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Old 08-16-2022, 02:44 PM   #1
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2016 ERA coach batteries & charging questions

Our 2016 ERA (MB Sprinter 3500 platform) has a pair of NAPA Commercial 105AH AGM coach batteries located underneath the chassis, just behind the rear tires. They are the original batteries, so about 5 or 6 years old, depending on when they were installed.

They are essentially inaccessible to me and I can't find any way to access the battery cables short of removing the batteries, which I'm unable to do for various reasons. So I'm unable to check them with a meter or do much in the way of troubleshooting.

When the coach batteries are fully charged (either from plugging it in to shore power for a day or two, or driving it for a significant period of time) and NOT currently charging (not driving and not plugged in to shore power), they typically show 12.6V or so on the main display panel in the RV. After light use of the 12V power overnight they typically show 12.3V to 12.4V.

Today, I unplugged from shore power after 2+ days. When I checked the level on the display, the coach batteries only showed 12.1V. My initial thought was the batteries are worn out.

I started the engine and the display showed 13.6V, which tells me the alternator and battery mode solenoid (under the passenger seat) appear to be working correctly and presumably the coach batteries are charging.

I shut the engine off, plugged back in to shore power and the display showed 13.2V. I'm pretty sure it normally would show around 13.6V when plugged in to shore power, or about the same as when charging from the alternator.

I'm trying to figure out if:

1. the coach batteries are indeed worn out
2. there is a problem with the charging system from shore power
3. both of the above

I suppose there is a chance the battery cables are loose, the connections are corroded, etc., but I'm thinking that's not likely what's going on here.

Any thoughts, suggestions, recommendations, etc. would be appreciated.
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Old 08-16-2022, 03:29 PM   #2
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Two things jump out at me.
First is how difficult to access the battery as that may lead to ignoring them more. All batteries do need some attention to keep the water up,even the "maintenance free" types. Those have covers over the vents that tend tocollect the water as it boils off and direct it back into the battery,but that is only so good and over time water does go low. Maintenance free often means it last as long as the warrenty and thirty minutes more??

But that is something to consider and they seem to have lasted better than many, so maybe not the real problem I'm talking? Something to think about, perhaps.

Battery readings are so simple they are terribly confusing! One is the way they can show totally full of power but actually the energy we are testing is only right at the post if we have been charging them just before we read the voltage.
It is sometimes like dropping black ink into a barrel of water, looking in and seeing it totally black but if we come back in 4-5 hours, we see no black as it has spread out in ALL the water. The chemical reaction works somewhat the same in batteries and can give us what is called "surface charge" if we don't wait a few hours after charging.

So review when you are taking the readings to see if you are getting a true story.

But the charge voltage from the ocnverter is likely tobe correct as we expect a good converter to charge (bulk charge) at a pretty heavy rate when the battery is low and then taperoff to a lwer rate as it reaches the optimum voltage to maintain the battery. Not going too high or too fast reduces the boiling and water loss!

Bottom line for me might be to think they are getting near end of life but how long to continue to use them can depend on HOW you use them. Do you need new batteries as you often go to places where you have no hookups and need batteries which last far longer? Or is your style driving a few hundred miles, hooking up and then drinving a few hundred again so that all the battery needed is for short stops along the road?

While driving the alternator carries the load and the batteries are just storage like a closet. So do you need a big closet or small is fine?

Sounds like all the equipment is working but the batteries are likely to be getting suspect. The converter sounds like it is working, just not designed topush the voltage higher at the time you looked.
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Old 08-16-2022, 05:57 PM   #3
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Thanks for the feedback.

In our case, we mostly boondock (or Walmart/Cracker Barrel-dock) and are rarely plugged in to shore power. I run some medical gear off the 12V system overnight, so it's not optional to have it working. We do minimize our 12V usage to keep the coach batteries as charged as possible, even using a variety of battery-powered lights (not plugged in to the 12V system) for various purposes.

