How To Winterize Your Motorhome and Protect It From The Cold

(Revised & Updated for 2021)

For many, winter is the time when the adventures stop and we begin to think about storing our motorhomes away for springtime. In doing so, it is essential that you winterise your motorhome to protect it from the cold. 

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about motorhome winterisation. So that you can prepare your motorhome for the coldest, wettest time of the year without suffering from water damage, burst pipes, theft and more.

Let’s jump right in:

WInter Motorhome

Section 1

Why it’s Essential to Winterise a Motorhome

Most people don’t like travelling around in their motorhomes during the winter months, and especially when it gets really cold, wet, and dark. If you agree that winter travelling isn’t your cup of tea, then you’ll probably want to park up and store your vehicle away for the next few months.

But if you do store it away, it is extremely important that you prepare it for the winter elements. This preparation is called ‘motorhome winterisation’. 

The cold winter months can be responsible for some of the worst, most damaging, most expensive and most nightmarish problems that motorhomes face. Trust me, you’ll want to winterise your motorhome. And you’ll want to do it right. 

Without a fully winterised motorhome, your vehicle may be at risk of:

And More!

And to make matters much worse, many insurance companies won’t cover you if your motorhome is damaged by freezing water over the cold winter months. So to cover your back and your bank account, it’s time to make sure you do it right.

When to Winterise a Motorhome

Because most of the extreme damage is caused by below freezing temperatures, it makes sense to winterise your motorhome before -0°C (32°F) temperatures regularly occur. 

Where you live will influence this. If you’re in the Scottish Highlands, it could mean early Autumn. For the rest of the country, you should probably have your motorhome winterised and stored away by late Autumn. (Unless you’re planning to live in your motorhome over the winter, in which you’ll still have to winterise, but in a different way.)

Section 2

How to Properly Drain Down your Motorhome for the Winter

How do you winterise a camper or motorhome? It’s a common question to ask. In a nutshell, ‘winterising’ is the process of completely draining your motorhome’s plumbing system — so that water can’t freeze, expand, and burst the pipes while you’re away. 

There are lots of other things that you can do to keep your vehicle in top condition, but the most important thing to do is to drain down your motorhome — so that all the water is out of the pipes and unable to do any damage. 

Just so you know:

This is a generic guide, designed to help you to drain down most types of motorhome models. They all use very similar systems, but make sure to check your owner’s manual before following the steps below. If in doubt, drop us a line or email, or try visiting a local garage for advice on your specific model.

Here’s how to winterise a camper and drain it down properly:

1. Make sure you are over a drainage point: Try to position your motorhome so that any water drained from it flows seamlessly into a nearby grid or drainage system. Most models have 2-3 low point drains that you should be able to open to clear the tanks.

2. Open all the drainage points in your motorhome: Including all of the following:

   – The drain down valve for your fresh and wastewater tanks. – Find and open them. The drain down valve is usually near your water boiler. A good start would be to empty both of them at a dump station on your way home from the last campsite of the year. It won’t get all the droplets out, of course, but it’s a good starting point. You should also clean your fresh and waste water tanks after draining them down (more on that in the cleaning section below).

   – The water heater – (if you have one fitted). In order to do this properly, you’ll have to turn it off and let it cool down first, so that it’s not under pressure. From there you can remove the drain plug and open the pressure relief valve. Make sure to leave the valve open to make sure all the water has completely drained. If you have a water heater bypass installed — even better! Turn on the bypass valve if you do.

   – Open all of the internal taps in your motorhome, both hot and cold – This will let air into the pipes, and will help the water drain quicker. Leave them open even when the tanks have drained (in fact, until the springtime). Leave the water pump running until the taps run dry, but make sure to switch it off soon afterward to avoid pump burnout. After that, if you can, remove the taps — this will make sure that no residual water sticks around that may damage the seals.

   – The mixer tap. If you have a mixer tap, position it so that it’s in the middle so that both sides are on and venting. 

   – If there are inline water filters in your motorhome, disconnect and empty them.

   – If your toilet runs on a separate header tank, now’s also the time to open those outlets too — along with the cassette holding tank and other parts of the flushing system.

