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3 Misconceptions About Lithium RV Batteries

3 Misconceptions About Lithium RV Batteries

There’s a lot of talk about lithium RV batteries, and with good reason. RV lithium batteries are rechargeable 12-volt batteries that have become a popular alternative to lead-acid batteries, particularly for RVers who spend a lot of time off the grid and/or who use solar power.

RV lithium batteries are based on a newer, more efficient lithium-ion technology known as lithium iron phosphate (or LiFePO4 for short). And as we noted in our post, “Are RV Lithium Batteries Worth It?”, they’ve earned their popularity for many reasons.

Not only do lithium RV batteries have a significantly longer lifespan than lead-acid batteries do, but they’re also lighter. And, because they’re more efficient, they charge faster.

But there are several high-pitched misconceptions floating around about lithium RV batteries, and today’s post hopes to dispel the three most common of these.

Knowledge is power (literally and figuratively in this case), so let’s get right to it!

What Are the 3 Most Common Misconceptions About Lithium RV Batteries?

Lithium Batteries Are Dangerous

Photo of a small van fully engulfed in flames

Many people hold the misconception that lithium batteries are dangerous. While there may have been a time when that was true, the technology of lithium batteries has changed dramatically. With those changes, increased safety measures have been developed and implemented, making today’s lithium batteries very safe.

Prior to several technological advancements, lithium batteries used in some electronics could overheat and would sometimes even catch on fire. But technology has advanced substantially since that time, and today RV lithium batteries are made with lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) technology which uses non-combustible lithium chemistry. They’re different from the other “lithium-ion” battery formulations used for cell phones, laptops, and other portable devices… and are much safer for use on RVs.

Even so, lithium RV batteries can be prone to a condition called thermal runaway which occurs when the interior temperature of the battery rises so high that it causes a chemical reaction leading to excessive heat that can lead to a dangerous condition resulting in an explosion. For more on this topic, see our post “What Is Thermal Runaway?

However, this is precisely why most lithium RV batteries have a battery management system (BMS). A battery management system ensures that the battery operates safely by monitoring and managing the advanced features of the battery. For more information on a BMS and how it works, please see our post “What Is the Function of a Battery Management System?

So, technology has advanced to the degree that the concern that lithium batteries are dangerous is no longer valid.

Lithium Batteries Can’t Be Used in Cold Weather

Misconception #2 is that lithium RV batteries can’t be used in cold weather. Again, this isn’t entirely true. In fact, some brands of lithium RV batteries allow you to continue to draw power to as low as -4℉.

Photo of RVs boondocking on land below snow-covered mountains

The issue of cold adversely affecting lithium RV batteries has been addressed in a couple of different ways. There are now lithium RV batteries that can be used in temperatures well below freezing.

But the bigger issue is that, when the temperature of a lithium battery drops to or below freezing, it can’t be recharged without permanently damaging it. That’s because, at those temperatures, supplying power to recharge the battery can cause the lithium to form crystals, which pierce the membranes that form the cells of the battery, destroying it.

That recharging issue is addressed in two different ways.

First, with virtually all lithium RV batteries that we’re aware of, the BMS (Battery Management System) built into (or installed along with) the battery(ies) will monitor the internal temperature, ensuring that it does not allow any charging current to flow into the battery if it has reached a dangerous temperature. This will protect the battery from damage, but if that was all you were relying on, could mean that your battery won’t recharge when you need it to.

The second way this issue is dealt with is that there are now lithium batteries on the market that have built-in heating elements. When the BMS detects that the battery’s internal temperature has dropped low enough, it can trigger the heating element to come on, allowing the battery to be charged well below freezing. Two of our favorite lithium RV batteries that include heating are the 100Ah Battle Born and 125Ah Xantrex, both of which are sized to be direct replacements for typical RV batteries.

Photo of our Xantrex Freedom eGen lithium battery

This is our custom lithium battery from Xantrex – the Freedom eGen. But Xantrex also makes 12V lithium drop-in batteries.

Lastly, even without these protective mechanisms, lithium batteries have another advantage. Unlike flooded lead-acid batteries (which must be installed in vented compartments due to the flammable gas they produce during their charge/recharge cycles), lithium RV batteries don’t outgas at all. As a result, they can be installed inside your RV and, thus, be better insulated from outside temperatures causing a problem.

Lithium Batteries Are More Expensive

This is true, initially. Lithium batteries do cost more to buy. However, they also last significantly longer than lead-acid batteries, so they’re often less expensive in the long run. In fact, a quality lithium RV battery can last up to ten times longer than a lead-acid RV battery.

So, over the duration of the lifetime of a lithium battery, you’d be likely to replace a lead-acid battery several times. That adds up (and can be a real pain in the neck).

Plus, because lithium batteries for RVs can be drained/discharged much lower than flooded lead-acid batteries can be (lead-acid batteries shouldn’t be drained more than 50% of their capacity before their lifespan is significantly reduced), you can typically install half as many of them.

For example, if you require 200 Ah of battery capacity, you can achieve that with two 100 Ah lithium batteries that can be drained all the way down to 0% State of Charge (SOC). With comparable flooded lead-acid batteries, you’d need to install a total of 4 x 100Ah (for a total of 400 Ah), since you can only use 50% of their capacity (400Ah x 0.5 = 200Ah of usable capacity).

