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Old 04-24-2014, 04:32 PM   #1
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AGM Batteries or converter going bad?

We purchased our AS in February of this year. The PO said his local TT repair shop (not AS dealership) said the AGM batteries were in good shape, had at least a couple more years in them. While we had the AS at home or in storage the factory installed solar panel read 100% available if nothing was on. If I turned on the lights that dropped to 80-90%. Turn them off again and after a short while it was back up to 100%.

We ran an extension cord from the house and used an adapter to plug into the AS power cord. We used the lights, radio, tried the furnace, microwave, stove, etc. Everything worked OK. Unplugged and put it in storage and checked on it once a week. Solar panel always showed 100% unless we turned something on.

We took the AS out for a couple of days to a national park. I used the tester / power surge protector to check the box, everything was OK. I hooked up the 30 amp service and we stayed a couple of days. While on shore power everything worked fine, including the heat pump, no issues anywhere. The only odd thing was that the solar panel indicated lower and lower available power. At one point it was down to 35%. If I turned off the main power at the switch by the door the red warning light came on for battery power on the main panel. I turned the switch back on and the indicator went back to green but the solar panel was still low.

We came home, unpacked and put the trailer in storage again. It's been there for almost 2 weeks and today I checked on it and the solar panel says 85% available. Turn on some lights and it drops to 70%, turn them off and it goes back up again.

I would think that if I'm on shore power the batteries would always be charging. Even if they weren't, the solar panel would eventually bring them back up to 100%. With them only at 85% after almost 2 weeks I would think either the batteries or converter would be bad. If I'm on shore power, why would the batteries drop so low unless the converter wasn't charging them. But if the converter was bad, wouldn't the solar panel bring the charge up again after 2 weeks?


How can I check the converter with the solar panel in place? Is there some way to remove it from the equation to see if the converter is working? I know about lead acid batteries but nothing about AGMs.
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Old 04-24-2014, 06:30 PM   #2
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Flooded cell (lead acid) batteries and AGM's are not all that much different. What anyone needs to help you figure out the problem is some voltage readings. What is the battery voltage when not on shore power and if possible with the solar system off or disconnected? What is the voltage with it connected? Same with the rig on line power, voltage when it is on line power?

That information will help figure out what is going on. Any inexpensive digital voltmeter from Harbor Freight, Wal Mart or Sears will work just fine.

FYI, resting voltage for fully charged batteries should be in the 12.6 volt range for fully charged batteries. When the solar system is putting out (sun is shining) the voltage should slowly increase to maybe 13.6 volts. When the rig is plugged into line power, same deal, expect about 13.6 volts.

It is a place to start at least.
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Old 04-24-2014, 07:34 PM   #3
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Not to be picky, but a 12.6 VDC reading on a resting battery indicates that it is at about 85% of capacity, as a fully charged battery will display (depending on the type of battery being measured) anywhere from 12.8-13.2 VDC.

Also, NO battery will ever get a full, proper charge at 13.6 VDC. This is why the standard converters used by Airstream are so bad for batteries. If you look at the charging specifications on any battery manufacturer's web sites, you will notice that they ALL specify 3-stage charging with a bulk and absorption charge of between 14.2-14.6 VDC (again, depending on the battery type) and a float charge of between 13.2-13.4 VDC. These voltages are specified at 'standard test conditions' of 25ºC, which is 77ºF. Charging voltage requirements vary dramatically up or down as battery temperature goes up or down…..hence, the need for temperature compensation.

I won't go into the many benefits of temperature compensation for charging systems here, as I have discussed this many times in other posts. Some folks are very happy buying el-cheapo batteries from their local Auto Zone, Wal*Mart, or other such place and just replacing them every 2-3 years when they die. Some maintain them with a semi-religious zeal and get them to last twice that time.

