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technomadia

Maximizing the Oliver's battery capacity...

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As full-time technomads, it is very important for us to be able to squeeze as much battery capacity into our trailer as possible. I built a custom battery setup for our current Tab Clamshell that incorporates two 6V Trojan T-145 batteries, for a total capacity of 260 amp hours.

 

Robert tells me that the Oliver's battery tray is 14.25" x 14.25", and he guesses that 11" would be the maximum height you could fit.

 

I've been researching batteries and options to best fill this space. Here are my notes so far. Comments, thoughts, and suggestions are appreciated:

 

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Batteries: To get the most capacity for boondocking, maximizing the number of amp hours is key. It is also important to have a high quality battery that can withstand being discharged below 50% capacity repeatedly without damage. Most batteries, particularly "cheaper" ones, are damaged by deep discharge. True deep cycle batteries are better able to handle this.

 

AGM or Flooded Lead: AGM batteries do not need (much) ventilation, and they also do not need to have their water levels occasionally checked. The downside of AGM batteries is that they cost more, require a quality "smart" charger that will not dry them out prematurely, and they tend to have less capacity than an equivalently sized flooded lead battery. The Oliver's battery compartment slide out drawers should makes battery maintenance easy - so quality lead acid batteries are probably not nearly the hassle they would be on a Casita. One question though - how well ventilated is the battery compartment?

 

From Trojan: "Generally, gel and AGM batteries have about 20% less capacity, cost about two times more, and have a shorter cycle life than comparable flooded lead acid batteries. However, Gel and AGM batteries do not need watering, are safer (no acid spilling out), can be placed in a variety of positions, have a slower self-discharge characteristic, and are more efficient in charging and discharging than flooded batteries."

 

Efficiency difference: Flooded is 89% vs AGM is 99%. Self discharge per month 13% for flooded vs 3% for AGM.... This means that an AGM battery will require less solar power to charge, and they will hold their charge longer in storage.

 

Another important trait of AGM batteries is that you can charge them MUCH faster off of a generator, thus needing less run time. But to do this you will need a powerful and very smart charger, the Oliver default 45A is probably not enough to really take advantage of this.

 

2x 6V or 2x 12V: Six volt "Golf Cart" batteries are common, cheap, and tend to be excellent deep cycle performers. Two 6v batteries wired together in series can often give you more capacity cheaper than two 12v batteries in parallel. The Trojan brand batteries are particularly well regarded. I used two 6V T-145's in my Tab, for a total capacity of 260AH. They are 11 5/8" tall though, potentially too tall for the Oliver. 12V batteries do have an advantage of better redundancy though. If one of your 6V batteries dies, your whole system is useless. But you can still run on a single 12V battery.

 

Trojan Flooded Lead Acid Battery Options: (all 6 volts)

T-145 -- 260 Amp Hours - 10 3/8" x 7 1/8" x 11 1/2" x 72lbs -- Too tall for an Oliver?

T-125 -- 240 Amp Hours - 10 3/8" x 7 1/8" x 10 11/16" x 66lbs -- Will two of these fit OK? The width may be a tight fit...

T-105 -- 225 Amp Hours - 10 3/8" x 7 1/8" x 10 11/16" x 62lbs -- The same physical size as the T-125, but cheaper and less capacity. This battery is very common and easy to find.

T-1275 -- 300 Amp Hours - 12 7/8" x 7 1/8" x 10 17/25" x 82lbs -- Two of these 12V batteries will give 300 Amp Hours of power. Based on the Oliver dimensions, two of these should fit, right?? This would be the maximum possible capacity in an Oliver.

 

Trojan 12V AGM:

31-AGM --110x2 Amp Hours - 13 /16" x 6 7/8" x 8 11/16" x 71lbs

 

Concord / Lifeline AGM Battery Options:

Concord makes the LifeLine batteries, so they have much in common. These are the best known and most highly regarded AGM batteries available.

