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Old 11-01-2017, 07:15 AM   #1
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DC power upgrade

We utilize mostly off grid campsites and in need of a better DC system. Most of our equipment is DC now, so avoided the extra burden of inverter load. When allowed we do use the generator for morning and evening high power times and during this time we do use a few AC appliances such as hair dryer and curler.

I've been digging into battery technology, solar, battery chargers and the rest to bone up. It's been two years of wading through much information including miss information or should I say poor information. An over abundance of poor information. To date I thought I would share my current thinking and analysis as this stuff is wholly fogged up by those that want to portray themselves as experts or just attempting to spend your money. Now, my thinking will evolve as new products hit the shelves or new info is obtained.

My personal take-

1. Lithium is not mature technology and to costly at this time. The batteries can achieve much and solve some problems but not worth it for me. Since the technology is in a state of flux, the hardware will become obsolete quicker. They have environmental problems below 30 degrees and high heat will destroy them. To many ways to screw them up, risk to high.

2. Lead acid is the workhorse and most forgiving, except the 50% rule is very important. You will see big drops in amp capacity if violating this rule even once. The loss is substantial if a half dozen or so actions. Yes, golf cart batteries the best of the best.

3. AGM is my choice given that violating the 50% rule doesn't affect these batteries near as much. They are 40% faster recharge which is all important. Because they can accept abuse more frequently as compared to wet cells, with less damage, users experience 2x lifespan.

4. A 75 Hr battery is good enough for my needs, except when it isn't. Meaning sometimes I can't time a generator charge or using the generator is prohibited.

5. A portable solar charger at a cost effective small scale should be a valuable asset when conditions are available to use it. However, i'm not going to change camping lots to facilitate the use. I'm not going to let solar control my camping experience.

6. My truck as most trucks have a robust alternator charging system. They do an excellent job of charging and maintaining your battery and quite efficient at doing so. These systems probably operate for minutes instead of hours. Thats a big minus. Also, modern vehicles have a load of electrical gadgets that can slow the battery recharge rate, especially in winter.

7. The alternator can charge your house battery while traveling and do so pretty well if traveling for some distance.

So, I've come up with this scheme for my needs. My truck fits a dual purpose agm nicely. This same battery a good fit for the travel trailer needs. I mount a dc to dc charger in the battery box of the camper. The device is a modern electronic 8 amp charger. It has safe guards for low source battery power and will not overcharge. It will power the camper and charge battery just like the AC converter. I will back truck up to trailer per usual and plug in the charger for overnight. This will provide excellent recharge for house battery. The generator will still be utilized, but I will also plug in an AC charger for the truck for 2x battery power storage feat. Also, the truck battery will be utilized only for night charging or moderated per my experience. This setup gives me max flexibility for recharge without generator if required. No dependence on iffy solar. Good slow recharge during night. My battery reserve jumps from 75 Hr to 150Ha. I have two good batteries for my trolling motor without any additional weight or cost. Check out Powerstream for dc:dc chargers. I'm thinking all boondockers should have these devices. Recharge you electric bike in the woods, no problem.
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Old 11-01-2017, 07:28 AM   #2
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Oh, most of you probably know the lead acid batteries need to be fully recharged to achieve good lifespan and provide max Ah. To accomplish full recharge daily is a good thing. So, the above strategy becomes most valuable.
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Old 11-01-2017, 09:29 AM   #3
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Interesting.
I have 4 golf cart batteries mounted in the bed of my truck with a 1500 watt inverter.
I run 200 Watts of solar into them when camped, truck battery is wired into the solar charge controller when running.
I used it for a week on just solar last June, it ran everything but the AC... Which I think it could handle if I used my 2500 watt inverter.
I plan on installing the batteries in my new fifth wheel instead of leaving them in the truck... I'm just not sure how to mount the solar panels, I'm not willing to put holes in my new roof
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Old 11-01-2017, 09:31 AM   #4
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i'm not sure lithium is an immature technology or that it will become obsolete soon. I can agree that it is currently expensive. it seems to offer advantages in capacity, weight, and ease of use. everything I read about it is positive and that you can expect at least a 10 year life span. if you were to buy a lithium setup that works for your needs and would last ten years, would you call that obsolete if a better version came out a couple of years later? using that logic we might never commit to anything (even our rv's) as something better is expected later. it's more a question of whether the additional cost provides corresponding additional benefits and that is an analysis that each owner needs to make based upon his needs.
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Old 11-01-2017, 11:05 AM   #5
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Lithium requires care to not suffer high heat. You have a long term term cost justification that otherwise could be compromised if not concerned and acting. Not good. Also, the lithium system I was looking at had a limitation of no battery charging below 30 degrees and no battery use below 0.

