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Old 04-08-2014, 08:49 AM   #1
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Batteries: what did I do wrong?

Batteries not holding charge. Okay, got a pretty good idea of where we went off track, and the fix is to replace the batteries (again), but not sure if whatever is the underlying problem is going to put me back in the same place in a few months.
Last night after a couple hours on the generator, batteries read 12.75 v, and I literally could watch the voltage drop to 12.6 in a matter of minutes. This morning with nothing draining overnight other than the fixed detectors and the like, voltage is now at 11.85. Batteries charge, but don't hold a full charge. Actually worse now then when I checked water over the weekend and added a little (water levels uneven, but not drastically low, showing plates or anything, so just enough to bring levels even, about 1/2" below cap). You're probably thinking, this guy is a battery idiot (and you'd be right).
When we got the AS last July, I was under the mistaken impression that the house power was left on Use when on shore power and the original batteries (then 3-4 years old and had spent a lot of time sitting on dealer lot) wouldn't last more than a day, which seemed odd, but decided, new batteries probably were the ticket and replaced as general precaution).
Sold the house and have been full time since last November and only discovered the error of when Use/Store should be switched over while on shore power about a month into our new life. (My assumption at this point, is that we damaged the batteries with the overcharging, but maybe it's more than just that?) Since mostly we've been hooked up to power, it's been something to monitor and the length of time the batteries would last off grid wasn't impressive, but sufficient for topping off with the generator in the morning after running the furnace overnight (some cold nights even in Texas in January). Mostly relied on TV charging between locations (generally towing every 3-7 days) but with the factory dumb converter (lots to learn lurking here, if too little, to late) I got a trickle charger to try to top off the batteries when isolated in Store when on shore power.
So, FINALLY, the question: I know what I did wrong, but am I going to be able to replace and relax a little or am I still missing something that will kill the next set of batteries? Fear I'm still missing something that I should be doing?
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Old 04-08-2014, 09:22 AM   #2
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If you have the factory converter and it has been in use a lot since new it may not be putting out the power to charge the batteries either. Google the converter brand/model for a troubleshooting test procedure.

If it's worn out consider replacing with a "smart" converter that can keep the batteries up without overcharging them. Then you don't have to keep the Battery Disconnect in "Store" position to protect the batteries. Add a new set of quality batteries and you will set.

If you have some spare change sitting around you might consider a solar power addition and AGM batteries. These work quite well for charging and limited electrical needs without being tied to hookups or generator al the time. Again, for limited electrical needs, they are really nice.
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Old 04-08-2014, 09:55 AM   #3
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You might have killed the batteries by overly discharging them multiple times, but your test with the voltage meter is not conclusive.

So before spending money, you need to read this, carefully, especially the second half:

http://airstreamlife.com/maze/2010/0...ry-of-the-sun/

And then you'll understand why discharging, not overcharging, was likely your problem.
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Old 04-08-2014, 10:48 AM   #4
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If your batteries have been chronically undercharged, even for what may seem to you like a short time since last summer when they were replaced, they most likely have become sulfated and will not hold a charge. A battery that say was discharged to 30% and then recharged to 50% for a fairly long time (a month or more, in my thinking) will not be able to be brought up to full charge again, even with good equipment. Your goal is to charge to 90 + % or more, and then discharge to no more than 60% for long battery life. And don't let them sit at 60% either, bring them back up as soon as possible.. in a day or two.

From what I read, you have been only partly recharging your batteries with the generator, towing and sometimes plugging into grid power. So, they are essentially undercharged and that is a real battery killer.

A 3 stage converter/charger changeout is in order for you, as it will put more back into your batteries faster and in a better controlled way when on the generator or grid power. That way you will have a better chance to fully charge your batteries. The amount of charge from you TV while on the road is pretty minimal. Most charge circuits from TV's only amount to 4 to 8 amps, and to a well discharged battery, it will take hours and hours of driving to bring a discharged battery up to full.

