TR Bowlin

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Spring RV startup and maintenance (De-winterization)

Ahh, spring is in the air, and our thoughts have turned to that first camping trip in the RV. To make sure you have a successful first trip, here’s a spring RV startup and maintenance checklist. I’m including generalized instructions for completing each step as every RV presents a separate set of requirements for spring RV startup and maintenance. I’d always recommend your review your RVs maintenance manual for specifics.

As I’ve described in this article, preventative maintenance is the most effective way to maintain your RV resale value and to make it trouble-free to use when you want to go camping.

Winterization and spring RV startup go hand in hand. Winterization is very important if you live in a cold climate to prevent significant and expensive damage to your freshwater system. Spring startup is equally important as that is the time to flush out any antifreeze and check for leaks—also an excellent time to sanitize the freshwater tank. So that is where I start

 I like to start my spring RV startup and maintenance with the freshwater system. Keeping your water system tuned up and working is the best way to assure years of enjoyment of your RV.

Freshwater Systems

Check for leaks

I like to start my spring RV startup and maintenance with the freshwater system. Keeping your water system tuned up and working is the best way to assure years of enjoyment of your RV.

Water damage from a leaking sink
Leaking Freshwater Tank

The first thing to do is check for leaks. However small they may be, it is essential to find and repair leaks to prevent significant damage in the future. It’s pretty simple, and you can save money doing it yourself.

Fill your freshwater tank about half full and turn on the pump. Go around and open each faucet and let the line flush out. Get the sinks, shower, toilet, external shower, ice maker, etc.

Flushing the lines will also flush any antifreeze out of the lines if the RV was winterized.

Pump Leak Test

Once you have the water lines full of freshwater, stop and wait to see if the pump cycles. If all the faucets are closed and the pump is cycling, you have a leak somewhere. Find it and repair it. If you cannot find the leak, take the RV to a qualified repair facility for repair. Water will destroy an RV in no time if left unchecked.

In addition to the pump leak test, you want to look for leaks under each sink, around the toilet, etc. Anywhere water is used, you want to take a look at the fittings and connections. Keep in mind you may need to remove a drawer to see the plumbing lines under the cabinets. Don’t forget to have the water system pressurized when you are looking for leaks.

A quick tip is that if you suspect a fitting is leaking, use a small piece of toilet paper and put it under the area you think is leaking. Even if the water has evaporated, a stain on the toilet paper will show you a leak.

The next thing I like to do is sanitize my freshwater systems. It is vital to sanitize your freshwater holding tank at least once a year. Sanitizing will ensure that it is clean and fresh, there are no nasty bacteria in the tanks, and you won’t have stale tasting water.

Sanitizing the freshwater tank and water lines

I show you how easy it is to sanitize your RV freshwater tank in this how-to article. There is also a downloadable PDF checklist for sanitizing an RV freshwater tank in the article. Why would you want to do this? Well, it is a great way to remove any mal-tasting water problems in your RV. It is not uncommon to find mold growing in the tank along with bacteria. They generally won’t harm you but can make the water taste or smell bad. This is particularly a problem with municipal water that is stored in open reservoirs. It’s also common to find mold growing in your RV water hose.

Grey and black water holding tank maintenance.

Leaking Grey water Tank

By now, your grey water holding tank should be getting pretty full. So now is a good time to look for leaks. Finish filling it with water and then fill the black tank with water. Now that your tanks are full of water, add ½ cup of borax and ½ cup of dish soap (Dawn is best). Let them sit overnight, and longer is better! If your holding tank level gauges are not working, read this article. For a comprehensive video on maintaining your RVs black and grey water holding tanks watch this popular video I produced recently.

Electrical systems checks

Part of any good spring RV startup and maintenance checklist includes battery maintenance. A fully charged battery can withstand -75 degrees F below zero before it freezes (-60 C). The funny thing about lead-acid, AGM, even lithium batteries is that they lose a little charge every day even if you are not using them. If you live in a cold climate, it is best practice to remove your batteries and store them in a place where they will not freeze. In any case, it is a good idea to disconnect the battery cables to prevent any ‘leak’ current from draining the batteries completely and damaging them!