As far as I can tell, the only way to access the batteries and cables is to unbolt the trays under the chassis, slide the batteries off the housings and lower them to the ground (or something else, for example, if the RV is on a lift).

In my case, I'd have to lie on the gravel under the RV and work with about 18 inches or less of clearance in fairly tight quarters. I believe the batteries weigh around 70 pounds each, far more than I can handle at this point in my life.

I have looked into using a modified floor jack, which may be an option to lower and raise the batteries. I did see someone else suggest something like a small version of a teeter-totter, which might be feasible.

I have no idea how long the battery cables are, and if they are long enough to lower the batteries all the way to the ground.

I could be wrong about all of this, but I did attempt most of the above about 2 years ago when I had to replace the battery mode solenoid under the passenger seat. I wanted to disconnect the coach batteries first (I had already pulled the chassis battery disconnect next to the accelerator pedal) before working on the solenoid. I was unable to figure out how to do so, and wound up very carefully working with the coach batteries connected, which I wouldn't recommend.

At the time, I couldn't find any fuses or breakers to disconnect the coach batteries. It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure the 12V cut-off switch (mounted near the sliding door) did NOT disconnect the coach batteries from the solenoid.

At that time, I did call Winnebago customer support and ask about all of this (how to remove the batteries, disconnect them from the solenoid, etc.) and they weren't able to provide any useful info.

I have found that different customer service reps have different levels of knowledge and perhaps even motivation to help. When I had an issue with the TV antenna system (a power switch that failed) I spoke to 2 different Winnebago customer service reps within a couple of hours. One sent me on a wild goose chase and the other was much more helpful.

That said, I'll trying reaching out to Winnebago again and see if I can get any useful info from them.

On a related note, if anyone knows of any good RV repair shops northeast of Atlanta GA (in the vicinity of Lawrenceville, Duluth, Buford, etc.) I'd appreciate a recommendation for someone that can change the coach batteries if need be. Other than the Mercedes-Benz dealership, I was very unhappy with the nearby Winnebago dealer's service department on a couple of previous issues and am looking for an alternative.
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Old 08-16-2022, 07:10 PM   #4
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I'm with you on finding I doless than I used to be able!
But that is when us "experienced" folks can do better at using the head instead of the muscle!

I find getting reliable advise is iffy at best on these deals so I often look for my own info and Winnebago does a somewhat better job than others I've seen as they put a lot of info on line to help sort things.

If you want to spend some time looking around the RV, there is this interactive parts catalog that lets you select what parts you want to find and then pull them up in a way that you can turn it over and around to get a good look at what's behind or under the floor:
https://catalog3d.winnebagoind.com/menu/Parts.htm

This shows the problem with your battery situation and I can see it looks bad if not up on a lift AND able to lift 70 pounds over our head!
Click these snips to get a better view of them.

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If clicking on the parts list on the right of page, it brings that part up in yellow on the drawing to help spot it. Or you can spot it on the drawing, click and bring it up on the list if you have something but no idea what it's called!

IF you decide you need info on the wiring of the batteries, there is some help there, too.

Wiring:
https://www.winnebago.com/Files/File...ire_184822.pdf

This may not be your serial number, so details can be different, but an idea of what you can find?
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One thing that can help is the color codes that should have tape at the ends of the battery cables and they are shown on the drawings. That can help sort which goes where if looking at some place like the solenoid where there are several?

My first thoughts may change when dealing with the AGM batteries as they do last longer, so possibly not that critical just yet? A normal lead acid that is more than five years old is suspect when possibly not on AGM!
But I have to say this would be a shop job for me. But maybe you can get an idea of what is needed to decide?

Good luck in either case!
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Old 08-16-2022, 08:45 PM   #5
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Thanks for all the info!

Richard, thanks for all of the information, references, etc. The wiring diagrams are indeed helpful, as is all of the other information you provided.

