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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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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!

Mark Eckman

Monday 23rd of May 2022

This was the piece I needed to clear my mind from the junk that appears on the internet. Now searching for the right combination for our rig.

Mark Eckman

Monday 23rd of May 2022

just saw this poll on IRV2 about "Are you happy with your LiFePo4 Lithium battery system?" and thought I'd share. Looks like a lot of people still have some issues.

James

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

Something I don’t see discussed at all around Lithium batteries is the sometimes total lack of knowledge and expertise of many dealers service department. (As mentioned lithium and lead acid batteries require very different setup) That was my experience with my dealer. While they professed to know all about Latium installation, and they worked really hard to “Fix” my system, it turns out they knew next to nothing. After months and months of problems I found myself in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, with all systems dead. Fortunately the battery manufacturer directed me to a dealer with certified and trained technicians who looked at my system and immediately diagnosed my problem(s). A total reinstall and $2400 latter I had a properly set up system that actually worked. Word to the wise, “ before having a dealer install your inverter/converter, solar and lithium batteries make sure they have actual training and experience (I found the best way to know is to talk to the battery manufacturer and have them point you to a dealer with CERTIFIED technicians. My batteries were Battleborn, made by Dragonfly. They simply could not have been more Helpful!!!)

Eddie Doherty

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

While not against Lithium, I think it’s over rated for most people. Longevity argument, who owns their RV for 20 years?? Well cared for flooded will get to 10 no problem. I have solar and 4 perfectly good flooded batteries. I installed a shunt to measure charge/consumption. Full timer with 50 days of dry camping in 2022. . A 30, 10, 5 and several 1 day overnights. I estimate the premium for lithium is $2k, just for the batteries. I hate the sound of generators running, so I try to minimize it. In just 2 hours of charging I can go from 50% to 75+%. Sometimes 80% no problem. The charging costs are close for both battery types, it would take decades to break even. Roughly $10 a day for me. I have 340 watts of solar on the roof, not enough but really helps reduce charging times when sunny. If I add more solar then I can reduce generator runtime. I will need to quadruple my solar to max battery charge rate to get the lithium charge benefit l. I don’t have that much room on the roof and often shaded. The biggest problem I see is buyer bias. Hi I just spent $2k and it’s been great. Realty, that much better than me?? If you have a good set of flooded batteries save your money. BTW think you do a great job. You wanted someone with a counter view. I see too many RV putting way oversized solar and battery solutions. I am just too cheap to waste my money without analysis. Class A motorhome, 34 ft. My guess is 90% of RVers don’t need lithium.

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts & experience, Eddie! We agree with you... lithium batteries AREN'T for everyone. And we hope you didn't take this article as being some kind of attempt to convince anyone who doesn't need them to go ahead and get them, anyway. That would be far from our purpose/intent. But we DO believe that an educated consumer is the best kind of consumer... and there's plenty of misinformation out there about lithium batteries. We want to be sure that people who are deciding lithium IS/ISN'T for them isn't based on faulty info!

Funny story... we pulled into a fairly high-end RV park near Phoenix one afternoon. While getting set up, the neighbor came out and started chatting. After a bit, he started asking about our solar and battery setup, which we were more than happy to discuss. Neighbor says he's going to get a solar and lithium battery system installed in his rig sometime soon. So we started asking some questions. They didn't dry camp (ever). They spent 99% of their time RVing parked right in the park we were in with them that day. So we asked: "Why do you want solar & lithium batteries? Doesn't sound like you need them, at all!" His answer? Seems like that's all I read about online these days, so I thought I needed it, too!! WHAAAAAAT?!?!?! (his wife, listening to us talk from inside, poked her head out and said "THANK YOU! I've been telling him for months that we don't need either... but he won't listen to me!" LOL!) We told him to stick with his existing flooded lead-acids, forego the solar, and spend the money on food, fuel, entertainment, WHATEVER else!

So we're with you. Totally. Not everyone (most RVers, in fact), don't need lithium (or solar). But... it's coming. It will likely be the dominant battery tech sold with most RVs within the next 5-10 years. So, if nothing else, people can learn about them (what's different, what's good, what's bad, etc) in the meantime! 😉

Richard Hubert

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

I switched to 400 Ah LiFePO4 batteries not quite 3 years ago. Was driven to make the switch from some fairly new Trojan 6v deep cycle batteries (total 240 Ah) because they were just not doing the job. I found they were not holding as much charge as thought, was frustrated by how long it took to charge them, they ran at a lower voltage, and found that my solar array was just not robust enough to keep them charged up. Bit the bullet and moved to Lithium - and have never regretted it. They charge so much faster, they maintain a higher voltage - which my inverters really like, and I can use so much more of their available capacity. Have since added a DC-DC charger to better manage engine alternator charging.

Am so pleased with their performance I am now thinking upgrading my 8 cu.ft absorption refrigerator to a a 10 cu.ft residential 120v refrigerator. Feel I can do this by running off our inverter. Even though our absorption refrigerator has been working well (I really like how it can operate off propane) adding 2 more cu.ft of fridge capacity and achieving colder freezer temp would be a huge improvement. And the main reason for considering this is because of my Lithium batteries. Would never consider this upgrade having to relay on my old LA batteries.

For those who boondock Lithium batteries are the way to go!

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

Glad to hear you're having such a good experience with your Lithium, Richard! One thing we wish had been an option for us when our old propane-electric RV fridge died? 12V RV refrigerators. There are now several models available out there (from Dometic, Norcold, and others)... allows you to get the benefits of a compressor refrigerator without having to leave your inverter on all the time. Could be a good option to consider in lieu of a 120V AC residential fridge.

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