Battery Installations – In-Vehicle and In-Van

Caravan on coast road

A recently increasing trend has been the growing trend of “free camping”, or camping in a fully self-contained manner. This is in part due to National Park facilities and an increased emphasis on “camp-friendly” roadside stop-offs, as well as the ever-increasing shortage of park sites during peak camping periods.

This has lead to the necessity for many to investigate the installation of a secondary battery system into their caravan rig. The most frequently asked questions are “What’s involved in installing a battery into my caravan?”, “How long will it work for?”, and, “How do I charge it?”

Essentially, there are three types of battery systems the customer can choose from – all with their own unque set of advantages and disadvantages.

  • Conventional Vehicle Battery (“Starting Battery”)
  • Deep Cycle Lead Acid Battery (“SLA”)
  • Sealed Battery

Conventional batteries, or “starting” batteries are designed with maximum power provision in mind – in order to kick the engine of a vehicle over and then drop to rather low level usage whilst the vehicle is in use. Because of this their duty cycle is tailored specifically to providing only short bursts of power which is then replaced by the car’s alternator (maintaining it very close to a maximum charge state), and not continuously draining draw as you’d experience in an auxillary power situation where there is no replacement of used power. However, they do have distinct advantages in that they can be swapped into the tow vehicle to start it if necessary, as well as being generally much cheaper than the other options. If maintained at a high level of charge these batteries can serve well, however if continuously discharged it is highly unlikely they’ll be able to recover from such heavy discharge.

Deep cycle batteries are a much different beast to the conventional kind discussed in the last paragraph. These are batteries designed for the purpose of providing a continued power drain for auxillary use, and specifically to be discharged fully and be able to be recharged to a full state without concern for the cells’ integrity. In situations where you are unable to provide a constant source of recharging (ie. from an altenator or some other form of power generation) these batteries are highly preferable to starting batteries. Disadvantages of these kind of batteries is their purchase price, and their generally having a much lower “cranking” capacity which means if called upon to start your tow vehicle’s engine, it is quite likely it won’t have sufficient power-on-demand to cater to this need.

Both of these batteries have a distinct disadvantage over the next type – placement. Both require good ventiliation to expel the gases which build up during usage, and also easy access for maintenance routines. Both will need the levels of the cells checked periodically to ensure they’ve not dropped to critical levels which could lead to what is known as cell collapse (which essentially means the battery will no longer function).

On the other hand, sealed batteries have a distinct advantage over the other two varieties in that they can be positioned just about anywhere as they require no ventilation and no maintenance. They are very similar in application to the standard deep cycle batteries, with the advantage of placement. Their major drawback is their purchase cost being quite considerably higher than the other types.

AllBrand Caravan Services recommends keeping these batteries in peak charge condition regardless of type, by using either a smart trickle charge device, a regulated solar device, or more ideally, both. Whilst in theory the vehicle has the capacity to charge the caravan’s batteries whilst in motion, it’s recommended to keep that capacity in reserve for running the van’s fridge. This is in part because the cabling arrangement to charge from the car is quite expensive and does not assist in providing power whilst the rig is stationary.

It is extremely important to keep charge in the batteries, regardless of type, when not in use. Perhaps contrary to logic, batteries will actually fail from underuse before they will from overuse. Ensuring they’re maintained whilst you are not vanning is important to ensuring you see the longest possible lifespan out of your battery gear.