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Old 04-17-2014, 11:38 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 04-18-2014, 12:18 AM   #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 04-18-2014, 12:27 AM   #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.

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Old 04-18-2014, 12:37 AM   #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, 01:39 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, 02:06 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, 06:58 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, 08:26 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, 09:00 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, 09:08 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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