Whether you’re thinking about buying a campervan or motorhome or have already taken the plunge and made a purchase, it’s important to know how to maintain your vehicle’s leisure battery to ensure your time on the road is as relaxing and trouble free as possible. In this article we’ll explain what a leisure battery is and look at the options available, as well as how to charge and maintain them so that you get the most out of your campervan or motorhome by avoiding a preventable breakdown callout.
- What is a leisure battery?
- Types of leisure batteries
- Why use a leisure battery?
- How to charge your leisure battery
- Motorhome and campervan leisure battery maintenance
- What affects a battery’s performance
- Getting the most from your leisure battery
Most motorhomes will have two batteries; the standard battery which runs the engine, and a leisure battery which runs the living appliances.
The leisure battery provides a steady flow of power over a prolonged period. So, if you want to keep the lights on, cook on the hob or watch a movie, keeping your leisure battery in good working order is essential.
Not all leisure batteries are the same and while most vehicles have traditional lead-acid batteries, it’s useful to know about the alternatives:
- Gel batteries are generally found in vehicles that are more prone to collisions such as jet skis or quad bikes, but you may also come across them in some imported campervan and motorhome models. They remove the risk of injury from a corrosive battery acid leak in the event of an accident.
- Maintenance-free batteries differ from conventional batteries as they have sealed units instead of having removable caps. This does mean that the acid levels can’t be checked and topped up with deionised water if necessary.
- Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries tend to last longer than a traditional lead-acid battery and can be charged more times. Because of this they are more expensive, but the extra cost might be worth the improved durability and functionality.
- Lithium batteries can be found in a wide range of appliances. They’re also used in some campervans as they can provide as much energy as a lead-acid battery, for around half the size and weight. They also have a longer life span and can be charged more quickly but do come with a higher price tag.
While in theory you could use a car battery to power the habitation appliances in your campervan or motorhome, it isn’t generally recommended due to the difference in requirements on the two battery types. A standard car battery is designed to deliver power in short bursts and operate as close to full capacity as possible, so using it continuously will result in a permanent reduction in battery life. In contrast, a leisure battery will power the majority of the 12V appliances you have onboard and protect them from any power irregularities that might occur from other battery sources.
How to choose the right leisure battery charger?
Most motorhomes offer two ways of charging the leisure battery. Via the on-board mains charges when on hook-up, or when on the road, via the engine-driven alternator. For smaller campervans such systems might not be installed, in which case you may need to purchase a standalone charger to plug into the mains. There are plenty on the market, but you’ll need to make sure you use a charger that has an output of at least 10% of the battery’s capacity, otherwise it won’t be able to deliver an effective charge. So, for a 100Ah battery the charger needs an output of at least 10 amps.
Can solar panels be used to charge batteries?
Yes, solar panels are a great way of keeping batteries topped up. They come all different sizes and fit the roofs of most campervan or motorhome. As with most things electrical, we suggest you speak professional to help with installations.
How do you check the battery’s charge level?
You can check your battery’s charge level using a voltmeter. This is normally a function found on a multimeter; through the information provided by your battery charger/tender; or perhaps your campervan or motorhome is fitted with a permanent voltmeter in a display panel. Once you have your reading you can look it up on a state of charge table to determine the current level of charge (e.g. for a 12v battery, 100% charge would typically be 12.7v+ and anything below 12.4v, or 50%, would be considered low on charge).
When is the best time to charge your leisure battery?
There are two things to consider here.
Firstly, deciding at what point to charge the battery is key. As a rule of thumb, you should let your lead-acid battery reach 50% of its maximum level of discharge before you recharge it, which you can measure with a voltmeter.
Secondly, you need to think about the most convenient time to recharge. It normally makes sense to charge the battery overnight as this will minimise disruption to your activities, although you should always ensure there is good ventilation in your vehicle while charging to ensure there is no build-up of gasses.
How long do you need to charge leisure batteries for?
This depends on the level of discharge and the type of battery you have. As leisure batteries are designed to deliver low currency over a long period of time they should be charged relatively slowly.
If your motorhome has been off the road for a while there is a risk that your battery will become flat, and you’ll require a breakdown call out. To prevent this, you can use a trickle charger to top the battery charge up and keep it at the optimal level. Regularly starting the engine throughout the period of inactivity can also help to avoid a flat battery. However, be careful not to overcharge the battery as this can leave it prone to freezing.
There are a few things to be aware of to keep your leisure battery in the best condition possible and enjoy hassle free camping / motor homing.
How long do leisure batteries last?
You can expect the performance of your leisure battery to decrease over time; on average you are likely to get about five years use out of it, although some will last longer. If the battery isn’t able to reach 10.5 volts when it is being charged, or it is supposedly fully charged but the voltage is 12.4 or less, it is likely that the battery has reached the end of its lifespan.
