Saturday, May 27, 2023


Comparing pricey lithium batteries to cheaper ones: How to differentiate quality

Just a year ago you could hardly find a lithium battery for under $1,200, but now I see them advertised all over the place from $1,200 down to some that are $350 for a 100 AH model. So what’s the difference in cost of lithium batteries? I realize that first-generation products have a higher price to cover initial engineering costs, like the $600 VCR that became $99. But why do we see such a current range in prices? What makes some more expensive, and is the price worth it?

I spent quite a bit of time the past couple of years researching the different lithium battery offerings, charging systems, and installation issues. In this short series, I’ll teach you what I’ve learned.

“Lick and Stick” batteries

There are several overseas manufacturing companies that make cheap batteries that are imported to the U.S. that simply slap their label on them. No manufacturing, no technical support, and no customer service. Most of these are in big box discount and membership stores. They use components that are meant for residential or light-duty commercial battery applications that sit in climate-controlled rooms in a perfect environment and are not subjected to the issues found in the RV industry. I got the same story from a technician at Zamp Solar, Go Power!, and others.

The cost of lithium batteries determined by quality of cells

It starts with the cells

The cells are one of the biggest price points for manufacturers and determine the cost of lithium batteries, as high-grade Lithium Iron Phosphate cells are UL 1642 approved. Cells come in Grade A and Grade B. Quality batteries will be made of Grade A cells that are closely matched. Weaker cells can be overcharged and short out faster.

How can you tell what cells are used in the battery? Look for the UL listing on the battery or in the documentation and ask about the warranty. Companies using Grade A cells typically have a warranty of 10 years. Some manufacturers even use “used” or recycled cells!

How can you tell?

Naturally, nobody will let you cut open a battery and examine the cells. However, look for the UL 1642 U.S.-recognized component listing and logo shown above. Go to the website and search to see if you can find any information about the cell type and ratings. It’s not easy, as I went to a well-known and expensive brand and it took quite a while to finally find they use cylindrical cells encased in aluminum that are UL 1642 approved. But the information is there so just keep looking.

Another telltale sign is the warranty and project cycle time. Expion360 has a 12-year warranty and has a chart showing 3,000-5,000 cycles! Cheap lithium batteries will only offer a 2– to 3-year warranty, even though some claim you will get 3,000 or more cycles. However, if you read the wording, I have found most use a generic statement such as “Typical Lithium Batteries will get approximately 3,000-5,000 cycles.” Notice they did not say theirs will, and a 2– to 3-year warranty tells me they probably won’t.

Will a $300 lithium battery work? Maybe. Will it last 10 years and more than 3,000 cycles? I doubt it. I don’t know very many companies that give a specific time warranty but expect their product to last 2-3 times as long. Usually, I have found they provide a warranty that is one day less than the product lasts!

Coming up next week we will discuss how these cells are connected: solder versus mechanical.

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.

Read more from Dave here


Dave Solberg
Dave Solberg
Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club. He has been in the RV Industry since 1983 and conducts over 15 seminars at RV shows throughout the country.


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19 days ago

There is a manufacturer that was recently awarded a patent for production of a non-flammable solution for lithium ion battery applications. I won’t mention the name since I am a stockholder but you can look it up. Could be a major game changer.

Richard Hubert
26 days ago

Yes – cell quality is a key factor. And there are a number of manufacturers out there producing LiFePO4 batteries. Luckily for us, there is a young electronics engineer who has produced a number of YouTube videos – for years – where he covers RV electronics, solar systems, and in particular – Lithium batteries.

DIY Solar Power with Will Prowse

He has torn down and analyzed quite a number of portable lithium batteries, from Battle Born to quite a few Chinese aftermarket versions. He not only analyzes design, battery quality, case design and build quality, but he will subject each to severe electrical test to measure if promised output matches product quality promises.

As he has produced hundreds of videos over the years it might take some searching to find his reviews of any particular brand. But it’s worth it as he gives lots of very useful and inciteful information. Check him out!

26 days ago

A warning about lithium-ion batteries that the politicians pushing them ignore. My son is a fireman. A week or so ago, they were called out on a fire caused by an exploding L-I battery in a garage. He said those batteries can cause something called a “thermal runaway.” Batteries can combust spontaneously, and once they do, the fire can’t be put out. Similar to thermite. The property owner had purchased a large and cheap Chinese battery for his RC car. That battery exploded and eventually set off the other L-I batteries in his garage which set the garage on fire. It also set off the other L-I batteries for his power tools. When those exploded, their blew their tops. The guys could see impressions in the garage ceiling of the battery tops. They were able to save the garage and so the rest of the house, and they saved the batteries that had not blown by throwing them out into the driveway away from the fire which eventually burned itself out. Something to think about

Richard Hubert
26 days ago
Reply to  Cordo

The self igniting Lithium batteries you refer to were built with a different lithium chemistry than the typical 12v 100aH batteries used in RVs. Many laptops, phones, RC cars, power tools, hoverboards and EVs (such as Tesla) use Lithium batteries that can ignite, and once doing so create a very hot, severe fire very difficult to extinguish.

But for RV use, most of the 12v batteries offered (such as Battle Born) are made with Lithium -Iron chemistry, which does not burn. They are typically referred to as LiFePO4 batteries, meaning Lithium Iron Phosphate. These types of batteries are much safer and more appropriate for RV use. Which is good to know because very often these types of batteries are mounted internally.

Neal Davis
27 days ago

Thank you, Dave. This is just the information thst I seek. We plan to replace our AGM batteries with lithium when the former die. Meanwhile, I plan to learn all that I can to make an informed purchase. Thank you!

27 days ago

The illustration claims “UL1642 RECONGNIZED FILE #MH64383″. Is this a clue to not American made or a new way of making a file?

27 days ago

The UL 1642 is good to know. What was with the picture of 3 batteries and a check mark by cylindrical? 12 vdc LFP batteries use prismatic cells or the good ones do. Not Dave’s best article.

Steve J
27 days ago
Reply to  friz

I go down a lot of rougher roads boondocking. There’s a lot of bouncing. One of the reasons I chose batteries with prismatic cells besides a difference in cost is there’s a heck of a lot less connections with prismatic cells using buss bars with bigger welds, than with a battery with so many smaller cylindrical cells.

27 days ago
Reply to  friz

I’ve done some modest research & there is NO clear winner as each battery type has its pro’s & con’s! It’s all about the application, even Musk uses both technology, time will tell.

Steve J
27 days ago

I would have preferred to go with the US company that assembles and tests their batteries here in the U.S. There is one company, but no one actually manufacturers the cells here that I can tell. I just couldn’t justify paying well over twice as much for the same AH of batteries for my use. I watched many teardowns of different brands to make sure what I bought would hold up for use in my camper during camping season. Even though the ones I purchased came with a 10 year warranty, I expect it would be costly to ship and near impossible to get them replaced if the time comes but at the price difference I’ll deal with it. I’m not using them for Winter camping and even though their BMS should shut off charging below freezing, my Smart Victron chargers and battery monitor will handle it. I’ll pull the batteries in the Winter and stick a temporary AGM back in anyway. If I was full time it would be a different story.

27 days ago

Individual 18650 batteries cost at retail about $32. 100AH batteries are filled with lots of them. Use this in your mental calculations.

27 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Your retail price is twice to four times too high for 18650 cells of good quality.

27 days ago

Many (most?) of these companies have not been in business as long as the warranty they are offering. You need to take such warranties with a caution of belief.

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