Back in 2018, we created a YouTube video about our Lithium/AGM Battery & Electrical Upgrade project, in which we shared our experiences over the first 3 1/2 months of using our new systems. Spoiler: the benefits were, and have continued to be, tangible and significant.

And, if you really want a deep dive into the pros & cons of the various battery types, we gave a (long!) talk on the subject at the 2019 Xscapers Annual Bash… comparing and contrasting the benefits and limitations of standard flooded lead-acid batteries, AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) batteries, and lithium. Grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy the video:

Have You Made the Switch to Lithium Batteries for Your RV?

If you’ve made the switch to lithium batteries for your RV, feel free to tell us about your experience. Drop us a comment and share your thoughts. Or, if you’re against it, let us know that, too! We’re curious to hear what you have to say!

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Dan

Sunday 8th of January 2023

Hi Gentlemen,

We’re fulltimers and have started our RV solar upgrade in 2020 just before Covid with adding solar panels for a total of 720w, installing a charge monitor and new controller (correctly this time.)

Our next step was to upgrade our inverter charger and having most of our outlets connected to 12V (we only have 2 outlets presently) which is still pending as we couldn’t and still can’t go south (we’re in BC) to our trusted installer due to temporary health/insurance issues. We have Lead Acid batteries and are happy with it.

My question is simple. Do you have good installer(s) to recommend in BC, if possible in the Vancouver area but we’re flexible and mobile😉. We found it almost impossible to find knowledgeable installers, let alone someone that understands our rigs and boondocking needs.

Really hope you can help, thank you!

P.S.: Love your content, you’re basically with us each time we have issues, concerns, questions or need guidance.

Dan

Friday 27th of January 2023

@TheRVgeeks, sorry just saw your reply..! Thank you for taking the time to answer and providing this info, I will connect with them for sure, and will mention about your video which I’m pretty sure I saw! Enjoy the south😎

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 8th of January 2023

Hey Dan! First, thanks so much for the kind words. It's always nice to hear!

Sorry to hear about your health/insurance issues keeping you from coming south this winter. Hope it isn't anything major and that you're on the mend!

We don't know of a good RV installer to recommend in the Vancouver, BC area... but when we worked with Xantrex and got our lithium installed, we did it in conjunction with Pacific Yacht Systems (https://www.pysystems.ca). At the time, they were planning to branch out into the RV space, as well. Don't see anything about that on their website... but they did STELLAR work. So they might be worth giving a call (let them know you saw them on our video... maybe that will help sway them to take you on, LOL!).

Zach

Sunday 18th of December 2022

Could you recommend a book or website for diy solar rv installs?

James Mehok

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Hello, I have a 2021 Grand Design Reflection 5th wheel and the two lead acid batteries are going bad and I would like to replace the batteries with a single 12v lithium 100ah Renogy or Battle Born. I can't think of a reason why I can't. I am plugged in all the time at RV parks, I don't dry camp, no inverter. The only significant loads I have are operating the two slides and the electric leveling system when I arrive at a RV park. The leveling system has 4 jacks with each jack on a 30amp fuse but I believe only 2 jacks operate at a time. I would really love the 100 pound weight savings if I would be ok with one. Thanks for the great work!

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Hi James. You’re right, it doesn’t sound like there’s any reason you can’t make the switch. Even with your leveling system, you should be good… that single Battle Born 100Ah battery can handle a continuous discharge rate of 100 amps. The only other concern you might have would be charging. With a 2021 model year RV, your converter/charger SHOULD be compatible with Lithium batteries… but you may need to check. It’s likely that there’s a switch of some kind that will need to be changed in order to activate the lithium-compatible charging cycle. If not, you may want to identify the make/model of your converter/charger and contact Battle Born to find out if they have any recommendations. It may need to be upgraded/replaced.

Don Ritter

Tuesday 6th of September 2022

Hi Gentlemen! I just purchased a 1988 Ford E-250, 19' Motor Home. I want to install Lithium Batteries, & Solar Panels. I got a 2800 Onan generator, & I'm not sure how to put the 2 systems together. I live in Central Pa., & was wondering who could help figure out the perfect combination of Panels, & batteries for thus small RV?

TheRVgeeks

Tuesday 6th of September 2022

Hi Don! Congratulations on your new rig! It sounds like you've got the right idea... boondocking! We have a question for you... are you planning to install a system yourself, or are you looking for an installer? We might be able to recommend a good number of watts & amps to go with, but the installation part is a real challenge because we're not there... and because our installation abilities tend to be a little limited, with only our own RV under our belts. 😉

Larry Lee

Tuesday 24th of May 2022

Almost 1 year ago I installed 3 Battle Born batteries in our motorhome. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Reasoning: we live full time in our motorhome so we need reliable electricity and fast charging batteries. Not many articles point out the steady voltage output of lithium batteries which is a noticable advantage for us but probably not for "3 or 4 weeks out of the year" campers. Lithium does require an adjustment to the charging voltage, but Battle Born support is very helpful for that. Also since Lithium can really suck up charging amps when they are low, it is crucial to protect your alternator from excess amp load.once everything is set up, it has been wonderfully consistent and both worry free and maintenance free. Larry

TheRVgeeks

Tuesday 24th of May 2022

All good points, Larry. Glad you're out there enjoying!

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