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.
...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.