Throughout your home, electricity powers almost everything, from your lights to your refrigerator and freezer to your Internet and cable. Without it, you’d be sitting in the dark.
Your RV is set up a bit differently. It relies on the power of a battery to run devices like RV lights, water pumps, entertainment devices, and more.
Of course, this doesn’t look like your standard car battery. The batteries that power an entire RV are often the size of boomboxes (if you remember those) and can cost anywhere between $100 and $400 a pop.
That means you want to take good care of your battery. Like all things in life, though, it won’t work forever. A battery that’s on the fritz will not take a full charge, which becomes problematic.
Can you extend a battery’s lifespan? How often should you replace your RV batteries anyway? Where do you even find the battery in your vehicle?
In this article, we’re going to answer all those questions and more. We’ll also include some handy tips for increasing the life expectancy of your battery. This way, whether your battery is brand new or a few years old, you can get the most out of it.
First, a Bit about Your Battery…
Here is more detailed information about your battery in handy sections for easy reading.
1. Where to Find It
There are plenty of places your RV battery could be. Some manufacturers prefer stashing them in the engine compartment. In other instances, you might even find the battery in the exterior compartment, retractable entryway steps, and interior floor compartment of the vehicle.
The bigger the battery, the more obvious its placement should be. If you have any specific questions about the location of your RV battery, it’s best to call your vehicle manufacturer.
2. What It Looks Like
As mentioned, RV batteries are quite bulky. Some models weigh 30 pounds while others are close to 50! That’s why these batteries often include carrying handles for easy transport.
Batteries will typically be encased in a layer of plastic, which is often black. This is known as the battery bank. It can hold a few batteries of the same type (we’ll get to this) so you can achieve a higher charge. You will have to use a jumper wire to connect the batteries and get them all running within the battery bank. One battery will have a negative terminal and the other will have a positive terminal. Once you connect those, you should get power.
3. What It Powers
Speaking of power, what will you use your RV battery for? So much more than you probably realized! Every time you enjoy the following, remember you have your vehicle’s battery to thank for it:
- Furnace heater fans
- Water pumps
- Televisions, laptops, and entertainment systems
- Air compressors
- Electric razors and other beauty items (such as hairdryers)
- Smartphone, tablet, or mobile device chargers
- Appliances like coffeemakers, refrigerators, freezers, and microwaves
4. Battery Types
This section is going to get a little technical, but you’ll need to know this information to get the longest lifespan out of your battery.
All batteries included with your RV are deep cycle. This means they’re made to last and provide power so you can run your essentials. There are two battery types as well.
Most RV batteries run on either a 12-volt or 120-volt system. There’s a pretty significant difference between the two, and the latter is a lot more uncommon. A 120-volt system relies on AC or DC shore or household power.
If you have a 12-volt system, on the other hand, you can only use DC power. Most of the items mentioned above require power from a 12-volt system. The bigger the item, though, the greedier it will get in terms of using battery power. For instance, to keep your refrigerator running, your battery has to expend much more power than it would to keep a smartphone charger powered up.
That’s why many RV refrigerators use a burner, as we’ve explained on this blog before.
Now, let’s go back to the battery bank, as we said we would. You can either achieve 12 volts in a battery bank with a single 12-volt battery or two six-volt batteries. There are plenty of other combinations you can make as well, but be careful not to exceed the max voltage of your batteries!
5. How to Charge It
You should never let your battery fall below 50 percent when it’s in use. During the off-season, it’s 80 percent.
It’s not as simple to recharge your RV battery as it is to charge many of the devices you use every day, like your phone or computer. Instead, you will need a converter (like PowerMax available on Amazon) for the job.
First, plug your RV into a standard electrical outlet. Then, connect the converter to that. This will connect the grid power to AC power for a 120-volt battery or DC power for a 12-volt battery. Once the battery charges, you can unplug it.
How do you know when your battery is fully charged? You should get a battery monitor that will give you an easily-understood number you can use to assess whether the battery is fully charged or still needs to sit on the charger for a while longer. I would recommend Victron BMV-702 Battery Monitor- it is not very cheap, but it is highly accurate and comes with 5 year warranty.
You’re probably expecting to see a percentage, but not all battery chargers will display the charge like that. Instead, they may show voltage numbers. Here’s how to make sense of these:
|Battery percentage||Voltage reading|
These numbers may vary somewhat depending on the RV battery brand and your charger.
As the battery charges, wait until it goes beyond 50 percent. Then you can use electric items sparingly. This is not the time to run the microwave or power the fridge, though. You also want to avoid charging too many devices and running a hairdryer.
The Average RV Battery Life Expectancy
Okay, now that you more about your RV battery, including where it is, what it looks like, and where to find it, let’s discuss the meat of the matter. What is the average RV battery life expectancy?
If your RV battery is brand new, then expect to have it for five years. That said, depending on the climate in which you live, the lifespan may be shorter.
According to a map from RV Share, here’s how it breaks down.
