Can I use a car battery in my travel trailer?

More than ever, travel trailers are becoming more and more popular. They allow you the freedom to explore the world around you with all of the comforts of home. New travel trailer owners often discover that this type of camping comes with a bit of a learning curve, and can often lead to making uneducated decisions. One of those uneducated decisions is choosing to use the car battery as a means to charge your travel trailer.

A car battery may seem like a great substitute for a travel trailer, but they are not designed to provide the power that you are likely using in your travel trailer. In a pinch, you can use it to operate items, but most likely if you use one long term you will permanently damage the car battery.

With the rise of camping, there are a lot of unique and easy methods in which you can provide power to your trailer without ever using your car battery. Let’s talk about why a car battery is a bad idea and what battery will fit your needs as well as your specific travel trailer.  

Can I Use a Car Battery in My Travel Trailer?

If the travel trailer runs on batteries, then chances are you may have had to replace your batteries once or twice. When you go to the battery store an automobile battery’s price may look tempting, but in the scheme of things, you will end up ruining them and spending even more money.

Car batteries are meant for quick starts and constantly being charged by the alternators, therefore they typically do not have a lot of amp hours for longer uses off the charger.

RV batteries pack a lot of amp hours and are meant to provide long-lasting power. Here are our 12v deep cycle recommendations. If you want lithium and never want to buy a battery again, check out the Lion Energy Batteries. Use our coupon code of “savvycampers” for 15% off.

While no laws or rules state that you cannot use a car battery, it is just simply not recommended. They typically don’t have enough power to last for a while, they are unable to be recharged like a deep cycle battery can be, and they can also be expensive to rely on.

To determine how long a battery will last in your RV, take a look at this article.

Why are Car Batteries a Bad Idea?

The main reason why using a car battery to power your travel trailer is a bad idea, is simply that they were not designed to work in the way that is needed. Car batteries are not intended to be drained and then recharged at a rapid rate. You also may find yourself with a dead battery and no way to put your slide out in or operate your electronic tongue jack.

  • Car batteries are made for short time frames and being charged again
  • Car batteries often have quick bursts of energy like you would experience when starting your car; they are not capable of being drained over a long period of time without being charged

Something else to consider when it comes to using your car battery as a source of energy is what you are trying to power. If you simply need a quick charge on your phone, that is one thing. If you are trying to provide enough power to a trailer for a family of four in the middle of the woods, you may run into some issues. 

Do You Even Need a Battery for a Travel Trailer?

At this point, you may be asking yourself if a travel trailer even needs a battery since you may not always actually use the electronics inside. 

The short answer to that is, yes, travel trailers need batteries, even if you don’t use them for the accessories inside. Not only does a battery charge your phone, for example, but it also assists you in pulling your trailer behind your vehicle. 

Batteries in travel trailers keep the following items in working condition:

  • Break lights and systems
  • Taillights and driving lights
  • Electronic wheel breaks 
  • Advanced in-cab diagnostics to check on your travel trailer. 
  • Propane, carbon monoxide, and fire alarms.
  • Appliances, air conditioning, heating

If you are someone who tends to use their travel trailer off the grid, then an RV battery is a basic form of power to keep you fed, warm, and charged up. Even if you typically camp in large campgrounds, a battery is still a great way to convert the power that is available to you while you are visiting. 

What Type of Battery Should You Use in Your Travel Trailer?

When it comes to choosing the best option for your travel trailer, there are quite a few batteries that you should consider. 

Choosing between any of these batteries often includes a few different variables:

  • How often you are using your travel trailer.
  • Where you are using your travel trailer. 
  • The budget you have set aside for the battery.
  • What is available in the area that you live in. 
  • The size of your travel trailer. 

Based on these variables, there are a few different options that you can use as a battery in your travel trailer. Just be sure that one of those options is not a car battery since they are not large enough and do not have as long of a life. 

Here are a few options for batteries for your travel trailer:

  • Flooded-Cell Batteries: Found almost everywhere, a flooded-cell battery is easy to find if you are in a pinch. Due to them needing water, they can be challenging to use and need a proper installation. While they are not ideal, they are used. 
  • Deep Cycle: Batteries: Deep-cycle batteries are the most ideal to use in trailers because they are designed to be used and recharged without doing any damage to the battery. One of the most significant downsides is that they are more expensive. 
  • Lithium: Lithium batteries will be the most expensive upfront, but will last the longest and will require ZERO maintenance. They will also give you more amp hours of use. Compared to a lead acid battery these are miles ahead.

If you want to nerd out on Lithium VS Lead Acid, here is a full video explaining the differences.

Once again, where you take your travel trailer is a huge determining factor of what kind of battery you are using. If you travel from campground to campground, a cheaper battery will often work just fine. If you are looking more into extreme camping or remote camping, a deep cycle battery is the best way to go. 

What is a Deep Cycle Battery and Why Are They Good for RV’s and Travel Trailers? 

The ideal battery for a travel trailer is to use a deep cycle battery or lithium over a starting battery. Deep cycle batteries essentially mean that the battery can be completely drained and then recharged again. These batteries can typically run 50-80% depending on the type of their capacity before they begin to need to be recharged. 

When talking about deep cycle batteries, there are two different versions that you will hear about most often. The first being flooded and the second being sealed. 

  • Flooded: Out of the two types of deep cycle batteries, these require the most maintenance. You have to watch the levels inside of the battery while in use and refill it before it gets too low. 
  • Sealed: If you are someone who is trying to reduce maintenance surrounding your travel trailer, a sealed or valve-regulated battery is your best option. You are not required to fill the RV battery, but you should still do essential maintenance over time. 

