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Deep cycle/RV batteries?
Old 05-16-2009, 07:54 PM   #1
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Deep cycle/RV batteries?

I am guessing that due to inexperience and neglect, I have fried the battery on my trailer, but maybe someone can offer advice. The battery held a charge two weeks ago for our first trip of the spring. I just realized that I left the battery connected after that (disastrous, aborted) trip and ran it all the way down (bad for batteries, to my limited understanding). I had the trailer connected to shore power all day, which should have trickle charged it, but it doesn't seem to take a charge. The battery meter in the camper reads zippo and it won't even power one of the cheesy little lights in the camper. So have I killed it? What do I need to check? Amp meter? Volt meter? If I need to replace it, what do I buy? Head to Costco, Walmart, somewhere else?

The more I read, teh more I suspect this is all my fault. I should have brought the battery inside for the winter, but instead I left it out in the RV. I should have disconnected the battery after the last trip, but I was very scatterbrained at the conclusion given the mess the trip turned into (whole 'nother story). So on and so on. I guess some things you learn by reading and others you learn by screwing up once or twice. This seems to be one of the latter.
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Old 05-16-2009, 08:24 PM   #2
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Have you checked the water levels?
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Old 05-16-2009, 08:42 PM   #3
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Have you checked the water levels?
How do I do that? What am I looking for? I was under the impression that these things were sealed and maintenance free, like car batteries.
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Old 05-16-2009, 08:48 PM   #4
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There are sealed batteries and then there are others that need a quick distilled water fix once in a while. The latter usually has a removable plastic cover that fits over the guts of the battery. Inside you might see little plates close together in parallel. Usually the water level should be enough to cover the plates.

What I found very useful was to follow one of the RV forums especially if there is one for your particular brand. That way you can let others make the mistakes instead of you. I am not the most mechanically inclined and just acquired a Class A motorhome. The forums have been great. These beasts do require some regular mainenance, though in the case of travel trailers not a whole lot.

Remind me: what kind of trailer did you buy?
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Old 05-16-2009, 08:50 PM   #5
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Brewer, some are, some aren't. Take a look at the top of the battery and it should say if it is a no-maintenance type.

Most deep-cylce types do require water be added and you'll see a cap covering the cells. Pop them off (don't get any acid on you) and look to be sure water is completely covering the metal plates in each cell. If not, add distilled water, then try charging.

Edit: What Rich, the owner of a new motor home, says...
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Old 05-16-2009, 09:04 PM   #6
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Well, it might be really dead, but maybe not. The tests/recovery procedures depend on the style of battery.
- If it isn't sealed, then Martha's suggestion is good--add distilled water if needed.

- If the battery has been at a low state of charge for a long time, the plates are probably sulfated. If the battery is the kind in which you can open the cell tops, here's what one site recommends:

Lead sulfation occurs when a lead sulfate compound is deposited on the lead electrodes of a storage battery; this is a problem if the lead sulfate compound cannot be converted back into charged material and is created when discharged batteries stand for a long time. When the state-of-charge drops below 80%, the plates become coated with a hard and dense layer of lead sulfate, which fill up the pores. The positive plates will be light brown and the negative plates will be dull off-white. Over time, the battery loses capacity and cannot be recharged.
12.1. Light Sulfation
Apply a constant current from one to two amps for 48 to 120 hours at 14.4 VDC, depending on the electrolyte temperature and capacity of the battery. Cycle (discharge to 50% and recharge) the battery a couple of times and test capacity. You might have to increase the voltage in order to break down the hard lead sulfate crystals. If the battery gets above 110 F (43.3 C) then stop charging and allow the battery to cool down before continuing.
12.2. Heavy Sulfation
Replace the electrolyte with distilled water, let stand for one hour, apply a constant current of four amps at 13.8 VDC until there is no additional rise in specific gravity. Remove the old electrolyte, wash the sediment out, replace with fresh electrolyte, and recharge. If the specific gravity exceeds 1.300, then remove the old electrolyte, wash the sediment out, and start over with distilled water. If the battery electrolyte rises above 110 F (43.3 C), then stop charging and allow the battery to cool down before continuing. Cycle (discharge to 50% and recharge) the battery a couple of times and test capacity. The sulfate crystals are more soluble in distilled water than in electrolyte. As they are dissolved, the sulfate is converted back into sulfuric acid and the specific gravity rises. These techniques will only work with some batteries.