I do read blogs and posts that have compers investing thousands to achieve home like power. I read they still run into trouble for instance, if stranded with transmission or engine problems and parked on sunny lot in Texas sun with no power or no battery cooler. Keeping batteries in zero state of charge to long due to extended absence and finding an unexpected battery drain. Camping in shady areas or with no sun for weeks. No one is perfect and sooner or later one is apt to do the battery a disservice.

For my needs having 4x6 is overkill. Most of these folks are 5thers or class A people that want full time or extended stays. They set out with the requirement of grid quality power. I went the cheaper alternative that is common in the travel trailer campers. Utilize propane as it is the cheapest and most powerful source of energy off the grid. I remember my Dad's camper had a gas mattle light that was very comfortable. It acted as a heat source, bright light, and bug killer. Perfect for camping in cool nights. Back then they had no efficient LED lights. Our tv and attached dvd player is 12v dc that is pretty common nowadays. One can look at the AC transformer on the plug and find it is converting power to 12v DC. Cut the cord and plug it into DC works find. Lots of good fans run 12v and same for a small ceiling fans. This stuff and lights take minimal power.

Same for genny. I took the Yamaha 900w as I've found my battery charging needs are low wattage, but for long time periods. So, since our power needs are minimal this generator is obvious choice. The unit runs extremely low fuel consumption. Most of it for us on the low speed runs 1 cup per hour. We have a separate breaker for all duplex receptacles. I keep that off and power these outlets per 12v DC with a small jumper from cigarette plug to common house plug. It's 8 amp fused and will blow first to protect all components if forgetting something. We have 12v LED and 120v LEDs light bulbs for side table lamps. The music and radio system is 12v.

I bought a low wattage hair dryer 600w and my wife likes the 300w setting. The curler is only 60w. The converter doesn't take that much power if off of bulk change and it should be if your treating your batteries right. This is our AC needs for a couple hours per day powered by generator.

I bought a 5,000 watt common window AC. These units keep increasing efficiency and lowering amperage draw. The 900w generator easily runs it, about 650 watts. It should keep the bedroom or kitchen area cool. I figured out a simple two piece mount of wood that is easy to install unit when AC needed. Also, needed a painted insulation board block. This is just a temporary solution as we only camp in off season to avoid crowds. Only needed for some freak weather condition.
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Old 11-01-2017, 03:44 PM   #6
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Trees

I have the common wfco converter and am a bit concerned on their timid charge rate. The best or most recent engineering reports have proved charging rates can increase with no detrimental battery life. The common or old thinking was based on theoretical limits. This may be what wfo is utilizing. Good if you are most often hooked up to utilities. Bad if you boondock. I read once that the 8900 series converter drops the 14.4v bulk charge at 50% DOC. By today's standards way to early. Sure no problem if sitting on grid power, but a problem when the generator is running. These converters work well with AGMs as well.

Not to many campers have good info on this, but their is enough out their to raise the red flag. I have the question waiting for reply from Progressive Dynamics that is front runner replacement.
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Old 11-06-2017, 09:29 PM   #7
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I have the common wfco converter and am a bit concerned on their timid charge rate. The best or most recent engineering reports have proved charging rates can increase with no detrimental battery life. The common or old thinking was based on theoretical limits. This may be what wfo is utilizing. Good if you are most often hooked up to utilities. Bad if you boondock. I read once that the 8900 series converter drops the 14.4v bulk charge at 50% DOC. By today's standards way to early. Sure no problem if sitting on grid power, but a problem when the generator is running. These converters work well with AGMs as well.
Agreed on the WFCO converters not being suitable for generator recharging (or rapid recharging from shore power). I could never find a WFCO spec for when the WFCO switched from 14.4V to 13.7V. I never caught my WFCO at 14.4V. I also never caught it dropping to trickle charge, either - even after several weeks on shore power.

I replaced it with a "drop-in" PD converter/distribution panel (PD 4135) replacement for the WFCO 8735P. The PD holds 14.4V to about 90% SOC, and reliably goes into trickle after 44 hours at 13.7V. That's about as hard as I want to push the batteries during recharge. It's relatively fast, but won't cook the battery, even in 95 degree Texas heat.

