Top tips for winter RV travel


To help you stay warm and safe this winter, we’ve put together a few tips to help you prepare

Plan ahead

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As we all know, New Zealand’s weather can be extremely unpredictable. The morning might offer hope of a brilliant blue-sky day, but by lunchtime, things could look a whole lot different.

It’s wise to check the short- and long-term weather reports, especially if you’re planning on staying near a river or lake that has potential to flood. A good website is weatherwatch.co.nz, which also has an app you can download to your phone.

At this time of year, you’ll also want to keep an eye on road closures and traffic warnings. For traffic updates, road closure alerts and a handy route planner, visit journeys.nzta.govt.nz.

Mechanical check

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Cold weather can do all sorts of weird and wonderful things to your motorhome, so bear in mind that you may need to do some extra maintenance and checks over the cooler season.

Tyres

One of the first things you should do before heading away on any trip is to check your tyre tread. For winter driving, it’s best to ensure your tread has a minimum of 4mm depth. Also, ensure your tyres are suitable for winter conditions (indicated by the snowflake or ‘M&S’—mud and snow—letters on the sidewall).

Batteries

Generally, batteries are less efficient in colder temperatures, and the last thing you want to deal with in the middle of your winter travels is a flat battery, so it’s extra important to check that it’s in good shape. Check the fluid levels, look for any signs of corrosion, and ensure it’s well charged.

Fluids

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Before heading off, it’s a good idea to check all fluid levels and top-up if needed. You might also like to add a washer fluid additive to your windscreen wash to prevent it from freezing. You can also test your coolant mix with a glycol meter (or ask a trusted workshop to do this for you). The glycol/water concentration should be about 50/50, but check your vehicle manual to be sure.

Heating

Good heating is a must in winter. But if you haven’t had to crank up the heat for a few months, it’s worth checking that everything is working as it should before you head off.

Winter essentials

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It can be frustrating to arrive at your destination and realise you’ve forgotten a key piece of gear that could have made you so much warmer, dryer, or safer. Here are a few items that you should have on-board over winter:

  • If you’re travelling through a snowy area, it’s vital to have snow chains. You may be denied access to certain roads without them, or worse, end up getting stuck or having an accident. 
  • An ice-scraper is useful for clearing the windows in the morning.
  • On really cold mornings, it’s not uncommon for frosts to make it impossible to open doors or get your key in the lock. Pack some de-icer if a frost looks likely.
  • A tow rope, a spare can of fuel, and extra food supplies are all good measures—just in case!
  • It’s worth investing in a reliable phone that won’t suddenly die just when you need it. And don’t forget that all-essential phone charger.
  • If you’re planning on being a bit intrepid and going off the beaten track, it could be worth investing in (or hiring) an emergency locator beacon (EPIRB).
  • Hot water bottles offer an amazing amount of heat, so be sure to pack a couple (along with extra blankets).
  • Condensation inside the motorhome can be a problem over winter. There are a number of window ‘vacuums’ on the market, which suck up water in an instant and leave your windows nice and dry. 

Winter RV driving tips

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If you’re not an experienced motorhome driver, winter isn’t a good time to start. Icy roads, fog, and rain demand experience and skill, so if it’s wise to be well-versed with RV driving before heading out onto the roads over winter.

  • Black ice is a significant problem in New Zealand over winter. Because it is transparent, it can be hard to spot, although sometimes the ice’s shiny surface can be seen. It forms at night or in the early morning when temperatures are lowest, especially on parts of the road where there isn’t a lot of sunshine such as in tunnels and shady areas, and on bridges. Try to avoid black ice by planning your travels later in the day, once the sun has warmed things up a bit. If you do hit black ice, take your foot off the accelerator, avoid hitting the brakes, and try to keep the steering wheel straight. Avoid steering in the opposite direction as this can cause you to skid or spin. 
  • Be aware that the road conditions can change in an instant. Take extra care when braking and accelerating and keep plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front. 

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  • Where possible, pull over safely to let queues of traffic pass. Beware though of soggy grass verges; wait until a safe layby or slow lane is available before moving over and allowing traffic past.
  • Make sure your windscreen is clean and free from greasy smears that might suddenly impair your vision in sunstrike. Keep a good pair of sunglasses on hand also. 
  • In fog, rain, or dull light, keep your lights on low, so you’re visible to others on the road.

Staying home?

If you’re planning to store your motorhome for the winter, there are a few steps to take to keep potential damage at bay and ensure it’s ready to go again when you are:

  • If you know you’re not going to be using your vehicle for an extended period of time, consider connecting the battery to an intelligent multi-stage charger. This will ensure the health of your battery over winter by running various cycles of charging and discharging, without overcharging the battery. If you remove the battery, be sure to leave it in a well-ventilated area such as your garage and avoid putting in directly on the concrete floor, as this will reduce its temperature. 
  • Give your tanks a good flush through, including the waste tank and toilet cassette, so they’re fresh and good to go next time you’re ready. Once done, ensure the tanks are completely empty, including the boiler, and flush any water out of the taps. Water freezing in tanks can cause severe (and expensive) damage.
  • If your motorhome is stored outside, invest in a good-quality cover that will protect it against wind, rain, and frost. The cover should have a breathable, UV-stabilised fabric with built-in vents and a heavy-duty fastening system. 
  • Clean out the cupboards and remove food and crumbs that may attract insects and rodents.
  • If moisture is likely to be a problem, remove any bedding that may be prone to mould and consider using a dehumidifier on occasion. 
  • You might like to consider making a little extra cash by renting out your motorhome over winter through a peer-to-peer lender such as Mighway (mighway.com) or SHAREaCAMPER (shareacamper.co.nz).

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