   – The showerhead. If you have a shower room, remove the showerhead and leave the shower hose dangling into the bathroom drain — or into a bowl if you prefer. Remember to open up and vent the exterior shower point if you have one.

3. Check the u-bends on the underside of the motorhome for lingering water: This is normally where the shower u-bends are. Make sure they are as empty as possible.

4. Make sure every last drop of water is out of the pipes: You can do this by blowing compressed air into the taps with a drain-down kit. If you have any supply hoses, lift them and tilt them down, letting gravity do the drainage work for you. Flush the toilet once again, to make sure it’s absolutely dry.

If you think there could be a tap or isolator valve you can’t find, then take a look at your owner’s manual. It should tell you where all the fittings are located.

5. Go for a short drive with all of the taps open: The movement of your motorhome will help knock any lingering droplets down and out of the pipeworks. After you park up again, close any outlets as appropriate (but remember to try to leave the internal taps open during storage).

A warning about winter damage and insurance companies

As I’ve said several times in this guide already, it is absolutely essential that you know how to winterise a motorhome or caravan and drain it down properly for the winter. Many insurance companies will not cover you for losses or damage caused by water freezing or burst water pipes — especially if the motorhome or caravan was not in use at the time.

Antifreeze

No matter how hard you try, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of all the water droplets from the lines and tanks on your own. Luckily, we motorhome enthusiasts have a secret weapon: antifreeze. 

You can buy specialist-grade antifreeze for motorhomes and RVs. They are specifically non-toxic and designed to protect the plumbing that is specific to motorhomes. 

I want to stress this point: do NOT add ordinary antifreeze to your freshwater tank. Only use specialist motorhome antifreeze which is non-toxic and safe to use in drinking water systems.

To start, close any low point drains that you’ve opened. Then pour the non-toxic antifreeze into the fresh water tank. You’ll need to add quite a lot (about 5-10 litres worth, depending on the size of your vehicle). 

Then turn on the water pump to pressurise the system and open the taps to let the antifreeze work its way through the plumbing system. Start with the tap that’s closest to the pump, and check until you see antifreeze pouring out of it. I would also recommend adding about a cup-full of antifreeze to each drain. Including in the sink and shower. 

Put two cups of antifreeze in the toilet bowl and flush it into the holding tank. This will stop any residual water from freezing over. Then pour another 1-2 cups into the toilet bowl and leave it sitting there to protect the valve.

After you’re satisfied that the antifreeze has reached every nook and cranny of your plumbing system, turn off the pump and close the inlets.

Did You Know?

You can buy drain down kits to help speed up the process and to make sure all the last water droplets are removed. These drain down kits work by blowing air into the pipes, which helps to quickly remove lingering water.

Using compressed air also means you won’t have to use as much antifreeze, with the double bonus that there also won’t be as much antifreeze to flush out before you get back on the road in the springtime. However, get an expert opinion if your motorhome is quite old, as this high-pressure blowing process could actually damage your pipes if they are already old and weak.

Also, keep in mind that the compressed air method is only really useful if you live in an area with mild winters, where the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing too much. If you’re based in the Scottish Highlands for example, you’ll want to stick with antifreeze.

Antifreeze and your Water Heater

If you have a water heater and don’t have a water heater bypass kit, then you’ll have to add an awful lot of antifreeze to that too. In fact, upwards of about 30 litres of antifreeze. Purchasing all this motorhome-grade antifreeze can get expensive.

But if you have a water heater bypass kit, which many of the newer higher-end models do, then you won’t need to fill the water heater with antifreeze. That’s because a water heater bypass is an extra section of plumbing that helps the water heater to drain faster and more efficiently. If your motorhome doesn’t have one pre-built into it, then you can get one installed if you choose. The idea is that a water heater bypass will save you money in the long run.

Antifreeze and your Engine

While we’re on the subject, you should also check the coolant levels in the engine’s radiator — and make sure it is topped up with antifreeze to the right mixture. For any UK-based readers, I would recommend mixing the antifreeze so that it can offer protection against temperatures going as low as -15°C just to be on the safe side.

If you’re not sure about the age or the strength of the antifreeze mixture already in your engine, you can test it with an antifreeze testing kit. You’ll be able to purchase an antifreeze testing kit at most reputable car accessory stores. 

