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Bring on the Cold Weather

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

A bold few motorhomers use their coaches to enjoy the great outdoors year-round. Cold
weather demands additional vehicle preparation and know-how. Begin by reading the owner’s manual regarding cold-weather operation, including recommended fuels and lubricants. Synthetic lubricants flow and protect the engine better than conventional oils at low temperatures.

Fortunately, automatic transmission fluid works satisfactorily in cold conditions. Be sure to test engine coolant for freeze protection. Conventional antifreeze should be flushed and replaced about every other year; long-life coolant should be replaced about every five years. Use antifreeze approved by the engine manufacturer; some require low-silicate antifreeze, while certain diesels also require special anti-cavitation additives. Follow directions for mixing and temperature protection. A 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze protects down to about minus 34 F (the maximum recommended percentage of antifreeze to water is 60/40).

Here are some additional tips:

  • If brake fluid is more than two years old, flush and replace with fresh heavy-duty
    fluid. Motorhomes equipped with air brakes can have moisture in the air lines, which
    will freeze and cause failure. Some vehicles require manual draining of air tanks and
    the addition of air-drying chemicals; check the owner’s manual.
  • Lube and inspect the chassis, including wheel bearings, U-joints and shackles; use
    grease approved for low temperatures. Inspect all belts and hoses and replace as
  • Service the AC generator, including the proper-weight oil; on liquid-cooled models,
    check antifreeze protection.
  • Consider adding an engine-block heater, especially on diesel engines, which can be
    difficult to start in cold weather. Check the owner’s manual for proper cold-start
  • Below about 15 F, diesel fuel may jell if winterized fuel isn’t used. Aftermarket
    fuel heaters are available (such as Racor), and anti-jelling additives such as Nalco
    Winter Thaw can be found at most truck stops. To prevent moisture from freezing in the
    tank, fuel lines and filters, keep the fuel tank as full as possible and add a “dry
    gas” additive. Refer to the engine owner’s manual for fuel recommendations.
  • Tire pressures drop about 1 psi per every 10-degree drop in temperature, so recheck
    pressure including the spare. Tire condition and tread depth also must be checked, and
    mud-and-snow tires are preferred for the drive wheels in snow. Tire chains may be
    required. Test-fit chains and carry work gloves, adjusters and repair links.
  • Lubricate locks with a lock de-icer product.
  • Test the windshield washer and fill the tank with windshield-washer antifreeze
    solution. Never pour hot water on the windshield to melt ice; it may crack. Instead,
    use spray-on windshield de-icer.
  • Inspect and replace windshield-wiper blades, if necessary. Before operating wipers,
    make sure they are not frozen to the windshield; that can damage the wiper mechanism. In areas with severe winter conditions, install rubber-coated winter blades.
  • Some owners fabricate clear plastic storm-window coverings that fasten to the
    inside and act as double-pane windows. (Kits are sold in hardware and RV stores.)
    Insulated curtains also keep the coach warm inside. In addition, some motorhome owners install insulation into the roof vents and other drafty areas. You also can apply an antifog treatment to the glass.

For much more about “Bring on the Cold Weather,” pick up the December 2003 issue of MotorHome — then subscribe to MotorHome so you can stay informed on the latest motorhome travel info, tests and previews, products and technical information.

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