TIP # 141 Wire Size Controversy, Practical Engineering, Tow Vehicle to Van R&D

Submitted: Tuesday, Jan 09, 2007 at 23:33
ThreadID: 123181 Views:6131 Replies:10 FollowUps:14
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There has been a lot of conflicting advice here on the BOG, from well meaning people, but giving advice that varies according to their specific experience and application. Many times they are correct from their Professional background, but still wrong in the application of the science in practical terms and specifications vary on AC and DC wire sizes for instance. NO WAY.!!.. Yes, sorry, just the way it is... One might want to question WHY we at Bushtracker do things like we do, and go to the Source to understand this.

For instance, there is a huge discrepancy on wire size and what it means in terms of physical dimensions. Let me digress a moment. It used to be all in the Imperial or American Gauge system. As an example 10 gauge which is roughly equivalent to our 6mm. Now that is confusing enough, because the larger the number, the smaller the wire. 10 gauge is smaller than 8 guage, and 10 gauge is nearly twice the size of 16 gauge… (The same goes for shotgun barrels for those of you familiar with them still on the gauge system). Anyway, next was the Metric conversion from Imperial, changing over to milimeter wire size. Originally that was the overall size of the wire INCLUDING insulation… That proved to be fraught with problems, thickness of insulation and so on; so that changed to CROSS SECTIONAL DIAMETER of wire….

Think that is the “be all end all”? NO AGAIN… Sorry…. AC voltage wire, (Alternating Current) household and industrial mains power, has a cross sectional diameter in 6mm wire size of about 6mm. So an AC Electrician, Electrical Engineer, or household Electrical Contractor will tell you that…. HOWEVER, Automotive Electrical, Automotive and Marine Electrical stranded wire, which is our field, has a different cross sectional diameter…

Sorry, just the way it is. I get tired of arguing with well meaning people asserting their view, so sometimes I just let it go by the wayside. But, in our field, Automotive and Marine Electrical wire has a different cross sectional diameter. Do not let it bother you or concern you in any manner but it is true. 6mm is actually a CSD of 4.59 mm square. 8mm for instance, is roughly the old 8 gauge for those thinking in the old system, and has a CSD of 7.91 mm square… Confused? Fine, good, don’t be concerned, and don’t worry about it all. Leave it to us, we have made an Institution of Bushtracker and will do the right thing. No worries… Why would we not....???

Now HERE IS THE BIT THAT RELATES TO YOU: An example that is relative to Bushtracker is the wire size from the tow vehicle to the van batteries. We want NO more than 8mm, even prefer 6mm, from the tow vehicle batteries back to the Anderson Plug and 7 pin plug. Not two circuits of twin sheathed, only one… “Oh those Guys don’t know what they are doing at Bushtracker, that will result in a voltage drop…” EXACTLY!!.... AND EXACTLY WHAT WE WANT BY DESIGN. Well meaning people are listening to “Experts” and want 10mm or larger battery cable sized stuff back to a 50 amp Anderson plug to get the full alternator capability back to the van batteries… From now on, we VOID the battery Warranty if anyone demands this as it will cook (overcharge) the van batteries. And little known to many is: It will grossly shorten the life of the alternator as well. I have killed two Toyota Alternators and a Ford Alternator trying to do just that… Here is the WHY of it all:

First of all your Alternator has a regulator that is set at something between 14.8 and 15 volts. Our Maintenance Free battery, and for that matter any Gel or AGM sealed type battery has charging limits of about 14.4 volts maximum. WE WANT THE .5 VOLT DROP by design. Why our choice of charging wire limits in the 6mm or maybe 8mm in the tow vehicle if the distance is long enough, is this throttles back the amperage flow to the van batteries, and will result in a voltage drop of about .5 of a volt by design.. KISS Engineering, Keep It Simple Silly... Yes you could do it with a Diode or in line additional voltage regulator, but this introduces other problems that are unnecessary. You can kill a Maintenance Free Battery if you use larger cable, as the voltages will run too high on the output of the tow vehicles alternator.

