RV batteries are a fundamental feature of your travel trailer, yet they are the least recognized. In reality, they are the backbone of just about every electrical component. But, people always seem to ask: Do I need a battery for my travel trailer?
While operating your trailer without this power source is possible, it is an unnecessary risk to take. Instead, learning about batteries, how to use them, and which kind to get is the only way to encourage their lifetime and efficiency.
Why Do I Need a Battery for My Travel Trailer?
There are various reasons you should use an RV battery in your travel trailer.
First, batteries give power to the system that allows your tail lights, brake lights, marker lights, electric wheel brakes, and dash accessories to function. These features must be operating correctly to pull your trailer legally.
Moreover, most if not all, of your electrical appliances and lighting run on 12-volt DC power and the batteries provide this power. The 120-volt alternating current (AC) power, or shore power, charges the 12-volt DC house battery system. The 120-volt AC power converts into 12-volt DC power, which provides energy components, such as the fridge, furnace, lights, and water pump.
Even those who park their trailer at a campsite need a battery to convert the current. It will also keep your systems functioning correctly if the shore power fails due to an outage.
Without a battery, your detectors for propane leaks, carbon monoxide, and fires will not operate, potentially leaving you and your family in a life-threatening situation. Additionally, you will not be able to use any 12-volt lighting, meaning you will need to rely solely on flashlights. Therefore, having a battery in your travel trailer will keep you safe and out of the dark.
Battery power will charge your 12-volt propane appliances since the last thing you want is for your refrigerator full of fresh groceries to go to waste. Luckily, with this source of power, you will be able to continue running your pre-cooled unit, and, in turn, save your food.
What Kind of Battery Do I Need for My Travel Trailer?
Although batteries may look similar, they are very different. Taking the time to choose the best battery for your camper will pay off in the long run.
Travel trailers only run on deep-cycle batteries. Boats, materials handling equipment, golf carts, and other larger units also rely on this RV house battery, as it is dependable and efficient.
These lead-acid batteries provide continuous power over more extended periods making them more reliable than others. Most versions run dependably until 80% discharged; however, discharge should never exceed 45% to promote battery life.
Deep cycle batteries come in two different varieties – flooded and sealed. Each has unique features but are comparable for their increased recharge frequency and longer lifespan.
Conventional flooded electrolyte batteries are cheaper yet require more maintenance. With this system, users must monitor the water levels and fill them as needed. Flooded batteries also corrode faster and only handle a discharge of 50%, meaning they need to be cleaned and charged more often.
Sealed batteries, on the other hand, are divided into two subcategories. Both are pricier than flooded but require less maintenance and last longer.
Absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries accommodate users, as they do not need regular care. They also charge up to five times quicker than flooded, can handle a discharge up to 80%, and will easily withstand the cold temperatures of winter. Users should be aware that these batteries are highly susceptible to overcharging, resulting in irreparable damage.
Gel batteries are also sealed and do not need as much care. They are great for extreme temperatures and handle excess vibration. Note that these batteries are not for inexperienced RVers due to their slow charging rate and high risk of damage.
What Size Battery Do I Need for My Travel Trailer?
Battery size for your travel trailer is vastly dependent upon your needs as a camper. Choosing a 6-volt versus a 12-volt battery makes all the difference when it comes to cost and longevity.
Although 6-volt batteries may seem small, they have a lot more spunk than you might think. Also called a “golf cart” battery, 6-volts are the only real deep cycle battery. They have more space between each of its 2.1-volt cells, which means their thicker plates will increase its life. Due to their deeper discharge and higher amperage output, they work best for those who boondock or live off-grid.
Conversely, a 12-volt battery is a deep cycle and starting battery hybrid. When in parallel, it will only charge to the weakest cell’s level, making it less desirable than the 6-volt counterpart. Aside from this disadvantage, these batteries are perfect for those who travel from campground to campground.
