RV Winterizing Tips: 11 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Winterizing your RV? Keep your rig protected all winter long by avoiding these common mistakes.

Along with the beautiful colors of fall comes the closure of a wonderful camping season and the need to prep your RV for storage. While it may not be a fun task, winterizing your rig is imperative to keeping it maintained and preventing damage from freezing temps.

There are a few ways to approach winterizing your RV: You can do it yourself, use a mobile RV maintenance company, or take your rig to a service center. This can cost anywhere from $75 to $200 depending on location and what services are included.

Whether this will be your first year prepping your RV for winter or you’re a seasoned pro, it’s useful to go over the most common mistakes. This way, you won’t be the one making them.

Winterizing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winterizing mistake #1: Not removing your house batteries

When preparing your RV for winter, don’t forget to pay attention to your house batteries. A dead battery consists mostly of water which can freeze and cause broken connections, bent plates, and shorten the battery’s lifespan. Remove the batteries from your RV and store them in a temperature-controlled area through the winter but be sure not to store them on a concrete floor.

It’s also recommended that you use a battery charger so they’re ready to go when you are.

If you store them in a heated garage or basement be sure to put them up on something appropriate. Flooded lead-acid and AGM batteries CAN freeze when they aren’t being charged, so plan accordingly.

Winterizing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winterizing mistake #2: Not draining and flushing all water lines

It’s important to always double- and triple-check that you haven’t forgotten any of your water lines including your ice maker and washing machine lines.

One common mistake in blowing out the lines is not dialing down the air pressure before starting—you don’t want to put more than 100 psi into your water system. Remember, it’s the volume of air, not the pressure that will push the remaining water out. Read your owner’s manual to verify what the maximum pressure can be before you start. Most city water lines are in the 40 to 50 psi range. Always pull your water filters off and install the filter bypass kits before flushing your lines. 

Check your owner’s manuals for specific instructions on winterizing your dishwasher, ice maker, and washing machine. These are all important to protect but will require a different procedure for each.

Winterizing your outdoor shower © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winterizing mistake #3: Forgetting about your outdoor shower 

This can be one of those out-of-sight out-of-mind mistakes. Every time you’re hooked up to city water the outside shower is ready for use—even if you don’t use it.

A common mistake that many people make is to forget to winterize their outside shower. This is an important RV winterizing tip because the outside shower is easy to forget. However, if you fail to winterize your outside shower plastic fittings and valves will almost certainly crack and the pipes that route out to the outside shower could burst.

So, if you have your winterizing steps recorded somewhere, be sure to add a note saying, “Don’t forget the outside shower!” You’ll simply need to run the shower until the water turns pink (as with your sinks and your inside shower) or if you winterize by blowing out your plumbing lines with an air compressor, make sure to blow out your outside shower… both the cold and hot water lines!

Winterizing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winterizing mistake #4: Not closing low point drains 

After draining your low-point drains ensure they are completely closed before filling the water system with RV antifreeze. 

Winterizing mistake #5: Skipping important steps with your water heater  

Bypass and completely drain your water heater before adding antifreeze to the water system. If you have an electric water heater always turn off the switch or breaker before starting this task to prevent damage to the heating element. It’s important not to forget the drain plugs or anode rods if these are features that are a part of your unit. 

Not all RVs are equipped with a water heater bypass kit. Make sure your RV has one installed and you understand how to use it. Aftermarket kits can be purchased and installed if your RV does not have one.

Winterizing mistake #6 – Forgetting to winterize the sinks

Many RV owners forget to pour antifreeze down their kitchen and bathroom sinks which means any water remaining in the p-traps (the curved section of piping underneath the sinks) can freeze and cause problems.

Winterizing mistake #7: Waiting too long to purchase antifreeze and ‘trusting the weather’ 

Don’t let early winter storms or freezing temperatures catch you off guard. Buy your antifreeze early and be prepared if the temperature takes a sudden drop. 

Several factors play into how fast a problem can occur in freezing temperatures. It’s best to take precautions anytime the temps will get below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temps are dipping down to freezing and you haven’t been able to winterize—don’t panic, just run the heater on low that night. Yes, it will cost you money in propane but you will save your pipes and tanks.

Winterize your RV before the start of winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winterizing mistake #8: Leaving items in your cabinets 

Open all of the cabinets and outside storage compartments to remove maintenance supplies, food items, soaps, toiletries, and anything else with liquid in it. It’s easy to forget about those items in the back of the cabinets and if you do you’ll come back to some sticky situations.

Winterizing mistake #9: Leaving fluids in your RV

Change your diesel fuel (summer blend) to winter diesel (winter blend) or get a winter additive before you store your RV. If forgotten, you could end up with gelled fuel. Also, change your windshield fluid to a winter blend to avoid a cracked reservoir or pump. 

Winterizing mistake #10: Mouse-proof your RV

This is part of the mouse patrol preparation but worth mentioning as a separate RV winterizing tip. Use steel, brass, or copper wool to fill any openings that could allow the little devils into your rig. This is important even if you use your RV in the winter.

Mice, squirrels, and other little critters are looking for warmth and food all winter long. If you’ve got either to offer you can bet they’ll find their way to your winter palace and then tell all their friends where the party is. Do everything possible to keep them out.

Winterizing your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winterizing mistake #11: Not embracing cold weather camping 

Some RVers re-winterize multiple times over the winter so they can enjoy winter camping. Make a quick checklist from your owner’s manual and keep it handy. It makes running through all the steps easier without worrying about skipping anything. If you don’t feel like winterizing your fresh lines multiple times you can go on camping trips using only your black tank and bringing water with you. 

You can camp in a winterized unit and just not use water. A Thetford Porta Potti is a great bathroom alternative in a winterized RV.

Whatever you do, don’t let winterization and freezing temps hinder your traveling experience.

Other articles you may want to read:

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron