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Old 05-17-2018, 07:54 PM   #1
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Solar Power- Pauper Power Charging

Part 1: August 7, 2014- Purchased our current 25 foot International. Prior to purchase the dealership needed the ‘battery dolly’ to connect to the two Interstate wet cell batteries, that are standard on Airstreams. After the walk through, everything was operating properly. Unknown to me was being ignorant that when a pair of two batteries are DEAD, they are probably in need of replacement.

Part 2: February 13, 2015- Interstate Batteries, Tucson, Arizona declared each battery had a dead cell in each. They would pull them and replace with another pair of like batteries. (I had good luck with our 2006 23 Foot Safari with the small factory solar panel with AGM Interstates. The 2006 AGM Interstates were excellent when I sold the trailer in 2014.) For $276.74 they installed two, dusty SRM-24 34M-AGM Sealed Interstates. They stuck a sticker on each 2-15, which I now understand that is the month and the year they were charged. There was NO embossed date of manufacture on either battery. I understand there may have been on a + or - terminal.

Part 3: These two AGM batteries would not hold a charge. I purchased a Honda generator to keep them charged when Boondocking, on sale $899.99 plus sales tax. As in an earlier Thread Honda Generator or Solar, I wanted to try the Generator. That was a mistake. Solar is much more convenient. Some ‘lessons’ cost $899.99 plus sales tax. I still have the Honda.

Part 4: Getting ready for Boondocking 2018 I needed to replace these two AGM Interstates. They would not hold a charge. I pulled one and took it to an Interstate Battery Dealer in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Sorry, the three year warranty expired February 2018.” I did not have any paperwork from Interstate with the ‘three year warranty’ in print. When I removed the batteries, which had been in my trailer in the garage and plugged into house power when needed, in small print was ‘THREE YEAR replacement’. Ouch. I believed it was two years and never noticed the three year warranty on the Interstate Battery sticker. Sorry, but it was March 10th, not February. They had no AGM’s anyways. They needed to be ordered, although a dealer at a boat shop in Arizona was getting a group… price around $552.00 plus sales tax. The sticker on the battery “Interstate Batteries- Outrageously Dependable”. Well, not these and I am not new around batteries, but now had a better grasp of I never knew or understood.

Part 4: I went to Costco, purchased two Interstate wet cell batteries… Interstate Battery 24, DC Fitment #13- 12 for a total cost of $72.99 each and $15.00 less after returning the cores (old batteries). This was $15 each for the two AGM sealed cell batteries.

Part 5: I was a bit, well say more than a bit upset that… the dealer in Tucson obviously sold me two dated AGM batteries, stuck the 2-15 sticker on each. Obviously these two had been around for a long time. No coded date of manufacturer in the plastic. I looked. None.

Part 6: I wrote a three page letter to Interstate Battery in Dallas, Texas. Like this post, a blow by blow account of my ignorance and the difficulty I had with their batteries. I even included a previous year’s notes of charging the batteries and times of their discharge, for weeks. All dated prior to the three year warranty period. By February 8, 2015 I was lucky to get the Airstreams Voltage to indicate 11.3 volts to 12.3 volts that evening, and by morning with no electrical use… 9.4 volts. I would be content with any compensation from their generosity. The letter was dated March 16, 2018 and a check for $276.74 was received April 11, 2018.

Part 7: I received my education in Airstream Batteries 101. I experimented with a Honda Generator to charge my batteries while Boondocking and discovered that the generator would have to run for hours to slowly charge the batteries through the Airstream’s electrical convertor. I am Electrically Challenged. I am passing on my experience so those of you who are more intelligent than myself can avoid making my mistakes. Wet Cell Interstate Batteries are two year, and AGM are three year. A good place to start.

Part 8: The small round date sticker had 3/18 at Costco. The embossed date was K7AFU. K is the number of MONTHS, which is the 11th month and the year 2017- November 2017. The battery was already five months old. This was the last bit of ‘education’ received on this experience. It was charged to full strength March 2018 and I purchased the battery March 15, 2018. Next time I will find the stamped date and purchased the newest, which no doubt is in the back of the rack. But… what the hell. Next time...

Part 8: Solar Power- Pauper Power Charging. A ‘new’ experiment being tested BEFORE we leave for our Boondocking Trip to begin next week. The purchase of ONE Solar Panel through Costco with a Controller, delivered to our door. This is the next post to this Thread. It is very positive. I am Electrically Challenged and assembled, connected the portable 110 watt Solar Panel, myself… and it… works!
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Old 05-17-2018, 08:12 PM   #2
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Wet Cell versus AGM Battery option

My rationale for purchasing a pair of 'wet cell' batteries versus the AGM sealed batteries was... Warranty comparisons and Prices.

My thought was by buying two wet cell Interstates for $72.99 each, less $15 a core with a two year warranty was a better choice than paying over $500 for a pair of AGM good for at least... three year warranty.

The difference in cost would be worth it and getting new batteries every two years or so would be better for me. Or at least it has been up to this point in my Battery Education.

Lew, the Solar Expert, works with those who want to run a Microwave and Hair Dryer while Boondocking. No problem with that.

It is just not how Nancy and I Boondock. LED lights, radio, water pump, refrigerator fan... the standard 12 volt items for Off the Grid Boondocking. We can go a couple weeks without fresh water, grey or black water dump or needing to purchase additional food.

Some on the 2016 Wyoming Boondocking Adventure did not quite get that thought run through, but that is water under the bridge for me, at least.

My wife, Nancy, found a great Costco deal offer. A Solar Panel and a Controller shipped to our doorstep. "Go for it!" Electrically challenged couple going to do a Solar Panel... remote... not attached to the trailer Solar Panel.

This is the true story. It is unedited. The 'thing'... works. I did it. I followed the simple + and - wire leads, some solder, about 10 to 12 feet of an electrical cord, two male and two female plugs to plug it all together, wire the batteries... and if I can do this and get the results I am passing onto you... anyone can.
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Old 05-17-2018, 08:46 PM   #3
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Parts: Coleman 100W Solar Panel with 7AMP Charge Controller: Item #1150689- Retails at $159.99 delivered in one large carton.

(1) Coleman 100 Watt Solar Charge Controller AND a 12 Volt 7 Amp Crystalline Coleman Solar Panel. (You need BOTH to make this work.) The Controller will cut off Solar Power when the voltage is 100% and will activate and let Solar Power flow to charge the batteries when the voltage drops. It does it… you do not have to. It works for me.

(2) Two male and two female 110v plugs, about 10 to 12 feet of extension cord from one with one end plug missing. Just like the extension cord with the ground. This way you know which is the positive and which is the negative plug. This is the orange cord you use at home. Heavy duty and heavy gauge wire. The plugs attach easily.

(3) Soldering for better contacts with the end plug screws and hardware, two washers to attach Controller wires to one battery's + terminal (to protect the wires making contact) and another for the - terminal of the second battery. (The Controller wires are very fine. The Solar Panel wires are heavier gauge like the extension cord wire.) I expected heavier wire on the Controller, but obviously they know what they are doing. I do not…

(4) Coleman provides a decent ‘Assembly and Installation’ booklet for the Solar Panel and the Solar Charge Controller. Both manuals are in three languages, if you are not Language Impaired… English is one of the three. That worked for me.

(5) Costco full price to my door delivery… $133.19 with Promo Code, otherwise was $159.99. Nancy had the Promo Code during this ’special’….

(6) You will doubt your ability more than once. Maybe more than twice, but just keeping the + and - straight, it will go fine. If you mix it up, I do not know if anything will happen. Maybe the 7 amp Controller might get zapped… but I did it right the first time.

(7) I can now plug the extension cord to the controller female plug, to the Solar Panel’s female plug. The male plugs are wired to plug into each, either way I happen to put reconnect them.

(8) Caveat… Take a photograph of your batteries just to put away somewhere in the trailer. There are a lot of wires to keep track. The photograph makes all of this a bit easier on you when you have finished and everything… matches the photograph.

(9) Solar Panel connected to the Solar Controller, connected to the two Interstate wet cell Batteries purchased at Costco… … and Presto… next post to this Thread.
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Old 05-17-2018, 09:25 PM   #4
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'Solar Pauper' for your Airstream

The Solar Controller has a small yellow, charging diode, and a green, fully charged battery diode. Easy to spot once you are connected.

When the yellow diode is lit, the Solar Panel is charging. When green, the charger cuts off the solar panel from over charging the batteries. (You have to take their word for it, OK?) It seems to work perfectly.

I noticed immediately in diffused lighting in the RV Garage, the Controller was dimly lit yellow... and charging. I was already impressed.

With the long extension cord, I leaned the 100watt Solar Panel against the side of the garage with direct sunlight. I went into the trailer and:

- Battery Disconnect from Store… to Use

- SeeLevel Tank Moniter that has the Battery Check button and read out over the Sink of our trailer.

- The 'Batt Button' will indicate the Battery Voltage. I made a copy of the color chart that was on the Internet where the voltage readout indicates how fully charged your batteries are at that moment.

- Caveat also. The Batt Button readout may read 12.8v, but if you turn on the lights it will drop. When you turn off anything using power, you can check again and notice that the voltage is indicating higher. Makes sense to me that the battery indicates the remaining charge after being drawn down when in use.

- Once in the Direct Sunlight, the yellow diode glows very bright. Mine is laying on the battery in the compartment the batteries are contained.

- I have noted as high as 14.1 volts when direct sunlight and charging. The fully charged Green Diode goes on and I get a 13.2 volt reading. (The Airstream SeeLevel Tank Moniter and Batt Button, no doubt, are not 100% accurate, but you get positive numbers that are good enough for me to understand.)

- The Solar Panel can get charging even with clouds with the dim yellow diode. When the sun is bright… it glows bright yellow.

- The Solar Panel will charge even with the Airstream’s interior power as Battery Disconnect USE or STORE, as your Solar System is directly connected to your batteries.

Batteries over two or three days will read 12.5 volts when not receiving Solar and not being used. I find 12.4 volts to 13.0 volts with Solar and working inside the trailer. When at maximum charge, 12.8 volts to 13.9 volts as the highest recorded. I also check the water level of the wet battery cells. No issue and no indication of over charging by getting any vapor dampness outside the wet cell covers.

For less than $165 if you need everything, you can have an operating ’Solar Pauper' Power Charging System.

I am not taking our Honda Generator on this Solar Pauper Off the Grid Boondocking trip into Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. How will this operate when actually set up and depending on Solar to keep our trailer’s batteries charged. If this 100w Solar Panel and 7Amp Controller can provide us with ample power for our trailer… I will be content.

I will be taking notes on my experiences. I am anxious to discover if 100watts will be enough. If not, will a second 100watt and Controller need to be added? This is provided for those who are considering a similar option. If it works for me and power exceeds my expectations, you should have some information to work with your needs.

I understand this is long. You may opt for a $900 panel system on your Airstream's roof and be content. If I can do it for less than $165 with some minor inconvenience… why not do your own ‘Solar Pauper’ Power System of your own. Let me be the Guinea Pig in the lab. You can think about it and in several weeks… you can discuss similar ideas and I will be able to report on my own findings. When you sell the trailer, it can all be removed and reused. Or sell it with the trailer for another Solar Pauper user… Happy Camping and enjoy being on Solar Pauper.
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Old 05-18-2018, 05:25 AM   #5
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Nice! Curious to see how this works out for you.
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Old 05-18-2018, 05:28 AM   #6
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Ray, Nice job creating a $165 portable solar panel for your Airstream! My solar journey was not to distance from yours.

