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RV Battery Care and Maintenance

winter battery care

Batteries are like a lot of other things we rely on in that they perform best when well cared for. Your RV relies upon strong batteries not only to start and run the engine but also to power your appliances, interior lights and outlets. Without working batteries your RV is nothing more than a fancy tin box on wheels. RV battery care is one of the essential responsibilities of any full-time or weekend RVer is they wish to have continued fun and adventure.

Caring for, storing and maintaining your batteries in optimum condition is essential to you having a positive experience in your RV. It is critical that you understand the different types of batteries your RV requires in order to avoid installing the wrong type. The batteries that run the motor are different to the batteries used to run the lights, appliances and outlets.

Types of RV Batteries

Starting Batteries – This is a common term to describe the batteries used to start and run your RV’s motor. This type of battery is able to supply a large amount of current for a short time in order to start your RV.  

House Batteries – This is a common term to describe the batteries used to supply electricity to your appliances, lights and electrical outlets. They are deep cycle batteries supplying 12V and are designed to provide a constant supply of electricity for longer periods.

If cost is not an issue RVers might like to consider gel cell batteries. The advantages of this style of battery are as follows:

  • Don’t lose any water
  • Can’t leak
  • Virtually maintenance free
  • Almost impossible to freeze

The main disadvantage of gel cell batteries is that they need to be charged slowly at a lower voltage. If you have plenty of time on your side this should not be an issue. This style of battery is more expensive than flooded cell batteries, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages for many RVers.

RV Battery Care is Easy

The purchase of a digital voltmeter will pay for itself within a very short time. You can use it to check that your batteries are holding a full charge. If you discover that a battery is not registering the correct voltage on your voltmeter it may need the cells to be topped up. Alternatively it may just require a recharge. At worst it may mean that your battery is nearing the end of its useful life.

Ensuring the cells are full of water is critical. A regular check will quickly reveal any drop in water level. Before opening the caps make sure that the top of the battery is clean. This will help prevent any dirt falling into the cells and contaminating the water. It is important that you only use distilled water when topping up cells.

Keeping the top and terminals free of dirt and corrosion is also critical. When battery acid corrosion builds up it undermines the connection of your cables. This in turn may make starting your RV difficult as your engine struggles to get a good supply of electrical charge. Just as important is that cables are well connected both to the clamps and to the battery itself. Take care to not over tighten the clamps however as this may cause them to break.

Maintaining both your house batteries and your starting batteries in this way will ensure longevity and efficient performance. For most of the year this is about all that is required in the way of battery care and maintenance. Provided you undertake the above on a regular basis (every 3 to 6 months) you should be well prepared for the additional effort required during winter months.

Cold Temperatures Harsh on Batteries

Winter battery care requires a little more effort. Batteries do not like extreme temperatures, whether it is heat or cold. During winter it can be difficult to start your RV because the batteries are cold. Trying to start your engine when the batteries are cold may put undue stress on both the starter and the batteries. This in turn may cause failure of one or both.

If parking for any length of time in a cold climate your batteries will need some additional care. Doing so will help to promote longevity and efficient performance when you use them next. Even if you move often, starting a cold engine with poorly maintained, unprotected batteries can be a challenge. It can be worth the effort of removing the batteries from the engine bay and bringing them inside the RV. It may be an irritation to have to put them back in to begin traveling again but your batteries will be less cold than if left installed.

Winter Battery Care Tips

  • Test your batteries often with a volt meter to ensure that they are holding sufficient charge. During cold temperatures batteries have to work harder to start a cold engine. Even the smallest amount of power discharge will make starting your RV difficult. It takes very little discharge to make a battery unable to provide enough charge to start your vehicle. If the voltage is low you should recharge it immediately. The longer the battery sits with a lower than optimum charge the shorter the life of the battery tends to be.
  • Keep the battery fully charged. If parked for more than a day or two start the RV up once a day and allow it to run. Ensure any unnecessary drains on the battery are removed i.e. turn off lights, television, and other electrical items while starting and running the engine.
  • Have your alternator tested before the winter to ensure that it is functioning optimally. A weak alternator can put undue stress on batteries when trying to start your RV. Although alternators can fail without warning a mechanical test may reveal a weakness that can be addressed before it happens.
  • Regularly check for corrosion around battery terminals. If some is building up, use a stiff wire brush to remove it. For optimum performance loosen and remove the cables. Clean both inside the clamps and around the outside of the terminals. Refasten firmly to ensure good connection. Even a small amount of corrosion may prevent proper connection, making starting your RV difficult. This in turn will put undue stress on your batteries. Just be careful not to over tighten the clamps as they may break.