 

Concord B-2240 -- 220 Amp Hours (6V) - 10.5" x 7" x 11" x 68 lbs -- 6V / aprox $295/each

Lifeline GPL-27 -- 100x2 Amp Hours - 12.01" x 6.6" x 9.25" x 65lbs ($256)

Lifeline GPL-31 -- 105x2 Amp Hours - 12.9" x 6.75" x 9.27" x 69lbs ($259)

Lifeline GPL-4C -- 220 Amp Hours (6V) - 10.27" x 7.12" x 10.24" x 66lbs ($239)

 

Fullriver AGM:

FR31 110x2 Amp Hours / 13" x 6.8" x 9.7" x 78lbs -- Cheaper AGM alternative, new to the US, popular and highly regarded in Europe. Charge efficiency 97%...

 

=====

 

Concluding Thoughts: It looks like if capacity is your ultimate goal, two Trojan T-1275's will take up all the space in your battery box, and will give you 300 amp hours of glorious power to play with. Trojan T-125 or the cheap and common T-105's are also good options.

 

Going AGM though does have some nice advantages. Two Lifeline GPL-31 batteries will give you 210 amp hours, and two 6V Lifeline GPL-4C's will cost a bit less, and give you 220 amp hours.

 

Fullriver's FR31 is also a good choice, and will give 220 amp hours potentially a bit cheaper than Lifelines. I need to research the quality and price differences a bit further.

 

Thoughts? Comments? Any other ideas?

 

- Chris // http://www.technomadia.com

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Thank you for all your valuable info. Would love to see yr T@B. Currently in Pismo Beach CA, heading back to FL after Memorial Day weekend, probably via I 10. Any chance you'll be any where close???

Regards and thanks for info. Chuck 8-)

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For what it's worth I've got a set of 4 Trojan T-125's on the nose of my current rig. They are stored in GC2 battery boxes from Allied Battery on a custom-welded rack that is bolted onto the top of the A-frame (instead of inside or under) for maximum support. Web straps with tensioners hold everything in place but make for relatively easy access for servicing or end-of-season removal.

 

The batteries have been great and have survived harsh Utah winters (down to 24 below at least twice) and hot Virginia summers (100+ and humid). The self-discharge is very low from what I've seen regardless of conditions. I charge them carefully with a smart 3-stage charger (built into my inverter) and have only had to add water once or twice, and even then not much. Yes, they are heavy but given that I just hoisted a lead acid 8D out of my boat (160+ pounds!) I'm not complaining about the Trojans ... at least not too loudly.

 

In retrospect I probably should have bought the T-145's (there's room in the GC2 boxes), but since I never discharge too deeply it's really just shades of gray ...

 

Whatever you decide on, be sure to invest in a good battery carry strap for moving the batteries around - your fingers and toes will thank you!

 

FWIW

 

Stuart

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I run Odyssey batteries in all my rigs and have had perfect reliability from them. I use the PC1700MJT in my truck camper shell for the last five years and it is still going strong. It is isolated from the vehicle electrical and recharges via a small solar system.

 

I will likely do two PC2150's in the Oliver. Capacity isn't quite as some of the other options, but since I've had perfect service from my Odyssey batteries, I'm going to rate overall reliability and length of life higher than overall amp hour capacity.

 

http://www.odysseybatteries.com/battery/pc2150.htm

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I run Odyssey batteries in all my rigs and have had perfect reliability from them.

 

Yes, the Odysseys are good batteries - I've always heard positive things.

 

Unfortunately when it came time to outfit my current rig there wasn't a dealer nearby that carried them so I went with the Trojans. They seem to have a stocking dealer in just about every town due to their commanding share of the golf cart market, so I figured that if anything ever went wrong I'd be able to easily get service or replacement as needed.

 

Of course this is all a moot point if the batteries never fail, but you never know!

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Let me run this idea by you folks:

 

I just talked to Robert, for the first time, in order for him to to prepare a work order that will get my trailer in production.

 

I elected to go with the dual solar panels, 100 watts each, with the solar controller and battery monitor like Chris and Cherie are getting, and NO generator provisions. I am going to try to do without a generator, simply because I don't want to mess with them and I don't want the extra weight. I am going with a small installed inverter to power the satellite receiver. I am going with stock batteries. I am going with the standard converter with the charge wizard, and this is where I am most apprehensive. I am not sure the standard battery charger part of the standard converter/charger will efficiently and quickly charge my two batteries. If it doesn't, then I will have to upgrade my charger.

