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What Happens If You Don’t Winterize Your Camper?

Most of us are perfectly happy camping in summer and even fall temperatures when an air conditioner or a light blanket is all we need for comfort.

But what happens when the temperatures begin to spiral down below freezing?

Can we still use our RVs without worrying about busted pipes or frozen tanks? What if you’re storing your RV for the winter?

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about winterizing your camper and what might happen if you don’t do it.

What Is Winterizing a Camper?

Getting your motorhome or trailer ready to meet winter head-on isn’t a difficult chore, but it requires several steps to protect your rig thoroughly.

Winterizing involves removing water from pipes and equipment, protecting water tanks, and disabling and storing house batteries.

In most cases, this also includes cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer and securing all windows and vents. 

Obviously, the system that usually garners the most concern when it comes to freezing temperatures is the plumbing system. This includes all of the pipes; freshwater, black, and gray tanks; and water connections.

And because batteries tend to trickle their charge when not in use, the electrical system calls for some winterizing attention, too.

RV parked in snow.
Enjoy the magic of the colder months by winterizing your RV.

What Happens If You Don’t Winterize a Camper?

We’ve all heard horror stories about damaged plumbing and batteries that won’t turn over.

Here are a few more maladies that can occur.

Pipes May Freeze and Burst

Because water expands when it freezes, pipes tend to crack and burst if there’s any water in them during temperature swings. J

ust one thought of replacing all the pipes in your motorhome because of a hard freeze should be enough to scare you into winterizing.

Attachments at the hose bib and RV inlet are other places that can see extensive damage if not protected.

Your Toilet May Crack

A cracked toilet can occur in unoccupied trailers and motorhomes if water is left in it and allowed to freeze.

Empty water from the toilet itself and the pipes leading to and from it to avoid damage.

Your Holding Tanks Might Crack

Holding tanks are usually made of thick plastic, but cracks can appear if water freezes and expands in any of the tanks.

Most RVs that have this problem have exposed tanks on the underside of their carriages. You can bypass this problem by putting tank heaters on the freshwater, gray, and black tanks.

Or, if you’ll be stationary, place skirting around the base of your RV with a lightbulb or space heater in the enclosed area to keep the tanks warm.

You Risk Ruining Your Entire Water System

Pipes, tanks, faucets, and connections can all suffer damage in excessive cold temperatures if not taken care of properly.

When this happens, you’ll not only have to replace the entire system but also deal with the damage that occurs to your RV because of burst pipes or leaks.

Water could ruin carpet, flooring, wallboards, and appliances.

If left in place, this could easily create environments that harbor mold and mildew.

Do You Need to Winterize Your Camper If It Never Freezes Where You Live?

No. Winterizing is unnecessary if you’re staying in a region that never experiences temperatures below freezing.

However, if you travel for a short duration into an area that does venture below 32 degrees for more than 24 hours, you might consider winterizing.

If you’re storing your camper or don’t plan to have the interior heater on during a 24-hour freeze, then winterizing is your best bet to keep pipes from freezing and tanks from cracking. 

Pro Tip: Want to avoid the cold altogether? Find out Where Do RVers Spend The Winter?

Family sitting in RV during winter.
Keep you and your camper safe in the colder months by winterizing your RV.

How Do You Keep Your Plumbing Safe If You Live in Your Camper Full-Time?

If you’ll use your camper in cold regions during winter, there are several ways to keep your systems healthy. If you’ll be stationary, enclose the bottom of your vehicle with insulated skirting.

You can also hook up a strong lightbulb or space heater in the crawl space, where pipes and tanks coexist.

If you tend to move frequently or have a long-term RV park spot, hook your rig up to the electricity. This will allow you to operate the heater. If your camper has an enclosed basement, as in many class As do, that should be enough heat to keep the pipes and tanks from freezing. 

You can install a tank heater on class B and C RVs, along with travel trailers and fifth wheels, to keep things flowing while on the road.

And some RVers have even turned on their furnace while traveling to the next campsite if the weather is frigid.

You’ll still have the issue of getting fresh water in winter. That RV park hookup probably includes a water faucet. Attaching your hose to it will work until the outside temperatures dip below 28 degrees for a day or so.

That’s when you should detach the hose from the spigot and drain it. You could purchase or make your own heated water hose and insulate the water spigot, too.

This should give you a dependable water source down to 10 degrees or lower.

Frozen pipe
Prevent your pipes from freezing by using antifreeze!

Pro Tip: If your RV is feeling chilly, use these 5 Ways to Heat Your RV This Winter.

Is RV Winterizing Antifreeze Poisonous?

The main component in RV antifreeze is propylene glycol, which isn’t toxic and doesn’t taint your RV water system.

That said, you should rinse it thoroughly out of your pipes and tanks when de-winterizing. Its use during winterization is helpful, as it lubricates the seals in faucets and toilets.

How to Winterize Your Camper for Cold Weather Storage

If you’re storing your trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome during the winter season, have it winterized or do it yourself. Empty all the tanks, including the water heater.

Then introduce antifreeze throughout the plumbing system through a water intake valve or the water pump (bypassing the water heater).

Once all of the sinks have pink antifreeze running out of them, including indoor and outdoor showerheads, turn off the pump. You’ve winterized your RV!

Winterizing Your Camper Is Simple and Essential for Cold Weather RV Storage

Save yourself the headaches that come with unwinterized RVs by preparing your RV for frigid temperatures before you store it.

The process is straightforward.

You can protect your investment by draining water out of the system and replacing it with antifreeze. With RV winterization, you’ll sleep much better knowing winter’s cold won’t damage your family’s vacation vehicle.

How do you prepare your RV for the winter? Drop a comment below!

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