How To

How to Winterize an RV Trailer?

Let’s talk about winter camping in this article! When it gets to winter and temperatures drop, we are often asked, ” Are not you cold? “Or” Is your camper winterized? “Or” Does not the water freeze in the water tank? “. You know that, too, or do you ask the same questions? The answer right away: Yes, winter camping is possible with a winter motorhome or caravan and it’s even fun!

A few things should be considered because this and that is different in winter than in summer. Our own experience of the last winter seasons on snow-covered camping pitches and we have summarized here in a guide. Have fun while reading!

Some processes during winter camping are different and require a little bit of attention. When it gets cold, not only the driving conditions of the roads but also the environmental conditions change for all internals and fluids in the car. The following points are problems that you have to face or avoid to be winter-proof:

  • Freezing water in tanks and pipes in the vehicle
  • Higher demand for fuels for heating (gas or diesel)
  • Cold because of cooled vehicle
  • Bitter because of heat loss in poorly isolated places on the car
  • Snow and ice on the access roads and at the campsite
  • Frozen attachments on the car, flaps and seals
  • Snow on the vehicle roof

Weather station with three wireless sensors  * One of our most useful pieces of equipment. With this weather station, we measure the temperatures in four different places: outside temperature, inside temperature, the temperature in the freezer and the refrigerator. The included three wireless sensors can be placed where you want to measure the heat (and also the humidity). 

Use a winter-proof engine oil

Winter that means frost. For the fluids in your van to survive the freezing temperatures, you also need to winterize cooling water and engine oil. The cooling water should be filled up for winter travel with sufficient antifreeze. With the engine oil, you must make sure that the oil winter-proof. The winter suitability is indicated by the number, which stands before the W. W stands for winter oil. “0” stands for the highest winter strength and remains liquid below minus 30 ° C. The number 5 indicates that the oil can be used up to about minus 25 ° C. Higher numbers are unsuitable for winter operation. The name behind the W stands for plus degrees. The most common oils are suitable for both cold and heat. The temperature ranges above zero degrees are given as 20 for very low viscosity to 60 for viscous liquid. So, if you use an engine oil marked “0W-40”, you can use it in cold winter at minus 30 degrees and in summer. An all-around talent!

Another liquid that plays a role in the winter mobile home is the sewage. The wastewater tank should be insulated and heated so that the liquid does not freeze. In the water of the windscreen wiper system, enough antifreeze must be added so that your motorhome is winterized.

Good heating heats all critical areas

Decisive for the well-being in the winter motorhome is, of course, a pleasant temperature. This is easily achieved by a normal and in almost all vehicles, built-in air heating, such as Trauma. With the new CP-Plus control panel from Trauma, it is easy to set a temperature. This is controlled and regulated using a temperature sensor in the upper area of ​​the car. However, this is not only for the people in Womo pleasant but also for various components in the vehicle important. Enemy number one is freezing water.

If the heating system is in the vehicle, not only the interior is warmed up, but also everything that is inside the exterior walls and can be reached halfway through air and heat. By this, I mean the laid water pipes from the tank into the taps, back through the sink and into the wastewater tanks. And of course the containers themselves. In our Knaus RV, the fresh water tank is located directly next to the Trauma underneath the dinette bench and is heated by the heat from the Trauma heater.

Winterproof campers heat the waste water tank

More problematic is the wastewater tank because it is due to gravity tends to be deep under the vehicle floor and thus often outside the interior. Winter-resistant motorhomes either have their waste-water tank heating system that works electrically, or they have integrated the waste-water tank into the air heating system. Just like ours in our Knaus: A separate branching of the heating air leads – controlled by a manually operated flap valve – around the tank and prevents it from dangerous cooling and frost.

The so-called frost guard must also be heated. This component that is sensitive to cold is often located in the interior of a cupboard or, as we do, in the service flap, where the drain taps and external socket are installed. This compartment is located next to the Trauma heater and is also heated with its waste heat — more about the Frostguard and how it works later in the article.

