Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My 2019 Travato GL Ordeal

I picked up my new Travato a few weeks ago back in South Carolina. This is the 4th Travato I've owned. This is their new "L" model with the lithium batteries, big inverter and a 2nd alternator for charging the battery bank.  The power of this system is so great, you can run the rooftop air conditioner for 6 to 8 hours before the engine kicks on to recharge the batteries.  It was over a week late coming out of the factory, and the delivery company took their sweet time getting it down to my dealer in SC.  By the time I could pick it up, my vacation period was coming to an end, and I needed to return to California.   So I had to go, and instead of a leisurely and sight-seeing meander making my way back to Cali, I had to hump it across country in four days.  Four very long days.

So I was not exactly pleased with Winnebago, or my dealer, frankly.  If I hadn't pestered Winnebago Corporate, my van would have taken another couple weeks to get to my dealer, and probably another month before I could schedule a time to come and get it.

In hindsight, I probably should have taken this as a sign from the gods and delayed everything and given my dealer ample time to tinker with it and do a thorough PDI.

But alas, that was not to be. Immediately on my trip west, I noticed that I had several items wrong with my new van.  First, and most importantly, the 2nd alternator was not charging the batteries.   When I started out, I turned on the inverter, and then the air conditioner.  In my hubris, I was planning to run coast to coast, never once turning off the air conditioner.  Well, I made it 6 hours before the battery was so low, I had to turn everything off and look for a campground where I could plug in.   I felt so defeated and depressed!   Damn the gods!

The second thing wrong was the One Place display that shows you your holding tank levels is missing two pieces of information - black tank level and LP tank level.   This item I later got working to show the black tank level by employing a trick I learned on the Facebook Travato Owners group - fill the tank and reset the One Place.  That worked for the black tank, but still no LP level - it already reads full on the tank itself.  So I called my dealer to get a replacement.  Calls to Winnebago were useless on both the alternator issue, and this One Place gizmo issue.   The third issue is an ill-fitting passenger leather seat back.  Looks like the opening for the seat belt tensioner was cut too big.  This item can wait a bit.  Most likely it will need to be replaced.

Well after a couple calls to Winnebago customer service about the alternator, I was getting nowhere.  They were basically clueless on this new Volta system, as was my dealer.  In all fairness to my dealer, he would have been happy to get this fixed up for me without any anguish on my part.  Problem was, I was 2400 miles away, with no plans to return (or time to do it) for many months.   So once again pestering Winnebago Corporate, I got them to have the system vendor (Volta) help me directly.

I was able to conference with several of their people over a few days.  They all seemed very knowledgeable and professional.  I got out my trusty multi-meter and I took off the cover to the alternator control module and we tested the connections and the three relays inside the box.  I tested the connection of the wires at the alternator.  Several cut fingers and a burned forehead (on the exhaust header - ouch!) later, I was still at square one.    The system would charge off the shore power, but I was getting nothing from the alternator, and nothing I could discern from the solar.   The solar is really a drop in the ocean for a battery this big (~10,000 watt hours).   At a minimum, it should be able to keep the battery level stable with the draw from the refrigerator and the parasitic draws from the inverter idling and BMS (battery management system).   But no.  I suspect if the alternator was allowed to send current to the battery, neither was the solar controller.

So Volta sent me a complete replacement for the alternator control system.  This box was a simple plug and play - pull the old one out, plug the new one in.   I did that in a few minutes, but no luck - still a blinking red fault light and no charging.   Now I was starting to get nervous - what else could it be?

Volta management agreed to get with Winnebago, arrange a shop space near me in California, and send one of their technicians out to fix me up.  I couldn't believe it!   They ended up getting a shop space at LaMesa RV in San Diego and we scheduled a time for Monday, August 13.   We hoped he would find something simple like a loose connection, and I'd be on my way in no time!   Well, it was a good plan anyways..