I know you are very active on these forums and extremely helpful to myself and others. I've seen a lot of very thoughtful, detailed and informative responses from you on threads from lots of forum members, including me. It's folks like you that make forums like this so incredibly helpful and useful.

As I noted, I will reach out to Winnebago and get whatever info I can from them. I'm particularly interested in knowing if the battery cables are long enough that I can drop the batteries down to the ground if I can figure out how to safely do so. I'd hate to get them on the ground, only to damage the cables or wiring.

If I can get them on the ground I can check all the connections and see if any cleanup needs to be done. Otherwise...

If I can get them out, I have some younger friends and relatives that can help move them and get the new ones. Otherwise, I'll have to find a trustworthy shop nearby and pay whatever it costs to get them replaced.

I'm inclined to think that a new set of batteries are the answer, but I'd hate to be wrong. I priced a new set of batteries last year (same Napa Commercial AGM batteries) and a pair was running around $500 or so. I'd imagine they (or comparable batteries) have gone up in price since then, along with everything else.
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Old 08-17-2022, 06:39 AM   #6
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Thanks for the kind words.
How to fix things and what to pau or do myself has always been a question, so I often look at several ways to go before deciding.
RV repairs are something that I try to avoid going to RV specifci shops but look for the smaller places where they are more open minded on what they can /will do.
If it looks beyond what you can do safely, would there be any shops in your area where you could get in quicker?

I have a local place which does lots of small stuff on motorhomes and I might take this one in to just let them look at itbefore they said yes or no. Lookiong at the wiring they might see it is just a simple setup for one with lines going to the second one. I'm guessing that if it were up on a lift, they would have little trouble unbolting and bolting in the new.

Maybe a few calls or drive by to see if there is any interest? Best of luck on the search!
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Old 08-17-2022, 10:00 AM   #7
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I don't have any experience with the Via motorhome. But if it's anything like my Adventurer the batteries were closer to 65 lbs and all of mine had built in handles. As for extra length wiring, there was hardly 3" of extra wire. So, disconnection was required to move the batteries.

I'm 72 years old and don't lift much over 50 lbs ever. I was able to disconnect my batteries, and tip them out using their handles and down to the ground. Then I put them one at a time on a two-wheel dolly and moved them into the garage.

I dreaded the job and thought it was going to be some huge ordeal. But actually it took no time at all and wasn't difficult at all.
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Old 08-17-2022, 12:21 PM   #8
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The problem on the newer design RV is the way the batteries are placed with no access from the outside!
Solid on the outside!
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I can imagine being able to drag a couple batteries over to the RV and get them under but then I see the BIG problem.

Getting the batteries out is a first step as I'm not sure I want to try to move fifity plus pounds out of the space between the frame and battery rack while laying on the ground underneath the thing!
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Getting fifty plus up off the ground when horizontal is likely out for me and lifting it and fitting it carefully in between the rack and frame is a no go for me!

Oh, yeah! I got to twist an arm around to get to the battery top to remove the cables??? Sorry, not today!
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Old 08-17-2022, 04:14 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Morich View Post
The problem on the newer design RV is the way the batteries are placed with no access from the outside!
Solid on the outside!
Attachment 183842
Attachment 183846

I can imagine being able to drag a couple batteries over to the RV and get them under but then I see the BIG problem.

Getting the batteries out is a first step as I'm not sure I want to try to move fifity plus pounds out of the space between the frame and battery rack while laying on the ground underneath the thing!
Attachment 183843
Attachment 183844
Attachment 183845

Getting fifty plus up off the ground when horizontal is likely out for me and lifting it and fitting it carefully in between the rack and frame is a no go for me!

Oh, yeah! I got to twist an arm around to get to the battery top to remove the cables??? Sorry, not today!
That's the scenario and the battery replacement issue in a nutshell with the ERA, at least our 2016 model. It would have been difficult in my youth, and close to impossible at this late stage of my life. Laying on my back with very little ground clearance and working with heavy batteries over my head is asking for trouble. Certainly putting the ERA on a lift would be the way to go, but I'm sure having a shop do this is a fairly expensive proposition in terms of labor. Still, it may be the only practical option.