 

We will try to make do with this set up, (1) to keep cost in line, and (2) so that the batteries can be replaced at the nearest Wal*Mart or wherever, without waiting for a custom battery to be delivered from some major town nearest to where we are when they go bad.

 

My concerns are twofold:

 

The stock batteries are 12V and not true deep cycle batteries. They are cheap, but I don't know if they have the capacity we need. I am wondering if two 6V golf cart batteries would not be a better compromise between availability and cost.

 

I am concerned about the stock converter/charger. I am not convinced it is a true "smart 4 phase charger." I guess I can give it a try and see if it works for us. An upgrade could rather easily be added later, according to Robert.

 

Any advice or comments? Would I be smarter to go with an upgraded, more expensive, true smart 4-phase battery charger? I tend to believe I would (they are not that large and could be installed without our giving up the power shore cord reel). I am not as concerned about the batteries, as they are easily upgraded by myself if they don't serve our needs. Since we will not have a large inverter, our battery drain will not be nearly as large as it would otherwise be. We are getting all LED lights to minimize the battery drain. With the optional, upgraded battery monitor that tracks amp-hours in and out, we will be able to avoid draining our battery bank below 50% of its capacity. It just may work. About the only 12V appliance we may ever use are Geneva's curling irons, and they don't pull that much amps if I recall correctly. Does anyone out there use 12V curling irons? Do they work well? We have never tried them.

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The stock batteries are 12V and not true deep cycle batteries. They are cheap, but I don't know if they have the capacity we need. I am wondering if two 6V golf cart batteries would not be a better compromise between availability and cost.

 

I am concerned about the stock converter/charger. I am not convinced it is a true "smart 4 phase charger." I guess I can give it a try and see if it works for us. An upgrade could rather easily be added later, according to Robert.

 

Any advice or comments? Would I be smarter to go with an upgraded, more expensive, true smart 4-phase battery charger?

 

1) I'd suggest that you go with the golf cart batteries. They are more rugged, are designed to be discharged very deeply without damage, and can withstand many more charging cycles than a standard battery. Going with 'cheap' batteries is a false economy. Note that Trojan literally owns the golf cart battery market for golf courses throughout the country, so in the unlikely event of failure there should be any number of sources available to you.

 

2) I'd suggest that you go with the generator prep wiring. You never know when you might need it, might want it, or wish you had it when it comes time to sell to the next guy. It's easy to do now, harder to do later.

 

3) Whatever battery charger you choose, make sure that it's got sufficient capacity to recharge your chosen batteries in a reasonable time. I wouldn't get hung up on the "4 stage" hype; most chargers in the marine world are just 3 stage (bulk/absorption/float) with a manual capability for equalization if really necessary. Buy the best charger that'll fit in the available space and have the factory install it so that it's covered under your warranty.

 

Just my $0.02.

 

Stuart

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Doug -

 

A lot depends on the style of camping you anticipate doing, how often and the time you anticipate being off grid. The decisions that Chris and I make for ourselves will be different as we plan to be entirely off grid as much as possible, living out of our Oliver full-time. That said, having a sufficient charger that can maximize your sun exposure to charge up the batteries is a good idea - keeping in mind there's only a few hours in the day that you'll have opportunity to get full exposure to take advantage of those glorious 200 watts. Perhaps Chris can follow on with a more technical review of your set up.

 

I'm also curious.. are you going with the standard satellite receiver that Oliver installs? We had to drop that option in order to fit the dual solar panels. (Not a big deal for us at all.)

 

 

- Cherie

 

PS. There's a good chance we'll actually be in your neck of the woods, as my brother is a skydiver instructor out in Lexington :D We occasionally get out there and jump with him.

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Hi Cherie, I know the sky diving place well. I don't go there, but my brother-in-law has done a lot of work for the lady who owns or runs it. I would really like the opportunity to meet you guys and see your trailer. I've never seen one. Please let me know when you are in the area, and Geneva and I will make arrangements to meet you. We live about 5 miles north (on Hwy 77) then about 4 miles west of the highway, out in the boondocks on my old home place (328 acres). Look for Tanglewood, 5 miles North of Lexington. We live 4 miles due west from there, off county roads 415/419.

