We get asked how long RV batteries last when using the RV all the time. RVs are mobile homes-on-wheels that have many amenities, but the RV battery is a crucial component that powers these comforts. It’s important to know how long your RV batteries will last and how to charge them.
The answer to this question varies based on different camping scenarios, what type of batteries you have, and how you recharge them. In this article, we guide you through the different types of RV batteries, the factors affecting their lifespan, and how to make the most of them while you’re exploring off the beaten path. Let’s dig in.
- What Are RV Batteries?
- Different Types of RV Batteries
- How Long Will RV Batteries Last While Boondocking?
- How Much Battery Capacity Does Your RV Need?
- How Long Will RV Batteries Last While Driving?
- What Drains an RV Battery?
- Different Ways to Charge Your RV Batteries
- How Often Should an RV Battery Be Replaced?
- Get the Most Out Of Your RV Battery
What Are RV Batteries?
RV batteries are the energy storage units that power the DC electrical system within your RV when there is no outside source. The DC systems you have can range from lights and appliances to entertainment systems and heating/cooling devices. They are deep-cycle batteries that hold ample power and can experience frequent and sustained discharges and recharges. These batteries can provide a reliable power source when you’re on the road. You’ll enjoy modern conveniences even when you’re off-grid.
We have written extensively about batteries, and if you are new to them, we recommend reading our beginner’s guide to RV batteries.
Different Types of RV Batteries
Before you understand how long your batteries will last you need to understand battery types found in RV’s. Your runtime will depend heavily on the type of battery you are using and its age or health.
Flooded lead-acid batteries, Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries, and Lithium-ion batteries are the most common options for RV owners, each with its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Flooded lead-acid batteries are traditional and affordable but require regular maintenance and careful handling due to their inefficiency and potential release of harmful gases. These tend to have the shortest runtime of all batteries.
AGM batteries, while still utilizing lead-acid chemistry, provide a spill-proof and maintenance-free alternative with a moderate lifespan of one to four years. While AGM batteries might last a little longer, their runtime is about the same as flooded lead acid when capacities are the same.
On the other hand, Lithium-ion batteries, although pricier, stand out for their efficiency, safety, and remarkable longevity of 10 to 20 years, offering RV owners a high-performance option with faster charging times and high energy density. Lithium batteries have two to three times the runtime compared to lead acid, even with the same capacity rating.
How Long Will RV Batteries Last While Boondocking?
Boondocking, or dry camping, involves staying in remote areas without access to external power sources. Sadly we cannot tell you exactly how long your batteries will last. The runtime of your RV batteries while boondocking depends on factors like battery type, capacity, the electronics you use, and your off-grid power charging method. However, let’s take a look at a few RV-type scenarios.
Factory RV with No Modifications
Most RV’s have batteries included from the original build; they are intended mainly to operate the camper during transport and short-term disconnects. Most of the time, they have one or two lead-acid batteries. If using minimal power, maybe fans and a few lights, these minimal systems usually last around 24 hours off the grid. Some factory RV’s come with some minimal solar that might extend that to 48 hours, but usually, its not enough to run additional power loads. If you run a small inverter, TV or other power draws, you might find these systems last less than a day.
Lithium Battery Replacement And Basic Solar
By replacing your lead acid batteries with lithium (same capacity) and adding a few hundred watts of solar, many RV’s can last 4 or 5 days without running a generator. This will depend on the sun, but even without solar, you should see 3 to 4 times the runtime.
However, once you start adding power capacity, many users start using more as well. Upgrading to lithium, however, is a good choice for frequent off-grid use because the batteries can handle the abuse of regular deep discharges.
Expanded Battery Bank + Additional Solar
Nothing says you have to keep the same size and number of batteries in your RV. In fact, we have added more batteries to every RV we have owned. Pair a large battery bank with lots of solar power, and you may never need to run a generator. Your batteries can last indefinitely!
This of course, usually doesn’t happen because those who choose to make these costly upgrades (like us) tend to consume a lot more power than the average user. We have almost 3000 watts of solar and 800 Ah of lithium, but we also have a residential fridge, work full time on computers, and run all the appliances you find in a home. This uses a lot of power, and we still have to run our generator occasionally.
If you are interested in solar, we recommend you run through our basic solar calculator to learn about your possible solar needs.
How Much Battery Capacity Does Your RV Need?
If you are thinking about increasing runtime, you may ask how much battery you need or how many amp hours your RV needs. To answer this question you need to decide how long you want your batteries to run for without and recharge (solar or generator). I usually recommend a minimum of 24 hours.
Even if your not adding solar our blog about RV solar power has details about how to accurately calculate your power needs. Below, however, is a summary.
Use A Battery Monitor
If you have the RV already, we recommend adding a shunt battery monitor to the system. Victron BMV units are a great choice. This unit, which includes a shunt and a computer, meticulously calculates and monitors energy flow into and out of the batteries.