It's my understanding the stock Napa AGM 105AH Group 31 batteries (2 of them, 1 on either side of the RV) are about 70 pounds each.

Batteries have definitely gone up since I last looked a year or two ago. When I looked back then, the same batteries we currently have (see above) were about $250 each. They are currently around $325 each.

The following is primarily intended as info for other ERA owners...

I called Winnebago customer service today and spoke to Nicolas, nice guy and helpful. He responded to various questions as follows:

1. Any way to disconnect the coach battery cables other than removing the batteries? No

2. Are the coach battery cables long enough to reach the ground? He put me on hold to check with the service department, came back and said yes they SHOULD be long enough.

3. Any way to disconnect the coach batteries from the battery mode solenoid located under the passenger seat? He said the 12V disconnect switch (located near the floor on the cabinet next to the sliding door) should disconnect them. I could be wrong, but my recollection is that switch did NOT disconnect the coach batteries from the solenoid when I replaced the solenoid a year or two ago. He did say there is a circuit breaker under the passenger seat, but it would have to be disconnected to cut the power. No other options.

4. Pondering switching from the AGM batteries to LiFePO4 batteries, I asked him about the converter. It's a Progressive Dynamics PD9245-C model. He referred me to Progressive Dynamics (www.progressivedyn.com) for further info.

I called PD and they said that model converter will work with flooded, gel and AGM batteries, and NOT with LiFEPO4 batteries. They do sell a 45A converter that will work with LiFePO4 batteries. The model number is PD9145ALV, currently a bit north of $200 and available from several places, including etrailer.com:

https://www.etrailer.com/RV-Converte...PD9145ALV.html

I don't know much about electricity, electronics, batteries, etc. but I get the drift there would be substantial benefits to switching to LiFePO4 batteries. Some aren't a lot more expensive than the Napa AGM batteries mentioned above. They weigh a lot less, can be discharged further without harm, can be recharged many more times, etc.

The downsides would be having to change out the converter (described above, or a similar model), and I'm unclear if the alternator power flows through the same converter the shore power connection uses or something else would also have to be updated.

We will likely travel in the ERA a few more years, probably 5 at the most. The simplest and cheapest route is probably just replacing the coach batteries with similar AGM batteries. If the timeframe was a lot longer I think switching now to LiFePO4 batteries would be the route to take.
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Old 08-17-2022, 08:20 PM   #10
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I fully agree with most of the info as you've stated it, but I do have to disagree with what the Winnebago folks thought!

I don't think there is any way to disconnect the cables from the batteries to the solenoid as I understand your number three question.

There are some general basic things that make that not happen for sheer physical reasons.
The problem with those cables is they have to be big to carry the current needed. That physical size, about finger size, is way too big to get to places like the steering column on a car and into the ignition switch. Also if there was a way to get the cables in and out to the switch, the switch body would have to be way big to hold contacts large enough to pass that current.

Think of the size of the solenoid and try to fit it and wires into the place where the ignition switch fits? And that is only one of many circuits running through that switch, so the whole thing gets way too big. Some folks may know about cars with the starter button on the floor to step on when starting? That was before they started using a starter solenoid and it was on the floor because it had to be so big it didn't fit the dash or any other place!

I have never seen any connectionsof any type on any of the Winnebago that is between the batteries and the solenoid. There are some which have "mega fuses" inline but those are large like 300 amp that are only expected to come into play if there is major damage like a wreck and the battery cables have to be cut off to avoid fires. I see none on your Rv but there is a way to cut off the power to the solenoid---if we want to go to the trouble??

For the non-electrical trained folks, the idea is that power will only flow if there is a full circuit (circle) for it to move. When we turn off a light at the switch, it goes out because the switch opens the circle. So we do the same when we want to keep battery power from moving while we work on things.

