Until recently, lithium batteries used to be prohibitively expensive and were only available to a small percentage of van lifers. Not surprisingly, few can afford US$1,000 for a 100aH battery.
But prices for these batteries have been steadily coming down, year-after-year. This is not only due to increased economies of scale, but also because of the increased competition from a growing number of sellers.
This decrease in price has been a boon to everyone, especially those traveling in camper vans. But lithium prices still continue to be more expensive than the traditional AGM battery. So many are still wondering if buying lithium batteries for their camper van conversion is worth the investment.
As lithium batteries (aka Lithium-Iron Phosphate ‘LiFePO4’) continue to become cheaper, year-after-year, we think it makes increasing sense to go lithium. And this post will argue why we believe that’s the case.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Are lithium batteries really more expensive than their AGM cousins?
Though lithium batteries require a higher up-front expense, they can become cheaper over the long run, compared to AGMs, due to their longer lifespan.
Let’s take a closer look at the charge cycles for both AGM and Lithium batteries.
Renogy AGM Battery
Under realistic van life conditions, you’re likely to get ~750 usable cycles before the battery needs to be replaced. Assuming 1 cycle per day, that’s 2 years of usable life.
Note: A 200Ah AGM battery is equivalent to a 100Ah lithium battery.
Renogy Lithium Battery
This Renogy lithium battery is marketed to have 4000 cycles at 80% depth of discharge).
At 1 cycle per day, these batteries would last you more than 10 years AND you can discharge them deeper than AGMs.
Only you can calculate if a lithium battery is more economical, but also keep in mind that your lithium batteries will have resale value even after you choose to quit van life. So you’d be able to recoup part of your money back if/when you sell your van.
Lithium Batteries Are More Space Efficient
You already know that space inside a vehicle is limited. Part of van life is about maximizing space efficiency.
So when it comes to batteries, it’s no contest that lithium batteries are more space efficient. That’s because if you intend to keep within a battery’s safe depth-of-discharge levels, you’ll need TWICE as many AGM batteries than lithiums.
Based on our battery bank size calculation, we purchased three lithium batteries. But if we went with AGM, then we’d need to buy 6 batteries! That’s a lot more space being used to store batteries.
Lithium Weighs Less Than AGM
Don’t forget, a lithium battery is roughly half the weight of a comparable AGM.
In our case, we saved over 100 pounds in weight just by going with lithium batteries. That’s better for your fuel economy, vehicle suspension, and your back!
Though we mentioned it briefly above, it’s important to repeat:
Lithium batteries are very likely to outlive your van life adventure. Meaning, if & when you’re ready to sell your van, your lithium batteries will have value remaining. So you can get back a portion the money you spent on them.
Not so much for AGMs. We’ve seen plenty of times where the buyer of the pre-owned camper had purchase new batteries because the current AGMs were near dead.
Downsides of Lithium Batteries
There are several downsides to owning lithium batteries but here are the two downsides most relevant to van lifers.
1. No Charging Below Freezing
If you plan to live in your camper van in the winter, you need to know that lithium batteries cannot be charged in sub-freezing temperatures.
Most quality lithium batteries have a built-in battery monitoring system (BMS) to prevent charging during these temperatures. But if not, charging a lithium battery during this time can critically damage the battery.
2. Should Not Keep At 100% Charge
However, the biggest, most relevant downside to these batteries is that you must micro-manage your lithium battery’s charging process (if you intend to maximize their lifespan).
That’s because lithium batteries don’t like being kept at full charge. Maintaining the battery at (or near) 100% charge stresses the cells out and reduces their lifespan.
So in order to maximize our battery’s lifespan, we try to keep our battery’s state-of-charge hovering between 30-80%. This isn’t hard to do, but it does mean babysitting the batteries everyday.
We’ll often have to disconnect our solar (if we’re getting too much sun) or disconnect from the van’s starting battery (if we’ve been driving too long).
Having a battery monitor that is Bluetooth enabled, like our Victron Monitor, makes it convenient to stay on top of our battery’s state of charge using my cell phone
Recommended Lithium Batteries
We use Battle Born batteries. If you’re in the USA, you’ll know that these are some of the best quality (but most expensive) lithium batteries you can get on the market today.
But we understand not everyone has $800-900 to spend for every 100Ah battery. (If you can afford a Battle Born, absolutely go for it. We love ours!)
Otherwise, we list two popular, and cheaper, alternatives below. Although we do not have personal experience with either of these batteries, we’ve read plenty of happy reviews across battery message boards and online forums.
Claim To Fame...
Best For Budget
11.42 x 7.87 x 7.87 inches
13 x 6.82 x 8.48 inches
How To Buy?
Final Thought: In Our Digital Age, Lithium Batteries Are Key
We are huge believers in the axiom, “you get what you pay for.” And this saying is especially true when it comes to your battery selection (and when you build your van’s electrical system).
We believe lithium batteries are absolutely worth the extra money.
In this day and age, huge parts of our lives depend on electricity. Our laptops, smartphones, fridges, InstantPot, and more continue to demand more and more electricity. And AGMs just can’t keep up with our power requirements over the long run.
If you have any comments or questions, feel free to send hs an email on our contact page.
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