 

Our off-grid camping is usually limited to only two to seven days at a time. However, I would like to visit Quartsite for at least a month in the winter some time and I think that is all off grid camping.

 

My main concern is the battery bank charging. I'm not sure just how fast and efficiently the standard charger will recharge the approximately 30-40 amp hours to my battery bank each day. I don't think the standard charger has a battery temperature monitor and I understand that is important. I have it on my existing RV. I suppose the greatest drain on our battery bank would be running the furnace on cold nights, but we would not set the thermostat more than about 60 degrees. The only other things we will use off grid 12V electricity for will be lights, the TV/entertainment center, the water pump, and cell phone recharging. Geneva might try using a 12V curling iron from time to time.

 

We have decided that we can easily do without a big inverter, which only invites more electrical usage, but I think we may need a better charger than the standard one. What do you guys think? What batteries have you picked out and what is their combined amp-hour rating? I don't know what mine will be yet. We will be monitoring our batteries and never using more amp-hours than 50% of their capacity. I would like something approaching a 200 amp-hour battery bank and I don't think I can't get that with the standard 12V batteries. I think I could with two 6v golf cart batteries. I like some spare capacity, just for a cushion, in case it's needed.

 

Let us know how you like your new trailer. I know you pick it up very soon.

 

Oh yea, we are having to delete the satellite receiver. But we will, I think, get to keep the electric hose reel, which is another use for 12v off-grid power.

 

And here is another question for you guys: Would an optional $325 or so "smart charger" take the place of the standard converter/charger, or simply supplement it?

 

Doug

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Another question: How do you think we can best protect our solar panels from any possible hail damage? That may be a tough one to figure out.

 

Maybe with duct tape and two closed cell foam sleeping pads, cut to size?

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Doug,

 

For now, I am also going with the standard charger and batteries, largely based on Robert's recommendations. But my situation is different, as I have crossed the solar option off my list due to my occasional use of the trailer. If I do any off-grid camping, it'll be with a generator (and functioning A/C). I'm quite sure that the stock charger IS indeed a 3-stage charger, so it might be good enough.

 

I wasn't aware that the stock batteries were not deep cycle...that's strange. I guess I better consider alternatives if that's the case. Thanks for the heads up. I certainly don't want to be replacing batteries more often than necessary.

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Herm, the stock batteries are what people call "deep cycle." They are the batteries you would buy for a trolling motor, not engine starting batteries.

 

These 12V batteries are not true deep cycle batteries, however. Only 3V and 6V batteries are true deep cycle batteries, according to my understanding. They have much heavier plates than the stock batteries.

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In looking at Chris' customization list, it looks like we went with the LifeLine AGM (GPL-4C) - which will give us 220 amp hours. We decided this because they are more efficient at charging/discharging, are more durable for the variable environments we tend to find ourselves in (such as bouncy back roads) and will require less maintenance. So while we'll have less capacity than we did in our Tab (we had 260), we'll be better able to capture and utilize the power coming in on a regular basis and the long term benefits should outweigh the extra cost.

 

Because we're going with AGM's instead of lead acid, a smart charger is really quite a necessity to take advantage of this - and to the best of my understanding, it replaces the standard charger, not supplements it. Chris basically deleted the entire standard electrical system of the Oliver and custom spec'd ours.

 

If you're just going with the standard lead acid batteries, a smart charger is not nearly as important to maintain their health. At least, that's my understanding. I'll poke Chris to come join this thread when he has time (he's dealing with some issues with our Tab so that we can get it sold hopefully before we pick up the Oliver).

 

 

We should be picking up our Oliver in about a week.. we're very excited. We spent a day last week at the factory hanging out with Robert, Daniel and others working on our trailer. It was a lot of fun, and they're such a great group of people. And what a class act their factory is - a lot of heart and soul goes into these amazing trailers.

 

I don't think we'll be going through Texas before you pick up yours unfortunately - as we'll be coming back to St. Louis after picking up the trailer and high-tailing it to Burning Man (in northern Nevada) by the end of August. No specific plans after that.. we'll see what calls us. But, Central TX is definitely one of our stop-over points as I grew up in Austin and my bro still lives there. So I'm sure we'll be able to rendezvouz, heck, we'll probably come camp out at the drop zone in the future and work on our skydiving training for a couple weeks at some point.

