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Brown-out tonight and Electrical Problems


Solo18

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I apparently still do not completely understand my electrical systems in this motorhome. (2012 Fleetwood Tioga Ranger 31N that I purchased new almost four years ago.) Here is what happened tonight:

 

  1. I have been parked in Napa here at a full hookup campground. Have not started vehicle in 9 days when I went out to get a propane refill. Been plugged in and using electric heater as well as furnaces because temps at night have been dropping to low 30s, even if it is “sunny California.”
  2. Was gone about 5 hours, from 4:00 pm until 9:30 pm. It is very cold here, but I knew I was running low on propane so I unplugged electric heater and turned off furnaces. Hence, it was 52 degrees inside when I got home.
  3. My son, who drove me home, plugged in my electric heater and turned it on high, while I turned on furnaces to warm it up while he helped me fish out a lid that had fallen behind my stove.
  4. I noticed lights were not as bright as they should be and that refrig had check light on. That made me check battery indicators on control panel. I have two lights for batteries. The one showed a full charge, but the second showed only one light out of five, meaning very low. The light on my microwave was on, however, showing I had 120 volt power, but just in case, I went outside and checked plug, which was fine.
  5. So, I tried to start generator, and it would not start.
  6. Went to cab and started vehicle. Started fine. After it ran for a few minutes, I noticed second battery indicator was now showing four out of five lights, meaning almost a full charge. Also lights now became bright. Started generator easily and ran it about 20 minutes, but turned vehicle engine off.
  7. Past generator hours, so I then turned generator off. Lights stayed bright.

Over the past several weeks, I have noticed my lights occasionally dimming briefly. Strangely, they get brighter when a blower motor turns on. TV has been working fine, as has refrigerator on 120 volt.

 

I also had a clicking noise that I posted about in the battery compartment a couple of months ago. I had the vehicle into Fleetwood in late October, and they checked coach batteries and said they were fine. Of course, the clicking noise was not evident that day, so I told them about it, but they did not check that. Here is a link to that posting and discussion: http://www.rvnetwork.com/index.php?showtopic=120322 I have not noticed any clicking in the past few days.

 

My vehicle battery is a year-and-a-half old, and I have never had problems with it.

 

Anyway, I have power and furnaces providing heat tonight. Refrigerator has not shown check light since I got home and did above. There is no decent dealer anywhere nearby, and we are headed to Disneyland on Sunday for a big family trip--taking my motorhome and son's trailer. I am hoping I can wait until after that trip. Going out for a drive tomorrow to get propane and maybe charge vehicle battery?? I am lost as to how the two systems are connected.

 

Any ideas what is going on?

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Your house battery is probably bad. Take it out and have it tested. You converter is a very poor battery charger and will cook your house battery. Look into a 3 stage charger/converter. Your refer light is on because of the low voltage from the battery. Your house battery is used to start your generator. Your alternator put enough charge into it to start the gen.

Ron C.

2013 Dynamax Trilogy 3850 D3

2000 Kenworth T2000 Optimus Prime

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I tried plugging in my electric heater again. It caused another brownout and the battery indicator to show only one out of five lights. When I unplugged it, everything came back on bright again.

 

I have two six-volt house batteries. Both were tested at Fleetwood, and they said they were fine, but they could be mistaken.

 

My electric heater is plugged into 120 volt so how does this affect my house batteries? I am confused. Doesn't my converter charge my house batteries? That is what I was once told.

 

My house batteries are four years old, so maybe I should just go in somewhere and buy two new ones.

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I apparently still do not completely understand my electrical systems in this motorhome. (2012 Fleetwood Tioga Ranger 31N that I purchased new almost four years ago.) Here is what happened tonight:

Electricity is not a subject that you can expect to grasp without considerable study, but you can get the basics. Let me first offer just a few very simple concepts. The term volts or voltage is speaking of the electrical version of pressure, or driving force. If you were talking of water in a pipe, the equivalent to voltage is pounds per square inch. Current or amps is a measurement of the amount of electricity moving through a wire of conductor and if we compared that to water it would be equivalent to the measure of gallons per minute. To electricity, a wire of conductor is the same as a hose or pipe is to water.

 

Your RV has 3 electrical systems and each of those have a device that can tie them to one of the others. The power cord to your outside pedestal supplies 120V, alternating current to that system and the generator system can do that also, but only one or the other at the same time. The power to crank the generator's engine comes from the coach batteries. The power from the generator is only 120V-ac and does not supply any 12V-dc from the generator. The device that connects the 120V-ac system to the 12V--dc coach power is the converter and that device converts 120V-ac into 12V-dc to supply the lights and appliances of the RV when shore power is available or when the generator is running. That is the only connection between 120V-ac and any part of your 2, 12V-dc systems.

