Tuesday, July 30, 2019

New Batteries for the Roadtrek - A Three Year Long Epic Adventure




Batteries do not last forever. The batteries that are the heart of the electrical system in my 2011 Roadtrek 190 Popular are two 6 volt AGM deep cycle batteries. And until now have been the original batteries installed by Roadtrek at the factory.  I have been told that these batteries last about 7 years - and the first time I started to question that the batteries were still good was three years ago.

At the time electrical things that should happen a certain way just were not happening. When the batteries should have been charging when driving - something that Roadtreks after around 2006 should do - was not always happening. It might take an hour or more of driving before the charging light was showing lit on the battery monitor panel in the Roadtrek.  There are a few reasons why this might happen - the RV batteries (often referred to as "coach batteries") are going bad, the engine battery is going bad, the vehicle alternating is going bad, OR a device put into the Chevy engine compartment by Roadtrek - called a Battery Separator - is going or has gone bad. The problem was not every time but often enough for concern. Let me explain the battery separator.  This is a device that has the engine battery connected to one side of it and the RV batteries connected to the other side of it. It is a "smart" switch - when the engine is running and the RV batteries need to be charged it connects the engine battery to the RV batteries and charges them through the van's alternator. It also will charge the engine battery when the RV is plugged into shore power - an outlet connected to the outside world of 110/120 volts of electricity or when the Roadtrek's electrical generator is being run which also provides 110/120 volts of AC electrical current. It is a nice little system - as long as it is working.  So - one of these things would have been the problem three years ago.

SO - I started checking things out as best that I could on my own. There are ways to test the Battery Separator - that I am not equipped to do but we go to a very friendly mechanic and for many, many years he has worked on our car so I spoke with him and if it came down to it he could test the separator for us.  When the separator is working and connects or disconnects there is an audible click. And I was hearing that click when plugging into shore power and I was pretty sure it was, therefore, working. But I was not fully convinced. So at the time I started researching buying a new battery separator of the same make and model that is there. This proved to not be quite so easy. I called two RV dealerships with repair shops on Long Island. Long Island is a wasteland for RVs - finding them here or service for them here is like - well, let's say not worth the effort. Basically they had not worked with RVs that had separators - they did know about battery isolators which are similar but work differently - but they could not get the one I had and were not really interested in working on my Class B RV - which they don't usually work on.  I started searching the internet for the part - as it is not hard to install - and my friendly mechanic could do that for me - and found that only a handful of retail websites around the US - none anywhere near here - sell this make and model. That was going to be what I would have to do if it came down to that. I also started asking on a group I was on what was the best - absolutely THE BEST - coach battery for my Roadtrek and without question from several more experienced than I when it comes to RV batteries the same answer came back - Lifeline batteries. One even said to me that they were "overkill" but they were the best - and they are expensive. And I need TWO.

The first thing I had the mechanic do is check the engine battery - the easiest of the things that needed to be tested and - hooray! He found that the engine battery - even though it started the van easily when started - had a bad cell and was only putting out less than ten volts - and he replaced it.  After that things started working - and with all of this in the back of my mind we continued to hear out int the great well known and kept traveling in the Roadtrek - for three more years.

Every so often things would hiccup but came back to working as it should be working - but the coach batteries were getting older - and this year at 8 years old I kept feeling that I was playing Russian Roulette with the batteries. I had figured that going into 2019 we would need to buy new batteries. And then the macerator problem happened - as I wrote about two articles back - and that took the money that we would have used for the batteries.  Before we left the dealer service when we bought and had installed the new macerator and macerator hose, I asked if they could get Lifeline batteries - and they said yes but they could not tell me a price - and would check. A week or so later they told me - $550 EACH battery plus labor to install! Oh BOY!  It was back to Battery Russian Roulette.

It seemed like maybe things would go the right way and with short day trips things were working as they should. Then we set out on a trip during Fourth of July week. Our procedure when we travel is just before pulling down the driveway and off, we start the engine of the van, turn on the battery switch - to turn on the coach batteries - and also turn on the RV refrigerator.   I get the van running and Meryl does the rest.  And I asked her to turn on the test button that shows battery level - which as the van is running should show the coach batteries charging - and that LED was NOT lit! OK - this has happened before and we drive a little and the light comes on, it is charging and all is well. That did not happen. And after a short time we pulled over to check again and it was still out and I could only figure that we either turn around and go home or we turn off the fridge - no meds in it this trip - as the main med for the fridge once started does not need to be refrigerated - and I sat there on the side of the road contemplating what to do - turn back or go on.  Meryl made the decision. We had paid in advance for one night of the three nights in the campground and we should go on and IF there were problems resulting for this all we could stay the night, the next day go to the Festival in PA that we go to every year that runs during Fourth of July week and just come home tomorrow night. Fine. And - have I mentioned this before - Meryl is ALWAYS RIGHT - truly!

