Choosing the right leisure battery for your caravan or motorhome is easy. This guide explains the different types of battery, how to charge them, and which category you should choose based on your usage requirements.
TYPES OF LEISURE BATTERY
What is a leisure battery? There are four types of battery commonly used as leisure batteries in caravans, boats, and motor homes. In the UK open lead-acid batteries and sealed lead-acid batteries are the most popular among people who would be considered occasional users.
AGM batteries are sometimes used by those that are camping or caravaning off-grid as they offer a greater performance. And gel batteries are more commonly found on the continent, especially in Germany. Gel batteries offer the greatest performance but are considerably more expensive than a lead-acid battery. See below for an overview of the leisure battery types.
OPEN LEAD ACID BATTERY
As the name implies this type of battery consists of open cells. They have a removable cap and are topped up with electrolyte solution as required. They are popular in the UK and are a cost-effective option for people who require a leisure battery for occasional use only. In terms of performance, they can be safely discharged by a level of 50%. They are best suited for use on campsites where they can be hooked-up and recharged at will.
SEALED LEAD ACID BATTERY
These are similar in construction to the above, except for the fact that the unit is closed and sealed. They do not require the periodic addition of electrolyte solution and are therefore maintenance-free. This makes them a very popular option. They can be safely discharged by a level of 50% without damaging the battery. They are best suited for use on campsites where they can be hooked-up and recharged at will. They are the best type of leisure battery if you're not on a tight budget and want a maintenance free cell.
Again, these batteries are similar in construction to the two previous types but the internal plates are constructed using a fibreglass frame. This frame absorbs the electrolyte and makes them spill-proof. They are also maintenance-free and do not require an electrolyte solution top-up. They can be safely discharged to a level just beyond 50%. These are the best leisure battery option for those that want a maintenance free option.
In a gel battery, the electrolyte is in the form of a gel instead of a liquid. This means it cannot leak and they are completely spill-proof. They can be tipped over without worrying about electrolyte seeping out. They are not commonly used in the UK but are a great choice for people planning on camping 'off-grid' as they offer a greater performance. They can be safely discharged by a level of up to 80% without damaging the battery. They are a more expensive option. A 100ah gel battery will set you back about £300, while the equivalent capacity open lead-acid will be about £100. Gel batteries are best leisure battery for off-grid adventures.
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How to Charge a Leisure Battery
The battery charge level should be checked regularly and recharged when it falls to a level of 50%. If the charge in a sealed lead acid battery isn't kept topped up it can be damaged by a process called sulphation. A multimeter can be used to check the charge level of a battery at any time. The table below can be used as a guide to determine your battery charge based on the reading from the multimeter.
- 12.7V = 100% Charge
- 12.5V = 75% Charge
- 12.4V = 50% Charge
- 12.2V = 25% Charge
The battery can be charged on the mains system when it is hooked up in a caravan park. Once the battery is hooked up it can begin charging. The hook up system can simultaneously run the 12v requirements of the caravan or motorhome. Once the battery is charged, it can take over the operation of the 12v appliances. As mentioned above, be careful to keep the charge level of the battery topped up. Leaving a battery in a discharged state can cause irreversible problems. Therefore, a better way to keep your battery charge topped up in to use a split charge system, see below...
Split charging is a great battery charging method for making sure your battery is always topped up and ready to go. It helps prevent the risk of it running flat when you most need it. A split charge system connects the leisure battery to the starter battery in your vehicle and safely charges it every time the engine is running. It takes the hassle out of manually monitoring your leisure battery and making sure it does not run low. For more information, see our guide on split charging. It is an easy installation and ensures you'll always have power in your leisure battery when you need it. This is a key difference between leisure battery and car battery set-ups.
CHOOSING A LEISURE BATTERY
When choosing a battery it is best to go for one that has been approved by the National Caravan Council. An NCC verified battery has been tested and certified to show it is fit for purpose and performs as advertised. To help you choose a battery that best suits your needs, the NCC have also categorised all leisure batteries into three groups. By weighing up how much you think you will use your battery you can get a good idea of which one of these categories you fall into.
CATEGORY A BATTERIES
These batteries are for people that regularly use them in places where there is no electrical hook-up system. These batteries are designed to provide all the power needed to support a caravan or motorhome off-grid. This is the highest grade of battery on the market and delivers the best performance.
CATEGORY B BATTERIES
These batteries are for people who will mostly use sites where there is a hook-up system but may need their battery to run a high demand appliance such as a motor mover. These batteries are designed for medium usage amongst the three categories.
CATEGORY C BATTERIES
These batteries are designed for people who will spend most of their time in a campsite facility and spend most of their time hooked-up to the 240v system. These batteries are designed for occasional use and are of low capacity. They can run basic home appliances when not connected to the hook-up system for short periods. They are the lowest grade of the three categories. This is the option for you, if you are looking for the best leisure battery 2020.
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