If you do not trust your waste water tank heating system, or you do not have one at all, there is still the option of leaving the drainage tap of the wastewater (gray water) open after emptying it at a suitable location and placing a flat plastic bucket underneath it. There, the sewage gradually accumulates and freezes in the bucket. The ice block or the still liquid greywater must then be disposed of regularly according to the rules.

Of course, this becomes problematic while driving. Washing your hands while standing on a highway parking lot is not natural. Run-off water could freeze on the ground and thus become a hazard for pedestrians and cars – and greywater without appropriate disposal facility can quickly run off so and so not.

Let’s summarize:

  • From about 7 degrees and colder heat the car around the clock, even if you are only a short time in the car.
  • Heating must heat components such as fresh water tank, the wastewater tank and frost monitor with.
  • Switch on additional waste water tank heating if available.
  • In case of doubt, leave the greywater tap open at the parking space and place buckets under it, which will be emptied regularly.

Warm water during winter camping

The vast majority of semi-modern vehicles and caravans have a combi heater on board. This means a combination of air blower heating and a hot water boiler. This boiler can be switched on regardless of the heating setting and provides on request for hot water.

In the winter, of course, this is particularly pleasant, because the fresh water from the tank has – despite heating in the vehicle – bitterly cold temperatures. For quick hand washing, rinsing or showering heated pool is an advantage.

Note that the boiler needs to be filled with water before you turn on the pan. This is done by running water on the sink and turning the mixer tap to boiling water. First, there will be hissing and whistling because of the air in the system, but after a few seconds, water will run smoothly into the pool without interruption. Then the boiler is filled.

Heating distribution

A not so happy point is the distribution of heat in the motorhome. I believe that anyone who heats his motorhome in winter knows this problem. It just gets different warm. Whether the Trauma heater is installed at the rear (often in the van) or further forward under the seat at the table (as with many semi-integrated), the heat is not evenly distributed in the vehicle, and there are warmer and colder zones. Annoying when Camper freezes in the back of the bed while Mr. Camper sweats in front of the seat.

This problem can not be solved. Finally, even a large number of well-distributed heating outlets helps little here. For our Knaus, for example, almost nothing warm comes out of the rear outlets, while the front is well heated. Also, the semi-integrated front section of the cab tends to cool down more than the elaborately insulated rear section.

Also, I’ve already read that it can blow cold from the ventilation of the Ducato cockpit, especially when it’s windy outside. Here probably helps the conversion of the heating to recirculation mode, so that the air ducts are closed to the outside.


What is inevitably natural in the summer is proper ventilation. If it is warm, you will be happy to leave the hatches open and so rarely a problem with moisture in the vehicle. In the winter, it looks different. It is cold, the traps and windows remain closed, moisture accumulates in the car and leads to an adverse climate and in case of even harmful mold. The wet shoes from the snowshoe hike do the rest.

When winter camping, it is essential to the air again and again and not to obstruct the openings for the forced ventilation on hatches and doors. We are not sure if you want to keep a trap open for a long time. In the apartment, one should not do that because it promotes mold growth. So it’s probably the motorhome also: Regular airing is extremely important.

Is a double bottom important?

Indeed, some motorhomes are more suitable for winter use than others. So there is just in the higher-grade class, a feature that works well in winter: the raised floor. A layer of air between the underbody of the vehicle and the level of the car is isolated and does not cool down so quickly. Often compartments are installed in the raised floor, either accessible from the outside by flaps or inside by removable cover in the bottom. You can have a look at the Best RV Cover for The Money Sometimes this is also heated and is used to accommodate pipes and tanks frost resistant — certainly an advantage in winter. But necessary for winter-proof fun camping fun in the snow? 

No. To have a raised floor is undoubtedly lovely, but in our view, not necessary to have a winter-resistant mobile home. Our Women also has no second floor and we are on the move in all seasons. However, it is crucial that essential components such as the tanks and pipes are heated by conventional heating and can not freeze. Neither in the state nor while driving.

Bad isolation

If you stand for a certain amount of time during winter camping, you quickly realize which parts of your vehicle are better and which ones are less well insulated. I remember the ice-cold doors of a van I borrowed years ago for camping.

