Dual Battery System 

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The Redarc Smart Start VSR battery isolator and how it works.

Auxiliary Batteries are used  to operate appliances while you are away from mains 240v power, 
and also so you don’t run the risk of compromising you vehicles main starting battery
I'm sure that you agree that jump or push starting your vehicle is not much fun and best avoided.) wink

People have been using and charging auxiliary batteries in their cars and caravans with varying degrees of success for over a century. 
For most of us the days are long gone when all we needed from our auxiliary battery was a small amount of power for a bit of lighting and maybe a radio.

These days we expect much more, we like to run lights, TV’s, Laptops, DVD’s, pumps, fridges, winches, and charge camera batteries and mobile phones etc, some even run microwaves, it is true that some of us like all the luxuries of home when we go ‘camping’.

So over the years our demands on the humble auxiliary battery have increased to the point that we need much more usable energy, and over a longer period of time, and we need fast and safe ways to recharge our batteries.

Many of the old ways used to charge these batteries are now antiquated, and they mostly never did the job very well anyway, neither were they conducive to long battery life.

So lets look at what we need to build a system that will deliver the best performance for our hard earned dollars.

Please note,
While this is not a comprehensive step by step guide to installing a dual battery system, it should
 however give you a very good insight as to what is really needed, and why, and how to go about sizing and fitting it all up.

What’s needed.

Well I guess a good place to start would be an auxiliary battery, then we need an efficient way of charging this battery using the cars alternator, and most importantly, a way of isolating the auxiliary battery from your starting battery, so that your starting battery is not compromised, and so you will always be able to start you vehicle and not be left stranded.
To do this we use what is called a battery isolator, and then we need some cable to connect it all up, simple eh, well it is simple as long as you use the right bits, and put it together the right way……

Auxiliary Batteries.

Basically you should be thinking about how big a battery can you fit, and less about how small and cheap a battery you can get away with, now I know money does not grow on trees, however the larger the battery the less percentage wise you will be draining it each day, and the longer it will last for you, both in power usage (battery capacity), and battery in life (longevity), with the extra advantage of some extra capacity available to you if needed.

Hot Tip …Batteries LOVE being fully charged, they do NOT (never) much like being discharged at all, they do LIKE it when you only take them down to about 50% of their capacity, and then top them back up soon as you can (within a day or so).
Batteries will lose capacity if left discharged, 
and they will die quickly if left discharged for long lengths of time.

Deciding on what size and type of Auxiliary Batteries to use is really a whole other story, please read my article on AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) batteries >>Please click here for my article on AGM batteries<<

The Battery Isolator.

The battery isolator is a device that allows the cars alternator to recharge the auxiliary battery while protecting the cars starting battery from discharging, if these batteries are simply linked together you run the very real risk of draining them both to a level that you can not start the engine, and there are many other reasons why you should not do it this way.

So hence we have the battery isolator, there are many different methods used to isolate the batteries, most use some form of solenoid, this is an electronic switch that can handle large (charging) currents, much more than standard switches can, and they are operated by applying a small amount of power to them, this is turn actuates a solenoid that links the batteries together so that large currents and be passed between the batteries.

There are many ways to operate these battery isolators, some much better that others.

The cheapest way is that you manually turn them on and off, I call these idiot switches, because sooner or later some idiot (and I've been there) will forget to turn the switch on (no charge goes into the auxiliary battery) or off at the right time (and then the starting battery gets drained as well).

Another way of doing it is to have the solenoid turn on as soon as you start the engine up, and turn off when you shut down the engine, this has been the cheap way of doing it for many years, but it’s far from ideal and does have a few pitfalls.

I believe the best way for most situations is to use a VSR (Voltage Sensitive Relay) activated solenoid, and I explain a little further on how they work and why I think they are so good.

Now for years I had used the Redarc Smart Start VSR with great success, and I've sold hundreds of them, they really are a good unit.

However a while ago after doing more research and testing I came across another VSR that I found I liked even better, with many great features, and I've listed some of them below in my explanation of how it works.

This one I like the best and now use is also one of the least expensive ones, and it does the job very well, truly ultra reliable (has been used in the boating/marine industry for many years), and I believe these are as good as, and often better than many of the much more expensive VSR's.
PS, I have now sold over 1,800 of these Enerdrive ones and my customers are loving them :-)

So my choice now is the Enerdrive VSR battery isolator, I explain how it works and other info >>please click here<< 

However if you want to know all the info on the Redarc Smart Start VSR please read on.

The Redarc Smart Start VSR (Voltage Sensitive Relay) battery isolator.

Redarc Smart Start

When you start your engine the Redarc works by first letting your starter battery recover it’s charge, it lets it achieve 13.2 volts, at this point that battery has about as much charge in it as it's going to get, once the Redarc sees this 13.2 volts it closes the contacts on the solenoid, this links both batteries together for charging purposes.

