The essential de-winterizing checklist

If you are like the majority of folks who live in North America, your Airstream or other brand RV has been winterized and put away for months. Now that most of the country has changed their clocks to daylight savings time and the days are getting longer, you’re probably itching to get back on the road. 

If you winterized properly (or had your local service center do it), getting your rig back in operational condition is a straightforward process. This de-winterizing checklist is intended to help you complete the most important tasks with minimal consternation.

WHAT IS DE-WINTERIZING?

Simply put: the annual process that reverses the winterizing procedure performed by RV owners who store their unit when temperatures are below freezing. 

De-winterizing includes flushing out the RV antifreeze (assuming that is how you winterized) and putting fresh water into the plumbing system, inspecting essential systems and equipment to make sure they’re functional, replenishing consumables you need for travel, cleaning inside and out, and putting personal items back into the rig.

De-winterizing is easy and usually pretty fun. It inspires ideas about those trips you’ve been talking about, and gets you ready for the season’s adventures.

Here’s our essential checklist for this annual rite of passage. A detailed de-winterizing procedure is also outlined in "The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance, 2nd edition". 

CONDUCT AN EXTERIOR WALKAROUND

Before you go inside, take a moment to look for exterior damage that may have occurred during storage. Look up for roof damage or debris, around the sides for indications of rodent or bird damage or vandalism, and beneath for any dangling wires or propane lines that need to be investigated.

In the case of an Airstream trailer, also check that the belly pan is intact and not in need of any rivet replacements.

MAKE SURE ALL SYSTEMS AND APPLIANCES ARE READY TO GO

1. Batteries

If you disconnected or removed the batteries, put them back and switch the battery disconnect to the ON or USE position. Inspect the battery casings for cracks, and check the top and sides for bulging or leaks. If you see any of these things, don’t attempt to charge the batteries—replace them.

Renogy lithium battery fit test Airstream

Plug the trailer or motorhome into power and give the batteries a few hours to charge (“lithium” or LiFePO4 batteries can charge fully in just 1-4 hours, and lead-acid or AGM batteries may take up to 8 hours). 

After you unplug, verify that the batteries are holding the correct charge by checking the voltage. You may have a voltage meter built into the RV (like the SeeLevel monitor commonly found on many late-model Airstreams). If not, you can use a handheld voltage meter. Lead acid batteries should hold at least 12.6 volts when fully charged, with everything in the RV turned off. Lithium batteries should hold at least 13.3 volts when fully charged.

Remember that batteries don’t last forever. The de-winterizing process is a good opportunity to verify that the batteries are holding their charge as they should. If they aren’t, replace them now so you don’t get stuck with dead batteries during the travel season.

If your Airstream has the type of lead-acid batteries that have removable caps on the top, check the water level in them and add some distilled water if needed. Wear rubber gloves and use eye protection when doing this, and keep some baking soda on hand to neutralize any splashes.

2. Water system 

Sanitize the fresh water system, which accomplishes two important tasks at the same time: (1) Displaces the RV antifreeze that may have been pumped in during the winterizing process, and (2) gives you a safe plumbing system for the start of the season. Here’s a practical guide that explains how to do this. 

IMPORTANT: If you have a water heater with a tank (not “tankless”), move the winterization bypass on the water heater back to the normal operating position before you sanitize. This way you’ll sanitize the water heater’s tank at the same time.

3. Gas system

Inspect the condition of the propane hoses to be sure they aren't cracked or worn. If you see signs of either, replace them.

In addition, perform a slow leak test – an important safety check any time you put away or retrieve your RV from storage.

Both of these are described in more detail in this Quick Guide to RV Propane Maintenance.

4. Tires

Check the air pressure on all the tires, including the spare. It’s a good idea to have a portable air compressor on hand to top up the tires as needed.

Check all the tires for wear, cracks, and damage. This short video explains how to do this, and what you are looking for. 

If you think you might need to replace the tires, I cover this topic in more detail in The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance

If you have a tire pressure maintenance system (TPMS) – which we use and highly recommend for safety – fire it up to make sure the monitor and all sensors are working. If you find a sensor is not connecting / displaying on the monitor, it’s probably because the sensor battery needs to be replaced. Be sure to replace the dead batteries before your first trip.

5. [For trailers only] Hitch, 7-way plug, and brakes

Lube the hitch as recommended by the manufacturer and hitch up the trailer.

Once you’re hitched, test and verify that all the trailer and brake lights are working properly.

Inspect the 7-way plug for corrosion – especially if you found any issues with brake or trailer lights not working or working intermittently. The most common reason for brake and trailer lights not working properly is a dirty or corroded 7-way plug. 

