Recreational vehicle technology has progressed rapidly since its inception over 100 years ago. 

Invented in the early 1900s, RVs have become a lifestyle for over 10 million Americans. With growth accelerating significantly over the last several years, the RV market continues to improve model efficiency and capabilities.  

Way Interglobal has been a pioneer of 12-volt technology in RVs to power appliances, lighting, and other equipment over the last five years. With our innovation, many manufacturers are now putting 12-volt refrigerators in their models, and owners are reaping the benefits of adding 12-volt fridges to their RVs. 

While many know 12-volts power much of their RV from starting the engine to running their refrigerator, they might not understand how the battery works. Let’s chat about 12-volt’s history, the basics of how they function, and some benefits of using them to power an RV. 

History of 12-Volt Technology

Twelve-volt batteries were first introduced into automobiles in the mid-1950s. 

Six-volt batteries powered most vehicles at the time, but as engines grew in size, the higher compression ratios required more electrical power to start the car. 

12-volt technology is used in RVs to power several systems, including the chassis system, which powers the RV and starts the engine, and a 12-volt coach system that powers lighting, run fans, powers water pumps, and other accessories commonly used when parked. 

Until recently, 12-volt batteries were not used to power RV appliances. In 2017, Way brought the first 12-volt refrigerator model to market. This advancement revolutionized how the industry viewed refrigeration and has since adopted the 12-volt model as a safer and better alternative to traditional absorption options. 

How 12-Volt Technology Works

Traditional 12-volt lead-acid batteries are constructed of six single cells connected in a series, with each cell producing 2.1 volts, or 12.6 volts in total.

A lead-acid battery works as follows: Each of the six cells has two plates, one made of lead and lead dioxide. These plates are submerged in sulphuric acid.  The acid, acting as a catalyst, will trigger a reaction on the lead dioxide plate, producing both ions and lead sulfate. The ions produced by the lead dioxide plate react with the adjacent plate to produce hydrogen and lead sulfate. The result is a chemical reaction that produces electrons. When the electrons move, they generate electricity that flows out of the battery and usable power for an RV’s engine, lighting, electronics, and appliances like refrigerators. 

Lead-acid batteries do not generate voltage on their own; they store a charge from another source and receive a charge voltage of at least 2.1 volts. These deep cell rechargeable batteries deliver a steady amount of current over a more extended period.

Other 12-volt battery types include glass mat, and more recently lithium-ion. 


Recharging 12-Volt Batteries

12-volt batteries in an RV can recharge when the vehicle is in motion, just like traditional passenger vehicles. The RV’s alternator can recharge the battery by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. This mechanical energy is generated when the engine runs, and a belt rotates the alternator. 

Charging your batteries with an alternator is a great option, but it isn’t ideal when taking extended stays or boondocking. Many RVs and campers are also pulled and do not have combustion engines, their charging can come from their towing vehicle while on the road. 

For 12-volt charging without an alternator, owners will have to turn to shore power (plugging in at a campsite), generators, and solar power

Recharging 12-volt batteries is recommended at less than 50% capacity and discharging below 12 volts. At these levels, use tends to shorten battery life. 

Benefits of 12-Volt

When it comes to RVs, 12-volt batteries are beneficial because they can not only start your engine but power lighting, radio, the water pump, and, more recently, appliances like refrigerators. They are also many methods for continuous charging and the capability to add multiple batteries to your rig for increased power. 

Up until five years ago, most fridges in RVs were absorption models, meaning they ran on propane. Thanks to newer technology, 12-volt fridges have begun to replace absorption.

In our next article, we will compare 12-volt refrigerators to absorption models and discuss their benefits.

Want to learn more about 12-volt technology or how it can power your appliances on the road? Contact us and lets chat!