My newly purchased Airstream batteries only lasted 10 months with proper care. (Well if they only lasted 10 months but they were murdered somehow!?!) I kept them watered and recharged at least every 30 days. Since they only lasted less than 1 year, I decided I had to do something different than just replacing them under warranty and killing them again. So I decided to buy two Sam's Club Duracell batteries because of this article: https://marinehowto.com/what-is-a-deep-cycle-battery/ I too decided to not pay big $$$ for a set of AGMs since my Airstream, and many others, had the tendency to murder batteries. I also decided to put in a blade cut-off switch so the new batteries would not be drained in storage, a possible cause of the murder. Then I decided the Airstream's converter (built-in battery charger) may be the murderer of batteries based on this Airforum thread: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f449...es-162905.html So I replaced the converter. I could have stopped at this point and had a battery system that probably would not have been murdered again.

But like you, I kept reading threads on Airforums, like yours, about building inexpensive portable solar kits or installing a roof-top solar system. At first I was going to build a portable unit similar to yours. But after getting comfortable with the idea of doing it myself, I decided to just figure out how to mount the panels on the roof and use the factory pre-wire. I decided the easiest way to connect to the battery was to connect to the positive and negative bus bars which were inches away from the end of the pre-wire. I learned this is actually how Airstream recommends connecting solar to the batteries: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...tml#post439981 . So I ended up designing and installing my own solar system to permanently solve the battery murder case.

You are correct that installing a solar system can be simple. Its can be just simple as connecting a battery charger. Plug in the power cord to a power source (the solar panel) place the charger (solar controller) next to the battery, and connect the alligator clips to the positive and negative posts. Like you said, just keep the positive and negative wires properly connected. My four panel system just connects four panels together and adds a switch and a circuit breaker in the line. It wasn't much more difficult and it is permanently mounted to the roof and will charge while I drive down the highway.

I believe you will be happy with your portable 100 watt panel. Being portable, you can keep it in the sun and angled to maximize solar input. By doing this, you will get about the same output as 200 watts of permanently mounted panels.

Thanks for sharing your experience for all to learn. This is what makes AirForums great!
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Old 05-18-2018, 06:01 AM   #7
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Following... great thread and info. Thanks for sharing, Ray.

Regards - Ron
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Old 05-18-2018, 08:25 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Utah Man View Post
Following... great thread and info. Thanks for sharing, Ray.

Regards - Ron
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Ron... Great and Disaster come hand in hand.

I also want to thank Al for his PM. For 'insurance' I will bring the Honda along. With our 2006 Safari with the small Solar Panel and AGM's, we had no problems with battery power. Although this time we are using the largest Interstate pair of batteries that will fit... they are wet cell.

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Old 05-18-2018, 09:50 AM   #9
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AirMiles... a wonderful addition from leaning a solar panel on a plastic milk crate to installing onto the Airstream's roof.

The owner's manual of the International does say where the pre wire is located for Solar. On our 2006, it had the small Solar Panel. It was attached to the roof, but not wired. Obviously overlooked at Airstream... over a weekend installation. The Dealership in Denver spent hours looking for the Pre-Wire... not to be found. I recommended that they just drill a hole above the microwave, run the wire from the panel to the connection by the refrigerator... which they did and finished within an hour. It worked and the original AGM's lasted 8 years, sold the 2006 trailer in 2014 with the original Interstate batteries.

I have had several PM's and I hope they will take the time to add to this Thread. They have crunched the power in and power out... so I will toss the generator into the back of the truck... this time. Although, I am still optimistic about this easy to arrange setup.

Other than the sensors for CO2 and Smoke are always drawing power, we do squeeze out meager power needs when camping.

