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Old 07-05-2019, 01:17 AM #1
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Dual Battery Vs. Portable Battery

Hey all, I've been doing a fair amount of research to try and learn about the different setups out there to power things in an over landing/camping vehicle. For those that are familiar in this space, can you please explain what the pros and cons are for a dual battery setup vs having a portable battery like an Apex or a Goalzero?

It seems a lot easier to just have a separate battery like the Apex to plug all your things into. And when you need to have it recharged, you can have 2 solar panels up top feeding it the juice.

For context, I usually do 2-3 day trips where I camp out of my 4runner. I'd need to power my refrigerator, blender, laptop, camera/drone batteries, lights, fan, and anything else.

Appreciate any help, thank you.

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Old 07-05-2019, 02:10 AM #2
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Subscribed, I am also very interested in this. Thinking about doing either a duel battery or battery pack.
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Old 07-05-2019, 11:02 AM #3
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If only there was a short, easy, concise answer to give.

You mention a LOT of items you want powered, which complicates any answer even further.

Let's start with the dual battery. The upside of a dual battery system are two fold, one of which is also a downside... The biggest upside is that a second battery can be used to start your engine if your primary/starting battery dies for some reason. The upside/downside is that while you're driving to camp, the vehicle's alternator is charging the second battery. The downside to that is that your vehicle alternator is designed to keep your systems running whilst pouring it's excess into your starting battery keeping it charged. Rarely will a stock alternator do an excellent when you add extra batteries. Better systems will obviously add a lot of cost to do it right (DC to DC chargers, proper solar setups, etc). The simplest shortest explanation here is this: You will likely never charge your auxiliary battery to the top, which eventually will begin to damage it the more you use it, and you'll be replacing the auxiliary battery much earlier than you expected.

Even upgrading your primary battery to a Group 31 like I have, you will find, as I have, that a daily commute is not enough to keep a beast of a battery like that charged. I never have trouble starting, but I find my battery rests throughout the week between 11.9 to 12.2 volts (an AGM should rest around 13 volts fully charged, essentially meaning at 12.0 volts, my battery storage capacity is at 0, still plenty of energy to start my 4Runner, but if I tried to run my fridge overnight, it probably wouldn't make it through the night) Even after driving many hours, I find that a stock alternator will not charge the battery to full capacity.

However, using my 100 watt solar setup, my 4Runner has sat for 4 days running my engel fridge at 35, and the battery never dropped below 95% during the nights, and never below 100% during the days. The fridge barely draws 1.5 amps when it's running (30%-40% cycling), and the solar puts in about 6 amps all day long. So long as there's sun, I could probably run my fridge 24/7 without issue if my solar was permanently mounted up top.

The last downside to an auxiliary battery is cost: $250-$400 for the battery alone, around $250 for an isolator setup or around $450 for a DC to DC Charger setup, materials and labor if you have a pro install it; maybe $500.


Now.. For removable/portable batteries, especially ones augmented by solar... I really like the idea of these, even though it's not the route I chose for my setup. But again, your usage is going to determine how big you go here.

What makes these more practical than a battery that stays in your vehicle? You can keep these plugged in to your wall outlet at home, maintaining charge until you're ready to use it. Many of them also offer charging from a cigarette lighter outlet in your car (albeit very slowly! Main purpose here is to keep it charged up while driving to camp before any heavy use begins).

I would not buy any portable battery option if it did not include the ability to charge via solar. Even better if it supports multiple methods to connect the solar panels (Anderson Powerpole, SAE connector, etc) so that I don't have to pay extra for their proprietary panels, I can buy whatever brand I like and get more for it (so long as I don't exceed the input current limitations of the pack's onboard charge controller!!).

I hope this helps, and doesn't leave you more confused. You can find many topics on this on many different sites, with folks arguing one way or the other about which is better.

