Upgrading a Magnetek Converter

Stock RV converters are notoriously poor battery chargers. One of the worst, and most common, is the Magnetek. It is essentially a trickle charger that can boil batteries dry because it doesn’t know when to stop charging. I spent up to six months at a time plugged into shore power in the last few years and I know that is part of the reasons my last set of batteries didn’t last long.

Because the charger in the Magnetek only puts out a few amps, it is not efficient for charging batteries with a generator. I usually consume 45 to 70AH per day and the generator puts back in an average of 1.5AH. At that rate, I would have to run my genset for up to 47 hours to get a full charge using the Magnatek only! Of course, I have solar, but when it’s grey like it’s been here the last little while, solar just isn’t enough.

An easy and relatively inexpensive solution is to charge the RV batteries with a dedicated charger that can put in up to 15A. This works well enough when I turn off the solar, otherwise the dedicated charger thinks the batteries are full and won’t work. But it’s a pain to have to hook it up and run an extension cord.

What many boondockers do instead is upgrade their Magnetek converter to a better multi-stage smart charger, such as a Progressive Dynamics Converter Upgrade Section, matching the Progressive Dynamics unit to their Magnetek model. For example, my Magnetek was a 45A model, so I had to pair it up with the 45A Progressive Dynamics model.

I picked this converter upgrade because it was well rated and available on Amazon so it didn’t cost me much out of pocket ($2 for the unit, $21 for tax, plus the gas to go get it in Montana). I had it shipped to Opheim, MT, where it arrived Friday.

This morning, I headed out around 8:45 and enjoyed a scenic, albeit very isolated, drive to the border where I was grilled about my last trip to the US. Oh, I hope not to have any issues this fall…

My package wasn’t at the post office since they don’t accept Fed Ex, but I was told to try the bar across the street. My package was there and cheerfully given to me in exchange for $5. I got some beer for C&C while I was there, filled up with gas since the SK stations were closed for the civic holiday, and then I headed home.

I got grilled by CDN customs about why I’m now living out here and then paid the duty and tax on the beer and the tax on the converter. Then, it was an easy drive home. The trip took just under three hours.

I got to work immediately, having previously read the instructions and gathered the bulk of the tools I would need (many types and sizes of screw drivers and wrenches, plus a wire cutter that I only needed because one screw in my DC panel was badly stripped and I couldn’t get the wire out without cutting it). I also had different coloured electrical tape on hand to use as markers. This came in handy when I had to wire the new DC panel as I had many wires the same colour. I wrapped each one in a different coloured tape and then made a note of in which order I had to reconnect the colours.

Installation was easy. I just followed the step by step instructions and really didn’t have any problems beyond needing a strange screw driver that isn’t stock in most basic tool kits (thankfully, I’m well beyond a basic tool kit) and having to struggle with too short wire lengths. It took me 2.5 hours to install and a good part of that involved getting up to get more tools, trying to get the flashlight angled so that I could see, and wrestling with tight screws. None of the difficulties had to do with the technical part of the installation.

I’ve been so nervous about tapping into the factory-installed wiring, but now that I have, more upgrades are in my future!