When we work on our car or any battery, it is always a good safety idea to disconnect the circuit by taking the negative/ ground side loose. Working on the coach batteries we have the same thing except we have two batteries tied together and then use one positve and one negative cable to get to the rest of the RV.

When we want to work on some electrical item and want to make certain there will be no power, sparks, and all that excitement, we can take the ground or negative connection off and that opens the circuit so nothing will flow!

In the 2016 Era, that gets hard to do because the batteries are hidden but there is one spot which is semi-simple to find if we want to work on things. Semi-simple because it is underneath on the frame! Not something you want to do every day, for sure!

But if you are down crawling around under the RV, there is a connection for the negative cable shown on the frame in this snip looking down from above and front to back! If I was thinking of sticking a tool up in the dark and out of sight to try to get the batteries out, I would want the power turned off before starting!

Click the snip to see what it shows.
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Old 08-17-2022, 08:59 PM   #11
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Thanks for info on ground connection.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Morich View Post
I fully agree with most of the info as you've stated it, but I do have to disagree with what the Winnebago folks thought!

I don't think there is any way to disconnect the cables from the batteries to the solenoid as I understand your number three question.

...

When we want to work on some electrical item and want to make certain there will be no power, sparks, and all that excitement, we can take the ground or negative connection off and that opens the circuit so nothing will flow!

In the 2016 Era, that gets hard to do because the batteries are hidden but there is one spot which is semi-simple to find if we want to work on things. Semi-simple because it is underneath on the frame! Not something you want to do every day, for sure!

But if you are down crawling around under the RV, there is a connection for the negative cable shown on the frame in this snip looking down from above and front to back! If I was thinking of sticking a tool up in the dark and out of sight to try to get the batteries out, I would want the power turned off before starting!

Click the snip to see what it shows.
Thanks for the additional info. When I have a chance I'll look and see if I can find the ground connection you mentioned. That would be a big help.

There is actually a fair amount of room under the ERA behind the rear axle where the batteries are located to the rear bumper. I can crawl under there and move around fairly easily. Unfortunately, I think there is probably less than a foot of ground clearance in the area where it looks like the ground connects to the frame. Unless I can get the ERA off the ground to some extent I don't think I'll be able to access it. I doubt I can squeeze under it.

I don't know about other RVs, but the ground clearance on our ERA is negligible. The engine exhaust pipe is just in front of the rear tires on the right side, and there is maybe 6 inches or a bit more of ground clearance. It makes going off of paved roads very difficult and worrisome.

There is a local place that bills itself as "Sprinter Gurus". Not really Sprinter-based RVs, just Sprinters. I bought some front tires elsewhere (they don't sell tires) and they installed them fairly inexpensively. They also installed the metal valve stems I bought (for all 6 wheels, to support the stem-mounted sensors for the aftermarket TPMS system I bought), but I had some problems with the stems not sealing and wound up going to a truck tire place to get that resolved. Point being they are good for some things and not so good for others.

That said, I'm pretty sure they would swap out the coach batteries at a reasonable price. I'll check with them and see what it would cost.
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Old 08-18-2022, 07:24 AM   #12
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Sounds like a plan. I'm thinking it is a job for others if it were me. Some things just get too difficultand I have to back off. This might be easy enough if a guy were standing up and 20 years ago!

If you find a guy with the right mindset and not boggled at the first mention of RV, then I'm thinking it is just a battery change in an awkward location and they are kind of finding that lots more. I have a Honda pilot and had to turn a guy down when he wanted a jump start because the battery is so buried we could not find a way to get to it!
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Old 08-18-2022, 08:36 AM   #13
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Someone recently asked if I'd jump their truck from our CR-V. I felt bad about turning him down, but I'm worried about inadvertently damaging one of the many computers in the CR-V, just too risky.

I have an old lithium jump starter that won't hold a charge any more. Need to get a new one. That's the way to go for jump-starting vehicles.
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