 

 

- Cherie

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As far as solar and hail - I know that hail is a big issue in Central TX, sometimes reaching softball size. For us, if there's bad weather predicted, we just scoot out of town.

 

You may want to ask AM Solar what their specific hail rating is.

 

There website states:

 

"In fact, all panels pass Jet Propulsion Labs Block V tests, which are: withstanding 125 m.p.h. wind loading, surviving one inch hail at terminal velocity (52 m.p.h.), and thermal cycling at temperatures beyond what you will find here on Earth (short of tossing them into molten lava !!)."

 

 

It seems that most panels are quite durable against hail and can withstand quite an impact. And others aren't. Since AM Solar specializes in RV solar panels, I'm hoping they are providing something that is quite resistant to a variety of elements. In other words, hopefully you won't have to worry any more about your solar panels in inclement weather than you would your Oliver or house.

 

- Cherie

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Thanks for the information, Cherie.

 

I have not yet received my invoice and pricing on the trailer from Robert, so I still have time to make decisions. The batteries you selected are the exact batteries I have in my 5th wheel. I have a bank of four of them and they have never given me any problems, but I would not expect them to since they have been installed for only four years and have never been discharged below 60% of their capacity (I've used only 40% of their capacity, or about 175 Amp-hours). I think you will like these batteries and I just may get two of them for my Oliver. The cost of ownership with these batteries will be lower than any other battery we could buy, IMO. They cost about $275 each, plus shipping, or more than $300 each, but when used properly should last for 10,000 discharges and recharges, perhaps more than 20 years, or for me, the rest of my life.

 

Doug

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Another question: How do you think we can best protect our solar panels from any possible hail damage? That may be a tough one to figure out.

 

Maybe with duct tape and two closed cell foam sleeping pads, cut to size?

 

Most of the solar panels on earth are permanently mounted year round, and they are thus designed to withstand all sorts of weather.

 

If you ever encounter hail large enough to damage your solar panels, that damage will likely be the least of your worries.

 

There are "thin film" solar technologies that use a flexible material and no glass that are essentially indestructible, but they only but out half the power per square foot, so I don't recommend them.

 

- Chris

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We are getting all LED lights to minimize the battery drain. With the optional, upgraded battery monitor that tracks amp-hours in and out, we will be able to avoid draining our battery bank below 50% of its capacity. It just may work. About the only 12V appliance we may ever use are Geneva's curling irons, and they don't pull that much amps if I recall correctly. Does anyone out there use 12V curling irons? Do they work well? We have never tried them.

 

Anything that produces heat will likely use a LOT of amps. You'll have to look at the specs, but my guess is that 15 minutes of curling iron use may burn more electricity than running your LED lights all day. (Maybe even all week!)

 

That said - some minimal curling iron use is probably fine...

 

- Chris

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1) I'd suggest that you go with the golf cart batteries. They are more rugged, are designed to be discharged very deeply without damage, and can withstand many more charging cycles than a standard battery. Going with 'cheap' batteries is a false economy. Note that Trojan literally owns the golf cart battery market for golf courses throughout the country, so in the unlikely event of failure there should be any number of sources available to you.

 

I agree. Basic 6V Trojan T-105's are cheap, found everywhere, and really rugged. There are some "true" deep cycle 12V batteries (like the Trojan 1275's), but they tend to be a bit more rare and expensive. Most cheap 12V batteries aren't built to handle multiple deep discharges. They'll work for a while, but you will need to replace them every year or so. I'd rather not deal with the hassle.

 

We went with AGM batteries because they are more efficient to charge, and can charge quicker. But if cost was more of a concern, I'd go with 6V golf cart batteries.

 

2) I'd suggest that you go with the generator prep wiring. You never know when you might need it, might want it, or wish you had it when it comes time to sell to the next guy. It's easy to do now, harder to do later.

 

You do not need any special generator prep wiring -- just take your extension cord and plug it into the generator. Simple as can be.

 

The auto-transfer switch is an expensive option that lets you keep plugged into the shore power and generator at the same time. This will only really help you if you don't want to go out in the rain to unplug from shore power during a power outage to switch to the generator.

