A leisure battery makes sure you have a smooth supply of power to the 12V appliances in your caravan or motorhome. And with a bit of looking after, it won’t let you down. It might look like a car battery, but a leisure battery is significantly different in terms of how it supplies its power and how it charges/discharges.
Back to Basics: Looking after your leisure battery
Generally, you can keep an eye on your battery’s state via a gauge or read-out that’s part of the main electrical control unit in your vehicle. This should give you a voltage reading.
Without going into detail, there’s quite a range of styles that can call themselves leisure batteries – lead-acid, AGM, gel, lithium – and, for once, the maxim you only get what you pay for is not appropriate. Banner, Bosch, Dynamic, Easystart, Exide, Johnson, Leoch, Lucas, Manbat, Numax, Platinum, Varta, Xplorer and Yuasa are among the main names to look out for.
Choosing the right make and model depends on your particular lifestyle – for example, do you always use campsites and mains hook-ups, or do you want to venture “off-grid”?
Lithium batteries offer best overall performance but cost more initially.
Types of leisure battery
Although there’s no official definition for a leisure battery, it should be capable of providing a low currency over a long period (so, it performs very differently to, say, a vehicle’s starter battery).
Trade body the National Caravan Council operates a Verified Leisure Battery Scheme, to which some (but not all) of the leading leisure battery manufacturers have signed up. It splits leisure batteries into three different categories, depending on power and performance:
Category A. Higher storage capacity for people who frequently use their caravan or motorhome away from an electrical hook-up
Category B For those who frequently use sites with hook-up facilities, but need a greater battery capacity to operate devices such as motor movers
Category C For users that need a lower capacity battery to cover basic operation of their habitation equipment for short periods away from an electrical hook-up
Find out more here.
Most batteries these days are described as “maintenance-free” and/or “sealed for life”. Nevertheless, a bit of due diligence and attention should make sure a longer life for the leisure battery.
Basic lead-acid batteries, for example, will need each cell checked to make sure the liquid level inside (electrolyte) just covers the easily identifiable lead plates. If not, they need to be topped up with de-ionised water.
Note, also, your annual caravan service or motorhome habitation check includes assessing the performance of your leisure battery.
Left inactive for long periods (especially through winter), a leisure battery will lose charge. That’s why some folk like to take their leisure batteries out of their vehicles and keep them elsewhere – where they can also keep an eye on them and charge them, as necessary. However, before you do this, make sure this will not affect the workings of key components such as alarms and tracking systems.
How long should a leisure battery last?
That depends on so many usage and care factors. If you get more than five years out of yours, you’re doing well.
On a charge
Most modern motorhomes and caravans come with a charging system as part of the 12V set-up. Hence, the leisure battery should be charged automatically when you’re driving, on mains hook-up and if you have a solar panel fitted.
If you feel the above are not sufficient, you can also use a stand-alone charger for your battery, but do make sure you use the right model for the task.
Typically, 12.7 is the maximum working voltage for a leisure battery. If that figure falls below 12V it means your battery is discharged. At around 12.4V it’s reckoned to have about half of its charge and should be recharged as soon as possible.
All leisure batteries have a limited life, but some due care will optimise their periods of effectiveness.
Top leisure battery tips
- If you’re storing your vehicle for several months or more, it might be worth removing your leisure battery altogether (as long as this isn’t going to affect the working of any key fittings, especially security items). It will benefit from being in a well ventilated, dry place (a work bench, perhaps?) where you can also charge it as necessary.
- Leisure batteries do not like the cold. They will work less efficiently when temperatures drop.
- Other names for leisure batteries include auxiliary, deep-cycle, traction etc.
- Putting your vehicle undercover for long-term storage? Remember, solar panels need light and don’t work in such a scenario.
- In most cases, your leisure battery should not be left on permanent charge.
- Never over-charge a leisure battery. Systems should be in place to prevent this from happening but, if the battery is overcharged it can result in irreparable damage.
- Likewise, never leave a leisure battery discharged. There will be a point when it can no longer take any charge and is therefore useless.
- If you suspect a problem, one of the first things to do is check your leisure battery’s connections. These should be as tight as possible, with no signs of corrosion.
Buying a new leisure battery?
Always check it will fit in its dedicated storage point in your vehicle. If you’re replacing the battery, it’s an ideal time to do a little bit of maintenance that should otherwise be carried out at least once a year – clean the battery box and/or tray and check the terminals are tightly fitted.
A battery box is a safe, secure, practical housing for your leisure battery.
Smearing petroleum jelly (Vaseline, or similar) or grease across the terminals acts as a good protectant.
If you want a more accurate reading of your leisure vehicle’s voltage, invest in a voltmeter or multi-meter. Disconnect your leisure battery and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before testing with a meter.
Like so many other aspects of your caravan or motorhome, regular use is the key to a trouble-free life for your leisure battery. That, and selecting the right item for the job you want it to do in the first place.
As well as your local leisure vehicle dealer, there are lots of specialist retailers of leisure batteries and related products. You can also get good information from the websites of leading leisure battery manufacturers.
For motorhomes, see also our articles on how to look after your motorhome’s leisure battery.
Over to you…
Got any leisure battery maintenance advice to pass on to new caravanners or motorhome owners? Please feel free to add a comment below.