By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Batteries are black boxes we don’t think about much. Not until the rueful day comes when they don’t respond as we want them to, and we’re off to buy new ones – and maybe driving 50 miles “out of the dingles” to do so. Maintaining your batteries saves money and frustration, and it doesn’t take much to do. While the suggestions in this article pertain to the common “flooded” or “lead-acid” batteries, the principles of safety apply to all battery types.
First, the requisite word of caution: Whenever you work with batteries of electrical systems, even “low voltage” ones, take off your jewelry! Watches, rings and bling-bling things. The potential energy in an RV battery is something to reckon with, and welding your ring to an electrical contact will ruin your whole day. Watch out with tools and other metals. The male of this writing duo once dropped a crescent wrench across a deep cycle battery – fortunately he was able to rescue it before it welded into place – narrowly avoiding a major fire.
Keep ’em charged: A battery left in a low state is one that deteriorates.
Keep ’em clean: That “little bit of dirt” across the top of the battery case can actually conduct electricity in the presence of moisture. A slight but real discharge of juice can occur.
Keep ’em filled: ALWAYS keep the top plates of “flooded” batteries covered with electrolyte. This means refilling to the “split ring” or about a half-inch above the separators. ONLY USE distilled water, NEVER tap water. And no, RO (reverse osmosis) water is NOT a substitute for distilled water. And when you fill, don’t overfill.
Keep out intruders: Don’t add “battery acid” or other additives. Thus far nothing has really proved up in the way of a miracle elixir that will give you more power, more potency or more life to your batteries. There’s no such thing as “Voltage Viagra.”
Another intruder is a physical one. Take a look at the first picture in this story. You’ll see two very large, deep cycle batteries – and in the same compartment, what’s that red thing? An inverter! Not a safe place for an inverter, as flooded-acid batteries give off hydrogen gas, and inverters can create sparks. It’s a lousy combination if you want to keep your RV in one piece. Keep inverters in a separate compartment far away from any explosive gases.
We found a great tool to help us keep our batteries filled up. We had very little “head space” in the compartment above the top of the batteries, and they didn’t easily come out for service. A solar panel retailer sold us a battery fill tool, the “filler part” of which presses into the battery cell and fills until the correct level is reached. It’s made of 3/4″ PVC pipe, and fits right into those tight spaces. Alas! The retailer went belly up, and we’ve yet to find somebody else that sells them. They were a lot less expensive than the automated battery fill systems being marketed today. If you know anybody who carries these great tools, please post a reply!