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Old 10-28-2021, 02:01 PM   #1
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Battery good news/bad news - would like advice

Well, the bad news is that it appears that the batteries that came with my Bay Star Sport are going/have gone bad, as they're starting to swell a bit. I'm a bit disappointed that Newmar's not covering it under the warranty -- their reason is that, per the battery manufacturer, that the batteries were in use since Feb 2020 (when the coach was delivered to the dealer, just before all the COVID shutdowns), so that's when the warranty started, not when I took delivery in October of 2020. I'm not very pleased with that approach from Newmar and/or the battery manufacturer, but I had a number of other warranty issues that Newmar is taking care of well, so I probably won't make a big deal of it. I never expected batteries to last forever -- from all I've seen, they seem to last a few years. Sometimes a lot more if you get lucky, but sometimes less, too.

That's where the good news comes in. I plan on having this coach another 5 years or so, so I planned on replacing the batteries at least once during that time anyways. Since it's earlier than I initially planned, I'm thinking of going lithium, simply because of the longer expected life. The extra capacity and weight savings would just be gravy on top of that.

I've done a bit of research, and the Battleborn GC2 form factor would be a direct replacement for the GC2 batteries I have now. They're 12V rather than the 6V, so I'd have to switch the wiring around to parallel rather than series/parallel, but that's no big deal. My plan is to use all the existing components:
1) The Xantrex XC 2000 inverter/charger that came with the BSS. I know it only charges at a max of 80 amps, nowhere near what the 6 lithium batteries could take, but that's not a big deal to me -- we don't go without power that much.
2) The existing wires. Since the Xantrex is limited to 80 amps in charging anyways, there shouldn't be a need for heavier gauge wires.
3) I will also take the opportunity to add a shunt/battery monitor, like the Victron SmartShunt 500A, and use my phone for the display.

So, what do you think of that plan? As I've been doing my research, I've thought of some questions I'm not really sure about:
1) Is there a more economical approach? Those battleborn GC2 form factor lithium batteries aren't cheap. If necessary, they're probably worth it, since the identical form factor would make it an easy replacement. Additionally, if I go to a different form factor, things won't fit nicely, and I'll probably lose some potential capacity there, too.
2) My BSS has four batteries in the battery bay and another two in the front, under the hood. Would it make sense to just take advantage of the higher capacity and just use four batteries in the compartment, and get rid of the two up front?
3) Is there anything that would make sense to do at the same time? I'm not looking for major project scope creep here, but relatively small things (like adding the smart shunt). Maybe a disconnect switch?

Right now, I don't expect this coach to be my final coach, so I don't want to go overboard with things like a big solar package. It's not that I dislike the coach -- it's great for what we do. It's a bunkhouse model and we still have a kid traveling with us. But when she goes off to college, we could get a nicer "couple's" coach (looking at you, New Aire). However, you never know if things are going to change, and I could change my mind on just keeping this one indefinitely. So I'm willing to do things that would help provide me with more options down the road.

Your advice or other thoughts would be appreciated.
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Old 10-28-2021, 03:42 PM   #2
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You have to consider the bi-directional relay. There is a possibility that when it ties your alternator to the battle borne, the draw may overheat your alternator. They make a LI-BIM which uses a duty-cycle method to try to prevent alternator issues.

Cold… Lithiums with built in management are set to shutdown at low temperatures…I haven’t looked recently to see if battle born has added a heating system internally..,but I don’t plan to avoid sub freezing temperatures for the life of my batteries. If I do them eventually, I will enclose and climate control the batter bay.

Might review settings. Yes batteries do go bad…but typically we get around five years of service out of them if kept up properly before they loose capacity to a point where they no longer can make it 24hrs off -grid with normal boondocking loads. If your batteries went bad in under two years…it just warrants a review of how they are used and kept charged.
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Old 10-28-2021, 05:46 PM   #3
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Since you are targeting just 5 years initially, I would replace with Lifeline AGM batteries (which are a direct replacement). They are awesome batteries. You should easily get 5-10 years service from them if you donít abuse them too badly. They are maintenance free, charge faster, and have lower internal resistance than your current flooded acid batteries. In 5 years the lithium choices will be more plentiful, and MUCH cheaper than they are now!
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Old 10-28-2021, 06:18 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pasdad1 View Post
Since you are targeting just 5 years initially, I would replace with Lifeline AGM batteries (which are a direct replacement). They are awesome batteries. You should easily get 5-10 years service from them if you donít abuse them too badly. They are maintenance free, charge faster, and have lower internal resistance than your current flooded acid batteries. In 5 years the lithium choices will be more plentiful, and MUCH cheaper than they are now!
Agree strongly.
I'm not a Li user so will resist detailed comments but you asked about economical alternatives and at least IMO Li is not economical unless you are looking at a LOT longer than 5 yrs.
Eliminating your 2 "up front" battys not easy or realistic as I'm guessing they are for chassis while the others are house battys... very different and should be considered.
IMO AGMs are an excellent no/lo maint choice if you are not considering this your long term MH choice.
I've have 3 East Penn / Duracell AGMs that have served 8 seasons and still going strong. Sams Club sells EP / Duracell at hard to beat prices if you are looking for economical solutions and considering moving away from FLA.
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Old 10-28-2021, 06:57 PM   #5
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I suspect batteries were bad when I got them