The problem is that most of the time, your chassis and house batteries are not in a fully charged state unless you have a battery charger/maintainer or they have just been charged (solar). If you don’t have a trickle charger or solar battery maintainer, your batteries lose charge every day they are not re-charged lose charge, the temperature that they can freeze rises to the point that a battery at 50% capacity may freeze at 10 degrees F (-12 C).

Chassis batteries:

If you have a towable, you won’t have chassis batteries to skip this step. For self-propelled RV’s *(class A, B & C’s), you should maintain your chassis (starting) batteries. For a complete video tutorial, you can check out this video on my YouTube channel. The Cliff Notes version follows.

If you have a master battery disconnect, make sure it is turned off!

Please take a picture of how the battery cables are connected, then carefully disconnect them from the batteries.

Using baking soda and water, paint the battery terminals, and the connectors with the baking soda solution. Let it sit on the terminals until it stops foaming, then rinse it off. Continue to treat and rinse with the baking soda until most of the foaming has disappeared.  Two tablespoons of baking soda in 2 cups of water works great.

If there is a lot of corrosion on the terminals, you will need to use a wire brush or a battery post cleaner. You should clean the battery posts and connectors until they are bright and shiny. Treat the battery terminals and posts with battery terminal spray. It helps keep corrosion to a minimum. It is also a good idea to use battery terminal corrosion prevention washers. Here is a kit with both from Amazon if you’d like to support us!

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Check the water level and top off with distilled water only as applicable. Tap water will damage lead-acid batteries.

Reconnect the chassis batteries per the picture you took.

House batteries:

As noted earlier, it is best to have removed them and stored them on a trickle charger during the off-season. We’ll assume the batteries are installed and not cleaned when removed in the fall.

First, using a solution of baking soda and water and a cheap paintbrush, paint the battery terminals and connectors with baking soda and let it sit on the terminals until it stops foaming, then rinse the solution off and treat them again with the baking soda. Continue to treat and rinse until most of the foaming has disappeared.

Please remove the battery terminal connectors and, using a wire brush, clean the surfaces until they are bright and shiny. A battery terminal brush is a super handy tool to have around, and you can get a good one for less than five bucks.

Once everything is nice and shiny, treat the battery terminals and posts with battery terminal spray. It helps keep corrosion to a minimum.

It is also a good idea to use battery terminal corrosion prevention washers.

Here are these items from Amazon if you’d like to support us!

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Terminal protectant https://amzn.to/39EujHn

Reconnect the battery terminals.

Check the water level and top off with distilled water only! Tap water will damage batteries.

Charge the batteries.

Generators and A/C power systems

There is not too much to check on the A/C power side of things, but if you have a generator, you should maintain it just like any other engine you may have. Change the oil, filters, and put in fresh fuel if you have not used a fuel stabilizer. Start the generator, run for a couple of minutes to warm it up, then run under load for 15 minutes.

While you are load testing the generator, that is the perfect time to check the other A/C devices you might have.  Turn on your appliances that use A/C and run them as well. This will help provide electrical load and adequately exercise the generator. If your generator is big enough, don’t forget to check your Air Conditioners if you have them.

Don’t forget to check out any auto formers or surge suppressors you may have. Test them per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Propane:

Check and remove any corrosion from the tank. Repaint your propane tank as required.  If the tank is mounted out of sight like on most self-propelled chassis, it can get quite severely corroded and is very costly to replace. If your tank looks like this it’s time to get the wire brush out and clean and paint it. Otherwise, check that every connection in the propane system is tight.

Turn on the propane tank and, using soapy dishwater with a basting or small paintbrush, coat each joint and connection and watch for bubbles. You can also use a spray bottle with the same soapy water solution to spray each connection and watch for bubbles. Check the hot water connections, range/stove, furnace, external connections for BBQs, and any other propane appliance in the RV.

If you find a leak, TURN OFF the tank, and try tightening the connection. Be careful not to over-tighten as you can damage the fitting. If you have a leak that you just can’t get stopped, CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL.