My personal, and professional (12 volt auto electrical upfitting and specialty systems are the business I work in, building Fire Apparatus, Police cruisers, Surveillance Vans, and Mobile Command vehicles, as well as running Adventure Wired, wiring overlander vehicles) is that onboard systems done correctly can be very costly. Done incorrectly can be downright dangerous and burn vehicles straight to the ground without any warning signs.

If you can find a portable solution that suits your needs and lasts your entire average trip, and DOESN'T require modifying your vehicle at great expense, do it.
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Old 07-05-2019, 04:21 PM #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 4RunAmok View Post
If only there was a short, easy, concise answer to give.

You mention a LOT of items you want powered, which complicates any answer even further.

Let's start with the dual battery. The upside of a dual battery system are two fold, one of which is also a downside... The biggest upside is that a second battery can be used to start your engine if your primary/starting battery dies for some reason. The upside/downside is that while you're driving to camp, the vehicle's alternator is charging the second battery. The downside to that is that your vehicle alternator is designed to keep your systems running whilst pouring it's excess into your starting battery keeping it charged. Rarely will a stock battery do an excellent when you add extra batteries. Better systems will obviously add a lot of cost to do it right (DC to DC chargers, proper solar setups, etc). The simplest shortest explanation here is this: You will likely never charge your auxiliary battery to the top, which eventually will begin to damage it the more you use it, and you'll be replacing the auxiliary battery much earlier than you expected.

Even upgrading your primary battery to a Group 31 like I have, you will find, as I have, that a daily commute is not enough to keep a beast of a battery like that charged. I never have trouble starting, but I find my battery rests throughout the week between 11.9 to 12.2 volts (an AGM should rest around 13 volts fully charged, essentially meaning at 12.0 volts, my battery storage capacity is at 0, still plenty of energy to start my 4Runner, but if I tried to run my fridge overnight, it probably wouldn't make it through the night) Even after driving many hours, I find that a stock alternator will not charge the battery to full capacity.

However, using my 100 watt solar setup, my 4Runner has sat for 4 days running my engel fridge at 35, and the battery never dropped below 95% during the nights, and never below 100% during the days. The fridge barely draws 1.5 amps when it's running (30%-40% cycling), and the solar puts in about 6 amps all day long. So long as there's sun, I could probably run my fridge 24/7 without issue if my solar was permanently mounted up top.

The last downside to an auxiliary battery is cost: $250-$400 for the battery alone, around $250 for an isolator setup or around $450 for a DC to DC Charger setup, materials and labor if you have a pro install it; maybe $500.


Now.. For removable/portable batteries, especially ones augmented by solar... I really like the idea of these, even though it's not the route I chose for my setup. But again, your usage is going to determine how big you go here.

What makes these more practical than a battery that stays in your vehicle? You can keep these plugged in to your wall outlet at home, maintaining charge until you're ready to use it. Many of them also offer charging from a cigarette lighter outlet in your car (albeit very slowly! Main purpose here is to keep it charged up while driving to camp before any heavy use begins).

I would not buy any portable battery option if it did not include the ability to charge via solar. Even better if it supports multiple methods to connect the solar panels (Anderson Powerpole, SAE connector, etc) so that I don't have to pay extra for their proprietary panels, I can buy whatever brand I like and get more for it (so long as I don't exceed the input current limitations of the pack's onboard charge controller!!).

I hope this helps, and doesn't leave you more confused. You can find many topics on this on many different sites, with folks arguing one way or the other about which is better.

My personal, and professional (12 volt auto electrical upfitting and specialty systems are the business I work in, building Fire Apparatus, Police cruisers, Surveillance Vans, and Mobile Command vehicles, as well as running Adventure Wired, wiring overlander vehicles) is that onboard systems done correctly can be very costly. Done incorrectly can be downright dangerous and burn vehicles straight to the ground without any warning signs.

If you can find a portable solution that suits your needs and lasts your entire average trip, and DOESN'T require modifying your vehicle at great expense, do it.
This was amazing information!!! Really, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write out such a knowledgeable and thorough analysis to this topic. It is a lot of information to digest, especially me being new to all this, but your info has helped a ton.

