Lithium batteries are rapidly becoming the gold standard for Airstreams and RVs. In my mind, lithium has become a must-have for active Airstreamers, because most of us are using a lot more power than we used to.
For most people, upgrading to lithium batteries will extend your battery life to 4-5 days of typical use (from 1-2 days). Because lithium batteries are so power dense, they pack more power–about 3X more power–into the same amount of space as AGMs do. I upgraded our 23FB Globetrotter to lithium last year and have been very happy with the results. (You can read the details of my experience in this guide, Diary of a Lithium Battery Upgrade.)
Unless you have a vintage trailer that doesn’t use much power, or you always camp in places with electrical hookups, you will very likely find yourself upgrading your batteries in the next few years, if you haven’t already.
If you have concerns about making the switch, don’t fear these 4 common myths:
Myth #1: Lithium batteries will catch fire!
An Airstreamer recently wrote to us to say he was sticking with his AGM batteries because he thought they were a fire danger. He cited a news story about a house that burned down because two e-bikes were charging in the garage and the batteries caught fire. In addition, he had witnessed a Tesla burning after an accident.
This Airstreamer’s fears are unfounded. To understand why, you need to understand that there are two types of lithium batteries:
- Lithium ion batteries are commonly used in e-bikes, laptops, Teslas, and other consumer devices
- Lithium iron phosphate batteries–often referred to as LiFePO4– are used in RVs
Although lithium ion batteries do carry a small risk of catching fire in some circumstances, don't worry–they aren't the ones used in your Airstream.
The RV industry only installs LiFePO4 batteries in RVs, which have an internal cathode made of phosphate that won’t burn very easily. They also don’t have the "runaway" thermal problem that lithium ion batteries do. So they are highly unlikely to catch fire.
Myth #2: You can’t store lithium batteries at 100% without damaging them
Again, this is part of the confusion between the two types of lithium batteries.
You can absolutely charge LiFePO4 batteries to 100%, and then leave the Airstream in storage or not use it for a while. The lifespan of a LiFePO4 battery isn't significantly affected by being kept at 100% charge.
If you read this myth online or hear it at a rally, you can tell the person that they are talking about lithium ion batteries, not LiFePO4 batteries.
Myth #3: You’ll damage lithium batteries if you use them below freezing without heaters
No, not exactly.
You can USE them to power your Airstream below freezing. And in fact, down to 0° F. But you can’t CHARGE them below freezing (32° F).
If you try to charge LiFePO4 batteries below freezing, the charging process will automatically be shut off to protect the battery. That’s because most LiFePO4 batteries use “smart” technology. They know when to protect themselves.
The kind of LiFePO4 batteries used in RVs have a Battery Management System (BMS) that works to prevent the battery from being damaged. When the temperature drops to about 25°-32° F, the BMS will shut off charging. When the sun rises and the temperature climbs above 32°, the BMS will accept a charge again.
So you won't damage your LiFePO4 batteries by camping in freezing temperatures. They simply won’t charge.
If that's a problem based on how you travel, you can get LiFePO4 batteries with little built-in heaters that enable you to charge the battery in sub-freezing temperatures. They run about $40-50 more per battery and brands such as Battle Born and Renogy offer them. But most Airstreamers don’t need heated LiFePO4s. Only people who need to charge in places where the temperature stays below freezing both night and day really need them. If that's not you, you can save about $100 by purchasing unheated LiFePO4 batteries.
Myth #4: Unless you have heaters, you can’t leave lithium batteries in the Airstream in freezing temperatures; you should remove and take them indoors
This is a common myth believed by people who live in places where they have to winterize.
As explained in Myth #3, the smart technology in LiFePO4 batteries will shut off the BMS when the temperature is below 25-32 degrees. Essentially, the batteries will be dormant until the temperature rises above freezing, but they won’t be damaged if you leave them in the Airstream.
Photo by Greta Farnedi on Unsplash
So happy I upgraded to two heated LiFePO4s. They fit in the same battery box and no more worries about running out of power on a 3-4 day trip in the winter.
Great contact, Rich, and information that was new to me. I always appreciate the “myth busters.“
Thanks for settling the myth debates about Lithium Ion and Lithium Iron batteries. Within 2-3 years, we’ll upgrade our AGM’s to Lithium Iron. Our AGM’s have been great for 5 years now but won’t last forever. Those batteries and a 100w portable solar panel allow for the boon docking that we love.
I love my Renogy upgrade, have a 2018 27’ Globetrotter that the AGMs had died during storage. Did an upgrade as Rich did & it has been a game changer on boondocking.
Excellent article and nice, concise information for newcomers to LifePO batteries. The additional power available from Lithium batteries is astounding. And at far less weight. A 100 Amp Hour LifePO battery can weight about 26 lbs while my 60 Amp Hour AGM weights more than 50 pounds. I get 30 Amps of power from that 50+ pounds. For the same weight, I would get 200 Amps of power from Lithium. (2 × 100 AmpHr x 26 lbs each).
I’m going to keep this link handy to give people who give me a hard time for using a LiFePO4 battery in my Airstream. Thank you!
Planning on updating to the LifeP04 before our next trip we have a 2022 Airstream
Thank you Rich, this was very helpful. Do these batteries need to be inside the trailer or in the standard tongue battery box.?
Donald, they’re fine in the standard battery box. That’s one of the reasons the upgrade is easy: you can find LiFePO4 batteries that are “drop-in” replacements for your existing batteries.
If you install lithium batteries in a 2019 globetrotter
DO YOU NEED TO CHANGE ANY OTHER PARTS??
So to be clear, I can drop these batteries in the same box and not adjust anything else?
John Wesp and Stan Beagley: Before you can switch to LiFePO4 batteries you may need to upgrade the Airstream’s battery charger and/or solar charger. It depends on your year and model of Airstream.
For details, see our “Diary of a Lithium Battery Upgrade” here:
… OR the Spring 2023 issue of Airstream Life magazine
… OR pages 188-189 of "The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.