Yes some Electrical Engineering type will tell you that a simple way to do it is to run a large inline Diode, which has the side effect of giving you about a 1/2 volt drop with a 40 to 60 amp diode; but it will block the voltage from coming back from the van and this is a major disadvantage in some applications like using the van solar to help power an additional fridge in the tow vehicle. You need to understand we do what we do for very good reasons.. Trust us to do it in the most efficient way, and ask yourself "Why would we not?" Bushtracker is without a doubt the best, we are an Institution, and constantly doing R&D trying to do it better... (The Rangers Lifestyle...Ha!)

Second problem, very large battery cable size from tow vehicle through to van, over works the Alternator, as they are not designed to be continuous duty alternators. Let me explain: Your tow vehicle alternator is designed to just run a short time with one or two batteries and the regulator will start throttling back the charge. It might be a 60 amp or even an 80 amp alternator, but it brings up the battery quickly so it runs on maximum output only a matter of a few minutes, then maybe it is throttled back to 40 amp output for ten minutes more, then 30, 20, and the final finishing voltage that can take hours might only be at an output dropping from 10 amps down to 5 amps or less. But if you run heavy cable back to a large Anderson Plug for the van, it has to run a maximum output too long when it is bringing up 6 batteries at a time. It reads them as one GIANT BATTERY of combined average voltage. Not only will it run the van batteries up too high... It will grossly shorten the life of the tow vehicles alternator as it is not designed to run at a “continuous duty cycle” charging five or more batteries up in the combined tow vehicle and caravan and it cannot dissipate that much heat running at full output struggling to bring up 300% or 400% of the Amp Hours in batteries that it was designed to do…. How do I know that? Well, in trying, I have killed several Toyota alternators and one Ford 7.3 Diesel alternator. Even more Yacht alternators on Marine Engines like Perkins, Detroit, even John Deere. The problem comes in with five batteries or more, where the alternator is running at maximum capacity for too long and it does not have the cooling capacity to do so and cooks itself. To do that you need what is called a “Continuous Duty Alternator” that is about TWO TO THREE TIMES the size (and five times the cost) of normal alternators and have to have a large heat sink and cooling fans to run flat out for a long time…

The KISS engineering to get around both problems is to restrict the wire size back to the van batteries to diminish the problem, which has worked well. Even if you put in the very large cable and plug, and even with the continuous duty alternator, you have the overcharging problem on the van batteries, that has to be overcome with a Diode that has a side affect of dropping the voltage that half volt difference. Even if you spend thousands and do all that, the diode keeps the voltage from coming back from the van, which is its true Engineering Function, so you cannot use the van extra solar to help power up a fridge in the tow vehicle. It is all just not worth the effort and expense… So, while well meaning people try and eliminate the small voltage drop that comes with smaller sized cable, it can actually work to their disadvantage to run the larger cable. People need to fully understand that we do what we do, for a reason. For most, I would suggest extra solar and not concentrate on the vehicle alternator so much..

The original design of the Anderson Plug: I originally incorporated the Anderson Plug concept into my own Bushtracker van in 1997. This was the second van to move up to four panels and four batteries, to use the excess solar to power my 100 litre Trailblazer fridge in my tow Vehicle. Sometimes in a remote setting there was no where to go on a day trip, and the batteries in the tow vehicle needed a half day running to be charged up every other day, and so the Anderson Plug allowed the use of the excess solar in the Bushtracker to run the fridge in the tow vehicle. There was also an added benefit, as the same condition of having to run the tow vehicle every other day for a half day to charge the batteries in the tow vehicle, existed in town. The Anderson Plug allowed me to use the battery charger to charge the second battery in the tow vehicle when plugged into 240v at a caravan park or for running on a generator, when there was nowhere to go on a long day trip. Our Anderson Plug and 6mm wire is enough to do that, positive and negative sides each. …. AND YOU HAVE DOUBLE THAT ANYWAY, AS YOU ALREADY HAVE A CHARGING CIRCUIT IN 6MM IN THE 7 PIN PLUG, so you end up with two 6mm charging circuits in the van. You do not want any more than that, or it works to your disadvantage…. Trust me, I try everything!

