What kind of battery do you need for your RV?
Recreational vehicles, or RVs, are a home base when you’re traveling; a home away from home. Along with being able to hop behind the wheel and head to any vacation spot you want on the continent, you’re carrying along the conveniences and comforts you’d find in a house. They might be compact in size, but everything about an RV requires off-grid power to operate, from starting the engine to warming a meal in the microwave or pumping water from the tank to the tap.
RVs typically have at least two batteries. One is your typical starting battery like a passenger car would have, and there’s another for operating the 12-volt accessories and power inverter for the living quarters. Like all car batteries, they’re going to fail after a few years and need to be changed. But when you need an RV battery, which one is right for the job? When prices range from around $80 to more than $500, it’s important to get the selection correct.
Here's a breakdown of the different battery types, their applications, and how to choose the right one for your needs.
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Types of RV batteries
Generally, there are two different types of batteries to think about with RVs: starting batteries and deep cycle batteries.
Starting batteries are exactly what they sound like: they’re for firing up the engine so you can drive between home and your camping destinations. It’s a 12-volt battery that’s meant to be maintained either full or nearly full so the high amperage draw from the starter can be fed reliably. In a majority of cases, it’s a lead-acid battery that’s used for starting batteries.
Deep cycle batteries, on the other hand, are specifically designed to be repeatedly discharged and recharged. They are the perfect choice for RVers because they can withstand a greater number of deep discharge-recharge cycles than other types of batteries and typically have a longer lifespan. It powers non-automotive appliances like the refrigerator, lights, and coffee maker among a long list of other things. Two chemistries are prevalent among RV batteries, your commonplace lead-acid battery in a variety of configurations and lithium-ion batteries.
How do RV battery types compare?
Whether you’re boondocking or plugging into a full-service campsite makes a difference for the type of battery you need. Lead-acid batteries have been around for decades and are the most commonly used type of battery in RVs. They are relatively inexpensive and widely available, but they do have some downsides:
- They are heavy, often two to three times as heavy for the same capacity and application.
- They have a shorter lifespan than lithium-ion batteries. Roughly every three to five years, a lead-acid battery will need to be replaced.
- They may require more maintenance including charge top-ups and, in some situations, electrolyte top-ups.
Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, are a newer technology that has become increasingly popular in RVs in recent years, and for good reason. Benefits can include:
- They are much lighter than lead-acid batteries.
- They have a longer lifespan, often between six and eight years.
- They also require less maintenance and can be charged more quickly.
- They can handle deeper discharges without affecting their longevity.
However, lithium-ion batteries are significantly more expensive than lead-acid batteries.
How to choose the right RV battery
For a starting RV battery, the best choice is to select the same BCI group size as the factory-equipped battery. You can find it on the old battery’s label or in your RV’s owner’s manual. You can also filter your AutoZone search with your year, make, model, and engine size for options that fit well. Always select a battery with the same cold cranking amps as the original battery or higher.
Among options for starting batteries, you might find flooded lead-acid, EFB (enhanced flooded battery), or AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries. EFB and AGM batteries are designed to provide better power storage and delivery for vehicles with high energy needs and electronics as well as better heat resistance.
For powering your RV’s amenities, you’ll be looking at either a deep cycle lead-acid or lithium-ion battery. That’s especially true if you’re boondocking, and because there’s a high likelihood your RV will sit unused for long stretches of time. With the advancements in technology, lithium-ion batteries are becoming more and more popular among RVers because they offer greater power density, longer lifespan, and less maintenance than lead-acid batteries, but they are more expensive upfront.
Which one is best for you? Here are a few tips for choosing an RV battery:
- Calculate your power requirements in amp-hours (aH). Each device you’ll be powering will have a rating on it, so you can figure out how much energy you need in a day. Then, expand that to the longest stretch you’ll be without a way to recharge it.
- Don’t be underpowered. The last thing you want is for an electric heater to cut out on a chilly night because your battery runs out of energy.
- Consider how often you go RVing. If you’re taking one or two short trips a year, lead-acid deep-cycle batteries will probably do the trick quite well. If you’re an avid outdoorsperson or snowbird, get the best, highest-capacity batteries you can afford.
From starting batteries and deep cycle batteries to lithium-ion options, AutoZone has the RV batteries you need. Shop today to power your next adventure with batteries from top brands like Duralast.
FAQ/People Also Ask
A car battery can be installed in your RV either as a starting battery or ‘house’ battery, but its capacity may not be sufficient to last very long or perform well. Match the battery to the application for the best results.
When you aren’t using your RV for long stretches, remove the batteries and place them on a trickle charger to keep them topped up.
If your RV battery is failing, you might notice the lights flicker or the AC unit brown out when it’s in use. You may also detect a rotten egg odor from the battery.
A portable generator or solar panel can be used to charge an RV battery, yes. However, it will take several hours if the battery is low on charge.