One important thing you can’t overlook with a caravan is keeping your power supply topped up. While a lot of us like to travel in order to get away from the electronics and distractions of our everyday lives, there are still some necessities in a caravan that will require electricity. You don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you’ve got flat batteries, spoiled food and warm beer. Knowing the ins and outs of charging a caravan battery—especially while driving—can help you make a decision about which charging method suits your needs best.
Here at RV Solutions WA we’re all about helping you have the best experience possible—enjoying your caravanning adventures to the fullest. It’s why we offer comprehensive caravan services. From sales to repairs, to extra additions and caravans for sale Perth, we cover it all. We know everything about caravans and their batteries and keeping them charged, so read on to learn about the different charging methods available to you.
Your power source is what’s actually going to be filling up the battery. You’re not limited to just one and it can even be a good idea to have one or two backup options in case you end up experiencing some issues. Depending on how long you’ll be going away for and where you plan on going, your needs will change.
Solar panels are a popular and obvious method for caravan battery charging. Attaching solar panels to your caravan gives you a sustainable way to charge without the need for hooking up your caravan to a source. These are a great choice for people who plan to go off-grid and want to have a more flexible charging option, and with advances in technology good panels can pump out serious power.
However, you are somewhat at the mercy of the weather and location, so the reliability of solar panels can be inconsistent at times. Generally in Australia this isn’t a problem, particularly in summer, but if you’re planning a winter escape they might not cut the mustard. Solar panels are best paired with a more consistent option, rather than 100% relied upon.
This is a very straightforward method that involves finding a main power source and simply connecting your battery until it has been charged. Frequently known as “shore power”, borrowed from the marine world, 240v mains charging can be found on the majority of modern caravans. A good set up will include quality battery managers/monitors and inverters to protect your batteries and charge them safely. The downside of mains is of course the limited availability, especially if you’re out in a more rural area. If you’re planning to go off-grid properly, mains just isn’t an option. For this reason, planning ahead and finding areas where you can charge is a must.
Generators can be a super useful way to generate power, as they essentially turn diesel or petrol into mains power. Modern generators can also be super energy efficient, meaning they’re really not a bad option at all. However, they are generally more expensive in the long-run than alternatives such as solar or tow-vehicle powered chargers. If you’re keen to get out there in a brand new van though, they’re a solid option.
The downsides, apart from requiring you to carry extra fuel, is that they’re noisy. They can also smell pretty bad, and they take up a fair amount of storage space. Some campsites will also not allow you to run a generator past a certain time in the evening, which limits your options for keeping things topped up. For purely charging 12 or 24v battery systems, there are better options.
Your Tow Car’s Battery
Your tow car’s battery is actually an excellent power source, but maybe not in the way you think. When your car is running, the alternator is spinning and charging the car’s battery. We can tap into that power to ALSO charge the caravan’s batteries, through a DC-DC charging circuit. Of course, this power is only available when the car is driving—idling doesn’t have the motor spinning quick enough to generate enough power—but it’s essentially “free” power when you’re on the road. If you’re planning to do a lot of driving and not a lot of staying in one place for extended periods, this is a fantastic option.
Types Of Chargers
The type of charger you have will determine which power sources you can draw electricity from.
These chargers convert electricity from alternating current (which mains use) to direct current (which batteries use). These types of chargers are necessary to access power from mains. AC to DC chargers are also good for more efficiently charging your batteries from a generator. As long as you have access to a main, this will provide charge at a much faster rate.
These chargers are necessary if you are planning to use solar panels or your vehicle’s alternator as your primary method of charging your batteries. These work while your engine is running, but the higher RPMs of actually driving are better. In general DC to DC chargers are able to sense a wider voltage range and work with almost any type of alternator, giving them a higher level of flexibility. An important thing to keep in mind with DC-DC chargers is to match the voltage on the charger to the battery (e.g. 12v or 24v).
Another critical thing you have to consider in your caravan power system is the type of battery you’re using. Your ideal battery will depend on what you want in terms of storage capacity, charging speed and cost. Typically, caravans will use a dual-battery system where you have auxiliary batteries that can store power and allow you to use your appliances while you’re not plugged into mains power or the generator is not running. Batteries come in a variety of voltages, types and sizes and it’s important that you make sure your battery is compatible with your chosen type of charger.
Lead Acid Batteries
In a nutshell, lead acid batteries use lead and acid in a box to store power. They come in several varieties including flooded, AGM (absorbent glass mat) and gel. AGMs are typically the best choice among lead acid batteries because they don’t have the issue of battery acid sloshing around so they can avoid issues like spilling or emitting gasses. Generally, the primary advantage to lead acid batteries is that they are more affordable. If you’re on a budget, they’re a great choice.
By and large, lithium batteries are generally superior to lead acid batteries. They are lighter than lead acid batteries which makes them easier to transport and use. They last longer while having a noticeably higher output. They’re faster and much more efficient. Comparatively, the main downside is that they will generally be more expensive, and require a more thought-out charging system. Given that they are likely to last a lot longer, it makes sense to go for a Lithium battery since it will be worth it in the long run. For a more in-depth look at the different types of batteries available, read our article on caravan batteries.
Hopefully, this guide has provided you with a good overview of what charging a caravan involves. If you have any questions about charging a caravan then please don’t hesitate to call us. When you’ve got an idea for how you want to charge a caravan, come down and see us. Let us install a charging system for you!
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