Submitted: Tuesday, Mar 22, 2005 at 22:17
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Do you wonder why some people talk about their batteries lasting many years, and then you hear of someone else that has actually killed batteries in a very short time??? It is most often not the batteries fault… While there have been rare occasions of defective batteries, they are only in about 1 in 200, to about 1 in 500 in actual occurrence. The premature death of batteries in practice is cause by abuse, neglect, or just plain working them too hard… I have been ask to put some guidelines on battery use on the BOG site, so here goes… If a battery has a design life of say 1000 Cycles (discharge and full recharge), if the battery is cycled less than the full cycle discharge, you might get 2000 cycles. If the battery is run down too far before being recharged, you might only get 500 cycles out of it… Understand? Now if you do not charge it properly, or enough; if you run it down way to far, if you do not charge it up all the way, or if you leave it in a discharged state too long, you can get even less than 500 cycles or KILL THE BATTERIES ALTOGETHER!!! Abuse of batteries is like running cheap or wrong oil in your engine, you greatly would shorten the life in your car… Try running water in your engine until it dies…That is like running a battery clear down to about 10 volts on your satellite dish or stereo amplifier, or auxiliary freezer in the truck, and then thinking “Oh well I will charge it up good in a few days when I get to Woop Woop….” That is like topping off the oil in your Landcruiser with turpentine or something… A good way to ruin both!!! Be careful… I still have the first three AGM batteries running in my truck after years of work, with a 100 ltr fridge freezer running non stop, lights in the horse truck, and a 12v power winch running the 12’ ramp up and down…. But I am running those batteries within the guidelines of proper cycles without abusing them….!!!

A battery like the AGM with A-200 Gel, or a standard AGM, or straight Gel Cell, should be treated with care. When it gets down to 12 volts it is about 50% depleted. The less time you run it below 12 volts, the longer it will last. If you routinely charged it up from 12 volts, you might get twice the design life out of it. Now, yes it is important to exercise it and stretch that cycle down further, but that will happen naturally in bad weather off Solar, when you run it down to 11.5 or even 11 volts every couple of weeks or so…. But if you completely flatten it all the way down to 10.5-11 volts all the time, you are shortening it’s life. It is nice to have all the toys, flat screen TV’s, stereo amplifiers running outside speakers, extra fridges in the tow vehicle, microwaves, and all the rest of the creature comforts like Satellite dishes and Satellite decoders… But there is a cost to that in $, and the weak link is battery care. If you find you are going below 12v, below 11.5 all the time…. You will either invest in more solar and run more batteries, or you have to accept the fact that you will be replacing batteries on a regular basis…. Cheap batteries are also definitely not the answer. They just waste solar input with thicker plates that require more energy to excite them, require water adding maintenance, make more explosive fumes, and corrode terminals and cable; and just require a lot more maintenance. The answer is better care of the good batteries…

Almost all of the current battery problems of late, are with people unknowingly misusing their 12 volt systems. When someone has crashed all three of their batteries, while we are getting it handled on a warrantee basis some of the time, the truth is that the people do not have three defective batteries, they have unintentionally ruined their batteries by running them down too low or leaving them down low for too long. Some examples of this unknowing abuse of their battery systems are like the following:

1) They are running the batteries too low with their inverters, when they really cannot afford or don't have the excess power... Some inverter choices did not have a built in Low Voltage Disconnect until the last couple years... People need to live within their power limits, and not use power hungry luxury items when the weather is off or their batteries are not full up…. Flat screen TV’s, stereos systems, satellite dishes and decoders, microwaves, and other luxury items need to be used sparingly when the batteries are not up in the upper range of being fully charged. We state that 3 –120 watt panels and 3 batteries hits the 90% of Customer satisfaction, but then many are adding more stereo, TV, satellite dish, type systems after that, when they really should go too 4 panels and 4 batteries if they are going to do that…

2) Some people are continuing to run accessories when the batteries are too low without their knowledge, fridges in tow vehicles and the like. As I have said, People are unintentionally ruining good batteries through over use-abuse running them down too low and or leaving them there too long... We have tried to build in the LVD, (Low Voltage Disconnect) to cover this, but the Anderson Plugs bypass the system and allows unintentional abuse, running them down with luxury items in the tow vehicles, stereos left on, extra fridges, and the like in the tow vehicle that is running through the Anderson Plug bypassing the LVD protection in the caravan itself and running off the batteries directly. The Anderson Plug extra connection, should be reserved for people that actually have surplus solar power, which is what it was designed for, like 4- 120 watt panels and 4 batteries. Then it makes sense.