 

The coach's 12V-dc has 2 possible sources of power normally, the coach batteries and the converter. That system supplies all of the electric appliances and lights of the RV except the microwave, TV, and possibly a CD player or such. It is also the power for the lights of the RV. That is done to allow you to use those devices when you have no outside source of power but can be very limited in amount available.

 

The chassis has it's own 12V-dc system and it is the same one as is found in all automotive systems. It is supplied power by the engine driven alternator and it has a battery to store that power to supply electricity for the chassis engine starter and for temporary use of chassis electrical devices such as the headlights and radio. Probably only has a single battery and that battery is quite different in design and purpose from the batteries of the coach, but works quite similarly. There is a device which connects the chassis 12V system to that of the coach once the chassis engine is running and the alternator supplying more electric power than is needed for it's system, but that device opens again when the engine is turned off to prevent the electrical needs of the coach from draining the chassis battery. This system does not connect in any way to the 120V-ac from shore power/generator.

 

The best place to get a good, general understanding of the 12V-dc circuits of your RV is to read very carefully Mark's "The 12C Side of Live, part 1 and also part 2. That is the very best introductory RV electrical articles that I know of.

 

I noticed lights were not as bright as they should be and that refrig had check light on. That made me check battery indicators on control panel. I have two lights for batteries. The one showed a full charge, but the second showed only one light out of five, meaning very low. The light on my microwave was on, however, showing I had 120 volt power, but just in case, I went outside and checked plug, which was fine

All of this points to the 12V-dc power of the coach system being low, or something less than 12V. The battery indicators on your control panel are not good for much more than know that you either have or don't have 12V coach power. It isn't accurate enough to know much more than that. The light on the microwave is supplied by 120V-ac so that means that your shore power was available. If the generator was not running that power had to be from the shore power plug.

 

So, I tried to start generator, and it would not start.

No surprise here as the generator starter motor gets power from the same place that your furnace, refrigerator controls, lights, and all do and that would be the coach batteries and/or your converter. The converter gets power from 120V shore power.

 

Went to cab and started vehicle. Started fine. After it ran for a few minutes, I noticed second battery indicator was now showing four out of five lights, meaning almost a full charge. Also lights now became bright. Started generator easily and ran it about 20 minutes, but turned vehicle engine off.

This demonstrates that your chassis 12V-dc system is working just as it should. The device separating the two systems worked exactly as it should in that it prevented the discharge of the chassis battery and then closed to allow your alternator to supply 12V to the coach system once it was ready. Those lights on your control panel did exactly what we tell you they do. They give no indication of the coach battery conditions at all, just indicate the voltage level at the control panel, and nothing more. Had you immediately turned off the chassis engine, those lights would have returned to the way they were before you started it. They aren't useless, but very close to that.

 

The generator started because with the chassis engine running and the two 12V systems tied together, the starter motor for the generator could now draw power from the chassis supply and so from both the alternator and the chassis battery. Just exactly the manner in which it is intended to work. Once the generator was running, it would then supply power to the converter, to then supply 12V to the coach system, if we assume that the converter is working properly. That means that there was no more need for the supply from the alternator.

 

Past generator hours, so I then turned generator off. Lights stayed bright.

That tells me that your converter is working as it should. It was now supplying the 12V-dc to your coach system and the battery was no longer needed.

 

I tried plugging in my electric heater again. It caused another brownout and the battery indicator to show only one out of five lights. When I unplugged it, everything came back on bright again.

This is telling me two things, but at this point I am beginning to guess and some good readings from a quality meter would be very helpful. Connecting the electric heater would appear to have caused the 120V power to do what technicians call sag. That means a temporary lowering of the voltage to some point below the normal 120V.

 

My electric heater is plugged into 120 volt so how does this affect my house batteries? I am confused. Doesn't my converter charge my house batteries? That is what I was once told

Since you have an RV that has a 30A power cord, it probably means that you were nearing or exceeding the maximum amount of power available. While I have some suspicions about that source, what happened tells me that your converter is supplying all of your 12V-dc power and probably also attempting to charge batteries that are in poor condition. That would mean that the converter is probably drawing near maximum power from the 120V-ac system and combined with the 13A or so of that electric heater, it is reaching near the 30A limit of your power cord. The "brown out" it caused is indicating that there is a problem of some kind on the 120V side as well, but probably less critical than your 12V side at this time.