Section 3

How to Give your Motorhome a Good Clean for Winter Storage

If you’re planning on storing your motorhome away for the winter, there’s no better time to give it a good, thorough clean. After all, who wants to jump back into a dirty, smelly campervan to kick off the new season? Not me. 

Not only is it better and more exciting to climb back into a nice, fresh and clean cab after the winter break — a good clean is also important if you want to prevent things from deteriorating while you’re away. 

Without a proper clean, you might unwittingly be making your sheltered interior the ideal environment for bugs, pests, and mould and mildew. You also run the risk of a chemical leak which could be damaging. 

So let’s take a quick look at how best to clean your motorhome before putting it away in winter storage:

Cleaning the Interior

1. Give your water tanks a scrub down. Including your black holding tanks and grey and freshwater tanks. For your holding tanks, a water wand (an instrument that delivers a high-volume amount of water pressure) will help to remove any hard-to-reach materials that have accumulated.

For your grey and freshwater tanks, cleaning is as easy as filling the emptied tanks with a mixture of clean water, baking soda or bleach. A solution of about 1 cup of bleach for every 50 litres of water should do the trick. Then go for a quick drive so that your cleaning solution sloshes its way right through to every part of the plumbing system.

It goes without saying that you should clean your tanks before draining down your motorhome (see section above)

2. Clean the toilet. Make sure to remove any limescale from the cassette with a tank cleaner while you’re at it. Then spray the lip seal with a seal lubricant. This will help to keep the rubber supple, and will make sure that it doesn’t stick over the winter. (Again, do this before draining down your motorhome.) 

3. Remove all traces of food. During the winter months, your motorhome will be an inviting refuge for pests, including insects and mice seeking shelter from the cold. So it’s important not to leave any excuse for them to come foraging.

Remove all food from the fridge and give the inside a wash with a weak bicarbonate of soda, then leave the door open so it can air out. Wash the cupboards with an anti-bacterial cleaner and remove any food kept in there also, taking special care to clean up any crumbs. Then make sure to give every surface a good wipe down.

Top Tip

Tinned food does not have to be removed as the food inside is secure. But tins can leave rust rings. To avoid rust rings, stand the tins on a sheet of paper.

4. Remove all your valuables. That way you can leave the cupboard, wardrobe doors and bedroom door open. This will serve to improve the circulation inside your motorhome. It’ll also show there is nothing of value for any would-be thieves.

5. Remove your electronic equipment. A thief might not be interested in your old TV but condensing water will be. And if left alone for too long, water may penetrate your electronics and damage them. 

6. Remove the batteries. Batteries —  especially leisure batteries — are not cheap. The cold can bite at batteries and cause them to fail, so fully charge your leisure batteries, remove them, and take them indoors. This will serve to extend their lifespan; especially if they are kept warm and dry.

Make sure to remove pretty much every electrical appliance with batteries; including clocks, alarms, radios, remote controls, torches, speakers, sat-navs and other applications. (Except the batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector, just in case.) Remove all dry cell batteries as the cold can corrode them. Meaning they could leak if unattended for long periods of time. 

7. Wash out and store away the sewer hose. Most people store their sewer hoses in the rear bumper. Try connecting one end of the house to the other. This will ‘close the loop’, keeping it sanitary and safely contained over the winter months. 

8. Roll up, and remove fabrics to prevent mould. Move your cushions away from the exterior walls and roll up loose rugs and stand them up. Do not stack the cushions on top of each other. Actually, I would recommend removing them entirely from the vehicle if possible. This should prevent damp from setting in, in confined spaces. Likewise, we would recommend removing curtains and nettings from the windows or at least keeping them open.

9. Clean the awning. Roll the awning out and clean it with a specialist motorhome awning cleaner. Do NOT use household washing detergent or anything with de-greasing agents in, as this could crack the awnings as they dry out. Make sure your awnings are fully dry before rolling them up for the winter.

10. Equip your motorhome with tools that will remove moisture while you’re away. Some owners keep their vehicles hooked up all through the winter, with the heating on a very low setting — just enough to take the edge off. Others use a dehumidifier.

