Solar, Batteries, Wild Camping

Discussion in 'Motorhome Chat' started by JFD, Feb 13, 2016.

  1. JFD

    JFD Funster

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    Hi, I'm confused, despite reading everything I can find on this site, regarding this situation, and hope some of the wiser and more experienced Funsters can advise me.

    We started motor homing with Nigel, a Pilote, based on a Talbot Express chassis. Quite simple, one vehicle battery under the bonnet, one (large) leisure battery under the passenger seat. plus 80w of solar power on the roof. Never had an issue with electrics, even when camping in the New Forest, without hook-up.

    We decided to invest more, and address the daily bed construction issue, and bought Mo, a Rapido 746f. We are well pleased with the vehicle overall, and all the 'bells and whistles' it comes with.

    Now we are planning a wild camping holiday around Scotland, and I am worried about the electrics.

    The vehicle battery (under the passenger's feet) seems to die rather quickly when not used - five weeks of neglect, and it's dead. That's with no alarm set, just whatever Fiat choose to run when you are not using the vehicle. My assumption is that this is the original battery (vintage 2007), so needs replacement. However, after a full mains charge, and 24 hours off charge, just running Mr Fiat's oddities, it still shows 12.61v, which indicates it may not be as defunct as I thought!!!

    Does anyone have any experience in such a situation? Am I right in my assumption and replacement?

    Next is the leisure battery - just one fitted under a habitation module seat and, again, I assumed an original fit, there being many receipts in the documentation we received, none referring to new batteries. On taking it out to see how old it is, assuming it would have a date of manufacture, it turns out to be a gel battery, only 65Ah, with no date!

    I had assumed, based on reading postings on this site, that I would probably be best advised to have a couple of leisure batteries (Hankooks seem to be well thought of) with a decent capacity (120+Ah), and a solar capability of around 200w. Now I don't know which way to go!!

    I don't know if this battery is original, so 8-9 years old, or a new addition. I also don't know if the split charger has been set up for gel (I assume it has, as the battery seems to be in good condition), so would need adjustment if I were to change to wet batteries - the documentation for the motor home says nothing about gel vs wet batteries!

    The gel battery is showing a voltage of 12.68, which seems quite good so, maybe, it's quite recent. Should I get another, similar gel battery, and a solar array to charge them, or still replace it, with a pair of gel batteries, and a solar installation adjusted to suit, if that's possible, bearing in mind that the vehicle battery will still be a lead acid one. Or should I go for a pair of wet batteries, and change the charger, somehow?

    Or am I worrying unnecessarily, and should just trust in the existing set-up?

    Does anyone have any sage thoughts? Any input gratefully received.
     
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  2. DanielFord

    DanielFord Funster

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    I've never managed to get a battery to go much beyond 4 years, so yes, I'd be replacing them to be honest. In my car, it eats batteries like it's going out of fashion, it seems to kill a battery every 2 years, but I do have a strange driving pattern, it doesn't get used every day.
    The van had to have new leisure battery when we got it, 3 years old and it wouldn't hold charge for more than 24 hours. Strangely, the cab battery still seems good, although I am waiting for it to fail any day soon!
     
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  3. tonyidle

    tonyidle Funster

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    Batteries will do what you describe - the real test is capacity - how long does it last. I'd suggest a new battery or batteries. As for battery / solar capacity it depends entirely on your needs. For some MHers using as laptops or tablets, maybe a hairdryer, extensive telly viewing, etc, maximising capacity & solar charge is a necessity. Others use only the MH built-in systems. Only you can decide. Around 100w solar will look after minimal needs - more is better. Batteries - use whatever you want as a starter battery. It doesn't need to match the leisure batteries type, make, or capacity. Leisure batteries connected correctly in parallel should, for best results, match all three. The danger in connecting an older & newer battery is that it isn't always obvious when the older one fails until it is seriously affecting the newer. Then when you replace it you're back to mismatched batteries. Gel, AGM, flooded. That again is your choice. I use Banner lead acid - others will have their own favourites. FYI the Caravan Club has been accrediting batteries dependant on their performance so that might be something to look for.
     