To sum things up, here are some takeaways I took from your experience:

1) I totally get the benefit of having the dual battery setup to "jump" your starting battery should it die. However, I was thinking of purchasing a small portable jumper kit from Amazon that I would always keep with me anyway for myself or someone else on the side of the road.

2) The stock alternator isn't designed to handle topping off 2 good quality batteries. That makes sense. My runner is sitting at 180k miles so I'm sure that would only speed up any failures.

3) Since the stock alternator can't top off both batteries efficiently, if you ran your fridge, it probably wouldn't last one day. And if that wasn't detrimental enough, imagine if you were running something else besides your fridge. It would only make matters worse.

4) To help alleviate your situation, you have solar panels in addition to your alternator that charge your auxiliary battery and that has been working great for you. (Do the panels wire directly from roof into auxiliary battery?)

5) Despite running your Engel for days just fine while your runner is parked, do you think maybe you'd run into some risk if you were powering other devices like I mentioned?

6) Now onto the portable battery setup, a nice benefit is being able to have different methods to charge the battery. Can they receive charge from the vehicle's alternator in addition to receiving charge from solar panels at the same time?

7) And now that I asked that last question, I realized maybe that wouldn't be smart since we just concluded the stock alternator isn't designed to charge "more" stuff.

8) But let's say I was charging portable battery from multiple sources, maybe solar and 12v cigarette lighter, do these portable batteries automatically stop accepting charge once they reach 100%?

9) I forgot to mention I want to install some lighting such as bars, etc. If I went the portable battery route, would the lighting just be fed off stock single battery?

10) Last question, if I did the dual battery setup, how do I power things inside the vehicle? Is it mainly done through installing USB ports, cigarette lighters, and 120v sockets inside vehicle that are fed off auxiliary battery under the hood?

I know there's a lot of questions here, but any more input you can give would be much appreciated. I really do enjoy learning about this stuff and it will help me decide which route I take. Looking at the cost of an Inergy Apex or a GoalZero 1400, it seems buying a portable battery might cost the same as a proper dual battery setup so just trying to see what would be easiest, more efficient.

Lastly, on a tangent, but I wanted to ask why do you have an Engel? Are they better than others? I have been looking at the Dometic CFX 50 quart and the NEW ARB Series II 50 quart because they are the ones available to me locally. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of putting in the order today for the new ARB with its protective bag but wanted to ask you first, since you have an Engel. Am I missing something or are these fridges pretty much the same and any would be fine?

Thank you!!!

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Old 07-05-2019, 07:10 PM #5
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I installed a pretty neat system for my girls 5th gen. She does the overlanding thing. The main battery is a group 31 that works fine. The second battery is a Bioenno LifePo4 100AH battery connected to an MPPT charge controller and a hard glass solar panel (flexy solar panels all die within 3 years so forget those things). The solar panel charges the aux battery and runs the fridge when the car is off, but when the car is started, a relay takes control of all of the loads in the car and the panel continues to charge the aux battery. When the ignition is switched off, the system uses the aux battery for the loads. She has a CFX50 and uses it in 105 degree temps, so it draws quite a bit more than people who have fridges in cooler climates.

So far the system is flawless, the fridge can run infinitely without ever being connected to the car OR if there is little sun, just driving around a bit allows the aux battery to be topped off without any additional load on the engine.
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Old 07-07-2019, 11:46 AM #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nick_rabbo View Post
This was amazing information!!! Really, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write out such a knowledgeable and thorough analysis to this topic. It is a lot of information to digest, especially me being new to all this, but your info has helped a ton.
It didn't take as long as it looks, but you're welcome. I aim to educate before someone just goes out and spends too much on something they'll regret.

