So what’s this got to do with art, anyway? Very little. But, it has a lot to do with my mode of transportation for finding and making my art
Way back around the dawning of the motorhome era, the chassis battery (engine) and the house battery (for everything related to the living area of the motorhome) were connected to the alternator via an isolator. It was a pretty simple device. It used a couple diodes to keep the batteries separated yet still allow the alternator to charge them. That way a low battery (say the house battery after a day or two of being parked out in the boonies) would not drain the other battery. It worked. Well, it worked as long as both batteries were in good condition. If one battery was defective however, it could cause the other to not be charged by the alternator. Oops!
If we fast forward to now, Winnebago (and some other manufacturers) tackle this battery-alternator-battery relationship differently. They mechanically connect them together by energizing a continuous duty solenoid (high current relay that can be left on for long periods of time) whenever the engine is running. When the engine is off, the batteries are no longer connected together. This way the engine start battery can’t be drawn down by circuits connected to the house battery yet both can be charged up while the engine is running. An added benefit is that through the addition of a switch (Winnebago calls it the “Boost” switch) one can effectively jump start the engine if its battery is low and the house batteries are charged or conversely jump start the generator from the engine battery if the house batteries are low.
The one thing that doesn’t happen is charging the engine battery while parked somewhere and plugged in to shore power (110v at your house for instance). The house batteries will be charged but without the solenoid being activated, the engine battery is isolated and if left long enough, those little electrical gremlins like all that computer stuff will run the chassis battery down. If left like this for a long period of time, the chassis battery will be damaged. Not a problem if you use your RV regularly. But, if you store your RV over the winter as many people do, you have a good chance of ruining your engine start battery.
Relax! An inexpensive and simple solution exists. It’s called Trik-L-Start. It is a small box with only 3 wires to connect and it will trickle charge your chassis battery from your house battery whenever the house batteries have more charge than the chassis battery does. Yeah! That’s the ticket. Simple, cheap and never worry about the chassis battery again.
I recently experienced just this sort of problem. Well, actually this along with that solenoid I first mentioned being bad and not recharging the house batteries while driving. It was sort of a double whammy. It caused me to do a lot of research and reading on the topic. Everywhere I turned people were singing the praises of this Trik-L-Start. Like I said, inexpensive (30 bucks or so), only 3 small wires to connect and it works. Everyone says so.
I’d first contemplated building something to accomplish this but for 30 bucks and 10 minutes to install, why bother?? I bought one. Besides, I’ve just surfaced after 6 weeks designing and building the prototype for a device to help manage power in the motorhome. Shhh. It’s a secret. I really don’t want to jump right back into it regardless of how simple the circuit might be.
Now about this 10 minute install. It should be and possible could be except that the most logical place to install it is at that afore mentioned solenoid. It lives in the pedestal right beneath the passenger seat on my RV so I have to add whatever time it takes to remove and then replace the seat. Not a problem in my case as I already had the seat out to replace said solenoid. 10 minutes! That was about all it took not counting the seat. And simple too. 3 small wires. They can be small because it only maxes out at 5 amps. It’s a trickle charger! One wire goes to ground, one to the house batteries and the 3rd to the engine battery. All are readily available at the solenoid. Couldn’t be more simple.
Since this wasn’t my first rodeo, I knew to disconnect the batteries before digging into things. Everything was dead. After the Trik-L-Start install was complete, I reconnected the house battery(ies). Huh? What was that? Ding, ding, ding. Darn, it was the bell reminding me that the door was open and key in the ignition. But wait. I was pretty sure I had the chassis battery disconnected. I mean I should have. I walked around to the driver side and looked. Sure enough the battery was disconnected. But, the dash lights came on when I turned the key and all the Mercedes electrical parts had power. But . . . but the battery was disconnected! Yeah, you get the picture. It shouldn’t be happening. Obviously the Trik-L-Start was passing the voltage from the house battery over to the engine start battery wire without the engine start battery being connected!
Yikes! This means that even though the chassis battery was disconnected (like it would be, say when replacing an alternator), all the chassis circuits still had electricity. It wouldn’t take much to fry the computer or voltage regulator or any number of other components since there was still electricity present in the system.
First thing I did was disconnect the ground wire from the Trik-L-Start thinking that should kill it. It didn’t! The Trik-L-Start was still conducting electricity. Alright now I was scratching my head. I wondered if the unit was defective so I gave Trik-L-Start a call. They didn’t seem concerned and said simply that some of the components were conducting electricity but since it was limited to 5 amps it shouldn’t be a problem. “Not a problem”??? A whole lot less than 5 amps will instantly toast delicate electronics. And this Mercedes chassis is chocked full of delicate electronics. I told him that I had disconnected the ground wire and still it was conducting electricity. He said yeah and that it probably would. I then told him I wanted to add a switch to turn the device off or on when I wanted. I said that getting to it to disconnect it was not an option due to having to remove the seat for access. He said to put a switch in the yellow house battery wire and that would kill the device. I’m not certain but I think I heard him yawn. .
Seriously, the addition of a transistor biased (or not) by the presence of chassis battery voltage would effectively shut it down. A simple 20 cent component would safeguard those delicate and expensive electronics that Mercedes installed. Perhaps I should have designed and built my own after all.
But, with the switch installed I can turn it on or off whenever I wish. And, Mercedes left an empty spot in the compartment in that seat pedestal where a bunch of circuit breakers were. It was the perfect place to put the switch. Easy to get to but out of the way.
So it is done. No more worries about dead chassis batteries if left unattended for any time. In closing, I will caution anyone who has a Trik-L-Start installed to make certain to disconnect both the house and chassis batteries before servicing anything on the chassis that uses electricity or is near electrical connections. BOTH batteries!! Or, place a switch in the yellow wire and simply turn it off when you need to.
Here are a couple pictures of the mounted Trik-L-Start in an indent in the front of the passenger seat pedestal and the circuit breaker compartment where I added the switch (on the side of the passenger seat pedestal). Yes, I see that my on/off plate is crooked. If ever I have reason to remove that seat again, I’ll fix it. Until then, it has a cover over is and you’ll never see it unless you are fooling with the circuit breakers or using the switch.