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Old 11-13-2019, 06:53 AM   #1
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1992 29' Excella
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Charging Trailer Batteries From Tow Vehicle

Air Forum members discuss solar, generators, shore power and similar topics at length. Some will lament their tow vehicle doesn't do much for recharging their trailer batteries. Here's a thread to discuss another alternative, along with a 5 part story on our journey to improved charging of our trailer batteries. It's a long series of posts but hopefully it will be helpful to other RVers.
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
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Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 06:55 AM   #2
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Part 1: The Back-story

We've had our 1992 trailer since 2002. In our early years of ownership we had many of the battery related issues that a novice trailer owner experiences such as overcharging the batteries, searching for the best battery price for a given Amp-Hour capacity, and considering upgrades such as solar or bringing along a generator.

The first major upgrade to our electrical system was adding a multi-stage charger/converter to replace the old single-stage charger found on our 1992. That essentially eliminated the possibility of overcharging our batteries. The second major upgrade was adding a battery monitor system that utilizes a precision shunt so it's possible to truly see how much 12V power is being used at any point in time and have a very realistic understanding of how much power is remaining in the battery system.

An additional upgrade we performed a few years ago was replacing all the incandescent bulbs with LED substitutes. It was amazing how little power the LED "bulbs" use versus the old style bulbs. I don't recall the precise numbers but the LEDs are probably using 1/4 the power. Now we can use lights in the trailer when boondocking with much less anxiety about using too many amp-Hours of battery power.
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
2018 GMC Sierra K1500 SLT, 6.2L, Max Trailering
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 06:58 AM   #3
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Part 2: The Need for Recharging While Boondocking

We were in Big Bend National Park several years ago and chose to stay in a remote camping area. We planned to stay three days & nights. No problem for our battery system I said to myself - we've camped without power for three days several times. During our time at Big Bend we had problems with the brakes on our tow vehicle. We made the trip to Terlingua, TX several days in a row to meet with a mechanic in an effort to fix the brakes. First try, wrong part. Second try, part doesn't fix the problem. Third try, they gave up and suggested we drive to Austin, TX to a GM dealer. All of that meant we were in a remote camp site with no shore power, no solar power and no generator for several extra days. On the last day the batteries were so low even the control circuit on the propane refrigerator started acting flaky. We had done our best to conserve battery power but we didn't have a reasonable way to recharge the batteries.

During the long drive from Big Bend to Austin the 7-pin connector from the tow vehicle to the trailer was able to replenish the batteries a little but didn't come close to topping off the charge.

Fast forward a few years and we spent ten days boondocking at a variety of sites around Wyoming. The plan was to stay overnight for a day or two at each location. My thought was driving several hours between stops would go a long way toward recharging the trailer batteries. WRONG! As mentioned above, the 7-pin connector doesn't do much to charge trailer batteries even when plugged in and towing for several hours. So we managed to limp along after the first few days of the trip. We used as little battery power as possible. On day four we used a generator from a friend for a few hours. That helped but it was surprising how slowly the generator and converter/charger charged the batteries. We came away from that experience realizing we need something to keep the batteries in better condition.

Solar? Generator? Both? Solar sounds good but I just can't get myself to put rectangular panels on our trailer. We don't have a show trailer by any means but the rectangular solar panels look very obtrusive to me on a narrow body trailer. Yes, flexible panels are available but until recently the efficiency of flexible panels was not very good and I'm still having a difficult time parting with the $$$ needed for a solar installation. We're not enamored with carrying a generator around with us and the idea of bringing an extra container of gasoline is very unappealing. A generator with a propane conversion... maybe. Neither solar nor a generator seemed like a good solution for our situation.
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
2018 GMC Sierra K1500 SLT, 6.2L, Max Trailering
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:01 AM   #4
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Part 3: Commercially Available Rechargers vs. DIY

Leading up to the summer of 2019 we realized there was a need for some sort of recharging methodology when boondocking and when traveling from stop to stop. Keep in mind that we don't intend to operate the air conditioner or any major electrical appliances. We do plan to use the Fantastic Vents, furnace, refrigerator, water pump, water heater and lights as you might expect in a dry camping location. Our usual mode of travel is a few nights here and there with several hours of travel from one stop to another.

We became aware of several aftermarket chargers that utilize the alternator of the tow vehicle, connected in a relatively direct line to the trailer, to more quickly charge the trailer batteries. One variety of car charger we considered started out about $300 but with the addition of extra cable length and a few other options increased to $500. In addition, that product only worked from the front of the vehicle so it was necessary to park the trailer and situate the front of the vehicle at the tongue of the trailer each time the trailer battery needed to be charged. This is a great product and certainly serves a purpose but not it's for us. We wanted something that worked from the front of the vehicle as well as from the rear while we are towing. Other charging systems were more generic, and could be made to work from the front and from the rear of the vehicle, but the cost of the brain was several hundred dollars with the need to add many more hundreds for cables and connectors. The advantage of the brain is you get multi-stage charging much like the multi-stage converter/charger already in our trailer.

