Is your motorhome prepared for winter? Good drain down is essential for motorhomes during the winter months to avoid freezing water causing irreversible damage through bursting water pipes, tanks etc. So just a few minutes of your time now could save you thousands of euros. This article is put together by Richard Ferris and is based on the experiences of hundreds of motorhomers over many years.
Even if you are going to continue using your motorhome on a year around basis, which we strongly recommend, you will still need to take some extra precautions for the colder months. This will start with the normal vehicle precautions like checking that the antifreeze levels in both the engine and the windscreen washer reservoir are OK, but also use the opportunity to check tyres, lights & everything else starts the winter in good condition. Not many of us do these routine checks very often, or at all!
Empty the contents
Then we would suggest that you empty your van down to its basics. Remove all personal belongings, gas tanks, upholstery, etc., and thoroughly clean everything inside and out. Don’t forget to empty all water and waste tanks, and with taps and boiler drains open, ensure all water is completely removed. Don’t forget the water filter if fitted and ensure the shower mixer tap and hose is completely drained. No water must remain. (Alde systems may require specialist help – please ask us before doing anything.)
Maintenance tips from the voice of experience
By contrast, fill the fuel tank as high as possible to prevent condensation forming in the tank (with the promise of fuel duty increases this often proves a good investment anyway!). Then ensure that all roller blinds are fully retracted to prevent stretching the springs, and remove all the metal shelving from the fridge. Clean the interior with some anti-bacterial wipes, and leave the fridge door OPEN. If you need to shut the empty fridge in order to drive the van, a good tip is to put some tea bags in: these will slightly help to prevent smells and mould building up if it is accidentally left closed. The fridge shelving should be removed, cleaned and sealed in a bag complete with the shelf location fittings. Having emptied both the grey waste and toilette cassette tanks, you should leave the ‘paddle’ in the toilet base open, having first rubbed in a thin coat of olive oil to the paddle or given it a squirt of Thetford Seal Lubricant.
This is also a good moment to check your cassette toilet tank to ensure the seals are in effective working order, and should it need a thorough clean out, you will find Thetford’s Cassette Tank Cleaner is extremely effective if used with hot, but NOT boiling water. First empty the cassette and then follow the instructions on the bottle. Carefully release the internal tank pressure immediately after solution mix is added and then add a half hour drive before emptying it. (Warning: Leaving the tank closed while filled with cleaning chemicals will allow a pressure build-up which is not only extremely dangerous due to the internal pressure created, but which will distort the tank beyond use or repair.) Thetford also have U tube instruction clip on how to use their Thetford Duo Tank Cleaner. This involves take the motorhome for a drive and leaving the solution sit for 16 hours before rinsing.
If you are unable to actually use your van every week or two, if only for a supermarket run or the occasional day out, you will need to take the following additional steps:
Storing your motorhome
An open garage or car port high enough to take your motorhome is advantageous. Alternatively a breathable cover can be used but be aware that condensation can be a problem with a sealed camper and this is most likely to occur with an external cover. (If using an external cover a good tip is to put a collection of either inflated or tennis balls on the roof under the cover which will add air circulation and help to protect the roof finish from the cover.) Alternatively you can leave your motorhome in the open, but not under trees. This is usually fine if you then follow these guidelines.
Where to park
When parking your motorhome, park on a slope or if you are jacking it up outside, create your own slope and some essential roof drainage. This will prevent green mould from growing in the puddles that may form on the roof, but remember you will need to check both outside and inside and keep it all clean inside and out, and well aired while it is laid up.
You will need to jack all the wheels off the ground. If you have a possible security situation by all means remove either one or all the wheels, but use proper axle stands NOT bricks, blocks or other unsuitable materials. If removing the wheels, protect the axle stubs etc with a plastic cover ensuring they remain clean and dry. Once the van is securely chocked up, release the handbrake: you don’t want it locked on after the winter!
Even if your van is laid-up you should regularly run your engine to full operating temperature to ensure sufficient oil distribution and to prevent stress on the starter battery. By contrast the leisure battery should either be removed and kept on trickle charge, or if this is not possible it should be connected to the mains for an 8 -12 hour charge every 2 - 6 weeks. Do not let your batteries go flat! You may not be able to recharge them and anyway this invalidates their warranty. Also remember, if fitted, to give your cab aircon system a run while the engine is running: this distributes fresh oil into the working parts. Equally exercise the clutch springs and engage a low gear to rotate the clutch plates, BUT remember if your drive wheels are either locked in place or in a plastic cover to release them first. Protecting your motorhome from frost damage is another maintenance task that is a good investment of your time in the winter months.
Keeping it dry
If you are able to plug into the mains, a dehumidifier and a small electric radiator would be very helpful, but watch out for mice etc., who are always keen to find a warm dry home for the winter. Dehumidifiers cease to work in cold temperatures, which is why a small heater is recommended. You will need to remember to empty the dehumidifier. If you normally use a fan heater these are not recommended for unsupervised use, and although they are effective at not only quickly heating but circulating air, they represent a serious fire risk if the fan ceases to function for any reason. Don’t risk it!
Minding the interior
Upholstery, bedding etc., should ideally always be removed from a fully laid up van, and stored in a dry safe place. If this is not possible ensure it is stored to allow maximum air circulation. This applies most especially to drop down beds normally stored in the roof spaces which should always be at least partially lowered.
Lastly if you discover jobs or maintenance items that have been missed during the season get them done or pinpointed before you lay your van up for the winter. It’s no harm to have a list of odd jobs: you can do one each time you go out to check your winter lay-up is producing the desired results!