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How to Winterize Your Travel Trailer – Tips for Beginners

Owning a travel trailer in a cold climate means it’s crucial to properly winterize it. If not, you could be in for some surprises at the start of your next camping season.

While models vary considerably, there are some standard tasks that most owners need to do. Luckily, they’re simple, and you can tackle most of them yourself.

Today, we’re walking you through how to winterize your travel trailer. So grab your pen and paper and get ready to take some notes.

Let’s get started!

Camping trailer under the snow. Winterize your travel trailer before it's too late!
Winterize your travel trailer before it’s too late!

Why You Need to Winterize Your Travel Trailer

If you’re like most RV owners, your camper sits unused in storage for several months during the off-season. Winterizing your rig prepares it to sit stationary for an extended time. It’s especially important for those living in areas that experience harsh winters.

There’s no telling what Mother Nature will throw at it. Freezing temperatures quickly turn any remaining liquids into ice. As you likely know, water expands as it transforms from a liquid to a solid. The expansion can cause cracks in your plumbing lines, loosen fittings and destroy your water heater.

However, winterizing your camper is more than just draining the plumbing system. Your appliances, battery bank, and other components also need some attention. Giving them some TLC can protect them and extend their lives.

Properly preparing your RV for winter can help maintain its value. In addition, you can have peace of mind that it’s safe during the off-season. When the temperatures warm up, it’ll be ready for whatever adventures you have planned.

Dive into the details: What Happens If You Don’t Winterize Your Camper?

How to Winterize Your Travel Trailer Plumbing System

Unfortunately, winterizing your plumbing system will depend on its construction. Some models make it easier to do than others. Read through your owner’s manual if you’re new to RVing or if it’s the first time you’ll be storing your rig. The manufacturer can simplify the process and ensure you take the necessary steps.

#1 Prepare to Winterize Your Travel Trailer

As with most critical projects, the first step is to prepare. Once the camping season starts winding down, begin gathering your supplies. If you’re using RV antifreeze, purchase it ahead of time. The amount you’ll need depends on the size of your camper and how many sinks, toilets, and showers are in it.

Some have siphoning features that make it easier to winterize travel trailers. If your unit doesn’t, you’ll want to purchase a kit that uses your water pump to siphon during the process.

Once you’ve gathered the supplies, start preparing your rig. This usually means removing in-line filters and other components you don’t want to leave in the elements. If your filters will expire before you can reuse them, make sure you purchase replacements so you’re ready for your next trip.

#2 Winterize Your Travel Trailer Wastewater System

Next, you’ll want to drain and flush your waste tanks thoroughly. Get all the liquids out and ensure they’re as clean as possible. Units with black tank flushes can make this much easier, but it’s not impossible to do if you don’t have one. Since you’ll likely fill and empty your tanks several times, it’s best to have a sewer connection nearby.

Some owners choose to book a campsite with full hook-ups for this process. Doing so gives them access to power, water, and a sewer connection. These are all important to ensure you get the job done quickly, efficiently, and correctly.

#3 Drain Your Freshwater System

The next step to winterize your travel trailer is to drain the entire freshwater system. Typically, this means your freshwater tank, plumbing lines, and water heater. Remember sinks, faucets, toilets, or other items like ice makers, washing machines, and dishwashers. Check the owner’s manual for instructions on any after-market items.

There’s usually a valve you can pull for your freshwater tank that allows it to drain. Your water heater will have a plug that you’ll need to remove. Don’t assume that releasing the pressure valve is enough. Getting every drop out of your system is essential.

To ensure you get it out of your lines, turn on each faucet or shower and flush the toilets. You’ll want to do this until it stops dripping. Some owners use compressed air to get every bit of it out. On the other hand, using too much pressure can do more harm than good.

#4 Add Antifreeze to Your Freshwater System

Before you can start adding antifreeze to your freshwater system, bypass your water heater. If not, you’ll significantly increase the antifreeze you need. Bypassing typically only requires you to adjust a few knobs. Check your owner’s manual to confirm the process specific to your unit.

With the water heater bypassed, you can start siphoning antifreeze throughout the freshwater system. One at a time, turn on every faucet, shower, and flushing toilet in your camper. Don’t overlook outdoor showers and faucets that you want to protect.

We’ve got the answer to Who Has the Cheapest RV Antifreeze?

Can You Still Use Your Travel Trailer After Winterizing It?

Using your travel trailer after you’ve fully winterized it is possible. However, you won’t have access to your plumbing system. You can’t fill the freshwater tank, flush toilets, or take showers. It won’t be a big deal, especially in a campground with facilities.

Some folks who enjoy boondocking continue to use their campers. They often have waterless toilets and rely on bottles or jugs for other needs. If you put any liquids into your black or gray tanks, add equal parts of antifreeze to avoid freezing.

Will it be easy? Probably not. Unfortunately, you may have no choice, especially if you’re in your rig and the forecast changes quickly. You may need to winterize it while you ride out a cold front.

Travel trailers in storage. Be sure to winterize your travel trailer at the end of your camping season.
Be sure to winterize your travel trailer at the end of your camping season.

Additional Steps to Winterize Your Travel Trailer for Storage

While the plumbing system is a significant part of winterizing your RV, it’s not the only one. You must remember to prepare the exterior. You should give your recreational vehicle a good bath and inspect all surfaces, especially the seals. Look for signs of cracking or holes where moisture could cause issues.

You also want to consider where you’ll park it. Unfortunately, many owners don’t have the luxury of storing their units at home. When selecting a storage facility, make sure they have adequate security. You don’t want to worry about whether your baby will be safe while you’re away from it. 

It’s also a good idea to confirm that there’s plenty of space to get in and out when needed.

Some other vital tasks include covering your tires and removing your batteries. Doing so lets you keep them in tip-top shape and extend their life. Depending on the battery, you’ll want to charge it thoroughly and store it safely. Some batteries may require you to leave them on a trickle charger to avoid permanent damage.

Finally, make sure you protect your camper from critters. Give the inside a good cleaning and remove all food. Inspect it thoroughly for holes or openings where mice and other rodents could wiggle their way in. They can squeeze into tight places, so use steel wool and insulation foam to close any gaps.

This is one of the most popular RV antifreeze brands: Splash RV/Marine Antifreeze.

Protect Your RV with These Helpful Tips

Don’t rush the process of winterizing your travel trailer. It’s an important maintenance step you want to do correctly and thoroughly. 

A simple oversight could become a costly mistake. We’ve heard stories of RVers forgetting to empty water heaters or missing an outside shower. These mistakes can be expensive lessons to learn!

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