Inside maintenance items

The first thing give it a good spring cleaning. Wipe down the walls and cabinets. Vacuum or clean the upholstery as appropriate. Don’t forget to wipe out the fridge.

Check your roof-mounted hatches and fans for cleanliness, leaks, and proper operation.

Operate all interior and exterior 12-volt lights. Replace as required.

Gaskets and seals

Slide Seal

It’s a great idea to lubricate all the gaskets and seals as part of your spring RV startup and maintenance. Rubber seals around your doors and slide out’s should be sprayed and wiped down with a good quality silicone spray. I’ve had the best results maintaining my seals with CRC Silicone https://amzn.to/3fDeS5P

Spray a light coat on all the rubber gaskets and seals and let absorb for a minute or two, then wipe the surface with a clean rag. If you notice the rubber gaskets are soaking up the silicone fast, they will treat them again if you have not treated them before. Silicone will significantly extend the life of the seals and save you tons of heartburn!

BTW, it’s a good idea to clean your car door seals with silicone occasionally!

Locks, latches, and sliders

Using the same silicone spray, spray all the tracks for your sliding windows. Slide them back and forth to work the silicone into the channel, then wipe any excess or overspray with a clean rag.

Lubricate all the locks on your RV with the same silicone spray. Don’t forget all the exterior compartment locks and the locking mechanisms for your doors or compartment doors. Give them a quick spray and wipe.

Lubricate any stairs or steps attached to the RV.

Some may want to substitute WD-40 or their favorite dry lubricant spray, which is fine, except for the gaskets and seals. Only use pure silicone like the CRC on the seals. WD-40 has some other chemicals that may interact with certain types of rubber.

Operate and lubricate and awnings and slide-outs per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Check that the straps are in good shape. It’s ten times easier to change the retraction straps before one breaks.

Air Conditioner

Carefully remove the AC faring shroud and look for signs of insect’s like wasp nests. Clean them out. I say carefully remove the AC faring because they can get very brittle and break easily sitting in the sun year after year. How many times have you seen an AC shroud laying along the side of the road in your travels? That is usually caused by the shroud getting brittle and breaking where the screws holding it on are.

Clean the cooling coils with compressed air. Carefully blow air through the fins and blow out the dust. If you don’t have a compressor available canned air will do a reasonably good job. Be very careful as the coils’ fins are very soft and, with age, like the faring, get brittle and are easily damaged by applying too much pressure with the paintbrush or compressed air.

Clean or replace any air filters that may be present.

Furnace

Another important thing to check during your spring RV startup and maintenance tasks is to clean the furnace. Remove the exterior furnace cover and check for excessive dust accumulation or the presence of any insect nests. Clean this out with compressed air. Again, canned air and an old paintbrush do a reasonably good job.

If you are following this checklist, then you have already checked the propane connection. If you have not checked the propane connections for leaks, then do so now. See above for details.

Test that the furnace operates properly both on and off shore power.

With the exterior cover removed, there is usually a place where you can see the flame burning. If the flame is primarily yellow vs. bright blue, get it serviced by a qualified RV service technician.

Test any propane or carbon monoxide detectors for proper operation. If either is older than ten years, replace it!

Change the batteries in your CO and/or propane detector.

Refrigerator

Remove the exterior cover and check for nests, dust, or other obstructions to the vents or fans that may be there. Clean with compressed air and a soft paintbrush.

Test the fridge both on and off shore power. If you have a propane fridge (dual fuel), be sure and test on propane. With the exterior cover removed, there is usually a place where you can see the flame burning. If the flame is primarily yellow rather than bright blue, have the fridge serviced by a qualified RV service technician.

Clean the inside of the fridge with your favorite cleaner. I like to use a bleach-based cleanser. It helps kill the molds that make the fridge smell musty. 

Check those tires!

Most importantly on any good spring RV startup and maintenance checklist is to check those tires! Nothing will ruin a trip in your RV like a blown tire. Most towable RVs, Class B & C, have an externally mounted spare tire. Don’t forget to check it when you’re checking your tire pressures and condition.

