Best Converter Charger for an RV – Smart VS. Dumb
Before we had our new RV Solar installed I had never heard of a Converter Charger, and I surely wasn’t worried if it was a Smart Converter Charger or not! Here we are 6 months later and oh how much we’ve learned.
After tons of research on my basic questions: “What is a Converter Charger?”, “Why Do I Need a Converter Charger?”, “What’s the Difference Between a Regular and Smart Charger?”, and “How Many Amps are Needed to get the Best and fastest Charge for my RV Batteries?” Here’s what we’ve come up with on why you should get to know the very important, yet rarely discussed, Converter Charger.
Let’s begin with a simple description: A Converter Charger is a device that Converts 110 Volt AC (household) power into 12 Volt DC (battery) power and simultaneously charges the RV batteries. Simple enough right? Well…nothing beats a good old school flip chart comparison! Go ahead, click play.
What did you think? Did you learn anything new or should we just use the flip chart as fire starter?
Just a reminder, a Converter Charger is only necessary while charging the RV batteries when plugged into shore power or while using the generator. In theory if you have ample solar power and plenty of sun you could ditch your Converter Charger (I would not recommend this as nature doesn’t always cooperate). Also our experience, and this post, is limited to the kind of batteries installed on most RVs: Flooded (or “wet cell”).
Many new RVs, from towables to class A motorhomes, come standard with a “Dumb” Converter Charger because it’s less expensive. This causes RV’ers to run their generators more often for longer periods of time or stay plugged into campground shore power. The worst part of all is the RV batteries never get a quality charge so they don’t last as long.
Here is my kindergarten flip chart side-by-side comparison of a Smart vs. Dumb Converter Charger
The takeaway: A high quality, 4 stage Smart Converter Charger is a worthy upgrade no matter what type of RV you are in, new or old.
Here’s the breakdown on the all important charging stages
1. Bulk – The main part of the charging cycle that quickly gets batteries up to a near 90% charge. Bulk uses the max amperage of the charger and this is where a higher Amp charger will give you a faster charge.
2. Absorption – Tapers the charge amperage down and slowly charges the last 10-20% of the battery before going into float mode.
3. Float – Keeps the batteries “topped up” at a lower voltage (around 13.7 V) to prevent electrolyte loss by overheating or “boiling out” the water in the battery.
4. Equalize – Supercharges the Battery Voltage to remove any sulfur build up that can accumulate on the battery plates (having sulfur build up reduces battery life and quality of charge).
In contrast a “Dumb Charger” has one charging stage that will continuously keep the RV batteries around 13.7 Volts (or 70% full) and never give the batteries a full charge.
One point of “controversy” is: Should the Converter Charger be built into the inverter or separate? Some inverter manufacturers install a Smart Converter Charger directly into the inverter while others do not. There is nothing wrong with a built in Converter Charger as long as it’s a Smart one! We like the flexibility of having our Smart Converter Charger separate from our Inverter just in case one of the devices malfunctions. For our setup, if our Smart Converter Charger fails we can still charge our RV batteries from the solar and invert that power with our 3000 watt Pure Sine Inverter. If everything was built into one device we’d be without power for who knows how long while the inverter was repaired/replaced. Plus if you’re happy with your current inverter and just want to upgrade the Converter Charger to save on generator use and fuel consumption this is a cheap way to upgrade!
I hope this very simple explanation can shed a little light on a topic that’s rarely discussed around the campfire. In order to keep this post easy to understand we haven’t hit on every point about Converter Chargers, but we feel the video and this article will give you a jump start on deciding what’s right for your needs. So…take this new found knowledge to the web and find out what type of Converter Charger you have installed inside your RV and ask yourself the question: Is it Smart or Dumb?
Our 75 Amp Smart Converter Charger came with the Solar Extreme Kit and it’s worked great for us over the past 6 months.
If you want to upgrade to a Smart Converter Charger here’s the Amazon Link to the one we have (Amazon has some of the best prices and we get a little “love” if you use this link to purchase): Go Power! Smart Converter/Battery Charger
We’re sharing from our experience and research, remember these are just our opinions so please do your own research and read our disclaimer.