While most people choose a sealed RV battery, a flooded battery has advantages. Not only are they more affordable of the two, but they are also easy to work on and have a high surge current. The sealed deep cycle is perfect for those who are just starting out or have a smaller and more compact space. 

What Size Battery Do You Need for a Travel Trailer?

Here comes one of the biggest questions when it comes to choosing a RV battery for your travel trailer. How big of a battery do you actually need? As you may expect, the size of the battery is determined by some of the same variables we mentioned earlier. 

Deep cycle batteries come in a variety of sizes. To put it simply, the bigger the battery, the more power you can expect from it. The best way to decide what you need in your travel trailer is to understand how much power everything is using. 

Here are a few tips to help you determine how much power you are using on a daily basis:

  • Invest in a battery monitor system to help you have accurate measurements. 
  • Write down how often and for how long you use specific appliances. 
  • Know how many amps each of your appliances is using; this can often be found on the back of whatever you are using as part of federal regulations. 

Now that you have a better understanding of how much power you might need, it comes down to rather or not you need 6-volt or 12-volt batteries for your travel trailer. Both are deep cycle batteries, and typically a few 6-volt batteries or a couple of 12-volt batteries will be plenty of power. 

How to Recharge Your Travel Trailer Batteries

The next step in finding the perfect battery for your travel trailer is to figure out how to keep your battery charged while you are camping. Most batteries contain a converter which also can assist you in charging your battery. This can take a long period of time, especially if you are constantly using power. 

The good news is that there are battery chargers that you can buy for your travel trailer. There can be more traditional chargers that help the RV battery use the energy more efficiently, or there are more advanced options such as solar panels that help save the battery power too. We regularly use our solar panel to keep our travel trailer charged up, and it works wonderfully as long as you can find a campsite with some sunshine! The downside to solar panels is that they may limit you to only a few campsites if the campground is dense, and they become unusable if the sun decides to not shine. If the weather decides to not play nice then we will generally use a generator as our backup option to keep our batteries charged.

If you are on a shorter camping trip, have your batteries fully charged while you are at your own home before you leave. If you find yourself in a bind while on the road, there are likely places where you can charge your batteries for a small fee. 

How Long Should a Travel Trailer Battery Last? 

The life of the RV battery you choose depends on the kind of battery you decide on, as well as how much you are using it. From the three battery types listed earlier, each of them has different lengths of time, and most of them are directly linked to the price of the battery in the first place. 

  • Flooded-Cell Batteries last up to 3-5 years. 
  • Marine Batteries will last up to 2 years. 
  • Deep Cycle Batteries can last up to 5 years. 
  • Lithium batteries can last upwards of 10 years. Lion Energy includes a lifetime warranty.

Before you go out and buy any battery, you need to think about the investment you are making in the battery. If you think you need multiple batteries or more power, then investing in a deep cycle battery may be worth it. You won’t have to replace them like you would a marine battery constantly.  

Keep in mind if you ever go over the maximum depth of discharge (DOD) you can severely impact the amp hours of your battery. For most batteries, DOD is 50%. Therefore if you have a 100 amp hour battery, you can only use 50 amp-hours before needing a recharge.

How to Extend the Life of Your Battery 

Now that we have covered different trailer battery types, how to know what size battery you need, and how long they last, let’s talk about how you can ensure that your battery lasts as long as it possibly can. 

The most obvious way to make sure that your travel trailer battery lasts as long as it can is to make sure that you are doing regular maintenance on both the trailer battery as well as the appliances or machines that it is supplying power to. 

Here are a few tips to help extend the life of the trailer battery:

  • Store inside if you live in a cold climate through the winter.
  • Check for proper water levels
  • If you can, try not to let the battery fall below 50%, it will actually keep the integrity of the battery at a better position. This is especially important to remember if you are using a 12-volt battery. 
  • No matter what battery you are using, hot weather can be immensely damaging. Try to keep your batteries cool and full of water if that is the style of battery you have. Try to use distilled water only. 
  • Use proper technique when charging your battery. Be sure to charge the battery in stages to ensure that they are able to receive a full charge. 

These are just a few simple tips that you can use to extend the life of your travel trailer battery. You have to consider what kind of battery you are using because they each will require different maintenance. Even the areas you live and camp in can have an impact on how long the battery will last. 

How to Know When to Replace Your Travel Trailer Battery

If you have already been using some type of battery in your travel trailer, then it very well is time to change it. Unless you are an experienced camper, then you probably know a few signs. 

If you are new, here are a few signs that you should replace the battery for your travel trailer:

  • Low water levels or even no water at all. Most of the time, when you check your battery, you can simply add water, depending on your battery. If you have no liquid inside your battery at all or can see some of the plates exposed, then you need to start looking for a replacement. 
  • If there is any damage to your battery, then it is time to replace it! If you notice that it is dented, swollen, corroded, or any other external damage that is obvious, not only does it become a safety risk, but it will also impact the performance of the battery. 
  • Lastly, your battery should never be leaking. If you notice any type of fluid coming from your travel trailer battery, clean up the fluid and replace the battery as soon as you can. 

Although these are not all the ways to determine if your battery needs replacing, they are a few of the most obvious reasons. Additional signs are determined by both the travel trailer you have as well as the type and brand of battery you install. 

Final Thoughts

Although most batteries seem like they would be the same, they are pretty different when it comes down to what you can use them for. Unless you are in an extreme emergency, using a car battery for your travel trailer is not a good idea. Not only are they not going to provide enough power, but you may ruin your battery in the process.

Instead, make sure that you are using a deep cycle battery. They are created to be used and recharged and can last you up to five years. Depending on your travel trailer’s size and the appliances you are trying to use, make sure that you get a battery big enough to suit your needs and your personal camping style. Happy camping!

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