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Old 12-27-2015, 10:13 AM   #1
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First upgrade from stock Lifeline Group 27's - best bang for the buck?

I picked up my 2016 Classic from Colonial Airstream last week and am loving my first week full-timing in it.

However, I noticed that the batteries haven't been able to hold anything more than 12.1V (or ~65%) according to the solar charging system monitor once I disconnect from shore power or my generator. I didn't notice this the night I camped at Colonial because it was connected to shore power. I've exchanged a bunch of emails with Pat & Dave already so I'm hopeful we'll figure something out when they get back in the office tomorrow.

At this point, I'm assuming that the batteries need to be replace (though, whether Colonial will cover them or I'll have to pay out of pocket is still to be determined).

If you were in my shoes (first time fulltimer, probably going to upgrade to solar and/or lithiums later this year when I have a better idea of my power needs and will be doing quite a bit of dry camping this year), what would you do at this point?

It seems to me that I have a couple of options here:

1. I replace with the same batteries for now.
2. I upgrade to a different set of batteries now (ideally, something that doesn't require too much modification).
3. I get better ideas from you guys.

What do you think?
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Old 12-27-2015, 10:22 AM   #2
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Cheap as possible!

If you are going to invest in Lithiums, go to Walmart and get the cheapest battery that will fit your trailer.

No sense spending a bunch of bucks if you don't need to.

In a few months you should have a better feeling for what you will need as a permanent battery/solar installation.

Give the cheapie batteries to a fisherman for use with a trolling motor.







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Old 12-27-2015, 10:38 AM   #3
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If you have the Airstream solar package (which is basically just an overpriced trickle charger - we replaced ours almost immediately) you have the Lifeline AGM batteries which are just about the best (other than 6 volt golf cart AGMs and LFPs) so I would fist focus on getting those replaced.

The batteries on new trailers are notorious for early failures because the single stage charger that Airstream installs is very rough on batteries if left plugged in and in "use mode" for any length of time as dealers will often do to help with showing the trailer to prospective buyers. For about $300 to $500 you can get a multi stage charger that will work just fine with your "new" Lifeline AGMs. I would get one of those as soon as you get the replacement batteries so you don't destroy them.

Then, I would use the trailer this coming summer to see what your preferred style of camping really is and then make a long term decision about replacing the solar and/or getting LFPs. Meanwhile, use this Forum (and the very useful "search function") to research what other people have done to upgrade their electrical systems to suite their style of camping. Be careful as there is a lot of misinformation spread by well meaning people on this forum. "Lewster" and "Idroba" are among the more prolific posters pertaining to electrical issues who have real expertise on this subject. There are others of course as well, but these two are the most frequent posters. I would pay the most attention to what those two have to say.

We went "whole hog" with 4 X 135 watt solar panels on the roof, Blue Sky Solar Controller, new Magnum Hybrid Inverter/Charger, 400 AH of LFP's and a few other bells and whistles and as a result have well over $10,000 in electrical upgrades in our trailer which let us function off the grid almost as if we were plugged into shore power. This may not be what you need or may be more than you want to spend. The new charger alone ($500) will give you a major step up in your system and you can spend any amount from $500 up to $15,000 to get a better system. That's why I suggest you get the thing to work (new batteries) and the new charger to protect them and then use the camper for awhile to see what you really want to do.

Of course, if you are already an experienced camper and this trailer is not your first one, you may already know what you want on this particular subject so you can skip the "summer of experience" and dive right into exploring your options. In any event, as a first step, I would definitely get Airstream to replace your current batteries and replace the stock charger.
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Old 12-27-2015, 10:38 AM   #4
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You could get Colonial to warranty the batteries, replace with fresh and test your trailer for draws and to verify the convert/charger is functioning properly. This has got to be the most common problem with new RVs.

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Old 12-27-2015, 11:06 AM   #5
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If a brand new trailer with a solar package and AGM batteries will not hold a charge better than you mentioned, there may be something wrong with the batteries, however....

That assumes that the 12.1 volts you see on the meter is accurate. One thing I would urge you to do is to get a digital voltmeter and measure the voltage at the batteries themselves. Other locations and meters may simply not be measuring things very accurately.

Also, remember that this is winter, and you are using a lot more power when boondocking, for the furnace and lights. The Airstream Solar package is marginal at very best in it's ability to recharge, and you simply might have run the batteries down pretty far and have not applied enough re charge time with your solar or generator. You may be expecting too much from your limited charge time with the generator or solar. 90% recharge time with a generator will be several hours minimum, if the batteries are badly discharged. With the sun, several days for the AS package, assuming no loads are taking the power out as fast as it is put in.

You may not realize how many parasitic draws your trailer has. The refrigerator takes 12 volt power in the range of 0.75 to 1 amp 24 hours a day. The water heater, when operating (that is flame on), takes about 0.75 amps. Your trailer is large, so it has a furnace which takes 5 to 7 amps when the fan is running. It is amazing how much power that amounts to when the unit is on 24 hours in a day, even though it does not run full time.

You might not realize just how limited capacity your batteries are, even in good condition. In terms of home use, they can only store about 2 kWh total, if run down to zero. It is best not to run them down to less than 50%, which is only like one kWh. That would cost you about 12 cents at home. Not a lot of power.