Quote:
To sum things up, here are some takeaways I took from your experience:

1) I totally get the benefit of having the dual battery setup to "jump" your starting battery should it die. However, I was thinking of purchasing a small portable jumper kit from Amazon that I would always keep with me anyway for myself or someone else on the side of the road.
Exactly what I do, I use the best I could find for a good price, the Antigravity XP-10

Quote:
2) The stock alternator isn't designed to handle topping off 2 good quality batteries. That makes sense. My runner is sitting at 180k miles so I'm sure that would only speed up any failures.

3) Since the stock alternator can't top off both batteries efficiently, if you ran your fridge, it probably wouldn't last one day. And if that wasn't detrimental enough, imagine if you were running something else besides your fridge. It would only make matters worse.

4) To help alleviate your situation, you have solar panels in addition to your alternator that charge your auxiliary battery and that has been working great for you. (Do the panels wire directly from roof into auxiliary battery?)
I only have one battery, but I upgraded from stock to a Group 31 by Odyssey. For the solar, have the Renogy Solar Suitcase, it sets up on the ground, the charge controller is under my hood, and I made a 25ft cable that allows me to set up the panels nearby.

Quote:
5) Despite running your Engel for days just fine while your runner is parked, do you think maybe you'd run into some risk if you were powering other devices like I mentioned?
Most of the items you describe can be curbed by discipline. In other words, stuff I'd only use when my battery is topped off, or plenty of solar charging time left. The biggest worry actually is the fan. An inefficient DC motor spinning all night will drain the battery pretty quickly. Blenders can be found in 12 volt so that you won't need an inverter. The best blender I ever made worked with my Makita drill! I made it so we could have margaritas on our boat without having to add complex electrical items like an inverter.

Quote:
6) Now onto the portable battery setup, a nice benefit is being able to have different methods to charge the battery. Can they receive charge from the vehicle's alternator in addition to receiving charge from solar panels at the same time?
I know the Goal Zero units have a 12 volt cigarette adapter to charge it from the vehicle, There are a few others, Arkpak for one, that do as well. These outlets aren't going to use a massive draw, and won't charge quickly, but it will help to keep a unit topped off while driving and keeping that fridge going.

Quote:
7) And now that I asked that last question, I realized maybe that wouldn't be smart since we just concluded the stock alternator isn't designed to charge "more" stuff.

8) But let's say I was charging portable battery from multiple sources, maybe solar and 12v cigarette lighter, do these portable batteries automatically stop accepting charge once they reach 100%?
Yes, the good ones, ArkPak and Goal Zero - some others, have built in charge controllers to keep the battery from getting damaged.

Quote:
9) I forgot to mention I want to install some lighting such as bars, etc. If I went the portable battery route, would the lighting just be fed off stock single battery?
Light bars, driving lights, etc; these would run only when the vehicle is running, and should be kept to your stock vehicle battery. Do it right, get a fuse block and run all your power leads to that, so that your battery terminals don't become overloaded with wires from all over the place. The only thing getting its power from the battery is the fuse block. If the fuse block is close enough to the battery (within 10 inches or so) you don't even need a breaker/fuse. But many, including myself use a breaker so that I can kill the power to the fuse block if I need to.

Quote:
10) Last question, if I did the dual battery setup, how do I power things inside the vehicle? Is it mainly done through installing USB ports, cigarette lighters, and 120v sockets inside vehicle that are fed off auxiliary battery under the hood?
Click my build thread link, review the second page, I chronicled the re-wiring of my 4Runner.

Quote:
I know there's a lot of questions here, but any more input you can give would be much appreciated. I really do enjoy learning about this stuff and it will help me decide which route I take. Looking at the cost of an Inergy Apex or a GoalZero 1400, it seems buying a portable battery might cost the same as a proper dual battery setup so just trying to see what would be easiest, more efficient.