We headed off.  We stopped at a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike and I put the battery switch back on and with the engine running - after about two and a half hours of driving - there was a lot of traffic getting there - the charging LED lit. Wonderful! We left the fridge off to not push our luck and continued on the trip and stayed the three nights and four days - with the last two days with the fridge on to bring home some treats - but not too many because the week before our fridge at home died and we had to buy a new fridge which when delivered did not work correctly and a new, new fridge would not be delivered until we got home - unknowing if that one would work any better than the first. (Another unexpected, not affordable expense.)

We had reasons to start the Roadtrek when we got back from this trip - and the batteries did and then didn't show they were charging when the engine was running and it was three years back all over again. Only this time the research had been saved from three years past. While we were on the trip to PA I said to Meryl that we can't play Russian Roulette with the coach batteries any longer. That one day we are going to find ourselves off somewhere and these batteries - the ones I wanted - were not going to be found where ever we were stuck. She agreed. And the decision was made that we needed to find and buy and have installed the new Lifeline batteries.

I thought that this might be easy. Yes they were on a few websites. There are even dealers for these batteries on Long Island - all marinas. Long Island is "Boat Happy - RV Deprived". I started calling and emailing these marine shops. Yes they could get the batteries - each over $500 - no they could not install them. I went to the websites that sold these batteries and the price from at least two - across the country - was $329 each with free shipping.  I had thought that our friendly mechanic could install them - which he said he could - but he had been and was very busy at his shop with his usual business - including work on our small passenger van - and I felt that I should not impose on him - especially if I wanted the job done right away.  I also found on the battery manufacturer's website two dealers of the batteries in New Jersey. I contacted one - a dealer who is also a Roadtrek dealer who could get the batteries at just a little more than the $329 and he could install them - AS LONG AS  I waited for his next available service appointment at the end of September. I thanked him and said that was not going to work out for us.

The second shop in New Jersey was a little closer but not an RV dealership but rather an RV repaid and body work shop.  I contacted them and yes they could get the batteries - they would take about a week to arrive and they could take us to install them right after they arrived. The price was a little less than the $XXX each - two hours of labor to install - and I told them order them and thank you very much!

The batteries - for those Roadtrek owners seeking new batteries - Lifeline GPL-4CT - 6 volt AGM deep cycle battery. Here is a XXXXX . The shop we bought them from that installed them XXX RV in XXXX, New Jersey.

The batteries came in the time stated - one week on a Thursday. We set up an appointment for the installation on the coming Monday.  All was set! And then weather forecasts started saying that Monday and Tuesday in the coming week were going to have severe storms both in NY and NJ.  OK. I am never happy driving the Roadtrek in the rain and absolutely not in severe storms.  In that time when you would not like to wake up yet on that next day - Friday morning - this kept going through my head - Monday was not a good day to make this trip. And we called and postponed the appointment to Wednesday. The lady at XXXX that we were working with was incredibly nice - extremely helpful and had no problem moving the appointment. As it turns out the storms did come Monday and Tuesday and were more than severe - and caused a lot of damage especially in New Jersey and right in the county that this shop is located in.

Wednesday morning came. The charging LED did not come on to show the old batteries were charging when we left that morning - and was still not on over two and a half hours later when we arrived at the shop. The trip there took a long time just to get out of New York State.  There are two bridges that most be crossed to do that - I just love living on an island connected to other islands before you get to mainland U.S.A. - and the first and main bridge was closed in both directions as we heard as we were on our way to it - because of a car fire.  We were stopped in traffic bumper to bumper along the way and that took so long that by the time we got to the bridge - despite the traffic reports still saying the bridge was closed - we drove right across it without a problem.  We called ahead to the shop to explain that we would be later than we even had expected to be.

There were various ways in New Jersey to get to this place and the fastest route takes the Garden State Parkway. It seems that while this part of the Garden State Parkway is closed to trucks, it allows RVs - and more than one website - and our asking the shop when we made the appointment about taking this parkway  - said we could drive on it. With fingers crossed we did. No other RVs were to be seen but highway patrol cars passing us - we were not stopped.  As we got off the parkway and were near the shop there were electric company repair trucks everywhere. Red lights were out on the roads. Large trees were down. The storm hit there HARD!

The night before we left I wrote out everything that I know specific to installing new batteries in a Roadtrek plus where all the switches were and what does what.  I will include that at the end of this article. They would know all this anyway but they may never have worked on a Roadtrek before. One of the things I told them in person was that I wanted to know once the new batteries were installed that the batteries were now charging on the engine running as they are supposed to do.

When we arrived I handed that to the woman who was expecting us and we sat down to wait in their waiting room.  There was one other person waiting and we started talking as we were waiting. He said that the shop we were at had no electricity and they were running on generators - still able to do the work. The big lobby was a little warm - but there were big ceiling fans that made it comfortable enough. There was a big screen TV and chairs and sofas. They had display and sales racks of RV accessories and parts.  We spent the time watching the TV and walking around looking at what was on the shelves. At one point there was a loud roar of a big engine and they were working outside an open garage door to the side of this big lobby on a big Class A engine.  It was interesting but the diesel fumes were getting overwhelming and were also coming into the lobby so I went outside to get some air and saw that my Roadtrek was parked in an lane outside in the parking lot on the other side of a Class A. I could not tell if they had worked on it or not. We were there for about three hours or so between waiting for the Roadtrek to be taken to be worked on to when we were told it was ready. I asked if it was charging and was told that it was all tested and was working as it should be. Skeptic as I am I went outside - started the engine and the charging LED came on when I pushed the test button. For the moment I was happy.