  4. funflair

    funflair Funster Life Member

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    If the habitation battery is just a single 65 ah Gel you are going to be a bit short on capacity, but if wilding and moving every day you don't need that much, if you find this is not enough for your needs I would replace it with around 120 to 200ah and stuck with Gel firstly because I like them and secondly as you say that the habitation battery is under a seat in the habitation area I assume there is no venting so if you went down the lead acid route you would have to provide a vent.

    I am also a bit of a fan of solar but it does need sun, if you are wild camping and moving every day or two I would say it was more important to sort out the alternator charging with a B2B or A2B or whatever but I will admit I know nothing about these and don't use either. I believe that Gel batteries don't like a fast charge so that might be worth bearing in mind.

    Edit (tried to read up on this and can't find any evidence so possibly not true)

    Martin
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2016
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  5. Minxy Girl

    Minxy Girl Funster Life Member

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    Hi JFD, welcome to the fun house!

    We wild camp extensively - I can't remember the last time we actually used a campsite, preferring aires or wild spots. On a previous PVC we had a 75w solar panel and 2 x 100 amp leisure batteries which proved more than sufficient, now we've got a 60w solar (semi-flexible - got it VERY cheap!) and 2 x 95amp leisure batteries and found this more than meets our needs. Early in the year we did 6 weeks in Spain/Portugal in the first PVC with another 6 weeks in Italy/France in the new one and didn't get close to running out of power, even when we stayed in the same spot for a 3 days. We don't do a lot of TV watching, maybe a pre-recorded DVD for an hour on a night, other than that it's just the radio, lights etc.

    My suggestion would be to get either 2 matched leisure batteries, as large a capacity as you can, or one single 'massive' amp one - the space it fits in will determine how big you can go! IMV any type will do and a wet one will cost a fair bit less than a gel and work just as efficiently (you can easily put a vent pipe through one of the existing grommets under the seat). Along with this a 100w solar should be more than sufficient if you're not power hungry but as the cost for a larger one isn't that much more fit one as big as you can but ensure it doesn't get 'shaded' by aerials etc.
     
  6. Minxy Girl

    Minxy Girl Funster Life Member

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    Forgot to say, regarding the vehicle battery, if it's holding a charge and lasts for 5 weeks don't worry about it ... it's normal ... in MHs/PVC nowadays they sometimes need a charge up after 2 weeks due to all the gubbings linked to them, just don't let it go flat as you WILL kill it.
     
  7. Don Quixote

    Don Quixote Funster

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    I'm not going to add to what @funflair has said as all covered.
     
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  8. John Laidler

    John Laidler Funster

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    If you are wild camping around Scotland I would get the vehicle battery changed, if only for peace of mind. Not that I am implying Scotland is an uncivilised place where you will not find any aid but if it expires somewhere remote you will have a long wait for the AA man or whoever.

    Of course, you could just carry a set of heavy duty jump leads and hope the leisure batteries aren't flat as well! :)
     
  9. pappajohn

    pappajohn Funster Life Member

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    The basic split charge function has no adjustment....it is simply a 30a automotive relay which is activated by the alternator voltage.
     
  10. JFD

    JFD Funster

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    Thanks, all, for your feedback. I will replace the vehicle battery, and stick with the gel leisure battery for now, with a solar array to keep it topped up. I like the lack of need for ventilation (recalling eggy smells in Nigel), so will stick with gels when replacing.

    Thanks again for sharing your expertise.
     
  11. campa cola

    campa cola Funster

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    You can do a simple parasitic drain test like this one using a cheap multimeter
    This will give you a baseline draw amount, on the vehicle and the vid gives you the draw figures you should be expecting. Personally I don't set the alarm and disconnect the radio constant on lead when the Van is in storage to reduce parasitic drain. You can also do this test on the leisure battery circuit to see if there is any parasitic draw going on there. But in any case at 8 years old those batteries should be sent to the local recycling depot post haste and new ones purchased. Whilst you are at it you can use the multimeter to check your alternator output is good for charging both batteries

    Whilst I was doing all this with a friends MH recently I also found the +&- terminals of the solar panel output in the leisure battery compartment and tested the output of them too.(y)
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2016
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