In our semi-integrated, the walls of the body are better insulated compared to a van. Nevertheless, you notice cold spots that are just not good enough tight, such as the body door. There it pulls in our car slowly from below. We make do with an older blanket, which we place there in the lower part of the exit. But beware: do not clog the openings of the forced ventilation. With us, these are further inside at the entrance level.

For many RV owners, the cab is too cold and manage with such insulating hoods that wrap them from the outside around the entire “face” of the Ducatos. This may seem isolated, but we do not like it. Who drives to a beautiful place and then entrenches the view with such a monster? But that’s up to you.

I have also heard of a solution that a new water heater is installed in the Fiat Ducato, which – as in a car – then additionally warm from the ventilation openings of the cockpit. An expensive and exclusive solution for particularly pronounced chilblains.

Covers for the refrigerator grids

In winter, one sees very often that camper vans dress the ventilation openings of the refrigerator with closed plastic covers. That makes perfect sense. If it is unusually cold outside, cold air enters the interior through the openings and, in the worst case, causes unwanted drafts.

These covers are available in the accessory trade suitable for the respective openings. For example, for our large Dometic refrigerator, these are the ventilation grille covers. You do not have to worry; it leaves a slot open so that the fridge gets enough air. If it gets warmer, the covers have to go down again.

The frost guard valve

Let us come to an essential component when it comes to winter camping. The frost guard safety valve, or just the ” frost guard ” for short, protects the boiler tank of the combi heater during frost.

Usually, the valve is locked. This is also necessary to keep the water in the boiler, and indirectly even in the fresh water tank. If the temperature drops below approx, three degrees, this valve will open automatically and drain the water from the boiler downwards. If the water continues to circulate and the temperature continues to drop, the freezing rain would destroy the furnace and other parts.

Maybe one or the other wonders why the valve triggers at over zero degrees. Quite simple: If the process is already frozen due to frost, it is too late to release the water. The process would already be blocked. If the valve has triggered, it can only be closed again from a temperature of more than 7 degrees.

The front guard is incidentally also crucial in the summer. When you empty the tanks, be sure to open the frost guard by hand (turn the dial 90 degrees). Otherwise, water stops in the boiler.

What does that mean for winter camping?

  • Do not interrupt the heating of the vehicle in frost-free temperatures, even in the case of short-term absence
  • If the frost detector has triggered due to cold, first heat the car so that the front guard is at least plus 7 degrees, then close and fill the tank with water.
  • Do not switch off the air heater in favor of a fan heater. Then, while the interior is warm, but the frost guard is cold and may drain the water.

Supply of electricity and gas

One thing is clear: in winter you need more heat and above all, more gas. While in summer or the transitional seasons, only a little heating power is necessary, it is in the winter to fight against the cold temperatures. It must be mostly isolated or by forced ventilation deliberately not very tight room heated.

If the heater runs around the clock in cold conditions, it is said that an 11 kg gas cylinder is only enough for 2 to 3 days. We can confirm this. This means the bottle exchange at the campsite or the hardware store every few days.

Especially when traveling in snowy landscapes, where a gas supply is not or only partially ensured, this is a problem — a high on those with a diesel heater. Although more fuel is needed, through the (full) diesel tank of the vehicle, there are more fat reserves. The continuous dragging and changing of gas cylinders are eliminated.

If electrically operated fan heaters supplement the heating output or if the wastewater tank heating system runs on electricity, the power consumption in winter also increases significantly. On campsites with poorly secured power connections, there may be problems here. Proud owners of a photovoltaic system on the roof should also keep in mind that in winter, the sun is generally not as intense as in summer. Also, snow lying on the PV modules can completely shut down power generation.

Important for suitable winter Wohnmobilvergüngen:

  • Remember that gas cylinders become empty relatively quickly with continuous heating
  • Keep an eye on possibilities for gas replenishment (e.g., through bottle exchange)
  • Helpful for more extended stays at a campsite is large gas cylinders that are connected externally (if the equipment is available on the vehicle)
  • When heating with fan heaters, pay attention to the product quality and safety of the fan

How to check the level of gas cylinders?

