Save Some Juice: How Long Do RV Batteries Last?

Battery power isn’t perfect, but the longevity of an RV battery might surprise you. Although a 12V RV battery must power a huge motorhome and all its electronic gadgets, there are ways to ensure your battery outlives your travels. Here’s why RV battery care is so crucial, common myths you might believe, plus how to preserve as much power as possible—even when dry camping.

Why RV Batteries Are Important

Batteries are crucial for every vehicle because they keep you on the road. Without a battery, your engine would lose power, leaving you waiting for a tow truck. But in an RV, batteries are even more critical because you need the power to run the amenities inside.

Recreational vehicles use lead-acid batteries. A lead-acid battery has multiple battery cells which connect in series. Each cell contributes some power, and the sum equals the total voltage of the battery. These types of batteries store power rather than producing it (that’s the job of your alternator). But how much energy can it store, and how long do RV batteries last?

Myths Surrounding RV Battery Life

Understanding battery life can be challenging, especially with all the types available for motorhomes. Depending on the type of RV you have and the size of the battery, it could take some trial and error before you find out how to best handle your batteries. To that end, here are a few common myths about battery life that could steer you in the wrong direction.

Myth 1: You Should Completely Discharge the Battery Before Recharging

There’s a misconception that to maintain your battery’s life, you need to discharge it completely before putting it on a charger. In the case of RV batteries, this isn’t true. It is true, however, that you shouldn’t recharge your battery the moment it drops below 80 percent.

A good general guideline is to recharge the battery once it reaches 40 percent life. At 40 percent, a 12V battery will read 12 volts. Fully charged, a 12V battery offers up 12.73 volts. Allowing the battery to drop below 12 volts could damage the unit, causing you to spend more in replacement batteries than is necessary.

Myth 2: Leaving the Battery on the Charger is Better Than Storing It

There’s a delicate balance when it comes to maintaining battery life, and both under- and over-charging can cause issues. But leaving the battery on the charger once it’s full isn’t a great idea.

Overcharging can evaporate the water in the battery and cause corrosion. Remove every battery from its charger as soon as it reaches full capacity, then store it properly. Proper long-term battery storage requires:

● Disconnecting the battery from wiring

● Checking for corrosion/cleaning and drying the connectors

● Maintaining fluid levels

● Checking the charge state every 90 days (keep it above 75 percent)

● Maintaining a consistent temperature (between 32 and 80 degrees)

Myth 3: You Need a New Battery Every Season

When you RV full time, it’s understandable that you’ll be using lots of battery power. However, even if you’re a full-timer, you shouldn’t need a new battery every season or even each year. Most batteries—when properly maintained—last at least six years.

Things happen, of course, but the average RVer can expect to replace their motorhome battery (or batteries) every few years at most. You might find your batteries running out of juice within a few months or just a couple years. If so, it's worth looking at your vehicle's electrical system to see if there's an underlying problem.

Common Factors That Affect Battery Life

Though your battery should maintain high performance levels for at least a few years, there are factors which can affect battery life. Things to consider when evaluating battery life include:

● How long the RV sits. RVs for sale often have suboptimal battery life because they’ve been sitting—incorrectly stored—while awaiting purchase. Consider asking your dealer or the seller to replace the RV batteries in your used RV to ensure you’re getting a fresh set.

● Temperatures and temperature fluctuation. A battery which remains in an RV for a road trip through multiple climates can have issues with moisture or heat. Similarly, a parked RV which is in very cold or super-hot temperatures can have problems, too.

● Power usage. Do you use multiple appliances which drain your RV battery, causing it to lose power faster? Or are you conserving electricity and limiting drainage?

Tips for Making RV Batteries Last Longer

RV manufacturers know that motorists need consistent and ample power in their motorhomes. And it’s true that motorhome batteries typically contain more power reserves than car batteries. However, you may have some habits that cause you to lose battery power faster than normal.

While RV insurance might cover battery replacement while you’re on the road, you may be looking at high fees and a long wait. Instead of risking your battery’s life, here’s how to preserve energy and make RV batteries last longer.

Make Sure to Charge Correctly

As mentioned, you shouldn’t overcharge your RV battery. But you also shouldn’t undercharge it—letting it drain completely. Keep a digital voltmeter on hand to monitor battery output. Put batteries to charge once they reach 40 percent charge.

Check for Parasitic Loads

Some pests inside your camper aren’t the kind you need bug spray for. Parasitic loads are electronic devices which drain power when the RV is off. Does your motorhome have one battery for both the engine and interior amenities? Letting devices run while the engine is off can result in a dead battery when it's time to head home.

You can opt for surge protector power strips to ensure every device is off when you want it to be. Alternatively, you can use backup batteries for your RV’s electronic equipment. Using a battery separate from what’s under the hood ensures you won’t remain stranded if your secondary battery powers down.

Monitor Heat and Humidity

Hot temperatures can impact your battery life, but it can also mean the water in the battery’s cells dries up. Topping off the water levels (using distilled water only) will help keep your battery performing well and avoid overheating.

Of course, don’t overdo the water—and make sure your battery compartment is dry. Distilled water is good for battery cells, but you don’t want to leave your battery out in the rain or in otherwise damp conditions.

Dry Camping and Battery Life

Class A motorhomes, for example, often have the same type of appliances campers have at home. To power a luxury motorhome AC unit, refrigerator, electric hot water heater, and TV/stereo system, you’ll need lots of battery energy. Your Class A might have multiple batteries just for the interior amenities.

Conversely, a travel trailer may rely on a single battery to keep the lights on and the fridge cold. When you’re dry camping without electrical hookups, it’s crucial that you use your battery wisely. Here are a few tips for boondocking or dry camping and preserving battery life:

● If your RV has a single battery, start and run the engine periodically during your dry camping trip. This “recharges” the battery the same way any other vehicle does.

● Wire additional batteries for interior amenities. Keeping the lights on can use up more energy than you might think. Consider an auxiliary battery for necessities.

● Consider a solar panel to charge batteries; you’ll never run out of power with a solar setup and a clear view of the sun.

● Choose propane power. Using propane for heat, hot water heaters, cooking, and even your refrigerator can help you enjoy an off-grid trip with less stress about power. Propane is available in most campgrounds and at many gas stations and it stores well indefinitely. It’s also portable whether you want to cook outdoors or heat up your motorhome.

Follow the tips and practice some basic battery maintenance to ensure that your RV batteries last a long time and don’t leave you without power.