 

I have two six-volt house batteries. Both were tested at Fleetwood, and they said they were fine, but they could be mistaken.

I would assume that you mean that an RV shop tested your batteries? That may mean that they were OK at that time or it could mean that the RV shop doesn't have any means of load testing a battery, which is pretty common. Batteries should be tested by a battery shop as they will have the proper equipment and knowledge to do that job, which many RV shops do not have. In addition, it could be that the batteries were fine than but have since failed. How often do you check your batteries for proper electrolyte levels? Operating as you do it is very possible that your batteries have been in need of distilled water for some time and that will damage a good battery and it will destroy a weak one. Have you opened the batteries to look in each cell to check for electrolyte?

 

My house batteries are four years old, so maybe I should just go in somewhere and buy two new ones.

While 4 years is in the range of normal battery life, particularly for batteries that are not well cared for, getting new batteries will be only a temporary fix if you do not begin to give them proper attention. Batteries need the addition of distilled water under normal use due to the charge & discharge actions cause the water to evaporate. The rate of evaporation will vary depending upon use and several other factors, but ignoring them is not a good thing.

 

It appears to me that your batteries are the current problem, but only part of that problem as there is some sort of problem in the 120V power supply to cause you to experience "brown out" conditions. I'd bet that for some reason you are experiencing voltage sag in your RV and it is probably caused by the power supply from the RV park where you are staying. You need to know what is happening to your shore power supply because if that voltage is not what it should be, it could be contributing to your 12V problem in that low supply to the converter means less power from it and that would mean using power from the batteries even with shore power connected, which under good circumstances should not be happening. In my opinion, there are two problems there and the 120V side is probably not from your RV.

Good travelin !...............Kirk

Full-time 11+ years...... Now seasonal travelers.
Kirk & Pam's Great RV Adventure

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I would suspect Kirk is correct. I don't believe the batteries are your main issue though. Their low state of charge is more likely a by-product of an "over taxed" 120vac load. Not to say that the batteries don't need to be checked, but even with new battery/ies the core problem will likely persist.

 

With an electric heater (probably pulling 15amps all by it's lonesome), the furnace running, and other power system draws (are you running your water heater as well? Are your lights LED? TV/receiver?, etc), you may have excessive loads on both the 120vac and 12vdc systems. Your 30amp service doesn't appear to be able to "feed" your converter enough current to maintain those loads AND charge a heavily depleted battery... would be my guess.

 

You may be having some issues on your 120vac line, but I would do an energy audit first to see exactly how heavy of a load you are putting on before suspecting an electrical problem (including CG power supply). It might also be that your converter is having issues, but again.. I would suspect over loading before looking into hardware failure.

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You may be having some issues on your 120vac line, but I would do an energy audit first to see exactly how heavy of a load you are putting on before suspecting an electrical problem (including CG power supply). It might also be that your converter is having issues, but again.. I would suspect over loading before looking into hardware failure.

One of the things that I'm looking at is the question of a brown out. That says to me that 120V sag is happening and not overloading of the power as an overload condition should cause the 30A circuit breaker on the RV to trip and if not there is likely one on the pedestal also. The fact that voltage is falling before either of those breakers trip points to the campground electrical system as the cause. In addition, a converter's maximum output is impacted by a low voltage in the supply side and if the park is only supplying 100V or so, which the brown out condition seems to indicate, then the converter output may be too low and the battery is being discharged even while power is available.

 

It just crossed my mind that it might be wise to check the temperature of the power cord from the RV and the outlet that it is plugged into while that heater is running. If the outlet is bad it could be the cause of the loss of voltage on the 120V line and if bad enough impact the output from the converter. Yet the fact that no 120V circuit breaker has tripped indicates that at no time has she drawn more than the 30A which the outlet and cord should be capable of supplying. I suspect that the root of this problem is poor 120V power from the RV park. If the outlet has bad connections that could add resistance that is dropping the voltage to the RV and if that is true it would probably make the outlet get hot. It would also be a good idea to pull the power plug of the RV and look to see what condition it is in, and also see if the blades show signs of arcing or overheating.

Good travelin !...............Kirk

Full-time 11+ years...... Now seasonal travelers.
Kirk & Pam's Great RV Adventure

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I also think Kirk is on track BUT this reminds of an issue I had years ago....

Camped in a FHU site in New Mexico in February and on the cold side. We had been out touring and returned to the fifth wheel after dark. Turned on several lights and the furnace. After a few minutes the lights began to dim. I got out my meter and found the 12 volts had dropped to around 9 volts. Turned off most of the light and it came back up to something over 12 (been too long to remember what it actually was now).

