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Old 08-03-2013, 04:47 PM   #1
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Deep cycle battery maintenance?

My old, hand me down battery got recycled today because it would no longer hold a charge, so I'm looking for a new one. I had it for four seasons; the lady before me had it for at least two, but it might have come with her trailer, so I'm uncertain of the age.

I'm concerned that I did not draw it down enough between charges. How do I do that when the only thing it powers are a 3 interior lights?

Questions are: What solutions have others found to keep their battery properly charged? Do I go ahead and run the fridge on it, just to use up the juice? Maybe I skip getting one altogether? Thanks!
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Old 08-03-2013, 05:35 PM   #2
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  1. Check the distilled water level often, it needs to fully cover the plates inside.
  2. Keep a float charge on it during long periods of storage.
Forgetting to keep the water level maintained is how all of my battery failures happened. I have a second battery that I only use during boondocking. Most of the time it is stored in my shed connected to solar panels on the roof. Both of my WalMart batteries are over 4 years old and still functioning well.
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Old 08-03-2013, 06:08 PM   #3
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Forgetting to keep the water level maintained is how all of my battery failures happened.
Not so funny story, I have a "whole house generator" which has a battery which it uses to start the generator for a weekly maintenance run. It has a very poor (I've since discovered) trickle charger which charges it all of the time.

It boiled the juice out and then it exploded. Violently!

It seems that the boiling creates hydrogen which is flammable. Towards the end of the sad story it apparently sparked internally and BOOM! Pieces of battery (and acid) everywhere!

Moral of the story, CHECK THE WATER!
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Old 08-03-2013, 06:37 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by jlbails View Post
My old, hand me down battery got recycled today because it would no longer hold a charge, so I'm looking for a new one. I had it for four seasons; the lady before me had it for at least two, but it might have come with her trailer, so I'm uncertain of the age.

I'm concerned that I did not draw it down enough between charges. How do I do that when the only thing it powers are a 3 interior lights?

Questions are: What solutions have others found to keep their battery properly charged? Do I go ahead and run the fridge on it, just to use up the juice? Maybe I skip getting one altogether? Thanks!
Not running it down is not an issue Running it more than half way down is an issue. The easy way to monitor charge level is with a voltmeter. You can wire one in directly or wire in a power point then insert a voltmeter made for this purpose.
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Old 08-03-2013, 08:54 PM   #5
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I'm concerned that I did not draw it down enough between charges.
You may be thinking of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries, which developed a "memory" if not fully cycled. This are rarely used now, and the lead-acid batteries which have always been used for starting engines and in RVs have the opposite characteristic - they don't ever want to be deeply discharged.
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Old 08-07-2013, 09:05 AM   #6
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So the key would be to charge it after every use, even if I'm only running the small lights, and to charge it monthly over the winter?
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Old 08-07-2013, 09:17 AM   #7
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What I do on a couple of my maint free batteries ( motorcycle and another similar size battery ) is keep them hooked to a Deltran Battery Tender. I have that charger plugged into a simple digital "switch timer" from Lowes ( like you would buy to turn a lamp on and off in your house ). I have it set to give one hour of charge time per day, and this has maintained these batteries perfectly for years.
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Old 08-07-2013, 10:17 AM   #8
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Over charging batteries gives off hydrogen as stated - this can be detected by the nose - smells like rotten eggs. If you are charging a battery and you come back the next day and smell eggs immediately open windows/doors air out the space/garage/etc, then unplug the charger (don't disconnect the battery as this can cause a slight spark)

anyway, yeah, full discharge can cause sulfates to build up on the battery plates - this insulates the plates from the water around them lowering the efficiency of the reaction that creates electricity - this is what kills batteries.

Generally the vibration caused by sitting in a vehicle and driving around, in addition to constant charging from the tow vehicle, holds this at bay but every battery has it's day. The best thing you can do is get a good quality charger with a charge processor and maintain the battery with it in between trips. These types of chargers will dynamically change the charge levels to appropriately and effectively desulphate and charge your batteries while not over-charging.
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Old 08-07-2013, 09:30 PM   #9
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Jamie, Check this link out:The 12volt Side of Life (Part 1)
It includes a pretty good discussion of how to maintain a battery, and what causes them to fail.

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Old 08-22-2013, 10:15 AM   #10
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I maintain my battery by way of a digital voltmeter with an on-off switch. Posted beside the voltmeter is a table of volts vs percent charge. The voltmeter is a very cheap automotive aftermarket that reads to 0.1 v. No surprises anymore. For example, if some dirt gets into the 12 v connector from the car so the refrigerator is running off the camper battery I will see the voltage drop at the next driving break and can attack the dirty contacts. Hooch
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Old 08-22-2013, 10:46 AM   #11
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We had two 6volt Trojan 105s in our Motorhome and except when boondocking were under constant charge for 14 years The batteries seemed as good after fourteen years as the first year. They were charged by a smart charger with a desulfating cycle.

