In today’s tech-obsessed society, everyone has experienced it at least once: you bring your phone out with you. The battery is at about 75 percent. You’ll be out for hours with no chance to charge it.
Gradually, as the day wears on, your phone battery decreases. It’s now 65 percent, then 50 percent, and then 45 percent. Before you know it, your phone is notifying you that the battery has dropped to the dreaded 20-percent mark.
You make it back home with maybe a single percent to spare and then rush to charge your phone battery before it dies.
It’s not a fun feeling, right? Now imagine that instead of a luxury item like a phone, you were relying on a battery that provided your RV with electricity and warmth.
If that battery dies, you’re in big trouble. It’s a much more significant issue than not being able to text your friend back or scroll through social media. Your trip could be put on the wayside until you get someone to jump your vehicle, which can sometimes take hours.
That’s why it’s so important to understand your RV’s battery inside and out. I’m talking about knowing where to find it, knowing your type of battery, watching it so it doesn’t drain fully, and charging and maintaining it.
Of course, the RV battery works in tandem with the converter, which can transfer various signals and voltages, such as DC to AC and back again. I’ll also explain more about your vehicle’s converter in this article.
Let’s get started.
Okay, first thing’s first. Where do you find the battery in your camper?
The answer is: it varies! Depending on the size and manufacturer of your vehicle, you could find the battery in several locations. These include the vehicle’s interior floor compartment, the retractable entryway steps, the exterior compartment, and even the engine compartment.
Now, you’re not looking for a slim battery like your classic AA. RV batteries are often quite thick and square-shaped or rectangular-shaped. They may be kept in what’s known as an RV battery bank. Such a bank holds several packs of batteries of similar types. For instance, you may put two sets of six-volt batteries in the battery bank, which will then give you 12 volts of power.
If you’re interested in using a battery bank, you should link the battery pairs together via a jumper wire. If you’ve ever had to jump a car before, then this should be simple for you to figure out. If you haven’t, you need to touch the first battery’s positive terminal to the second battery’s negative terminal to get the charge going.
Battery System Types
Six volts? 12 volts? What does all this stuff mean?
Most campers will run on a 12-volt DC electric power system. This means the converter runs at 12 volts, as do the batteries.
In other instances, your camper may come with a 120-volt system, although this isn’t as common. If this is the case, then you can charge the battery using either DC or AC household or shore power. Such a system can power some items, including microwaves, coffeemakers, and hairdryers. These are luxuries that are nice to have but are not mandatory.
What if your camper has only a 12-volt system? That’s fine. You should still be able to get power to most of your must-have items, such as:
- Smartphone chargers
- Electric razors
- Air compressors
- Entertainment systems
- Water pumps
- Furnace heater fans
Of course, with most of those items and devices, it’s crucial that these items are 12-volt equivalent. For instance, your air compressor should be 12 volts, as should your TV. Otherwise, your battery probably won’t be able to power these items.
Certain items, such as refrigerators and coffeemakers, can really suck the power out of a 12-volt battery system quickly. You may want to power your refrigerator in an alternative way that doesn’t rely on battery power. As for the coffeemaker, limit its use as much as you can.
Checking the Battery
Your camper battery is much more complicated than the one in your smartphone. It’s not as easy as plugging it in and watching the battery percentage go up.
In fact, your battery won’t tell you much of anything unless you have what’s called an RV battery monitor. These often cost between $100 and $300. Make sure you find one that’s made for RVs, as these are often manufactured for maritime vehicles like boats.
An RV battery monitor will give you a more accurate reading of your vehicle’s battery percentage. It may include various lights that let you know when the battery is partially charged, half-charged, and fully charged. The monitor may also give a reminder (via the readout screen) that you need to charge the battery.
Now, when you first get your battery monitor, you’re going to have to wait before you can use it. Plan to go without your camper’s battery for a day or longer. This lengthy 24+ hour break allows the battery monitor to get a clearer read on the gravity and temperature, which allows for better accuracy.
How do you make sense of the readout you’re seeing? A smaller voltage often means your battery needs to charge longer. For example, let’s say you have a battery bank with two six-volt batteries totaling up to 12 volts. How do you know when it’s time to charge the battery?
You look at the voltage number. Following the same example, a voltage number of 10.50 means the battery is at zero percent and totally dead. Here are some other voltage numbers to keep in mind:
- If the voltage number is 11.75, your battery is at a 25 percent charge
- If the voltage number is 12.20, your battery is at a 50 percent charge
- If the voltage number is 12.55, your battery is at a 75 percent charge
- If the voltage number is 12.80, your battery is at 100 percent and doesn’t need to be charged further
Now yes, the voltage for a fully-charged battery does exceed 12 volts, but that’s okay. This is an approximation, after all, and every battery monitor may not display the same readout down to the exact digits.
As for when it’s time to charge your battery, this is fairly common-sense. Obviously, you don’t want to let your battery drop anywhere near empty, as then you’d be in a real pinch. Also, the battery will not fully charge ever again.
To avoid that fate, be sure to charge the battery when it drops to half, or 50 percent and 12.20 volts.
Once your RV’s batteries hit that 50-percent mark, it’s time to charge them. How do you do this?
This is where your converter will come in handy. Although we’ll discuss the converter more in-depth later in this article (including where to find oe and the various components), we need to talk about them now.
To charge your batteries, you’ll need the converter/charger and an electric outlet. The outlet is for your RV to plug into. By using your converter/charger, you can swap the grid power to the necessary voltage. In this case, it would go from AC power to 12 volts of DC power for your camper’s battery.
Then, you let the battery sit and charge. Just like you would with your smartphone, don’t let the battery charge for too long. If it reaches 100 percent, you can stop charging the battery.
