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RV Podcast 370: What to do for RV Winter Maintenance

With winter on the way, we want to share RV winter maintenance tips on how to care for and properly winterize your RV.

Providing the expertise in this week's RV Podcast Interview of the Week is Mark Polk, of RVEducation101.com, the leading source for practical, helpful information on RV repairs, mods and maintenance.

Mark and his wife, Dawn, have literally helped millions of RV owners over the past 23 years and in this podcast, Mark breaks down exactly what you need to do for proper RV winter maintenance.

Also this week, RV News, your RV questions, and a great Hidden Gems Campground Report.

Here's a video version of the podcast:

For an audio version, click the audio player below, or listen on your favorite Podcast app.

Table of Contents for Episode 370 of the Podcast

Below are the time marks that each topic in the podcast appears. Just move the video or audio selector to that time to go directly to the segment you most want to hear.

We do, though, encourage you to listen or watch the entire show. And we would appreciate you giving it a like or thumbs up and a good review.

Interview of the Week: Winter RV Maintenance with Mark Polk

discussing RV winter maintenance
Mark Polk is our guest on this episode of the Podcast, discussing RV winter maintenance

Our guest is Mark Polk, from RVEducation101, who is perhaps the leading expert in the RV Industry on maintaining, repairing, and caring for an RV.

With his wife Dawn, Mark has helped educate millions of RV consumers on how to safely and properly use, maintain and enjoy their RVs through DVDs, downloads, streaming videos, paperback books, electronic books, seminars, television shows, and newsletters. You can access their training programs at rvonlinetraining.com 

Here's a slightly edited transcript of the interview:

Mike Wendland: Well, we're excited to have on the podcast, Mark Polk from RV Education 101. Mark, it is always great to see you and especially on a topic like this where we can tap into your expertise.

Mark Polk: Yeah. Long time, no see, Mike.

RV Winter Maintenance Tips

Follow these RV Winter Maintenance for a good startup in the spring
Follow these RV Winter Maintenance for a good startup in the spring

Mike Wendland: We're talking about taking care of your RV in the off-season and in the winter months. And I guess the first step is winterizing and I know the most common question I get from people is when do we winterize? So let start off with that. Maybe we can get some advice from you.

Mark Polk: Okay. All right. Well, something I want to clarify right from the beginning is when people say winterize their RV, most people think about protecting the plumbing system from potentially freezing and bursting and causing all kinds of damage. When I say winterize, I like to include the entire RV. So we're talking about winterizing the plumbing system, and we're also talking about what measures you can take to protect other components on the RV during cold weather.

Mike Wendland: Right. And that's why I am so glad to get you on here because normally I do the same thing. I just tell everybody to put some antifreeze in your plumbing system, but there really is a lot more to it than that, especially, am I right, if you keep your RV in one place all the time? Sort of in storage, whether your driveway or somewhere else?

RV Winter Maintenance is more than just blowing out the plumbing lines

Mark Polk: Yes. Yes, absolutely. So first of all, when you're talking about RV winter maintenance and protecting the plumbing system, a lot of people choose to just use compressed air. They drain the water out of the plumbing system. They connect an air compressor to the city water outlet, and then they just blow compressed air through the system at about 40 PSI, 30, 35 PSI. And then you evacuate the majority of the water from the RV plumbing system. And then they call that done.

But when I was 16 years old, I was doing RV winter maintenance and winterizing RVs in Pennsylvania, in north central Pennsylvania. So I learned how from a master certified RV technician back then, and he said, the only way you winterize the plumbing system on an RV is to use Propylene Glycol or RV Marine antifreeze. He said, if you just blow air through the system, there's a couple components on the RV that are going to hold water regardless of pushing the air through.

So you have like a flush valve in the toilet that holds a small amount of water, just a little bit of water and it's plastic. So if you blow the air through and that doesn't get that water out, and then it drops below 32 degrees and stays there for a few hours. That little bit of water's going to freeze. It doesn't take much. And then it's going to expand and break that plastic.

Use RV or Marine Grade Antifreeze

antofreeze for rv winter maintenance
Use RV or Marine grade antifreeze. Automotive antifreeze is toxic.

So you've got a couple components on the RV like that, that you have to be concerned about. And the way to eliminate that is just winterize with antifreeze, RV antifreeze.

Mike Wendland: Do you still recommend blowing out the system and getting all that water out of the thing and then putting the antifreeze in?

Mark Polk: There's nothing wrong with using an air compressor to evacuate as much water as possible. I don't even do that though. I just drain all the water. I drain the water out of the fresh water holding tank. I drain the water. I open the low point drains, the hot and cold low point drains and just opened all the faucets. And then I turn the water pump on and let it push as much water as it can get out.

