RV batteries and power have a pretty steep learning curve for newbies. Luckily, most of these questions are relatively simple to answer!
Some RV batteries charge on shore power or generators, but not all. Your house battery will charge, but your chassis battery might not.
Let’s clarify things a bit, shall we?
Types Of Batteries In RVs
RVs have two main types of batteries to acquaint yourself with, and each takes different precautions to properly charge.
These are the batteries that power all of your additional doohickeys and gadgets. Everything from a refrigerator to AC and your daily coffee pot use come from this. These are charged in one of three ways: shore power, a generator, or solar panels (if you have them).
These will not recharge while driving, unless you have a power source like an in-built generator or, again, solar panels.
A chassis battery is the same concept as the one in your car or truck. It operates by charging while you drive, making use of the energy created by your engine turning. While this is really cool, it’s not ideal if you drain the battery trying to use lights or AC.
This means that it operates on the same rule as your car – don’t leave the keys in unless you want the battery on. Otherwise, plug into shore or generator power and use that to power your appliances.
Nobody wants to have to run around the campground asking for a jumpstart at 8 in the morning, so don’t do it!
Types Of Power
Your RV used two types of power to charge different appliances. The first is 12 Volt DC power – this is what is created by a power source and is only used on small things. The second, 120 Volt AC power, is different. This comes from shore power, a generator, or an inverter if you’re using solar power. This type of charge powers your big stuff – AC, refrigerator, and the like.
An RV converter is vital to your power needs. They essentially function by bringing power to both your chassis and house batteries, charging them while you’re onshore or generator power. While this isn’t the case for all RVs, here’s how they generally work.
The converter is what decides which electronics get 12 Volt DC, and which get 120 Volt AC power. This is both incredibly useful and important to know.
If you’re not getting a charge to both of your batteries, there could be a problem with your converter. This is what you will use to charge your chassis battery when not on the road. If you are on the road, though, alternators are what does that job.
This is really the best way to charge a chassis battery. Alternators charge your chassis and house batteries while driving. The two most common forms of doing this are the BiRD (Bi-directional Relay Delay) or an echo charger.
BiRd uses a relay between the two batteries. This allows it to charge the house battery off the alternator when your engine is running. It also functions the opposite way (house->chassis) when on shore power or a generator.
Echo chargers use the chassis battery to charge your house battery. This only functions if your chassis battery is fully charged or close to it. These are generally third-party installations.
- Pay attention to your vehicle. If you notice lights flickering, turn them off and drive around for a bit. You don’t want your battery to die when you stop for the night.
- Buy a battery monitor. They can get expensive (~$200) but they’re available at most hardware and car stores, and they’ll save you a headache.
- Solar power is easier to use and more efficient than shore power or a generator if you’re boondocking. Consider the upgrade.
If, like me, you’re tired of relying on onshore power, here’s where to start. While you certainly could use a generator, that’s so 1998. Try a solar panel setup!
I know, I know, I can already hear you. “Those are expensive,” you’re saying. Yes, they are. Do you know what else is expensive? Fuel for your generator and fees for shore power. I enjoy the freedom that solar panels offer more than anything, but their low environmental impact is a nice bonus.
If you’re tired of paying to charge at the end of the night, solar is for you. While it’s a bit of an investment, solar panels are a true godsend. You can charge while driving and have a full battery at the end of the night. And if you need a jump in the morning for any reason – the sun’s got your back.
And if you’re not quite ready for a permanent solar setup yet, consider investing in a portable solar generator to test it out.
Charging your chassis battery is important. Without it, you can’t start the RV, which is a bit of a problem. Assuming you have a converter, you will be charging on shore power (or a generator). However, if you don’t, you’ll need to make use of your alternator and drive for a while to get everything charged properly.
And if you notice your vehicle consistently dying in the morning – check out your converter.
Do My RV Batteries Charge While Driving?
Yes, assuming you have the necessary gear. Solar panels make this very easy, but it’s possible in a lot of setups.
What’s The Difference Between A Chassis And House Battery?
Chassis batteries charge your small appliances like lights, and they make your engine run. House batteries run your big stuff, like a fridge or AC unit. Chassis batteries take 12 Volt DC power, while house batteries take 120 Volt AC power.
How Long Should An RV Battery Last?
If given proper maintenance, your RV’s deep-cycle batteries will last you at least 6 years. However, this is a general idea, rather than a rule. Your mileage may vary, especially if you don’t take care of your things.