Motorhome upgrades understanding electrics

Motorhome Upgrades – Understanding Electrics

We often see questions on Motorhome Forums about van upgrades, especially to do with batteries and getting more power during the winter months. So we thought we’d share what we’ve learnt and the upgrades we’ve applied to our van.

We collected our first motorhome, a Chausson Titanium 640, in March 2019. Following a fun summer of touring in ‘Lexi van’, we came home with a number of upgrade requirements to organise during the winter months. In today’s post Motorhome Upgrades Understanding Electrics, Dave explains your vans electrics and why you may want to consider upgrading your batteries.


First up Electrics:

Over to you DT – ML

Although not necessary, we wanted to be able to live “off grid” and not be totally reliant on an Electric Hook Up (EHU) everywhere we stayed. Whilst travelling around the UK we have often found campsites with spaces but no EHU available. For some campers this is not possible but for a Motorhome with the right set up this is totally doable.

Just because we’re touring and camping it doesn’t mean we want to give up all our creature comforts of home; nice coffee, toast and marmalade for breakfast, and for Miche the occasional use of the hair dryer & straighteners. 

Now let’s be clear, anything that needs heat takes a lot of power from your battery, so you need to choose your kit and appliances carefully.  I’ll tell you what we did.

BATTERY

Our van came with a single 100Ah lead acid leisure battery. Now with lead acid or AGM leisure batteries you can only drain them 50% otherwise their life deteriorates fast.  I calculated that we needed close to 100Ah (2 x 50Ah) of useable power so that meant a second battery.  Now the other issue here is that these batteries are HEAVY.  Two batteries weigh 60Kg which is massive, about the same as Miche. (Hey! ML)

The weight within a van is significant as most manufacturers give you very little payload.  Our van actually has a “generous” 500kg – but once you start adding things such as;

  • awning
  • solar panel
  • two adults (don’t forget 2 dogs – ML)
  • clothes
  • toiletries
  • 100l water
  • food (and wine- ML🙂)
  • outdoor table & chairs
  • 2 bikes
  • assortment of hoses, cables and tools etc.

That’s the payload all gone. At our first weigh-in at our local weight-bridge we were 20kg over the legal limit of 3500kg. Eek! So weight is very important (and so is wine – ML).

After lots of research into the technicalities, I decided to go for a Lithium battery set up.  A 100Ah Lithium battery weighs just 13.8Kg and you can drain it to 5%, so that meant we could have one battery that met our needs for less than a 1/4 of the weight.  

Where’s the catch? Cost! The one battery costs about £1200!  So not cheap but the key benefits of lithium are; 

  • they are comfortable with a high power drain – which they get when the toaster or Nespresso is heating up (or Miche’s straighteners 🙂 ML)
  • rapid recharge – like your phone, you want it to charge up fast and it’s possible to throw big amps at it (via the alternator – see B2B)
  • a much longer life (measured in charge cycles) 
  • they hold their charge when not used – important when the van is stored away from any power, so no trickle charge possible.
  • When installed it can be orientated in any direction – laying flat under a seat for example

Search any forum and you’ll see that Lithium polarises opinion, largely because they cost so much, and people are happy with what they have.  But think about it, your watch, electric toothbrush, phone, drill, my lawn mower and electric cars all use Lithium batteries for all the above reasons.

Remember rechargeable AA batteries – they were always crap and never lasted long before a recharge.

It is a big investment and it’s down to you what you prioritise.  I’ve seen comments like “I’d rather spend the money on a levelling system”.  Well they‘re £5k, weigh 50-70kg and replace your £30 plastic ramps.  But hey each to their own.  I’d LOVE those levellers too but just can’t justify that kind of spend, yet…

Note: You can’t just swap your Lead Acid battery with a Lithium one.  You will need to ensure that the charging voltages of the alternator, the mains charger and a solar panel – if fitted – are appropriate for the battery (Must have a Lithium/LiFePO4 setting). If they’re not, the battery can be quickly damaged.  If the vehicle is fitted with a “smart alternator”, many modern vehicles are these days to reduce emissions, it will be necessary to fit a suitable battery to battery (B2B) charger as well. The bonus is it will charge your battery faster.

I’m a pretty competent DIYer and ok with domestic electrics.  In my opinion the electrics here are best left to the professionals.  It’s an expensive set-up that will get even more expensive or tragic if you damage your battery or have a fire.  Fires in Motorhomes escalate very quickly.  It really doesn’t cost that much for the labour.  

Roadpro in Daventry completed our installation and were excellent.  This was also our first wild camp experience, a couple of weeks into owning our van. We parked up on the industrial estate right outside the RoadPro garage for the night (with their permission of course-ML). The thing about wild camping is once you shut the blinds you could be anywhere.  

Our Battery; NDS 100Ah Lithium is mounted horizontally under the passenger seat.  It’s connected to a Stirling 60A B2B Charger and an NDS 1500W inverter.  More details in our next post, all about batteries.

Image of an NDS 100ah Lithium battery. Motorhome upgrades - Electrics.

Related: Further Resources

Roadpro – Lithium battery guide – more details here on lithium

Stirling Power – useful video explaining Lead Acid vs Lithium – the science


In the next Motorhome Upgrade article we’ll cover:

  • Charging your battery
    • solar
    • Battery to Battery (B2B) Charger
  • Inverter

Finally, we hope this article, Motorhome Upgrades Understanding Electrics has been useful to help you decide whether to upgrade your motorhome electrics. NOTE: We are NOT experts, we are motorhome owners like you. We highly recommend talking to a specialist such as RoadPro (not affiliated with us), to identify the right set up for you.

Understanding our motorhome electrics and changing our motorhome batteries has given us more freedom when camping. It has allowed us to stopover in pub car parks, wildcamp on cliff tops, forests, lochs, next to the beach and more, without the need of a hook up. Definitely our most memorable and favourite camping nights have been “off grid”.


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