- The southernmost tips of Texas and Florida are known as “extreme heat” states. RV battery life expectancy is only two-and-a-half years here. That’s the worst life expectancy.
- The rest of the southern states are classified as “hot” states. These include parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma (to name a few) as well as the entirety of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Expect a battery life of less than four years if you live here.
- Moving up to the middle of the country, these states are “mild”. From Utah to Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and much of the east coast, the battery life expectancy is pretty great here. You’ll get almost four full years.
- Going up, the weather starts to get colder. Those in Washington, Montana, South Dakota, and (most of) Minnesota should expect the best life expectancy of all with nearly five years.
- Last, there are the “extreme cold” states, which are Alaska and parts of North Dakota and Minnesota. Battery lifespans once again decrease to about four-and-a-half years here.
Overall, by avoiding extreme cold and extreme heat, you can get the longest life out of your battery. Cold weather is preferable over mild temperatures, but in both environments, you can still use your RV battery for nearly five full years.
Knowing When to Replace Your Battery
You now know when and how to charge your battery, so you’ve been doing the best you can to never let it drop below 50 percent. You’re also making sure the battery doesn’t sit past 100 percent for too long, which can also be detrimental to its lifespan.
Still, eventually the time will come when you have to think about getting a new battery. It’s easy to know when to replace your battery if you were the one who bought it in the first place. What if you got your RV used though and you have no idea how old the current battery is?
You’re going to have to contact the seller or even the manufacturer to try to get more information on the battery.
You can generally tell when a battery is on its way out because it will stop charging fully. You will also only get a few hours out of the battery before you need to recharge it again.
Of course, those could also be signs of lack of maintenance, so the best advice we can give you is to keep track of how old your battery is. Whether you write it down somewhere or put it in your phone, hold onto that information.
Also, don’t wait until your battery starts failing to get a new one. If you know your battery will only last three-and-a-half years in your climate, buy a new battery at three years. You may get six months out of the current battery and you may not. Either way, you’re ready.
Tips for Improving Battery Life Expectancy
You may be wondering, is there anything you can do to squeeze a little extra life out of your RV batteries? It turns out, there is. Of course, results may vary. Sometimes, following these tips gives you a few extra days, where in other instances, it may be a few more weeks.
- Like most elements and units in your RV, it’s important you do maintenance on your batteries. One basic maintenance tip is to not let the batteries drop below 50 percent. When charging them, don’t let the batteries sit once they reach a full charge.
- Sulfation is an issue to be aware of. This affects the battery’s plates. As sulfuric acid crystals materialize and grow there, you will find you cannot charge your battery fully anymore. The best way to avoid sulfation is to charge your battery as soon as it gets near 50 percent.
- When buying batteries in a pack, such as two six-volt batteries, you must replace both at the same time. Using one new battery with an older one can lead to issues with stability, charging, and lifespan.
- Watch out for parasitic loads, which also negatively affect battery life. What is a parasitic load exactly? It’s a sneaky means of sucking power out of your RV battery even when the vehicle is not running and all the devices inside are powered down. Sources of parasitic load include interior lights, electronic circuit boards, stereo clocks, LP gas leak detectors, and TV antenna boosters, to name a few. If your battery life is poor, look at each of these devices and determine whether they may be contributing to the problem.
- For best results when using batteries in a battery bank, wipe down the negative and positive connections thoroughly. This will ensure both batteries are draining at about the same rate, which provides a stable, consistent voltage each time.
- If you aren’t already, start tracking your battery’s electrolyte levels. While we’ve talked about electrolytes on this site before, in regard to batteries, this is a sulfuric acid and water blend. Through both inactivity and regular battery life, electrolyte levels can gradually drop, so keep it full.
- You must be cautious in very hot and very cold environments. If you let your RV sit for a while in a hot climate, RV batteries may heat up. There is then a risk of a hydrogen gas explosion. This could be fatal if you’re near the RV. At the very least, there could be a big fire.
- There’s also the risk of the batteries freezing, as mentioned. This typically will not happen when the RV is in use. Instead, it’s more common for the batteries to freeze when the vehicle is in storage for the off-season. A frozen battery can thaw, but its life expectancy will now be altered for good. The battery will constantly need to be recharged. In this case, the best thing you can do is throw the battery out and get a new one.
- If you are going to leave your RV for several weeks or months in a storage area, you need to prepare accordingly. Bring the battery with you. Once the battery reaches 80 percent (not 50 percent as when the battery is being actively used), hook it up and let it charge.
Your RV battery is responsible for all the enjoyment and comfort you get from your RV. From lights to electronics and everything in between, you must take care of your battery to keep it running at its best for the next few years.
That all starts with finding the battery and understanding its components. Next, it’s good to know what factors influence its life expectancy. With regular maintenance, avoiding undercharging or overcharging, and limiting battery exposure to extreme hot or cold, you should be able to get a solid three or more years out of your RV battery.