First, I'd like to say a big thank you to the folks at LaMesa.   I've thrown shade their way in the past as one of the dealers that "needs work" as far as service goes.  They were very generous at giving us some shop space at thier sales lot on Copley Park Place.  This worked out well, as all they do there now is delivery PDI's and minor repairs on units during delivery.  So it was fairly quiet and we felt we weren't in the way or roadblocking their regular customer's work.   For most of the day, it was somewhat shady:

First thing the Volta tech did was re-check all the voltages and ohms I had measured.  Then he went thru measuring and verifying all the wires from the alternator control box.  No dice.

He had brought a new replacement alternator, and installed it.  Still nothing.

Now things were getting a bit more serious.   Out came the laptop computer, plugged into the battery pack (it has a USB connector).   From the program on the laptop, you can see all the aspects of the battery cells and what instructions the BMU is giving.  It was showing normal operation, but we still were not getting any charging coming through.   I could see some panic developing in our technician.   The engineer was wanting him to drop the battery pack out of the van!  This is a 250 pound box and is difficult to reinstall even in the Winnebago plant with a crew of assemblers.

In this pic, we have the side cover off the battery pack.  You can see the heavy duty power leads - there are two sets of 4/0 sized cables - one for the inverter, and one from the alternator.  Around the center you can see the umbilical for the control wiring harness and the USB port with the cover off and hanging down.  There is also a master on/off switch.

So we were lucky to have a lift at this shop.  What we struggled to find was a way to hoist the battery box out of and back into the van.  We thought maybe a floor jack would do it, but ended up using this ancient generator lift table and some wood blocks.  It was just barely tall enough to do the job.  Key word being enough.  It worked great.

First you have to remove the bottom of the insulated weather enclosure.  That is the lid you see laying on the deck of the lift:

Under that, you see a frame that holds the battery box with 4 large bolts.  So we positioned the generator lift table under the battery to support it's weight and proceeded with unbolting it from the frame.

 Here you can see it lowering down.

 ...and down....
 ...and down....

...and out!  The thing on the top is the connections for the temperature probe.  

Here is the inside of the battery enclosure looking from driver's side.  Note it's all insulated with 1" foam.  The black steel is the supporting frame.  You can see the temperature probe wires hanging (white) and the heavy black cables which are the inverter and alternator cables, plus the control cable wiring harness.

Here is a closer look from the passenger side.  Note the blower mounted to the far side.  This blower draws warm (or cool) air from the cabin into this enclosure.  The thinking is that this will keep the battery warm (within it's allowable temperature range for safe charging) in the colder months, as you would have the heater on inside.  Lithium batteries must be kept above 32 degrees F to be charged safely without damage.

Per the request of Volta, I did not photograph the inside of the battery box.  That might reveal some proprietary aspects of their design, and I had to respect that.  What I can do is describe some aspects of what is inside there.  Firstly, this box appears to be weather tight.  You might have noticed all the screws in the lip around the mid-point of the box.  This lip has a rubber gasket to seal it up.   Once you remove all those allen-head screws, the top comes off.  Most of the box is dedicated to the battery modules - this one came with 3 modules and room for a fourth.  There is a fairly large, but thin, plastic box inside that contains the BMU.   I assume it's a computer circuit board and has wiring connectors on it, connecting it to the battery modules and to various relays and the main wiring harness that goes up to the inverter and the alternator control unit.   The rest is the shunt to measure SOC (state of charge) and various relays and wires.

Several of the wires have diodes in them.  Diodes assure that current only flows in one direction - kind of like a check valve.  They also act as fuses if they are blown.

The diodes on the alternator sense appeared normal, but did not test as normal.  They were shot!   Funny how such a small thing could stop up the whole works!   Literally a 10 cent part.

Now that we had it all apart, another call to the engineer to see if we should do anything else.  We had hoisted the battery up enough to reconnect all the cables, and started the engine.  Still no charging!  After some back and forth with the engineer, it was decided to just play it safe and replace the whole BMU.  It would take another 1/2 hour, but was deemed worth it.  Thankfully the technician had brought a spare!