The next thing the Redarc is looking for is 12.7 volts, in other words you have shut down your engine and started to draw power from the batteries, so very quickly the voltage across both batteries will fall to 12.7 volts, as soon as the Redarc sees this voltage it will open the solenoid contacts and isolate the batteries, leaving your starting battery for starting and your auxiliary battery for auxiliarying ;-)

The Redarc Smart Start battery isolator is rated at 100Amps constant duty with a surge capacity of 400Amps, it has silver contacts unlike some of the cheaper ones that have copper (silver is much better), the Redarc also has spike protection so it won’t upset the delicate electronics on newer vehicles.

However if you don't already have a Redarc VSR, and would like to learn about an alternative that is now my favorite, and less expensive, then please >>click here for my full thoughts on the Enerdrive VSR and Dual Battery Systems<< 

Connecting up the Redarc Smart Start

The Wiring & Cabling.

Wiring…this is without doubt where many people get it wrong and end up with a system that may work, BUT barely, and nowhere near as well as it could and should, doing it right can double the usable capacity of your auxiliary batteries over and above what many people normally have, and help them charge much faster and last longer too.

Understand that when charging from vehicle alternator one of your biggest enemies is voltage drop, you need to have the highest possible voltage at the auxiliary battery, this will allow it to charge as quickly as possible, and as fully as possible.

Some standard set-ups I see regularly that have been fitted by the so called professionals is where they use twin 6mm auto cable (really 4.59mm²), this is next to useless for fast, deep charging.

A very basic explanation would be, that the larger the current draw, the larger the wire (cable) needs to be, and the further the distance the wire needs to run, the increasingly larger again the wire needs to be.

Water and power analogies work well here, so think about it, if you want to fill a bucket full of water fast, do you use a hose the size of a straw, or a ½ inch garden hose, what one do you think will fill the bucket quicker?

I always suggest a minimum, yes I did say a minimum of 6 B&S (13.5mm²) cable for linking batteries, larger is even better, any further improvements to the charging time, and system as a whole, will be gained by increasing the size of this cable, I know that the larger cable is not cheap, but bigger is always best in the long run. Check out the photo near the bottom of this article showing the difference between 6mm auto cable I mentioned before and the 6 B&S cable that I recommend as a minimum!

Fusing & Cable Protection!
Mega Fuse Kit mrval.netMega Fuse and holder mounted mrval.net

Putting fuses in is necessary because of the potential of a short circuit, now seeing as we are installing good heavy cable so that we can transfer large amounts of current quickly, there is a possible downside ......................
Now these good sized cables when short circuited to say the vehicle body, or between them selves either by chafing through, getting hooked by a stick, or heaven forbid, an accident, are capable of producing huge amounts of flame and spark (and I mean huge), and this is why we must install fuses to protect the cabling, the vehicle, and us!

I here we use 100A fuses, these are purely to protect the cable, or more correctly, as I have just said, to protect you and your vehicle, from the cable, and we need two of them, one at each battery, because each battery will be connected to the same cable, even some auto sparkies can't get their heads around this, as they are so used to having only one supply source for the power, not two!

After having a few failures sometime back using the 100A Maxi fuses (they were melting, not blowing, melting because of high resistance, this created heat with the high currents), so after doing a lot of testing I found that the MEGA fuse performed best in this situation, the MEGA fuse has been used for many years when connecting Inverters to batteries.

Have a look at the photo of a MEGA fuse in it's holder near the bottom of this article, another good thing about this fuse and it's holder is you can use it as a power stud, and have all of your positive cable connections coming off one side of the fuse, with just a single link between the fuse and the battery, it helps make for a much easer, simpler, and neater job.  Tip, often I mount these fuses right on top of the battery using a piece of copper tubing flattened out with the holes drilled in it, really neat, and a photo down there of this also

The MEGA fuse was considered expensive, and still is, however I import these in bulk from the UK, and I pass on the savings to my customers so that they can take advantage of these very good quality fuses at a very good price. 
How about one of my special MEGA fuse kits, ideal for dual battery systems, the kit includes two MEGA fuse holders, plus 3 x 100A MEGA fuses (one as a spare), all for only $69.95 with free postage to anywhere in Oz
Available now at my ebaY store >>Click here<<    

Battery placement.

A very important thing to consider is where you are going to place your batteries, standard open wet cell batteries give off hydrogen gas when they are charging and discharging, this is a very explosive gas, remember the Hindenburg, there is no problem if you are putting the auxiliary battery under the bonnet of your vehicle, or mounting it somewhere on the chassis with good ventilation to the open air.

Just throwing them under a seat or in a cupboard is far from ideal and just down right dangerous, even worse some people place battery chargers and even inverters next to these batteries, just think about that for a moment, a hydrogen producing device next to a possible spark producing device, I guess some people just don't know or don’t think!

Wet cell batteries must be housed in a properly vented area, and must be well vented externally away from any ignition source and from human habitat areas, hydrogen gas rises so sealed battery enclosures should be vented externally top and bottom.

If you need to place batteries inside vehicles, then AGM batteries should be seriously considered here as they are totally sealed, AGM batteries if placed in an enclosure only need to be vented to atmosphere not necessarily vented externally.

Putting AGM batteries under the car bonnet is fine as far as safety goes, the only consideration here is that AGM’s and any fully sealed batteries should be kept away from the extreme temperatures of turbochargers, and if they must be placed close to the turbocharger, then heat shields should be used.

