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Old 04-17-2014, 10:38 PM   #1
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newbie electrical issue

After several nights dry camping in a shady spot, I spent two nights with electrical hookups. Today I left that location and drove to Olympic National Park (also not known for its sunshine). After the two nights of "shore power" and a few hours of driving, I set up my trailer at another dry-camp site and came inside. The battery level showing on the Go Power solar controller said: 53%. That just can't be, I thought. I had the fridge on 12V while driving and for about 30 minutes afterward, when I remembered to switch it back to propane. After doing this I left the trailer for about an hour. When I returned the panel said 79% battery capacity.

I have one solar panel, the Go Power controller, and the 1500W inverter which has been switched off. There is a battery switch near the power distribution panel but I've left it alone; if I understood correctly it is for cutting off power to the distribution panel.

I just don't get it. Am I doing something wrong? Is there a switch I'm supposed to flip when going from battery / 110V / tow vehicle power? At this point I'm assuming it's a user error so I'm asking for help. Please help.

thanks,

Mike Lewis
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Old 04-17-2014, 11:18 PM   #2
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I decided against a 3-way fridge after Reace advised me that if I were to run down the battery at camp, tow to a new camp with the fridge on 12V, that my fridge would be cold, and the battery would still be run down. The vehicle cannot supply enough power to run the fridge and charge the battery.
He also advised me to get a #10 ground installed in the vehicle, if I were going to run a 12V fridge while traveling. The installer had to buy the wire since they don't normally run a ground that heavy.
I've found that I can drive for five hours with the fridge turned off and my ice cream is not rock hard, just soft enough to scoop.
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Old 04-17-2014, 11:27 PM   #3
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Well, okay, maybe the fridge is the culprit. But I had shore power for two days-- that should have fully charged my batteries before I left today. I'm concerned that the line voltage is not charging the batteries. Or the readout from the solar controller is just wrong.

Mike Lewis
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Old 04-17-2014, 11:37 PM   #4
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Mike,

Yup, shore power should have charged the batteries.
I donno. What size ground do you have on the vehicle run to the trailer?
Also, many stories about people stopping for lunch with the 12V fridge still on and coming back to find the vehicle won't start. Dead batteries all round.
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Old 04-18-2014, 12:39 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Lewis View Post
Well, okay, maybe the fridge is the culprit. But I had shore power for two days-- that should have fully charged my batteries before I left today. I'm concerned that the line voltage is not charging the batteries. Or the readout from the solar controller is just wrong.

Mike Lewis
This is where an inexpensive multi-meter comes in very handy. They're available for under $10. No, they're not lab quality but they do just fine for trailer use.

With the shore power connected you see what the battery reading is. If it's well above 12 volts, 13 or up to 14.2 or so then the battery charger is working just fine. If the charger's connected and the reading is in the 12 volt range then it's not charging.

My multi-meter is like my Amex card, I never leave home without it.

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Old 04-18-2014, 01:06 AM   #6
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What did the panel say the battery level was when on city power for a while, or shortly after disconnecting? Should have been 100%.
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Old 04-18-2014, 05:58 AM   #7
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[QUOTE=
My multi-meter is like my Amex card, I never leave home without it.

Ron[/QUOTE]

Where do you check the system with the multi meter? Batteries directly, 12v outlet, someplace else?
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Old 04-18-2014, 07:26 AM   #8
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Is the battery switch on or off, if off, then only solar is going to your battery, if on it allows the converter to charge your battery.
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Old 04-18-2014, 08:00 AM   #9
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A common problem with trying to charge while towing is voltage drop over the length of the wires involved. With a 12V system, the amount of voltage you will get back at the batteries will be dependent on both the length and guage of the wire from the alternator. Tow vehicle manufacturers are notorious for not putting in large enough wires to get the job done. Google "voltage drop" for more information. If you are losing enough of the voltage your alternator is putting out the battery won't charge and may discharge trying to run the fridge. Other things that can cause voltage drop are poor connections or corrosion on a connection someplace. For example, if the socket on your vehicle is corroded, you might not be getting enough voltage to the trailer.

