This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases. The images and content on this page may be created by, or with the assistance of, artificial intelligence, and should be used for entertainment and informational purposes only.

Key Takeaways

  • An RV battery charges with a few methods: Shore power, alternator, solar polar, and with a generator.
  • Lithium batteries are charged in a similar method but charge faster and last longer
  • Be sure to check the voltage on your battery charger and generator before charging the batteries
  • A converter and inverter are commonly used to convert to the right power type
  • Shore power is one of the easier to use methods of charging RV batteries

An owner of a new RV might be wondering how a few things work, especially with their electrical system. How does an RV battery charge?

An RV battery can charge using a battery charger with matching voltage, a collection of solar panels, or a generator plugged into a battery charger. Whether your RV is powered by lithium ion batteries or lead acid batteries, the charging method is the same.

Charging RV batteries is pretty simple. We’ll walk through how to charge your RV batteries in detail as well as explain the difference in charging methods and equipment.



How does RV battery charge?

Let’s explore a few methods often used to charge an RV battery and house batteries. Note that with any of the below methods, you’ll want to either plug the battery charger into the battery port on your RV or use the clamps on the battery charger and hook them to the correct positive and negative posts on your RV battery.

Using a Generator to Charge RV Batteries

If you're camping in an area without access to electricity, a generator can be a lifesaver. Generators produce AC power, which can be used to charge your RV batteries through a converter. Keep in mind that generators can be noisy and emit fumes, so it's essential to use them in a well-ventilated area.

Using Solar Panels and Solar Power to Charge RV Batteries

Solar panels are an excellent option for RVers who want to be self-sufficient. Solar panels convert sunlight into DC power, which can be used to charge your RV batteries. Solar panels are quiet, eco-friendly, and require very little maintenance. However, they can be expensive to install and may not generate enough power to meet all your energy needs.

Using a Converter to Charge RV Batteries

A converter is a device that converts AC power from an external source (like a campground hookup) into DC power that can be used to charge your RV batteries. Converters are convenient because they allow you to charge your batteries while you're using your RV's appliances. However, they can be less efficient than other charging methods and may take longer to charge your batteries.

Using Shore Power to Charge RV Batteries

This is a very simple method of using an electrical outlet supplied by an RV park or campsite. Shore power involves plugging a battery charger into a battery post at a campsite and clamping the battery charger to your batteries - or whichever method of charging your RV provides.

Shore power is probably the easiest and cleanest method of charging your battery besides using a solar panel. While shore power requires the least effort, it is only one of the amenities you’ll be paying for at an RV park.

Using your Alternator for Charging RV Batteries

Of note, when the RV is running and the engine is on, your alternator should always be charging your battery. This method doesn’t happen fast, but it works. If you find that your alternator can’t keep up with your battery charge, try taking fewer short trips and get the alternator itself inspected.

Note that you don’t have to do anything to have your alternator charge your RV battery. Just drive!

With this information, you can choose which method of charging works best for you and your RV.

Do Lithium Batteries Charge Differently from Lead Acid Batteries?

When it comes to charging, lithium batteries and lead acid batteries differ in a few key ways. One of the main differences is the charging speed. According to Battle Born Batteries, "you can bulk-charge lithium RV batteries up to 100%. However, a lead-acid battery can charge up to 80% in bulk charge mode."

Charging speeds

This means that lithium batteries can be charged more quickly than lead acid batteries. Another difference is that lithium ion batteries can be charged using a wider range of charging voltages than lead acid batteries.

Different methods

The different range of voltages also allows lithium batteries to be charged using a variety of charging methods, including solar panels and generators. In contrast, lead acid batteries require a specific charging voltage and may not be compatible with all charging methods.

Lithium batteries can use what are called smart battery chargers which can select the current needed to provide to the battery bank. While you’ll want to read the instructions, a smart battery charger should be easier to use and require fewer selections on your part.

Management systems

It is also worth noting that lithium ion batteries have a built-in battery management system (BMS) that helps regulate the charging process. The BMS ensures that the battery is charged safely and efficiently, and helps prevent overcharging and overheating.

Lead acid batteries do not have a built-in BMS to protect your RV battery, so it is important to monitor the charging process carefully to avoid damage to the battery. Note that your RV might have a built in battery management or electrical management system.

Don’t trick charge

You might be used to trickle charging your lead acid batteries overnight or during the day. Don’t do this with a lithium ion battery. These batteries are meant to take battery power at one speed, and that speed is fast. A trickle charge might do unexpected damage because it charges slowly and could overcharge a lithium battery.

Overall, while lithium ion batteries and lead acid batteries have some differences in how they charge, both types of batteries can be charged using a variety of methods. It is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for charging your specific battery to ensure that it is charged safely and efficiently.

Maintaining RV Batteries

As an RV owner, I know that maintaining my RV batteries is crucial to ensuring they last as long as possible. Here are some tips for proper RV battery maintenance:

Proper Battery Maintenance

One of the most important things to remember is to keep the battery clean and dry. Dirt and moisture can cause corrosion and shorten the battery's lifespan. I make sure to clean the battery terminals regularly with a wire brush and apply a battery terminal protectant to prevent corrosion.

It's also important to maintain that flooded-cell batteries have proper electrolyte fluid levels. Over time, these batteries lose water after each charge cycle which eventually requires you to refill them. I always check the water level in my batteries and add distilled water as needed.

Battery Capacity and Charging Time

When charging my RV batteries, I follow a specific process to ensure they are charged properly. I start with a bulk charge to return the battery to 90% of a full charge during the first few hours. Then, I use an absorption charge for the remaining 10%, and finally, a float charge to keep the battery fully charged.

It's important to note that the charging time will vary depending on the battery's capacity and the charging system being used. I always refer to the manufacturer's instructions for specific charging times and methods.

Avoiding Overcharging and Undercharging

Overcharging and undercharging can both damage RV batteries. Overcharging can cause the battery to overheat and lose electrolytes while undercharging can lead to sulfation and reduced battery capacity.

To avoid overcharging, I make sure to use a charger with an automatic shut-off feature or a charge controller. To prevent undercharging, I always check the battery voltage regularly and charge the battery before it gets too low.

Replacing RV Batteries

Eventually, all RV batteries will need to be replaced. I always refer to the manufacturer's recommendations for when to replace my batteries, but generally, I replace them every 3-5 years.

When replacing my RV batteries, I make sure to choose the right type and size for my specific RV. I also properly dispose of the old batteries according to local regulations.