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Old 07-09-2013, 11:16 PM   #1
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Baffling Battery Question

Anybody up for a baffling battery mystery to help out a naive battery owner?

Three times now, it seems as though our battery (one 12v) is losing charge after a trip of about 4 hours. The first two times I had plugged the trailer in for 12 hours to cool down the refrigerator and it was 100% charged when we left. By the time we arrived 4 hours later, the charge on the solar regulator showed 88% with a corresponding lower voltage. (The first trip we arrived in a cloudy sky under deep tree cover, so no amps were coming in from the panels and no load on the battery other than the sniffers. The second trip we arrived at night and again no additional load on the battery when I looked at the charge level.)

The third trip we started with a mostly full battery, drove in mid-day sunshine for four hours and arrived home at about 4pm pacific time. This time when i looked at the regulator it was showing 4 amps coming in from the solar panel. The only times I've seen that many amps coming in were when the battery was low enough to need them.

I spoke with Reace this morning and tried what he suggested: it wasn't loose battery cables, solar regulator cables, fluid level, or towing cable. The reason I'm concerned about this is that I don't want to start a boondocking trip with lower battery levels, especially if we are in clouds or shade and the solar panels can't charge well for us.

I would really appreciate any thoughts or insight...I am definitely no battery expert and would be grateful for any help!

Thanks so much,
Lisa
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Old 07-10-2013, 12:02 AM   #2
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Not an expert but the battery should be charged by the tow vehicle when you are traveling through the 7 pin connector plug.

Are you using the 12 volt option to power the fridge or running it on propane? The 12 volt setting will drain the battery quite quickly.

Tight battery cable connections means really tight to get a good connection. Should not be a problem with a new battery in your 2013!?
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Old 07-10-2013, 12:07 AM   #3
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Hi Lisa! I have a few questions for you. Are you running the refrigerator on DC while traveling then switching over to propane when camping? If so, while you are moving, the refrigerator is drawing over 10 amps per hour from the battery and solar charging system with a little charging help from the tow vehicle but not much. When it is sunny you are charging around 4 to 5 amps from the solar so you could be seeing a net loss of around 5 to 6 amps from the battery each hour. If it's really overcast or at night the batteries are taking all the load. Either way, the solar system can't keep up with the amp draw from the refrigerator so you should expect to see a lot of solar charging amps later when the solar system is trying to recharge. What you are seeing I believe is typical.

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Old 07-10-2013, 12:23 AM   #4
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Reace advised me when I was purchasing my trailer, that if you were to run the fridge on DC while in transit, that there would not be enough power supplied to charge the battery and run the fridge. So, after a couple days at camp, with a depleted battery, if you run the fridge on 12v in transit, you arrive at camp with a depleted battery. But, your battery was fully charged.

Each time I've had a problem with the battery not being charged, the solution was to clean the contacts, even though they didn't appear corroded.
Had to do that just two days ago on my fishing trip. It worked.

I didn't go with the three way fridge and I shut the fridge down in transit. Left camp this morning and drove five hours with temps at 25 to 29 C outside. In the fridge the temp rose from 35F to 44F during that time. Food in the freezer was still frozen solid.
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Old 07-10-2013, 12:46 AM   #5
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Your solar panel should be putting out 19V in full sun. The charge controller reduces it to about 12.34 at the inverter. The inverter should equalize when the batteries get full and should go into float. Your trailer is brand new so I doubt it would be the inverter,
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Old 07-10-2013, 01:18 AM   #6
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Thanks for the quick replies! I am definitely NOT running the fridge while travelling, neither 12v nor propane...it is turned OFF. That's why I plug it in for so long beforehand to get it nice and cold. There is nothing on while travelling except the propane sniffer (and smoke alarm?). I start with a full battery and I arrive with a fair bit less than full battery. The battery terminals are very tight and they are so brand new and don't look remotely corroded. I checked that the battery energy from our van is going the proper direction by disconnecting the battery on the trailer (no lights in the trailer work), then plugging into the van (and the lights in the trailer work.)

This is all very mystifying to me. Thanks again for your help!
Lisa
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Old 07-10-2013, 01:37 AM   #7
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Thanks for the quick replies! I am definitely NOT running the fridge while travelling, neither 12v nor propane...it is turned OFF. That's why I plug it in for so long beforehand to get it nice and cold. There is nothing on while travelling except the propane sniffer (and smoke alarm?). I start with a full battery and I arrive with a fair bit less than full battery. The battery terminals are very tight and they are so brand new and don't look remotely corroded. I checked that the battery energy from our van is going the proper direction by disconnecting the battery on the trailer (no lights in the trailer work), then plugging into the van (and the lights in the trailer work.)

This is all very mystifying to me. Thanks again for your help!
Lisa
Lisa, a full battery is sometimes hard to judge. When your battery is being charged by the GoPower Solar Charge Controller in your trailer it will show around 13.2 volts when it is in float mode but if you were to disconnect the charger from the battery it will drop to 12.8 to 13.1 over the next few hours. The battery may still be fully charged but now it shows a lower voltage reading while not on the charger. This is typical for batteries and to be expected. Your solar controller will probably still charge the fully charged battery for a short time until it has gone through the initial bulk charging step then it will maintain it at the float voltage again. I think your system is probably fine.
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Old 07-10-2013, 07:09 AM   #8
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Do you have the heat pads for the tanks on? If the switch got flipped by accident or any other 12volt item plugged in that is casusing a loss.