- LED lighting only when needed.
- Refrigerator original cooling fan was grinding noisy and replaced with better unit
- We do not shower every day, and only when we are breaking camp after days
- We use Boondocking restroom technology: Hike from camp and Shovel
- Refrigerator is propane, again exhaust fan vent is propped open with support to cool
- Radio... early morning and evening entertainment use
- The WATER PUMP eats batteries, ceiling Vent Fans are last resort to windows

Nancy and I do not camp like most. Our 'human scent' keep bear, mountain lions and neighbors from wanting to get near our camp. This is true. You can hang out a stinky tee shirt off your awning and it is much like a 'Keep Clear' notice to wildlife.

Much like experimenting with 16" Michelin LTX tires and Sendel Wheels... someone has to step forward and do the unthinkable. Those have been wonderful. I will update the 'popped rivet count' to holding at EIGHT rivets, all on CURVED rivets near the center of the curve. Some had popped with the 15" Marathons, but include all as 16" upgrade issues... just for argument.

Our Solar Pauper test is essentially that. Another experiment, but an improvement over... nothing.
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Old 05-18-2018, 11:44 AM   #10
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Hi Ray—sorry for your troubles!

We knew from pre-AS experience that a pair (or two pair) of six volts wired to make a larger twelve volt seems to take more charges/discharges over time. We traded in our brand new factory supplied Lifeline 12 volts on our new 2009 28’ International for 4 six volt Lifeline AGM’s. We have enough storage not only to never let them discharge below the recommended 50%, but make sure to keep them at 80% or better. As of today, they’re still going strong.

We mistakenly bought the factory package of two 56 watt panels, which was a huge mistake. Adequate for trickle charging, this is nowhere near adequate for boondocking. Loathe to throw away the expensive factory panels, we just added two 80’s (they were the largest wattage available that were narrow enough to fit the remaining real estate on the curved roof in 2009–now there are larger wattage panels that will fit.) There was room for one more, but we decided to try this and it has worked well with the total of 80x2 plus 56x2= 272 Watts. Were we to start from scratch, I would advise 400 watts if you’re going to roof mount.

Our SoCal dealer (Southwest coaches) did a clean job of mounting panels and installing the four batteries, plus they took our new batteries and sold them on consignment— sad that that service shop is no longer around.

We took the advice to add a Blue Sky MMTP controller. Not only has this prolonged the battery life by sensing and changing charge rates, but its ability to pull more voltage from existing panels we found to effectively increase our panel output, too.

If we were to replace our 440 amp Lifeline AGM battery bank, we would do so with a 300 amp Lithium bank. Because it is safe to discharge Lithium’s much lower than AGm’s, we would effectively get slightly more usable storage (80-85% of 300 amp/hr lithium’s vs 50% of 440 amp/hr AGM’s) at a huge weight savings. But for much more $$$$, of course.

Ray, if your 100 watt panel is not roof mounted, you will find it very effective if you re-aim it a few times during the day to follow the sun in both direction and altitude. We have a friend who designed an easel stand with a tiny “sun sight” that is a small cylinder welded onto the stand such that the sun goes through it casting a dot. This allows him to line up his panel perfectly with the sun for maximum direct exposure. We have checked it out in March , and found that he generates as much power from his 100 w panel aimed three times daily as we do with our fixed 270 w panels.. a “pauper’s solution,” indeed!

To review, the sweet spot for long term Pauper’s Solar is Lifeline AGM’s for longevity, combined with MMTP controller (MMTP is pricey, but lengthens life of batteries and pull from panels), and aimable free standing 100 watt panel will make for the least expensive, long lasting effective solution. Downside is weight of AGM batteries (as compared to lithium’s) and inconvenience of storing panel in transit, as well as aiming, and protecting of freestanding panel.

Premium, hassle free solution is lithium bank, 400 or more watts of roof mounted panels, MMPT controller, and Lew Farber for a friendly, beautiful and hassle free installation!
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Old 05-18-2018, 05:19 PM   #11
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Gecko... there are a number of high end solar users with Airstreams. Jan on the 2016 Wyoming Adventure had a Lewster installed system and she may have been able to run battery power for everyone at the campsite! You and Jan have all anyone could ask for!

