Where RV Travelers Come to Learn, Share and Help Each Other

RV Battery

The batteries in your RV are the “heart” of the electrical system. Good batteries with the proper charge are important for many reasons. There are a variety of items that depend on battery power to function.

In an RV, the batteries power basic items such as lights and water pumps.

Batteries also power many items you may not think of, such as the electronic igniter for the water heater, roof vent electric fans, the antenna booster for the TV, the L.P. gas valve for the refrigerator, the L.P. gas leak detector, the furnace blower, and an inverter if you have one.

It is important that battery charge level be maintained for proper operation of items. When the charge level gets low, available voltage may not be enough for electronic items to operate correctly. Some items, such as the furnace blower will simply slow or stop. Other items, such as the refrigerator may act erratic, stop operation, or even damage the electronic circuit board.

Proper battery maintenance is essential. Battery electrolyte level should be checked at regular intervals. I recommend checking the level when the oil change is performed. In addition, electrolyte level should also be checked when the RV is connected to shore power for extended periods. Most built in RV chargers operate continuous. This may overcharge the batteries. Overcharging can cause the electrolyte to overheat and in some cases boil. This will cause the electrolyte level to drop. Low electrolyte or complete loss of electrolyte can cause battery failure. It may be necessary to remove the batteries to check the electrolyte level. CAUTION: Be certain to wear latex gloves and eye protection when checking electrolyte levels. Be careful with wiring if removing.

Many times positive and negative wires are not marked or color coded. Take the time to mark each and every wire. I use masking tape and a sharpie. I also draw a picture of exactly how each battery is installed. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to straighten out someone’s mess from improper battery connections. (usually causes catastrophic component failure)

When replacing RV batteries it is important to install the proper type of battery. Campers should have “deep cycle” batteries. These batteries are constructed differently than a typical car starting battery. They are designed to be discharged and recharged. They typically have a higher reserve capacity (slower discharge) rate than a starting battery. Starting batteries should be used for the chassis battery of a Motor Home. Cranking amperage or cold cranking amperage is higher in a starting battery. This is important to start an engine, but is not important for the coach or camper. In some cases, the coach or camper batteries are used to start the gasoline powered generator. A deep cycle battery has plenty of amperage to start a generator.

There are several battery types that may be used in an RV.

  • Flooded batteries have liquid electrolyte in them. They are typically the least expensive and work fairly well. Outside ventilation is required. Corrosion from electrolyte leakage is the most common problem.
  • Sealed Gel batteries are another option. Costs are higher than flooded batteries. Maintenance is not required. Ventilation is not required. Corrosion is usually not a problem. Longevity is comparable to a flooded battery.
  • AGM (absorbed glass mat) is another option. AGM batteries do not require ventilation and will not corrode. AGM batteries typically last longer than flooded or gel batteries. There is no maintenance. Discharge and recharge rates are better. Costs are higher.

Proper battery testing methods are important. Deep cycle batteries typically have shorter warranty periods than starting batteries. This is due to construction, design, and use.

I recommend testing the batteries at least once a year.  I test all mine before use in the spring.

Any battery MUST be properly charged before testing. Testing should be done by a professional. The electrolyte specific gravity must be checked to be certain the battery is fully charged before load testing. An automated electronic load tester may be used. I still use my reliable carbon pile tester. If your batteries test weak or bad, be certain to replace them. A weak battery will likely fail during extreme conditions, usually under heavy use or extreme temperatures. In applications with multiple batteries, be certain to replace all batteries at the same time.

Proper battery care during storage is important. Batteries should not be discharged. A discharged battery may freeze during cold weather. Be certain not to overcharge. Remember, leaving the power cord connected for extended periods can overcharge the batteries.

Many times RV’s have a parasitic drain. A parasitic drain is an item that continues to draw amperage when the RV is not in use. For this reason, I recommend disconnecting the batteries during storage. You can disconnect with a switch if your RV has it, or remove all battery cables from a post. I also recommend an automatic battery charger be used during storage. This type of charger can be left on the batteries continuously.

Above all, use common sense and always take proper safety measures.

RV Basic Power – What you need to know.

This article is the first in an on-going RV Educational Series.  Each article is designed to help you get the most out of your RV

An understanding of basic RV electric power is necessary before you take your first RV vacation.

RV’s have 3 power sources 12 volt dc power, power cord connection and 120V AC power.  All 3 are necessary in certain circumstances.

As you read educational articles “Coach” refers to the camper portion of the RV. “Chassis” refers to the truck portion of the RV.

1. 12 volt dc power:
There is a “coach” battery or series of batteries. This battery supplies
power for the lights, water pump, hot water heater ignition, refrigerator gas valve, starter for the generator, and blower for the furnace. It is important that the batteries are charged as needed.

There are 3 ways for the battery to charge.
a. The RV shore power cord connection will automatically charge the battery when plugged in. If you have a constant connection to electricity, you will have no worries with battery   power
b. The RV engine will automatically charge the battery while running.
c. The gasoline powered generator will automatically charge the battery while running.

If you do not have an electrical connection for the power cord, you will need to monitor the battery level using the monitor panel to be certain the battery charge remains high enough to power any equipment you are using.
It is important that you know the amount of battery power needed to operate items. The furnace blower uses the most battery power of all. If the battery is run down, the furnace will not operate. This is very important during freezing weather, especially if the RV has water in it.

2. 120 Volt AC Power – There are 2 ways you can have ac electricity in an RV, connection to a power
source through the shore power cord, or an onboard gasoline generator. AC electricity supplies power
for battery charging, air conditioning, electrical outlets, the microwave oven, and is one of 2
power sources for the refrigerator. An RV does not automatically have ac electricity available.
One of the 2 power sources must be working.

3. L.P. (liquid propane). L.P. is supplied to the RV from an onboard tank. L.P. supplies power for the stove top,
oven, water heater, refrigerator, and furnace. There must be a supply in the tank and the tank valve must be turned on to work. All RV’s have an L.P. leak detector. Some RV’s require the leak detector to be on for L.P. to flow to the RV. In any case, the leak detector should always be used. There is an L.P. level gauge mounted on the tank and also another in the monitor panel. L.P. tanks have an 80% fill
capacity, so the gauge may not read full.

About the Author: Mike Wilson is a RVDA Certified Master RV Tech. Mike has 25 years experience as an RV Technician and now he’s sharing his knowledge with you. Mike is the president of Wilson RV and
developer for The RV Help Desk

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