Obviously, this sizable electricity bill increase is not a realistic option for everybody. Fortunately, there are much cheaper options available. A large tub of silica gel, or calcium chloride anti-damp crystals will work to remove moisture from the air. And all you’ll have to do is leave them on the floor or in the cupboards.

That should do it for the inside. Now it’s time to get working on cleaning the outside:

Cleaning the Exterior

1. Give the exterior a thorough look over. This includes making sure the guttering and down-pipes are in good condition. 

2. Then block up any possible entry points for pests. Including boiler vents and fridge vents (you can cover these up with specially made winter covers). Also, if your motorhome is parked in a green area, clear or keep it away from any creeping vegetation — if the plants grow near your motorhome, they’ll invite pests to creep along with them.

3. Inspect the roof, chassis, and skylights for leaks and loose joints. If you’ve already gone through the trouble to drain all the water from the pipes and to move the fabric away from the walls, then this final check is very important. An unnoticed leak could undo every other precaution taken over a long, cold, wet winter.

4. Check the seals are all sealing and not broken. For the same reasons as step 2. You don’t want water to creep in. 

5. Give the body of your motorhome a good wash and wax. If there’s any rust on your motorhome, use a primer and sandpaper it down. This coat of wax will be especially useful if you don’t have a cover, and aren’t planning on putting the motorhome away in dry storage. Don’t forget to do the roof.

Section 4

How to Safely Store your Motorhome Away for the Winter

If you’re not going to be using the motorhome for a good few months, you’ll want to store it properly and orderly. So that it’ll be in one piece and ready to go when you come back to it. 

Ideally, you’ll want to shield it inside a garage or a professional storage facility, to give it more protection from the elements. If you’re planning to do this, do it quickly. As indoor spaces can book up fast. 

But if you can’t — and a lot of people don’t have that luxury — that’s OK. You can still well-prepare your motorhome for the cold so that it’s ready to go in the spring. And I’m going to show you how to do it. 

Top Tip

This is also the ideal time to book a motorhome habitation check, and also a general servicing. You should do this once a year. A professional should also check your gas systems to see they are safe and in working order.

Gas Cylinders and Systems

Follow these steps to safely dismantle and store your gas system for winter hibernation.

Follow these steps to safely dismantle and store your gas system for winter hibernation.

  • Disconnect your gas supply. You’ll want to remove any gas cylinders that you have and store them in a safe place somewhere else. This will protect your motorhome from gas leaks and other hazards.

     

  • Cover up any openings. I talked earlier about how mice, birds and other creatures like to snuggle into motorhomes over the winter. Well, the intake and exhaust vents of your gas system are the perfect corridors for a winter pest invasion. Use a combination of mesh screens and cardboard to cover up any vents and openings to keep them out.

     

  • Top up your gas cylinders before storing them away. A full gas container will weather dissipation better than a half-empty one. And there will be less opportunity for condensed air to get in and spoil the gas.
  • Safely remove and store your gas cylinders away. If you cannot remove them, if you have an on-board propane tank instead, then shut it off using the shutoff valve. The valve should be attached to the on-board propane tank itself. 

Tyres

Your tyres will be stressed and tired if you simply park up your motorhome and forget about it for months on end. Standing pressure, the cold weather, and sunlight can all take their toll.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prolong the life of your tyres:

  • Check them for general road-worthiness. This includes looking over to see if there are any punctures, if they have the correct pressure levels, and if they have been damaged in general. Remember to consult your owner’s manual when checking the tyre pressure, as your front wheels will almost certainly require a different pressure level to the rear tyres.

  • Protect your tyres from the elements with tyre covers. This will help to protect the brake discs and minimise the effects of damaging UV radiation (sunlight) which over time can crack your tyres and may even cause them to perish. Wheel covers are much cheaper than buying brand new tyres, and may even extend their lifespan by a considerable amount.

  • Consider moving your motorhome about a few times in the winter. You can help out your tyres a lot by simply moving your vehicle by as little as 90-120 degrees once or twice over the winter period.

    If a tyre stays in the same position for too long, the constant standing pressure on one side will eventually deform its shape. Meaning it will no longer be fully circular. This could lead to vibrations while driving. If you move your tyres by even a little bit at intervals over the winter, this will redistribute the weight on your tyre surfaces — helping to prevent tyre failure on just one side. Tyres are more prone to these “flat spots” in winter as the cold can cause the rubber to lose its flexibility.