At this point, we were running out of day, and the management had come by to warn us they were closing up at 6:30 pm.   So we decided to put everything back together and hope for the best.  If it didn't work, we'd have to regroup and figure out what to do next.   So that is what we did.  It was certainly not easy lining the battery up with the frame and getting the bolts back in, but we did it.   Once every screw was in, and every wire connected, came the moment of truth.   Starting the engine on a manual auto-start and waiting to see what happens.  The engine started and proceeded to high idle. We had a green light on the alternator control box!  We had a rising voltage on the inverter control display!   We had a rising SOC value on the main gauge!   Success!

After all the thank yous and pats on the back, we rushed out before we'd get locked in.  My drive home was uneventful, but I kept watching that climbing SOC gauge in my rear-view mirror.  Even with some stop and go traffic, my gauge was on 60% (up from 18%) by the time I got home 1 hour later.

So a big thank you to Volta, LaMesa RV and Winnebago.  Here's to hoping the repair lasts and this van becomes as reliable as the others I have owned.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

All Dressed Up and Ready to Go.

Well, the weather finally brightened up enough to finish dressing out my solar wiring and Dicor the last two panel's feet.

I could not find a butyl tape that I liked enough to cover the long wiring runs.   All the ones I could find that weren't outrageously priced ($50 for 25 feet!) were a silver/metallic color.  I wanted white.   I saw on the HVAC aisle a white duct tape labelled "all-weather".  $8 for 100 feet.  Perfect.

So I covered the cables with it.  Even though they were UV resistant, I thought this would only add to their longevity.

I also touched up the paint in a few places on the edge of the roof and drip rail that must have gotten scraped by the ladder, or a panel.  No biggy, on the ground you can't see it.

So the Tiffin is now officially done and ready to roll west!  I can't hardly wait to get back on the road.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lithionics 600AH LiFEPO4 Battery

Today I received my Lithionics 600 Ah Battery.   I was very excited to get this installed, as it will conclude my planned projects for the Tiffin.

Because I have the residential refrigerator, a 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter and a slew of entertainment electronics in this rig, I really wanted a large lithium battery so I can boondock and not have any anxiety about running out of power.   It's a far cry from the 4 lead acids 6v batteries the Tiffin came with.   Those yielded 200 Ah of usable capacity - not much when your fridge can suck down up to 22 amps!

While I was working on the rig, I had installed 4 Stark Power 125 AH batteries, that had a total of 500 Ah.    They worked really well, but I didn't like the cluttered installation with wires running all over the battery compartment.  Each battery had it's own rudimentary BMS system.    These batteries are now destined to be used in my tugboat as house batteries.  That will be plenty to run my refrigerator, inverter and other systems on the boat and reduce generator run time.

A couple of the features of this Lithionics battery I found quite compelling.  First that it's one large block with single positive and negative poles.  It greatly simplifies the installation and eliminates a lot of the clutter in the battery bay.   Second, the BMS system is far more robust that what you'll find on the drop-in type batteries like the Starks.  With it all one block, the BMS should be far more effective.  Third, the NeverDie BMS has a low end cut-off.  It's set at 10% SOC.   The thinking is, that it will shut itself off before it can be completely discharged and leave you stranded.  You have a switch on the top so that you can "restart" the battery and get it plugged in to a charging source.   Lastly, this same switch is also a manual cutoff you can use at the battery to shut it off if you need to - ideal for long term storage situations, or if you want to work on the wiring.

It's a big battery!

To give some perspective, here it is in the back of my Jeep.  Moving it around was a chore - it's 155 lbs!   Since it's equivalent to 12 6v lead acids, they would weigh 864 lbs!

Here it is installed.  It was tight getting it in the compartment, but there is still plenty of room around it.   I did have to remove the baggage door latch (2 screws) to get it in.

 Definately a lot neater look than what I had before.

Lithionics sent me a performance curve from the tests they ran on my battery before shipment.  Total capacity 605 amp hours.  