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You have to consider the bi-directional relay. There is a possibility that when it ties your alternator to the battle borne, the draw may overheat your alternator. They make a LI-BIM which uses a duty-cycle method to try to prevent alternator issues.

ColdÖ Lithiums with built in management are set to shutdown at low temperaturesÖI havenít looked recently to see if battle born has added a heating system internally..,but I donít plan to avoid sub freezing temperatures for the life of my batteries. If I do them eventually, I will enclose and climate control the batter bay.

Might review settings. Yes batteries do go badÖbut typically we get around five years of service out of them if kept up properly before they loose capacity to a point where they no longer can make it 24hrs off -grid with normal boondocking loads. If your batteries went bad in under two yearsÖit just warrants a review of how they are used and kept charged.
I tried to take good care of them -- checked them monthly, kept them charged, never discharged more than 50% (I think). I'll definitely review the charger settings when I get the new batteries, though.

To be honest, I suspect that the batteries were bad to start with. The voltages always seemed a bit low, even when fully charged, both by the actual voltage number and that the indicator on the battery status screen, that goes from left to right from empty to full, always had a 2-3 notches unmarked, as if the batteries weren't fully charged. I'm not at all impressed with the dealer I bought it from, and it wouldn't surprise me if they'd been mistreated (i.e, let get really discharged or something like that -- the coach was delivered to them before the COVID shutdowns, and I bought it after that). However, it's my first coach, so I didn't trust my judgement and can't prove anything at this point.

Battleborn does have a version of the battery with heating built in, for another $75 or so per battery. I'm currently leaning against that, though, at least for this coach. I'm aware of the low temperature issues, but for any of the temperatures I'll be in they're fine for use (though charging is an issue). Since I live in So Cal, low temperatures in storage isn't an issue, and the odds that we'd go on a trip where it's low enough to worry about, without also having hookups, is very low.
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Old 10-28-2021, 07:02 PM   #6
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I am a lithium battery user, and I love mine. They are not the cheapest solution at all, but for me the added cost is well worth it.

I like mine because I am dry camping in a trailer 95% or more of the time. I want lots of power, the ability to charge fast, and freedom from the nuisance of maintaining lead-acid batteries. My trailer sits unused for long periods, and with lithium I donít have to think about the charging profile or haul them from my trailer to my house to put them on a maintainer.

If I was using shore power frequently, and/or used my rig all year long, the value of lithium batteries would go down. Keeping the FLA batteries would be much less of a nuisance.

A few points about lithium batteries:

Battleborn are among the most expensive batteries out there. They are great batteries (I have three of them), but you can cut your costs by going with other brands.

Lithium batteries do not completely shut down at freezing temperatures. They stop charging at one temperature (27 F for Battleborn), and stop providing power at a much lower temperature (-4 F for Battleborn). If you hit a cold spell you have a chance to warm them up. Many users do put them in heated spaces so they donít have to even think about temperatures.

There are apparently some issues with alternators in motor homes. Those of us with trucks and trailers donít normally have to worry about it. From what I read, it is not hard to adapt a motorhome system to protect the alternator. Not my area of expertise, though.

To make the best use of lithium batteries you will need a charger that can provide the profile needed for lithium batteries. It is simple, but not the same as for lead-acid batteries.

Lastly, even if you stay with lead-acid batteries I think you will find a shunt-based battery monitor to be very helpful. At the very least it will be very interesting.
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Old 10-28-2021, 07:07 PM   #7
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AGM a definite possibility

Quote:
Originally Posted by pasdad1 View Post
Since you are targeting just 5 years initially, I would replace with Lifeline AGM batteries (which are a direct replacement). They are awesome batteries. You should easily get 5-10 years service from them if you donít abuse them too badly. They are maintenance free, charge faster, and have lower internal resistance than your current flooded acid batteries. In 5 years the lithium choices will be more plentiful, and MUCH cheaper than they are now!
I'll take a look at the Lifelines. I can see that the GPL-4CT AGM is essentially the same form factor. if my expectation of 3 years is too short and I should be aiming for 5 years, then this replacement should be the only one I do. Whatever I do, I don't want to get rid of the maintenance factor on the low-end flooded batteries, and AGM can address that as easily as lithium.

