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Electrical Discussion of preventative/corrective maintenance and other technical issues regarding your coach's electrical system.

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  #1  
Old 01-04-2020
Sandytoes Sandytoes is offline
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Default Questions re: Coach/engine batts, shore, solar, gen

I have looked through the Stickys and searched but haven't seen information that I am looking for so here goes.

I would like some input to help me understand what is going on with my batteries, metering, etc. I will describe the situation and hope for some clarity. I have owned the coach for 1.5 years. When first owned it, I did let the engine batts go flat-ish through ignorance ( twice, I believe) and recall drawing the coach batts low (<11.5 twice at least). That was at the beginning but not since. Batts were new in Jan 2015 from Solar Bill in Q. Lifeline D4's for coach, and Interstate GR31 for engine. Anyway, mostly don't have issues but today was weird and made me wonder if they are done and need replacing.

We spent a month on shore power and have just spent 2 days/nights boondocking. I isolate engine batts overnight because they draw down far if I don't separate. Aquahot runs all night. The first morning, volts were 12.2, 72 ish % capacity. Ran gen for 2 hours, didn't top up by Trace meter but lots of sun (600 watts of solar) and later showed 100%.

Second morning, volts was about 11.7, cap was about 72/3 ish, don't recall exact. Ran gen for an hour, then expected solar to complete. Checked at about 17:30 and cap showed 62% and don't recall volts but think it was 11.5v. I expected cap to be 100% and volts to be high 13's. Ran gen for 2.5 hrs. and meters showed while gen running 72% and 12.2 volts and climbing as time went on as expected. Gen was charging 114 A in bulk, and 74ish in absorption, if I recall. Anyway, time was up in park so stopped gen. Separated engine batts. and flicked dash switch, resolving to have a cold night to save batts. so no Aquahot. Short time later, looked up a panel and realized the full charge light was showing. Checked all readings, batts cap 100%, volts 13.3. Solar control mostly agreed, its capacity tends to round off to nearest 10 so either 100% or 90%.

Just turned Aquahot back on and after 1/2 hour, volts 12.9, cap still 100%, DC Amps draw 11.

So earlier in the evening, when all readings were low after a day of sun, I was thinking the batts are done. (I have never equalized them, didn't know I should). When I next see Turnkey, I will use his load tester to test them all. I just don't understand how come the meters showed so little energy after a good day of solar, then show minimal improvement while charging ( the time to charge slowly increased at the normal rate I am used too. Just from really low starting points) and then when 2 hours of charging are over, and initially after shutting down the gen (the readings had climbed to volts 12.2, cap 72%) , ten minutes later the capacity is now 100% and the volts 13.3. I wish the volts were higher, more like the high 13's .

What am I not getting about how the systems work? Or is the problem the age/condition of the batts.?

I know I didn't treat them well at the beginning of my ownership and that has contributed to diminished lifespan. Next time I am on shorepower I will equalize, although I think Lifeline says disconnect all DC loads, which seems a large task.

I look forward to feedback. I realize the description is poor and disjointed but I was trying to remember sequences and values after the fact.
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  #2  
Old 01-04-2020
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jwmp jwmp is offline
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Disconnecting all DC loads is simple. Go to the last battery in the line up to the coach DC buss connection and lift the cable off the battery. I would also separate the batteries and test each independently.

Another test is to check the temperature of each battery now while they're under load and being charged.
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Old 01-04-2020
Sandytoes Sandytoes is offline
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Disconnecting the DC load that way makes sense now that you mention it. I will test each separately as you suggest. Of course, my temp gun is safely at home but will see about borrowing one.

I woke up numerous times in the night to check gauges and both capacity and volts were fantastic. 96% and 12.9 v by the morning. Dash coach gauge not quite accurate. But I noticed that when the inverter was on for coffee the volts fell to 12.0. Sun is now up higher and solar controller is saying 12.3v, 1.4A incoming and 65% capacity. Engine pre-heat is on and Trace panel says batts full absorbtion phase at 91%, 12.4/5v. Things seem to be behaving normal now. Maybe the batts just needed a really good charge from the gen. But that doesn't make sense because solar is supposed to do that also. And the readings from last night still don't make sense. Yet. Tools and testing required. More to come as info becomes available.
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Old 01-04-2020
GregOC GregOC is offline
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Load test batts @ 12.9v un hooked..... Drain with modest 15 ,25amp load down to resting read of 12.6 v then do load test batts unhooked. Lifeline in san dimas ca has a good tech, call with results. They prorate up to 5 years.