One other thing I had left to do was cover the hole in the galley cabinet where the Outback Mase remote display was mounted.  I found this nice multi-sensor weather station to place there.  It came with three sensors so I can monitor temperatures in the battery compartment and the wet bay.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Solar Controller Swapout - Outback to Magnum

Well, a couple things were bothering me about my solar installation.  First, I didn't really like that I bought two extra panels I couldn't use.  The Outback controller literature (and confirmed in forum postings) that the max array size for the FM-80 was 1000 watts.  So I had installed 960 watts.  Everything was working fine, but I could only get 28 amps out of it with this winter sun (when there was no shading).   Also, the Outback user manual is thick - it has a million setting as is way complicated for what I want to commit to learning.

In my research on this controller, I stumbled across the Magnum PT-100.  Not only does it limit charging to 100 amps (the Outback would put out a max of 80 amps), but they market the device for oversized array.  You can put as many panels on as you want and you can't overload the controller (they say up to 6600 watts).   The kicker is that it integrates perfectly with the Magnum ARC-50 remote that controls my AC charger, inverter, auto genstart and battery monitor.   I wish I had known about this device in the beginning, as it's a no-brainer that this is the way to go.  I really like that all the settings for charging are integrated, on one display and should eliminate any conflicts.

So I ordered one, and proceeded with installing my 2 additional panels, for a total of 1280 amps.  At max, I should be 84 volts and 17.2 amps to the controller.  Here's a picture of the new panels - I haven't put sealant on the feet or dressed the wiring yet, but I will soon.

Here is what came in the box.  The controller, a mounting bracket, manual and a bag of wires and the thermal sensor.

I'm very impressed with the robustness of the casing.   The fit and finish is excellent.  I also like that the wiring connections are inherently safe - everything fits in a deep sleeve so nothing can touch live wires.  Where the wires come in is also roomier than the Outback, so fitting the wires in and securing them was a breeze.

I also liked that they supplied a plastic mounting bracket.  Made installation alot easier, as you bolt that in first, then hang the controller on two screws into the bracket, then screw in the two remaining screws.  Hard to mess up.

Here it is all buttoned up.   Flipped the breaker and all came to life without incident.  Almost sunset and it's getting 71.5 volts!  Woohoo!

This device is a good bit wider than the Outback, so I had to move my circuit breaker box and the Tiffin 12v/110v outlet box.  No big deal, just more holes to drill.  I sealed up the old holes with silicone sealant.

All tidyed up and ready to go.  On the ARC-50, it sensed the PT-100 on the network and is now controlling it, per all my charger settings for the inverter/charger.  Happy!

Tomorrow the Lithionics 600 AH battery gets delivered.  Very excited about getting her installed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New projects for the Travato! Installing a new lithium charger.

For a while, I've been wanting to install a better, more powerful charger and an inverter in my Travato K.   Because of the electrical layout of the K, a combo inverter/charger would be a challenge to fit.

Kisae is a respected brand in the nautical world.  They so happen to also make their units long and narrow, and not the boxey casings you'll see in the Magnum or Xantrex.

First up is to install my charger.  What I got was the Kisae Abso AC-1260.  I also bought the remote display panel for it to mount on the rear bulkhead.   With the shallow deck where the original converter/charger is mounted, it should be a really tight fit!

First step is to remove the beds mattresses and bedding.

Then, with a screw gun, remove the two dozen or so screws and take off the bed decks, exposing all the mechanical & electrical nether regions of the Travato.

Here you can see the lithium type Progressive Dynamics converter I was using.  This is a relatively low power charger - rated at 45 amps (700 watts AC).  It was a direct swap out for the Lead Acid/AGM type that comes stock with the Travato.   It worked fine, but with two big batteries, I wanted faster charging.  Also, the PD charger would still apply voltage (but 0 amps) to the batteries after they were full.  I did not think this was a good idea for the long term health of these expensive lithium batteries.  The Abso charger will shut charging off and go into sensing mode wihen they are full.

Here is the new charger.  All the wiring connections are on one end, the display panel on top.   I did have to wire a plug for the AC input.  That was easy - I just snipped oft the end of a three prong extension cord and connected it to the charger's leads with butt connectors.