 

turned out I had a bad converter. It was a 45 amp Intellipower converter. It would work great until it hit about 25 amps of output and then it essentially acted as a short circuit (crowbar) to the batteries. I had been replacing batteries nearly every year prior to that and have often wondered if the converter may have been part of the problem all along. So don't eliminate the converter as a possible problem.

 

Lenp

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I have two six-volt house batteries. Both were tested at Fleetwood, and they said they were fine, but they could be mistaken.

 

First I must say I am new to RVing and maybe a little old fashioned.

That said, why run 2 6 volt batteries for a 12 volt system when 2 12 volt batteries will give you more life ?

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First I must say I am new to RVing and maybe a little old fashioned.

That said, why run 2 6 volt batteries for a 12 volt system when 2 12 volt batteries will give you more life ?

Two 12 volt batteries will not necessarily give you more life than two 6 volt batteries, especially if those two 12 volt batteries are marine/RV hybrid batteries. Two quality true deep cycle 6 volt batteries run in series to produce 12 volts will almost always have more available power than two 12 volt marine/RV hybrid batteries. There are a lot of factors involved in battery capacity that leads to a whole other discussion off topic from the OP's issues.

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Two 12 volt batteries will not necessarily give you more life than two 6 volt batteries, especially if those two 12 volt batteries are marine/RV hybrid batteries. Two quality true deep cycle 6 volt batteries run in series to produce 12 volts will almost always have more available power than two 12 volt marine/RV hybrid batteries. There are a lot of factors involved in battery capacity that leads to a whole other discussion off topic from the OP's issues.

Not necessarily true, 2 6V batteries have the same total amperage as only 1, battery amperage does not multiply. A 12V multiple battery bank multiplys amperage by the number of batteries.

 

2000 Winnebago Ultimate Freedom USQ40JD, ISC 8.3 Cummins 350, Spartan MM Chassis. USA IN 1SG retired;Good Sam Life member,FMCA ." And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.  John F. Kennedy 20 Jan 1961

 

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That said, why run 2 6 volt batteries for a 12 volt system when 2 12 volt batteries will give you more life ?

That is not true. Neither answer above is completely right, but if we assume that the 6V & the 12V batteries you speak of have the exact same design specs, the two 6V batteries in series will have exactly the same capacity as the two 12V batteries in parallel. There are design reasons why many of us prefer the series 6V batteries, but that is a different discussion that can get deep into battery design theory and would be a distraction to the subject of this thread. May I suggest that you start a new thread on the subject of batteries to debate this. It comes up periodically and can get very long and technical.

Good travelin !...............Kirk

Full-time 11+ years...... Now seasonal travelers.
Kirk & Pam's Great RV Adventure

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One of the things that I'm looking at is the question of a brown out. That says to me that 120V sag is happening and not overloading of the power as an overload condition should cause the 30A circuit breaker on the RV to trip

 

You're right. I shouldn't have said "over-loading" but "over-taxed". It's likely that the pedestal is not providing adequate current, but it's also possible that the 30amp service is being utilized to the point just under tripping the breakers, but effectively "starving" the converter to the point that it is not able to keep up with the amount of draw from the 12v loads. That also would result in a low SOC and 'could' produce a 'brown out' affect as the 120vdc loads fluctuate. Ie., the fridge/water heater turning on/off etc in conjunction with a low SOC.

 

So it "could" be the pedestal, the converter, bad battery/ies, poor connections, etc. The pedestal is the easiest to diagnose, but I leaned a bit more toward 'over-taxing' the incoming current and starving the converter just considering they are running their furnace, electric heater, fridge, water heater (?), lights, TV, possibly tank heaters on at that temp, antenna booster/sat receiver (?), etc. That's a'lotta load for 30amp.

 

I dunno.. ;) Just exploring possibilities.

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That is not true. Neither answer above is completely right, but if we assume that the 6V & the 12V batteries you speak of have the exact same design specs, the two 6V batteries in series will have exactly the same capacity as the two 12V batteries in parallel.

 

that is a different discussion

 

X2. Not to mention physical construction differences between 6v and 12v cells. :blink:

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Just an update: I bought two new batteries this morning, had them installed and all is working fine now.

 

I have stayed at this campground many times, and have never had problems with power, but several of you are right that I should get a monitor to check the post at campgrounds.

 

And the two 6-volt deep cycle batteries are what the manufacturer put in my motorhome when it was new four years ago, and is what they recommend, so that is what I replaced it with.

 

Thanks for everyone's advice and opinion.

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