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Camper Tech

Camper Batteries 101: The Basics

TCM: How do you properly maintain your batteries?

Jim: When you get fresh batteries, check the fluid/electrolyte levels every month or so with a hydrometer.  When electrolyte is low use distilled water to refill.  If everything is okay for a few months and there has been no need for distilled water, then checking every six months should be okay.  Different brands of converter/chargers treat the batteries differently.  How often you discharge and charge makes a difference as to the fluid/ electrolyte levels.

You want to make sure that the electrolyte is covering the battery plates.  There’s a fill-ring in the batteries.  Fill your batteries to that level. If my fluid levels are slightly down from the ring I usually will not fill them.  My batteries only need filling about once a year.

For safety, always use rubber gloves and wear safety glasses when dealing with your batteries.  Also for safety, you can get a rubber bulb from auto parts stores.  The rubber bulb looks like a turkey baster.  Use the rubber bulb to put distilled water in the batteries if the distilled water is not up to the water fill-rings.   Be sure to check and fill each of the cells in your battery.

If you have a good converter and you are plugged in at home, the distilled water levels should be okay.  Typically, you should only need to put distilled water in your batteries once a year.  If you are putting it in once a month or more, something is wrong.  Some older campers converters may require battery maintenance more often.  With the AGM batteries there are no water levels to worry about.

battery tender charger

TCM: What do you do with your batteries when you winterize your camper?

Jim: If you are in an area where it freezes in the winter, I would take your battery or batteries out of your camper.  Then purchase a battery minder, a battery maintaining device that you can find at a Batteries Plus store or online.  A battery minder plugs into a household outlet in your garage and will keep the batteries conditioned through the winter.  While the batteries are connected to the battery minder, check the batteries periodically to make sure that the minder/charger is working properly.  I would get the kind that is a three stage charger with the desulfating technology.

If your camper sits longer than a couple of weeks and your not able to keep it plugged in to shore power, it would be good to remove them and hook them up to a battery minder/small multi-stage charger.  When your batteries are not in use they will deteriorate 10% capacity per month, which diminishes the life of your batteries.  Sulfation will occur and crystals will form inside the battery thus reducing the capacity of the battery, which is not a good thing.  If you have AGM batteries, they will only deteriorate 1% of their capacity per month.  They do not sulfate as rapidly as a flooded wet cell battery.

If you have to leave your camper sit for a couple of days or weeks, disconnect your batteries.  Some campers have a “battery cut-off” switch that performs that function.  By disconnecting your batteries you won’t drain them because of your LP and CO sensors and an auto type radio if you have one.

Since this article ran, Lithium Ion Batteries are starting to be installed in campers.  Jim Tomblin continues his advice about camper batteries in Digital Multimeters and Trimetric Meters.


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