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How to Care for your Camper
Story by Helen McMenamin.

PLUMBING

Safeguarding the water system is one of those fall necessities. At one time you just drained the system and blew out the lines, but today's RV plumbing systems need antifreeze all through to protect valves and seals.

Drain and flush the waste holding tanks, lubricate the inlet valves.

Empty the fresh water tank.

Install or set the water heater bypass and as long as the water in the hot water tank is not hot or under pressure empty it via the outside drain and open the pressure relief valve.

Once a year, in fall or spring, take out the heating element with a socket wrench and flush out any scale that's accumulated in the bottom. Getting that sludge out of your tank can extend its life considerably. Don't forget to wrap new plumbing tape or plumber's lubricant on the threads when you replace the heater anode.

Drain your whole water system by opening all the faucets, till they run dry. Flush the toilet and run the outside shower. Open the drain points for the hot and cold water lines. You can use the water pump to force the water out, but be sure to turn it off as soon as the system runs dry. Some people blow out the lines with an air compressor, (using an adaptor) but keep the pressure below 50 lbs.

Set the drain plugs to closed. Use either a water pump converter kit or replace the line from the fresh water tank with a length of tubing with the outer end in a jug of antifreeze. Starting with the closest faucet, run each tap until it runs pink. Do this with all your taps including lines used only occasionally, then put about a cup of antifreeze into every drain - don't forget the shower. Make sure some antifreeze reaches the grey water tank.

The toilet needs extra care. Flush it until you see antifreeze in the bowl, then pour two cups or so of antifreeze in the bowl and flush some into the holding tank. For places with dry winters, stretch plastic wrap over the toilet bowl and lower the lid to prevent evaporation of your antifreeze - that can lead to a toilet that leaks at the flush pedal. Close and cover all valves to protect the seals.

Systems like ice-makers, dishwashers and washing machines need special processes for winter and spring. Check your manual or see your dealer.

Come spring, check the potable and hot water tanks for antifreeze. If you see it, drain and rinse them before filling the freshwater tank with fresh water. Then, open all the taps and run water till it runs clear. With a partner to open and close taps you can speed the process a little by blowing the antifreeze out. You can save the antifreeze for reuse if you collect it at the lowest drain.

In spring, test the system for leaks. With the water pump off, take out bypasses and replace any filter cartridges removed in fall. Run the water pump to pressurize the water system until the pump shuts off. If the water pump cycles back on, even briefly, there's a leak somewhere. Find and repair it.

To sanitize your plumbing in spring, put a cup (250 mL) of bleach to one liter for each 30 gallons of water into the potable water tank. Fill with fresh water and run all the water outlets until they smell of bleach and leave for at least 12 hours. Drain the system and run till it no longer smells of bleach.

BATTERIES

Turn off the RV disconnect and breaker switches and remove a single battery (after labeling the negative cable) and store in a warm dry place. If your RV has multiple battery systems just remove the negative cable and check the manual for advice. Keep stored batteries off concrete as it drains them. Check battery charge through winter and recharge if needed every 3 months. If the water level in a battery is below the plates, charge the battery first then add distilled water if needed.

CRITTERS AND OTHER DETAILS

Check the underside of your camper for places mice or insects can crawl in and seal any gaps.

A sheet of fabric softener in each cupboard, under mattresses and cushions can keep out mice and other unwelcome guests.

Seasoned campers warn against putting softener sheets in the same cupboard as aluminum pots and pans. "Everything you cook in them tastes of fabric softener," says one. "No matter how much you wash them, you can't get that taste out."

Turn off the propane. The gas attracts spiders and insects. Mothballs near, not on, the stove burners can keep them away.

Check the seals on windows and doors and re-caulk if needed. They take a beating from the sun and then another from the cold. Lower blinds to cut sun damage. Lubricate locks and hinges with graphite lube.

Washing and drying the awning can prevent mildew smells in spring as long as it's dry before you put it away.

Make sure tires are at full inflation before you store your rig - they can lose 1 or 2 psi a month over winter. Covering the wheels can reduce sun damage.