Battery Woes

The Journey has Battery Woes

What have we been doing?  How about learning about BATTERIES?  A couple of weeks after our last outing in the Journey we got it out of storage to work on a few things and run the generator etc.  After starting up the engine the Lightbar Control Unit in the dash (LBCU) reported “Auto Idle” Sys Voltage 12.5V Threshold 13.4 V.

Battery Voltage LBCU

Battery Voltage LBCU

Also, the chassis battery was down to 11V.

After reading the Freightliner operator manual, the Auto Idle message was a ‘no issue’ message.  It comes up when the transmission is in park or neutral and/or the parking brake is set.  Step on the brakes and the message goes away.

The house batteries were another matter though.  I took all 5 batteries out of the battery bay.  Our Journey has 2 12 volt chassis batteries and 3 12 volt deep cycle marine batteries.  All old style wet cell batteries.  I cleaned off the batteries and tested them with a hydrometer. Here’s a good resource for battery information at batterystuff.com.
 The hydrometer is a nifty tool that measures the specific gravity of the battery acid.  In a nutshell, it allows you to test each cell of the battery and the meter measures the value.  You need to compare the values of the different cells, and if they are too far apart then more than likely the battery is bad.  Also if any cell tests in the red, the battery is probably bad.  I ended up having several cells show red on the 3 house batteries.  However upon further reading, it’s important to test the batteries when fully charged to get a correct reading from the hydrometer.  By the time I finished cleaning the batteries, putting a few drops of distilled water in a couple of the cells and recording the hydrometer readings it was time to put everything back.  Charging these batteries can take up to 12 hours, and if they are too depleted I may need to use my car battery to boost the charge at the beginning.  I crossed my fingers, my arms and everything else hoping that a charge would refresh my old batteries.

Because of other commitments (such as renewing our wedding vows in Hawaii – evidently I was a required participant), it was a few weeks before I was able to take the Journey out again.  Now the house batteries were down to 7.4 volts according to the Onan Generator, and the Generator didn’t like that at all.  Since 11.4V indicates a battery at 10%, we were DEAD!  The battery gauge in the Journey did showed 11.17V so maybe there is hope.

Time to get charged!


Using the Schumacher SE-5212A 2/10/50 Amp Automatic Handheld Battery Charger I attempted to charge the batteries – just to make sure. They are deep cycle and only 3 years old. But, after 11 hours the charger reported ‘BAD BATT’.  I read this is common for motorhomes that are allowed to discharge too far too many times.  This is common when rigs are in RV lots waiting to be sold.  The Winnebago manual recommends a monthly charge when in storage.  This is done by plugging the motorhome into shore power or using a charger directly on the batteries.  Make sure you read the instructions that come with your vehicle!  You don’t want to fry your electronics.

The 2 Chassis batteries were a little low, so I topped them off (charged them with a small Schumacher charger) and re-tested them for specific gravity.  One battery tested all cells in the 1265 range, and the other battery was 1250 for all cells.  The good news was that there was hardly any difference in the individual cells for each battery.  The bad news is that 1250 is at the bottom of green, and 1265 is the next notch up.

Off to Costco to get some low-cost marine deep cycle batteries (42 month no pro-rate warranty according to the friendly salesperson – even though the label has 12 months written on it).  We are planning on upgrading to Lithium-Ion batteries in a year or so, so upgrading to gel or other sealed battery solution is not practical in our situation.  However that would be a better than standard wet batteries.  See Technomadia’s experiences being on the bleeding edge for lithium technology.

Next a stop at NAPA auto parts to have them test the chassis battery just to make sure we are okay.  It really is a hassle to take the batteries out and put them back in, and I don’t want to go through this again in a few months to swap out the chassis batteries.  Sure enough, the 1250 battery failed the test (not surprising).  Fortunately they had good Chassis batteries on sale, so 5 new batteries for the Journey!

Now that I’ve taken the batteries in and out of the battery box on the Journey a few times it’s not so daunting.  A bit of a tight space and many cables and wires.

Battery Diagram

Battery Diagram

It’s a MUST to draw a diagram of all the wires and cables, then tape labels on each cable.  I used A, B, C etc for the chassis batteries and 1, 2, 3 on the coach batteries.

We had the Journey left outside when we took it back to storage and came back the next weekend to test everything out since it was time to put it through its paces.  All batteries were good!

A great resource on changing batteries can be seen and read at thervgeeks.com website.  I won’t try to duplicate their great video and posting.

We are ready to CAMP!

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