Camper Batteries Check

Camper Batteries: Charging Time, Life etc. (6 Different Types)

In RV living by Christopher SchopfLeave a Comment

Camper batteries are a core component of a camper’s electrical system.  These batteries help to supply power to lights, televisions, radios, and any other device that needs to be powered or charged while on the road.

Some people only use batteries when they’re traveling and others rely on them all of the time.

How long does a camper battery last?  A 12-volt 10 amp deep cycle battery is designed to last around 5 or 6 years.  The average camper battery can run a television, four lights, a laptop, and an electric refrigerator for over 3 hours. There are more than 8 different types of camper batteries.

There are a lot of variables with camper batteries and their lifespan, how long they can run before needing to be charged, and their average charging times can vary.

In this post, I’ll try and cover as many scenarios as possible so that you can get a feel for how long your camper battery will last.

6 Types of Camper Batteries

Camper Batteries Check

The most commonly used batteries are 12-volt batteries.  A camper is designed to be run off 12 volts, so it’s easier to start with 12-volt battery.

This being said, some people use two or more 6-volt batteries to equal the voltage of a 12-volt battery.  We’ll talk more about this later on in this post.

Just keep in mind that 6-volt batteries always need to be used in pairs and any battery larger than 12-volts will not work in your RV.

The most often used 12-volt battery for a camper is a deep cycle battery, but there are a few other types of 12-volt batteries you should know about.

Deep Cycle Batteries

A deep cycle battery is a battery that was designed to safely discharge through most of its energy capacity.  This means that a person may be able to bring their battery all the way down to 20% without doing any damage to it.  With non-deep cycle batteries, draining the battery this low can cause permanent damage to it.  This being said, regardless of what type of battery you are using, the more often you run it down close to its capacity, the shorter its lifespan will be.

For example, this is why a car battery cannot be jumped indefinitely.  Car batteries were built to provide short bursts of power and then to be charged to full capacity right afterward.  These types of batteries should never be taken down past 50% of their capacity.

Because many RVers like to be able to go without power for extended periods of time, all RVs are usually equipped with deep cycle batteries.

Marine Batteries

A marine battery is a deep cycle battery and sometimes the names deep cycle battery and marine battery are used interchangeably.  These are the batteries that are used to start inboard and outboard boat motors.  People also use them to run small trolling motors as well.

Some marine batteries are built to withstand a heavy discharge while others are not.

When buying a marine battery, it’s best to check with the manufacturer to see what type you’re buying.

Lead Acid Batteries

A lead acid battery is one of the oldest types of batteries you can buy.  These batteries use a lead alloy in their construction and they are one of the least expensive types of batteries to make.

The main advantages of this battery are that they do not cost much and certain types can be deep cycled.  Also, this type of battery has a slow discharge rate.  This means that when not in use, the battery is not quickly losing power.

The drawback of this type of battery is that it is less efficient than newer batteries and needs to be well ventilated.  Additionally, this battery is heavier than many of the other batteries on the market and it may need a large amount of maintenance.

There are two types of lead acid batteries that can be used.

  • Flooded Lead Acid Batteries
    A flooded lead-acid battery should not be used in a camper.  These batteries do not hold up well to excessive shaking and cannot handle extreme temperatures very well.  They also need water to operate and owners of flooded lead batteries need to regularly add this water to the battery in order to properly maintain it.
    The main advantage to this battery is that when properly maintained, it does have a long life cycle.  If you don’t mind doing the maintenance and have a safe place to store your batteries, you may want to buy them for a solar shed or other off-grid situation.
  • Sealed Lead Acid Batteries
    Sealed lead acid batteries require less maintenance and water does not need to be added to them.  These batteries are safer than flooded lead-acid batteries but still need to be in a properly ventilated area.
    The two main types of sealed lead acid batteries are AGM batteries and gel batteries.

AGM Batteries

The full name for an AGM battery is an absorbent glass mat battery.  These batteries are lighter than other 12-volt batteries and were initially used in the aircraft industry.  They are a type of sealed lead acid battery.

They’re built using a fiberglass mat and can be deep cycled down to low levels without damage.  These batteries are reliable and can withstand cold temperatures.