There are several ways to check the level of gray steel gas cylinders. Many swear to weigh the bottles. But who wants to expand the bottle complicated from the gas box? We have had excellent experiences with the Trauma level check. This works very directly: hold on to the bottle, button at the top presses with it and activates the ultrasound measurement. In a few seconds, you will receive an answer as to whether there is still gas in the bottle at the tested altitude or not. With several measurements, you can easily measure the level.

Trauma level check  * Measuring device for determining the fill level of gas, e.g., in gray steel gas bottles 
Ultrasonic measurement With an integrated LED flashlight.

Driving in cold temperatures

Beware of winter road conditions! This is truer than ever for motorhomes and caravan teams. Remember, you are moving a 3.5-ton vehicle or even heavier over snow and ice. Just like a car, the motorhome must be in winter-proof condition. If you are not sure, you should visit a workshop before winter, which helps to provide coolant and splash water with antifreeze, if necessary.

Right winter tires are an absolute must for winter campers and suitable snow chains are included in the luggage garage in winter. If the temperature drops so slowly towards the frost area, be careful when driving. Jobs can quickly become slippery and put the mobile in distress. Keep your foot off the gas and distance. Standard program – as in summer – is the examination of the lights front, side and rear of the vehicle. Of course, do not forget the trailer for teams.

Attachments, flaps and hatches

If it is cold outside and you feel well-heated inside, it’s easy to forget that the car is still stiff on the outside. Consider that and think well if you have to open any flaps and windows. Skylights are often frozen by snow and ice and should not be opened by force. For the operation of the gas stove, a fresh air option must be opened. Better make a side window instead of a skylight.

Consider whether you need to extend the satellite system on the roof when ice and snow are on the roof outside. For example, during our visit to CMT Messe this past winter, it happened that our facility could not be extended and had reported a mistake. It was so cold that probably the engine was frozen. To change this by force damages the device.

Regular airing is mandatory in winter. Do this regularly, quickly and vigorously, for example by opening the body door and side windows.

Snow on the vehicle

Is not it excellent when it’s snowing outside and you’re sitting comfortably warm inside? When it’s snowing, not only a lot of snow accumulates next to the car but also on the roof. If it is too much, but at the latest before departure, the snow must be cleared from the ceiling. For this it is helpful, with a ladder and a broom armed, to turn the mountains backward or forwards, depending on the nature of the roof. Attention to the structures on the roof: be careful not to damage solar panels, hatches and satellite systems.

It is also important to keep (exhaust) ventilation openings on the vehicle free of snow and ice. For example, the outlet chimney of the Trauma heater must be open. Gladly an icicle forms there, which you should remove before the departure at the latest. The tip, there hinzustecken a clothespin, so that the icicle does not form on the vehicle, you know?

Additional necessary equipment for winter camping

These are our recommendation for things you should have in the car for winter camping:

  • Telescopic ladder, for example, we have the Sangria 3.2 m  *
  • Broom with a long handle
  • small, light snow shovel, for example, this car snow shovel  *
  • Winter tires are motivated
  • Matching snow chains. For our tire size 225/75 R 16 on Fiat Ducato we opted for the O-Tec rim protection chain from Ottinger *. It should be suitable for light-alloy wheels. However, we did not have to test them in action yet. In the dry test, the docking succeeded quite well.

Checklist: Winterize the caravan and camper 

The leading 16 steps, so that your vehicle weathers the cold months well and dry:

