While some people use their Recreational Vehicles (RVs) all year, many others use it only during warmer months and store the vehicle in winter. In the case of seasonal use, owners should decommission their RVs for storage to help prevent damage from potential exposure to harsh conditions while sitting idle. Among the components of the RV that require this attention are the batteries.
In addition to Starting, Lighting and Ignition (SLI) functions, batteries in RVs must power hotel loads. This includes climate control, communications and audio/visual systems as well as appliances, like stoves, microwave ovens and refrigerators. Global Positioning Systems (GPS), rear-view cameras, electric locks and other safety and security features also heavily rely on the battery’s power. Hotel loads require deep cycling for a low but sustained current with intense discharges that would deplete conventional SLI batteries.
When RVs travel to remote places where road assistance, cell phone service and access to the electric grid are limited or nonexistent, the battery becomes particularly crucial. Proper decommissioning can help keep the battery in good condition during storage.
Proper Battery Care for Decommissioning
Before the battery is put into storage, it should be inspected, cleaned, tested and charged. Always make sure to follow the battery manufacturer’s guidelines for proper maintenance and care and direct any questions to an appropriate battery professional.
- Inspection: Inspect the condition of the battery’s case, cables and connectors for any damage or corrosion. Replace frayed or worn cables and connectors, but if the case or terminals are damaged, replace the battery itself.RVs with Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) are equipped with lead acid batteries, most of which use plates made of an alloy of lead and calcium or antimony for electrodes. The electrolyte is a solution of sulfuric acid and water, and in the case of conventional flooded lead acid batteries, housed in cells. The electrolyte levels in these cells should be checked and, if low, filled with distilled water to the manufacturer’s specified level.
- Cleaning: Clean away dirt and corrosion from the terminals with a battery terminal brush or an emery cloth and wipe down the case with mild soap and water, rinse and dry.
- Testing: Load testing is one method of assessing the battery’s State of Charge (SOC). An auto parts store associate, mechanic or battery dealer can perform a load test at a service facility. Another method uses a digital voltmeter to measure the battery’s Open Circuit Voltage (OCV). The battery manufacturer’s specifications will indicate what OCV corresponds to 100 percent SOC. For a conventional flooded lead acid battery, a hydrometer will confirm the gravity of each cell, which should read 1.265 – 1.285 to indicate 100 percent SOC.
- Charge: A full charge is the most important precaution to help safeguard the battery’s performance when recommissioned and through its intended service life. For example, excessive discharge can cause the voltage to decline, which reduces the level of sulfuric acid in the electrolyte. Decreased sulfuric acid increases the amount of water in the solution, and with it, the risk of the electrolyte freezing in cold weather.In addition, a fully charged battery is stored with a significantly reduced risk of sulfation, which is the accumulation of lead sulfate crystals on the surface of the plates when the battery is persistently undercharged. This accumulation reduces the plates’ surface area, which interferes with the battery’s ability to hold a charge.To prevent internal damage, the battery should not be discharged to less than 50 percent SOC. Different battery chemistries have their own charging requirements, which are available through the manufacturer or a battery specialist.
Managing Parasitic Loads
If a battery in storage remains connected to hotel loads, especially those that use memory, it may be drained from parasitic loads. This occurs when hotel loads continue to consume small amounts of power from the battery, even when the engine is turned off. Each load may consume only a minimal amount of power in a day, but combined over a period of storage, they can drain the battery significantly if it is idle long enough. For example, if a steady parasitic draw of 20 milliamps occurs while the battery is stored for 150 days, the load will consume more than 70Ah.
One method of maintaining a consistent charge while the battery remains installed in storage is to use a maintenance charger. It can also be called a trickle charger and it remains connected to the battery during storage to maintain a full SOC and compensate for small parasitic loads. Batteries should be fully charged before being connected to a trickle charger.
An alternative to using a trickle charger is to disconnect the negative battery cable or the terminals, or use a battery disconnect switch, to cut off parasitic loads.
Advantages of TPPL Technology
If an RV is equipped with conventional flooded lead acid batteries, it will likely have separate SLI and deep cycle batteries. Dual purpose batteries, however, produce both the Cold Cranking Amps (CCAs) for SLI and deep cycling for the longer but lower discharge rates to support hotel loads. Most dual-purpose batteries use Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) technology, in which fiberglass separators are saturated with the electrolyte and compressed tightly between the lead alloy plates. The battery is sealed, which eliminates the need to replenish the electrolyte with distilled water to make the battery maintenance-free.
An advancement in AGM technology is the Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) battery, such as the ODYSSEY® Dual Purpose RV battery. Pure lead plates can be made thinner for more to fit into the same footprint as a comparably sized conventional lead acid battery. The additional plates provide at least 15 percent more surface area for more electrochemical reactions with the electrolyte. The results are engine-cranking pulses up to 3x that of identically sized conventional batteries for 5 seconds and deep cycling up to 400 cycles at 80 percent Depth of Discharge (DOD).
TPPL technology also provides ODYSSEY® Dual Purpose RV batteries with a slower discharge rate than conventional lead acid batteries, which results in a shelf life of up to two years at 77°F (25°C) before a recharge is needed. ODYSSEY® batteries also offer the highest recharge efficiency of any sealed battery currently available. These batteries can attain 100 percent recharge in a little as four hours and be brought back from 20 percent SOC to better than 90 percent SOC in about an hour. Even if they are stored partially charged, ODYSSEY® batteries tolerate unfavorable storage conditions better than alternative conventional lead acid battery models.
A premium solution is a wise investment when it delivers benefits that improve performance. The advantages of proprietary TPPL technology found in ODYSSEY® Dual Purpose RV batteries, such as slow self-discharge and fast recharge rates, make reliable performance more likely after sitting idle for months in storage. Once recommissioned, ODYSSEY® Dual Purpose RV batteries deliver ample starting power and dependable deep-cycling support for hotel loads that are invaluable when RVs travel in remote locations.
Regardless of the type of battery used in an RV, its proper decommissioning when being retired for the season will help ensure its needed performance when it is recommissioned in the spring.
EnerSys, the global leader in stored energy solutions for industrial applications, designs, manufactures and distributes energy systems solutions and motive power batteries, specialty batteries, battery chargers, power equipment, battery accessories and outdoor equipment enclosure solutions to customers worldwide. The company goes to market through four lines of business: Energy Systems, Motive Power, Specialty and New Ventures. Energy Systems, which combine power conversion, power distribution, energy storage, and enclosures, are used in the telecommunication, broadband and utility industries, uninterruptible power supplies, and numerous applications requiring stored energy solutions. Motive power batteries and chargers are utilized in electric forklift trucks and other industrial electric powered vehicles. Specialty batteries are used in aerospace and defense applications, large over-the-road trucks, premium automotive, medical and security systems applications. New Ventures provides energy storage and management systems for various applications including demand charge reduction, utility back-up power, and dynamic fast charging for electric vehicles. EnerSys also provides aftermarket and customer support services to its customers in over 100 countries through its sales and manufacturing locations around the world. More information regarding EnerSys can be found at www.enersys.com.
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