Others spend significant dollars on sophisticated inverter/charger or solar charging systems with full temperature compensation and AGM batteries, but they don't want to mess with battery maintenance and rightfully expect their battery banks to last 10 years…..which they WILL. And as usual…..YMMV!!!
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Old 04-24-2014, 07:42 PM   #4
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When I had batteries that were in doubt I took them to Walmart and they ran a test for me. It can take awhile but it will give you an idea of what the batteries are up to. Mine are not the AGM's but the test should tell you if they are in need of replacement or not. In my case the test confirmed what I was already pretty sure I knew. I replaced the batteries and soon after replaced the converter also. If you have the original one installed by the factory do yourself a favor and update to the newer multi-stage ones. You won't be sorry. And, it's a great do-it-yourself project.
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Old 04-24-2014, 08:11 PM   #5
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When I had batteries that were in doubt I took them to Walmart and they ran a test for me. It can take awhile but it will give you an idea of what the batteries are up to. Mine are not the AGM's but the test should tell you if they are in need of replacement or not. In my case the test confirmed what I was already pretty sure I knew. I replaced the batteries and soon after replaced the converter also. If you have the original one installed by the factory do yourself a favor and update to the newer multi-stage ones. You won't be sorry. And, it's a great do-it-yourself project.


I agree with Roger about replacing your converter if is one of the Paralax single stage "battery friers". The Paralax did a job on my AGMs, they hate to be overcharged and lasted only two years.
If you are replacing batteries, it is best to replace both. The bad one will take the good one down with it.
Buy a load tester for 30 bucks or so at an auto parts store. Unloaded voltage readings are almost meaningless.
You didn't say how old your batteries are but what you describe sounds like a classic case of weak batteries.
After replacing my battery frier with a 3 stage unit, I am on my third year with flooded cell batteries. You can buy almost two of them for what one agm costs.
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Old 04-24-2014, 09:34 PM   #6
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I'm ready to upgrade to a multi stage converter, but seeing that my 2014 A/S is two months old......couldn't that effect my warranty for the entire coach?
By the way, I've had my batteries charging today on my $35 Stanley 6 amp charger and it worked perfectly.
I wish someone would tell me why Airstream places these sub standard converters in their product?
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Old 04-24-2014, 10:05 PM   #7
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Trying to digest everything here, lots of good information.

In my AS owner's manual it references a MagneTec 7300 but in the documentation from the PO there is a warranty sheet from Parallax. At Magnetec there is a reference to "divested products" that links me to the Parallax site where I find reference to the 7200 and 7400 models but not 7300; figures.

Would the converter be very close to the battery box? I've been behind the front L-couch to replace a fuse, lots of heavy 12v wires coming in there but I don't recall seeing anything that looks like that.

I'll check battery voltage but I'm sure it's low (I have a Radio Shack multimeter from the 70s that still works very well.). The AS is usually not hooked up to shore power but that 2 day trip and the reaction of the batteries to being switched off from the Parallax leads me to think the weak battery assessment is correct.

This AS has the solar package and came with the AGM batteries. Cost is a consideration at this point. Would it be OK to replace the AGMs with good (Deka e.g.) deep cycle batteries, upgrade to a 3 stage converter, then down the road go back to the AGM? Would that impact the solar panel in any way?

Thanks
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Old 04-24-2014, 10:12 PM   #8
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I wouldn't worry about any impact on the warranty. I've had my unit 1 year. First thing I replaced was the tires. Out with the China bombs and replaced with Michelins. Second thing was to replace the water pump with a Flojet Variable Speed unit. I wish I had replaced the Paralax when I first got the unit. I am going to do that next.

My mindset quickly changed from "I don't want to ruin anything" (by making a mistake) to "I don't want anyone else messing with my Airstream - I'll trust myself before anyone else". That way I get experience, have some fun, and I'm a little more self reliant. An no one else will mess anything up on my Airstream.
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Old 04-24-2014, 10:26 PM   #9
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Sounds like good advice, thanks Rah.......
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Old 04-24-2014, 11:05 PM   #10
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I found information on the 7300 model. Now that I know what it looks like, I know where it is.

At BestConverters they show an upgrade kit for the model 7300 the Ultra III. I'm not familiar with brand names, anyone have any experience or recommendations?

Magnetek/Parallax to Ultra III

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Old 04-25-2014, 12:02 AM   #11
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Rich,

I picked up my 2006 in 2009 and the first thing I had to do was replace the converter. The PO had left it plugged in for about 2 years and both of the batteries were totally fried. We never noticed it since it was plugged in when we looked at it. On the way home we stayed at a place with full hookups so everything was just fine. On our first night away it all came crashing down.