AGM wouldn't get me the weight savings or capacity, though -- but if I'm back to only doing this once in the lifetime of the coach (for my use), then it's a lot more for lithium vs AGM (I've been thinking once for lithium vs. twice for AGM, so the cost delta isn't all that bad).
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Old 10-28-2021, 07:10 PM   #8
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Upfront batteries are house, not chassis.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Winemaker2 View Post
Agree strongly.
I'm not a Li user so will resist detailed comments but you asked about economical alternatives and at least IMO Li is not economical unless you are looking at a LOT longer than 5 yrs.
Eliminating your 2 "up front" battys not easy or realistic as I'm guessing they are for chassis while the others are house battys... very different and should be considered.
IMO AGMs are an excellent no/lo maint choice if you are not considering this your long term MH choice.
I've have 3 East Penn / Duracell AGMs that have served 8 seasons and still going strong. Sams Club sells EP / Duracell at hard to beat prices if you are looking for economical solutions and considering moving away from FLA.
The upfront batteries aren't chassis -- they're definitely house. With my options on the BSS (upgraded fridge, plus all plugs powered by the inverter, not just a couple areas), they added two house batteries for the load. There's a seventh battery for the chassis.
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Old 10-28-2021, 07:21 PM   #9
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Recommendation on other lithiums?

Quote:
Originally Posted by JHinman View Post
...
Battleborn are among the most expensive batteries out there. They are great batteries (I have three of them), but you can cut your costs by going with other brands.
I'd definitely be interested in recommendations on brands. I've been searching, but so far I've only seen Battleborn, Lion, and a bunch of what appear to be questionable Chinese manufacturers. Lion seems just as expensive as Battleborn, and didn't seem to have one in a GC2 form factor, so I'd be either going with fewer batteries or spending time/money to adjust the existing battery tray, which would increase the cost.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JHinman View Post
...
There are apparently some issues with alternators in motor homes. Those of us with trucks and trailers donít normally have to worry about it. From what I read, it is not hard to adapt a motorhome system to protect the alternator. Not my area of expertise, though.
I'll look into that -- anyone happen to know the alternator on a 2020 Bay Star Sport? Unfortunately my manuals are with the coach, quite a distance away, so I can't just check. I believe that the solution is pretty simple, with a DC/DC converter that limits the draw.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JHinman View Post
...
To make the best use of lithium batteries you will need a charger that can provide the profile needed for lithium batteries. It is simple, but not the same as for lead-acid batteries.

Lastly, even if you stay with lead-acid batteries I think you will find a shunt-based battery monitor to be very helpful. At the very least it will be very interesting.
Already checked on the converter -- it does have a different profile for lithium batteries, that I can customize as needed. And yea, the battery monitor is definitely the icing on the cake with all the extra nerdy data.
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Old 10-28-2021, 08:36 PM   #10
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Personally, I would go with an inexpensive AGM's. I think the lithiums are nice, but a waste of money in your situation for several reasons. One, you don't intend to keep the coach for more than five years. The AGM's will run for 6-8 years without issue. Second, there will be no return on your expenditure when you sell. Third, you say you don't boondock enough to warrant a bigger/better battery. Fourth, to take full advantage of using lithiums, for off grid use, would require a bunch of solar. Solar would be an additional expense, and your coach will have little roof space for the needed panels.

Lastly, it's nice to say you have lithium batteries, but rarely are they necessary. This will offend some, but many who add lithium are techies and like the idea of it, but I doubt many use them off grid enough to warrant the install. Just like me, their RV is their hot rod and they enjoy doing projects to them. I like doing mechanical type mods, where others like doing techie mods, like battery upgrades, wireless remotes and other electronics. For all of us it's a fun project, but rarely something that is needed to drive these things down the road and enjoy them.

So are you doing the upgrade because you NEED it or just doing it for the sake of having a project. If you keep a coach for 10+ years, you can justify it, but not for five years.
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Old 10-28-2021, 09:45 PM   #11
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You stated that you “don’t go without electric that much” which for me would immediately rule out the effort and expense of Lithium.
Tom Morton performed an interesting in-depth head-to-head of flooded, AGM, and Lithium. (Spoiler: expensive name brands do not perform better). He and his wife primarily boondock so Lithium makes sense for him.
https://youtu.be/iy3hga_P5YY
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Old 10-28-2021, 09:55 PM   #12
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At this point in time I think there are really only 2 options.
Flooded LA or LiFePO4 (Lithium) batteries. AGM just doesn't make sense these days when you can guy inexpensive LiFePO4 batteries for $399 and you can get away with 1/2 the amount of LA or AGM to achieve the same results.

