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The First RV Electrical Upgrade You Should Make: The RV Battery Monitor

As an Electrical Engineer, I get a lot of questions about RV batteries. Keeping your RV battery charged is critical if you want to enjoy your camping experience. However, monitoring your battery can be difficult because batteries rarely show how much power is left. Thankfully, you can now install reliable RV battery monitors.

Join us as we learn more about battery monitors and why we recommend adding a high-quality monitor as the first electrical upgrade in an RV.

What Is an RV Battery Monitor?

An RV battery monitor is like a “fuel gauge for your battery bank.” Just like how your fuel gauge gives you information on how much fuel you have and when you’ll run out, a battery monitor does the same for your RV battery. Monitoring such items as amperage, wattage, and current can help keep your battery running smoothly and help you run your RV more efficiently.

Go Power Battery Monitor
With an RV battery monitor, you won’t have to worry about running your batteries down too low.

Why Is Monitoring Your RV Battery Level Important?

Without a battery monitor, you have no idea what your batteries are doing. A major benefit to a battery monitor is knowing when you are going to run out of battery. Without knowing your state of charge, you may run out in the middle of a cold night or run your generator way too much.

Monitoring items such as charge level and current can be essential to maintaining and preserving battery life as well. A high-quality battery monitor takes into account the pukert curves for your particular battery type. This helps determine an accurate state of charge and can keep you from discharging lead-acid batteries too low and damaging them.

Additionally, an RV battery monitor can tell you which components use the most power and when energy conservation is a concern.

PRO TIP: Learn more about pukert curves and Lead Acid use in our cold weather battery article.

Why We Recommend Adding a Battery Monitor First

As someone with years of experience as an electrical engineer installing power systems in RVs, I highly recommend installing a battery monitor as the first step. This is because it’s important to have a good understanding of how much power is being used when running on batteries. By doing so, you can assess if any other upgrades are necessary for your system.

A battery monitor will help you match your power consumption with generation. Check out our “How Much Solar” article to learn more about why a battery monitor is critical.

What Is the Best RV Battery Monitor?

The best RV battery monitors are user-friendly, easily programmable, and come equipped with Bluetooth connectivity. Although there are many brands, Victron always stands out to us. We recommend the BMV-712 or SmartShunt. One of these may be just what you need.

Sale
Victron Energy BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor...
  • Victron Energy BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor (Grey) is a high...
  • Victron Energy BMV-712 features an additional input which can be...
  • Built-in Bluetooth Communication - wirelessly monitor your...
Sale
Victron Energy SmartShunt 500 amp Battery Monitor...
  • Victron Energy SmartShunt displays battery State of Charge % and...
  • Victron Energy Smartshunt is an easy to setup, all in one battery...
  • Connect Victron Energy Smartshunt to your phone or tablet via...

The Victron BMV-712 comes Bluetooth-equipped, which means that you can connect the device to your phone. Therefore, you can access all monitoring, configuration, and operational tasks using the Victron app. In addition, the Victron also keeps historical data that you can access to evaluate usage patterns and battery health.

Looking for a battery that can go the distance? Through a series of extensive tests, we found The Best RV Battery For The Money.

Victron SmartShunt - Monitor Batteries via Bluetooth

Pro Tip: Use this guide on RV Energy Audits: How to Do Them and Why They’re Super Important when upgrading your RV battery.

Alternative Non-Bluetooth RV Battery Monitors

Budget is usually a significant factor in choosing your RV battery monitor. Although Bluetooth RV battery monitors are ideal, they can be expensive. Therefore, you can get alternative non-Bluetooth monitors. Here are two of our recommended non-Bluetooth RV battery monitors.

Renogy Battery Monitor
In some RVs, you’ll find factory-installed battery monitors, but more often than not, they are aftermarket additions.

Budget: Spartan Power DC Meter Battery Monitor

Even though the Spartan Power DC Meter Battery Monitor is on the lower end of the budget, it’s still a good product for monitoring your battery. The Spartan is small but completes nine functions. It monitors voltage, current, power, impedance, capacity, running time, and more. And it’s easy to install. Everything you need comes with the monitor.