It was a hot day. We were in New Jersey near a restaurant we like to eat at and decided we would kill the time between lunch and dinner in a large mall and a Barnes and Nobles bookstore and a Walmart before waiting for dinner. And that is what we did.

Someone reading this I know is thinking why didn't he just install these batteries himself.  The 2011 Roadtrek does not have a sliding battery drawer. The two batteries are fixed in place inside an outside access cabinet. These batteries weigh 66 pounds each. There is no way that I could lift one of these batteries much less remove the old heavy batteries and get two of these up and into place - plus there is no access to wire the cables to the back of the batteries. I am not sure how the shop did this. 

When thing seem well my head starts poking me to think hmm, maybe things are not all as well as they should be. Was it the batteries that needed to be replaced - which they did anyway - or is that battery separator at the root of what has been going on. The engine battery is three years old and it is rated for five years - and that should be fine - but those early morning wake ups and your mind starts working in high gear...  So I start looking things up. I start trying things. I know the new batteries are good and fine. Are they charging when the engine is running is what is bothering me. I go outside and into the Roadtrek and without the engine running I turn on the battery switch and push the test button and no engine running - the charging LED comes on. This is not supposed to happen - I think - or is it?  I have a volt meter. I check the voltage on the batteries and they are fully charged - a reading of about 12.87 volts - 12.8 volts is fully charged. Is this because they are new or did the engine charge them up to that on the drive home from New Jersey. I start researching again.

This is what I learned - and should have learned reading these same documents before - the engine does not connect to charge the RV batteries if they are over 12.8 volts. They do not need to be charged and the engine does not charge them. Seems logical.  If the batteries are 12.8 volts or above the C charge indicator LED will remain lit - even though no charging is taking place. (This is new to me for some reason - as I have believed from other things I have read that if charged fully the C LED will go out and leave the third up from the bottom LED lit showing that the batteries are within charged range. THAT IS NOT SO. If the batteries are 12.8 of over the C LED will be lit.)  Good to know - good to pass along and I am thinking a detailed battery separator article is coming here soon.

I went out for the next several days checking the status of the battery level. Five days later - I turned the battery switch on - no engine running - and had my volt meter plugged in for actual voltage - and the C LED was no longer on. The yellow G LED was lit and this is what I had expected to see all along. The voltage in the batteries - five days later - was now 12.75 - below 12.8 - and the monitor panel indicated that. I started the engine and right away the C LED lit up as it should! Happy me!

In all of this I made a decision with Meryl to buy a spare battery separator and have it with us when we travel. This way if that ever does go bad - and they do go bad over time - we will have it with us - we can find a mechanic to put it in - and I - not we - have to worry about it any more. I am in the process of doing that now.  With that I will have three of the Roadtrek weak spots covered that are not easy to just get repaired or replaced anywhere - new batteries, new macerator - and with this - a new battery separator to use when necessary.

Here are my new batteries -

 Here is the list I wrote up for the install to give the shop:


1.            Two 6 volt deep cycle AGM Batteries in my Roadtrek are original from Roadtrek when the Roadtrek was built at the factory in 2011.

2.            The batteries are wired in SERIES -  pos on one battery to neg lug on the other battery connected together and the battery cables from the Roadtrek to the batteries are then connected to a positive on one battery and a negative on the other battery.

3.            The battery compartment is on the outside passenger side in front of the rear passenger tire. The square key opens the lock on the compartment.  In 2011 when AGM batteries started to be used by Roadtrek the sliding battery tray was discontinued. The tray is fixed.

4.            The Roadtrek has a TRIPPLITE 750 INVERTER/CONVERTER/CHARGER. I have been told that the Tripplite must be turned OFF while batteries are being installed.  The Tripplite is located inside the Roadtrek right behind the passenger side cargo door on the floor- it can be seen as soon as you open the cargo door – I have removed the door that sits in front of it.

5.            The TRIPPLITE ON/OFF switch is a slide switch on the upper right front – OFF is the MIDDLE position.  Left is Auto/Remote the default position and right is Charge Only.  Now it is set to Auto/Remote – if you want me to put it off I will OR you can put it off.  After batteries are installed return the position to Auto/Remote.

6.            Dip switches on the TRIPPLITE were set by Roadtrek for AGM batteries.

7.            The Battery Disconnect switch is inside the Roadtrek – at the entry door just past the passenger front door – it is on the wall below the ceiling on the right side of the monitor panel. It is OFF at this time.  Just push and let go to turn it on.  The test switch on the other side of the monitor panel will show a column of LEDs for battery charge. Turn the battery on if needed.

8.            There is a 12 volt DC socket to the left of the monitor panel to plug in a 12 volt voltage plug in meter. Battery Switch must be on to use this.