After scouring the internet, finding all sorts of ideas from carry extra batteries to using jumper cables, it was decided to make our own charging system that can be used from the front of the tow vehicle (when the trailer is parked) and from the rear of the tow vehicle (while towing down the road).

The system described in Part 4 is a brute force solution that works for us. The total cost of the materials is under $400. The description of the system is not intended to be a "how-to" but more of an overview of what we implemented. Your needs may vary and this system may not be suitable on your vehicle and trailer.
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
2018 GMC Sierra K1500 SLT, 6.2L, Max Trailering
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:03 AM   #5
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Part 4: Parts List and Wiring Diagram

The pictures below list the basic parts we used on our charging system. Omitted from the list are things like zip ties, fasteners, clamps, and other items commonly available in hardware stores and auto parts stores. Many of the items on the list are available from Amazon but they are also available locally from welding supply shops, auto stereo installers and performance auto parts retailers. We purchased a number of the items from Summit Racing.

The resettable fuse and battery isolator are in the engine compartment of the tow vehicle. The Add-A-Tap circuit allowed us to utilize an unused fuse connection to activate the battery isolator. The fuse circuit we used is only active when the engine is running. 2 gage welding cable was used to minimize voltage drop and due to its high strand count it is very flexible. The voltage at the truck alternator and both ends of our cables, under load, show negligible voltage drop. Depending on the level of charge on the trailer batteries we estimated the initial charge from the tow vehicle to the trailer could be approaching 100 amps. 40-50 amps is more likely in most cases. Regardless, the cables, buss bars, etc. in the trailer and tow vehicle must be rated appropriately.

2 gage welding cable may be overkill but we wanted to do this once, experimenting or otherwise cutting it close was not in the plan. There are many brands of connectors suitable for high power but Anderson is clearly the leader in this industry. Anderson connectors are used on golf cart battery banks, forklifts, and a variety of industrial equipment. Anderson has very specific crimping tools for recommended for installing their contacts but they are extremely expensive. After referring to the Anderson web site for detailed instructions on crimping, we decided to use used a Lincoln Electric crimping tool. By using a bench vise to compress the plunger on the crimping tool we were able to create uniform crimps in several locations on each lug/contact. We crimped and soldered all the connections on the 2 gage cables.

The 2 gage welding cables were wrapped in 1 inch diameter wire loom and routed from the engine compartment to the rear of the tow vehicle. We considered routing just the positive cable to the rear of the tow vehicle and simply connecting a much shorter negative cable at the rear of the truck. While this may work, an electrical engineering friend cautioned us about the pitfalls of inducing ground loops into the chassis of the tow vehicle so we opted to attach both the positive and negative cables near the battery in an effort to minimize this concern. As we routed the cables we were careful to avoid the exhaust system as well as any moving parts. The wire loom was routed as near the frame rail as possible. Our initial estimate of the length of cable needed from front to rear was off - we were short by several feet of cable due to all the up-down-around routing under the tow vehicle. The 50 foot length of cable shown in the parts list should be adequate to allow front to rear cable routing, a coil of cable for the engine compartment as well as attaching to the trailer. Order a longer set of cable if needed for your application.

Don't forget the diode. We chose to put a high current diode in the existing power cable that routes to the 7-pin connector on the bumper of the tow vehicle. As mentioned previously, there is essentially no voltage drop on the 2 gage cable. However, there is a significant voltage drop on the power pin of the 7-pin connector. If we had not installed the diode there is a chance the voltage from the 2 gage cable would back-feed into the truck. It's not clear what kind of problems voltage back-feed might create but avoiding that issue by installing the diode made sense.
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
2018 GMC Sierra K1500 SLT, 6.2L, Max Trailering
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:05 AM   #6
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Part 5: The Current State of Affairs

The battery monitor system in our trailer indicates the amount of current flowing into the trailer batteries when the tow vehicle is connected and charging. It's important to have a BMS with a precision shunt so the rate of charge, voltage, etc. can be monitored accurately. A monitor system with a simple 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% charge indicator is not a suitable means of understanding your batteries.

On a recent trip to northern Indiana, Kalamazoo Speedway in Michigan and downtown Chicago the battery charging system worked very well. Yes, we dry camped at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. In the past, using just the 7-pin connector for charging, the batteries would never be topped off even after a number of hours of towing. Back then, over a day or two of dry camping, even with towing between stops, we used more amp-hours than could be replenished via the power contact on the 7-pin connector. The new system, with the 2 gage wire and the Anderson connector there is a very good charging circuit between the alternator of the tow vehicle and the batteries of the trailer. After an overnight stop without shore power the trailer battery voltage would typically drop to 85 - 90% depending on our use of electrical devices. With the new charging system, a two hour drive to the next stop puts the batteries back to 100%.