Proper maintenance and care will help ensure that your leisure battery has the longest life possible:
- Make sure you use good quality clamps.
- If you use spring loaded clamps, make sure the contact surfaces are free of rust.
- Apply a small amount of grease or petroleum jelly to the terminals after fitting the clamps rather than before to help prevent corrosion.
- Check that the electrolyte level covers the lead plates on the battery regularly and top it up with deionised water as necessary.
- Make sure the gas relief tube remains fitted correctly and securely.
- Don’t allow your battery to run completely flat as this can greatly reduce its lifespan.
- A trickle charger is a good idea in this situation and will keep your battery topped up when your vehicle isn’t in use for longer periods.
- If you leave your battery uncharged a white deposit, caused by sulphation, will form on the plates, rendering it unusable.
Safe handling of lead-acid battery
Lead-acid batteries are flammable and contain corrosive acid, so their safe handling is vital. As such you should always ensure that your battery is properly mounted with the gas escape vent correctly fitted. You should always use the best quality clamps available to connect your battery as this will prevent sparks from occurring and causing fires. Finally, always make sure you wear safety clothing and eye protection when inspecting your battery.
What size battery do I need for my campervan or motorhome?
The answer to this question will depend on how you plan to use your vehicle. Think about how often you might visit sites without electric hook-ups or how often you might want to go off-grid. Also make sure you consider the range of appliances and devices that you use in your campervan or motorhome. As well as the capacity of your battery you’ll want to make sure that you have enough physical space to store any replacement batteries that you buy.
Can a car battery be used in a campervan or motorhome?
While it’s possible to use a car battery in a campervan or motorhome, it should only be viewed as a short-term solution. Car batteries are not designed to release power over an extended period of time, whereas leisure batteries are.
What to do if your battery has an odd smell?
You may find that when you recharge your battery it gives off a strange smell due to a release of sulphur dioxide. This generally indicates that your battery is being overcharged. If your battery is also hot to touch, it’s in danger of being damaged. As gas is being emitted there is a danger of fire or, in the worst-case scenario, an explosion, so it’s best to stop using it and have it checked over by a professional.
Also, make sure you don’t disconnect your battery from charging while it’s connected to the mains as this could cause a spark and trigger a fire.
Do leisure batteries need to be left secure?
Leisure batteries contain harmful acid which can lead to fires, or explosions in the worst instances, so you should make sure that your battery is kept safe and secure when it is not in use. You’ll also want to maintain the batteries charge while it is out of use for an extended period, so you may want to consider purchasing a purpose-built maintenance charger.
Is battery failure covered under insurance?
Battery failure is not normally covered under an insurance policy but may be covered under RAC breakdown cover.
How do I dispose if a leisure battery?
It is important to dispose of batteries in an environmentally friendly way. Most local recycling centres should be able to take these for you.
- Temperature – your battery’s performance will dip in colder climates. The amp hours rating for your battery will be based on a temperature of 25C, so be prepared for a 1% drop in performance for each degree below this.
- Age – the average battery will last around five years, although with proper maintenance they can last longer.
- Consumption – if your battery is powering a high number of appliances, it will need to be recharged more often, leading to a faster rate of degradation.
- Size – if you’re running multiple, high drain appliances you’ll need a leisure battery big enough to power them.
- Discharge rate – a standard manufacturers Ah rating generally assumes a discharge time of around 20 hours.
There are several actions you can take to make sure you get the most out of your leisure battery.
- Consider purchasing a three-stage intelligent battery charger.
- Be aware of self-discharge. Over time, batteries lose their charge even when not in use. Modern batteries lose 0.1 to 0.2% of their charge per day at room temperature even when new. As your battery ages or the temperature increases, so does the self-discharge rate.
- Make sure you use a battery verified by the National Caravan Council Verified Leisure Battery Scheme as this will help you select the best battery for your needs.
- Make sure you set a regular maintenance programme for your battery as this will ensure that your battery performs at the highest level possible and lengthens its lifespan. This will save you money in the long run and reduce the risk of battery malfunction when you’re on a trip in your campervan or motorhome.
National Caravan Council Verified Leisure Battery Scheme
The National Caravan Council (NCC) has set up a Verified Leisure Battery Scheme to give you peace of mind when purchasing your leisure battery. If the battery you’re considering features the scheme’s logo, you will be able to confirm what level of use it is suitable for.
There are three categories of lead-based leisure batteries and every battery approved by the scheme will include a reference to the relevant category.
For more top tips on how to reduce campervan and motorhome breakdowns read our useful article.
At Alan Boswell Group we offer comprehensive insurance for your vehicle including public liability insurance which is essential if you plan on hiring out your campervan or motorhome at any point. We also offer RAC Breakdown Cover as an add on to your insurance which includes cover for battery failure.