Today's AGMs are designed to handle conventional wet battery charge programming, even though these are sub-optimum for AGM battery capabilities.

just my thoughts and experiences
Fred W
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Old 11-07-2017, 12:55 PM   #8
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Fed, thanks for the info. You have some good stuff there and in line with what I read. Even the AGM battery recharging. The price on these batteries is dropping as they become more popular. Battery manufacturer is claiming the AGM battery is well suited for the high amp load that modern cars now draw with all the luxury items and hybrid technology. They run this stuff often with engine off. The AGM, to me, looks to be a good fit for travel trailer as well.

I will check out your model. I think PD has a specific one to replace my old converter. Funny, when I over discharged my marine battery and hooked up the generator. Our amperage draw other than battery recharging is very modest. Sure enough the generator would go to high load high rpm per the bulk charging. But, would only run maybe a couple minutes at this high charge rate.
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Old 11-21-2017, 12:20 AM   #9
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Trees, hybrid cars don't use the lead acid or AGM batteries for anything other than starting, and they only start up the computers, not the engine. Upon start, or boot, the car's computers check everything and then connect the main "traction battery", which nowadays is almost exclusively lithium ion based. A few years ago, hybrids like the Prius used nickle metal hydride.

AGM would probably be used more for longevity than any serious load in a hybrid.


On topic, I recently got a 2015 194HW a-frame... and I'm going to do some stuff! I'm looking at a 100Ah AGM battery to use. I have a 100W solar panel and a cheap PWM controller which I'll use short term. I'll just lean the panel up against the camper wherever the sun is best. Eventually I'll put 2x100W flexible panels on the roof, and get a good MPPT charge controller.

Later on, I will put the battery in a rolling box, and put the charge controller, breakers and other bits so it will basically be a "solar generator" like you see people build on YouTube. That way, I can remove the battery from the camper pretty quickly.

My camper does still have the WFCO converter... which I've heard a few times, and in this very thread, sucks kinda bad. I'll replace that with a Progressive Dynamics converter. I'll also be installing one of the wired-in Progressive Industries power management things. That way I never have to worry about the dongle thing going missing.
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Old 11-21-2017, 09:41 AM   #10
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Thanks for the info. You're on top of power needs.

I'm utilizing the truck AGM as stand by power needs of camper and DC to DC charger. A few days ago, I needed a fresh battery to run furnace all night. I disconnected camper batter and utilized truck battery directly. I will get a small DC to DC charger to top off camper battery at night. A long slow charge when not using much battery. Mount the charger in battery box. I can power the charger from extension to trailer plug in truck. This should be a major improvement in battery charging.

I like solar, but still need generator, so I'll may wait awhile with solar setup.

AGM is basically a dual purpose battery, but I did purchase a dual purpose marine AGM. Alternator does an excellent job of charging battery.

I haven't decided on AGM for camper? May just go with inexpensive golf cart battery. Changing out the converter is the key for boondocking. With that change, dc to dc charger, and generator I should be all set. AGM is better, just I may be o.k. with cheaper batteries.

The AGM manufacturers stated the growing popularity of AGM batteries in cars due to the high level of electronic devices. Mild hybrid technology is expected to become very popular. All cars will have some level of this technology. The original plan was 24v AGM system. All pieces of mild hybrid technology had to be very cost effective. Payback one year. A no brainer for inclusion within sticker price.
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Old 11-21-2017, 12:12 PM   #11
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How is "changing out the converter" key to boondocking?
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Old 11-21-2017, 12:26 PM   #12
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I have been 100% off grid camping since I had my first TT last year, now RV. Same type of setup for both. I run EVERYTHING off the batteries, inverter when 120Vac required, yes even AC. I only start Generator to charge batteries and on only on occasion in the daytime only when it is very warm/hot outside and ac will be required in excess of 4 hours.
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Old 11-21-2017, 12:44 PM   #13
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How is "changing out the converter" key to boondocking?
If you use a generator, swapping out the WFCO converter for a converter that will hold the 14.4V bulk charge for a much longer period reduces the generator run time for a given amount of charge put back in the batteries. But that's the only difference a converter makes to boon docking or dry camping.

I went at dry camping another way, not wanting to deal with generator or solar panels. I increased the battery capacity to carry the A-frame for 4 nights in cold weather without going below 50%.

I replaced my converter because the stock WFCO would not go into trickle or bulk modes, resulting in improper care of the batteries. The Progressive Dynamics converter uses all 3 modes appropriately, resulting in much faster recharge times, and no "boiling" of the batteries when left plugged in.