They have a slow self-discharge rate and can be great for using in campers that see a lot of cold-weather use.

The downside to this type of battery is that it must be stored in a charged condition.  This means that if you head out off-grid for an extended period of time, you won’t be able to run your AGM batteries down.

Gel Batteries

Gel batteries use silica gel in their construction.  They are maintenance free and operate well in most temperatures.  These batteries do not have to be kept upright and can withstand the constant movement of being in a camper.

The downside is that these batteries are much more expensive than AGM batteries. 

They can also take a while to charge.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are the best batteries you can buy.

They are smaller and more lightweight than the other types of batteries and yet hold more energy and charge faster.  They’re also tolerant to temperature changes which makes them wonderful for RVers.

The lifespan of a lithium-ion battery is also very high.

With proper care, a person can expect to get at least 10 years out of their lithium-ion battery.  These batteries are also maintenance free and can withstand a discharge of up to 80%.

The downside to this type of battery is that it is more expensive than all of the other types of batteries.  While a standard deep cycle battery may cost $100.00 – $200.00, a lithium-ion battery of similar capacity might cost $1,200.00.

Additionally, some people are wary of safety concerns as a lithium-ion battery is more combustible than other types of batteries.

What Are The Capacities of Camper Batteries?

Regardless of what battery you choose, the energy capacity ratings will be measured in the same increments.

A battery has two measurements to consider:

  1. One is the voltage and one is the amperage
  2. The amperage is measured in amp hours.

All camper batteries are either 6 volt or 12-volt batteries and they usually have amp hours over 100.

If you have a 6-volt battery, you’ll need to combine that with another 6-volt battery to equal 12 volts. 6-volt batteries always need to be hooked up in pairs while 12-volt batteries do not.

For example, you could have a battery bank of three 12-volt batteries but not a battery bank of three 6-volt batteries.  This is because the 6-volt batteries work in tandem to create a 12-volt battery. 

This being said, you could buy four 6-volt batteries to create one 12-volt battery bank.  The difference will be in how you connect them to each other.  To add additional capacity, combine batteries in parallel.  For additional voltage, combine them in series.

What About Watts?

When most people think of electricity, they think of watts.

This is because this is how a home’s energy system works.  To get an idea of how many watts your battery system holds is easy.  Just multiply the voltage by the amp hours.

For example, a 12-volt 100 amp battery will give you 1,200 watts of power.  This means that if you ran a light bulb that requires 10 watts of power, you could theoretically run it off of a fully charged battery for 120 hours.

The only issue with the example above is that you never want to run a battery down to zero.  It is usually best to keep your batteries above 50%, so you’d only want to run your light for 60 hours before charging your battery again.

To add additional storage to your battery bank, you could always add a second battery.  Two 12-volt 100 amp batteries would give you twice as much storage.  In this scenario, you’d multiply 12 times 200.

This is because the voltage stays the same, but the amp hours increases.  In this case, you’d have 2,400 watts of stored power.

While it is useful to know what the watt capacity of your battery is, it’s even more important that you understand amps.  Many RV systems have devices that run off of DC power versus AC power.  AC stands for alternating current and it is what you use in your house.  DC stands for direct current and it is what is used in vehicles, boats, and campers.

A DC appliance will express its power consumption in volts and amps.  For example, you might have a 12 volt 1 amp light bulb.  You could run this bulb on a fully charged 12-volt 100 amp battery for 100 hours.  Again, this assumes you’re running the battery down to zero power and you never want to do that.

The advantage of running DC appliances and lights off of a battery is that you do not have to convert the power.  If you’d like to run AC appliances such as a mini-fridge or coffee maker, you’ll need to convert the DC power from the battery to AC power.  This can be done with an inverter.

If you’re running an appliance through an inverter, you’ll want it to be a pure sine wave inverter.  This type of inverter will protect your appliances from being damaged.  A pure sine wave inverter can cost several hundred dollars depending on how many watts you want to draw from it at one time.

For example, you can run 1,000 watts of energy at one time with a 1,000-watt inverter.  If you’d like to run more than that at once, you’ll need an inverter with a higher capacity.  The more watts an inverter can provide, the more it will cost to buy.