Hard to argue with what works... And if you try too hard with big cable and big Anderson Plugs, you create more problems that you solve, including shortening the life of both the maintenance free batteries and the alternators...

Cheers from a practical Ranger,
Semper Fidelis
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Reply By: Gamma and Grumps - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 00:53

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 00:53
Hi Steve
I have 4 solar and batteries on our 20ft BT, but do not have an Anderson plug. If I leave the 7 pin plug connected does the excess solar charge the vehicle batteries through the 6mm wire and if it does is the Anderson plug necessary. I have a 40 litre Engel in the rear of the landcruiser.
Regards
Ken
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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 01:20

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 01:20
Hello Ken and Aileen,
Yes, by design the current flow will go both directions..... If the van batteries are higher potential (voltage, electromotive force), then the current will flow forward to help maintain the fridge. That goes for on solar and battery charger both...

The Anderson Plug concept was originally designed by me about ten years ago (Electric Forklift charging plug, silver coated corrosion resistant contacts), so it was easy to make up an extension cord about 6 metres long. This was because in some places you could not park hooked up. You had to park alongside or behind the van. The Anderson Plug was my solution, as the seven pin was awkward to make up in comparison, and I wanted to use the excess solar to power up a 100 litre fridge in the tow vehicle or use the battery charger in the van to maintain it.

Your seven pin will do the job. The original concept was to allow a parallel circuit, branch over to the Anderson Plug, just for easy extension cord. The Anderson plug will pass more current, as the seven pin plug is more prone to electrolytic type corrosion as the wire fitting is only a screw down mechanical fitting job, where the A Plug is a permanent solder job. So yes, the 7 pin will do it, if you keep it maintained, but the AP will do it better, OK?

However, people have taken the idea and tried to grow it into alternator supplement, and well meaning advice has grown it further to heavy battery cable to eliminate any voltage loss, and this has caused more problems than it has solved. I have only seen one Ford with a Continuous Duty Alternator, and it was a Monster reportedly costing nearly $5000 with the custom mounts and belt drive engineering, and we have had more than a few batteries cooked by overcharging in the past years, and of course it is always out fault..... So hence this TIP....

In your case, the 7 pin is probably fine, if you do annual maintenance on the plug. The 40 litre Engel is not a heavy load. If you find you need more, add the A-Plug alongside, as yes the solder joint will carry more current. Originally we used a 6mm twin sheathed extension, but in this case now 8mm B&S twin sheathed is in production. This will work better with the added distance. There used to be only 6mm and then a jump to 10mm which was expensive, bulky, heavy, and ridiculous. Mine is only 6mm. But now that 8mm B&S (Automotive grade Battery and Starter "B&S") twin sheathed is readily available, I would make up my 20' extension up from that if I had to do it over. Distance added = Larger cable, for less loss.. If you find you want more current (unlikely if you maintain the Large 7 pin connection) and go A-Plug alongside, then make up the extension cord in 8mm B&S (which has a larger Cross Sectional Diameter of 7.9 mm square)...

Best Regards from the Ranger
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Reply By: Turist - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 01:18

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 01:18
Steve do your cable size calculations take into account the Faraday affect relative to the number and size of the cable strands in a given cross sectional area?

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Bob
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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 01:23

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 01:23
Bobby,
You should not try be such a pain in the a** in fun.... I know your sense of humour, but Brian is going to take you seriously and consult some Guru to have a go at me.... Ha! Ranger

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Follow Up By: Turist - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 02:54

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 02:54
Given more due consideration the Faraday effect is not so critical when dealing with DC.