Here you see the old converter removed.  The positive, negative and ground leads hanging.
To make additional room, I had to unscrew the power outlet from the deck and move it to the end of the deck.

Another thing I had to do was make a space for the remote display/control panel.
To do this, you have to make a template, mark it out, drill a hole on each corner, and then use a jigsaw to cut the hole in the plywood bulkhead.   To complicate matters, there is a mass of very critical and fragile wiring in the space behind the bulkhead.  To help with this, I had to remove the dsiplay panel for the Truma system, and push back the wiring to make room for my jigsaw blade.   Be very cautious doing this, and not only could it get really expensive, really quickly, but it's very easy to hurt yourself seriously.

Here is the new charger mounted in place with the cabling connected.  As you can see, I didn't change out any cables.  The existing 6 AWG cabling is sufficient for the max output of 60 amps of this unit.

Here is the Abso display mounted with all the rest.

As I said earlier, this unit is shallow enough to fit with adequate clearance around it.  The compartment is fairly large and the air can escape to other areas, so I'm not really worried about it getting too hot in there.

Re-installed the safety covers over the AC and DC wiring.

Here is the power outlet pushed up tight against the bulkhead.

So far, it seems to work really well.  It would only put in 35-40 amps into the batteries, as they were already mostly full.  It went into silent mode as expected.   The only problem is my remote display is not working - it displays normally for a few seconds, then reverts to showing "ErA" on the LCD.  I have no guide as to what that means.  So I need to call them and get it resolved.  If I have to buy a new one, they are only $59.

Next up, the inverter install!

UPDATE:  I called the people at Kisae about my issue.  Turns out, my charger was manufactured in May 2013, yet sold as new in August 2016!   The software in it was out of date and would not recognize the remote display.   It's not user update-able.  So they are going to send me a new charger unit.   The are even going to send it prior to receiving my old one, which greatly reduces the inconvenience and is great customer service.

UPDATE #2:   I got my replacement charger from Kisae today (1/18/17) and installed it.  Easy peasy - the display works correctly now.  Happy Camper!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Add Driving Lights to Jeep Wrangler

I got these off-road driving lights for my Wrangler.  KC Hilites Daylighter

They are halogen - I liked the aesthetic of these over the LED's.   Couldn't find an LED version of this kind of old-school light that didn't cost an arm & a leg.  Maybe I can upgrade the bulb in it later, I'll have to investigate that.  But the housing is really nice - all stainless and very rugged looking.

What I liked about this kit is the simple setup - it comes with a complete wiring harness with switch and a relay.  You don't need to cut or splice any wires.  Just route where they need to go and put the connectors together.   I ended up dressing up the wiring with some small diameter wiring loom.

I imagine these will work on any vehicle if you have a bracket to mount them.  My Rockhard bumper had mount points for extra lights.

Solar Project Follow-Up

Well, we finally got a sunny day where I could test my solar.   So far, it's either been severely overcast, or rainy, or a snow storm.

So the snow finally melted off, the sun came out, so I went out to check the display on my solar controller, with great anticipation.

10.5 volts, 0 amps,  Zzzzz mode.


Nothing is easy, is it?

So I pulled out my trusty voltmeter and went to work.   Tested the batteries.  Tested at the inputs to the controllers.  Tested at the circuit breaker.  Pulled the cabinet apart above the driver, pulled the wiring out of the loops and peeled of the insulation - 10.5 volts.

So up on the roof I went.

Pulled all the wiring connections apart.   Each string of 3 panels tested out at 64 volts.  Whew!  That was a relief!

Turns out one of the cables coming out of the roof penetration was not well seated in it's connector.  Took it apart, fiddled with how it was put togther, and put it all back together.


This is about 50% of the max output according to the specifications.  Not bad really considering this is winter sun, low on the horizon.   Makes me kinda wish I had installed the two extra panels, but that might not be such a good idea in the summer in the American Southwest where I'll be this year.