In actual use, we've noted the 2 gage cable charging our trailer batteries at over 70A initially and tapering off to just a few amps as the voltage in the trailer batteries increases. Under the same conditions the 7-pin connector charged initially at 10A and tapered off more quickly.

Time will tell if this is a good long term solution for us. The system certainly appears to be working well at this point. As with any charging system there are advantages and disadvantages - maybe that should be pluses and minuses.
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
2018 GMC Sierra K1500 SLT, 6.2L, Max Trailering
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:12 AM   #7
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I see now...of course bigger cable is going to give you more amps to the battery. Any issue with your alternator rating?

Larry
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:34 AM   #8
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Would you please be kind enough to include larger sized images of the BOM and diagram as they aren't readable when expanded.
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Old 11-13-2019, 08:44 AM   #9
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Anderson connectors are good - beware grit though if they are exposed to road grime, they are made to be 'exercised'... so when you attach them repeat the joining three or four times as they have a self-cleaning design & that wiping action goes a long way towards keeping the connection from seeing a resistance rise over time. Exercised also means not leaving them joined for eons so the copper weevils don't start nesting in the contact area, join/part them regularly.

OP does not specify their battery type but a 70-amp surge is a good thing for AGMs as it alone is what will force a thickened electrolyte, or electrolyte baffled within glass matting, to circulate via convection. In the AGM design there is a 'surplus' of electrolyte that needs to get mixed in and those several minutes of high initial charge current will heave the finite amounts in between plates via expansion and allow the full complement of fluid to be reacted.

One note - temperature - I had 10-year 115AH telecom AGMs requiring temperature compensated charging and the OEM spec said ANY charging when battery core temperatures were above 112f would cause irreparable damage, gas pockets would form in the matting that would never be displaced and the gas pockets scar the plates and so reduce capacity....

Temperature compensation? Example: at -20 obtaining good charge result would need ~15v applied while at 110 13V would have the same reactive effect. Anyhow - choose the time and place to go direct off alternator, a cool battery core will take a no BS charge scheme w/o harm for a long time.

At one point I was looking at over 50-feet of wiring to get TV charging, just the voltage drop alone in even heavy wire would preclude getting more that 60 or 70% state of charge (SOC) in the trailers battery - an under hood 12-24v step up and to then step it back down at trailer battery is what I planned for, Victron has many flavors of 10, 15, 30A etc. converters... but the temperature compensation is not included.
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Old 11-13-2019, 08:47 AM   #10
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Hi

I've used Anderson connectors in a lot of places. One gotcha: When left mated for a long time (like decades) they loose their "spring". That results in more heat at the junction and / or the connector un-mating.

Bob
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Old 11-13-2019, 10:24 AM   #11
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this is an interesting article from victron this topic

https://www.victronenergy.com/blog/2...rging-lithium/
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Old 11-13-2019, 11:54 AM   #12
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OP here...

The alternator on our tow vehicle is rated at 220 amps. That same vehicle has a standard alternator output of 150 amps, the snow plow package alternator is 170 amps and the max trailering package is 220 amps. A dual alternator setup could be installed if the alternator is a limiting factor.

The batteries in our trailer are AGM. I contacted the manufacturer (Lifeline) and described my plans. Their tech support agent did not express any concern other than to comment that he would not recommend charging the batteries in this manner exclusively.

Temperature issues are certainly something to be aware of. If extremely cold and hot temperatures are a concern there are ways to deal with that issue. One method is to use a Redarc smart DC/DC charger or something similar.

The BOM and diagram show up reasonably well on my computer. For those who want another option, PDF files are attached.
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File Type: pdf Wiring_Diagram.pdf (419.3 KB, 6 views)
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Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
2018 GMC Sierra K1500 SLT, 6.2L, Max Trailering
Got a cooped-up feeling, gotta get out of town, got those Airstream campin' blues...
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Old 11-13-2019, 12:45 PM   #13
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My thought was driving several hours between stops would go a long way toward recharging the trailer batteries. WRONG! As mentioned above, the 7-pin connector doesn't do much to charge trailer batteries even when plugged in and towing for several hours. So we managed to limp along after the first few days of the trip. We used as little battery power as possible. On day four we used a generator from a friend for a few hours. That helped but it was surprising how slowly the generator and converter/charger charged the batteries. We came away from that experience realizing we need something to keep the batteries in better condition.