On the flip side, if you want to charge a battery from an AC power source, you’ll need a converter.  Any standard 12-volt battery charger you buy will already have a converter built into it.

How Long Will My Camper Battery Last?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the capacity of batteries and how they work, it’s easy to determine how long a battery will last.

Here are a few examples you can use to get a feel for determining how long your battery will last.

Example Situation 1

Camper Bob wants to head out into the desert for a little while with his camper.  He’ll spend his afternoon working on his computer and his evening hanging out by the fire.  During the day, he’ll need to run two 12-volt 1 amp lights and his 50-watt laptop.

He’s in the desert and he’ll need to run something to help him cool down.  While his battery is not strong enough to run his air conditioning system, it is strong enough to run a small fan.  Bob’s fan is 75 watts.

The battery Bob uses is a 12-volt 100 amp lithium-ion battery.  This means he’d have 1,200 watts of energy.

Bob wants to work for about 8 hours during the day and during this time he’ll consume 16 amp hours from his lights and 1,000 watts from his laptop and fan.

Taking away the 16 amps from his lights leaves Bob with 12 volts and 84 amps of power.  In other words, he’ll have 1,008 watts.

If Bob heads out on his trip now, his trip will last one day and he’ll drain his lithium-ion battery down below 20% of its capacity which will cause damage to it.

What should Bob do to extend his trip?  Bob has a few options at his disposal.  One option would be to bring a battery-powered fan with him.  If Bob brings a fan that runs off of D cell batteries, he could drop his battery consumption down by 75 watts an hour.  Over a period of 8 hours, he’d use 600 fewer watts.  He’d still only have one day out in the desert, but at least he wouldn’t damage his battery.

Example Situation 2

Camper Jill has a class B camper van.

Due to her family responsibilities, she can’t go camping overnight but she likes to spend the afternoons parked on her local beach.  Jill opens the windows during the day so she doesn’t need a fan, but she does take her lunch with her.  Jill keeps her lunch in a refrigerator and microwaves it at lunch.  Her fridge is a small Dometic and it consumes 50 watts an hour.

Jill’s microwave only takes 600 watts to run but it takes a bit longer for her to heat her food up in it.  She runs her microwave for about 10 minutes each day.

The battery in Jill’s campervan is a 12-volt 50 amp marine battery and she does not feel comfortable running it below 50%.  How long will Jill’s campervan battery last before she has to leave the beach?

A 12-volt 50 amp battery will provide 600 watts of power.  However, 50% of this is only 300 watts.  Jill will run her 600-watt microwave for 10 minutes which will consume 100 watts of power.  We arrived at this number by multiplying 600 watts by 1/6 since 10 minutes is 1/6th of an hour.

Since Jill is now left with only 200 watts of power, she’ll only have four hours at the beach.  This is because Jill’s fridge is running at 50 watts an hour.

What can Jill do to make her camper battery last longer?

The first step Jill can take is to run her fridge for a few hours at home before she unplugs her campervan from her shore power.  A refrigerator works by cooling down the inside of the fridge and then storing the cold air inside.  It does not have to cool the inside down again until the trapped cold air has been removed.  A cold fridge may only have to run for 20 minutes an hour.

Heading out with a cold fridge could extend Jill’s battery life by 12 hours.

Example Situation 3

Todd and Samantha have two children and they want to go away for the weekend in their camper.  It’s cold outside and they’ll want heat and a hot shower.  They’ll also want a few hot meals.

Todd and Samantha have a large Class C camper with two house batteries.  These batteries are 12-volts and 110 amps each and they’re hooked up in parallel.  This means that they have 2,640 watts of power.  Of course, Todd and Samantha do not want to ruin their batteries, so they’ll only want to use half of this power before recharging them again.  This puts Todd and Samantha at 1,320 watts of power.

Luckily Todd and Samantha have a propane fridge and a propane range.

The fridge does require some electricity so that the burner can automatically ignite, but this consumption amount is small.  Over the course of 24 hours, the fridge will only consume 8 amps or 96 watts of power.  The hot water heater is also propane and it is manually lit meaning it does not use any electricity.