If you are more interested in current carrying ability than physical size, then also remember that a change of 3 AWG numbers equals a doubling or halving of the circular mills (the cross sectional area). Thus, if 10 AWG is safe for 30 amps, then 13 AWG is ok for 15 amps and 16 AWG is good for 7.5 amps.
The wire gauge is a logarithmic scale base on the cross sectional area of the wire. Each 3-gauge step in size corresponds to a doubling or halving of the cross sectional area. For example, going from 20 gauge to 17 gauge doubles the cross sectional area (which, by the way, halves the DC resistance).
So, one simple result of this is that if you take two strands the same gauge, it's the equivalent of a single wire that's 3 gauges lower. So two 20 gauge strands is equivaent to 1 17 gauge.

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Bob
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Reply By: Noosa Fox - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 02:45

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 02:45
I find this comment very concerning, and now realise why I didn’t get a reply when I ask BTi in an earlier post what they called 6mm wire.

“”But, in our field, Automotive and Marine Electrical wire has a different cross sectional diameter. Do not let it bother you or concern you in any manner but it is true. Do not let it bother you or concern you in any manner but it is true. 6mm is actually a CSD of 4.59 mm square. 8mm for instance, is roughly the old 8 gauge for those thinking in the old system, and has a CSD of 7.91 mm square… Confused? Fine, good, don’t be concerned, and don’t worry about it all. Leave it to us, we have made an Institution of Bushtracker and will do the right thing. No worries… Why would we not....???””

A Cross Sectional Diameter is a distance NOT an area as quoted above (6mm is actually a CSD of 4.59 mm square).

For a wire to have an cross sectional area of 4.59 mm Square the diameter would only be about 2.45 mm diameter.

At this point is it worth while looking at the excellent publication in the documents folder on understanding Direct Current electricity.

On about page 15 of this document there is a formulae of how to calculate voltage drops over a distance with various current flows.

Wire Size Calculation (Area in mm2)
To calculate the wire size required for a circuit you need to know:
 The Cable Route Length to the load (See Note 2 below) (Poss plus Negative)
 The Current flowing in the circuit being examined
 The Acceptable Voltage Drop for the cable section or appliance

Wire Size Required (area in mm2) = Current in Amps x Cable Route Length x 2 x Constant 0.0164 divided by
Acceptable Voltage Drop

Using this formulea in my Vehicle and van set up where the distance between vehicle battery and caravan batteries is approx 13 metres.

If I was using BTi 6mm cable with an area of 4.59mm sq the voltage drop with 20 amps flowing would be 1.6 volts and for 50 amps 4.11 volts. MUCH more than the 0.5 volts quoted. To have a 0.5 voltage drop over my 13 metre distance the current flow could only be 6.1 amps.

In my own set up I disconnected the power wire that BTi fitted into the 7 pin plug and I now have an Anderson Plug and twin wires of approx 4mm diameter. A 4mm diam wire is equal to a 12.57 mm square wire. Now with this set up if 20 amps are flowing then I will have 0.6 voltage drop and for 50 amps a 1.5 voltage drop.

In practice though when our vehicle with a very large F250 alternator is throwing charge into the caravan batteries, the caravan batteries are only ever boosted up to 13.3 to 13.4 volts.
While on solar ONLY with 4 panels, I have had up to 33.5 amps coming in and the voltage has been as high as 13.9 volts.

It is my belief that just because someone says that they are an expert on a subject, you should always go and seek independent advise from someone with an educational certificate to back up what they are saying.

I believe what new owners should be more concerned about is the area of the wire between the battery and solar regulator, as 8mm wire with an cross-sectional area of 7.91 mm Square is clearly not heavy enough to carry peek loads of around 15 amps over the distance required.