I also would recommend some solar charge, if you can afford the cost of a system. Although they don't usually put out a huge amount of charge, they do it over many hours and can be a great help in keeping your batteries closer to full charge for a longer period of time.
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Old 04-08-2014, 10:54 AM   #5
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Don't think I ever discharged battery while in use to much below 50% (maybe overnight furnace dropped to something in 40% range), tho, when in store mode it's possible the discharge dropped lower while on shore power, as I normally would monitor level only after towing (generally in 75-90% range from the console readout. Is a strategy of doing main charge with the TV and hooking up a trickle charger while on shore power fatally flawed (yes, know a smart 3- or 4-stage converter would be better, but I hate throwing money at a problem when I expect to be off grid maybe 10% of the time, maybe less, tho would like to be able to go for a week or so at a time on occasion which at this point I'm loath to do). Solar seems one route, but again, a lot of money and from what I read, the controls there to manage battery life are only a little less taxing for my insecure knowledge and technical know how.

Thanx, Al
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Old 04-08-2014, 11:05 AM   #6
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The least expensive solution may be to keep the Battery Disconnect in "STORE" whenever on shore power or generator (to isolate the batteries from the Airstream converter), and use a battery minder type small charger hooked onto your batteries to keep them up. Similar to what a solar system would do for battery charging, but you need to plug it in.
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Old 04-08-2014, 11:07 AM   #7
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Without any real numbers, voltage readings etc, it is hard to tell from a distance what is going on with your system.

You should be able to leave the Use/Store switch in Use anytime you are plugged into grid power and the original charger will do a reasonable job of keeping your batteries charged. It is not a great charger, but not all that bad and certainly as good as an external battery charger you say you have been using. Now, that assumes that the original charger is working properly, which may not be the case. If you have or can get an inexpensive digital voltmeter (Sears, Walmart, Harbor Freight... $5 to $15) you can measure voltages and we may be able to tell you more. Right now whatever we say is mostly speculation.
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Old 04-08-2014, 11:17 AM   #8
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When I put my Battery Disconnect in the "USE" position, the Airstream converter puts about 13.6 charging volts on the batteries constantly. I think that's too much, too long.

I would add that may be okay for weekend or vacation use, but certainly not for extensive or full-time use.
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Old 04-08-2014, 11:58 AM   #9
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What size battery(S) do you have? There seams to be a common pattern with newer Airstreams and lack of battery power to last longer than 24 hours?! Our demands in recent years with electronics has increased. There is way more parasitic drain on our batteries with more modern heaters, frigs, and additional electronics like microwaves and TV that draw more than you think in the off position. As our battery needs have increased in recent years the systems that supply this power seams to be not keeping up, or is our understanding of how these systems work not being educated?

Almcate's problem seams to be poor design than operator error. I don't want to sound like I'm slamming Airstream, but you should not need to be an electrical expert to demand simple requirements of your travel trailer. Nor should someone like almcate need to spend lots of money to update there trailers electrical system in a trailer that is less than four years old...

The fact is, a correctly installed 120volt/12volt system with correct size battery and efficient inverter charger cost a lot of money. Old style wet deep cycle batteries in this day should no longer be used for the demands we expect. AGM batteries, with at least 250amh, should be standard and one day when the cost comes down lithium batteries will take AGM batteries. Old style converters should also be updated with smart inverter/ chargers, at least 2000 watt, that maintain batteries correctly. They should (must) have temp controls and bypass built in. You should not have to stitch a switch weather your plugged in to shore power or running off battery power. System should be prewired for gen or solar inputs if those are options needed at a later date.

The choice is, do you patch together a system that is poor at best or replace and update to a systems that seriously will work for your needs?! A correct system will run $3000 to $5000. The system you currently have in your trailer cost $1000 at best.

