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Q. I have been hearing lots of talk about inverters. What is an inverter and what does this new technology have to do with groomers?
A. An inverter is a machine that changes battery power (12 volt DC) into household power (110 volt AC). Inverter systems can supply groomers with all the electrical power they need without plugging into customer's outlets - and without running their van engine or a generator. Does that sound too good to be true? While inverter technology is new to the grooming industry, inverters have been used for decades in other industries.

Q. Some mobile grooming van builders use generators to provide power to the van. Is an inverter the same as a generator?
No. There are many differences and very few similarities. In fact, about the only similarity is that they both produce electrical power.

Q. Which is better: an inverter or a generator?
Both systems have benefits and limitations. What is the primary benefit of a generator? Theoretically, it can run indefinitely. As long as you pour in the gas, the generator pours out electricity. What is the primary limitation of a generator? Operating and ownership costs! According to one major generator manufacturer, a 5500 - 7000 watt generator burns between .6 and .9 gallons each hour it is working. With gasoline at $3.00 per gallon, the average fuel cost, alone, is well over $2.50 per hour. In addition, they recommend that you change the oil (and the oil filter) every 150 hours. That means most groomers will be changing their oil every 3-4 weeks, at a cost of $10-$20. And that's not all. The bigger costs come with the "tune ups" that must be done every 450-500 hours. If you operate your generator 8 hours per day, these “tune ups” must be scheduled every 60-90 work days, or 4-6 times per year, at a cost of hundreds of dollars per service. What's the bottom line? Including fuel costs, maintenance costs, and replacement/ownership costs, it is quite possible to incur total costs in excess of $4.00 per hour of operation, or $8,000 - $9,000 per year! By comparison, inverters require no gasoline, no oil changes and no tune ups. However, inverter powered mobile grooming vans have a limited run time and, since the batteries must be charged each night, electric bills can be expected to increase.

Q. Where does the inverter get the 12 volt power that it converts to 110 volt power? Does the van engine supply it?
A. No, and Yes.

No, properly designed inverter systems do not get their power directly from the van engine. This would require the van's engine to run while grooming, which could cause premature failure of the emission system, the cooling system, the charging system, or the entire engine. Instead, inverters get their power from a “bank” of batteries.

But, yes, the van’s alternator helps charge the battery “bank” as the vehicle is driven from customer to customer.

Q. It’s beginning to sound more complicated. Does every inverter system require a battery “bank” in addition to the inverter?
A. Yes. Think of this battery "bank" as the “fuel tank” of your inverter system. The more batteries you have in your battery "bank," the longer your inverter can operate. The big difference between your inverter's “fuel tank” and the fuel tank connected to a generator is: You will never have to fill your inverter's “fuel tank” with anything costing $3.00 per gallon. In fact, as you travel from pet to pet, the alternator on your van is refilling your inverter's "fuel tank" - for free!

Q. How much do the batteries weigh? How many batteries are there in a battery "bank?”
While most high quality deep cycle batteries weigh between 65 and 90 lbs, some weigh up to 165 lbs. Van Conversions, LLC, in Largo, FL offers the most powerful battery "bank” in the mobile grooming industry. Their Deluxe Model has a battery "bank" with 14 batteries, which provides 1,540 amp/hrs of power. However, some manufacturers offer battery "banks" with as few as 4 batteries. When comparing "battery banks" be sure to ask, "How many Amp Hours of Power, at 12 Volts, do you offer in your van?" Beware of vendors who cannot, or will not, answer that question.

Q. Should batteries be installed inside or outside of the van?
The type of battery being used determines whether the battery can be safely installed inside or outside of the van. While there are many types of batteries, mobile grooming van manufacturers utilize two basic types: 1)flooded lead acid and 2)AGM.

The most common, and least expensive, battery type is the flooded lead acid battery. Generally speaking, this is the type of battery used in golf carts. These batteries should definitely be installed outside the mobile grooming van - but installing them outside the van creates two very significant problems related to maintenance and durability:1)Because flooded lead acid batteries consume lots of water, they must be checked, refilled and maintained regularly. Since they have to be installed outside (and generally under) the vehicle, getting to them to check them or to add water can be costly (if you hire a mechanic) or inconvenient and dirty (if you choose to do it yourself). 2)Batteries, like people, work best in a comfortable environment. When batteries are Installed outside the van they are subjected to temperature extremes. These hot and cold extremes result in reduced power, efficiency and overall battery life.

The second type of battery is called an absorbed glass mat or AGM battery. AGM batteries are used in airplanes and other critical environments where humans are present. AGM batteries can be installed inside the van.

Q. How can I decide which type of battery is best for me? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of battery?
Flooded lead acid batteries have only one advantage over AGM batteries: They are cheaper. However, they have two disadvantages related to safety:
1)During electrolysis (charging and discharging) flooded lead acid (golf cart) batteries can emit hydrogen and other unsafe gases. 2)If there was ever an accident, liquid acid could spill on people or equipment. These are two more reasons why flooded lead acid batteries should always be installed outside the mobile grooming van.