Brian
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Follow Up By: Noosa Fox - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 02:54

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 02:54
I don't need to consult anyone to comment on this. Any amateur can work it out when you have scientific formulea to work with.

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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:02

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:02
We will no longer comment on this persons Postings. He always knows better, and if we comment we get harrassing emails at Bushtracker. It has not been fruitful in the past many years. We will tell the largest cable Manufacturer in Australia that their figures are wrong, and their Regional Distributor as well. Ha!
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Reply By: Pixellator - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 03:44

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 03:44
Steve
Thanks for the detailed info regarding Anderson Plug/Solar charge.
Am I correct in assuming:
1. I don't need to connect the cable from the van to the car (Anderson Plugs) while travelling, as adequate charge will be handled through the 7-pin plug to the BT (if required), and the car's auxiliary battery will be charged from the alternator while travelling
2. Charging power to the car auxiliary battery is available via the Andersn cable from the battery charger continuously whilst on 240v power
3. Whilst off 240v power, once the BT batteries are fully charged from the solar, charge is then available via the Andrson cable to the car auxiliary battery

Additionally, if the car/BT combination is parked, should the 7-pin cable be disconnected? (eg whilst travelling to Tasmania on the vehicle ferry, where the car/BT are left unattended)

Cheers
Bob
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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:15

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:15
Hello Bob,

1) I am not in the Office today, so I will make this brief as I am running late.... In a perfect world, the mechanical connection in the 7 pin Utilux Plug would do the job, but with travel and bull dust in the pin, and minor corrosion of diss-similar metals, the connection does deteriorate in time. If you have the Anderson Plug, leave it plugged in, it is the same power line just a better connection that has soldered in wire and silver coated contacts. The purpose of it was to allow the 20' extension cord, but if you have it, leave it in.... If you have the anderson plug, there is one on a short lead on the A-frame, and another on your tow vehicle. If you have the extension, it also has an A-Plug on both ends, and just intervenes between the two. I designed this system in 1997, and it has worked admirably... I have it on my own van now. If this is what you have, then plug it in ( obviously without the extension line when you are hooked up and traveling)... It is the same power leg, just a better connection, and one that allows the hookup parked alongside or behind the van... If you are still unclear or I have not explained it well enough please let me know...

2) I would need to know how your car is wired to answer this. If the power line goes straight to you vehicle battery(s) then yes. If there is a controller/diverter like the ARB or Pirahnna inbetween then no. More on this later, and I can help you determine, but if the power leg goes straight to your vehicle battery then yes, overnight it will trickle charge you vehicle batteries. I have been doing just this for 10 years now...

3) Again the same answer as the above # 2.... My original design was to allow the flow of power in either direction, from the higher potential to the lower potential.

Best Regards, and Happy Trails....
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Reply By: Deleted User - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 04:13

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 04:13
what colour besides BLACK are anderson plugs available in
AnswerID: 570163

Follow Up By: Turist - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 04:38

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 04:38
Also in white Peter.
Everything here is black & white.

Regards
Bob
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Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:18

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:18
Cute, both of you, really cute..... But we specifically get ALL OF OUR ANDERSON PLUGS IN BUSHTRACKER GREY !!!!! Ha! Ranger
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Reply By: Fosssil - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 05:18

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 05:18
Something I don't understand is...

Wouldn't the vehicles alternator be oblivious of the fact that the wire is a smaller gauge and still keep running flat out as it produces enough current to allow for the smaller wire soaking up .5v power, and for the charging the batteries...

I can see that the batteries will not be charged to as high a voltage with the smaller wire...but it appears to me the alternator is still running hard to allow for the wire soaking up power...as it charges the batteries to .5 of a volt lower...perhaps the .5 of a volt lower difference reduces the running time of the alternator at the high voltage.....hmmmm...

But then again... with a larger wire... if more voltage is going in, then the batteries would reach a certain voltage sooner...

