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Old 03-23-2011, 07:13 PM   #1
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Batteries lost water/electrolyte

In early 2008 I upgraded my system to four group 27 batteries, the RV marine type that claim to be deep cycle. See my blog for details on the installation. These are charged by a Progressive Dynamics unit with the charge wizard. The charger was purchased in '06 I think.

All has worked well since installed and I check the water or electrolyte level in the batteries several times a year and never needed to add any. I took a look at them tonight as part of my usual pre-season checks and I can see the tops of the plates. About 1/4" is exposed. Same level on all cells, all batteries, and they seem to have a full charge.

The trailer has been stored for the winter with shore power plugged in and no real battery loads. With the batteries at three years old I expected to get another year or so out of them.

Any guesses as to the cause of liquid loss? Charger malfunction that boiled them off? No case leaks I can see. Any chance of topping off with new electrolyte and getting some more use out of them or is this a sign that they are at the end of their lifespan?

Christopher
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Old 03-23-2011, 08:55 PM   #2
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Back in the day we'd just fill them back up with water.
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Old 03-23-2011, 09:01 PM   #3
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Batteries

Just be happy you didn't buy expensive AGM batteries with the expectation they would last 10 years.
Just add distilled water and watch for future problems. Sounds like the charger is faulty. How are the connections at the battery and charger? Are they clean?
Also wash the batteries so that there is no parasitic drain from spilled acid.
Let us know how you make out.
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Old 03-23-2011, 10:12 PM   #4
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I have found that solar seems to be the best way to keep the batteries in good condition over long periods of storage without attention. We have left one or the other trailer for 4-5 months at a time, outside in the sun, and come home to batteries full of water and fully charged. The solar controllers seem to do a great job.

One trailer has two Trojan 6v batteries, the other two group 27 Interstates. Both have 55w panels.
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Old 03-23-2011, 10:37 PM   #5
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Christopher,

If your charger has a controller to keep the batteries in 'float' mode when stored, the fluid loss should be minimal...

However, since you mentioned they're three years old, there may be a possibility that one or more of your batteries may have a weak or failing cell (plates shorted against each other)...

This will 'signal' the charger that the battery bank needs additional charging, due to the voltage being lowered in the battery with the failing (shorted) cell - IE: with one shorted cell, the battery is now at 10 volts, fooling the charger into allowing more current (and a higher voltage) to be directed to the entire (parallel circuit) battery bank, resulting in accelerated fluid loss for them all...

If you unhook at least one cable from each battery, and allow them to 'rest' for 24 hours, you can then check each battery's voltage individually to see if one has leaked down below 12 volts, indicating a weak cell - subjecting each on to a load test after resting will also indicate a weak battery...

If you have vents on the top of the batteries that can be opened, a hydrometer will also be a good way to check each cell's state of charge - one cell that is noticeably 'lower' than the rest will indicate a week cell...

Hope that helps...
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Old 03-24-2011, 06:12 AM   #6
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Thanks all. I have a hydrometer and will check the voltage after topping off and allowing a rest.

Christopher
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Old 03-24-2011, 11:14 AM   #7
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Dump the hydrometer. Forget the solar. Don't fall for the 'deep cycle' marketing hype!

now that the stage is set ... ;-)

The PD plus chargewizard, as in your general experience, is an excellent way to charge and maintain your batteries. It will keep a low float so as to avoid plate corrosion (which solar systems don't do) and it provides a sulfation inhibiting technique (which most solar systems don't do) and it will provide a good vigorous charge (which solar systems don't do).

Overcharging is the primary reason for loss of electrolyte but there are other causes as well. Finding low water every few months is no big deal. The PD + CW tends to reduce the need for electrolyte checking but it doesn't eliminate it. I'd do as suggested above - add water as needed and then check it a bit more frequently. If you find the need to add water more than every couple of months, do a diagnostic on the converter to check its charging and float voltage and make sure it is cycling the charge bump in maintenance mode properly.
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Old 03-24-2011, 03:35 PM   #8
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We have had good luck with batteries by installing a marine battery switch and only charging overnight every month or so (when not using Airstream). This avoids overcharging, and it's frequently longer when I forget.

