Common Winter RV Problems and How to Fix Them

How Tos & Tips

Winter may be coming, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to call it quits on camping. There are tons of beautiful and exciting destinations to explore, snow or not!

(Psst — if you’re looking for some new ones, check out the latest Rand McNally Road Atlas, which is one of the very best resources out there for all sorts of road travelers. Not only does it feature complete and up-to-date maps and routes, but it also highlights some can’t-miss attractions that are a little further off the beaten path.)

But camping in the cold does require a little bit of extra preparation. And if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you can wind up facing some frustrating problems.

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right blog post. Here, we’ll walk you through some of the most common winter RV woes and how to fix and avoid them, from how to use RV antifreeze to why to buy a heated RV water hose.

So, are you ready? Let’s dig in to how to insulate and prepare a travel trailer or motorhome for winter use — because wonderland awaits!

Adding RV Antifreeze

Let’s start with one of the biggest problems — i.e., one you definitely want to avoid.

Just like at home, cold temperatures will freeze and expand water in your RV’s plumbing system — and just like at home, frozen pipes can lead to serious damage.

Fortunately, avoiding a hard freeze is simple! All you have to do is make sure you run RV antifreeze through your water system.

There are lots of different RV antifreeze options out there, and it’s really personal preference as to which brand is the best — though it’s helpful to avoid formulas that contain ethanol. But just remember that no matter which one you choose, if it’s RV antifreeze, it’ll be pink in color (see the photo above).

Now, it’s not quite as easy as dumping the antifreeze into your kitchen sink and calling it a day. Depending on your rig’s specific setup, you may need to get a bypass kit and/or a blow-out plug to ensure the antifreeze doesn’t end up in your hot water tank or potable drinking water. (We wrote a lot more about the specifics on how to use RV antifreeze in this post on winterizing your RV, so check it out for even more details!)

Keep in mind that it’s not just your water that can freeze up. Fortunately, there are anti-freeze additives for everything from windshield wiper fluid to diesel fuel. Just make sure you add them all well ahead of time, so they get the chance to work through your system before old man winter blows his fiercest.

Difference Between RV Antifreeze and Regular Antifreeze

So, what makes RV antifreeze different, you may be wondering? Are there any alternatives to using it?

Without getting too technical, RV antifreeze is created with a different formula so that it won’t damage your RV’s sensitive water systems. It’s less harsh than the regular automotive type you use in your car.

Some campers say propylene-glycol-based RV antifreeze is the best type to use in your rig, because the glycol actually works to help lubricate and lengthen the life of the seals in your RV’s faucets and toilets, whereas ethanol-based products aren’t quite as gentle. It’s a bit more expensive, but your RV is a big investment, so it’s worth it!

No matter what type of RV antifreeze you purchase, it’s important to pay close attention to proper disposal procedures. RV antifreeze is considered non-toxic, and many people simply dump it into their sewer, but to be really safe and eco-friendly it’s best to take it to a hazardous waste drop-off location.

When draining your RV antifreeze, you’ll need to run through a complete water cycle to ensure you’ve finished flushing out your system. After you’ve drained the antifreeze fluid, fill all your tanks, run them empty, and fill them again, letting it sit for a while before draining it again. That way, you can ensure you’ve entirely rid your system of the chemicals.

Heated Water Hose for an RV

Another common winter camping problem: the drinking water hose freezes!

If you’re going to be hooked up to the water system while you camp — and you don’t want to suddenly wonder why nothing’s coming out of the faucet — it might be worthwhile to invest in a heated RV water hose. It’s best to get a hose made specifically for this purpose, rather than some sort of add-on or extension, as drinking water hoses don’t impart any strange flavors or odors to your water supply, and they’re built strong enough to avoid leaks even with constant use.

Other campers simply fill up their freshwater tank and then disconnect the hose to avoid this problem, which is also an option… but you might end up having to go outside in the freezing cold for a fill-up at an inconvenient time!

How to Improve RV Insulation

A final winter problem that could befall you and your family might seem simple, but is a surefire way to kill the festive mood: a lack of insulation means your RV’s too cold to live in!

Even the thickest-skinned can’t stand up to winter’s temperatures in an RV without the proper insulation. And insulating your RV’s walls or replacing the existing RV insulation is a big, expensive project — so you definitely need to make sure you look for a well-insulated RV when you’re still in the shopping phase.

However, there are a few inexpensive DIY ways to improve your RV’s insulation. One is to purchase insulated skirting, which helps keep your rig warm by adding insulation around the wheel wells, where lots of the heat fades away.

Or, if you’re really thrifty, you can skirt your RV in a natural way: with snow! (Just be sure, no matter what you do, always avoid exhaust vents — otherwise, you risk deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.) 

Happy winter camping!