As Ron said a multimeter is the critical tool to use. Measure the voltage at the batteries, if it is too low the batteries won't charge. Also measure at various points along the circuit to localize the problem. Hopefully you will find a dirty or loose connection that you can fix quickly. Wires that are too small are the next fastest and cheapest thing to fix. After that it gets more complex. Power use by the fridge and everything else in the trailer, capability of your alternator, etc. Of course, this all assumes your batteries were fully charged when you left your last campground. Otherwise, some of the other comments in this thread are most likely correct.
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Old 04-18-2014, 08:08 AM   #10
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The GoPower battery meter is based on voltage. Looking at the reading while there is a significant draw (12V fridge) will give you a very pessimistic (inaccurate) battery assessment. The 79% reading a while after switching the fridge over is probably more accurate.

I am firmly convinced the WFCO converter/charger is not very good - and it is especially poor if you have dual 6V batteries. I have replaced mine with the Xantrex. See:
Xantrex Charger Installation and Wiring Upgrades
Replacing stock WFCO converters
Interstate 6 Volt Charging
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Old 04-18-2014, 12:19 PM   #11
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Just got back from a three day dry camp without power and towed there and back about 3 hrs with the fridge on battery, switched to gas when camping, and used the solar and 2 x 6v batteries for power. Camped in a shady spot and used inverter for coffee in mornings and had the furnace running a bit. Batteries got down to around 70% in mornings and up to about 90% by end of day. The batteries needed a half day plugged in to be fully charged when we got back. Before we left we had the fridge running to get cold and loaded it with cold food which may have helped with less draw on the batteries when towing. Noticed the solar panel was dirty when we got back - could have worked a bit better perhaps if was clean.
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Old 04-18-2014, 04:16 PM   #12
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Since installing a battery monitor (a Bogart Industries TriMetric TM2025RV), I realize how inaccurate a voltage measurement is to determine battery charge state. I always understood that measuring the battery voltage under load or just after charging would give inaccurate readings, but I have been down as much as 20 amp hours from full and both the Go Power digital readout as well as the LED battery monitor lights showed 100% full.

The only accurate method of determining your battery state is to do a specific gravity reading (with a hydrometer) or keep track of exactly how many amp hours your remove & replace. Voltage measurements are only an estimate, and most of the time, wrong.
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Old 04-18-2014, 04:28 PM   #13
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Old 04-18-2014, 08:59 PM   #14
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Upon reflection, I realize that yesterday's six-hour Deception Pass to Olympic National Park trip involved about two hours where my truck was turned off but the fridge was still drawing from the batteries. This was mostly in waiting for the ferry, then taking it across to Port Townsend. I will assume that is the main cause of the battery drain.

In response to your other comments (which I really appreciate):

- The battery switch has been in the "ON" position since the trailer left Chilliwack.

- I have a multimeter. I haven't used it to diagnose this problem, but I did use it to ensure that I had voltage coming from my trailer socket on my pickup before I left home. I didn't check the amperage though. The Tacoma is new; I bought it last October, so I don't think there is a corrosion problem. I might have a "small wire problem". Sounds kinda personal to me, though. :-)

- As I discovered when I boarded the ferry, my entire rig (TV + trailer) is 39 feet, one inch long. So I may have a "long wire problem". So be it.

- When I was plugged into shore power, the GoPower display read 100%. But it did this immediately, within a minute or two of hooking up the 110V power. So that can't be right, either.

- At this point I'm reluctant to swap out the distribution panel or anything else that Escape provided with the trailer. I don't mind adding to it, but I figure they used what they used for a reason, and I don't want to mess with it.

- I'd like to see Jon's TM2025 battery monitor. If a slot opens up in the upcoming get-together in Oregon, I'll try to get it.

- I am also a retired civil servant. The world is a safer place now that I'm retired.

Thanks again for all your advice.