Turning the switch OFF completely disconnects the batteries from the trailer, and they'll easily hold a charge for 30-60 days with all parasitic drains removed. Our Optima Blue Top batteries are 5 years old and still going strong. I have heard that Optimas will hold a charge up to a year, if nothing is connected to them.

The OEM batteries only lasted one year, but that was before we installed the battery switch. I think they would have lasted longer, but we didn't figure out the problem with the parasitic drains until then, and the Airstream was on shore power 24/7. I think that's what caused their early demise.
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Old 03-26-2011, 03:04 PM   #9
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Follow-up

Topped off all batteries with distilled water and let them sit for a day. Hygrometer readings showed all cells with equal charge on all batteries. From now on I'll check them more often.

Thanks for the comments on solar panels not being perfect. While I like the idea of "free" and quiet charging, all my boondocking so far and plans for the near future, are in the woods. In short, I can't justify installing panels at this time.

Christopher
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Old 03-26-2011, 05:25 PM   #10
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Battery Hydrometer

The HYDROMETER is the only tool that will tell you what is wrong with your batteries. Other tools such as load test etc. will only tell you it failed or passed. The hydrometer will tell you which cell is the problem. If all cells are equal, then a battery equalization session sometimes will be helpful in prolonging the useful life of the batteries.
Solar is the only answer for unused storage of units where grid power is not available. Solar is reliable and efficient and if set up properly through a charge controller, no significant plate sulfation will take place.
True Deep Cycle batteries are the only long term answer for off grid power.
Marine/start combo type will do the job for a shorter time and will last a bit longer if not deep cycled. AGM will break you bank account, but may be necessary depending where they are mounted.
If you have a good charger? make sure it is set for the battery type you have. ie: AGM or wet cell. Improper setting will result in increased maintenance required for wet cell, and improper charging on the AGM.
Dave

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Originally Posted by bryanl View Post
Dump the hydrometer. Forget the solar. Don't fall for the 'deep cycle' marketing hype!

now that the stage is set ... ;-)

The PD plus chargewizard, as in your general experience, is an excellent way to charge and maintain your batteries. It will keep a low float so as to avoid plate corrosion (which solar systems don't do) and it provides a sulfation inhibiting technique (which most solar systems don't do) and it will provide a good vigorous charge (which solar systems don't do).

Overcharging is the primary reason for loss of electrolyte but there are other causes as well. Finding low water every few months is no big deal. The PD + CW tends to reduce the need for electrolyte checking but it doesn't eliminate it. I'd do as suggested above - add water as needed and then check it a bit more frequently. If you find the need to add water more than every couple of months, do a diagnostic on the converter to check its charging and float voltage and make sure it is cycling the charge bump in maintenance mode properly.
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Old 03-26-2011, 06:49 PM   #11
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Our solar panel has a three stage charger built in. The first winter, I left the trailer plugged into shore power and the water in the batteries was just below the plates by spring. I added water and everything was fine. Then I realized the solar panel would keep them charged properly all winter. There has been minimal loss of water since, batteries ok and the world continues to rotate.

So when you buy a solar panel, check to see what kind of charger is built in. It does sound like the charge wizard may be faulty.

Gene
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Old 03-27-2011, 10:02 AM   #12
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re: "The HYDROMETER is the only tool that will tell you what is wrong with your batteries"

not so. there are more modern techniques that will do as well or better and are much safer to use

Hydrometry requires hazmat precautions and presents a rather significant risk of cell contamination not to mention access and other problems.

In the typical RV context, there is no need to measure specific gravity. A voltage measure that is properly done and interpreted (which are similar requirements for hydrometry measures) is sufficient for RV needs.

Hydrometry is one of those 50 year out of date things IMHO. If you have a battery situation where your interest is in individual cells and their repair, then you likely are also in a place where more modern test equipment is available.