Keep in mind that you will need to purchase either four to six 6-volt batteries or two 12-volt batteries to accommodate your trailer. Wire the 6-volts in a series and the 12-volts in a parallel configuration to obtain the most amperage.
How to Charge RV Batteries
Learning how to charge RV batteries for your travel trailer properly takes time and practice. Knowing how the system works makes the experience much more pleasant, as well.
While a converter is technically a charger, it does not do the best job. This device transforms 120V AC to 13.2V DC, which powers the 12V DC systems. Although the converter gives out over 40 amps, it charges batteries between three and five amps. Unfortunately, fully charging batteries at this amperage takes a considerable amount of time.
Purchasing high-quality chargers, on the other hand, will effectively juice up your batteries at a faster rate. They will also help you decide when and how long to charge the batteries. Today, there are various chargers on the market that are guaranteed to fit your needs.
Microprocessor-controlled chargers, or “smart chargers,” use algorithms to adjust for the needs of the battery. This method is the most precise and trustworthy for charging, as it changes the voltage and current as needed. Using a smart charger also eliminates worry about overcharging or damaging your battery. I like the Schumaker Fully Automatic Battery Charger and Engine Starter. My Battery charger is over 10 years old and still works great.
If you are looking to charge your RV batteries with solar panels, be sure to use maximum power point tracking (MPPT). Like the smart charger, the MPPT also uses algorithms to measure voltage and alter the current. Unique to this device, however, is the way it regulates power depending upon light conditions. As with any solar-powered device, charge your batteries during the day to utilize the sun’s energy.
For those who dry camp, or boondock, generator power is the best way to charge your batteries. On its own, this method does not work well, as its 8-amp maximum does not supply enough energy. Instead, plug your smart charger into the generator’s 120V AC outlet to increase the charging speed.
How to Make Your RV Battery Last
RV batteries are not cheap, so make the most of your money by following these suggestions to promote its lifespan. Also, consider purchasing a battery monitor to track the amount of charge, voltage, usage, and time left to charge. This feature will alleviate any confusion and keep you informed about the status of your battery.
Perform routine maintenance and immediately recharge discharged batteries to make your batteries last longer. Furthermore, purchasing a digital voltmeter is highly recommended to monitor the status of your batteries.
Note that a 12-volt battery is 12.7-volts, meaning you should never allow discharge to dip below 50% or 12 volts. Realistically, you should not let it drop under 80%, or 12.4 volts to avoid sulfation, or the formation of small, lethal crystals.
Hot temperatures and overcharging will also destroy your battery. Try to keep the system from getting too hot and avoid charging too long. Frequently check your water levels and replace electrolyte levels whenever necessary. Only use distilled water, as regular water causes calcium sulfation.
Always charge your battery in stages. During the first phase called bulk charging, boost it up to 90%. Next, switch to absorption charging for the remaining 10% to prevent gas buildup and water loss. The last step is called the float stage and works to maintain a full charge. As a reminder, prevent water loss by leaving vent caps on while charging and water only after powering is complete.
Travel Trailer Battery Replacement Tips
Deep cycle batteries are not like starter batteries, as you cannot jumpstart them. If your battery no longer maintains a charge, each requires a replacement. For example, if you have two batteries in parallel or six in a series, change them all to avoid ruining the others. Fortunately, swapping them out is rather straightforward once you get the hang of it.
First, remember to put on goggles and rubber gloves to protect yourself from sulfuric acid. In preparation, make sure the main disconnect switch is turned off. Power down individual breakers and switches instead if your travel trailer does not have this switch.
Next, open the battery hatch and check if your battery has spilled at all before handling. If there is any damage or corrosion, seek professional help to fix the issue.
Now, you’re ready to take out the old battery. Remove the negative cable (black) first to prevent any shortages or blown fuses. To loosen the wing nut, use a socket wrench or pliers. Then, disconnect the positive cable (red), but do not let it touch the negative cable. Furthermore, do NOT touch the black and red terminals with your hands, as this can cause a lethal electric shock.