Lastly, on a tangent, but I wanted to ask why do you have an Engel? Are they better than others? I have been looking at the Dometic CFX 50 quart and the NEW ARB Series II 50 quart because they are the ones available to me locally. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of putting in the order today for the new ARB with its protective bag but wanted to ask you first, since you have an Engel. Am I missing something or are these fridges pretty much the same and any would be fine?
Yup, a dual battery installed by a pro, including all the wire, the parts, the batteries, etc, could run as much as $2500.00 installed. I've never seen that Inergy Apex before, that looks pretty robust, and probably more than you'd ever need in the wild, but it has all the features I'd look for in such a solution. Not cheap by a long shot, but if you feel it will meet your needs, buy once - cry once! Like you said, much cheaper than some alternatives.

As for my fridge, I bought my engel because it's the most efficient fridge out there. It has only one single moving part, a key design feature of the Sawafuji. There are no other failure points to the system. You can read about the Sawafuji Swing Motor here. I also got a good deal on mine when engel was running a sale. I've personally seen engels out in use that are 20 years old. I don't expect my house fridge to last that long.

Dometic makes a nice fridge, I'm a bit jealous of the bluetooth apps to control these modern fridges, but to compensate, I picked up one of these SensorPush bluetooth thermometers, and it works AWESOME, including alarms that I can set a too low temp and too high temp that have my phone send me a notification when something is wrong. They're not cheap, but they're extremely accurate out of the box, the app supports multiple sending units that can be named in the app for the device it's in. And I don't have to reconnect it whenever I walk back near the truck. At any moment, I can open the app, and the date/time stamp on the last reading is usually moments before I opened the app, so it does it all on its own.

Hope this helps.
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Old 07-24-2020, 09:32 AM #7
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This thread and @4RunAmok post has been very helpful. I'm following is advise and using a Group 27 starter battery on my 5th Gen and keeping it topped off via solar. Still have to decide whether to mount a 100 Watt or 160 Watt solar panel or go in for a 100 Watt or larger portable unit that has the flexibility to be placed optimally and angled. @4RunAmok , in your experience is the renogy suitcase with its semi rigid case robust enough to tie down on a roof rack for transportation or does it have to be inside the vehicle? If I go for their portable option I'd consider the one without the PWM as I'll have a permanently mounted MPPT in the back of my rig.

From my research on portable devices, if one is willing to spend a bit extra and go for quality stuff one can get something that will last a lot longer and charge a lot faster via 12V DC. For example, the ARKPAK 730 can be paired with a 50 or 100 Ah lithium battery (or a Group 31 AGM) and can charge from your starter battery (via Anderson plug) at 7 Amps.
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Old 07-24-2020, 09:41 AM #8
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"Camping" sure has gotten soft.
That aside, useful information in this thread.


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Old 07-24-2020, 11:48 AM #9
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Just ordered ones of these

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Old 07-24-2020, 12:00 PM #10
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I built my own portable and my own dual battery setup...

I like the dual battery because it's got a permanent spot in the truck, I don't have to worry about moving or maintaining it. It serves other things in the truck as well like always on outlets and camping lighting.

I like my portable because I can use it anywhere. I've put my fridge in a rental or another persons car. I've using it for other items that have nothing to do with the fridge or 4Runner.

The portable units do take up some space, and they appear to be more fragile than a mounted lead battery. They tend to slosh around on the trail so more thought in securing things down as well.

I have used the portable in combination with my dual battery to extend runtime. This allows the dual battery to charge the portable, which tends to happen as a lower rate as most are using a DC-DC conversion.

For the money, a dual battery generally provides more watt hours per dollar. I find portables to be expensive, so it's worth cobbling together some batteries in a box yourself. Making a DIY solar generator really isn't that hard.

I prefer larger batteries over carrying solar panels. They are bulky and inconvenient to setup. If you run the truck often enough to provide a supplemental charge, you really dont have to worry about panels. I can run for days without solar. I have panels, I just don't use them.

Both are great depending on how you plan to use it.








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Old 07-24-2020, 06:10 PM #11
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I would have no problem strapping the renogy solar suitcase to my roof rack (I have a Prinsu, might feel more comfortable with a basket rack) so long as it was secure and nothing on top of it. It IS glass after all.