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Old 07-10-2013, 07:43 AM   #9
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Another thing to check out is the battery itself. Sometimes you get a dud right from new! Take it to a mechanic & get them to do a load test. They'll let you know what state it's in.
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Old 07-10-2013, 08:25 AM   #10
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The battery that came with our Scamp had to be replaced on the first trip we took with it. As Gary says, some batteries are just faulty.
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Old 07-10-2013, 12:12 PM   #11
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Thanks again for the thoughts. I've decided to educate myself more on charging batteries, including how our solar panels charge. My husband and I travelled half way around the world on a sailboat relying largely on solar panels (in the tropics), and we had a Link e-meter that showed us the amp usage of each and every lightbulb, the amps coming in, etc. I knew a lot more then, but that was ten years ago and it's all fuzzy now.

I read a really interesting article by a guy who has been boondocking with solar and no generator for eight years. It was very informative and detailed on every aspect of battery charging, although I'm not experienced enough to know if he is as accurate as he claims to be. If any of you are interested in reading it I'd be curious to know what you think. (link below)

The last thing in the article are photos of solar panels being shaded by vent covers, etc and the possibly very significant loss of power associated with that. It has me thinking about the installation of our panel just inches away from the Maxx fan cover, where I know it gets shaded. Also, when we are on our boat we were constantly tilting our two panels to follow the sun and that made a HUGE difference in the amps coming in...but nothing we can do about that on the Escape for now.

I think I'll buy a hydrometer or voltmeter (the guy in the article says hydrometers are more accurate but messier) and try to arrive at a better understanding of all of this!!

The RV Battery Charging Puzzle « HandyBob's Blog

Thanks for the support!
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Old 07-10-2013, 01:15 PM   #12
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I think that any shading problems you may think you have would only occur in those cg's where you are facing east or west. In any other direction the shading would not occur.
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Old 07-10-2013, 01:26 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FamilyFun View Post
I read a really interesting article by a guy who has been boondocking with solar and no generator for eight years. It was very informative and detailed on every aspect of battery charging, although I'm not experienced enough to know if he is as accurate as he claims to be. If any of you are interested in reading it I'd be curious to know what you think. (link below)
I hope you get your issues worked out. I really have nothing more to add than what was already said.

In just over 4 years of owning my 19, I have done mostly boondocking without the use of a genset or solar. I haven't gone more than 4 nights in a row though, but have had nighttime temps dropping below freezing. I do have dual 6V batteries, and with conservative electrical usage, have never dropped too much on the battery monitor. I would like to get a better monitor to read actually voltages, and not rely on the stock one that was installed. We do not use any electric appliances. Cell phone chargers is the only draw other than that built into the trailer.

It would be great if you could link to this article, I always appreciate another point of view.

I did buy a 40W Coleman portable solar panel recently, but have not had the need to put it to use. My brother with a tent trailer and single 12V has one too, and says with minimal heater usage, he was easily able to bring his single battery back up to full power in short order.

Some day when I can devote more time to camping, I may upgrade the solar. We'll see.
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Old 07-10-2013, 01:38 PM   #14
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I have worked with hydrometer and a volt meter on my Escape and you do not want to mess with the hydrometer. There are all kinds of volt meters, I selected the Equus model shown below. I compared results between the hydrometer and volt meter and found them quite close. The volt meter is available at some auto supply stores, online and I believe Wal-Mart.

If you want to go for further monitoring you could consider a amp meter between your solar panel and batteries. I have not done this and do not have a recommendation.
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Old 07-10-2013, 01:53 PM   #15
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I have the unit shown above, and after buying it, I discovered that my 200W Motomaster Eliminator inverter, from Canadian Tire, displays the voltage coming so I really didn't need the voltage reader. It is, however, more convenient.
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Old 07-10-2013, 02:34 PM   #16
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I use one of these, it will beep when voltage drops below preset amount. Universal 12v Digital Volt Minder with Car Adapter
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Old 07-10-2013, 02:48 PM   #17
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Hi Jim,
I put a link to the article in my post but here it is again in case it didn't work:

The RV Battery Charging Puzzle « HandyBob's Blog

It was really quite interesting.


FudgeBrownie,
Thanks for the advice about the hydrometer/volt meters
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Old 07-10-2013, 03:03 PM   #18
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Yeah, sometimes it seems I have trouble putting 2 and 2 together.
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Old 07-10-2013, 03:34 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by fudge_brownie View Post
I have worked with hydrometer and a volt meter on my Escape and you do not want to mess with the hydrometer.
A voltmeter will tell you overall battery condition, the hydrometer will identify individual cells that are weak or bad. I don't carry a hydrometer with me because of the mess, but do use it in the garage fairly frequently.
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Old 07-10-2013, 07:27 PM   #20
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The hydrometer indicates the state of charge. All of the cells should be the same with the same specific gravity.
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