But, for the RVer, all you need to know is if the battery is in reasonable shape and that can be done on a whole battery basis. For that, voltage is directly correlated with specific gravity and much safer and easier to measure.
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Old 03-27-2011, 02:24 PM   #13
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Hydrometer

Bryan:
I am aware of newer technology, but most of it is not readily available to the back yard mechanic.
However, for less than $5.00 I don't think you can beat the value, or the information gained from a simple tool (hydrometer) that is easy to maintain, easy to carry, and easy to understand.
If the hydrometer tests all the cells showing equal, and the battery is not beyond its expected life, many times it is possible to prolong the useful life with an extended cell equalization/plate desulfation charge.
This can be done in the shop or on the road with the appropriate charger.
To properly maintain and service your system, one must have access to the batteries. At least once a year, (experience with your unit will determine the frequency required) they should be checked and cleaned, and if there are signs of problems, this should be done more often.
As mentioned in many threads, if you don't have the time or desire to do this, then investing more $ on AGM may seem like a simple solution.
I am in agreement there are hazards when working around batteries, but common sense and a some information gathering can go a long way towards prevention of accidents.
One other thing, denim jeans are readily available at any clothing store, for those who work on batteries and like wipe their hands on their pant legs.


Quote:
Originally Posted by bryanl View Post
re: "The HYDROMETER is the only tool that will tell you what is wrong with your batteries"

not so. there are more modern techniques that will do as well or better and are much safer to use

Hydrometry requires hazmat precautions and presents a rather significant risk of cell contamination not to mention access and other problems.

In the typical RV context, there is no need to measure specific gravity. A voltage measure that is properly done and interpreted (which are similar requirements for hydrometry measures) is sufficient for RV needs.

Hydrometry is one of those 50 year out of date things IMHO. If you have a battery situation where your interest is in individual cells and their repair, then you likely are also in a place where more modern test equipment is available.

But, for the RVer, all you need to know is if the battery is in reasonable shape and that can be done on a whole battery basis. For that, voltage is directly correlated with specific gravity and much safer and easier to measure.
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Old 03-28-2011, 09:26 AM   #14
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re: "for less than $5.00 I don't think you can beat the value, or the information gained from a simple tool (hydrometer) that is easy to maintain, easy to carry, and easy to understand."

some things are deceptive.

I think the safety hazards are underestimated as well as the potential for cell contamination. Then there is the measurement interpretation problem. The safety issue is not just one of procedure and the risk isn't just one that can be fixed by where you wipe your hands. That is why modern practice requires safety goggles and acid resistant gloves and an apron as well as proper procedure.

For typical RV needs, a DVM can be much easier to use and provide sufficiently good results when properly used. It does not have the safety issues nor the cell contamination issues.

It interests me that I see other discussions where people go bonkers about safety when it comes to weight ratings but their approach is entirely different when it comes to batteries. That is something to ponder.

re: "If the hydrometer tests all the cells showing equal, and the battery is not beyond its expected life, many times it is possible to prolong the useful life with an extended cell equalization/plate desulfation charge."

If all cells are at an equal SoC, then an equalization charge is not needed - by definition. It should also be noted that an equalization charge is not a desulfation technique. It may have some desulfation effect as any full charge will but that is short term.

As for "expected life" - that is an entirely different issue that cannot be determined by SoC evaluation as by voltage or specific gravity.

Quote:
To properly maintain and service your system, one must have access to the batteries. At least once a year, (experience with your unit will determine the frequency required) they should be checked and cleaned, and if there are signs of problems, this should be done more often.
Good advice here.

One other issue that I see surfacing here is the confusion between state of charge and battery condition. That is one that is the source of a real whopper in the latest Highways (Good Sam publication) Tech Topics, too. Specific gravity and voltage tell you about state of charge but they don't tell you about battery condition or age. You need another test for that. The one most folks I know use is the "it doesn't have the life it used to" test.
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