    Some people even suggest increasing the normal tyre pressure by 0.2 bar as an extra protection against flat spots.

  • If you have a levelling system, use it. If you can support your vehicle’s weight on jacks instead of the tyres — then all of your tyre problems are solved! Although be sure to read the owner’s manual or to speak with the manufacturers of your vehicle to see what they say about long-term jack use. And of course, only attempt this if you are absolutely certain you can do it safely.

  • If possible, park on a slight slope. Gravity will then drain away and protect you from any damage caused by pooling water.

  • Check and open your spare wheel casing if you have one. A lot of people don’t do this enough and sometimes the lock can corrode. Make sure to check on the lock, so that you can access the spare tyre if you ever need to.

Keep in Mind

It’s recommended that you should replace your tyres every 5-6 years. Even if they have plenty of tread left.

Engines and Leisure Batteries

A long period of inactivity is hard for any vehicle, but it is especially hard on the engine and any leisure batteries you have. Follow these steps to winterise and protect them both:

  • Give your engine a good checking over. Make sure to check that the oil and water levels are alright.

  • Fill your fuel tank. If you don’t fill it up, you’re incidentally leaving a little space behind in the tank for condensation to build up.

  • Add a fuel stabiliser to your fuel tank and generator. This is only really important if you’re going to be storing the motorhome away for 6 months or longer. Make sure to follow the stabiliser instructions and let both the engine and generator run for a few minutes. This will give the stabiliser time to work its way through both systems.

  • Check the coolant levels in your engine’s radiator. Make sure it is fully topped up with antifreeze (to the right mixture).

  • Turn the engine over occasionally. The good news is, you’ll have to do this anyway to redistribute the weight on (and protect) your tyres. It’s always a good idea to check up on your engine and see if it’s still working.

  • Go for a short drive. Even if it’s a short 20 minute drive, this will warm up your engine and prevent it from failing over the winter. Or if you can’t drive it, turn the engine on and let it run for about 30 minutes.

  • Remove your leisure batteries and store them safely on a trickle charge. The cold has a knack for wrecking leisure batteries. So make sure to take them home with you — or anywhere that’s dry and warm. If you can, try to keep them on a trickle charge. Ideally, leisure batteries should not be allowed to discharge to below 50% of their working capacity. And storing them below 12 volts for a long period could wreck them permanently.

    It’s worth noting that not everyone can detach their leisure batteries from their vehicles — as this may affect their security devices. If that’s the case, try to keep your battery on a trickle charge in the vehicle itself using a solar panel.

  • At the very least, fully charge and check the voltage of your leisure battery. It’s not ideal, but if you can’t keep it on a trickle charge and have no option other than to store it away and leave it unattended, fully charge it beforehand.

Protecting your Motorhome’s other Vulnerable Components

Like all vehicles your motorhome is made up of lots of little moving and joined-together parts. The ravages of the cold and the wet winter months will eat away at them if you don’t take steps to protect them.

Here’s what you should do, in no particular order:

  • Waterproof the electrics. If you have any exposed electrical connections, a light spray of WD40 should help to keep the winter moisture out and prevent the formation of rust.

     

  • Prevent rust on your motorhome’s hinges. You can do this with the application of a little silicone oil to lubricate the hinges.

     

  • Treat your windows and door seals with a thin smearing of silicon grease. If rubber seals are compressed for too long they can begin to stick and deteriorate. A thin layer will help to keep your seals supple as it gets colder. Avoid petroleum-based gels such as engine oil or Vaseline. As they can actually have a corrosive effect on the rubber.

     

  • Chock the wheels and leave the engine in gear with the handbrake off. This will help to prevent the brakes from wearing out. 

Using a Motorhome Cover

If you don’t have a warm, dry indoor place to keep your vehicle, I would strongly recommend you invest in a motorhome cover. Covers provide that extra bit of insulation and will protect the paintwork from bleaching in the sun. Nowadays, you can buy specially-made covers to fit just about every type of motorhome.

Specially-made covers can be costly. If you’re planning on using a makeshift one, then make sure that the material is breathable with a soft-lining underneath. Otherwise, any trapped air won’t circulate — which could encourage the dreaded mould and damp. You’ll also have to make sure that your cover gives you easy access to the habitation door. 

