You may think that because your caravan is weatherproof inside and no-one will be using it, you needn’t worry about preparing the interior for winter. Think again: a host of parts require a bit of special care for the months of disuse.
1. Water systems
First off, consider the water system of your caravan. Water isn’t good when it’s left to stand, so why leave water to stagnate in your caravan water tank for months? Fully drain the water tanks and all the plumbing pipes by removing the tank drain plug (if there is one) underneath the caravan. Replace the plug, and then run the taps briefly to get rid of any water in the pipes; be sure not to run the water pump dry for longer than a few moments, as this can damage it. Replacing the drain plug will prevent bugs from crawling inside the tank and setting up camp for the winter! A good idea is to disconnect the water pump, and then leave all the taps open. This will prevent any build-up of pressure inside the system. Make sure your gas/electric hot-water geyser is not operational by switching it off at the distribution board and disconnecting the gas. If you’re concerned about bacteria and smells accumulating in the water tank, dose it with Milton, or consult your local caravan dealership about another suitable product. Be sure to drain and flush this out thoroughly before you use your caravan again. If you have an onboard flush toilet, drain the water storage container and the waste container, and clean the latter thoroughly. It’s highly advisable to plug any exterior waste outlets and water inlets, to prevent bugs using your plumbing as a winter haven.
2. Soft furnishings
Upholstery, cushions, mattresses, bedding, curtains, blinds and carpets can become musty and smelly if left inside your caravan. Remove what you can and store in a dry place in your home. Washing all removable items and drying and airing them out in the sun before you store them is wise, as this will get rid of unwanted moisture, odours and dirt. Once curtains are dry, it’s sensible to replace them and keep them closed, especially if prying eyes are likely to look inside your caravan while it’s being stored. They will also prevent UV damage to the interior surfaces.
It’s best to remove dinette cushions to your home, but if storage space is an issue, stand the cushions on end in the centre of the caravan.
It goes without saying that you should remove all bedding from your mattresses. If possible, prop every mattress up on its side on the bed, allowing air movement all round.
3. Furniture and fixtures
Clean out your cupboards, ensuring that no food containers or scraps are left behind that may attract mice, rats, cockroaches or ants. Leave your cupboard doors open to air.
The fridge and freezer need a lot of pre-winter attention. First, clear out all food, leaving the fridge and freezer completely empty. Wash out the inside surfaces using an antibacterial soap or a bicarbonate of soda solution. Then, with the appliance switched off, leave the doors of both fridge and freezer slightly open. This will prevent bad odours from accumulating.
Exterior windows should be tightly closed if the caravan is stored outside. If your caravan is to be left indoors, you can leave certain windows slightly open, to allow some ventilation. If you do this, check inside occasionally during winter to make sure that no creepy-crawlies have made their way inside. Personally, I’d keep everything shut up tight.
Interior plug sockets can be taped over, to prevent spiders from nesting inside the holes.
When it comes to the battery, ideally you should remove and store it, and top up the charge every four to six weeks using a charging device. Alternatively, you can leave the battery in the caravan, and keep the caravan hooked up to mains power during the winter. The 220 V electricity will keep the battery from draining flat, and will also ensure that the lights work when you step inside your caravan to check it out periodically. If your caravan is fitted with an alarm system, make sure that removing the battery doesn’t affect the alarm; of course you will want your alarm to be functional while you’re not using your caravan.
Remove the gas cylinders and store them in a well-ventilated place. Make sure the cylinder taps are tightly closed.
Obviously the exterior of your caravan will be exposed to the full brunt of the winter weather, assuming it’s kept outside, so this aspect requires some careful preparatory work.
1. Tyres, wheels and suspension
Taking the weight of your caravan off the wheels while it is stationary for any extended period will certainly prolong the life of your tyres. Achieve this by placing sturdy axle stands underneath the axle(s), and then removing the wheels. Make sure the caravan is on a level surface. Store the wheels and tyres indoors out of sunlight, in a place where the temperature is cool and relatively constant. Keep them away from chemicals and solvents, particularly petroleum-based products. Vitally, don’t stack the tyres on top of each other; but rather store them in a hung, deflated state, which means that they won’t be bearing any weight. Finally, keep them well away from generators, compressors and any ozone-emitting appliances. If you want to keep your tyres covered, don’t use a plastic sheet; rather use natural fabrics, like hessian, canvas or cotton, as they won’t react with the rubber.
For added peace of mind, have your brakes and bearings serviced prior to winter, remembering of course that this task should also be one of your first priorities when you bring your caravan out of hibernation. Make sure the wheel bearings are well greased, and that no moisture can get in.