Also don't count on odor to detect hydrogen, it is odorless.
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Old 08-22-2013, 10:48 AM   #12
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I use a Battery Tender or Battery Minder connected all the time the egg is in it's nest. I have both tender and minder, one seems to work as well as the other. One of the reasons for leaving them connected full time is they both has a desulfate mode along with standard trickle charging.
Since deep-cycle battery is a flooded cell, not sealed, I do have check the electrolyte levels. After two years I had to add a little distilled water to 3 of the cells.

When camping for more that 4 or 5 days I recharge with solar at about a 4 amp rate. If I'm not in one spot for that long the tow recharges. Sometimes the amount discharged is almost nothing, sometimes it's down about 40% before recharging.

This all seems to work quite well for me.
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Old 08-23-2013, 09:07 AM   #13
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Anybody have a Link 10 or similar battery monitor? It was installed by the PO, and I'm still struggling with the 100 page plus manual, but it seems pretty handy to be able to switch from volts to amps to amp-hours to capacity remaining with the push of a button.

However, WRT the manual, I remain unconvinced it is programmed correctly. I need the short course.

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Old 08-23-2013, 04:41 PM   #14
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Chuck dont have the Lark 10 but a *real* simple battery monitor - nothing more than the ability to display the voltage and set an audible alarm that goes off when the battery is drained down to a certain point - I have mine set at 11.9 - gives me warning its time to plug in the solar or hook it up for a recharge if no sun before it drops down to 11.5 or lower.

I have found that if a battery is allowed to drain right down or below 11.5 volts 3 or more times its ability to hold a charge or run anything on the trailer for any length of time is greatly reduced.
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Old 08-24-2013, 12:36 PM   #15
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Like Byron, I use a BatteryMinder to keep my batteries fresh. It's a good product, and I highly recommend it because it will save your battery and save you money. That goes double (or triple, since that's the cost difference) for people who buy more expensive maintenance-free AGM batteries for their trailer. (AGM batteries are more durable in harsh environments, last longer, and charge more efficiently than traditional "flooded cell" batteries.)

--

OK, that's the opinion part of this post. If you want to learn more of the how-and-why science of why batteries die and how the BatteryMinder works, you can read on. Otherwise you can just bug out now.

--

Lead-acid batteries die when they become "sulphated." More accurately, they loose their ability to hold a charge as the lead plates in the battery become progressively more covered and clogged by hard lead sulphate crystals that form as a by-product of discharging the battery.

When lead-acid batteries discharge, the sulphuric acid in the battery water reacts with the lead in the plates inside the battery to create electrons, hydrogen ions, and lead sulphate. When the battery is re-charged the process is reversed. Over-charging the battery splits the water (H2O) in the battery into hydrogen and oxygen gas in a process called electrolysis. (More precisely, hydrolysis.)

So, here's the thing: it may not seem intuitive, but lead sulphate comes in two very different forms, a soft, fluffy one and a hard crystal type. Whenever your battery discharges it create some of each form of lead sulphate, and the ratio varies depending on how well the battery is charged.

That lead sulphate comes in two forms may not seem intuitive, but you've seen this before: think about diamonds and the graphite in pencil leads. They're both exactly the same thing, elemental carbon, but diamonds are hard enough to cut glass where graphite crumbles onto the page when you drag a pencil across it.

The soft fluffy form of lead sulphate is your battery's friend, because it readily converts back into the elemental lead and sulphuric acid your battery depends on to hold a charge. The hard crystal lead sulphate is your battery's mortal enemy, because they it refuses to break up into lead and sulphuric acid when standard charging techniques are used and because it prevents the sulphuric acid and lead from coming into contact with one another so the battery can make electricity for you.

When your battery is fully charged and you pull power from it almost all of the lead sulphate it creates is deposited in the "soft" form, but as you pull the battery charge down, you form more and more of the hard lead sulphate crystals. When the battery discharges below about 60% of it's total capacity, the rate at which the crystal sulphate forms starts to increase rapidly, by the time the battery reaches the 15% mark, it is the dominant form. This is why "Cycling" a lead-acid battery is a good way to kill it.

There are two other times that lead sulphate crystals are more likely to form in your battery. One is when you "boil off" (or, more technically, convert your battery water into oxygen and hydrogen gas through the process of hydrolysis) and lower the water level to the point where the lead plates become exposed. The other is when your battery just sits, and "self-discharges" while it's not being used.

