Articles & Resources

Preparing a Clean Machine for Spring

Janet and Stuart Wilson
Don’t let the thaw find you unprepared. Take these easy steps to get your RV road-ready for travel season


Come March, we catch ourselves dreaming of a beach on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. And if we haven't hit the road by April, we fear we’re missing the poppies bloom in the Mojave. In short, spring brings itchy feet, so when the mercury begins to climb north, we pull out our “Ready for the Road” spring RV checklist. We begged, borrowed and stole ideas from several sources to develop it, and we’ve found that this compendium expedites our preparation while assuring we don’t forget something important.

A little advance work before we put our trailer to bed for the winter lessens our spring chores. For example, after the first winter we owned our trailer, we bought a cover. We highly recommend this if you can’t store your RV indoors: the rig stays cleaner, and water-damage risk is reduced. We also dump the holding tanks and treat the blackwater tank. Because it rarely freezes where we live in Northern California, we don’t drain the freshwater system, but in most of the country, this is necessary. Specially formulated, nontoxic RV antifreeze is available to fill the freshwater system in winter. We also remove the batteries and store them in our garage with a battery tender, periodically checking water levels. We fully inflate the tires before parking the rig, as tires will lose air.

A motorhome’s drivetrain and chassis should be maintained in accordance with the owner’s manual. Long-time motorhome owner DeWayne Sills of Oregon says it’s also a good idea to check for signs of fluid leaks, check fluid levels and inspect hoses, belts and wires when taking it out of winter storage. Accordingly, he carries a spare fuel filter. Kerry McColloch, proprietor of McColloch’s RV Repair in Sacramento, checks the airbag suspension on the General Motors P130 chassis for proper inflation and wear and suggests adding a stabilizer to the fuel tank over winter.

When it’s time for our trailer’s spring tuneup, we have some tasks performed by Kerry, or other qualified technicians, and do others ourselves. How much to undertake yourself on your own RV and how much to leave to a professional depends on your skill level, interest and available time. We recommend consulting your RV owner’s manual and Trailer Life’s RV Repair & Maintenance Manual by Bob Livingston, without which we wouldn’t try to do many of these tasks.

Now, here’s our checklist:

1. Remove the vehicle’s cover, tire covers and/or any air-conditioner vent or other protective covers.

2. Check the battery-water level, add distilled water as needed and replace caps securely. Check the charge level and charge if necessary. Clean the battery and terminals and coat terminals with terminal protector. Reinstall the batteries (if removed). Check the cables for corrosion.

3. De-winterize the vehicle’s water system by draining any antifreeze and flushing the system. We sanitize our water system using a diluted bleach solution, followed by a baking soda or vinegar solution to eliminate the chlorine smell.

4. Wash the exterior using an automobile — or RV — wash product and dry with a towel or chamois. We clean our rig thoroughly before storing it so that we don’t have to contend with road tar, dried-on bugs, black streaks, scratches or oxidation in spring. We also recommend that you perform a pre-storage inspection of seams and roof penetrations for cracked or missing sealant, replacing sealant as needed. Otherwise, do this in the spring. Check windows for leaks.

5. Inspect all storage compartments as well as refrigerator, furnace and water-heater access panels for rodents, insects, spiders and water damage. Clean out appliance accesses. Check beneath the rig for evidence of leaks.

6. Inspect wheels and tires: check tire inflation, tread wear and rubber condition. Small chips or cracks in the rubber indicate deterioration — it’s time to replace these tires. Tires should be replaced every five to seven years regardless of tread wear to protect against catastrophic failure. Treat tires with a dressing containing a UV inhibitor. Check wheel bearings, brakes and lug nuts. Wheel bearings should be repacked every year or every other year, depending upon miles driven.

7. Lubricate hinges, locks, stabilizers and electric steps, if applicable.

8. Check slideout operation and lubricate mechanisms. Open awning to check operation and inspect fabric.

9. Inspect and clean the interior. Open vents and windows to air out the rig. Remove dehumidifiers from the inside of the RV. Remove charcoal/baking soda from the refrigerator.

10. Plug into shore power and check 120-volt appliances: refrigerator, air conditioner, microwave, etc. Test GFI circuit. Change or clean air-conditioner filters.

11. Check the LP-gas system: test for leaks around fittings and pressure-test the system — we let the pros do this. Fire up all propane appliances: range, oven, furnace and water heater (make sure tank is full). Check levels in propane tank(s). Mike Rodrian of Roseville, Calif., another seasoned RVer, suggests checking propane tanks’ certification dates.

12. After the refrigerator has been tested in 120-volt mode (usually overnight), switch to gas and test.

13. Test the 12-volt system: fans, water pump, lights including the exterior lights. Replace the battery in the smoke alarm. Test the smoke alarm, the LP-gas detector and the carbon monoxide detector. Check the fire-extinguisher charge. It’s a good idea to check the bulbs used for running lights, brake lights and turn signals and replace them as necessary each spring.

14. Check the water system for leaks by opening all faucets to remove air in the lines then closing all faucets tightly; if the pump turns on after several minutes, the system is losing pressure due to a leak. Hopefully, it will be a leaky faucet. Otherwise, it will be necessary to trace the plumbing to track down the leak.

15. Inspect the hitching mechanism of towables for loose bolts, cracks in metal, breakaway-switch operation and electrical connections.

This concludes our checklist, but those with generators need to service those as well: change oil and filters, inspect exhaust for corrosion, check belts and run the generator as recommended by the manual.

Having diligently completed these tasks, we’re ready to load up our rig and head for that beach or the desert or….

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