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Unbeatable Rigs: How to transform your vehicle into an electrical beast

Unbeatable Rigs: How to transform your vehicle into an electrical beast

There are five things you need to consider if you want to survive the bush; water, food, fuel, radio/mobile communication and how you will get enough reception to watch your favourite game of footy! Ok, maybe not the fifth one but certainly there’s one thing that underlies the other four and that’s having the correct electrical set-up for your vehicle.


It’s simple really. You obviously need food and water, but you need a portable fridge to keep it fresh and cold. What powers the fridge? Your electrical vehicle set-up. Fuel is a precious resource travelling remote, so how do you ensure you’re not relying on it heavily? Having the correct electrical vehicle-set-up. Need to radio SOS for help? You guessed it, you need the correct electrical vehicle set-up so those must-have gadgets are always fully charged and not draining your battery.

We’ve talked about this in the past, but now Stuart shares how you can get the most bang for your buck, saving on fuel and transforming your vehicle into an electrical beast at the same time.

Over the break, we travelled the beautiful Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. Being an SA lad I am somewhat biased, but Yorke's definitely has some of the best beaches and countrysides out there. When we left Adelaide in the Landcruiser with REDARC camper in tow, we filled up with 300 litres of petrol that would reliably see us through the 1000kms or so we would travel over the next week. As you can tell, the cruiser is not fuel efficient by any stretch, particularly with the camper following – but this rig is the full house and never misses a beat so is well worth it.


Unleaded was $1.10 per litre vs diesel at $1.35 – steep enough at that. As we rolled into the suburbs after the trip, lighter for the consumed food, fuel, beer and water – I noticed the petrol price now nudging $1.44!! Diesel had remained at $1.35. Without going into how much of a crock the fuel pricing structure is, it got me thinking about the difference that fuel up would have been a week later.


A 300 litre fill a week ago was $330, but would cost me an extra $102 today, crikey! Now as mentioned, efficiency is not a forte of the thumping 4.5-litre land cruiser, but without sacrifice or compromise (two words that go hand in hand with efficiency benefits when it comes to engine performance) what effects do my auxiliary electrical systems have on fuel consumption?

My camping setup is a fair powerhouse. As always, I had a few mate’s camping gear running off our camper and 4x4 for this trip. The electrical system has been setup with efficiency and reliability at its core. Lithium batteries, roof rack mounted solar panels, SunPower cell solar blanket for additional charging if required when parked, heavy cables, high-efficiency chargers and Pure Sine Wave Inverters. I want my gear to run the best it can, for as long as it can, and then recharge as fast as possible.


I wondered what that costs me in terms of fuel? When pondering this, I thought I should ignore the additional weight of the extra components and any drag caused by solar panels (especially considering the land cruiser would be one of the least aerodynamic vehicles around with all the accessories) because to be honest, it won’t stop me carrying it. This is gear we need (“need” being a term used loosely that really refers to what we “want” to take) - the solar panels are there when the vehicle is stationary anyway. I want to look at the cost of recovering charge in my batteries against fuel costs.


When I am away, I rely on two things for charging – the sun and my vehicle. When at home, the batteries are all maintained by the sun if parked outside or mains if in the shed.

With Excel open and cold beer in hand, I started to think about what needed to be considered. Everybody will be different in the amount of power they use and the type of travel they do. As I mentioned, we use a fair amount of power and generally only stay in one spot for a few days at a time. So, I’ve worked out what needs to be put into the spreadsheet:

  •          How much power needs to be delivered to the batteries?
  •          How much power is available from the charging systems?
  •          How much time is spent travelling?
  •          What price did I pay for the fuel?

It’s important to mention at this stage, that my charging systems aren’t your average. Both vehicles have the REDARC Manager30 Battery Management System installed with Revolution Power Lithium batteries. A Manager30 and 160Ah in the camper and a Manager30 with two 100Ah in the cruiser. There are also REDARC portable panels all round with 150W on the cruiser and 160W on the camper. I didn’t consider the REDARC 150W SunPower blanket into the calculations as I obviously don’t use that while driving. One of the features of The Manager30 and a range of REDARC chargers is Green Power Priority, which I factored in.


Green Power Priority makes sure that my batteries receive all the power that the solar panels can deliver before the battery management system takes power from my vehicle (or mains/generator power if they are used). It means that those panels I have fitted on the car and camper are doing the absolute most work for me. Not only charging at camp but also charging while I’m on the road. Now, there are plenty of setups where the solar and vehicle (or mains charger) may be connected to the battery at the same time as separate entities.


However, there is no control of how much power comes from what source then, it’s all left up to chance. Anyway, here’s what I have worked out in my setup, combining both vehicles for ease:

  • During a typical 4 hour drive between campsites, my charging system would recover the 160Ah that had been depleted from my battery banks over the last 3 days at camp.
  • To recover that from the alternator alone it would cost $1.06 on the original price I paid when I filled up before leaving (or $1.38 at today’s price)
  • The Green Priority cuts this nearly in half because my solar panels recover a little over 50% of the battery power during the drive (that would otherwise have been taken from my alternator). Meaning that recharge has cost me $0.51 and saved me $0.71.

OK, so I can’t go out and put a deposit down on a new cruiser (yet) with that saving. I am carting the panels around to use at camp anyway so we can’t forget about all the benefits there. The batteries won’t be as discharged as they would be if I had not used solar at camp – but this way I am making them work for me while driving also. It took some heavy maths to arrive at that conclusion, now I just need to look at it over a year to see how much the benefits grow.


Over around 8,000kms worth of trips each year I would be looking at around $20 worth of fuel savings in that drive time alone. Once again, not ground-breaking but worth taking advantage of. Those with large caravans or motorhomes, which commonly have 600W of solar or more will be looking at annual savings for similar kilometres upwards of $60.


Over a 100,000km life of that vehicle, you would be looking at around $750 saving. Even tradies that have a fridge running 24/7 and drive a couple of hours each day could save $50 per year – that’s a carton of your favourite ale to put back in the fridge! No reason to go out and slather the bus in panels, but a great reason to choose a charging system that harnesses this benefit.


This, of course, all ties in perfectly to the vehicle manufacturers desire to reduce the electrical load on new vehicles in order to save fuel and have more grunt available at the tread when you want it.

REDARC have developed Green Power Priority in their In-vehicle charger range, BCDC1225D and BCDC1240D and The Manager range, BMS1215S3 and BMS1230S2. Not sure which one suits your needs? Check out our dual battery system calculator.

Now off to the “fun” part of camping, washing the cruiser and camper and incorporating all the storage tips.

Catch ya next time,

Stuart Peddle

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