Step by Step Guide to Winterize a Campervan
After a wonderfully sunny summer of driving through the back roads of southern Europe, the unavoidable question arose of what to actually do with the campervan during the wintertime. Initially the idea had been to simply sell the van after the trip and to retrieve all the money invested, but selling a campervan in late fall or even winter seemed the worst possible time to get a decent payback. On top of that, two months of building the Homemade Campervan and three months of driving, left me with a strong wish to keep the van around for at least another summer.
So as the dusk of the year was approaching slowly, the days were getting shorter and the temperatures were getting too low to camp, it was about time to winterize the van and to get it off the road. While winter storage for a campervan was a new topic for me, I ended up doing quite a bit of research and spoke with several local mechanics about how best to proceed. The collection of all the required steps can be found below, but overall the biggest challenge became finding a suitable parking spot for the duration of the winter.
Ideally this parking place for the camper would have been a heated garage, but since money was part of the equation, finding an old barn was more realistic. The main requirements were that the barn needed to be dry, clean and ventilated. Luckily I ended up finding an old horse stable that was nowadays only used for storage. It still smelled pretty badly of horses, but at least it fulfilled all three requirements above and after cleaning it up a little bit, the campervan fitted nicely in-between the former sables.
Following are all individual steps that I took to prepare, winterize and store the campervan.
Preparing and Winterizing the Van
- Finding a suitable and affordable place to park the van for the wintertime, for example a garage or an old barn.
- Visiting a gas station or car mechanic to check if there is sufficient antifreeze in the cooling water of the motor.
- Adding antifreeze to the water of the windshield wipers as well.
- Buying a simple dehumidifier that works with a salt crystal and doesn’t require electrical input.
- Clearing out the Campervan, including all removable parts. In my case it meant taking out even the table and the cool box.
- If a built-in water tank exists, that needs to be drained carefully and gas bottles must be taken out and stored.
- Vacuuming and cleaning the van from the inside.
- Washing the campervan from the outside, while paying special attention to the removal of all bird poop and insects.
- Applying some protective wax sealer after washing.
Putting the Camper into Winter Storage
- Going for a last drive to bring the campervan up to full temperature while making sure everything heats up, batteries are charged and all moisture evaporates from the muffler and other parts
- Raising the tire pressure right before driving into the barn. My mechanic recommended adding as much as 1 bar to avoid damage to the tires while standing for a long time. In my case that meant 4 bars on each tire.
- Driving up to the barn and turning off the motor close to the final resting spot. The last meters need to be pushed by hand and stopped without the use of the breaks! They could get stuck in place and rust over the winter otherwise.
- No use the handbrake, for the same reason! Once the van parks correctly, simply shifting into the first or reverse gear will do.
- Removing the car battery, or batteries, and storing them in a dry place away from freezing temperatures.
- Adding rubber care and protection to all door seals and rubber parts that are usually exposed to the elements.
- Placing the dehumidifier in the campervan and cracking the windows slightly, allowing for some air exchange to avoid mould and mildew.
- Detaching the license plates and discontinuing the car registration plus insurance.
The Campervan during Winter Storage
- If multiple people have access to the barn, it’s a good idea to display a big sign with all contact details and the name of the owner.
- Every so often, making sure to check on the dehumidifier and emptying out the collected water from the reservoir.
- To avoid too much strain to the tires, slightly rolling the van back or forth into a new position every couple of weeks.
- Batteries usually lose their charge over time, even when they are not used. Charging the batteries every now and then will keep them alive and active.
Besides all the measures listed above, placing an air freshener in the campervan might also be a good measure, especially if the barn smells of farm animals as it did in my case. Another point of great controversy has been if the oil should be changed in preparation to winterize the van. But after speaking with different car repair shop owners, one of them being a camper himself, the recommendation was to rather do an oil change in the spring when the campervan is revitalized anyway.
How to treat the Car Registration
In terms of discontinuing the car registration, Germany has two different options to offer that probably apply to other countries as well:
- The registration happens for a specified duration of time only, for example from beginning of April to end of October.
- A visit to the registration office twice a year is not required.
- The van has continued insurance throughout the winter.
- Special license plates have to be made with the imprint of the registration months.
- The special registration and new license plates cost a pretty high fee, actually more than 80 euros when inquiring for this option.
- The fixed months don’t allow for any flexibility, in case the weather happens to be good at an earlier or later time.
- Only minimal fees for discontinuing the registration plus reserving the license plates for one year (8.50 euros for both combined).
- Instant savings in taxes and car insurance for the winter months!
- Total flexibility as to when to disable or re-activate the campervan, depending on the weather of the season.
- No strange-looking license plates with imprinted months.
- No active insurance during the winter.
- Twice a year visiting the registration office.
As the comparison above already illustrates, I personally decided to rather go with the discontinued registration. This option not only gave me more flexibility with the dates, but also saved money in taxes and insurance for no extra cost of getting different license plates. The important detail about this option is that the car registration must be discontinued for less than 6 months. Only if the campervan is registered for over 6 months per year, the insurance company will recognize the entire year as actively used and lower the percentages accordingly for the following year!
Tips and Recommendations
- When detaching the license plates and discontinuing the registration, the van cannot be parked on public streets or places. It must be parked on private property only!
- Don’t start the engine while the van is in winter storage. Contrary to what you may think, starting the engine can actually be harmful to the car. Since the motor and all other parts are not going to full operational temperature, condensation occurs and provokes rusting of the muffler and other parts.
- Don’t use a plastic cover for the campervan. It is not breathable and condensation may occur underneath, which in turn can lead to rust as well. If the barn is dry, clean, ventilated and no pidgins are around, it’s best to just leave the van exposed.
Have you put a campervan into winter storage before? Do you have other tips or recommendations?
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