You don't need to be concerned about the plumbing system freezing if you evacuate 90% of the water and then add antifreeze. It's going to be okay. Now, if you don't evacuate any water and just push some antifreeze through the system, then you're going to have some issues if you're in an area in the country where the temperature drops below 32 degrees and stays there for a long period. Well, not … A short period of time even.

No need for RV antifreeze in the fresh water tank

Mike Wendland: Okay. Now, do you recommend putting antifreeze in the fresh water tank at all when doing RV winter maintenance?

Mark Polk: No. No, I don't. I drain the fresh water tank. I get as much water out as I can. And if there's a little bit of water in the bottom, which there usually is because the drain valve is higher than the bottom of the tank. That's not going to, if it freezes, it's not going to cause any problems. Now next spring, I recommend after you de-winterize, get all the antifreeze out of the system, that you sanitize the water system. But no, I do not put antifreeze into fresh water holding tank.

What I do is, now, a lot of RVs today have winterization kits built-in where all you have to do is move the valve to winterize, put in the antifreeze and let the water pump suck it into the water system.

I do it old school. I disconnect the inlet side of the water pump. I just disconnect that line. And I connect a fitting that has a clear plastic hose that I can just put down in the antifreeze. I turn the water pump on and just go to each faucet, hot and cold water.

Of course, you bypass the water heater so you don't fill your water heater with six, 10 or 12 gallons of antifreeze. And then you just open each faucet until you see the pink antifreeze flowing through the faucet and then move through everything.

Make sure you do everything that holds water, to include outside showers. The showers, kitchen sink, bathroom sink, ice makers. Anything that actually holds water on the RV needs to be winterized.

Mike Wendland: That system you just talked about with the water pump, most RV stores sell that as like a little bypass kit that you can buy and it's a …

Get a bypass kit or water pump converter

A water pump converter kit like this makes winterizing easy
A water pump converter kit like this makes winterizing easy

Mark Polk: Converter. Yeah. A water pump converter kit. If you don't have one, you can add a water pump converter kit. And then it's just a matter of turning one valve. And then that's ready to pull through.

Mike Wendland: And you have a little hose. You put that in the antifreeze. We've done it that way. And then through the system on our new RV. And obviously, every RV is a little different. Follow the instructions.

Mike Wendland: Before we leave antifreeze, what is the temperature? I mean, people think, oh my gosh, it's going to get 32. I got to winterize tonight. How cold does it have to be for a sustained period of time before you really have to winterize?

Mark Polk: Well, when a temperature reaches 32 degrees, of course, that's freezing. 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That is freezing. But it's not going to freeze the water in the plumbing system solid enough to where it expands, ruptures and causes problems, unless it's going to be below freezing for six or more hours. So if it's going to drop below freezing and it's going to stay there all night, you might have some concerns next morning.

When to winterize the RV

Mike Wendland: And of course, if you're in the RV with some heat, generally that helps a little bit too, right?

Mark Polk: That'll definitely help. But what you need to be aware of in that situation is the plumbing above the floor level, or is it below floor level in the basement? And then you need to consider is there an under belly, is the under enclosed and keeping the wind and stuff from reaching the plumbing components. So, if you have all your plumbing above floor level and you have your furnace running, you'll have no problems whatsoever. But now if your plumbing, some of your plumbing is below floor level, if you don't have a heated basement, then you need to be concerned about that.

Mike Wendland: As you said at the beginning, that's only part of the procedure?

Mark Polk: Yes.

Mike Wendland: What are the other RV winter maintenance tips and ways we need to have our RV ready and prepared and taken care of for the winter?

Put then RV away clean

Mark Polk: Well, very quickly, what I do is I start by just washing the exterior of the RV, cleaning the interior of the RV, and I remove any perishables or anything that can freeze that you don't want to freeze. You get all of that out. Anything that would attract mice or other rodents, you want to get that out. So you clean the interior thoroughly. If the freezer needs to be defrosted, you defrost the freezer. Clean your refrigerator really good. Leave the doors propped open.

And then the components I worry about are tires, batteries, the generator. And then are you storing the RV outside? Or is it being stored in indoors? So there's a big difference because if it's outside, now you have to be worried about all the elements harming your RV's exterior.

RV Winter Maintenance and care for your tires

RV Podcast 370: What to do for RV Winter Maintenance 1
Don't forget to care for your tires

The sun, the rain, the snow, the wind. So you have to take precautions, like getting your tires up off the ground, on some type of blocking, and the blocking needs to be larger than the footprint of the tires so you don't damage your tires. So the sun can damage the rubber on the tires. That's one of the biggest problems with RVs. They don't get used a lot and the tires might look okay, but they're damaged from the sun and UV rays.

Mike Wendland: And sitting in one place with all that weight on one spot on the tire.

Mark Polk: They're sitting in one place for a long period of time. If it's damaged from the sun, you'll start to notice small cracks in the side wall of the tire. If you see that, you need to have the tires inspected by a professional would be my recommendation before driving on them.