The primary advantages of AGM batteries are: 1)They are safer. 2) They are more powerful. 3)They last longer. In fact, they are the most advanced batteries available, today. They do not have the high gas emissions associated with flooded lead acid batteries, they require no maintenance – ever – and, since they can be installed inside the van, they operate more efficiently and they last longer. What are the disadvantages of this “high tech wonder battery?” There is really only one disadvantage: They are more expensive - up to 2 times more than a flooded lead acid (golf cart) battery. However, since they last longer and since they require less maintenance, the higher initial cost can be recovered over time.

Van Conversions, LLC was the first mobile grooming van manufacturer to offer AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries. Most, but not all, manufacturers have followed their lead. So, when you shop for an inverter powered mobile grooming van be sure to ask each manufacturer, "What kind of batteries do you use in your inverter system?" Why would anyone install anything but AGM batteries?  The answer is simple: They use cheaper batteries to save money. The problem is, their savings come at your expense.

Q. I know that generators are very noisy. Is an inverter as noisy as a generator?
A. No. This is one of the biggest differences between inverter power and generator power. While generators are often very noisy, inverters operate with practically no noise, at all. Van Conversions, LLC says their systems are “powered by silence” because those words capture the essence of their system ….. power and silence.

Q. Can an inverter run all of my grooming equipment?
A. Yes. A mobile grooming van that is engineered, from the ground up, to be inverter powered, can run the air conditioner, the central vacuum systems, the water heater, the lights, the dryer, the high pressure wash system and the other tools used by groomers. In order to work properly, an inverter system must have sufficient inverter power and it must have sufficient battery power. If inverters are the “heart” of the system, batteries are the “muscle.”

Van Conversions, LLC was the first mobile grooming van manufacturer to offer systems that are powered by, not one, but two inverters. This industry exclusive, MaxPower, dual inverter system can supply enough power to start, and run, air conditioners and other large loads. In addition, Van Conversions, LLC offers the most powerful battery "bank" in a mobile grooming van - on planet earth. Last, but not least, Van Conversions, LLC is the only manufacturer offering Sine Wave inverters - inverters that produce an abosolutely pure form of electrical power. The result is your dryers, clippers, air conditioners and other tools run more efficiently and should last longer. Other manufacturers offer only Modified Sine Wave inverters. Why? They are much cheaper - up to $1,000 cheaper. As you shop for an inverter powered mobile grooming van, be sure to keep in mind that inverters are not all created equal. Insist on the best. Insist on Sine Wave inverters.

Q. My van is powered by a generator. Can you remove it and install an inverter system in its place?
A. Possibly. However, if a van is designed with excessive power requirements, it may be impossible to retrofit it with an inverter system. Unfortunately, the owners of these mobile grooming vans are relegated to generator power until they can sell or trade the van.

Q. Some manufacturers say it is OK to leave the van engine running while grooming. Is it possible to operate an inverter powered van without the engine running?
A. Yes. A well designed, inverter powered, van can supply power for all grooming operations – including the air conditioner – without the van engine running. Because this is a very high engineering standard, some manufacturers argue that it is OK to leave the engine running? Why? The answer is simple: It is much easier and cheaper to design and build an inverter powered van, if you require the groomer to run the van engine while grooming.

Q. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of running my van engine all day long?
Running the vehicle engine at all times offers two advantages: 1)Running the engine reduces the number of batteries that must be transported, making the system lighter and cheaper 2)Running the engine can, also, reduce or eliminate the need to "plug in" throughout the day. There are, however, several significant disadvantages: 1)The engine in any mobile grooming van is expensive to repair or replace. To make matters worse, some grooming van manufacturers utilize diesel engines, which are even more expensive to work on. 2)They rationalize the use of these expensive diesel engines by saying, "It is OK to "idle" a diesel engine." That may be true, but some vehicle manufacturers disagree. For example, Daimler Chrysler, recommended running their diesel engines at around 1900 - 2000 RPM's. 3)An engine running at that RPM would propel you to over 60 miles per hour, if you were travelling down the road. So what? Here is the point: If you run the van engine at the recommended RPM, and if you groom 8 hours per day, you will put the equivalent of an extra 120,000 miles on your engine - each year. That is a staggering 600,000 extra miles in just five years! Do you think an extra 600,000 miles might wear an engine out more quickly? 4)Finally, running a diesel engine, or any other engine, all day long consumes significant amounts of fuel. If you were to drive at 60 miles per hour for 8 hours, you would go 480 miles (8 hrs x 60 mph.) Even if a vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon, it will burn exactly 24 (480 miles/20 mpg) gallons of fuel in that 8 hour trip. That means the vehicle burns 3 gallons of diesel fuel per hour! 

Q. Are there any other problems associated with running my van engine all day long?
A. Yes, there are a couple of additonal considerations: 1)Working inside a mobile grooming van, with the engine running, carries some safety risk from carbon monoxide poisoning.  If you purchase a generator or engine powered mobile grooming van, please ask the manufacturer to install a carbon monoxide tester in the van. 2)Many cities, and some states, regulate engine idling and/or stationary engine operation. Therefore, you might want to check your local laws and ordinances before you buy.