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Old 11-27-2007, 12:34 AM   #1
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Short Battery Life

Hello fellow A/S friends and fans,
My wife and I have an 06 Safari FB, SE. It's 2 years old this month. We love it. It's perfect for the two of us. Here's the question. After about the first year, the batteries started to lose their charge, quite rapidly, when dry camping. We have factory installed solar panels, an inverter, 2 batteries (I believe they're the sealed marine type). During the first year of use, when dry camping, the batteries held their charge quite well, through an average weekend of use. This included a DVD at night, using the inverter to power the TV and stereo/DVD player. They would run down to maybe 75-70% and then during the day the solar panels would do their thing and charge the system back up to 100%. After about a year, the batteries seemed to not hold their charge as well. I started to notice on various dry/boondocking trips that they would be down to 60% or less at the end of the evening. In the morning there would barely be enough power to run the coffee bean grinder... ugh!!!!. This is with moderate use of the lights and no TV watching. I've had C & G Trailer in Bellflower, Ca. check it out twice. These people are awesome! However, tests came up inconclusive. They couldn't find a short and said that the batteries were fine. So here we are a year later and we're doing great if we have shore power. However, we don't have much faith in the batteries holding up for anything more than a night or two and that's if we're getting enough sun to recharge the system. When we leave for our trip, the batteries are full charged, as I've had the trailer connected to power to charge up and to get the refrigerator running cold. Could the batteries have run down too low, too many times and shortened the life? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 11-27-2007, 01:37 AM   #2
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hi bombshell...

not enough info in your post.

-lets start with the grinder, what are the electrical requirements?

even a small one is 150-200 watts which is a 12-16 AMP draw on a 12 volt system...

this is a lot of juice for a short time and especially in the morning when the batteries are at their lowest charge state.

running a high amp applicance on 60% charged batteries is gonna suck them down quickly.

-which batteries? IF you've got the factory set up they should be lifeline agms, but you need to LOOK at them and get the data.

these agms can be discharged to 40-50% but the lower they're taken the shorter their life cycles...

and the LONGER it takes to fully charge them.

what size solar panels? again IF the factory installed their largest units, they should be 53? watts each.

it is unlikely 2 of these will bring 50-60% batteries to a FULLY charged state in a normal day of sun light.

and in the winter (cold OR lower sun angle) charge values drop from summer.

-which charger? the factory parallax is a 2 stage charger? mine does NOT fully restore 2 agms during a typical day.

-do you have a factory installed inverter? how many watts?

these aren't efficient really, and if its a 400 or 600 watt unit, it will using (wasting) more juice than you expect from using the tele or disc player.

-of course you've got the water pump and fridge and furnace and other loads, that all drain the batteries some...

-the micro pulse unit provides a gross estimate of poer levels and the sun explorer panel is only a little more accurate.

the agms SHOULD be good for 3-5 years but a lot depends on discharge level, use and other issues.

these batteries can be removed and tested, has the dealer done that, or just checked the trailer wiring?

-how often is the trailer plugged IN to shore power and for how long?

you really need to do an energy audit, most folks are using MORE juice than they realize...

-it is typical for 2 (100 amp/h) agms to only be above the 50-60% level after 2 days of boondocking, and especially IF the furnace is used at all.

leaving the 600 watt inverter on, or the tele antenna boost or lights or radio or other things, again pulls more juice than you might imagine.

these batteries are rated and optimal at about 75? degrees F. colder temps means LESS capacity and longer charge times.

cheers

2air'
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Old 11-27-2007, 05:51 AM   #3
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Inverters are sold as options, suggesting 110v appliances can be used without electric hookups. I know you wouldn't be using power hog appliances like hair dryers or a microwave. I use a hand coffee grinder that is a PITA if there are more than 2 coffee drinkers -- whole beans are so good but can you grind enough for camping before you leave home.

Without an inverter I can stretch 3 days from my batteries without being too spartan. We'll listen to the stereo at night and have minimum lights on inside. I can even run the furnace at a low setting -- don't want too much of that because the fan motor eats a lot of sparks.

The math has been done quite well in the past pointing out that solar just can't replace the amp-hours drawn out of batteries each day. So you have a declining equation the moment the first switch is thrown.

The only sense I can make is that the solar package is installed at the factory as a desirable selling factor -- a partial solution at multiples of the cost of a quiet modern genset.
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Old 11-27-2007, 06:02 AM   #4
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First you should try equalizing the batteries. Batteries get crusted up over time and you need to put an equalizing charge on them of about 16 volts (with current limited to about 10% of capacity) for 4 - 6 hours.

Take them to a battery service center if your converter doesn't have an equalization feature.
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Old 11-27-2007, 06:18 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by markdoane
First you should try equalizing the batteries. Batteries get crusted up over time and you need to put an equalizing charge on them of about 16 volts (with current limited to about 10% of capacity) for 4 - 6 hours.

Take them to a battery service center if your converter doesn't have an equalization feature.
Ya beat me to it, as that was my thought exactly! The condition is called 'sulfation' and the sulfer leaves the acid solution and congregates on the lead plates, reducing the amount of surface area available for elecrolytic process.

You need to have them de-sulfated. If that doesn't work, replace them with a high quality AGM battery like Lifeline with a 5 year warranty.

PS: the batteries must be fully charged before they get equalized.............
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Old 11-27-2007, 07:35 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 1Bombshell
...I have an 06 Safari FB, SE. It's 2 years old this month. ....Could the batteries have run down too low, too many times and shortened the life? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
The short answer is, yes indeed....the batteries could well be toast.

While I agree with all of the previous posts, IF a two year old battery has been run down to "nothing" multiple times, the plates may be destroyed.

You have been given good information as to how to test the batteries for a relatively small expenditure.