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Old 04-08-2014, 02:59 PM   #10
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Another thing to look at is parasitic draw on your batteries and if you have a inverter they use a lot of power on standby mode.
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Old 04-08-2014, 11:23 PM   #11
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Ah, nothing is simple, is it? If I were to go to a 3-stage converter, would I then leave the battery on USE continuously? Sounds like the shore power would then intermittently going to float boosting the battery at about 90% up to full and then isolating, yes? If off-grid, the generator would still charge through the 3-stage, if with daily use to run 120v system, converter still monitors the top end, and with minimal use, I monitor the bottom end whenever battery drops to the 60% range to top up with the generator. Comments seem to be that the AGMs, even with higher initial cost, still are cheaper over the length of the battery replacement cycle. Other than long-term cost, are the AGMs more reliable, charge faster or have other advantages? Since extended storage really isn't a consideration with the full-time mode we're in, is that a factor to consider?
Does sound like a new converter is in my future. With limited tools and inclination to open up the electrical innards, would appreciate any recommendations along a route between Santa Barbara and the Bay Area and then Reno as that's the trajectory we'll be on over the next month or so. I know the kits run in the $200-$300 range, with install, assume double? If I switch to AGMs, again, any recommended locations to purchase? Ballpark price range? Assume the size and hook up would be similar to the two lead acid Interstates now in the battery box?
Lots of good advice already, but I have a hard time to digest it all, so thanks in advance for even more replies to what probably seem like questions you've already answered. —thnx Al
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Old 04-09-2014, 12:09 AM   #12
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As a full-timer and us as half-time, we both need to have upgraded battery systems. We have the solar panel and Highline AGM batteries, protecting the batteries from the factory inverter by isolating them with the Battery Disconnect switch. I like the quiet and convenience of solar power but it has limitations we do well with. If you choose a "smart" converter upgrade and AGM batteries it will probably work very well with your generator or shore power hookups, fewer limitations.
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Old 04-09-2014, 02:17 AM   #13
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Batteries: what did I do wrong?

I used to buy AGM batteries but no more. I really don't think their lifespan is any greater than lead acid batteries, even though their purchase price implies otherwise.

And even more, if I pull a bonehead move and overcharge or carelessly lethally discharge a lead acid battery, it doesn't hurt nearly as much as trashing a battery I paid double or triple money.
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Old 04-09-2014, 06:39 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by J. Morgan View Post
I used to buy AGM batteries but no more. I really don't think their lifespan is any greater than lead acid batteries, even though their purchase price implies otherwise.

And even more, if I pull a bonehead move and overcharge or carelessly lethally discharge a lead acid battery, it doesn't hurt nearly as much as trashing a battery I paid double or triple money.
The experience of others differs greatly. Vinnie's got it right! When properly charged (and this is extremely important with any battery), quality AGM batteries like Lifelines will far outlast liquid lead acid types. I have several clients with very large battery banks in motor homes that are approaching 10 years and still show above 95% capacity. I have many more that are at least 7 years old and still more over 5 years. All are still performing as designed and NONE of these use converters as the base of their charging system. They are either inverter/chargers alone or combined with quality solar charging systems which include controllers with full 3-stage charging and temperature compensation.

Different batteries need different, very specific charging profiles to be properly charged. They also need temperature compensation (there's that phrase again) to keep the charging voltage within the acceptable range that is dictated by the ambient temperature. Nothing kills a battery faster than putting a constant 13.6 VDC (as with the original converter found in new Airstreams) into a battery that regardless of the temperature of that battery. Hotter batteries need less voltage to charge and conversely, colder batteries need more.

Also, a battery is never fully charged by 13.6 VDC. Most need at least 14.2VDC for a bulk and absorption charge and a float charge of 13.2 VDC. Some liquid cells need as high as 14.6 VDC for bulk and absorption charging and 13.4 for float. It varies by battery type and battery manufacturer…..AND BY TEMPERATURE!
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