Battery Wraps Provide One Solution

One effective way to prevent low winter temperatures causing problems is to use a battery wrap. Doing so can extend the life of your batteries and reduce the effects of extremely cold temperatures. There are a number of effective wraps on the market, many of them at very reasonable prices. Batteries for a large RV are expensive so battery wraps are a worthwhile investment to ensure maximum longevity and effective performance.

As the name suggests a battery wrap encases the battery in a protective covering, protecting it against the bitter cold that can adversely affect its performance. It is constructed of a special thermal fabric that has insulating properties. You can also purchase battery wrap kits so you can adjust to fit the size of your batteries.

Your Role in RV Battery Care

You, the RVer, can positively impact the performance and long life of your batteries. Educating yourself about battery care and maintenance will certainly be of benefit. This knowledge is of no benefit if you don’t carry out the recommended maintenance however. It is always important to ensure safety measures are taken whenever touching batteries. Battery acid is highly corrosive and will cause severe burns if not treated immediately, and blindness if gotten into the eyes. Wear goggles and gloves, and if you do get battery acid on your skin immediately flush with water or douse with baking soda. Go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital immediately.

How you use your RV makes a difference to your batteries’ effectiveness and longevity too. For the RVer who likes to travel to a set location and hook up to an electrical supply the batteries will maintain a constant charge. This will be helpful in ensuring your batteries have a long and productive life.

For the RVer who likes to get “off the beaten track” and stop in the middle of nowhere to spend the night, batteries may be drained of charge. This is particularly true of the house batteries. This will mean that the batteries will be undergoing a series of discharging and recharging. This can shorten the life of the batteries particularly if they are not recharged properly. Leaving them sitting with a low charge will also contribute to their early failure.

Be aware of how old your batteries are. As RV batteries can be expensive and are typically purchased in pairs, those on a managed budget should plan for their replacement. Take note of when you purchase new batteries and install them. This will be helpful in gauging when they are nearing the end of their productive life. This is one of the best RV battery care tips that many RVers overlook.

Have a Backup Plan

Taking all the right battery care steps will help prevent batteries failing. Occasionally regardless of how well you maintain and care for your batteries, they can fail. A portable battery jump starter may be all it takes to get your RV running again. This is an extremely handy item to have on hand and justifies the space required to store it. A battery jumper can be recharged by plugging into an electrical outlet or by connecting to your RV battery. Like the RV batteries the battery inside the jump starter requires care. Click here to read more about the effectiveness and usefulness of a portable battery jump starter.

If your batteries are just weak and not quite ready to quit, a jump start with a portable jump starter may be enough to get your RV running. If you have no other vehicle available it would be wise to go to the nearest repair facility or retail battery outlet. Some facilities will test your batteries for you, often for free. Their experts will then advise you as to whether they need replacing or can be recharged and safely relied upon to continue working for some time to come. Being stranded in the middle of nowhere in cold winter temperatures can not only be uncomfortable but dangerous. Taking adequate measures to prepare for a battery failure is important. It is better to replace your batteries a little earlier than you would expect to than to have them fail at an inopportune time.

Putting Your RV in Storage

Unless you are a full-time RVer and constantly traveling there will come a time when you will put your RV in storage. Once the RV has been parked it is a good time to give it a once over and take the necessary steps to insure it remains in great condition while not in use. When you decide you want to use it again you will want it to take minimal effort to be able to get out on the road.

One of the things you can do to leave it in as ready condition as possible is to remove the batteries. You can just take the negative clamp off, but it is better to remove the batteries altogether. Once you have them out of the engine bay give them a good cleaning. Remove the caps and check the water levels. Use distilled water only if they need topping up. Replace the caps and then cover them in cloth to keep them free from dust and dirt. Place them in a dry location where they will not be subjected to very low temperatures and they should be just fine.

In Conclusion

The life of an RVer, whether full-time or a ‘weekend road warrior’ can be a lot of fun. This largely depends upon good preparedness in the event of battery failure. Such events can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of how hard you have worked to prevent it. A well prepared RVer will be able to deal with any contingency, and be back on the road at the earliest opportunity. Undertaking RV battery care is one of the ways you can insure you have fun while traveling.

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