Do NOT use tarpaulin. It isn’t breathable. It’s rough. It isn’t waterproof and it might damage the body of your model. 

If your campervan has sharp edges, you might want to cover them with some old rags or towels — so that they don’t puncture holes in your motorhome cover. Try to sort the cover so that it doesn’t flap about in the wind. As this could rub against and ruin the paintwork.

Top Tip

If you cannot get a cover for your motorhome — even a makeshift cover — then you should at the very least cover the windscreen. You can also leave your wiper blades hinged away from the windscreen so that they won’t freeze in place. For the rest of the body, give it a good wash and wax all over. 

Do not park your motorhome under any trees if possible. As bird droppings and tree sap will damage the paintwork. The presence of trees will also encourage moss, mould and algae to settle on your vehicle.

Finally, make sure your motorhome is completely clean, dry, and free from grit before covering it. Check that your motorhome cover is also dry before fitting it. 

Protecting your Motorhome from Thieves

Unfortunately, break-ins and theft are at some of their highest levels in the months November through to January. Here’s what you can do to make sure your motorhome doesn’t become a magnet for thieves:

  • Remove all your valuables and personal documentation. Then leave the cupboard, wardrobe and bedroom doors open. This will show there is nothing of value inside.  It also has the double bonus of serving to improve the circulation of air inside your motorhome.

     

  • Make sure you activate any security devices. For example, alarms and trackers. If you’re really concerned, you could also fit some extra physical security devices — such as wheel clamps and steering wheel locks.

     

  • Remember, the more you can take out of your motorhome the better. This includes soft furnishings, such as bed and seat cushions. I recommend taking them out anyway, to prevent mould and damp issues. 

Checking up on your Motorhome Throughout the Winter

It’s recommended that you check on your motorhome at least once a month to make sure there are no issues.

This is the ideal time to check on the wheels, that the engine is working properly, and that you haven’t been inundated with pests and mould.

If you’re worried about rodents making their way into your motorhome, try leaving a biscuit on the floor. If the biscuit is still there by the time of your next check-up, then you can rest assured you’re rodent-free.

Section 5

Keep on Top of it all with our Motorhome Winterisation Checklist

Check out our graphic for winterising an RV, motorhome or campervan done right:

Section 6

Motorhome Winterisation Infographic

Need more motorhome winterisation tips and advice? Has your motorhome been damaged by inadequate wintersation preparation? Then we can help.

If you follow the tips in this guide closely, you shouldn’t have to worry about your motorhome being harmed by the winter ravages of mother nature. 

On the other hand if you’re worried about expensive winter damage repairs — or if your motorhome has already been damaged over the winter period — and you are thinking of selling up, then we’ll buy your motorhome from you quickly and hassle-free.

And because we operate within a large network of buyers, we’re able to offer great value prices to our customers. Just check out our five-star Trustpilot reviews

We’ll come and collect your motorhome or caravan personally from a location of your choice, and pay for it INSTANTLY via an instant bank transfer. 

There are no call-out fees or hidden charges. And unlike private Internet listings, you won’t have to pay for advert listings or worry about dodgy buyers, time-wasters, or inconvenient viewing times. 

All you’ll have to do is give us a few quick details on the condition of your motorhome so that we’ll know what to expect. It’ll only take a minute — and we’ll get back to you ASAP. 

Either way, I hope you found the information in this article useful. Thank you for reading.

A Note from the Author — Shane Malpass

I’ve been fascinated with motorhomes and caravans since I was a little boy, and I’ve seen them in just about every condition you can think of. Including when they have been really badly affected by a lack of winterisation prep.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve helped hundreds of happy customers to sell up their caravans quickly, without a fuss and no matter what the condition — for a great price in return.

So if you want to simply sell your motorhome and move on, or are looking to upgrade to a newer model — we’re here to make you happy and keep you satisfied. Your opinions matter to us. Just check out our five-star TrustPilot reviews!

You can give me a call directly on 07879 816463. In the meantime, find out more about me here and follow our YouTube channel for all the latest caravan and motorhome reviews, tips, and tricks.

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