But I'd only do that if I were really short on space. Otherwise I keep it inside.

For a short time, I bolted the suitcase to the roof rack after I ran permanent solar wires up there, but I didn't like it with the hinge in the middle, it tended to rattle a bit up there. And I hate rattles. So I replaced it with a 100W single panel from Renogy. It lives up there full time on the rack, and will move to the hardshell RTT when I get it.
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Old 07-24-2020, 06:16 PM #12
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I would have no problem strapping the renogy solar suitcase to my roof rack (I have a Prinsu, might feel more comfortable with a basket rack) so long as it was secure and nothing on top of it. It IS glass after all.

But I'd only do that if I were really short on space. Otherwise I keep it inside.

For a short time, I bolted the suitcase to the roof rack after I ran permanent solar wires up there, but I didn't like it with the hinge in the middle, it tended to rattle a bit up there. And I hate rattles. So I replaced it with a 100W single panel from Renogy. It lives up there full time on the rack, and will move to the hardshell RTT when I get it.
I really dislike hard sided panels for mobile use.

You should consider flexible panel... they make for a decent middle ground. They do cost a little more and are not as efficient, but they pack away nicely.

I have a 60 watt folder and it easily keeps up with my fridge and tops off the battery.




Last edited by Bumbo; 07-24-2020 at 06:20 PM.
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Old 07-24-2020, 07:14 PM #13
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Originally Posted by 4RunAmok View Post
So I replaced it with a 100W single panel from Renogy. It lives up there full time on the rack, and will move to the hardshell RTT when I get it.
Did you go for their Eclipse panels? How much do you feel your daily Ah production has suffered with having them flat mounted on the roof? I'm deliberating between three choices - 100 Watt Eclipse roof mounted, 160 Watt Mono panel roof mounted, or a 100 Watt Eclipse suitcase. Looking to put back around 25 Ah into the system on a good day..
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Old 07-24-2020, 07:43 PM #14
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Originally Posted by bring_it_on View Post
Looking to put back around 25 Ah into the system on a good day..
So about 300 watt hours... that should be easy to do.

3 hours of good sunlight with a single 100 watt panel would get you there.

Even if the panel was only 66% efficient from being installed at a flat angel, you would reach your goal in 4.5 to 5 hours of sunlight. If you want to maximize collection and efficiency, I would invest in an MPPT charge controller.

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Old 07-25-2020, 01:39 AM #15
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If only there was a short, easy, concise answer to give.

The upside/downside is that while you're driving to camp, the vehicle's alternator is charging the second battery. The downside to that is that your vehicle alternator is designed to keep your systems running whilst pouring it's excess into your starting battery keeping it charged. Rarely will a stock alternator do an excellent when you add extra batteries. Better systems will obviously add a lot of cost to do it right (DC to DC chargers, proper solar setups, etc). The simplest shortest explanation here is this: You will likely never charge your auxiliary battery to the top, which eventually will begin to damage it the more you use it, and you'll be replacing the auxiliary battery much earlier than you expected.

Even upgrading your primary battery to a Group 31 like I have, you will find, as I have, that a daily commute is not enough to keep a beast of a battery like that charged. I never have trouble starting, but I find my battery rests throughout the week between 11.9 to 12.2 volts (an AGM should rest around 13 volts fully charged, essentially meaning at 12.0 volts, my battery storage capacity is at 0, still plenty of energy to start my 4Runner, but if I tried to run my fridge overnight, it probably wouldn't make it through the night) Even after driving many hours, I find that a stock alternator will not charge the battery to full capacity.
Im thinking about an eventual dual battery setup (dual Group 34 AGM with this Offgrid4x4 kit).

To alleviate the concern you brought up I was going to get an 180amp high power alternator (like this one). IIRC the 4th gens alternators are 130amp. Im wondering if the 50 extra amps is enough to really make a solid difference.
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