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2019 2500 HT
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a few questions about my electrical system plans, but I wanted to get some quick feedback about charging off the alternator before I ask for feedback on the rest of it.

I’m new to thinking about electricity, but I’m learning, and I’m very much a hands-on person. I’m getting a lot of help from my brother, who’s plenty comfortable with electrical/electronics and mechanical stuff, but he’s never put together a van system. So, since I’ve been looking at the BattleBorn website, I thought I would take them up on their offer to answer questions.

And among other things, what I heard was “You really don’t want to get into alternator charging. It will take your system out of the DIY realm and require a mechanic if anything goes wrong.”

I’m pretty obsessive about reading this forum, so I’ve seen some of the good the bad and the ugly…what do you all think? Should I really think twice about going this route? Or was I getting the “don’t worry your pretty head about that” treatment? (which I should add is NOT an effective tactic with me 🤬)

Thanks!
Caroline
 

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2019 2500 HT
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Oh, a quick background…The van is a 2019 2500 159” HR with 180 amp alternator. It will be my full-time home, but my needs are modest – no TV, small upright fridge, Maxxfan, smallest Propex heater, LED lighting, charging phone/tablet/laptop, and a couple of occasional AC loads. Per Far Out Ride’s worksheet (thanks Gary!) my daily amp-hr requirements come out to ~82 DC and ~15 AC.

In the long run I want solar, shore power/inverter, and alternator charging, but we’ll work on the solar a little later. I will be boondocking and traveling, and occasionally have access to shore power. I'll be using lithium batteries, probably 2 x 100 Ah to start.
 

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2014, 138WB, High Roof, Gas, SW MT
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Hi,
Just a couple thoughts...

Most people use a Battery to Battery charger if they have Lithium batteries. I think this is a good idea since you will have $1800 or invested in the battleborns and you want to treat them nice.
I don't think this makes the system a whole lot more complicated - the B2B chargers are pretty simple to hook up. Some of them include a solar charge controller, so you would be ready for the solar.

With your light loads, you really don't need Li batteries. A couple of $100 golf cart batteries would be fine along with a $40 isolator in place of the Battery to Battery Charger. People new to van electrical systems often destroy their first (or first couple :) ) sets of batteries through unintended abuse. Don't ask how many times I've done it
If you start with a set of golf cart batteries and you total them you are only out $200. With care they will last 5 to 8 years (based on what forum members here report), or once you gain some experience with your van electrical system, you could upgrade to Li -- hopefully they will be cheaper by then.

If you go with Li batteries and you use the van in cold weather, be sure to acquaint yourself with the cold weather charging issue.

Gary (not from FarOutRide!!)
 

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Premium Member
2018 159 High Roof gas, BC, Canada
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1,451 Posts
For me, DC-DC charging (alternator charging) was one of the easier things I added to my electrical system.

2 years ago, I bought a Renogy 40A DC-DC charger for reasonable money. But recently, there are all-in-one units that combine lots of functions into one unit, e.g. inverter, solar, DC-DC, and even shore power charging (I think). So lots of options now. (at 2 years, I'm now officially out of date so others may have more info.)

With Lithium chemistry, I suggest you go for a DC-DC charger instead of a simpler and cheaper setup that has worked for decades for lead-acid (e.g. 'stinger' type isolator switches). For one thing, 2 x 100A lithiums can draw 100A out of your alternator which might overtax it. At least with my 40A Renogy, I know it won't draw more than (guessing 50A) and, further, it will be able to understand the lithium charging profile which is different from that of lead-acid which is what you'd get with the isolator method.
 
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I found wiring the Sterling unit for alternator charging was very easy compared to almost everything else in the build process. No harder than any of the other electrical stuff.
The only hard part was connecting the fuse to the battery because I couldn't find the square nut and had to file down a hex nut to fit.
 

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2019 2500 HT
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Oh, a quick background…The van is a 2019 2500 159” HR with 180 amp alternator. It will be my full-time home, but my needs are modest – no TV, small upright fridge, Maxxfan, smallest Propex heater, LED lighting, charging phone/tablet/laptop, and a couple of occasional AC loads. Per Far Out Ride’s worksheet (thanks Gary!) my daily amp-hr requirements come out to ~82 DC and ~15 AC.