How to wire the Redarc up.

Now this is much simpler than most people think, it is not complex, and as long as you take care almost anyone can do it.

Safety Tip   *  Do not install the Mega fuses until the last thing, when you have completely finished all the cable runs and tightened up all other connections first.

  Note: *  Some people can use the chassis for earth return, but my advice is to always (and it really is best) to run the earth/negative cable all the way between the start and auxiliary batteries, for the extra few dollars in cable it really is worth it, and you only have to do it once, so do it right the first time please.

When running the cables between the batteries you should take great care with where you place the cable, making sure that it won’t rub or be cut through, also be careful to keep it clear of sharp corners etc, and if the auxiliary battery is going to be placed anywhere other than under the bonnet, you should seriously consider using a protective covering like split convoluted  tubing and secure it well with clips or cable ties at well spaced intervals.

If your auxiliary battery is in a caravan or trailer then the standard trailer lights connectors are way too small for the 6 B&S cable, and can’t even come close to handling the high currents for effective battery charging, so here we use 50A Anderson plugs (Pictured below).

All cable lugs used with the 6 B&S cable are far too big to be crimped with standard crimping tools, so they should be crimped by an auto electrician, or you can solder them if you have a gas torch, they do take a lot of heat to solder on properly.

The Redarc battery isolator has two main cable posts on the top of it, these are for connecting the main positive  battery link cables to, so here the one with the Redarc sensor box hanging off it is where you connect the cable coming from the MEGA fuse on the starting battery, and the other post is for the link cable that is running to the auxiliary battery positive MEGA fuse.

The Redarc has
two small wires coming from it, one blue and one black, now the blue wire is rarely used, so lets forget about that one for the time being, the black one is simply an earth that should be secured under one of the screws that you mount the Redarc to the vehicle with, if that is metal that is grounded to the chassis, otherwise you will have to extend this to  an earth point with proper grounding.

It's that simple, next the earth/negative cable simply gets connected to the negative terminal of both batteries, but again using the good sized 6 B&S cable..............

Now see how easy that was.............yes I know there is some monkey work laying in the cable, sometimes crawling under the car to secure wires etc if you can't run them inside the car, but still simple :-)

**Now the blue wire coming from the Redarc, most people don’t need to use this wire, is for back-starting, and/or putting an indicator light on the dash of your car, but you really need to talk to me before doing either, as I said most people don’t need it.

Below are some examples of how an auxiliary battery set-up may be done, but there are many many other combinations that can be done to suit almost all needs.

VSR Dual battery wiring diagram
This is a basic layout for those that might install an auxiliary battery in the back of their vehicle.


VSR Dual battery wiring diagram
This is for those that might install an auxiliary battery under the bonnet of their car.


VSR Dual battery wiring diagram with caravan
This is for those that might install an auxiliary battery in their Caravan or camping trailer.

A bit about Anderson Plugs
Anderson plug Anderson plug 2
Above is a couple of photos of the very practical Anderson Plug, a well designed plug,
and the very best way to safely connect heavy cables together, they have a 50A continuous rating.
Their unique design incorporates no gender, both connecting plugs are identical,
so they can not possibly be hooked up wrongly, and there is no risk of shorting out the batteries in the dark,
they are also self cleaning, so a bit of mud won't worry them, you need two to make a connection.

Val's note!!
If I don't see a set of these Anderson Plugs at the back of your car,
I know that your gas fridge just can't be getting the right amount of power that it requires,
and as for efficient battery charging without these, almost imposable!
These Anderson plugs can be bought cheaply from eBay, or from any  good auto electrical supplier.

  MEGA fuse mounted directly on the battery           Mega fuse and holder
These above are Mega fuse holders and a 100A Mega fuse, you will need one of these at each battery bank,
So I sell at a discounted price a MEGA FUSE KIT, this comprises of 2 x MEGA FUSE HOLDERS (mounting blocks), 
plus 3 x100A MEGA FUSES (that's one fuse for each mounting block, plus one as a spare).
These MEGA fuse kits, are ideal for dual battery systems, and for only $69.95 with free postage to anywhere in Oz
Available now at my  eBay store << Click here >>
if you look around you just can't buy them anywhere in Oz for anything near my pricing


Cable and too small a wire
The larger cable above is the minimum size required 6 B&S (13.5mm²) and matching lug, note the wire above it,
that's the 6mm (4.59mm²) Auto cable used by many to do the job, it's just not up to the task it at all.
The 6 B&S cable is about $5.50 per Mtr, and you need enough red and black to run between both batteries
This cable can be bought from many suppliers on eBay, or from any  good auto electrical supplier,
it is also available in twin (Red & Black) sheathed.

Val's hot tip>> If you need a helping hand in Queenslands South East,
with * Dual battery systems *Mechanical Repairs & Servicing *parts and accessories and other modifications & repairs.

My good friend Brett from  >>Brett's Camper Care (click here)<<
will look after you and your 4X4, Camper, Caravan or Motorhome.

Brett's Camper Care logo

For other RV related articles you may find interesting please check my Tech page

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