If you have shock absorbers fitted to your caravan, clean them and tape them up to prevent moisture from getting in. Most important: remember to remove the tape before you next use the caravan.
This may seem counterintuitive, but leave your handbrake disengaged during the layup. This will prevent the brake drums from corroding and the brakes from sticking. As we’ve already mentioned, it is important to store the caravan on level ground, to prevent any potentially nasty falling-over incidents. Winding down the corner steadies will help to stabilise your caravan while it’s on axle stands. Spray the steadies’ mechanisms with Q20 to keep moisture at bay.
Make sure the coupling is in good working order before you pack your caravan away. Using a grease gun, lightly squirt grease into the two grease nipples on the top of the A-frame. Also lubricate the coupling head shaft. If any rust is present on the coupling head, sand lightly and treat with a deruster, and then paint with some durable metal paint.
If the protective rubber boot around the neck of the coupling head is damaged, you will need to remove the coupling head in order to replace it. First remove the locking pin that goes through the coupling head and shaft. Do this using a hammer and a punch that’s narrower than the drilled hole around the pin. With the pin removed, the head should slide off. If it sticks, gently tap it off using a hammer and a sturdy block of wood. With the head off, replace the rubber boot, and then reassemble the coupling, ensuring the locking pin is firmly back in place.
You may choose to protect the coupling from the elements by covering it up. Be mindful of the fact that trapped moisture is any metal mechanism’s enemy, so allowing the coupling to ‘breath’ is important. Alternatively, if you cover it entirely, air it out regularly in sunny weather, and check that corrosion is not taking place.
3. Awning and tents
You certainly don’t want to pack your tent or awning away if it’s dirty or at all damp. It’s best to clean it and allow it to dry completely. Then fold it up and store it somewhere dry. Inside your house is best, but if space is at a premium, inside the caravan will do.
4. Body panels and windows
To look after the exterior body panels of your caravan, it’s a good idea to thoroughly clean and then polish the outside surfaces before your caravan’s out-of-action period. Chat to your trusted caravan dealer about the best products on the market. Not only will this treatment protect the surface from the elements, but it will reduce the likelihood of mould and airborne pollutants sticking to the body panels and causing damage.
If you choose to keep all the windows tightly shut, coat the seals very lightly with olive oil. This will prevent them from sticking when the time comes to open them.
If you opt to use a purpose-made caravan cover, remove it periodically in fair weather to reduce moisture build-up underneath, and to air out the underside of the cover. You’ll also want to make sure the cover’s fastening straps are holding tightly; if strong winds cause the fabric to flap, both cover and caravan may be damaged. Breathable fabric is best when it comes to choosing a caravan cover, as fabrics that trap moisture can do more harm than good.
We highly recommend keeping your caravan underneath some sort of roof structure, at the very least. It’ll reduce exposure to the sun and subsequent UV damage, and minimise the impact of rain and moisture. It would be optimal to keep your caravan indoors, but we know that this often isn’t possible.
During the winter months, don’t neglect your caravan completely. It’ll appreciate some TLC and a visit every month or so! Inspect the exterior and interior, making sure no moisture or other damage is taking place. Check for bug infestations regularly too, both inside and out.
A useful hint from a member of UKCampsite.co.uk is to leave bowls of salt throughout the interior of your caravan during its lay-up period. Presumably this is more effective in damp climates, but there’s no harm in trying it wherever you live. The salt draws moisture from the air, leaving the caravan relatively damp-free inside. You’ll know if it’s working if you see the salt becoming tacky and damp. T
To help you remember what needs to be done before you next use your caravan, draw up a comprehensive check-list and leave it inside. That way things like refitting the gas cylinders and removing the tape from the shock absorbers won’t slip your mind.
A final suggestion is to check on and update the details of your caravan insurance when you prepare it for winter. Be sure that removing the wheels does not negatively affect your policy in any way, and that you’ve fulfilled all the home storage requirements, such as keeping the caravan secure behind locked gates.
We’ll advise you further on pre-caravan-season checks and chores in a later issue this year. Many of these tips and pointers can be applied all year round, whenever your caravan is out of action for a long time. The counter- moisture recommendations can be applied during the summer rainy season in many parts of South Africa.
On a concluding note, however, we still want to encourage you to make full use of your caravan during the colder months; you might be surprised at the variety of stunning spots that are particularly idyllic during winter.
(This article was published in the April 2011 issue of Caravan & Outdoor Life)