In the long run I want solar, shore power/inverter, and alternator charging, but we’ll work on the solar a little later. I will be boondocking and traveling, and occasionally have access to shore power. I'll be using lithium batteries, probably 2 x 100 Ah to start.
oops, I did mean BuildAGreenRV's worksheet...this old-lady name dyslexia thing can be kinda embarrassing 😳
 

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2019 2500 HT
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Hi,
Just a couple thoughts...

Most people use a Battery to Battery charger if they have Lithium batteries. I think this is a good idea since you will have $1800 or invested in the battleborns and you want to treat them nice.
I don't think this makes the system a whole lot more complicated - the B2B chargers are pretty simple to hook up. Some of them include a solar charge controller, so you would be ready for the solar.

With your light loads, you really don't need Li batteries. A couple of $100 golf cart batteries would be fine along with a $40 isolator in place of the Battery to Battery Charger. People new to van electrical systems often destroy their first (or first couple :) ) sets of batteries through unintended abuse. Don't ask how many times I've done it
If you start with a set of golf cart batteries and you total them you are only out $200. With care they will last 5 to 8 years (based on what forum members here report), or once you gain some experience with your van electrical system, you could upgrade to Li -- hopefully they will be cheaper by then.

If you go with Li batteries and you use the van in cold weather, be sure to acquaint yourself with the cold weather charging issue.

Gary (not from FarOutRide!!)
Thanks Gary. It's true, I probably don't need the Li batteries, but...as much as I want to be hands on, topping up LA batteries is not at the top of my wish list! Also, I do have one large AC load that I will probably mostly use only on shore power, but I may want to run it once in a while when I'm off grid. So I'm inclined to go a little bigger rather than smaller.

Good point about starting out with something less expensive to destroy, though, I'll think about it. I'd like to think I'll stay tuned in to treating them well, but...if something can go wrong, etc., etc....

And as a rule I'm not planning on spending much time in cold weather, but again...if this past year has taught me anything it's that planning is overrated! So yes, I will look at the cold weather charging and figure out if it's a deal breaker or not.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
And yes, I will absolutely use a DC-DC charger, especially if I go with the Li batteries. At this point trying to manage a simple isolator system and protect both the alternator and the batteries is way beyond my skill set.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
For me, DC-DC charging (alternator charging) was one of the easier things I added to my electrical system.

2 years ago, I bought a Renogy 40A DC-DC charger for reasonable money. But recently, there are all-in-one units that combine lots of functions into one unit, e.g. inverter, solar, DC-DC, and even shore power charging (I think). So lots of options now. (at 2 years, I'm now officially out of date so others may have more info.)

With Lithium chemistry, I suggest you go for a DC-DC charger instead of a simpler and cheaper setup that has worked for decades for lead-acid (e.g. 'stinger' type isolator switches). For one thing, 2 x 100A lithiums can draw 100A out of your alternator which might overtax it. At least with my 40A Renogy, I know it won't draw more than (guessing 50A) and, further, it will be able to understand the lithium charging profile which is different from that of lead-acid which is what you'd get with the isolator method.
Yeah, I've seen some of those combined units. While I'm a big fan of "stacking" functions, it does make me a little nervous to depend on a single component for multiple functions when I need to have at least one of them working at any given moment...it doesn't seem particularly fault tolerant.

So you've been happy with the Renogy unit? Seems like I've seen one or two decidedly lukewarm comments about them here.
 

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2019 2500 HT
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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I found wiring the Sterling unit for alternator charging was very easy compared to almost everything else in the build process. No harder than any of the other electrical stuff.
The only hard part was connecting the fuse to the battery because I couldn't find the square nut and had to file down a hex nut to fit.
Thanks, don't ya love those missing nuts! It did seem like an odd thing for the tech to say, especially since I was talking about buying a Victron unit from them...I could understand if I was talking about going the simple isolator route, but from what I can tell, the good DC to DC chargers take care of the guesswork at both ends -- protecting the alternator and the batteries.