Good luck. Wear goggles and good rubber gloves if you go down this road. You'll also need to buy a hygrometer to test the specific gravity of the electrolyte (cheap at most auto parts stores--or maybe you can use one from your brewing rig!) and some electrolyte.

Or, maybe a trailer/RV/marina service shop will do all this for you at a reasonable price.
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Old 05-16-2009, 09:17 PM   #7
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Appreciate the tips. I guess first step will be looking to see if it needs water. If it is at the point where I have to replace the electrolyte, I will probably shell out for a new battery. No way do I want to be monkeying with lead-infused battery acid.

The trailer is a FunFinder X160. Rich, what A class did you end up with? Seems like you went from a Class B to a Class A pretty fast.
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Old 05-16-2009, 09:17 PM   #8
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sounds like a bad cell - I've ran my RV battery down a couple of times; I think.
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Old 05-16-2009, 09:26 PM   #9
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No way do I want to be monkeying with lead-infused battery acid.
Suit yourself. But, with an attitude like that, young man, you'll never see the inside of an emergency room!
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Old 05-16-2009, 09:34 PM   #10
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I have not seen your batteries... but it might LOOK like it is a sealed battery... but if you look closer there might be two lines down your battery... these can be a three cap cover.. they blend in real nice to the top, but they CAN be pried up...

A sealed battery is really sealed... no cap or lines... no way to open it up... I have only seen one of these in a new car... all others were 'low maintenance' and had caps even though they were not the old screw type..
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Old 05-16-2009, 10:41 PM   #11
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The trailer is a FunFinder X160. Rich, what A class did you end up with? Seems like you went from a Class B to a Class A pretty fast.
Yes, we went from a Class B to a travel trailer to a Class A in just 3 years. The Class B was a great way to learn about RVing, having basically all the components of a Class A. We loved camping and traveling and it proved too small.

We upgraded to a TrailManor collapsible so we could keep it in our driveway (city house, more or less). The size was 31 feet extended which was plenty for us. Towing and driving took some getting used to, but we enjoyed. Camping remained enjoyable for us and we wanted to do more of it, and stay out longer. With the trailmanor there was a lot of hitching, unhitching, collapsing and re-opening but it really worked out well.

Finally, the unhappy economy worked in our favor. By now confirmed campers, we found a great deal on a Class A (didn't cost us too much more than our original Class B). It's a Winnebago Itasca Suncruiser 35L, a 36 foot deal with a king bed, 2 slides, gas. I flew to Ohio to pick it up.

It has been a little wasteful to hit for the cycle with RVs, but doing so enabled us to really learn the lifestyle and the systems which can be fairly complex as you are learning.
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Old 05-17-2009, 07:10 AM   #12
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Brewer, the battery life will depend on the charger (converter/charger) as they call them in the RV business. The simple OEM types will overcharge the the battery if left connected all the time. You would need a digital voltmeter to know what it is doing. A good 3 stage charger will maintain battery with a voltage of 13.2 to 13.5 volts with occasionally kicking up to 14.2 or so for equalizing, then drop to 13.8 for a topping off then taper to 13.2 or 13. 5 for float, whic can be unlimited time.

So chances are your battery had the water boiled off. can try adding distilled water and charge. But likely it is toast.
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Old 05-17-2009, 07:19 AM   #13
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Brewer, the battery life will depend on the charger (converter/charger) as they call them in the RV business. The simple OEM types will overcharge the the battery if left connected all the time. You would need a digital voltmeter to know what it is doing. A good 3 stage charger will maintain battery with a voltage of 13.2 to 13.5 volts with occasionally kicking up to 14.2 or so for equalizing, then drop to 13.8 for a topping off then taper to 13.2 or 13. 5 for float, whic can be unlimited time.

