Can a Motorhome be Used in the Winter? – How not to Freeze
Camping out of season has many advantages but there is a reason that it’s out of season. Is it possible to camp comfortably in a motorhome in the winter?
It may be chilly to motorhome in the winter but as long as you have a good heating system there are quite a few advantages. Roads and famous sites can be almost deserted. Campsites are cheaper to stay in and you can get cosy in your motorhome.
Advantages of Winter Camping in a Motorhome
- Places of interest can be very quiet.
- You will see the landscape looking very different
- The roads are a lot quieter to your chosen places of interest
- It’s a very different experience in the winter
- Campsites less crowded
- Clear dark skies
- There won’t be ridiculous competition for free camping
- The motorhome will feel cosy as it will be your shelter from the elements.
Disadvantages of winter camping
- Some places of interest are closed in the winter
- The number of campsites is limited as most are closed
- It’s usually cold and sometimes the weather may be extreme
- Fewer hours of daylight
- Use a lot of gas for heating
- Road conditions can be difficult
- Can get damp in your motorhome
Keeping warm in the winter
Our classic motorhome is well prepared for the cold. Even a 27-year-old motorhome can be classed as winterised or winter proof.
From the Hymer site;
to be classed as winterproof the motorhome should be able to get to a temperature of 20℃ (68℉) from a temperature of 0℃ (32℉) within two hours. After 2 hours the temperature throughout the motorhome should not vary more than 7 degrees.
To be Winterised It’s the same procedure except the starting temperature is -15℃ (5℉). And after 2 hours the plumbing should all be working normally.
The coldest temperature we have been in and heated the motorhome was -8℃ (18℉). That was the inside temperature! Within an hour of the heater being on, an old Truma, the temperature was 16℃ (61℉)after that I turned the heating down as I was working in there.
Gas Heating System
The gas heater in our Hymer is like a furnace. The heater pumps out about 6kw of heat which is pretty impressive. Once the motorhome is up to temperature you just need the fire to be ticking over to keep the temperature comfortable. The same during the night. If the temperature is below 0 (32℉) the fire may have to be on very low in the evening.
The great thing about the old heating system in our Hymer is that it is ducted around the whole motorhome. A fan sucks the hot air from the top of the fire and that hot air is distributed around the whole motorhome. The route the hot air ducting takes goes around the tanks and most of the plumbing. The only water that does not seem to get any heat from the ducting is the grey water tank. When the cold is extreme, the fire should keep everything from freezing. Most of the lower lockers also have heating in them. It is a great system that works brilliantly.
Most motorhomes are pretty well equipped for the winter thus expanding the season you can use your motorhome right through the year if you want. Our old motorhome is winterproof, not sure if its fully winterised as I have never been in temperatures of -15℃ and there is nothing about it in the handbook that mentions if it is winterised or not.
If you are in a campsite you will have access to the electrical hook up so you can supplement the gas heater with electric and cut down the amount of gas you may use. Some of the newer heating systems have an electrical side built into the system. Our motorhome doesn’t have that so we supplement the heating with a small portable heater, this one – its basic but does the job.
We use the electric fire just to keep the warmth topped up but sometimes we will need a blast of the gas fire depending on how cold it is.
Preparing for the Cold
Once you are parked up it’s a good idea to fit any screens you have to cut down the heat loss from the windscreen and side glass windows. The external screens fit the front windows and windscreen. The screens actually cut down the amount of condensation that forms on the windscreen when you sleep in a campervan. If it’s cold outside a surprising amount of condensation forms on your windscreen.
If you do any camping in your motorhome when it’s cold the purchase of external screens will be invaluable.
Some people don’t like them because they cut your view off and can make it quite claustrophobic inside but the difference to your heat loss is quite marked and will keep you cosy. Usually, in the winter there is not much to see out your windows as it’s pitch-black especially here in Scotland where it gets dark at 3 pm. In the winter.
Some people have found that a curtain at the habitation door is good for some additional insulation in that area. Fitting a curtain at the cab area down to the floor will also help keep the place cosy. The cab area is probably where most of the heat goes due to the amount of glass.
For yourself, it’s a good idea to wear some good thermals under your clothes. You will be much more comfortable at slightly lower temperatures and you won’t have to heat the habitation area quite as much.
It’s also a good idea if you use Butane in your motorhome, change over to Propane. Butane stops working at lower temperatures. If you use LPG you will be fine. You can read all about it here.
Take as much cosy bedding as you can. You want high tog duvets or some good quality sleeping bags, or even better, both! Better too warm than too cold in the winter.
Winter driving in a motorhome
Driving a motorhome at any time of year can be a challenge. They are very heavy and can take a lot of stopping. Although the technology in a classic is quite old now I have not found it difficult to stop our motorhome in an emergency.
There are a few things you can do to make sure your motorhome will behave itself in the winter and stay on the road. These include
- Tyre age and pressure
- Make sure the brakes are in good condition
- Keep the windscreen clean
- Drive slow
It is crucial in a motorhome to make sure your tyres are pumped up to the correct pressure. The Tyres on our Hymer are pumped to 60 PSI which is twice the pressure of a car tyre. If they are running on low pressure they could get quite hot and any imperfection could cause them to burst. This is why it’s always a good idea to check the age of the tyres, the pressure of the tyres and the type of tyre. Every motorhome will have a handbook and the recommended tyre pressures will be listed in that. If you don’t have a handbook you can usually look up the information on the internet.