Now, you don’t have to sit idling waiting for the battery to fully charge. As long as the battery doesn’t drop too far below half, you should still be able to use appliances, but you obviously want to be careful about the ones you choose. It’s not really recommended you use the air conditioner or even the refrigerator at this time unless you want to accidentally blow out the breakers.
Since you’re much more familiar with your camper battery, but you can’t help but wonder, what do you do with your battery when you store your RV for the off-season?
That’s a great question. Between the cold weather, the inactivity, and the lack of charge and maintenance, your camper battery is definitely going to die. Worse than that, it could freeze. If your battery still works when it thaws out, it may not run very long now without needing to be recharged. Battery life issues like this are often permanent and necessitate a replacement.
Luckily, there are workarounds. You can take off the trailer’s batteries and keep them with you for the duration of the off-season. At least monthly, you should look at the battery’s percentage. The battery will naturally drain much, much more slowly when it’s not being regularly used.
You shouldn’t wait until it drops to 50 percent to charge it when the battery is not in use, though. Instead, let it drop to at least 80 percent and then charge it.
No matter how well you care for your camper battery, it won’t last forever. That said, by doing regular maintenance, you can prolong its lifespan for as long as possible. Here are some maintenance tips to follow:
- Do not let batteries overheat. If they do, there’s a chance they could explode hydrogen gas. This is extremely flammable and thus very dangerous.
- Batteries have electrolytes, which are a combination of water and sulfuric acid. This fluid mixture can naturally decrease over time, so you may have to top it off occasionally.
- Make sure both the positive and negative connections are clean when combining batteries in a battery bank.
- If you are going to get new batteries, get two new ones, not just one. Otherwise, the older one won’t work as well as the newer one, which could cause problems with power stability.
We already talked a bit about the converter and why it’s so important. Just as a reminder, you’ll use this to switch power from the plugged-in RV to the necessary voltage for your battery. Without the converter, you can’t charge your batteries!
Sometimes these converters may also power up thermostats, refrigerators, vent fans, and lights, so they’re quite crucial.
Now, most RVs do not come with a converter, so you will have to buy one of your own. These cost between $100 and $200. You can choose between a distribution panel or a deck mount.
The distribution panel converter is quite large and bulky. This often acts as a second converter when the first has burned out or broke. They are installed into the wall and include easily accessible circuit breakers and fuses.
A deck mount converter is smaller and does not need to be installed into the wall. Instead, you can get these within a hatch compartment, at the back of a cabinet, beneath a passenger seat, and many other spaces. You have plenty of versatility with this type of converter.
The Components of a Converter
Whether you choose a distribution panel converter or a deck mount converter, both are going to come with the same parts and components. These are good to get familiar with in case you have to reset or otherwise troubleshoot your converter (which I’ll cover in the next section). Here’s an overview of these components:
- Power inverter: The power inverter is the component responsible for shifting power from AC to DC and back so you can run your batteries. Pure Sine is a popular manufacturer of power inverters, but some of their models can be a little expensive. You will also likely need other compatible Pure Sine accessories and components to make these power inverters work. Magnum is another brand some people prefer more.
- Circuit board: The circuit board is pretty standard stuff, especially if you’ve ever reset the power in your home or apartment before via one of these boards. If you need to access the converter box for any reason, you’ll need to go through this first to reach the circuit board. Often, you’ll need a drill to remove the rivets around the board.
- Resistors: The resistor is often found beyond the converter box, so that means you have to go through the circuit board to get to it. Resistors must be 12-volt DC to be compatible with the rest of the battery power in your camper. This component is used to keep electric currents in check without overloading the system.
- Power converter fan: The last major component I’ll discuss is the power converter fan. This is used to keep the electrical system from overheating when charging up your battery. This fan typically runs on AC power at 110 volts and isn’t supposed to be noiseless.
A Few Converter Troubleshooting Tips
Having issues with your converter? Be sure to try these troubleshooting methods before calling the manufacturer or going to a professional repairperson:
- If your power converter is on the fritz, in most instances, it’s best to replace it rather than try to fix it.
- That said, if it’s an issue with the transistor, that you can take care of yourself. First, replace your current transistor. Follow the instructions mentioned above, going through the converter box, opening this up, and then taking out the circuit board. Put in the new transistor, replacing the circuit board and then the converter box. For compatibility, make sure the resistor runs on DC power and is 12 volts.
- If the power converter fan is no longer working or isn’t blowing cool air, check the thermal sensor. This tells the fan when to kick on, and it may be faulty.
- If it’s not the fan, move on to the RV power converter thermostat. If the reading on the thermostat is not accurate, this could again prevent the power converter fan from turning on.
- If the fan is broken, review the voltage, amperage, and make and model of the new one before you try reinstalling it. If the new fan doesn’t meet the same criteria as the old fan, you could blow the system.
Your camper trailer often comes equipped with a battery or a series of batteries somewhere within the vehicle. These help power many of the amenities you enjoy on your camper each day, such as air conditioning, television, and lights.
Your camper batteries don’t last forever. To charge them, you’re going to need a converter. Between charges, you’ll have to watch the battery level carefully to avoid draining it and shortening its lifespan.
It’s also recommended that during the winter, you take out your batteries and stash them at home until the springtime. The batteries won’t need to be charged as often while they’re idle, and you can avoid frozen batteries this way. After all, no one wants to return to their RV after the off-season to discover such an unpleasant surprise!
Now that you know more about your trailer’s batteries and converter, you’re well-equipped to keep the batteries in your vehicle running for as long as possible. This will serve you especially well if you get stuck in a situation where you’re in the middle of nowhere or severe weather conditions force you to pull over for the night.