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Old 11-21-2017, 12:53 PM   #14
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FYI, If looking for an Inverter/charger combo, I highly recommend the manufacturer I sell (no obligation here) to my customers - Samlex. I used to use Heart/Trace, then Xantrex, but they are %$^% now. Mastervolt (I've heard, but have not used) is OK, but twice the price and I am extremely happy with everything about the Samlex I use.
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Old 11-21-2017, 10:45 PM   #15
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If you use a generator, swapping out the WFCO converter for a converter that will hold the 14.4V bulk charge for a much longer period reduces the generator run time for a given amount of charge put back in the batteries. But that's the only difference a converter makes to boon docking or dry camping.

I went at dry camping another way, not wanting to deal with generator or solar panels. I increased the battery capacity to carry the A-frame for 4 nights in cold weather without going below 50%.

I replaced my converter because the stock WFCO would not go into trickle or bulk modes, resulting in improper care of the batteries. The Progressive Dynamics converter uses all 3 modes appropriately, resulting in much faster recharge times, and no "boiling" of the batteries when left plugged in.

Fred W
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2008 Hyundai Entourage minivan
camping Colorado and adjacent states one weekend at a time

That makes sense, I wasn't thinking of recharging with a generator... I guess I've been blinded by the sun
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Old 12-15-2017, 02:10 PM   #16
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If you use a generator, swapping out the WFCO converter for a converter that will hold the 14.4V bulk charge for a much longer period reduces the generator run time for a given amount of charge put back in the batteries. But that's the only difference a converter makes to boon docking or dry camping.

I went at dry camping another way, not wanting to deal with generator or solar panels. I increased the battery capacity to carry the A-frame for 4 nights in cold weather without going below 50%.

I replaced my converter because the stock WFCO would not go into trickle or bulk modes, resulting in improper care of the batteries. The Progressive Dynamics converter uses all 3 modes appropriately, resulting in much faster recharge times, and no "boiling" of the batteries when left plugged in.

Fred W
2014 Rockwood A122 A-frame
2008 Hyundai Entourage minivan
camping Colorado and adjacent states one weekend at a time
I recently purchased a Flagstaff Micro Lite that came with a WFCO 8955 series Converter. As I read the specs it can deliver 55 amps charging current but only if the voltage at the Converter 12 v terminal is below threshold voltage for bulk charge.
In my TT it appears that a single #10 wire runs approximately 15 feet to the Converter. The extra resistance in this wire size, as compared to a #8 or #6 awg wire could certainly give the Converter the false sense that the battery(s) are charged a lot more than they actually are.

In years past, when cars had generators and 2-3 relay "Regulators" we used a 1 Ohm resistor to trick the system into thinking the battery was fully charged so we could set the charge voltage limit.

How many have experienced issues fully charging batteries that were connected to Diode type isolators and the voltage drop across the diodes?

For those who feel their batteries are not being fully charged by their converter simply upgrading the 12V Wiring between converter and battery bank could make a big difference. I would use the absolute largest size wire I could cram into the 12V main terminal on the Converter. I might even make an "adapter" to allow larger wire to be connected to the smaller terminal by just modifying the tab on a wire lug to fit in the smaller lug on the Converter that would allow connection of a #4-#6 wire. It's the voltage drop across the 10-15 feet (or more) that the main 12V wire runs that is the problem, not the last inch or so at the converter.

If you want to see if the wire is a problem before taking any action to upgrade, just measure voltage at converter 12V main terminal when battery charge begins and quickly go check the voltage at the battery connection. If you have #8 wire, 5-1/2 feet will yield a 1% voltage drop at a charge current of 40 amp. Increase wire size to #4 and you can have almost three times the "run" (length) to get the same percentage of voltage drop.

In the long run, during a charge cycle, eventually the current will drop to the point that the voltage drop is insignificant and the converter will go into float mode. Upgrading the wire size will allow it to remain at max rate longer thus charging the batteries quicker overall. For the record, the factory wire is the smallest they feel they can get away with. #6 and #4 gauge wire is NOT cheap.

BTW, a similar upgrade on the vehicle 12 V supply (if a travel trailer) could yield similar benefits. Rather than routing the line through the connector, use a high current connector similar to what's used to connect forklift batteries to the lift or jumper cables to sockets on service vehicles.

Note: I just got released by my Surgeon and Cardiologist after a set of "Detours" were installed on my heart. I plan on tackling this project in the next week or so and will have some pictures of any "adapters" I create from off the shelf pieces.
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Old 12-15-2017, 03:05 PM   #17
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I recently purchased a Flagstaff Micro Lite that came with a WFCO 8955 series Converter. As I read the specs it can deliver 55 amps charging current but only if the voltage at the Converter 12 v terminal is below threshold voltage for bulk charge.
In my TT it appears that a single #10 wire runs approximately 15 feet to the Converter. The extra resistance in this wire size, as compared to a #8 or #6 awg wire could certainly give the Converter the false sense that the battery(s) are charged a lot more than they actually are.

