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How to Extend RV Battery Life

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Last Updated on June 20, 2022 by Jessica Lauren Vine

Are you trying to figure out how to extend RV battery life?

One of the first things you’ll learn about RV life is that you will always be fixing something. It’s just part of the lifestyle. You can buy the latest gear and read all the online advice about what to do in an emergency, but nothing beats preventative and regular maintenance. Having an in-depth understanding of how the systems of your RV work and how to take care of them will save you a lot of time, money, and hassle along the way. And one of the most essential systems in your RV is the battery. 

Recently we shared an in-depth Guide To Powering Your RV where we discussed all things electric, solar, and battery charged. This guide will dive into what you can do to prolong your battery life and common mistakes that can drain your battery.

RV Batteries 101

There are two types of RV battery systems. The chassis battery is the battery that powers automotive systems like the engine and the windshield wipers. If you have a Class-A, you have a chassis battery. Then there’s the 12-volt battery (often called the house or coach battery) that powers the non-engine related systems, like the interior lights and the water pump. 

Most Common Ways To Drain Your RV Battery

Before you can work on extending the life of your RV battery, you have to know what causes it to drain. Knowing how your battery works will help you be more mindful of your power and how to conserve it. Some of the most common ways to end up with a dead battery include:

Sulfation

Sulfation is the growth of small sulfuric acid crystals on the battery plates. When you regularly charge your RV to full power, the sulfate crystals can convert back to active plate material. But when the battery stays in a low charge for a long time, the crystals can’t convert, which ruins the battery. A low charge is considered 12.5 volts, so you must regularly bring your battery up to full charge. 

Parasitic Loads

Parasitic loads are gadgets, systems, and appliances that take power from your battery even when you’re not using them. Sometimes, when they aren’t even on. Cell phone chargers, lights, and GPS systems can all suck the power out of your battery without you even knowing it.  

Overcharging

While you will want to avoid keeping your battery at a low charge for extended periods of time, you also want to be careful about overcharging. If you use the incorrect charging voltage, you could overcharge your battery. Another common mistake RVers make is leaving the charger connected to the battery for too long. Technology experts specializing in cell phone batteries advise users not to keep their phones plugged in all of the time because it can shorten the battery life. The same goes for RVs. 

Neglect/Lack of Maintenance

When it comes to RV maintenance, there aren’t a lot of things that you can let slip through the cracks. Maybe you can go a few weeks without washing the rig or performing a water heater service, but battery maintenance is not something that can, or should, wait. Some common maintenance issues that cause a battery to malfunction include

  • Using tap water instead of distilled water 
  • Storing the battery in places that are too hot or too cold
  • Forgetting to clean battery terminals to remove corrosion. 
  • Not paying attention to battery self-discharge rates.

If you notice your RV batteries are draining rapidly, it could be something you’re doing. Or not doing. Knowing the most common ways to drain a battery will help you avoid them and extend your battery life.

Best Ways To Extend RV Battery Life

Now that you know what drains a battery, it’s time to actively talk about what you can do to extend an RV’s battery life. Here are some of the best ways to keep your batteries running for the long term:

Buy a good battery to start with. If you are in the market for an RV, one of the questions you should be asking is about the battery’s condition. Ask to see the battery and look for signs of damage. Ask about how long the battery has been running the particular rig and when it was last replaced. If you’re not confident with the answers, add “buy a new battery” to your RV-buying checklist. 

Invest in a digital meter to read the charge of your battery. This way, you always know the status of your RV battery and can charge it accordingly. 

Avoid overcharging your battery. Your batteries will charge while driving, but when you’re at a campsite, be careful not to leave them charging for too long.

Don’t let the RV battery drop below 80%. When your batteries get below 50%, recharging them takes longer and can cause damage to the battery. Experts agree it’s best to charge your battery when it gets to 80%. 

Top off flooded lead-acid batteries

The most common type of battery in an RV is the flooded lead-acid battery. This battery requires a supply of water to ensure top performance. When the battery is charged daily, the water can evaporate and lead to sulfation. To avoid this, ensure you’re topping off the water in your flooded lead-acid battery, especially in the hot and freezing months. Remember only to use mineral-free water during this process. 

Clean the terminals

While you’re topping off the battery, get in there and clean off the terminals too. The easiest way to clean residue, rust, and sulfate off the battery is with a mix of baking soda and water. This only needs to be done twice a year, but it’s a good preventative maintenance habit to start. And always wear gloves! 

Unplug the battery to avoid parasitic loads

The sneaky cell phone chargers, space heaters and other small appliances can drain your battery when you don’t even realize it. Be extra aware of anything plugged into the wall, as it could slowly drain your battery even if the appliance isn’t being used. If you only use your RV part-time, do a walkthrough before putting your RV in storage to double-check that nothing is on or being plugged in. 

Consider going (partly) solar.

Adding solar panels to your rig can be quite an investment. It’s not cheap, but it can help offset some of your battery’s work, especially when you’re not plugged into shore power. Driving charges the batteries on the go, but the solar panels can continue the charge when you’re stationary. Going solar isn’t realistic for all RVers, but it can be an option for those who want to reduce energy usage and have one more tool on board to extend their battery life. 

The Bottom Line

Part of living the RV life is accepting that you will always be doing maintenance. Seasoned RVers have learned that to do less emergency maintenance, you must do more preventative maintenance. Taking care of your RV battery will help you feel more confident on the road and while you are boondocking. Use these helpful tips to extend your battery life and spend more time camping, exploring, and seeing new places. 

Now before you head off to take care of your battery, make sure to check out some of our other RV-related articles.

How to Clean RV Air Conditioner Coils

What’s the Difference Between an RV GPS and a Regular GPS?

Is It Safe to Leave a Pet in an RV?

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