FLA is still pretty inexpensive but only if you get them for under $100 a piece (Costco or Sam's), paying the extra for Trojans or other name brand FLAs just doesn't make economic sense TODAY.

If it was me (and I did) I'd go with LiFePO4, but that's only because I have had them for 3 years and can't imagine my motorhome without them, even with our onboard generator and upgrading to LED bulbs, etc...

Once you have enjoyed the power and fast charging of lithium it would be very hard to go back to the older technology.

I've seen decent 100Ah LiFePO4 batteries for $399 and while I do have 10 Lion Energy batteries and a pretty sophisticated solar/inverter system just the fast charging alone and not needing to recharge to 100% is worth the difference in cost to me...........not to mention the longevity, which is really only icing on the cake
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Old 10-28-2021, 10:07 PM   #13
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I suspect the OP may not benefit as much from lithium batteries as a dry camper does, but there certainly can be merit to adding technical ďstuffĒ for its own sake if that is interesting. I have upgraded three rigs (well, really just getting started on the third) and it has been a lot of fun for me. I would not try to talk the OP out of it. The whole point of an RV is having fun, and anything that contributes to fun is good.

I agree that trying to sell the lithium batteries with an RV is not likely to pay off. I tried to do that but could not find anyone willing to pay for them. Fortunately it is easy enough to to move those fancy batteries to the next RV. My first Battleborn is in its third home. The fact that the batteries may last longer than the RV need not be a negative. My kids will probably use my batteries when I am gone.

Solar is nice, but is not really necessary just because one uses lithium batteries. I charge mine with a little Honda generator at 75 amps. I put extra panels on my last RV just before I sold it, but relying on the generator had worked out well.

For the OP, I do not have recommendations for other brands. I bought one Battleborn without doing much homework. I bought another only because the first was so good, and then later wound up combining them. A third came later, and had to be a Battleborn to match the first two. There are lots of reviews of batteries. If I was starting over I would review the BMS first, and then think about the form factor to see how well it fits the available space.

Iíd never buy lithium on the basis of cost. I donít know when, or even if, they will ever be the lowest cost batteries. The guys who build their own lithium batteries may get the cost down to a competitive level, but that is too much for me. When I am out at a forest service campground, or at a dispersal site in the forest in the late fall, I donít begrudge a single nickel I spent on lithium, inverter, or solar panels.
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Old 10-31-2021, 11:31 AM   #14
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Decided to forgo lithium

Thanks for everyone's comments. I thought I'd post where we decided to go. Primarily based on people's comments that battery life should be 5+ years, I decided to stay with flooded. My main thinking about going with lithium was because in my expected ownership I'd be expecting to replace them again if they only lasted three years -- going to lithium and getting other benefits seemed more reasonable. But if it's only once, then the formula changes a bit. Since these are the first time I've ever dealt with flooded batteries, there's the possibility that I didn't maintain them properly, and that contributed to an early failure. Specifically, when I was checking the batteries' water level, which I did regularly, I always made sure that the water level was over the plates, and it was. And, since the battery issue was identified, I've seen that the procedure seems to be to make sure that the water should be at leave above the plates before you attempt to charge but, once they're fully charged, the water should be added almost to the top. I actually never had to add water, and in hindsight that may indicate that I missed that second step. So I'll give the flooded batteries another try.

Additionally, as I looked into the issue, I'd also need to get a DC/DC converter, to limit the draw of the lithium batteries from the alternator. My coach has the B.I.R.D system, which has nice benefits, but seems to complicate the installation of the DC/DC converter a bit. I could easily add the DC/DC converter between the BIRD relay and the house batteries, but then it seems like I'd be losing the ability for the chassis batteries to get charged when plugged in or the generator is running (it seems like the DC/DC converters are one-way). I expect this is solvable (probably by putting the DC/DC converter between the alternator and the BIRD relay), but given the above it's not worth it to me to try now.

So now I get the chance to try to find those flooded batteries at the Costcos round me, which may turn into a challenge. Apparently they're now in short supply -- the closest one got a shipment of 30 the day I went there and they were all gone by the time I checked (around 1:00).

And if I want to get that weight savings that I would have got from lithium, I guess I'll just have to watch the chocolate consumption this coming holiday season.

Thanks again for the advice.
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