Should the batteries have been destroyed, and you decide to replace the old batteries with new, care should be taken to insure ALL loads are disconnected from the battery even during short term storage. If you have a lot of parasitic loads on the battery you might consider the installation of a cut off switch in the main line to the batteries. Another area to explore, especially if you find you are actually towing the trailer for a significant amount of time, is to make sure the electric cable from the battery/alternator buss of the tow vehicle to the trailer is adequately sized to carry a decent amount of amps with the proper voltage to supply a charge to the trailer batteries while underway.
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Old 11-27-2007, 09:28 AM   #7
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Thanks for all the insight. The batteries are AGM/Lifeline, factory installed. As for grinder, The wife's pre-grinding the beens now! The Solar charging system is factory installed. It sounded like a nice responsible thing to have. However a Honda generator is on my list of must haves. As for what tests were done at C&G, I have no idea. They did say that the batteries were fine. This is almost a year ago. We've done a fair amount of trips since. These trips are usually an hour or less of drive time. I usually have the A/S hooked up to the garage at home for about a week, before we head out. It sounds like the T/V is a big drain. Perhaps that one's got to be a no no, when dry camping. I'll have to have the batteries checked out, again. Hopefully that's the culprit and they're covered under warranty. Thanks everyone for the helpful information. Much appreciated. I'll let you know what I find out. I'm currently not too concerned, as our next trip is New Years, Oakhurst/Yosemite, full hookups. Should be nice and chilly... However, I do want to get it figured out. So that I can check it off my list. The list is growing faster than I can check things off!
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Old 11-27-2007, 10:13 AM   #8
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There is an anti-condensate switch on the refrigerator you should have turned off for dry camping. Check your owners manual for location.

I suspect you need more battery capacity. Even if you don't permanently mount them, you could make a plug in harness at the battery box for an extra battery (use AGM battery), and use the extra battery when you're boondocking. I'd fuse the harness at 30 amps.

I use four batteries when dry camping, two for inverter powered laptop, tv, and other 120 volt powered items, and two for the standard trailer 12 volt system.

How much lighting do you run at night? The lighting on the SE is beautiful but not very efficient. On my 25' safari I calculated running all lights simultaneously draws about 40 amps.
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Old 11-27-2007, 10:28 AM   #9
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Boy, lots of good info on this thread. yes, batteries are a constant source of frustration. Chronic undercharging leads to sulfation,and overcharging leads to grid corrosion of the positive plates. Both result in shortened battery life and capacity. We also have to be carefull of charging voltage, in the case of AGM types, they are not tolerent of high charging voltage. They will accept high rates of charge current, but voltage must be accurratly controlled. The accepted protocol for deep-cycle batteries is to recharge when they are drawn-down to 50% level. Battery life, measured in charge-discharge cycles,varies exponentialy with the level they are drawn down to. Some of the so-called "smart chargers" are not to smart. There are some chargers primarily used in the marine industry "yachts", that are very good at regulating both current and voltage. The large and expensive battery banks on many boats have been the driving force for the production, (finally), of some excellent electrical products.
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Old 11-27-2007, 10:31 AM   #10
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How much power does the "anti-condensate" feature draw from the 12 volt system when running on gas?
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Old 11-27-2007, 11:04 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by 1Bombshell
... It sounds like the T/V is a big drain...
depends on the tv. if its the typical a/s supplied lcd it should be about 70-100 watts.

this info is in the tv owners guide.

most of them have an 'energy saver' function that will reduce the draw 20 watts or so.

so the tele itself isn't a huge draw but if used 4 many hrs or with a disc player OR with a LARGER inverter, more juice is drained.

again the 2 factory supplied agms typically are good for 3-4 days in the summer and 2 in the winter...

even with the solar package.

with the typical loads it reads like you are getting about the right service.

plugged into the tow vehicle for a 1-2 hour drive doesn't do much to juice the trailer batteries.

IF these agms have been completely drained or below 40% much the life and capacity is reduced...

instead of going to the a/s dealer it might be useful to find a 'battery shop' that carries lifelines.

cheers
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Old 11-27-2007, 03:05 PM   #12
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I'll have the batteries checked out by a battery shop. The 1&1/2 hour drive into the abyss of L.A. is not my idea of a good time. What is the effect of having the trailer plugged into regular 110 at home, going to have on the cycle of the batteries, as opposed to a charger?
Once again, thanks to everyone for the information. Lots to digest. I appreciate the help. Keep it coming!
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Old 11-27-2007, 05:15 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by 1Bombshell
I'll have the batteries checked out by a battery shop. The 1&1/2 hour drive into the abyss of L.A. is not my idea of a good time. What is the effect of having the trailer plugged into regular 110 at home, going to have on the cycle of the batteries, as opposed to a charger?
Once again, thanks to everyone for the information. Lots to digest. I appreciate the help. Keep it coming!
Airstream does not use a power converter that has a 3-stage charger in it. You can have your converter upgraded to several good ones that do have 3-stage charging like WFCO, Intellipower 9200 series or Temp Assure. With any of these units, you can leave the trailer plugged in and your batteries will be fully charged all the time.....ready for your excursions without worry.
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Old 11-27-2007, 05:58 PM   #14
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Leaving the shore power connected-up will have no effect on battery cycleing, any trailer loads will be responded to by the converter. however, batterys do not like to be left on a charging device if the float voltage is over ~ 13.2 to 13.3 ; this voltage is just enough to overcome cell resistance, to keep the battery from self-dischargeing, and low enough to prevent loss of water in a wet cell. The AGM and Gell-Cell types can also float at this level. With the battery fulley charged, and the converter on,check the voltage AT THE BATTERY with a good digital volt meter to determine if your converter is set at a low enough float level to prevent overcharging / out-gassing. hope this helps you.
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