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.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Crimson AV TV Mount and 5 Star Tune Install

I got two more mods completed today.   First was doing an install of the 5 Star Tune and the other was to install an articulating mount for the outside TV.

The version of the 5 Star Tune I ordered is for the 6 speed Ford V10 3 valve engine that came in my Tiffin.   Although the transmission is vastly improved from the old 5 speed version, it still suffers from too quick downshifting causing the engine to roar at high rpms on slight grades.   This tune improves that behavior and claims to get more hp and better mpg out of the drivetrain.   Well, time will tell on that one.

You can read all about their claims at thier website:  www.5startuning.com

This blog post is only about the ease of install, not which one you should buy, or the value of this mod.  I'll report back later on how I like it and the results I get.

I ordered the version of the device called Livewire TS+.  Basically this is a small touchscreen unit that connects your OBDII port under the dash.  It also has a usb port so you can connect it to your PC so you can update the software and download new tunes into it.

My device was current on it's software, so I proceeded to hooking it up.  First step is to find the the OBDII Port.  It's under the dash, up against the right side of the steering column.  It has a rubber boot on it to protect the connectors.

Simply pull off the boot, and expose the pins, and push in your device's connector.
Do this with the key in the off position.

Next step is to connect your device.  It will prompt you to turn the ignition to the "on" position (but NOT start).  Then you tap on the icon for "vehicle information".

It then scans the engine computer and gives you the following results:

For 2015 models and later, 5 Star is looking for the "ECU SWPN" number.  You write this down and now go back to your computer, pull up their website, and fill out the "calibration request form".   There is other information to input about your drivetrain - you put that information in, along with the number you collected and then "submit".   5 Star then constructs your tune file and emails it back to you.   You then connect your device to your PC and load the tune file into it.  Now you are ready to load the tune into your engine computer.

You follow the same procedure - connect the device to the OBDII port, turn the ignition to "ON" (again, do NOT start the engine).   Then on the screen, you tap on the icon for "Program".  Then you tap on the tune file you want to install.  Mine was named "RV Daily Tow".  The device will scan you engine computer, download the existing tune file into the device (in case you want to return to stock).  It goes thru a couple steps on it's own and then gives you the screen below showing a progress bar on loading the tune:

At the end of this, it give you a completion message.  You can now either disconnect and store away the device, or leave it connected and use it for the gauges it has for monitoring, or for reading any error codes you might ever experience.  You are also OK now to start the engine if you want.

It is fully configurable for the engine information, but comes with 4 or 5 pre-packaged schemes.  You can modify any of these by tapping on the touchscreen.

As I said above, I'll play around with it and report on how it does.   I'm expecting the results to be modest and subtle, not radical.

The next thing I did was install the Crimson AV television mount.  The TV in the outside compartment was mounted to a flat bracket in this compartment.  No ability to pull it out, or adjust the angle if you are getting glare or reflections.  The fit is very tight, so I bought the Crimson bracket, as they claim it to be the "thinnest in the world!".

My opinion of the thing is that it appears to be well built and heavy duty.  But at $186, I was expecting more.   There is no way to tilt the TV down, which I would have preferred.

Here is a picture of the completed installation of the bracket with the LG 32" LED TV attached.

If someone asked me if this fit, my response would be "barely".  The door will close, but I think it makes contact with the TV very slightly.   I may put in some felt tabs to protect it a bit.

Here is the back side.  The white board I had to install so I could bolt the mount to something substantial.  Of course there was no plywood back here - it's open to the back side of a kitchen cabinet.   I'm still mulling how I want to trim this out.   I may try to find some black sheet plastic to cover this opening, or screw in some more boards and paint them black.

For those concerned, this TV weighs all of 5 lbs.  The bracket weighs more than the TV.  So I'm pretty confident all this will hold up structurally.


I installed two more boards to clean this up a little.   Still may apply some plastic or paint it black.