12V Guru – New power for an old caravan

Who is 12V Guru?

Q&A inspired by readers of Caravan World Magazine. BMPRO Brand Ambassador David Bayliss answers a range of questions related to your 12V battery and caravan power needs.

Question to a 12V Guru:

Hi guru, I recently bought my first caravan, an older Jayco Starcraft and want to refurb it. My first concern is getting the suspension sorted as its seen better days, but while that’s being done, I thought I’d research batteries and solar. What is best for me? I do not run a fridge (yet), only lights and fans but I’d like to be able to boil a kettle occasionally. As I’m still learning so could you maybe give me some basics to keep the lights on more and ideas on prices? I’m on a budget but don’t know where to start! Thanks in advance, Jack Williams, Vic

12V Guru answers:

Hi Jack, Sounds like a great project you have taken on. Essentially in building a “new” system to meet your next adventures, there are three steps; firstly, identify what’s already installed (what works and what needs replacing), secondly, consider what you are going to require and lastly, assess the various options relevant to your budget.

Update caravan power supply

Firstly, it sounds like you have one of the earlier Starcraft from the late 90s or early 2000? Considering the age of the van, I would suggest that the power supply should probably be swapped out anyway to ensure reliability moving forward — the newer versions have more outputs which are fused and also a low voltage disconnect to protect your battery. The Starcraft of this vintage usually have a black box that will be located under one of the seats in the dining/kitchen area — this is the caravan power supply. Explore the cavity that it has been recessed into and this will become your new power centre. From a safety perspective, make sure that you use this compartment only for power installations and NOT for storage of non-related equipment, as it could cause damage in transit. Next step in the process is to consider what you need the power system to handle. Let’s make the assumption that like the majority of caravan users across Australia, you will normally be camping at caravan parks where 240v is available, but like the idea of setting up the van to be able to handle 1-2 days of getting away to a few free camps.

Change caravan lights

The earlier Starcraft won’t have been installed with the latest of LED’s available, so best to source out a reliable range to replace the original globes which use considerably more power. The 12v incandescent bulbs consume 1.6 amps of power. A 12v LED light consumes around 0.15 Amps depending upon the brand and size. Changing to LEDs will reduce your power requirements considerably and the globes last at least 10x longer.

Choose the fridge

Adding a fridge will require between 2-5 Amps depending upon what type of model you go for. I find a 3-way fridge best, so you can use 240v if at a caravan park, gas for when free camping and 12v whilst on the move between campsites. The better quality the fridge normally means the more efficient they are and therefore consume less power. We have used the Waeco and Engel models in the past.

Setup of the caravan power supply

If you are keen to get away and do a bit of free camping, can I suggest that you will need a solar and battery setup. Now for the setup — a simple 100Amp AGM battery is probably the best solution for what you require and I suggest connecting this to one of the BMPRO Power Management Systems, such as the BP35. This enables you to connect everything from solar and 12v from the car when driving, charging and maintaining your battery. Unlike other systems, where you need to add multiple components, these units have everything in the one simple product. These systems sell for between $500-$1000 depending upon the model you choose or whether you get one with a display or not. An option is to purchase the model which has its own solar regulator and high amp charging (suitable for Lithium batteries in the future) – then you could opt for other features later.

solar options

For solar, try the folding panels option, so that you can move them around to obtain the best angle to the sun or leave it at home and travel lighter if only visiting a caravan park with 240v. For between $300-$400 you can find a decent brand with solar regulator and wiring thrown in and it can just be wired to an Anderson connector so you can disconnect when required. Good luck with the next stage of your project and keep us posted! The article first appeared in Caravan World Magazine

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