But the way to prevent all this is to get tire covers. If the RV's being stored outside, cover the tires, get the tires up off the ground, and then you can eliminate issues with your tires. I like to tell people to fill the tire to the max amount of air that's on side wall of the tire, because during storage tires will lose air pressure during while it sits in storage. So you fill it to the maximum, cover them and get them off the ground and then they're protected.

Mike Wendland: You mentioned the tires, getting them off the ground on a big piece of wood wider than the tire, right?

Mark Polk: Yes. Wider than the footprint of the tire. So the width and the length, you want that to be wider.

Mike Wendland: But like a couple of two by six, two by eights, something like that?

Mark Polk: Yep. Two by eights would work well. There's some of those products on the marketplace, like links levelers.

Mike Wendland: Oh, yeah. The little Lego block levelers. Yeah.

Mark Polk: Yes. You can build a small platform. When a tire's on the ground, moisture is a concern. And say you're parked on asphalt, any petroleum based product is a concern for tires. So if it's outside beside your garage, or if it's on the driveway and the driveway is asphalt, you definitely want to get it up off the ground. Concretes better than most surfaces for the tires. So.

Do you need a cover for your RV?

Mike Wendland: Before we get to batteries and RV winter maintenance tips, talk about RV covers. Do you recommend a cover for an RV that's stored outdoors?

Mark Polk: Absolutely. Absolutely. And not one of the tarps that you get at the home improvement store. You want to get a good quality RV cover. You want to make sure the cover is sized for your RV and the type of RV that you have.

They actually make them. Some are made custom made for a 28 foot class C motor home, or a 32 foot Type A motor home. And then you make sure you follow the installation instructions to the tee because wind and stuff can damage a cover if it's not tied down properly.

Mark Polk: One other bit of advice I would offer on an RV cover is you want one that's breathable. So the fabric is actually breathable. It'll let the air and wind go through the cover, and that will prevent mold and mildew and all those kinds of issues.

RV Winter Maintenance for your Batteries

Mike Wendland: All right. Continuing with our RV winter maintenance tips… Let's talk about batteries.

Mark Polk: Okay. Batteries are a big one. I think out of everything we deal with on RVs, batteries would be my number one problem that I see with people. I actually see people replace batteries on their RV every year, because they're not maintained properly. And a lot of that's during storage. If you live in a region of the country where it's cold outside, batteries that aren't charged, fully charged, can freeze.

They freeze and it destroys the battery. The other issue is when batteries sit in storage, if they're not fully charged, they begin to build up a sulfate material on the lead plates. When that sulfate crystallizes, it can't be put back in as active material. So the big thing is if you're going to leave the batteries in the RV, you need to make sure they're fully charged.

And then batteries, just like tires lose air pressure. Batteries lose voltage as they sit in storage. So you might start with a battery that's 12.6 volts, and you come out and check it in a month and it's that down to 12.4. And that's in a dangerous voltage where it needs to be recharged. So you have …

Mike Wendland: Just two related RV winter maintenance questions about batteries: Is this advice for both lithium and AGM, which AGM still probably the most common, but is it different with lithium?

RV Winter Maintenance for lithium and AGM vatteries differs

mark recommends the battery Minder for RV Winter Maintenance
Mark recommends the Battery Minder for RV winter maintenance

Mark Polk: Most RVers today still use lead acid batteries because it's more cost effective, but there's more maintenance required. So lead acid batteries will freeze. Lithium batteries can't tolerate cold weather that well. So, there's precautions that need to be taken with those as well. You either keep them charged or you take them out of the RV. If the RV's going to be in storage for four months or six months, take the batteries out. Put them in the area where it's warmer, where they won't freeze. And then just check them every now and then and recharge them.

I use a product called the Battery Minder, which is … Another brand that people might be aware of is a Battery Tender. But it's just a small device and you can connect it to your RV batteries and just leave it and not worry about it. It will not overcharge the batteries. It won't cause any problems. What it does is it actually charges, it conditions the batteries, and it maintains the batteries.

So if that sulfate material starts to build up on the plates, it actually sends out an electronic pulse that breaks that sulfate material down back into active plate material. And I put it on a two amp charge and just let it go. And it sits there for … It can stay there for two months with no problem at all. You got to have electricity though.

Mike Wendland: What if you have a 30 amp supply, a 50 amp supply where you park the RV? Is it all right to leave that plugged in all the time during storage?

Should your RV be plugged into shore power while in storage?

Mark Polk: I wouldn't recommend all the time. Again, if you have lead acid batteries, flooded lead acid batteries, if you leave it plugged in all the time, if the battery charger in the RV is not a three stage charger, it'll overcharge the battery and then it will start to basically boil out the acid and water. And then your water level goes down. And if you're not checking that, the battery's damaged beyond repair.