In Class A RVs, it is rare to see a spare tire on the back, and they take up lots of valuable basement compartment space. Most folks have roadside assistance, which is good to have for any RVer. I know I have used mine several times. It has more than paid for itself.

In an informal poll I took on one of my favorite RV forums, 2 in 10 Class A owners carried a spare. Most depended on roadside assistance in the event of a tire issue. The biggest reason for carrying a spare was the difficulty of obtaining a replacement in the middle of nowhere!

Look for signs of weather checking and any cracking in the sidewalls or tread. Do your tires look like this? Replace them. If there is any doubt, replace the tires. If the tires are older than six years, replace the tires. It is straightforward to find out how old your tires are by locating the date code brand!

Date Code Brands

The date code brand is easy to find and read. You will find the date code branded into the rubber close to the rim, like in the picture on the tire next to the rim.

It is easy to read. In this case, the first two digits are the week of manufacture, week 51, so the second to the last week of the year, in the year 2007. So at the time of this article, it is 13+ years old.

I can’t tell you how many RV’s, especially towables, I’ve seen on the side of the highway in my travels with blown tires or trailer tire carcasses along the road. Provided the tires are in decent shape and properly inflated, they should give you good service. One of the biggest causes of blown tires is under inflation—the second biggest cause is too much weight.

Lose some weight! Go through everything you have stored in the basement, and if you don’t remember using the item within the last couple of years, retire it to the garage. Remember, every pound you move around when you travel with your RV costs more fuel and wear and tear.

Fill the tires to the correct pressure per the manufacturer’s recommendations for your size and weight of RV. Consult your owner’s manual or a qualified tire shop for recommended inflation for tires.

Other Exterior/Interior maintenance items:

Wash and wax the exterior. Don’t forget to wash the roof!

Lubricate the window sliding tracks with silicone spray and clean the windows.

Check the condition of all caulked seams and around all window seals for signs of leaking. Repair any failing caulk around seams as soon as you notice it. A seam leak can cause significant water and mold problems if it is not caught early and prevented.

Lubricate the locks and hinges on your compartment doors with your favorite dry spray lubricant.

If you have hydraulic jacks, extend the jacks fully and wipe down the jack tube with a clean cloth and WD-40 or ATF.

If you have screw-type jacks, spray the joints, the screw, and hinge points with your favorite dry lubricant spray.

Roof

Do a careful roof inspection. Another important part of your spring RV startup and maintenance tasks is to check the roof. An unchecked roof leak can cause thousands of dollars in damage and repairs.

Badly damaged by water leak

Again, check all roof seams and around any fixtures or roof penetrations for cracks and damaged lap sealant. Refresh the lap sealant as needed. https://amzn.to/3fQYor9

Wash the roof and treat any mold or mildew with a bleach solution to remove it.

If your RV is ten years old or older, you might consider resealing the roof with an elastomeric coating. I’ve had great success with Henry Dura-bright White Elastomeric Roof Coating https://amzn.to/3a0NafQ. I’ve helped a couple of people put it on, and as long as the roof is relatively clean, it works perfectly!

It is a reasonably straightforward process to coat the roof and an easy DIY project. Scrub the roof thoroughly and treat any mold and mildew with bleach. Let it dry completely and touch up any seams with Lap Sealant. Then paint the coating on with brushes and a roller per the instructions on the can.

Rolling Chassis

Check your headlights, marker lights, and tail lights for proper operation. The most common cause of them not working is a blown fuse. It is easy to blow a fuse when you connect your towable (trailer or tow car). It’s a good idea to carry spare fuses. It would be best if you had fuses for the towable of the type it uses and the tow vehicle as they may be different.

Lubricate the chassis and check all belts and hoses for signs of wear and tear.

Change the oil and filters on the chassis as applicable.

Go for a ride to the dump station, dump your tanks, and flush them. You are ready to go!

Following these simple steps will greatly help assure you have a successful first trip out with your RV and get you ready for many more in the coming season! Happy RV’ing!

Download a PDF of the spring RV startup and maintenance checklist here: Checklist