After installation, users should fully charge the batteries, disconnect the charger, and utilize the RV, observing the power level and recharging the batteries at 50% capacity for lead-acid or 80% for lithium. The monitor will read Amp-hours used. Then, adjust this figure based on the duration of use and additional power draws, such as fans or furnaces, to accurately estimate the total energy needed for 24-hour use. See the solar blog mentioned above for examples.
Hand Calculate Power Use
Alternatively, you can hand calculate the number. First, make a list of all the essential appliances and devices you’ll use regularly and write down their rated voltage and current. Then, multiply the current by the voltage. This will give you the amount of watts per device.
Next, estimate the amount of running time per day for each electronic item. For example, you might run a hair dryer for 30 minutes or your lights for three hours. By multiplying the watts by the number of hours the device will run, you’ll get the watt-hours. This is the total power the device will use in a day.
Finally, add up the total power (the watt hours) of each device and divide the sum by the voltage of your batteries. This number will be either 12.6 for lead-acid batteries or 13 for lithium-ion batteries. That will allow you to determine how many amp hours of battery you’ll need in a day.
How Long Will RV Batteries Last While Driving?
When driving, your RV’s alternator charges the house batteries, extending their lifespan. However, the charging rate varies, and long hours of driving might be necessary to fully recharge depleted batteries. Generally, if you’re using appliances that draw a significant amount of power, it might take a while to recharge them while driving. However, if you’re running minimal electrical loads and have a healthy charging system, they should be topped off once you reach your destination.
If your battery dies while driving, then you should check the vehicle’s alternator charging system connections to the RV batteries.
What Drains an RV Battery?
Any device that draws power in your RV DC electrical system will drain the battery. Even if everything is off in the RV, some sensors still draw a small amount of power. These include CO, propane, and fire detectors.
How fast a device or appliance will drain an RV battery is a different question. Some electronics, like LED lights or phone chargers, will draw minimal power. Power hogs like microwaves, air conditioners, TVs, and refrigerators can drain your batteries extremely quickly. However many RV owners don’t have an off-grid electrical system that can handle high-power electronics like microwaves or A/Cs.
Once again, installing a shunt-based battery monitor can help you find losses in your system. You can turn appliances off and see in real time what is drawing power.
Pro Tip: We uncovered all the reasons why your RV battery keeps dying.
Different Ways to Charge Your RV Batteries
There are several ways to charge your RV batteries. Let’s look at the three most common charging methods.
RVers often use generators to recharge RV batteries off-grid. The time it takes to recharge depends on factors like the generator’s wattage, the state of battery discharge, and the battery type. With a mid-to-large generator, it can take from 8 to 12 hours to fully charge a depleted lead-acid battery. However, it should only take 1 to 3 hours to charge a lithium-ion battery. Anything over 2,000 watts will be sufficient to adequately charge your batteries.
Pro Tip: Get the power you need by discovering What Size Generator Do I Need for My RV?
Solar panels offer a sustainable way to recharge RV batteries, and they’re ideal for extended boondocking trips in sunny locations. Like generators, the charging time varies based on factors like solar panel wattage, sunlight availability, and battery type. Even if you have thousands of watts of solar available, your lead-acid batteries will charge at a slow rate. If they aren’t being drawn down at the same time, they should take about 8 hours to fully charge on a sunny day with sufficient solar power. Lithium-ion batteries, however, should take 1 to 2 hours. The amount of solar panels necessary will vary per setup.
Shore power may be the easiest and fastest way to charge your batteries. When you plug into shore power, you can bypass your batteries and use your electrical system without worrying about battery depletion. Meanwhile, your batteries will charge with maximum efficiency. Because of this, the time it takes for your batteries to charge will be shorter. It takes about 7 to 8 hours for lead-acid batteries and about 1 to 2 hours for lithium-ion batteries.
How Often Should an RV Battery Be Replaced?
If you notice that your lead acid batteries are draining very quickly, they probably need replacing. Letting them discharge past 50 percent regularly can result in dangerous battery damage. Nevertheless, if you use your lead-acid batteries according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, they should last between 1 and 4 years.
Lithium batteries will last 10 to 20 years and should last the life of your RV. You might even transfer them into your next rig before they need replacing. However, they’re only producing 80 percent of their advertised capacity before 10 years, you might need to check or replace them. In this case, we recommend contacting the manufacturer.
Get the Most Out Of Your RV Battery
To ensure a stress-free camping trip with enough power to keep your electronics running, we recommend calculating your RV’s watt-hours. When you’re confident about the necessary battery amp hours, you can determine how you’d like to charge them. Whether you charge them via solar, a generator, or stay at full-amenity campgrounds, it’s crucial to keep your batteries in shape. This means monitoring their use with a battery monitor, using appropriate charging methods to avoid overcharging or undercharging, and conducting routine maintenance. If you follow these recommendations and learn about your RV batteries, you’ll enjoy plenty of amazing camping trips.
Do you have any questions about how long RV batteries last? Drop them in the comments below.
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