Heading out on the road over the winter period? If so, it’s a good time for a check-up. Let’s take a look at a basic checklist if you plan to drive your RV anywhere over winter, and of course these apply to any vehicle being driven over the winter period.

1. Brakes
Have the brakes checked and tested. The braking system is a vital safety mechanism.

2. Oil check
Oil sometimes thickens as it gets colder, and it can’t lubricate an engine properly if it is too cool. Read the owner’s manual to determine what lubricants are recommended for your system. Also check transmission, brake and other fluids while you’re under the hood.

3. Radiator
Clean and flush, and put new antifreeze in the cooling system. As a general rule of thumb this should be done every two years, and it’s vital to stop your engine water freezing overnight, especially if you’re in very cold or snowy conditions.

4. Wiper blades
The wiper blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that is damaged, leaves streaks or misses spots. Use a good additive to the window wash water; it will prevent it freezing or clogging up the nozzle ends – which probably need a clean out with a needle or similar, and point them correctly if they’re not fully directed at the windscreen.

5. Exhaust check
Have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks as they can be especially dangerous during cold-weather driving when windows are closed.

6. Heating
Make sure your heaters, demisters, and air conditioning are all working; winter is the time for condensation on the windows, and getting it cleared quickly is vital for safety.

7. Chassis components
Especially for vans used off road, check for damage to the chassis, axles and suspension, plus water and gas lines. Get your wheel bearings checked too, or check them yourself if you have the mechanical skills.

8. Lights
Check headlights and exterior lighting bulbs, clean lenses, check headlight adjustment. Consider having daytime running lights installed; some late-model vehicles are fitting these standard now, but they are reasonably inexpensive to buy and easy to install for a professional or a handy person. They switch on automatically when you turn the key, giving excellent visibility at any time of day.

Snow & Freezing Areas Tips
• Ideally, park the vehicle in a garage at night, providing some insulation against low temperatures, ice and snow.
• Try to avoid frequent stops and starts over a short period of time, in cold temperatures you need to make certain you drive the vehicle long enough to recharge the battery. Plus turn off the electrical loads such as the radio, rear window and windshield defrosters, try not to use electric windows and extra lights.

Suspension – shocks
I went to an industry player Autolign for tips on this topic. We have replaced the shocks in our RnR4 motorhome, and it made a lot of difference to the ride, and will save tyre wear and tear as well.

Shock Absorbers and Suspension
There are three factors in the shock absorber story – think of them as a safety triangle. These three factors are essential to your safety, and if any part of the safety triangle stops working properly, you will put yourself and others at risk.

Stopping: At 50kph just one worn shock absorber can increase your stopping distance by up to two metres. This distance increases if the vehicle has stability control fitted, as worn shocks reduce the tyre adhesion to the road and the wrong message is sent to the stability control computer, which can result in an increased and even doubled stopping distance or, even worse, cause the vehicle to become unstable on the road.

Steering
Worn shock absorbers can cause your tyres to lose contact with the road, dramatically affecting steering and making the vehicle feel like it shakes and feels vague on the road.

Stability
Worn shock absorbers cause excessive sway around corners, making your vehicle a lot less stable. This is critical in a motorhome with its high centre of gravity. The result of this is the vehicle can wander across the road into oncoming traffic or off the seal.

What are shock absorbers and what do they do? Shock absorbers help to control the movement of your vehicle’s springs as part of its suspension, and thus help to keep your tyres in contact with the road at all times. They play an important role in your vehicle’s ability to accelerate, travel and stop with safety and control. Any time the tyres’ contact with the road is broken or reduced, your ability to drive, steer and brake is severely compromised.

Signs of worn shock absorbers
– Trouble stopping
– Worn shock absorbers can add as much as 20 per cent to your stopping distance.

Side slide
If your vehicle veers in side winds, particularly when the wind isn’t so strong, you could have shock absorber problems.

Shake, rattle and roll
Notice your vehicle rock and rolls over bumps, speed humps or uneven surfaces? Not hugging the bends? Time to get the shocks checked.

Bad vibes
Uncomfortable steering wheel vibration – which could also be caused by poor wheel alignment, or uneven tyre wear.

Nose-diving and swerving
If the front of your vehicle dips when you brake or slow down.

Uneven tyre wear
If your tyres are wearing unevenly, particularly if there are bald patches around the tyre, odds are it’s your shock absorbers or wheel alignment. Checking your shocks every 20,000km, and replacement every 80,000km, is recommended.

Shock Shops around New Zealand will be happy to carry out a free check for you, or talk an Autolign steering and suspension parts supplier. You can do quick visual check yourself and if you see any signs of oil leaking out around the shock then get them checked. To ensure stability, it is always wise to replace both shock absorbers if one is faulty as the one that looks good may only be working at 50 per cent of the replaced unit.

Suspension bushes
Suspension bushes are one of the most overlooked areas of the suspension. Worn or faulty bushes can cause excessive movement in the suspension, causing wheel geometry to be affected. This will increase tyre wear and affect the steering of the vehicle.
Bushes can either be made of rubber or, for extended life and a firmer control, urethane bushes from Nolathane can be an excellent option.
Helpful websites on this topic are shockshop.co.nz, autolign.co.nz, powerdown.com.au, Monroe.com.au, and nolathane.com.au.

Storage
Something to think about
• Limit the amount of weight on the tyres of stored vehicles.
• Special heavy-duty motorhome axle stands are available, and can be used in the same way with a caravan. Otherwise, move your RV or caravan every six to eight weeks so the sidewalls are not always carrying weight in the same place.
• Tyres should be kept off petroleum-based surfaces such as asphalt during extended periods of storage.
• Maintain the tyre air pressure even in storage.
• Cover from exposure to sunlight, but do not use plastic bags or tarpaulins as they don’t breathe.

Battery
Have the battery and charging system checked for optimum performance. Cold weather is hard on batteries, and these statistics from Battery Council International paint the picture perfectly.
• When the outside temperature is 26°C, a fully charged battery has 100 per cent of its power available to start the vehicle.
• When the temperature drops to 0°C, a fully charged battery only has approximately 66 per cent of its power available.

Battery Tips
Ask your technician to test your battery. This type of test can be performed quickly by most automotive service centres. What will they look at? More than you might think – charge life in the battery, connections, terminals, water, corrosion and cracks.
Check the battery case for cracks, and the battery cables and clamps need the once over, as well as the terminals for damage. Secure loose cables so they don’t flop around. Any problems you find, replace the part, or replace the battery if applicable.

Water
If you have a conventional vented wet-cell battery (the type with screw-in caps for topping up the electrolyte with water), check the water level regularly.

Corrosion
On all batteries watch for terminal corrosion on the battery, and make sure all connections are clean and tight. The problem arises more often if you don’t drive your vehicle regularly. If the battery is sitting idle, the terminals oxidise at a faster rate, so you need to check them more regularly. Corrosion appears as a white, ashy deposit, sometimes a bit of colour mixed in, located around one or both battery posts. These deposits are the result of one of several possible chemical exchanges involving vapours and the battery post. Use eye protection, gloves and even a mask when cleaning.

Use a mix of baking soda and water on the disconnected battery terminal posts for lead/acid batteries, it will clean away the corrosion. Dry everything off well, lube with petroleum jelly on all exposed metal surfaces on the posts, battery cables and clamps, then reconnect it.

Things to be aware of: always remove the cable clamp from the negative (-) terminal first, when reconnecting do the positive (+) cable first. Be careful you don’t short any tools against the vehicle when in contact with the battery.