So chances are your battery had the water boiled off. can try adding distilled water and charge. But likely it is toast.
Actually, as it sits in my driveway I generally do not have the power connected. Different story when we are camping, but we were connected for less than a day on our most recent trip. I suspect that all my cumulative neglect/ignorance may have killed it, but worth checking.

I was also given the following troubleshooting list by a fellow owner of the same brand of trailers:

- check the inline fuse by the battery box
-check the cutoff switch (did that already)
- check fuses in the converter panel
- check that someone has not stolen my battery (!)
- check the water level
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Old 05-17-2009, 07:40 AM   #14
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All of those are good advice.

Once you get your battery sorted out, Even in your driveway with a less then optimal charger, you can get a timer for outdoor use set it for two hours of "on" time daily. That will keep battery charged but not over-charged. Most middle of the road campers have wet batteries, needing checking, maybe every two months look at the electrolyte level. Else if it is too much hassle, end up buying new battery every year.
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Old 05-17-2009, 07:54 AM   #15
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Well, I did some poking around and found that the 30 Amp fuse that is between the battery and the rest of the electrical system is fried. Of course, that is the only size fuse that I bought the wrong shape/size when I bought spares last spring, so I have to go to the store before I know if that is the only problem. I popped the caps on the battery and found that the plates are well submerged in liquid, and the battery itself does not look bad at all. But it is a basic Exide so likely has a limited lifespan.

When I hit the store I will pick up the fuses and maybe a volt meter. Will also look to see what doodads they have. I think that I will spring for a sealed AGM battery when this one dies. I also will bring it in during the winter and will be more careful about overcharging, especially while we are camped at a place with power.
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Old 05-17-2009, 08:00 AM   #16
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Glad it was the simple problem after all. The whole thread sounds more complicated than it need by, it seems to me. Just buy a Battery Tender of the right type and plug it in every couple of weeks for a day or two.

Looks like a fun trailer. Be careful -- if you like camping but start to feel a little cramped, resistance is futile. You'll end up like me.
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Old 05-17-2009, 08:51 AM   #17
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Well, I did some poking around and found that the 30 Amp fuse that is between the battery and the rest of the electrical system is fried.............<snip>
Buy two new fuses. Until you figure out why it blew, you may need the second one.

Better yet, buy an inline circuit breaker and replace the fuse with it.
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Old 05-17-2009, 09:17 AM   #18
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General Info on Batteries and Solar Electric Home Power

Deep Cycle Battery Maintenance
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Old 05-17-2009, 09:34 AM   #19
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Be careful -- if you like camping but start to feel a little cramped, resistance is futile. You'll end up like me.
Hey, somebody has to help keep the RV industry afloat by upgrading every couple of years. You've certainly done your part - you should be proud!
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Old 05-17-2009, 10:10 AM   #20
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Well, I did some poking around and found that the 30 Amp fuse that is between the battery and the rest of the electrical system is fried. Of course, that is the only size fuse that I bought the wrong shape/size when I bought spares last spring, so I have to go to the store before I know if that is the only problem. I popped the caps on the battery and found that the plates are well submerged in liquid, and the battery itself does not look bad at all. But it is a basic Exide so likely has a limited lifespan.

When I hit the store I will pick up the fuses and maybe a volt meter. Will also look to see what doodads they have. I think that I will spring for a sealed AGM battery when this one dies. I also will bring it in during the winter and will be more careful about overcharging, especially while we are camped at a place with power.
Make sure it fits the space. We thought about getting a pair of "no maintenance" batteries for our motor home but none fit in the compartment. In the interim, check the water levels twice a year. We don't bring ours in in the winter but we have a cutoff switch. We do bring in the motorcycle batteries in the winter and then charge them once during the winter.
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