3) Some people are even actually overcharging their batteries, with large cable running to Anderson Plugs, allowing the alternators to pump up the batteries too high when on long driving trips. The sealed batteries don't like voltages over about 14.5v for very long, and alternators on tow vehicles will often put out up to 15 volts and hold them there for as long as the engine is running. This hurts the batteries over time, depleting the electrolyte. This is another case of unintentional abuse of the batteries.. And why we do not like to put in the larger battery cable size of wire back to the 20amp Anderson Plugs. If we restrict the wire size to 6mm, yes we do get about a half volt loss, but that suits the batteries better as most tow vehicles put out 14.9-15 volts and the Gel, Hybrid, and AGM batteries are restricted to 14.4-14.5. This can be overcome with a large Diode, which will drop the voltage a half volt, but this will restrict the Anderson plug to charging only, not drawing power back, as the Diode blocks it in that direction… There in is its own problem, more in another section on “Anderson Plugs”..

4) Some people are actually adding more toys on board later; some have even directly connected to the battery system, allowing them to use power and run the batteries lower than they are designed for.... After having abused or killed their batteries, they are often “in denial” as many do not understand how the electrical system works, and we cannot entirely stop them from unintentionally abusing it...

And then, all of this ends up our fault of course... There is no easy way to handle this... Some people are just using too much power with elaborate stereo and TV and satellite systems, and other accessories like Satellite Decoders and extra fridges, and the like... For instance one person, came in with an
unaccountable power draw draining their batteries overnight, that was chased down to a Satellite Decoder that was drawing 3 amps 24 hours a day in power even when not in use!!! Ouch!!... It is very hard for us to regulate how much power people are able to use, and about one in twenty of our Bushtracker Owners just do not understand or pay attention to the power available, as they are unintentionally abusing their battery systems one way or another. It is an ongoing challenge for us...

One way we have tried to overcome this is to try and educate the Owners on how to live with 12volt storage battery systems, so we are ever increasing the size of the Owners Manual with added information… Well and good, but some people do not read the Owners Manual… . It is almost a joke about men, that they do not read the Owners Manual until they have broken something. We strongly recommend that our Owners Manual is read to prevent damage.

Another way we have tried to overcome this is to continue to evolve automated LVD and HVD systems. For instance, we now have an LVD (Low Voltage Disconnect) that we can put in the Anderson Plug line. If people leave a stereo on, a fridge running, something that is a current draw through the Anderson Plug, we have a neat LVD device that will automatically cut out the circuit and only put it back in when the voltage rises to a preset level in the batteries… Good idea, but it costs around $400, so the protective cure is more costly than the occasional case of people ruining their batteries.

Another and the best way may be by building a stronger battery that is better able to survive the abuse.... This has been what we have tried to do. We have the first 500 in the country. They are the 100 Amp Hour Hybrid AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) battery with German A-200 Gel. We have severely tested them with huge cycles, and even left them down in a badly discharged state, abusing them for days as a severe test only. While we do not encourage or advise such extreme abuse, we have tested them to that level ourselves in our own Quality Control research. We are not saying that they cannot be ruined, but they survived some rigorous testing that would have ruined other batteries… But you need to understand that you still can kill them; and the better the care, the longer they will last…

We are always trying to build better systems and equipment to keep the Clients from unintentionally ruining their equipment. Part of that care are things in place now, like LVD disconnects we have had built into the inverters, and LVD and Audible Alarms in the new 40 amp Regulators…. But we cannot completely make it foolproof… In the end, there is only so much the “Lone Ranger” can do without your help… That is where you come in…

Take care… and Kind Regards… stg
"The Last Stand In Open Country"

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