Mike Lewis
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Old 04-18-2014, 09:26 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Lewis View Post
...
- When I was plugged into shore power, the GoPower display read 100%. But it did this immediately, within a minute or two of hooking up the 110V power. So that can't be right, either.

- At this point I'm reluctant to swap out the distribution panel or anything else that Escape provided with the trailer. I don't mind adding to it, but I figure they used what they used for a reason, and I don't want to mess with it.
...
See my previous reply - when you are hooked to 110V the GoPower meter sees the battery charging voltage - so it looks full.

I did not swap out the distribution panel, only the converter section. ETI builds very good trailers, but the WFCO converter section is not among the best. (And the Xantrex is NOT among the cheapest.)
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Old 04-18-2014, 10:14 PM   #16
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Mike, I think your trailer will be fine. Nothing is broken. The fridge on 12v is a big draw, so consider leaving it on propane while you travel, or just turning it off and leaving the door closed if you go on a ferry when you can't use propane. As others have said, the GoPower voltage readout is not of much use, maybe only just before sunrise. When the solar panel is charging, or the tow vehicle is plugged in and charging, or when hooked to shore power the display will show 100% soon or immediately, when the voltage gets to 12.6, even if the batteries are far from fully charged.

Watch the amp readout on the Gopower monitor on a sunny day.
When the battery is charging it should show several amps of current, provided direct sun is available. Once the charger senses the battery is charged it will drop to less than 1 amp.

As others have written, you can upgrade the charger, and get a
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Old 04-18-2014, 10:19 PM   #17
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Trimetric meter for more accurate readouts and performance, but I suggest that you work with the equipment you have for now, and forget about 12v fridge unless you are plugged in to shore power.

Enjoy your trailer and trust that the systems are working. Finally, finally, I've never found anyone who really knows how much current is provided by the tow vehicle.
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Old 04-18-2014, 10:23 PM   #18
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I agree with Doug and don't see anything wrong with your numbers; the refrigerator is a huge draw on the batteries and I never run the fridge off my batteries even though I have 4. Your battery voltage (measured) will always recover after a big load is removed. When I run my 2500 watt inverter for maybe three hours with some load the batteries will sometimes show 12.5 volts which is pretty low for my setup but when I turn the inverter off I will always gain .5v+ back within about 20 minutes. There is no other switch to change besides the supply selection on the refrigerator panel. My advice is to always use propane unless on shore power.

Steve

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Lewis View Post
After several nights dry camping in a shady spot, I spent two nights with electrical hookups. Today I left that location and drove to Olympic National Park (also not known for its sunshine). After the two nights of "shore power" and a few hours of driving, I set up my trailer at another dry-camp site and came inside. The battery level showing on the Go Power solar controller said: 53%. That just can't be, I thought. I had the fridge on 12V while driving and for about 30 minutes afterward, when I remembered to switch it back to propane. After doing this I left the trailer for about an hour. When I returned the panel said 79% battery capacity.

I have one solar panel, the Go Power controller, and the 1500W inverter which has been switched off. There is a battery switch near the power distribution panel but I've left it alone; if I understood correctly it is for cutting off power to the distribution panel.

I just don't get it. Am I doing something wrong? Is there a switch I'm supposed to flip when going from battery / 110V / tow vehicle power? At this point I'm assuming it's a user error so I'm asking for help. Please help.

thanks,

Mike Lewis
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Old 04-18-2014, 10:33 PM   #19
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Correction, the GoPower voltage readout is good. The battery status, e.g. 80%, is not very useful.
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Old 04-18-2014, 10:42 PM   #20
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The Trimetric removes doubt which leads to anxiety. It is money well spent since it can tell at a glance how much voltage is at the battery when on and off charging from solar, converter, or vehicle. It also measures current flow plus or minus to inform the user of various draw from different devices. The percent of full charge is measured by knowing the full amp hours of the battery bank and keeping track of how much is removed. It doesn't rely on battery voltage which is only a guideline and can't be used when the battery is being charged by any source.
It is fun to see how the system performs any time you want. It can tell you if the stock converter is doing the job or not without guessing.
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