To make the motorhome and caravan winter-proof: to do it indoors

  • Clear all food supplies – that’s how mice and insects do not eat and liquids can not freeze!
  • Empty refrigerator, defrost and clean (if necessary install winter cover for ventilation)
  • Keep the refrigerator door and freezer door open with a towel or a dry cloth
  • Clean the kitchenette and stove
  • Clean furniture with gentle means (e.g., mild soapy water)
  • Place padding for better air circulation or underlay something (prevents mold)
  • For a fixed bed: open the bed box or raise the mattress
  • Empty cabinets, leave cabinet doors and compartments open if possible
  • Clean heating or heating box
  • Remove moisture-removing materials (carpets, clothing, bed linen, towels, paper, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Clean the bathroom thoroughly
  • If present: disconnect the onboard battery (negative pole first !!!), store in a frost-proof and dry place (alternatively: charge the battery vigorously before winter so that it can survive the frosty period)
  • If necessary, remove electronic devices such as TVs
  • Lubricate/grease locks and hinges
  • Treat seals with care products
  • To winterize the water system: Clean all tanks with the respective special liquids and empty them (do not forget the hot water boiler, shower head and pumps, there is usually still some residual water!) – if necessary “blow out”
  • Keep taps open
  • Close the gas shut-off valves in the interior
  • Install the dehumidifier with dry granulate

To make the motorhome and caravan winter-proof: to do it on the vehicle

  • Thoroughly clean outer walls, preferably with high-pressure cleaner (do not forget wheel arches!) And preserve if necessary
  • Repair damage to the bodywork
  • If possible: Underbody washing
  • Avoid windows and roof hoods – instead, clean them gently with a sponge or a soft cloth and suitable gentle means
  • The closed gas valve on gas cylinder, allow gas to escape from lines, remove hoses
  • If possible: remove gas bottles and store in a dry place
  • Clean and dry the awning – if the shelter is fixed: grease the joints
  • If available: remove dirt from antennas/satellite system
  • Set up the vehicle straight, compensate for any unevenness with drive-on wedges or undercarriages – Fine-tune the caravan with the supports
  • Increase tire pressure (recommended to be up to 0,5 bar above the usual value)
  • Raise the vehicle moderately with the jack (this relieves the wheels and the axle and prevents the standing boards!)
  • Install anti-theft protection

Especially for caravans

  • Grease hinges, handbrake and jockey wheel
  • Put the protective cover on the drawbar
  • Possibly. Attach the protective cover to the drawbar box
  • If you use a cloth: Please make sure that it does not lie directly on the caravan – otherwise the air can not circulate
  • about 1 x per month:
    • Move trains to avoid damage to tires and axle
    • ventilate
    • Exchange dry granulate

Especially for campers

  • Charge the vehicle battery completely
  • Refueling (ideally with winter diesel)
  • Drive slowly and brake lightly so that the brakes “run dry.”
  • Then secure the vehicle with drive-on wedges, compensate for unevenness and release the handbrake
  • Fill frost protection for engine and windscreen washer system
  • Fold the windscreen wiper forward (rubber lips should not touch the windscreen)
  • about 1 x per month:
    • Move motorhome to avoid damage to tires and axles
    • ventilate
    • Exchange dry granulate
    • Recharge battery

Further tips and recommendations for vehicle care inside and out:

  1. To wash your caravan or motorhome, you must drive to proper washing places. In some cities there are own caravan wash boxes; otherwise, also truck washing facilities are excellent! Vehicle washing in public spaces is prohibited for environmental reasons.
  2. If TUV and gas test are due soon, you can, of course, make this even before Einmotten – then is a spontaneous trip with beautiful spring weather in the next year, nothing in the way.
  3. Less is more: Please use the most environmentally friendly cleaning agents in economical dosage – nature thanks you!
  4. We use the following products for caravan care:
    • Special care kit for the outer skin, acrylic windows, rubber seals and tank cleaning 
    • Vinegar from the spray bottle for gentle disinfection of the fridge and freezer compartment: place the solution on a soft cloth and carefully wipe the surfaces.
    • Mild lye of water and natural soap for furniture surfaces and countertop
    • Soda  and lemon juice for heavy soiling on the gas stove
    • A mixture of water and a few drops of detergent (e.g., Ecover ) for sink and toilet bowl
    • awkward  or Ammovit with water for final cleaning of the toilet
      Tank: fill the emptied and cleaned the container with a little water and sanitary liquid, swirl well and let stand for 1 to 2 days. Then, as usual, rinse thoroughly with clean water.

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