Perhaps it is the .5 volt multiplied by the 4 batteries that counts...hmmm

I am not saying to use a larger wire...just saying that it does not appear to be so clear cut.

So many variables....lol

regrads,

fosss

AnswerID: 570164

Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 17:55

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 17:55
Hello Foss,
There is a measured effect, in throttling back the amount of current to the van batteries, in that the vehicle regulator brings up the battery or batteries in the engine bay first, to a higher voltage. As it reads this higher voltage on the tow vehicle batteries, it throttles itself back and lowers the output. What we really want is a trickle charge back to the van batteries, both to protect the alternator and more importantly to us, to protect the batteries in the van from higher potential voltages. Best Regards
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Follow Up By: Fosssil - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 19:05

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 19:05
That makes it clearer Steve.
The idea is to get the alternator thinking the right thoughts.
fosss
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Follow Up By: Fosssil - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 19:17

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 19:17
Hmmmm
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Reply By: 12tony - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 07:33

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 07:33
your alternator should be set at 13.8 to 14.2v on 99% of vehicles.With modern voltage sensing alternators they look more for the back emf,and with the van batteries trying to be charged with a wire that is too small you WILL have the alternator working flat out.Also the wire will be getting very hot.
AnswerID: 570165

Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:25

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 18:25
Thank you Tony, but we often measure them higher, as high as 14.8 even have seen 15 volts.... The whole purpose of this excercise is to protect $1000 worth of batteries in the van. If they are overcharged, depleting the electrolyte, they are ruined and of course it will be our fault. Some have even cooked the electrolyte right out of the batteries, damage the surrounds, terminal ends, and cables. We have seen this as a result of reprogramming on the solar regulator battery type and so corresponding charging rates, and also as a result of vehicle input. The purpose of our design is to protect the batteries from over voltage damage... Hence this Posting and its Purpose..

Regards, Ranger...
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Reply By: Turist - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 20:10

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 20:10
A battery circuit that I have found to work very well.
Any comments welcome.

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Follow Up By: Turist - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 20:11

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 20:11
Click on above image to expand.

Bob
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Reply By: Noosa Fox - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 20:39

Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007 at 20:39
Bob,
That is exactly the same set up that I have in our vehicle and caravan and as I said earlier, the highest voltage that I have seen at the Van batteries is 13.3 to 13.4 volts when the engine has been running for a while.

Our modified BTi set 50amp battery charger has however put the voltage up as high as 14.6 volts, but usually sits on 14.3 volts.

When you take into account the voltage drop over the distance between Alternator and caravan batteries, to get 14.8 or 15 volts at the caravan batteries, there would have to be an extremely heavy cable between the two and via a 175 amp Anderson Plug.
Working on a12 metre distance between alternator and van battery, with 20 amps flowing you would still have 0.1 voltage drop using rediculously large 10mm dia cables with a surface area of 78.55mm square. Using a cable of 10 sq mm the voltage drop would be 0.79 volts.

Not to mention the amount of charge that the alternator would be sending to the tow vehicle battery. The voltage of the Tow vehicle battery would have to be about 15.8 volts to get 15 volts at caravan via a 10 sq mm cable. I don't know what this would do to a battery but from your experience with batteries during your working life you will be able to tell us what sort damage it would do.

Brian
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Reply By: Burt & Mary - Thursday, Jan 11, 2007 at 23:10

Thursday, Jan 11, 2007 at 23:10
Steve hopefully you do not believe all you write (think right) as much is wrong. When we had additional solar panels added we had the BT electrics rewired correctly.
AnswerID: 570168

Follow Up By: Bushtracker - Thursday, Jan 11, 2007 at 23:55

Thursday, Jan 11, 2007 at 23:55
Who knows who you are, or what you have done to your van. Or if second hand, what the previous Owner has done...

Anyone can say anything. I take offence at your comments and reject them. We are the Professionals and have about 1000 Bushtrackers running just fine. Ranger
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