So barring a conflagration like @jracca had (and we'll definitely oversize the wires rather than undersize them), it doesn't sound like this is a particularly complex thing.
 

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Yeah, I've seen some of those combined units. While I'm a big fan of "stacking" functions, it does make me a little nervous to depend on a single component for multiple functions when I need to have at least one of them working at any given moment...it doesn't seem particularly fault tolerant.

So you've been happy with the Renogy unit? Seems like I've seen one or two decidedly lukewarm comments about them here.
I chose 2 separate units because:
The Renogy DC charger needs to be wired to the ignition and I wanted the ease of only wiring to the battery.
The 2 in 1 units I saw only charged with half the current for each function.
As you said, if it fails I'm SOL
 

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Thanks, don't ya love those missing nuts! It did seem like an odd thing for the tech to say, especially since I was talking about buying a Victron unit from them...I could understand if I was talking about going the simple isolator route, but from what I can tell, the good DC to DC chargers take care of the guesswork at both ends -- protecting the alternator and the batteries.

So barring a conflagration like @jracca had (and we'll definitely oversize the wires rather than undersize them), it doesn't sound like this is a particularly complex thing.
Yeah it was easy for me. The whole electrical setup was one of the easiest, most trouble free aspects of the build. Planning took some time, but wiring everything up was relatively quick and painless. For the Sterling 1260, it's three 4 gauge wires, a breaker, a fuse, make sure it's set to lithium, and it just does it's thing automatically. Set it and forget it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I chose 2 separate units because:
The Renogy DC charger needs to be wired to the ignition and I wanted the ease of only wiring to the battery.
The 2 in 1 units I saw only charged with half the current for each function.
As you said, if it fails I'm SOL
oops, once again I replied to the wrong person! Sorry!
 

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2018 159 High Roof gas, BC, Canada
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Yeah, I've seen some of those combined units. While I'm a big fan of "stacking" functions, it does make me a little nervous to depend on a single component for multiple functions when I need to have at least one of them working at any given moment...it doesn't seem particularly fault tolerant.

So you've been happy with the Renogy unit? Seems like I've seen one or two decidedly lukewarm comments about them here.
"Fault tolerant"??? Were you formerly in the computer industry? I LOVE fault tolerance. And I'm glad you understand that concept. Separate units is my preference for that reason and others. I even have 2 inverters! Talk about fault tolerance! Similarly, my solar panels are wired in parallel too, partly for fault tolerance. :D

Re: Renogy 40A. I am a traveler and my trips, all in 2019 (2020 was a dud year for a lot of us), had been in sunny areas, so most of the time I was using my pretty beefy solar array (600W). However there were a few times I charged up my, at the time, single 100A Li battery with the Renogy. It seemed to work well. --"seemed" because, at that time, I didn't yet put in any battery monitoring. I was in prototype mode and I was itching to give things a try. So I was flying by the seat of my pants (though I did have a voltmeter but those aren't that accurate with Lithium batteries) and so I'd fire up my DC-DC charging whenever I felt I had an opportunity or should (driving and it had been cloudy).

Re: happiness with it. Realistically, there's not much to it. I just turned it on and it did its thing like a black box (though the Renogy is "green" in colour). So I'm quite happy with it. But do note that I'm a part-timer (traveler) and so it really hasn't been used much. Time will tell if it's reliable but I don't have any reason to doubt it.

It was a lot cheaper than the Sterling was at the time (it may still be, like I said, I'm out of date). My only regret was that I was a bit bleeding edge and didn't wait for Renogy's 60A unit to come out; there was only a 20A and 40A unit available at the time. I have the bigger alternator (225A?) and my now-upgraded battery bank can take all 60A if I had the 60A version and thus be charged faster if needed.
 

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I cant speak to any of the electrical stuff you guys are talking about. But I can speak to your ultimate failure mode - a blown alternator. So if the worst happens...