So I say eight hours once a week, just plug it in, let it sit for eight, 12 hours and then unplug it. That will keep your batteries topped off and you won't have to worry about damage.

But again, if it's a lead acid battery, you have to keep an eye on the water level in the battery. Because if you let that go, next spring, you're going to be buying new batteries.

Mike Wendland: Can lithium be left plugged in all the time?

Lithium CAN be plugged in all the time. Not so for AGM batteries

Mark Polk: You could leave a lithium battery plugged in because a lithium battery has a battery management system built right in the battery. So if it overcharges or undercharges, it'll shut off. The management system will shut the battery down. So it won't damage the battery and you can recharge it at some point when you realize that it shut off or it down. You can just recharge it. And it'll be fine.

Mike Wendland: Here's another RV winter maintenance question: What about the inverter when it's in storage? Off or on?

What about the inverter while in storage?

Mark Polk: Again, I think if you leave it on, you're going to be charging the batteries more than they probably need.

Mike Wendland: Turn it off. Turn it on when you come back in.

Mark Polk: Now, if you have one of those maintainers I just mentioned, like the Battery Minder you can leave that on forever. It will not overcharge batteries and it'll keep them topped off. But if it's a lead acid battery, you got to check the water levels. You have to check the water.

Mike Wendland: All right. We've talked about winterizing the plumbing system. We've talked about storage and tires and batteries. What other things do we need to be aware of when we put our RV away for a few months?

Mark Polk: Well, if it's a motorized RV, then you have not only the house concerns, but now you have an engine and the transmission and, and all of that to worry about. So you want to make sure that the antifreeze in the engine is at the proper level, and don't get the two antifreezes mixed up. You have Ethyne Glycol That's used in automotive antifreeze, and that's toxic to humans and pets. Then you have Propylene Glycol. That's a food grade, which is used to winterize a plumbing system.:

RV Winter Maintenance for motorhome engines

So you want to make sure the antifreeze level and condition is in good shape in the engine, in the radiator. I personally think you should go out there and start the engine at least once a week and let it run for a few minutes. If there's any critters that are trying to make a home up in the engine compartment, that will run them off.

Plus it'll help circulate some oil through the engine and lubricate all the internal components.

Mike Wendland: And of course, being in the RV, you're going to notice if anything's wrong, you're going to be able to see that and take care of it that way. I like that point about going out there once a week, running the engine.

What about the generator? Do we still exercise our generators during storage time?

Don't forget to “Exercise” the RV generator during the winter

Mark Polk: Absolutely. Two concerns with a generator. One is if you let fuel sit in, especially a carburetted generator, if you let fuel sit in the carburetor for as little as four months without starting and letting it run, that fuel will start to break down and like get gummy, like a tar consistency.

And next spring, it either won't start at all. Or if it does start, it will have that surging where it's not running properly. And your chances are you're going to have to take it in, have somebody remove the carburetor, clean it, and try to put it back on and see if that solves a problem.

So you can either, two ways to protect that, would be to … One would be to install a full shutoff valve in the fuel line, in line, and then you can turn fuel off and let the generator run until it completely runs out of fuel. And that will help. If you don't have that as an option, you can just get a fuel stabilizer product, like S STA-BIL. Fill the motor home tank up or the generator, if it's a portable generator.

Add your stabilizer for the amount of fuel that's in it. And then run that through the system. And that will protect it all winter long. And next spring, you won't have any issues.

Run the generator for an hour or two every month

But a generator should be exercised as well. So once a month, once every two months, you should probably start the generator and you want to run a half-rated load minimum or more. So if it's a 4,000 Watt generator, you want to try to run about 2000 Watts of whatever it is. A couple portable heaters or whatever it takes to get that 2000 Watts. And just let it run, the longer, the better. I mean, you can let it run three, four hours. I would say two hours minimum, but the longer, the better. Generators are made to run with a load on them.

Mike Wendland: Well, Mark, this has been just really helpful for so many folks out there, and we've just scratched the surface of one part of your great education. resource… RV Education 101. We'll put links to all of your products. Behind you, it looks like we got some DVDs, books, a huge resource of articles. How many years have you been doing this, Mark?

Mark Polk: 23. In November, makes 23 years.

Mike Wendland: I don't know of anybody with more industry and maintenance and RV education know-how than Mark Polk and it's been our honor to have you on the podcast. And we'll be back. We'll talk in spring about what do we do when it's time to wake up the RV.

Mark Polk: Okay. That sounds good, Mike.

Mike Wendland: Thank you so much for sharing your RV winter maintenance tips, Mark.

Mark Polk: You're welcome. Thank you.

RV Podcast 370: What to do for RV Winter Maintenance 2
Mike and Jennifer Wendland

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