Using a "float charger" when you store your trailer prevents lead-acid batteries from self-discharging and creating crystal sulphate. It also keeps them fully charged for when you're ready to use them. The down-side is float-charging can also boil off the battery water through hydrolysis and expose the lead plates. (Using a good-quality trickle charger, like the BatteryMinder, Battery Tender, and others slows the process of boiling your battery water off, so you don't have to check your water leves quite as often. Sealed, "maintenance-free" AGM batteries are less prone to boiling, which is one of the reasons they last longer.) So trickle or float chargers can be your friend, as long as you maintain your battery water levels with distilled water. (NEVER tap water, which contaminates the acid solution and can kill the battery.)

I said that standard charging techniques can't convert lead-sulphate crystal back into its more useful "soft" form, but non-traditional charging techniques can. By charging the battery with precisely-timed little pulses of energy, you can get the atoms and molecules to start moving about and break up.

The process is something like giving a child in a swing a series of little pushes. At first the swing only moves a little, but after a while the child is swinging so madly that the chains of the swing go slack at the top of the arc and give a little jerk before the swing heads back down. Using pulses of electrical charge at the right frequency causes the lead sulphate crystals in a battery to start moving around in much the same way. When they reach the point where they experience that little jerk, they separate and decompose into the non-crystalline soft form, but this approach only works when the battery is fully charged (in "float" mode). When the battery isn't fully charged the energy goes into charging the battery instead of making the crystals vibrate.

The BatteryMinder's claim to fame is it is a float charger that creates these little pulses. Used in place of your trailer's hookup converter or battery charger when your trailer is stored and it can double or triple your battery's lifetime. Better yet, it keeps your trailer battery working like new and prevents it from "running down" early in the evening like most older batteries do.

Lead Sulphate crystals are not the only thing that kills lead-acid batteries. Another major culprit is "rust," or, more accurately, the formation of red lead oxide. Oxidation is a slow and inevitable process, but you can slow the process down by using an intelligent trickle charger that is less prone to boiling your battery water and creating the oxygen gas that's required to form the lead oxide and less prone to boiling water off so the plates are exposed to the oxygen-rich air. No battery will last forever.

Side note: One of the reasons I like AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) batteries is they are less prone to form either lead sulphate crystals or lead oxide, so they last longer. Their glass mat and lead plate sandwich structure also prevents vibration (from towing on rough roads) from damaging the plates and keeps the chemicals involved in the power-storage and release process closer together, making them easier to charge. (Meaning you don't loose as much power in the process of charging the battery.) And, finally, they are maintenance-free batteries that you never have to add water to.

My wife and I boondock a lot, and depend on two 50 watt solar panels to keep our battery charged, so a well-functioning battery is an important part of our camping experience. When we store our trailer, however, we keep it under cover and use a BatteryMinder to float-charge the battery. It works like a charm and keeps our expensive AGM battery in good shape. I highly recommend it.
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Old 08-24-2013, 01:51 PM   #16
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Nice write up. The chemistry lesson is appreciated. I too use an AGM battery. I'm on year 7 and figure about 300-400 charge discharged cycles so far. Raz
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Old 08-24-2013, 02:53 PM   #17
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Heck of a post Peter.

I don't understand why people need a battery minder. We had 14 year old Trojan 105s and simply kept than on the converter with built in smart charger.

When we sold the motor home our batteries had been powered for over 4,000 days, significant because a motor home has a significant drain even just sitting though in our case the motor home had almost 2500 road days.

Do you only need a battery minder if you don't have a smart converter?
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Old 08-24-2013, 03:38 PM   #18
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Heck of a post Peter.

I don't understand why people need a battery minder. We had 14 year old Trojan 105s and simply kept than on the converter with built in smart charger.

When we sold the motor home our batteries had been powered for over 4,000 days, significant because a motor home has a significant drain even just sitting though in our case the motor home had almost 2500 road days.

Do you only need a battery minder if you don't have a smart converter?

Norm,
Not all converters are equal. Mine undercharges, at 12.2 volts it stops charging. Not that good for the battery. I turned the converter OFF and never use it. Therefore when the trailer sits for 3 months in the fall I need some way to keep the battery at or near full charge. Plus the Battery Tender has a desulfate cycle.
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Old 08-24-2013, 03:45 PM   #19
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Byron, I know litttle about convertors other than the only one's we've owned. Our trailers have always had a Progressive Dynamics charger with their Charge Wizard cycle.

It provides a desulfating cycle automatically and resulted in great battery life.

When we're home for the summer we keep the rig plugged in continuously and leave the fridge on. So far we've never had a fridge or battery problem.
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Old 08-24-2013, 03:49 PM   #20
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Byron, you have mentioned the 12.2 volts output on your converter before and I just assumed you meant 13.2 v. Do you have any idea why someone would choose 12.2v intentionally or do you think you got a malfunctioning charger?

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Plus the Battery Tender has a desulfate cycle.
My understanding is that the "desulfate" mode simply boils the electrolyte to better mix the acid to prevent sulfate crystals from forming and does not reverse any damage already done. I have read about the high voltage pulsing Peter mentioned. That's interesting. Raz
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