Protect your toys from the wrath of winter

Posted Dec. 21, 2011, at 4:02 p.m.

Winter is just around the corner, and many of your favorite toys will be sitting idle for months. You want to protect and repair your gear so it will be ready to go next spring.

Things with wheels and engines typically require the most attention because they can sustain serious and expensive damage during winter.

We talked to experts and got some good advice on how to winterize your gear.

Recreational vehicles

Water is a major culprit for RV problems, and if you haven’t drained and added RV antifreeze already, the damage could already be done.

“It only takes a teaspoon of water to break a water line,” said Susan Hammill, service adviser for Dennis Dillon RV and Marine Center in Caldwell, Idaho.

But it may not be too late. The company does a while-you-wait winterizing service that takes about half an hour and starts at $70, depending on what extra services you want.

Whether you take it to a dealer or do it yourself, winterizing an RV’s water/sewer system is critical to avoid costly water damage, but it’s not the only thing you should take care of.

Batteries should be fully charged and removed from the RV, Hammill said.

Motor home owners should add a fuel stabilizer and start up the engine and generator once a month.

Roofs and roof vents should be inspected for cracking or other damage that could allow water to leak in.

Hammill recommends that people who cover their RVs use a cover designed for that purpose rather than a tarp, which doesn’t breathe.

She also said there are vent covers available that allow you to open the vent to allow air circulation and avoid condensation inside the RV, but won’t allow water in.

There are also dehumidifiers available to keep the air dry and avoid that musty smell that can develop inside an RV that sits for long periods.

Tire covers will also extend the life of RV tires. Hammill pointed out that cold, dry air and sun can crack sidewalls.

“RV tires wear out more from weather than from driving,” she said.

Owners may also want to do a thorough inspection of their RVs and note anything that needs repaired or replaced. It’s easy to forget minor repairs, only to rediscover the problem on your first camping trip.

Motorcycles/ATVs

Gas with ethanol that sits for several months can foul your engine when you run it later. Use a fuel stabilizer and run your engine to get the stabilizer throughout the fuel system.

Tom Hassell, service adviser at Carl’s Cycle Sales in Boise, Idaho, recommends riding about five miles to get stabilizer worked through the fuel system. Then top off the tank so moisture doesn’t condense inside it.

Cold weather is hard on batteries, so leaving your battery unattended during winter can mean a dead or weakened one next spring.

Hassell said that if you store your motorcycle or ATV outside, pull the battery and put it someplace safe inside.

If you keep your vehicle in a garage, a trickle charger will keep the battery from draining. But if you live where there are long periods of sub-zero temperatures, Hassell said even a trickle charger won’t prevent battery damage, so it’s best to remove the battery and safely store it someplace warmer.

Other maintenance includes lubing the chain, pivot points and cables, especially if you rode in wet conditions before storing it.

If the vehicle is water cooled, make sure it has good antifreeze.

Your owner’s manual is often a good source of information about maintenance procedures. But if you’re in doubt, talk to a mechanic and/or have your vehicle professionally serviced. It’s typically cheaper than a major repair if something turns into a bigger problem.

Boats

Outboard motors are self-draining, but still need to be run dry of fuel if stored for long periods and a fogging oil sprayed into the cylinders to prevent corrosion.

Owners should also check the outboard’s lower unit to make sure no water remains inside, which could freeze and damage the housing.

Ski boats and other stern drives, as well as personal watercraft, need more attention, according to Ray Subia, manager of Idaho Marine in Boise.

A winter servicing costs $165, and water is removed from the different systems in the craft, such as the engine and power steering unit. Fuel treatment is put in the tank and run through the engine to prevent contamination.

Drain plugs should also be opened if a boat is stored outdoors without a cover so water doesn’t collect and freeze. That includes live wells and other areas where water settles.

Remove batteries and store inside a garage or someplace else that’s warmer than outside.

Other outdoor gear

• Bicycles: Clean and lubricate the chain and cables. If your bike isn’t working smoothly, take it to a shop now rather than wait for spring when shops are jammed with repairs and tune-ups.

• Camping gear: Tents, sleeping bags and other gear should be inspected before you store them.

Check your tent for rips, pinholes and frayed stitching and repair them; also lubricate the zippers. Folding and rolling the tent for storage is usually better than stuffing it into its sack.

Wash and dry your sleeping bag and roll it loosely, or stuff it into a large cotton bag. Don’t roll it tightly or shove it tightly into a stuff sack. It will compress the filling and reduce its insulating ability.

Clean your camp stove if it’s dirty. Oven cleaner works well if you use it carefully and follow directions.

• Whitewater gear: Clean and store your inflatable boats according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. There are spray-on treatments available.

Wash your dry-suit gaskets with warm soapy water to remove old sunblock and other chemicals that can damage rubber gaskets. Use preservative if needed.

• Fishing gear: Clean and lubricate fishing reels. Check line and replace if needed. Check your tackle boxes for bait, attractants and other liquids that can leak or spoil. Use a rust preventer to protect your lures.

Fly anglers may want to remove and clean their fly lines and store them off the reel so the line doesn’t retain memory and stay coiled when you use it next time. Inventory your fly box and replace flies.

• Boots: Wash your leather hiking and hunting boots with saddle soap and apply protectant. Leather boots can dry and crack if not treated. Cleaning and treating boots will keep the leather supple, waterproof and extend their life.

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