In years past, when cars had generators and 2-3 relay "Regulators" we used a 1 Ohm resistor to trick the system into thinking the battery was fully charged so we could set the charge voltage limit.

How many have experienced issues fully charging batteries that were connected to Diode type isolators and the voltage drop across the diodes?

For those who feel their batteries are not being fully charged by their converter simply upgrading the 12V Wiring between converter and battery bank could make a big difference. I would use the absolute largest size wire I could cram into the 12V main terminal on the Converter. I might even make an "adapter" to allow larger wire to be connected to the smaller terminal by just modifying the tab on a wire lug to fit in the smaller lug on the Converter that would allow connection of a #4-#6 wire. It's the voltage drop across the 10-15 feet (or more) that the main 12V wire runs that is the problem, not the last inch or so at the converter.

If you want to see if the wire is a problem before taking any action to upgrade, just measure voltage at converter 12V main terminal when battery charge begins and quickly go check the voltage at the battery connection. If you have #8 wire, 5-1/2 feet will yield a 1% voltage drop at a charge current of 40 amp. Increase wire size to #4 and you can have almost three times the "run" (length) to get the same percentage of voltage drop.

In the long run, during a charge cycle, eventually the current will drop to the point that the voltage drop is insignificant and the converter will go into float mode. Upgrading the wire size will allow it to remain at max rate longer thus charging the batteries quicker overall. For the record, the factory wire is the smallest they feel they can get away with. #6 and #4 gauge wire is NOT cheap.

BTW, a similar upgrade on the vehicle 12 V supply (if a travel trailer) could yield similar benefits. Rather than routing the line through the connector, use a high current connector similar to what's used to connect forklift batteries to the lift or jumper cables to sockets on service vehicles.

Note: I just got released by my Surgeon and Cardiologist after a set of "Detours" were installed on my heart. I plan on tackling this project in the next week or so and will have some pictures of any "adapters" I create from off the shelf pieces.
At 55 Amperes 15' of AWG 8 wire will drop about a half a Volt, 4% of 12 VDC. The practical effect of this is that the converter will reduce the charging voltage a little early. As the charge rate slackens, so does the voltage drop. It's not clear to me what the difference in charging time might be were you to use larger wire, but I suspect it won't be much.
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Old 12-15-2017, 03:59 PM   #18
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Trees -
Based on your stated intentions of use, I agree with your solutions. Keep it Simple, keep it reliable, keep it as inexpensive as you can while sticking to the first two.

Good luck.
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Old 12-17-2017, 12:19 PM   #19
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. It's not clear to me what the difference in charging time might be were you to use larger wire, but I suspect it won't be much.
I believe that will depend on the size of your battery bank and it's SOC.

Charging times are certainly different between a group 24 versus a bank consisting of far larger batteries like group 29, 31, 4d, or 8d, even 6v's in series/parallel.

I think a lot of complaints regarding Converter's not fully charging batteries could well hinge on the factories skimping on wire size to save a few pennies.

I haven't measured the main 12V wire in my Micro Lite yet and just assume it could be #8. Then again, it could be only #10. Regardless, I will be upgrading for an inverter and I might as well run the same wire size to the converter (#6 minimum, probably #4). I hate voltage drop, regardless of which direction it's from.
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Old 12-17-2017, 03:54 PM   #20
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I believe that will depend on the size of your battery bank and it's SOC.

Charging times are certainly different between a group 24 versus a bank consisting of far larger batteries like group 29, 31, 4d, or 8d, even 6v's in series/parallel.

I think a lot of complaints regarding Converter's not fully charging batteries could well hinge on the factories skimping on wire size to save a few pennies.

I haven't measured the main 12V wire in my Micro Lite yet and just assume it could be #8. Then again, it could be only #10. Regardless, I will be upgrading for an inverter and I might as well run the same wire size to the converter (#6 minimum, probably #4). I hate voltage drop, regardless of which direction it's from.
My R-Pod 171 used AWG 6 as it came from the factory. For whatever reason, ground went to frame on the tongue, then another lead went from the frame further forward to the converter. I jumped that gap with AWG 4. At some point I want to do some further cleanup. I'm doing this out of compulsiveness rather than trying to improve charging rate.
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