With the terminals detached, carefully remove the house battery. If it is dead, properly dispose of it by visiting your locally approved recycling facility. Otherwise, move it into a secure storage area for next season.
Before installing the new unit, clean the connections and holding area. After completion of this step, place the batteries in their compartment. First, attach the positive cable (red), then connect the negative cable (black). Secure the area, check the voltage, and turn on the main breaker switch or individual breakers to confirm the success of the installation.
Should I Disconnect the RV Battery When in Storage?
Properly winterizing your trailer before storing makes all the difference come spring. It is during this time that you should also be thinking about your RV battery.
Freezing temperatures will kill flooded cell batteries; therefore, you should never leave them in your trailer during storage. Alternately, take them home with you and tend to them over the winter months. Even when batteries are disconnected, they will eventually discharge over time. To prevent sulfation, check them every month and perform an overnight charge if they fall below 80%.
Removing your batteries is also important to avoid excess drainage. For example, utilities that run on standby power, such as your LP gas leak detectors, clocks, appliance circuit boards, stereos, and tv antenna power boosters, decrease the life of your battery. As a preventative, turn off these appliances when they are not in use or while the trailer is in storage.
If you choose to leave in your batteries, you will likely purchase a new one the following season. For those who must leave their batteries in storage, check on your trailer frequently. Taking these simple precautionary measures saves you in the long run, as your battery is the most valuable feature of your travel trailer.
What is the Best Travel Trailer Battery?
Today, many brands offer lower cost, efficient batteries. How long they last, however, varies depending on your maintenance and care routine. Regardless, choosing a high-quality battery gives you a head start and leads you in the right direction.
As previously mentioned, AGM batteries are perfect for campers who enjoy low-maintenance, easy-to-use systems. They are pricier than flooded batteries, yet their benefits outweigh the cost.
The Universal Power Group 12V 100Ah is one of the newest and highest-ranking batteries on the market. It holds a charge well during both storage and usage time and lasts much longer than competing brands. For example, during a month of storage, it only discharges 3%!
AGM batteries are known for their fantastic storage ability and resistance to corrosion, sulfation, and hydrogen gas explosions. For these reasons, they are currently the safest lead-acid batteries to date.
Although the Universal Power Group 12V is a tad heavier than others and a bit more expensive, its safety features and maintenance-free needs make up for its shortcomings.
What is the Best RV Battery for Dry Camping?
Dry camping, or boondocking, requires more thought than campground stays. Without an electric hookup, RVers must be mindful of their energy output.
Some batteries are much better than others for boondocking. Mainly, you want to find one that increases your amperage while maintaining lifespan.
The top-rated VMAXTANKS 6 Volt 225Ah AGM battery does just that, as it is ideal for dry campers looking to get the most bang for their buck. Combining up to six in a series will allow you to power your entire RV longer with no issues. It can also be used to accumulate solar and wind energy and works well as a backup power source.
This battery is leak-free and spill-proof due to its sealed design, and with the appropriate care, it will last you longer than most. The price is well worth the quality, as it is both reliable and convenient.
How Can I Protect My Travel Trailer Batteries From Theft?
Every year someone’s batteries are stolen from their travel trailer. It’s a shame but batteries are valuable because they are expensive and they are easy to get to especially if they are mounted outside of your camper trailer. So, the battery box was invented to protect your batteries from theft. A battery box mounts on the tongue of your travel trailer and keeps your batteries secure under lock and key.
Better battery boxes are made with lightweight bright diamond plate cut aluminum with knock out holes for different trailer configurations and pre-drilled holes for easy mounting. They provide excellent security for your batteries and look great too.
Be sure to give your battery the love and care it deserves, as it works hard to keep your trailer powered and functioning. Contrary to belief, you do not need to replace your battery every year if you follow the proper guidelines. By choosing high-quality batteries and performing routine maintenance, your battery will last you much longer.
Do you have any advice about how to maintain your batteries? Please share your comments below!
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