It is difficult to judge your current problem from a distance without a lot more information. My best guess is that you are using too much 12 volt power and not recharging enough, but it is also possible you have defective batteries.
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Old 12-27-2015, 11:54 AM   #6
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To get the most accurate reading via a voltmeter of your battery charge at the battery terminals as idroba has suggested above you need to take as many of the loads off the battery as possible and give the batteries an hour or two to rest before doing the test. To do this, I would first put the electrical system in "store mode" and either cover the solar panels or run the test a couple of hours or so after dark (placing the trailer in store mode does not disconnect the solar charger from the batteries.) Once you do this, you will still have a small parasitic draw from the propane detector but that's fine as it is pretty minimal.

Of course, you will want to fully charge the batteries as much as you can before running the above test.
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Old 12-27-2015, 12:36 PM   #7
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I considered lithium batteries when I replaced my 4 75 amp-hr lifeline batteries last year. They were to expensive for the benefit received. I trippled the amount of Solar power, added a new blue sky mppt controller and 3 new 105 Amp-hr full river agm batteries for less than the cost of enough lithium battery capacity needed to provide 300 amp-hrs. I am hoping that the cost drops so that in a few years when I need to replace my existing batteries that lithiums are more cost effective. As far as the stock AS controller goes. I try to leave it set to store mode all the time so that it will not over charge my batteries. I have enough solar power to charge them without using the controller. I also think the best way to figure out how much power you need is to boon dock in the winter. I needed a lot more solar power to keep batteries charged each day in Arizonia last winter than I needed in Montana last summer.
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Old 12-27-2015, 12:41 PM   #8
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Totally agree with KJRitchie nuf said
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Old 12-27-2015, 12:57 PM   #9
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Know that even if the factory converter/charger is functioning properly by its standards, it is a single stage charger and cannot charge your AGM (or wet cell) batteries properly. Used continuously, it will ruin the batteries.

You need a multi-stage battery charger for proper charging, and that is a very common Airstream owner upgrade.
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Old 12-27-2015, 01:18 PM   #10
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The batteries that came with my 2015 Flying Cloud did not do well at 3 nights of dry camping, I did barrow a Honda Gen. at the end of the 2nd day, but could not get charge over 10.5.

We have done over 90 nights out this year (Full hook-up) with no problems, always held a 12.0 + when check. I watch very closely during this time dry camping, everything on propane ( know a little on something's) to see how they did.

They just would not hold a charge very well.

Question is : Going to AGM batteries , what do I need to do?.
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Old 12-27-2015, 01:49 PM   #11
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David, I think the most cost effective is a new multi-stage converter/charger for your Airstream, a Honda 2000i generator to charge batteries and provide off the grid power, and two Group 27 Lifeline AGM batteries. (If you want to run an air conditioner off-grid you need a larger generator.)

A reliable, economical setup for combined off-grid and full-hookup travel.
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Old 12-27-2015, 03:31 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wcrockett View Post
I considered lithium batteries when I replaced my 4 75 amp-hr lifeline batteries last year. They were to expensive for the benefit received. I trippled the amount of Solar power, added a new blue sky mppt controller and 3 new 105 Amp-hr full river agm batteries for less than the cost of enough lithium battery capacity needed to provide 300 amp-hrs. I am hoping that the cost drops so that in a few years when I need to replace my existing batteries that lithiums are more cost effective. As far as the stock AS controller goes. I try to leave it set to store mode all the time so that it will not over charge my batteries. I have enough solar power to charge them without using the controller. I also think the best way to figure out how much power you need is to boon dock in the winter. I needed a lot more solar power to keep batteries charged each day in Arizonia last winter than I needed in Montana last summer.
They are already cost effective if you properly price them out. The same way folks justify the cost of AGM's. You get a dozen additional benefits, plus you get a cheaper price per amp hour over the life span which is 2x greater.

Just for comparison, you said this:
Quote:
3 new 105 Amp-hr full river agm batteries for less than the cost of enough lithium battery capacity needed to provide 300 amp-hrs.
But the reality here is your 315Ah bank can only safely be drawn down 50% so it's really a 157Ah bank. Where a 300Ah lithium bank would of been 240Ah since you can draw 80-90% of the battery.

To get the same thing, you'd need more batteries, increasing your cost exponentially. And increased the required space and weight.

They're actually not expensive. I wouldn't expect the price to come down more than 10% within the next 5 yrs for anyone wondering.

To the OP if you are going to lithiums for sure, do what the first post suggested. Go cheap, or get Colonial to replace them, and figure out your energy needs.
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Old 12-27-2015, 07:27 PM   #13
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For us, a key advantage of the LFPs vs. AGMs was the weight savings. To get the same amount of available power as our 110 lbs. 400 AH LFP set up (approx. 320 AH) would have required a 600 AH AGM set up weighing nearly 400 lbs. And nearly all that weight would have been on the tongue!

Our 400 AH LFP batteries cost about $3,200 (about twice the up front cost of the 600 AH AGM's.) I have no idea if the LFP prices will come down significantly over the next couple of years or by how much. Was I going to wait and suffer for one or two years with overweight AGMs to "save 20% or 30%" ($600 - $900) on LFPs in two years? Hell no.
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Old 12-27-2015, 08:40 PM   #14
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Thanks all -- you guys are awesome.

My plan is to speak with Colonial when they get back into the office tomorrow and see where we end up. Regardless, I'll replace the batteries with their equivalents and start figuring out my long term power needs.

As for the charger upgrade, a quick search seems to suggest that the Progressive Dynamics drop-in upgrade is the way to go. Two questions on that:

1. Is that the best short term upgrade I should be making to avoid this situation from happening again?
2. If I'm planning to upgrade to lithium within the next 3-4 months for sure, am I better off picking up the converter/charger that I'd ultimately be using with that setup instead?
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