I have the solar panel out right now leaning towards the Las Vegas sunset to our West. The orange extension cord I used is about 20 feet long. Earlier I said 10 to 12 feet.

What I did not like about the 2006 Safari with the small Solar Panel on the roof, maybe 56 watts... is parking the trailer IN the SUN to charge batteries. When the aluminum skin warms up it takes until Midnight before it cool down. Even at Elevation the interior heat will melt my 'Acai & Blueberry Chocolates' if not kept in the refrigerator.

Nancy and I are conservative in our trailer excursions. We have managed without Solar or Generator until this bad experience with the two AGM Batteries. After five months I discovered that they were bad and it was not anything we or Airstream had done to the trailer.

- I priced Lithium batteries... probably not for us.
- I priced other AGM Batteries... a little sticker shock after the last experience.
- Taking a pencil and paper, figuring cost of the two Costco supplied Interstate Batteries and this 100 watt Solar panel from... Costco we should be 'Happy Campers' with this setup.

The Honda Generator is quiet, starts easily and runs a long time on fuel. For $900 to $1,000, the Honda may not be able to keep up with this 100 watt panel directly linked to the Interstate Batteries at a cost of $133.19.

We plan to be Off the Grid for one to two weeks at elevations over 4500 feet and up to 8,000 feet. Warm/hot days and cool evenings. I would like to be able to report this inexpensive Solar Panel option works well enough to encourage others, like myself, to give it a try.

Super Solar and Pauper Solar. We are all trying to maintain a comfort level when away from home. If we can manage to maintain a level of comfort with what we have right now... we and our Blue Heelers will truly be... Happy Campers.
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Old 05-18-2018, 10:30 PM   #12
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Battery Connections

Ray,

Thanks for the detailed description of your very affordably-priced solar system. I just completed installation of a 340W, 2-panel, rooftop system from AM Solar. I paid an order of magnitude more, but with significantly higher charge capacity, a 30A Victron MPPT charge controller, and smart battery monitor that provides battery state of charge, current power consumption, historical use and state of charge, and remaining battery amp hours. My wife and I also boondock for extended periods and are happy to get by with 12V DC power. I'm hoping to avoid every buying a generator. To each their own.

One thing I noticed on your battery box photos is that you have AS load connections, and charge system connections at different posts on the two batteries. Based on the instructions I received from AMS, I have all my load and charge connections to the "most positive" and "most negative" battery posts. AMS wiring diagram link:

https://static1.squarespace.com/stat...ld+30MPPT8.pdf

I'm no electrical engineer, just passing along something from my install.

Looking forward to performance reports in the future! I will post my experiences with my 340W system.

Paul
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Old 05-19-2018, 06:48 PM   #13
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Airhead59.... Paul,

Thank you for the heads up. I can try to figure this one out.

The AMS System Overview has four 6 volt batteries. That I can follow.

Which lead should I be looking at on my two 12 volt batteries? The + or the -? Never thought of that. I looked and then realized your photograph had four 6 volt wired system for 12 volt.

My two 12 volts are either correct, or I need to move one or the other. Which is my question at this point.

Great you were able to do this yourself. My electrical knowledge comes from 1940's Wurlitzer Jukebox amplifiers and can capacitors. And some Gottlieb Pinball machines and Williams Baseball machines. Other than that... any help is appreciated!
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Old 05-19-2018, 07:18 PM   #14
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Ray,
The configuration I have seen most for 12V batteries is to connect them together, positive to positive and negative to negative. Then connect the cables to the trailer and solar with positive to the positive of one battery and negative to the negative of the other battery. This justification for this is it equalizes the cable resistance; I'm not sure how significant that is, but it can't hurt.


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