Airstream 7-way plug

The video below explains how to clean and maintain the 7-way plug and other electrical connections to avoid this problem. We include the products and a tool needed to perform this simple maintenance task in our Maintenance Essentials Kit.

Finally, verify that the brakes and brake controller are working properly by doing a few test stops at low speed. As you go, listen for any strange noises from the hitch and trailer that might indicate a need for repair or adjustment. 

If you find any issues with the brake controller, address them with a service technician before you travel. It is not safe to travel without a working brake controller. You don’t want this to be a trip-killer on your first day of travel this season (ask us how we know!), so address it now. 

6. Appliances

Before you turn on any appliances: walk around the Airstream and open the exterior access hatches for the refrigerator, water heater, and furnace. 

Inspect for spider webs, wasp nests, leaves, or any other debris that might be clogging the exhaust vents or burners and remove them.

Make sure at least one propane tank has gas. Open the propane tank valve for the tank that has gas and verify that the regulator shows green.

Now give all the major appliances a test: 

  • Furnace
  • Refrigerator
  • Water heater
  • Stove (and oven if equipped)
  • Lights
  • Water pump
  • Vent fans
  • Power stabilizers or power awning if you have one.

If you have 30-amp or 50-amp power available, test the microwave oven (if equipped), air conditioner and/or heat pump as well. 

INSPECT THE INTERIOR

Anything can happen while an Airstream or other RV is quietly tucked away for the winter. An interior inspection will ferret out unpleasantries you will need to address.

1. Check for leaks

Inspect the outside and inside of all cabinets for signs of leaks that might have occurred over the winter. If you see signs of water damage, track down the origin of the leak and get it addressed before you travel. This blog will help you troubleshoot. 

2. Do a “sniff test”

Open and sniff inside drawers, cabinets, and the trash pull-out, as well as around drains. If anything smells weird, clean or otherwise address it. Get your travel partner to perform this check as well – he or she might smell something you haven’t. 

3. Look for signs of rodents

While you’re sniffing through drawers and cabinets, watch for droppings or chewed up material. Check the corners of upper cabinets and the floor under the dinette.

We've written a blog and provided a short video to describe this inspection.

4. Open all the windows 

Make sure none are sticking shut. If you can’t get a window open because the gasket is sticky, don't force it open by the handles—it may break! Instead, loosen the gasket from the outside with a credit card, and then lubricate it as described in my maintenance guide.

5. Inspect and replace “consumables”

If you use a water filtration system, replace the filters. These should generally be replaced every 3 months or after any long period of storage.

Install fresh 9-volt batteries in the smoke and/or Carbon Monoxide detectors. After you’ve replaced each, press the Test button on each unit. They should beep loudly.

Test the fire extinguisher by pushing the little green button on the top. It should pop back up. Also look at the label for the expiration date and replace it if needed. We recommend the ELEMENT Fire Extinguisher, which never expires, is super lightweight, makes no mess, and is not harmful to people or pets. 

CLEAN THE INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR

With all the maintenance and inspection tasks complete, finish the de-winterizing process by giving the Airstream a full cleaning. 

  • Scrub the shower and bathroom
  • Clean the kitchen – wipe out all cabinets, drawers, and microwave. 
  • Vacuum and damp-mop the floors 
  • Wash all bedding
  • Wipe down the dinette cushions and the exterior of all cabinets 

If you have dirt/grease on upper cabinets that won’t come off with regular cleaning, try Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. It’s the only product we’ve found that gets the overhead cabinets of our 2020 Airstream Globetrotter clean and white again.

Finally, give your RV’s exterior a bath. Most truck washes will do this for you, but  if you don’t have one nearby, check for a mobile RV wash service or find a car wash that has extra high bays for RVs. 

Washing an Airstream 

For tips on cleaning the exterior of an Airstream, refer to this Quick guide to maintaining an Airstream’s exterior.

When you’ve completed the items on this checklist your RV is de-winterized and ready for another fun season of travel. Plan a trip and hit the road. 

De-winterizing

2 comments

Randall Schultz

Randall Schultz

Is a good idea to rotate the tires on a tandem axle Airstream. I have a 27’ Flying Cloud , the back set of tires are wearing a little more than the front ones, the back tires slide when turning sharp.

John McG

John McG

Even those of us fortunate to live in warmer climates need to do a “Wake-up” process with almost the same elements if our trailer hasn’t been used for several months over the winter. Sanitizing tanks, checking propane systems and hoses for leaks, looking for leaks, etc are all just as important even if the trailer wasn’t formally winterized. Maybe just calling it an extended “Spring Cleaning” is the right answer… (and replace those batteries in the Tire Monitoring System also..)

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