My theory,,, solar charge input muffs the onboarding invertercharger program charging output with solar realtime influenced reading and not actual battery voltage-state. Prolong dependence on automatic charging programs that get this muffed reading, will under charge one or more battery.
If I had solar,,, I would install a cut off switch and use solar only when sun is out ,not plugged in, not running generator, not driving bus. Only one charge source at a time. would also disconnect solar at night and an hour prior to starting scheduled shore/gen charging.

Never had a lx but in the bird configs with several invertchargers, I was never convinced the charging of one invrtcharger output was not influenced falsely by the output of the other realtime output and not true battery state .
Add to this chassis batteries and on the road alternator charging. the bus engine driven charger voltage regulator seeing the incoming solar charge going down the road when the banks combine and the two banks then do not get topped off true. Soon starter issues and premature chassis bat failure.
Granola eating tree hugging solar decked rigs probably do not have issue because all that solar capacity might do a good charge and they live to brag that they never use another charge source. So understand their input and comment
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Last edited by GregOC; 01-04-2020 at 11:58 AM.
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Old 01-04-2020
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badandy badandy is offline
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Yeah what Greg said - calculating SOC, especially on lead acids, is voodoo anyways. As they age it throws things off, too.

I would start by completely disconnecting all the batteries and letting them sit all day and measure their voltage after they've rested. It doesn't matter what voltage they are, but you want to see what the spread is. If there isn't one battery really low (or high I guess) then I think they are fine, no need to really load test them. You're getting good power in/out of them it seems.
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  #6  
Old 01-04-2020
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NoGas NoGas is offline
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Default Battery Charging with Solar & Shore/Gen

Opinion - You will likely find that one or both of your -31 start batteries are at fault. 5 years is well beyond their standard life expectancy. I’d bet the coach Lifelines are still ok. If true, when connected to shore/gen power OR off-grid with a small solar array trying its best - the two “almost history” -31’s are “fighting” for ALL the attention. I’d replace them with AGM’s that if possible have the same or very similar charging profiles as your Lifelines. Here’s why...

I have a decent sized solar/battery setup on the coach (see HERE). This is how I run it:
  • The system is wired such that either solar OR a shore/gen source charges the coach batteries. Except for the standard BB crosstie setup, the coach and engine batteries are kept completely separate. That way there is no “competition” of what gets to do the charging between the two systems. My totally integrated Magnum inverter/charger/PT100/BMK works WAY better for charging the coach side, while the engine alternator does OK charging the -31’s. Note: on the M380 some without solar have upped the alternator charging voltage and this allows the alternator to charge the coach batteries while driving. I elected to NOT make this change because the Magnum system with solar is WAY smarter and more capable than a simple voltage controlled alternator
  • When boondocking at night, the solar system automatically shuts down until the next day. No user inputs or changes are needed
  • When on shore power at an RV Park, the Magnum sees shore power and controls which power source it likes to keep the coach batteries topped off. When the two banks were setup, I purposely installed AGM -31’s of the same brand and charging profile as the coach L-16’s. That way when the BB crosstie system “sees” shore power and it connects the two systems (the only time if automatically connects), there are no problems with differing battery charging profiles. When I first plug into shore power, it’s likely after a long drive that the -31 AGM’s will be fully charged. Likewise we rarely travel at night, so the coach batteries will be fully charged during our daytime drive, from solar. But if one bank is lower than the other when shore power is plugged in, you can see the Magnum charger kick it’s charging ON/UP right after plugging in. Because the two banks have the same charging profiles, the two will be matched first (high power flows to low) and then both systems are brought up together to full charge by the Magnum. If I’m in an RV Park with good solar exposure where AC is not needed, I sometimes don’t even bother to plug the shore cord in... it works that well
  • Inside at the Birdhouse, I normally trip the two solar breakers OFF. That’s because the system “sees” when I turn ON the big fluorescent garage lights above the panels . It gets confused by the very low output from the panels and sometimes short duration. And that will sometimes fault the Magnum controller. Before I pull out of the garage, I flip the solar breakers ON as part of my standard unplugging procedure. One of these days I’ll wire in a real switch
  • The all Magnum individual parts on my coach work seamlessly together via their own LAN. The PT100 solar charge controller “talks” to the MS2812 inverter and BMK. Except inside the garage, it’s smart enough to know which power source should be used and then charge your batteries with a program tailored specifically to your batteries. Combining a smart highly programmable multi-stage charging system like that with a “dumb” voltage controlled alternator box doesn’t make sense.