A rebuilt alternator is about $200. Installing it takes maybe 45 minutes. To give you an idea of what’s involved you would
1. Disconnect the battery
2. Jack up the passenger side of the van a few inches
3. 5 screws and 1 bolt removes the lower splash shield
4. A 1/2” drive ratchet wrench releases tension on the belt tensioner, which allows you to remove the belt
5. 2 bolts and 1 electrical connector removes the a/c compressor, which can hang from it’s hoses
6. Another bolt removes the alternator, along with 1 nut for the alternator output and 1 electrical connector

Installation is the reverse steps.

I have changed alternators multiple times in truck stop parking lots. It’s not a difficult or messy job, and if like you can practice it at home and get comfortable with it.

Seems to me armed with a spare alternator, you could confidently boondock with any custom power system you decide to build.
 

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2017 159" High Roof
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I have a few questions about my electrical system plans, but I wanted to get some quick feedback about charging off the alternator before I ask for feedback on the rest of it.

I’m new to thinking about electricity, but I’m learning, and I’m very much a hands-on person. I’m getting a lot of help from my brother, who’s plenty comfortable with electrical/electronics and mechanical stuff, but he’s never put together a van system. So, since I’ve been looking at the BattleBorn website, I thought I would take them up on their offer to answer questions.

And among other things, what I heard was “You really don’t want to get into alternator charging. It will take your system out of the DIY realm and require a mechanic if anything goes wrong.”

I’m pretty obsessive about reading this forum, so I’ve seen some of the good the bad and the ugly…what do you all think? Should I really think twice about going this route? Or was I getting the “don’t worry your pretty head about that” treatment? (which I should add is NOT an effective tactic with me 🤬)

Thanks!
Caroline
Don’t you worry, lil’ miss. I’ll get this all sorted out for you..,,

Seriously, here’s another vote for lead-acid with isolator. They’re cheap and effective and the sealed ones require less babysitting.

Just don’t drain leads past 50% to max out their cycles. That’s it. If you have enough solar on your roof to handle your loads and keep your batteries full then you just need to plan your capacity for overnight loads to stay above 50% SoC.

Lithium’s hate heat and charging over 80%. They also hate extreme cold too but for charge speed reasons as mentioned.

If you’re living in your van that might be a better use case for lithium or your batteries are going to spend a lot of time subjected to extreme temperatures. Teslas and iPhones have special software to control battery temperature and to prevent full charging on normal occasions. Maybe your charge controller can do the latter but there’s no battery temp management inside a parked hot van.
 

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I cant speak to any of the electrical stuff you guys are talking about. But I can speak to your ultimate failure mode - a blown alternator. So if the worst happens...

A rebuilt alternator is about $200. Installing it takes maybe 45 minutes. To give you an idea of what’s involved you would
1. Disconnect the battery
2. Jack up the passenger side of the van a few inches
3. 5 screws and 1 bolt removes the lower splash shield
4. A 1/2” drive ratchet wrench releases tension on the belt tensioner, which allows you to remove the belt
5. 2 bolts and 1 electrical connector removes the a/c compressor, which can hang from it’s hoses
6. Another bolt removes the alternator, along with 1 nut for the alternator output and 1 electrical connector

Installation is the reverse steps.

I have changed alternators multiple times in truck stop parking lots. It’s not a difficult or messy job, and if like you can practice it at home and get comfortable with it.

Seems to me armed with a spare alternator, you could confidently boondock with any custom power system you decide to build.
Thanks for that @Kip-on-truckin

I charge direct from the PM 180amp alternator about 95% of the time to replenish my 250ahr Rolls AGMs.

My understanding is the PM Computer controls the PM Alternator's "Regulator".


@CParks
I do not have lithium, but if I did then I would charge via B2B.
 

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Carry a spare alternator???
To me, as one who knows almost nothing about vehicles i may as well tow a spare van 😂 I wouldn't even know how to locate the alternator.

As for lithium vs old tech, I just bought lithium cuz I want easy. I don't understand any battery tech so easy is worth a lot for me. Plus a lot smaller and lighter, last longer and no fuss. Even lithium batteries are big af. That one was one of the only decisions I didn't have to ponder for long.
 

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I have LI batteries. Charged with portable solar panels and a 30A Victron Dc-Dc charger (via 70A upfitter connector).
No heavy loads on the batteries. For AC using a 300W pure sine inverter.
 
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