I went with an IOTA DLS-55 with the smart charger built in. It is 2014 and so far so good. The local Airstream dealer installed mine for under $200. What ever you do make sure you get a 3 stage charger. Makes all the difference.
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Old 04-25-2014, 12:04 AM   #12
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Get RID of anything Parallax. We all speak from experience. Get rid of anything that is any way remotely associated with Parallax or Magnetek.

Trust us.

Here is a copy/paste of a post I made to someone else who also had a Parallax failure:

"Every one I have ever had has failed except the last replacement Airstream provided for my trailer mainly because I didn't give it a chance to; I yanked that POS out almost immediately and installed an Intellipower. I never used the Parallax...it was the third replacement on a basically new trailer.

My parents had a Parallax in their Chinook which literally caught fire; the replacement failed (but didn't catch fire). They traded the coach in on a Georgetown, then a Surfside. The Parallax in the Surfside failed, and I bought them an Intellipower.

My Scamp had an older Parallax-then called Magnetek or something-and it too failed quickly. It would make this horrible loud hum, then it quit, of course after boiling the original battery subsequently ruining it. I replaced that with an Intellipower PD9180 and it has been plugged in continuously since 2005, charging the same battery purchased in 2005, and that battery is STILL good.

My 75th Bambi had the converter replaced before it went to Bates. While it was on the lot at Bates, I went to see it for the first time, and when I went back to purchase the trailer, the service department had to replace the converter before I could even tow it away. They also had to replace both batteries since the Parallax boiled them as well. When I brought my trailer to the factory in 2012 for warranty work, I was told that yet AGAIN they replaced the converter but didn't say why...it was there a couple months, and they gave me the old broken converter in the new one's box. When I got the trailer home I modified the Parallax box under the oven and installed the Intellipower PD9280. It has been plugged in continuously every time the trailer isn't rolling. No problems since!!!

I don't see how they sell the things as aftermarket equipment; I realize the manufacturers use them because they are CHEAP...

...they just suck."

Get something else...now.
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Old 04-25-2014, 06:18 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by richw46 View Post
Trying to digest everything here, lots of good information.

In my AS owner's manual it references a MagneTec 7300 but in the documentation from the PO there is a warranty sheet from Parallax. At Magnetec there is a reference to "divested products" that links me to the Parallax site where I find reference to the 7200 and 7400 models but not 7300; figures.

Would the converter be very close to the battery box? I've been behind the front L-couch to replace a fuse, lots of heavy 12v wires coming in there but I don't recall seeing anything that looks like that.

I'll check battery voltage but I'm sure it's low (I have a Radio Shack multimeter from the 70s that still works very well.). The AS is usually not hooked up to shore power but that 2 day trip and the reaction of the batteries to being switched off from the Parallax leads me to think the weak battery assessment is correct.

This AS has the solar package and came with the AGM batteries. Cost is a consideration at this point. Would it be OK to replace the AGMs with good (Deka e.g.) deep cycle batteries, upgrade to a 3 stage converter, then down the road go back to the AGM? Would that impact the solar panel in any way?

Thanks
Rich,

You'll find your battery burner (sorry, the thing that Airstream calls a converter) directly below your 120VAC circuit breaker panel in a metal box. You can access it by removing the face plate.

If your AGMs are original and considering that they have never been properly charged by either the Parallax converter or the factory solar, they are 8 years old and probably done. At this point, the least expensive thing to do is replace the Parallax with a Progressive Dynamics unit (the 4655 is a direct replacement) and any battery you want. Deka makes a decent battery.

You can always upgrade your solar and batteries at a later date, but this will get you back into the camping scene.
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Old 04-25-2014, 08:29 AM   #14
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Hi Lew,

All good advice, I'm going to purchase the replacement converter today for my 2014 23' Flying Cloud, would the Progressive Dynamics 4655 also work for my unit. Also, is there any thing additional I should order with it, volt meter etc.?
Thanks!
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