Essential Steps You Need to Take Before and During Storage to Ensure Your Motorhome is Ready for the Next Travel Season
As the days get shorter and the leaves begin to fall, we come to the melancholy realization that it’s time for many of us to put the motorhome away for the coming winter. It’s not something that many of us like to think about, but the fact of the matter is, taking the proper steps to put your coach in hibernation — and checking on it once in a while during the colder months — is the best way to ensure it will be ready for fun come spring. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some handy information to help you take the right steps, both before and during storage. Keep in mind that proper preparation can take a lot of time, so don’t expect to get everything done in one day, or even in one weekend.
A clean coach is a happy coach, so one of the first steps should be to clean the coach interior thoroughly. Insects and rodents are drawn to food odors, so empty all cabinets of stored food, vacuum the floors and cabinets, and wipe everything down with suitable cleaners. If the carpet or runner looks dirty, now is the time to clean it; carpet cleaners are available for rent and do a pretty impressive job of removing ground-in dirt. The soap’s perfume can have the added benefit of masking food odors, making your coach less attractive to would-be scavengers.
Once you’re done cleaning the interior, it’s time to decide how you want to protect it. If you live in a damp climate, whether it’s the Pacific Northwest or the Southeast, you should definitely keep the interior dehumidified. One of the easiest and least expensive ways to do this is with a product like Dri-Z-Air, which uses desiccant crystals to draw moisture out of the air, then collect it in a container that is emptied periodically. Place at least three inside the coach — one in the front, one in the living/kitchen area and one in the bedroom. You will be amazed at how much water is collected after just a few weeks.
Keeping the air inside the coach dry will not only prevent mold and mildew, it will prevent wood cabinets and drawers from swelling and warping. A natural product called Kanberra Gel can also help neutralize and eliminate the mold and mildew commonly associated with damp environments.
If you’ll be storing in a hot, dry area like the Southwest, you’ll want to protect the interior from UV light. There are a variety of manufacturers on the market that offer shades that can deflect light from the windshield and side windows — you can even fashion your own covers for smaller windows with cardboard and aluminum foil. Taking a little extra time to block the windows and close the shades will keep the furniture and carpet protected from fading and sun damage.
And before you walk out and lock the door, don’t forget to put a little nontoxic antifreeze in the sinks and toilet(s) to protect from freezing, turn off the water pump and switch off the coach power.
Of course, the first thing to do here — if you haven’t done it already — is to dump the holding tanks and flush them thoroughly. Once the black tank is dumped, add some water and holding-tank chemical to keep odors at bay. If you live in a cold climate, you should also winterize the motorhome or have it winterized at a qualified RV dealer or repair center. Regardless of the climate in your area, drain the hot-water tank and freshwater tanks, and run the water pump until all water is out of the lines. This will help prevent bacteria from growing in the stagnant water and creating bad taste and odor.
A good wash from top to bottom is important, but before you break out the hose and bucket, carefully climb up on the roof and give it a good inspection. Check the sealant around any transition seams, roof vents, antennas, etc., for cracking, peeling and splitting. Any questionable areas should be carefully cleaned and new caulking applied where necessary, particularly if you will be storing the motorhome outside in a rainy or snowy environment. Look at the air-conditioning unit (or units) and make sure that they are sitting level and don’t show any signs of sagging.
Once roof repairs (if any) have been made and the sealant is completely dry, give the motorhome a good wash, starting at the top and working your way down. How you clean the roof depends largely on what it is made of: If it is rubber, use one of the many rubber-roof cleaners on the market offered by companies such as Protect All, Camco, Thetford, Dometic and others; suitable household cleaners can also be used. Follow the directions on the package, and agitate the surface with a medium-bristle brush on an extension pole. If you have a fiberglass roof, the same applies, except you can use common car wash soap here. Rinse the roof and coach thoroughly, then wash/wax the rest of the motorhome as normal. If you have a rubber roof, apply a rubber-roof treatment that is free of petroleum distillates once the surface is dry.
Clean the tires with a quality tire cleaner and treat it with a rubber-protectant product that contains no petroleum distillates (see the article, “How to Maximize the Life of Motorhome Tires”). Now is a good time to check and adjust tire pressure, and if the motorhome is stored outside in a sunny area, protect the tires with RV tire covers, which are available through companies such as ADCO and Camping World. Tire covers prevent UV light from degrading the tires, helping to prevent premature aging and cracking while the coach is in storage.
FUEL AND BATTERIES
Generally speaking, if the motorhome will only be put away for three months, fuel stabilizer isn’t necessary, unless you have a diesel coach and live in a very moist and/or warm environment. These conditions can lead to microbial growth and bacteria in the fuel that will contaminate it. Fill the tank to prevent condensation on the surface, then add the stabilizer. In the case of gas coaches, pump gas typically has no trouble staying good for up to six months, but when in doubt, adding fuel stabilizer certainly won’t hurt.
If the batteries are the flooded-cell variety, check the water level and top them off as necessary, then bring them up to a full charge. If you have the luxury of indoor storage or have power available, you can keep the batteries on a maintenance charger for the duration. If the coach will be stored long term in a cold environment, it might not be a bad idea to remove the batteries (if possible) and keep them on a maintenance charger at your residence to keep them in good shape — just remember not to store the batteries directly on concrete.
And before you walk away from the coach, make sure that the LP-gas supply is turned off.
It isn’t necessary to store the coach on jacks; in fact, storing a motorhome this way for any period can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. If the coach will be in storage long term, you’re better off just to move it every month or two if possible. It also doesn’t hurt to place the tires on wood or plastic pads, especially if your storage area surface is dirt or concrete. Having the tires on a porous surface that won’t collect water will help prevent rot.
Once a month, it’s a good idea to stop by the storage yard and run the generator for at least 15 minutes or so, and place a load on it such as the air conditioner, a coffeemaker, etc. Doing so prevents the carburetor or injectors from gumming up with stale fuel, and keeps the cylinder walls and other surfaces coated with oil. While you’re running the generator, take a walk around the coach and look for signs of rodent and insect intrusion. Spiders, mud daubers and other insects like to take up residence in places like the hot-water tank tube, furnace vents, etc. Companies like Camco offer furnace and water-heater-vent insect screens that prevent insect intrusion if that’s a problem in your area. Walk around the coach and make sure that tire pressure is where you left it; if not, adjust the tire pressure accordingly.
Step inside the coach and look for signs of water intrusion, especially around the aforementioned roof air-conditioning units and walls; look inside the overhead cabinets using a flashlight. Over time, the roof can sag under the weight of the air-conditioning unit, creating a recessed area that collects water. If the seals underneath the unit are old, that water can seep into the roof insulation, causing major structural damage. Eventually, the water can penetrate the ceiling, leaving unsightly stains.
If weather conditions and/or your storage unit allow, stop by and give the coach a quick wash or at least a rinse every couple of weeks to prevent dirt, pollution and bird-dropping buildup. As it’s often said, frequent cleaning is easy cleaning.
Putting your coach away for the winter season may be bittersweet, but your investment in time and elbow grease will ensure it is ready to travel for many years to come.