The water pumps in the camper take about 5 amps to run for every hour they are running.  With 4 people showering and washing hands, these pumps will run for two hours a day.  This will consume 20 amps of power or 240 watts.

The heater is a propane heater, but it does have a fan connected to it.  On average this fan will consume 1 amp an hour.  This means they’ll use 48 amps or 576 watts of power.

Three 1 amp lights will run for about 10 hours each day.  This will consume 20 amp hours or 240 watts of power.

Todd, Samantha, and their two children will be able to spend the entire weekend camping while only using 1,152 watts of power.  This is less than half of their battery bank’s stored energy.

As you can see, smart use of propane appliances helped this family extend the life of their battery bank.  This is the reason that most campers rely on a combination of electricity and propane to run everything.

How Long Will My Camper Battery Last with Solar Power?

Many RVers are interested in adding solar power to their battery system.

They may want to do this so that they can extend their time off of the grid or they may just want to reduce their carbon footprint.  Either way, solar may be a good option.

In basic terms, a solar system will increase your usage by the amount of energy it adds back into your battery each day.  For example, take a camper that has 1,200 watts of usable energy that can be fully consumed before the battery needs a charge.

Now imagine the owner of this camper uses 800 watts a day.

Without a charge, this person will be out of energy in a day and a half.

Now if this person charged the battery by 400 watts each day, they’d be able to extend their use to about 3 days.

If this same person dropped their energy consumption down to 400 watts a day, their battery might theoretically last for years before it needed a charge.

However, there are many variables to consider when using solar energy.  For example, a solar power system needs the sun to get energy.  If this same camper were to experience a few days of rain, they might not receive a charge from their solar panels at all.

Also, a solar power system is not 100% efficient.  A person with a 50-watt solar panel may think that they can generate 400 watts of energy in just 8 hours.  However, this solar panel may only be 85% efficient.  This means that every hour of direct sunlight might only provide 42 watts of energy.

Over an 8 hour period, this person would only get a charge of 336 watts.

My advice to this person would be to install more solar panels than they think they’ll need.  This will help to make up for any losses due to inefficiency and for any hours of the day where clouds may be blocking the sun.

In addition to this, I’d probably recommend a larger battery bank.  A larger battery bank would ensure that even if they went for a few days without sun, they’d still have enough energy to tide them over.  With a large number of solar panels on the roof of their camper, they’d be able to keep up with usage and charge the batteries back to full in just a few days.

How Long Does It Take to Charge a Camper Battery?

This will depend largely on the type of charger you are using as well as the type of battery you are charging.  A lithium-ion battery can receive more energy than a typical deep cycle battery.

Also, the charging device, as well as the size of your battery, will play a role in how fast your camper battery is charged.

For example, a 12-volt 100 amp battery that has been brought down to 50% capacity will need to be charged by 50% or 50 amps in this case.  If your charger can charge at a speed of 5 amps per hour, you’ll be fully charged within 10 hours.

The key to this is finding out how much energy your battery can receive while charging. 

For example, one battery may easily handle a 25 amp charge while another battery may only be able to handle a 10 amp charge.

Another factor to consider is the type of battery charger that is being used.  A float charger will determine how much battery life is left and will work to quickly bring it up to about 75% of its storage capacity.  Once it’s reached 75%, it will then reduce its charging speed until it gets to 100%.  This helps to protect the battery from overcharging while still providing it with a fast charge.

A trickle charger provides a slow and steady amount of energy to the battery.  This also helps to protect the battery from overcharging but it makes charging take longer than if a float charger was used.

Faster chargers usually cost more money than slower ones.  For example, a trickle charger may cost less than $50.00 while a 25 amp lithium-ion battery charger may cost well over $400.00.

In Summary

The lifespan of the average camper battery is currently about five or six years.  Lithium-ion batteries last longer and may eventually replace older batteries as the number one battery to use in a camper.

The amount of time a battery can be used before needing a full charge will vary wildly depending on what demands are being placed on it as well as the size of the battery.  Charge times will also vary based on the type of battery being charged as well as the type of power providing the charge.

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