Agree 100% with these statements. My 2018 Globetrotter's fully-charged stock Interstate batteries died in one day of towing with the refrigerator powered by DC before I added solar. I've never seen my Airstream's stock shore-powered "55A" converter put over "single-digit" Amps into my batteries. Therefore I agree 100% that a better charging source is needed for dry camping. I'm glad you found a solution that works for you. Thanks for sharing it on AirForums.
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Old 11-13-2019, 02:10 PM   #14
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Ah, Yes. Ohm's Law is a real drag on the electrical system Charging from the TV is the bane of many whom pull a trailer. Good thing manufacturers use undersized charge leads which save us money on the manufacturing cost and am sure there is some nano-measuring tool for showing weight benefits on fuel economy.

Ok, sarcasm aside.

Awesome job on pushing more current out to the trailer battery One thing comes to mind with the set-up. Consider checking on the tow vehicle's ability to monitor both the trailer and TV battery. Reasoning is that within the realm of possibilities, if the alternator / computer treat both batteries as part of one big system, the TV battery will get too much charge while the trailer battery wants more charge. Just something to watch for.
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Old 11-13-2019, 02:51 PM   #15
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Lucius:

Thanks for posting about your Anderson Connector tow vehicle charging system. We, too, found that our trailer batteries inadequately recharged thru the TV wiring harness--the threshold for a minimally adequate trailer battery recharge is at least 10 hours drive time, a driving duration we try to avoid. And, of course, on days we didn't drive, we were getting no recharge at all.

I previously conjectured on Air Forums that an Anderson connector/heavy conductor charge system could be the answer--your series of posts was exactly what I was looking for. THANK YOU.

We elected to 'solve' the inadequate recharge problem this year by purchasing a generator. However, on our Oct 2019 trip thru the SW, we still had problems keeping the batteries charged up.

It was so cold many nights we needed to run the furnace to keep our tanks from freezing. Furnace use can consume up to 75 amp/hours. Then the refer and other on-board drains add another 25 amp/hours. And I use a CPAP, which uses something like 20 amp/hours. This is more amp/hours than our battery bank can supply, so some nights I went without the CPAP and others, if it was staying above freezing, without the furnace.

The end result? Sometimes I was cold, and sometimes I was cranky, but on the coldest nights I was cold and cranky.

The generator sounded like a great idea, but, since I didn't change out the trailer's stock Parallax single stage converter, the recharge rate on generator power was still low, further compounded by restrictive generator hours at campgrounds and that on most non-travel days we weren't at the trailer during the day so couldn't run the generator.

While it looks like changing out the converter to a 4 stage Boondocker or Progressive Dynamics is our next step, doing so would still mean listening to the generator, which didn't sound any better when it was ours as opposed to the neighbors. So we are still considering your approach. Looking forward to further updates on how well you think the Anderson Connector Tow Vehicle charging system works.

Thanks again,

Burnside
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:21 PM   #16
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A Concern

Your system will work, a nice job of install. My compliments.

I could do the same however with warranty on our new truck and manufactures now looking to deny ANY warranty with a non factory add on or modification of factory wiring and or adding excessive loads on the vehicle , I'm not taking the chance of damage to the vehicle Alternator or electronics.

Most all modern trucks or cars are MAXED out with electron debt from fuel injection, fuel pumps and other electronics . Unlike old school , Alternators are not battery chargers they are battery maintainers. Now if I had ordered the dual Alternators or a factory up-fitted Plow package I’d consider your mod.

After warranty I may consider this. Until then Mr. Heater and Honda generators get the job done. Not done pretty but they get it done.
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Old 11-13-2019, 07:31 PM   #17
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Lucius and Danielle... FANTASTIC.

I hope others follow your example and provide excellent solutions for Boondockers Off and On the Grid! Another option for handy Forum Members to consider.

One of six 'Survivors' of the 2016 Wyoming Adventure! ...and now you know why!
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Old 11-14-2019, 07:20 AM   #18
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Hi

If you dive into the Sprinter van discussions, they also have a "220 amp" alternator on some of them. They burn them out with some regularity trying to run large loads for long periods of time. The current rating appears to be a short term number .....

Bob
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Old 11-20-2019, 12:02 PM   #19
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Wow all that to keep the battery up...we love our 2000 Honda, usually carry 1 gallon of gas when we leave home....the generator is full...it will run near 30 hours on a small amount of gas....easy and simple
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Old 11-20-2019, 01:18 PM   #20
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Keeping batteries up

I installed AGM batteries, 250 watts of solar on the roof and carry a Honda 2000i. Batteries are always up in storage, recharge nicely during the day with no attention what so ever. I use the Honda to run the coffee maker and microwave when dry camping an to charge if the weather is bad.


wprks very well.
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