You’ll live off of your RV batteries if not connected to shore power when living in an RV. Furthermore, your vehicle and electronics may die because of it, whether it runs out of power or it burns out everything connected to it. Here are 7 things you need to know about your RV battery. We’ll also explain why this knowledge essential to avoiding disasters and costly mistakes.
Number 1: Not All Batteries Are the Same
Differences in voltage are fairly obvious. Most RV batteries are 12 volts. This powers your appliances like water pump and lighting. Six volt batteries may power a flashlight, or you could wire two 6 volt batteries in parallel to rival a 12 volt battery.
Batteries come in several major categories. The traditional and cheapest form of battery is the flooded lead acid battery. Deep cycle batteries are similar in size but have thicker plates, deliver more power until the battery is almost discharged, and need different maintenance than traditional lead acid batteries.
Maintenance free lead acid batteries don’t need the same maintenance as traditional batteries, though they come with some of the same safety risks. Absorbed glass mat or AGM and gel cell batteries are newer products, and they require very different settings from battery chargers. Lithium ion batteries are sometimes used in RVs beyond what charges your cell phone.
Know what type of battery you have so that you can follow the right charging cycle and maintenance routine.
Number 2: Even Batteries with the Same Design Vary in Functions
Whether you’re looking at a lead acid or AGM battery, you may hear terms like marine, deep cycle and starting battery used interchangeably. There are differences in how they perform and how they can be charged. A starting battery is designed to start, ignite or light an engine.
This category includes your car battery and boat engine. They deliver a short high current burst. They aren’t intended to be mostly or entirely discharged. Deep cycle batteries are made to be deeply “cycled” or discharged. They can be used to start a car in an emergency but won’t deliver as many amps as a starting battery.
The other reason they’re only used in emergencies is that they cost more than starting batteries. Marine batteries are somewhere between starting and deep cycle batteries in terms of discharge profiles. Marine batteries can be used as RV batteries.
Number 3: The Relationship Between Amps and Voltage
While you might buy batteries because they’re 12 volt house batteries, batteries themselves are measured in amp hours. This equals one amp drawn per hour.
In most batteries, it could deliver that level of power for twenty hours if fully charged. However, if you’re drawing a lot of power from the battery, it will die much sooner.
Number 4: The Importance of Devices That Prevent Battery Drain
It is obvious that leaving the lights on will drain the battery. However, the battery can slowly lose power through any connection. Some campers come with a battery disconnect so you can eliminate that subtle power drain when the battery isn’t in use.
If your house battery or other batteries are connected to solar panels, you may want a solar power charge controller so that the solar panels don’t draw down power when the solar panels are dark.
Number 5: The Best Way to Store Your RV Batteries
The best way to store the battery is one that maximizes its operating life and its charge. Store an RV battery where it won’t literally freeze, doesn’t overheat, and isn’t in contact with items like metal wire that will drain it. Don’t let it get wet, either, such as when you store it in a shed that floods.
Take it out of storage to fully charge once a month to help it maintain its charge. You can reduce the need for this with a trickle charge, assuming there is a charge controller that ensures the battery isn’t over-charged.
Number 6: The Need to Clean It
RV batteries need maintenance. You probably know to inspect it for bloating and cracks before you use it and not to use it if you see these warning signs. Unfortunately, many people also look for corrosive deposits and only then clean the battery.
The problem is that by the time you see these deposits, the battery may already be damaged. Clean the battery contacts, the clamps and the rest of the battery regularly.
A side benefit of this is that you’ll notice little cracks or damage to the shell that you might miss under the grime.
Number 7: Your Options for Charging the Battery
You can charge a house battery from shore power, but you need a converter to do it safely since shore power is typically 120 volts. While many RVs come with a built-in power converter to recharge house batteries from shore power, make sure you have one that works rather than assume it will do the job. Even then, recognize that a nearly discharged house battery will take hours to recharge.
A number of RV owners install solar panels to recharge house batteries when they don’t have access to shore power, but this could take all day to recharge discharged batteries, too.
RV owners end up learning a lot of about technology and electrical engineering simply by living with batteries and, often, renewable power sources.
You can’t afford to be burning out batteries, much less the electrical system of your RV, so learn what you need to know before you start plugging things in.