic leaks (poor grounding connections and components that constantly draw a little energy). At my home where the vehicle will be driven every few weeks, I just inspect, and clean up the connections, and use the isolator switch so that the coach battery will not be drawn down by parasitic electric load from chassis components (e.g. electronic clock). The 10 to 20 miles that I drive from time to time keeps them charged up via the engine alternator. The clock can be disconnected on the Chevy chassis by removing its fuse, and I understand that there is a switch for this purpose on the Dodge chassis. I do not try to disable either the CO or LPG alarms in the coach.
For prolonged storage, and particularly in freezing weather, I prefer to remove the batteries to my garage where they can not freeze, and top them up to full charge about once each month. If you do not have maintenance-free batteries check to be sure that water in the cells is topped up.
My batteries typically last 4 to 5 years. However, if for any reason they get fully discharged and not recharged fairly soon their live may be much shorter.
Coach Interior: Before storage clean up everything inside as dirt and debris simply hasten deterioration. Remove any food or vermin will find some way to get inside. We try to do this thoroughly after every major trip. Close curtains, or cover windows to avoid deterioration by sunlight of fabrics and finishes. You must have air circulation to avoid musty odors or worse--mildew. We use the window ventilators for airflow, and prop all cabinets and drawers open. Some like to put odor or moisture adsorbent packages inside. We usually put a small dish of baking soda in the refrigerator.
Coach exterior: The concerns with the exterior are mainly avoiding deterioration of the surface finish, and avoiding any moisture leakage to the interior.
It is nice to have covered storage, but most of us do not get it.
Some prefer to use a well fitted cover for the whole vehicle which still allows for air circulation inside, and if you store in summer desert heat or where dust/sand storms occur, then a cover may be crucial. A cover also protects to some degree against flying debris damage during storms.
Most owners seem to maintain auto body or gel coat and chrome finishes quite well by cleaning thoroughly and adding a protective coating like Protect All. Some use a heavy paste wax like Simonize. I have used both types with success.
Do check that all window and door seals are in good condition as a driving rain will find its way through the most minute opening. On the roof check caulking around the ceiling vent, and be sure that the vent pipe is open and clear. However, I have not seen any Roadtrek that has had a problem with any of these seals.
If you have any awning open it, clean and dry it thoroughly before putting it away. A bit of spay lubricant will keep everything sliding smoothly.
Finally, do not forget to inspect the spare tire and cover.
A Personal Note: l now live in a benign climate where there is seldom more than a light frost, but it rains about 100 inches per year, and we experience a great deal of local fog.. We store the vehicle uncovered on our property, can hook up to shore power and water, and have a sewer dump point So, it is convenient to use and inspect plus protection against freezing is hardly ever needed, but protection from high humidity is needed during our rainy season from about November through March.
I keep electric power hooked up most of the time that the Roadtrek is inactive -- from a few days to a few weeks, thus the coach battery is almost always fully charged. An electric cube heater is usually hooked up. Its low level is 1000 watts maximum output, and high level 1500 watts; there is a fan only operation, an adjustable temperature control, and a built in shut-off switch in the event it is tipped over.
In warm humid weather the air conditioner fan blowing forward at the ceiling, and the cube heater fan blowing to the rear at floor level keep air circulating and the coach free of odors or mildew. As cool weather with nights around 40 F or lower approach only the floor heater is used, at low level with temperature adjusted to maintain near 40 F in the toilet compartment and the cabinet below the sink. This keeps the coach dry and also odor and mildew free, though there is sometimes moisture condensation on the window glass which we towel dry from time to time.
This page was contributed by Roadtrek International member C. A. Campbell