Now back to the granola and tree hugging
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Last edited by NoGas; 01-04-2020 at 03:44 PM. Reason: Added link
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  #7  
Old 01-05-2020
Sandytoes Sandytoes is offline
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Sorry for the late reply, it's been a travelling and visiting day so little time to follow up on WOG until now.

As hoped for, I received great feedback, information and suggestions from the Bird flock. Thank you all, I've have read what you have to say, it all makes sense and has started me to plan for checks and changes. I have also been able to speak with the PO and two others, plus do some reading of websites and manuals.

A big part of the problem seems to have been operator error. As someone mentioned to me today, the bus energy comes out with a shovel and solar puts it back with a teaspoon, when what should be used to replace it is another bigger shovel. I was placing too much reliance on sunny days of solar when I should have been running the generator. Plus I have never equalized. The next couple of days are on shore power so I should be able to run some of the tests suggested by everyone, plus do an equalize. One of the guys here has just replaced inverters/chargers plus batteries so he has some good advice to help the process here. He uses Lifeline batteries too and spent time speaking with the owner so progress should be made tomorrow. The suggestion about new 31's will probably be true, they have suffered from my abuse the most but testing will tell.

I am going to Q so I hope to meet some of you there.
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Old 01-05-2020
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandytoes View Post
... As someone mentioned to me today, the bus energy comes out with a shovel and solar puts it back with a teaspoon, when what should be used to replace it is another bigger shovel. I was placing too much reliance on sunny days of solar when I should have been running the generator. Plus I have never equalized...

I am going to Q so I hope to meet some of you there.
Yes when a stock BB coach is off-grid, energy does come out with a shovel. However, your friend is flat wrong when he suggests a bigger shovel should be used to replace that energy! That’s like shouting “We need more buckets to bail!” in a sinking boat instead of plugging the leaks that are causing it to sink in the first place . Your very first task should be to take that big shovel away from your bus and hand it a tablespoon! There are lots of things you can do to reduce consumption. But where to start? Perhaps the best starting point “guide” I’ve seen was written 5 years ago by a couple who were at the time busy setting up solar for their full-time bus conversion - Chris & Cherie @ Technomadia. I recommend you follow their steps and do an ‘Energy Consumption Audit’ for your bus - Click Here. When you know where your energy is going, then you can plug as many of those leaks as possible. The best part is this first step costs almost nothing compared a “bigger shovel”.

With that task accomplished, it should be easy to determine if you have enough stored battery energy to get through the night, AND whether your solar can replenish that amount when the sun comes up. If the solar you have installed cannot produce enough, you’ll also know when it’s time for a bigger shovel like running the generator (as a supplement to your solar) or if adding more solar is a cost effective alternative.

BTW - in the three years since my battery banks have been in place with many months spent totally off-grid, I have NEVER equalized them.

Most owners in RV Parks spend all their time hooked to a shore cord & have no clue about living off-grid in a coach like ours. Use a “trust but verify” attitude when taking their advice. I look forward to meeting you at Q.
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Old 01-05-2020
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NoGas View Post
Most owners in RV Parks spend all their time hooked to a shore cord & have no clue about living off-grid in a coach like ours. Use a “trust but verify” attitude when taking their advice. I look forward to meeting you at Q.
I was going to post the same, but couldn't formulate a nice way to say it. You said it nicely.
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Old 01-05-2020
GregOC GregOC is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by badandy View Post
I was going to post the same, but couldn't formulate a nice way to say it. You said it nicely.
Some people think 30amp hookup is drycamping. And some people think 50 amp hookup is is 20 amps more than 30 amps. New systems, auto start, powershares, automatic smart chargers , etc.... add a requirement to out think or work as a partner to a program or design logic.

The problem with electronic automation in the later years is those controls make assumption. Not much different from the 1975 ammonia refer lp ignighter delay.
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