I use all season tyres on the motorhome. These are well suited to the Scottish climate which doesn’t really have too much hot weather and doesn’t get ridiculously cold either.
All season tyres grip quite well in the cold as well as warm weather. They are suitable for taking to most countries in Europe and good for the summer and winter. If you drive on to wet grass they should, in theory, get you off the wet grass and they are not too bad on mud as well.
The best tyres to have in the winter are obviously, winter tyres, These are even better than the all-season tyres and provide a superior grip. A lot of countries in Europe require you to use winter tyres in the winter and summer tyres in the summer so you need to change your tyres over.
I have written a whole other blog about motorhome tyres if you want to know how to check tyres for their age and type. Tyres are crucial to keep you rolling along, worth looking after.
Check it out here.
If you are going off the beaten track you may want to invest in a set of snow chains. These may get you out of trouble. In the UK most roads will be kept clear unless you are in the middle of nowhere. Something to think about. I don’t have a set yet but I am starting to look out for a set.
This is a no-brainer. Always make sure your brakes are well serviced and change the brake fluid every couple of years.
The brake system in your motorhome can be under a lot of stress especially if you are driving in hilly or mountainous regions. When you brake a lot the brakes tend to get very hot so it’s essential that you make sure the brake fluid is changed regularly. This will save you suffering from heart failure when the brake pedal hits the floor and you’re not stopping which can happen on poorly maintained brakes.
In the winter it is essential for me to trust the brakes so I can feel if the grip on the road has changed so I like to have the brakes in the best condition they can be.
In the winter there will be a lot of salt spray so the windscreen will be very dirty very quickly. Keep your windscreen clear. It really helps when you are driving a three and a half ton vehicle down the road to be able to see.
Our Hymer has two wipers which cover about 60% of the screen. It is enough to drive safely but it’s way better if you get out and just clean the rest of the screen quickly. Makes such a difference.
Just pick up a cheap extendable squeegee like this one. Or you can use a product like Rainex which will let the water roll off your window. Works well but needs redoing regularly.
Keep the speed down
In the winter, especially in Scotland, the roads will be damp all the time. Keep your eye on the weather and be prepared for when the temperature drops below freezing. You should be fine on main routes but watch out for the smaller roads that may not be gritted. Look out for snow, but more common will be boggy ground. It doesn’t take much for a motorhome to get stuck. They are very heavy and have quite narrow tyres, fine for the road but on the grass, they will clog quickly and you will be stuck.
If you do get stuck check out this blog – Motorhome Stuck in Mud?
Other Winter Considerations
Don’t forget to make sure that your antifreeze is in good condition and is strong enough to prevent freezing.
Make sure you have windscreen washer fluid that can take low temperatures.
If you have any external tanks you may want to think about protecting them from the cold. Our only external tank is the grey water and we have had no problem with it freezing – probably the soap helps to stop it freezing as readily as fresh water would.
Camping in the Winter
There are a few things you need to watch for if you park in the winter.
- Try to park on hard standing. Any grassy pitches will be a problem for getting off again in the winter.
- Take your kit for getting off mud and be prepared to use it.
- Make sure that the forced ventilation vents are open so you get nice clean air into the motorhome. The vents are there to prevent any build-up of carbon monoxide, don’t block them off.
Our side windows had the vents blocked off with silicone. Turns out these let air in but also let condensation out. We had pools of water forming at the windows which would then overflow and run down the walls causing all sorts of damp problems. Once we opened up the vents again the condensation problem stopped and the walls dried out nicely. Just about every hole that you see in a campervan is there for a reason and should really not be sealed up unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
- Make sure the flue for the heater and all gas appliances are not blocked by snow. They should always be clear.
- Make sure that the mains cable is clear of snow as well.
- If you can, park in a way that will protect the vents from the prevailing wind direction.
- Make sure the vent covers are off any of the gas appliances before you use them (the water heater or fridge).
- Fit external screens to the windscreen.
A great little product for when you are camping in the winter is the Karcher Window Vac. When you have condensation on the windows just use this to suck the water off the windows. It works really well and you just empty the water down the sink or outside thus ensuring that the same water does not end up back on the windows, excellent. It really makes a difference to the humidity in the motorhome.
When we are not in the motorhome we use it for the bathroom window in the winter when it is streaming with condensation, keeps the place much drier. You can check the price here.
A big problem in the motorhome when the temperature falls below freezing is your water tanks. In our motorhome, the tanks are under the seats within the Motorhome and the heating ducts run around the tank this keeps the tanks from freezing. The only problem is you have to keep the heating on just ticking over to prevent the tanks from freezing.
Keep an eye on your tanks and pipes. You definitely do not want your pump or taps freezing as most won’t survive this and are expensive to replace.
Once you get home and you won’t be staying in the motorhome for a while remember to drain down the system and prepare the motorhome for winter storage. This is the time when the motorhome will be most vulnerable to freezing.