Spartan Power DC Meter Battery Monitor &...
  • TWO YEAR WARRANTY vs ONE! In the Box: SP-8VM300A Meter, 300A...
  • Multifunctional battery meter displays: Battery Voltage,...
  • Great for use with a solar charge controllers, inverters,...

Middle-of-the-Road: AiLi 500A Battery Monitor

The AiLi 500A Battery Monitor is another popular monitor is a Chinese product that many brands have whitelisted. You will find name brands like Go Power and Renogy on this monitor, but they are all the same.

AiLi 500A Battery Monitor High Low Voltage and Low…
This is a simple cost effective monitor that provides acceptable performance for its price point.

Tips for Monitoring Your RV Batteries

Checking your battery with an RV battery monitor can be relatively simple. But we can always learn more and improve. So here are a few tips to make monitoring more manageable and make your battery use more efficient and effective. 

Know How Much Battery You Use Overnight

Your RV battery monitor not only alerts you of problems with your battery but also keeps a record of battery use and other information. You can access this information via an app. Evaluate this information and pay special attention to how much battery you use overnight. 

Not sure how much power you use? Learn how to conduct an RV power system audit in this article: How Much Solar Power Do You Need for Your RV?

Victron BMV-712 Battery Monitor
We installed our BMV-712 next to our other monitor panels for easy access.

Install Screen in Easy-to-Check Location

Install the display screen for your RV battery monitor in an easy-to-access location. If you have to crawl down or move items to view the screen, you’ll be less likely to use the monitor. Remember, you can install the monitor up to seven feet away from the battery, so you should be able to find a good, easily accessed location in the battery bay. 

Create an App Shortcut on Your Phone Screen

Download the app for your monitor. Also, make sure you can quickly locate it on your phone. Consider placing it on the main screen or creating a shortcut to make it easy to find. 

Victron Connect app
If you have multiple Victron devices, you can monitor each one separately through the Victron Connect app.

Ultimately, an RV battery monitor keeps track of your energy levels, similar to how a fuel gauge keeps track of your car’s gasoline levels. Knowing how much, when, and where you use your power can help you make smarter power choices and help maintain and extend the life of your battery. Although the initial price can be high for some, especially when purchasing a Victron model, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

New to RVing? It’s important to understand how your entire electrical system works together to keep you powered up for adventure. Get started here: How Are RVs Wired? Helpful RV Electrical Basics for Beginners


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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Pwilly

Wednesday 14th of February 2024

The BMS (Battery Management System) in my LiFePO4 battery has a bluetooth Monitor and App that is excellent. It shows temperature on both banks as well as charge rate, charge remaining and voltage. I believe spending a little extra as long as you are upgrading from Lead Acid to get Low temperature protection and cell heaters before charge will keep your LiFePO4 battery from wrecking itself trying to charge when its cold.

Dalton Bourne

Friday 4th of March 2022

My previous battery monitor decided to give up so I took a chance and bought the BMV-712 battery monitor even though it was a bit more expensive. I'm so glad I did! This unit works great, just as described. One of the features I like is the built-in Bluetooth that allows me to monitor my battery health at any time and directly from my iPhone. Besides that, the free Vitron Connect app is handy as it allows me to see what specifically is going on with my battery system.

LHN

Sunday 24th of October 2021

Don't new RVs come with battery monitors? Our first is on order, so I'm not sure.

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

A lot of new RVs do come with them, but not all.

Bruce Dillahunty

Saturday 23rd of October 2021

Do any of these support downloading a csv or similar dump of the data for import into a spreadsheet for tracking and analysis purposes?

Nic

Saturday 23rd of October 2021

It's odd that so many battery monitors display State of Charge (measured in % of Ah available) rather than State of Energy (measured in % of total Wh available).

When a battery monitor displays 50% SOC, you have less than half of your energy remaining, and the bottom half of your battery will be consumed faster than the top half (assuming the same loads). This is because your battery voltage decreases over time, and each Ah consumed is multiplied by a lower voltage as the battery is depleted, and energy (Wh) is the product of Ah x V.

Electric cars though, have to provide reliable information that estimates how many miles you can still drive. They do not display SOC measured in Ah, they measure if SOE in Watt hours and use that to estimate miles remaining. .

So why are battery monitors not doing this?