 

The other advantage of the generator pre-wire is that you can run your generator while underway towing, if that is an important option to you.

 

3) Whatever battery charger you choose, make sure that it's got sufficient capacity to recharge your chosen batteries in a reasonable time. I wouldn't get hung up on the "4 stage" hype; most chargers in the marine world are just 3 stage (bulk/absorption/float) with a manual capability for equalization if really necessary. Buy the best charger that'll fit in the available space and have the factory install it so that it's covered under your warranty.

 

A better battery charger is particularly important if you are going to use AGM or Gell batteries. If you are going with basic lead acid batteries, this is less critical.

 

For a cost saving option, two 6V batteries and the stock charger should be fine.

 

- Chris

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These 12V batteries are not true deep cycle batteries, however. Only 3V and 6V batteries are true deep cycle batteries, according to my understanding. They have much heavier plates than the stock batteries.

 

There are a lot of cheaper 12V batteries that are marketed as "deep cycle" that really aren't. But 12V batteries can be built with thicker lead plates, making them "true" deep cycle batteries.

 

The LifeLine GPL-31 and Trojan T-1275 are both examples of very credible deep cycle 12V batteries.

 

One good way to tell is by weight. All other things being equal, a heavier battery indicates more lead inside, and thus thicker lead plates and a better deep cycle capability. You'll notice that cheaper batteries tend to be significantly lighter. There is a reason for that...

 

- Chris

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Doug,

 

How about just simply taking 2 of the batteries out of your 5th wheel to use in the Oliver, and save yourself the extra $600. I can't imagine the resale of your 5th wheel being affected by whether it has 2 or 4 batteries.

 

Thanks for clarifying what you meant by 'true deep cycle'...didn't know there was dintinction between the two. I might price out the 6V Trojan's, but I'm definitely going to stick with the standard charger and some sort of lead-acid battery bank. I've got to control the cost of my options too, and these things are easily upgraded later if necessary.

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Thanks Chris for taking the time to give me some good advice. When I went to the AM Solar web site I did notice they had true deep cycle 12V batteries by Lifeline. Sorry I put out some bogus info, but I'm glad to get it straight.

 

The way we use our trailer, with shore power more than without, without a large inverter, and with the roof-mounted 200 watt solar panels giving us a slow charge almost all day long every day, I am uncertain if the AGM batteries and the optional charger they need to keep them in good shape and recharged, would be worth the extra up-front costs (about $750?). We will likely not spend more than 120 days per year, at the most, living in our Oliver.

 

However, I think I should DEFINITELY go with the 6V Trojan golf cart batteries if I don't go with the AGM's. With proper maintenance, avoiding over discharging, and proper charging, those batteries should last several years, should they not? I have used them before on another trailer, but not with proper battery monitoring. It didn't work out very well for us.

 

Doug

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Herm, your suggestion about using two of my four existing Llifeline AGM batteries is an excellent one. For some reason, that thought had not occurred to me. I could take those out of my 5th wheel and take them with me to Tennessee to pick up my trailer, saving not only the cost of the batteries but the shipping cost as well.

 

However, that puts me back to where I would need to spend an extra $400 or so on an optional smart charger for them.

 

This statement from Chris is the answer to my question:

 

"For a cost saving option, two 6V batteries and the stock charger should be fine."

 

That will likely be the way I go, now that I have Chris's opinion on the matter.

 

Thanks for the idea, Herm. I just may end up going that route! Who knows?

 

Doug

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Doug, you're absolutely right...reusing your Lifeline's would probably warrant a charger upgrade. But, I was also thinking the credit to delete their standard batteries and standard charger would help offset a portion of the cost for the upgraded charger. Maybe you should have Robert run the numbers and see how large the gap really is.

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Yes Herm, I'm going to ask Robert to do that for me, to see what the extra cost would be.

 

Has your contact with Robert been mostly over the phone or the internet?

 

I have spoken with him once, yesterday afternoon, when we reviewed all my e-mails about the options I wanted. I don't know if e-mails are best or if the telephone is the best. I expect he is pretty busy these days, after being off ill for several days.

 

I haven't received a priced out invoice yet, but I expect one any time now, based on yesterday's phone conversation. Where do you stand? Have you received an invoice to sign and send back to him?

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