Baby Steps: How to Have Electricity in Your Car or Van For Very Little Money

This is another in my series on how to move into a car or van for very little money. Or, if you are still a few years away from becoming fully mobile, this is a step you can take to get your car or van ready to travel in by taking trips right now.

Question: I’m being forced to live in my car but I need some electricity. Eventually I want to get a suitcase style portable solar panel, but can’t afford it now. How can I have electricity for $100 or less?

If you are going to live in a car or van, you are going to need some electricity. At the minimum you will need to charge your phone, laptop and have some lights. In this post I want to show you  how you can do that for the minimum amount of money.  One thing I consider absolutely essential is a 12 volt fan like this great Roadpro.

If you are going to live in a car or van, you are going to need some electricity. At the minimum you will need to charge your phone, laptop and have some lights. In this post I want to show you how you can do that for the minimum amount of money. One thing I consider absolutely essential is a 12 volt fan like this great Roadpro. I bought mine off Amazon.com and you will find a link to it below.

If you can afford it, the first thing to buy is a battery. You can use it right now and then later when you get the panel you can charge it off the solar. Your best bet is a cheap Marine battery if you can scrape together the money. I recommend the largest Marine battery you can afford from Wal-Mart. They have a good warranty at a good price and will cost less than $90. Just set in on the floor boards of the passenger seat. Marine batteries are sized by “group.” If possible buy a Group 29 because it is larger.

To use it now all you need to do is get cheap jumper cables from Wal-Mart or a thrift store and then you can charge it while the engine is idling. But, it’s much better to charge it while you are driving, to do that you are going to have to drill a hole through the floor or find a way to get the cables from under the hood and into the passenger seat floorboards.
200 amp 10 gauge No Tangle Battery Jumper Cables, Extra long 12ft

I had a friend who was forced into living in her car and didn’t have the knowledge to hook up a solenoid or battery isolator–or the money to pay someone else to do it. But she was creative and figured out a way to do it herself for very little money with cheap jumper cambles:

  • She clamped the jumper cables to the starting battery.
  • Next, she rolled down the passenger window and ran the cables to the marine battery on the floorboard and clamped them on, then shut the door.
  • Finally, she let the hood slam on the cables and drove away. The whole time she drove the Marine battery was being charged by the starting battery.
  • When she was done driving, she un-clamped the jumper cables from the two batteries so she wouldn’t run her starting battery down.

I was impressed with her ingenuity! It cost her very little money and yet because her electrical needs were so simple it worked very well. She knew it was a short-term solution until she could save money to do it right. If you do the same thing, you should be very careful to watch the cable where the hood slams on it. With some cars it won’t damage them at all, but with some it will start to wear through the rubber and that can cause a fire.

If you have some money, its better to take it to a mechanic, have him cut off one of the ends of the jumper cables and crimp on ring connectors. Then have him drill a hole through the floor and thread the end through it, under the frame, and up to the starting battery.

To charge the battery all you do is connect red to positive and black to negative and you are charging. Leave it connected while you are driving, and when you stop unclamp them from the battery on the floorboards. Because the other ends is permanently connected to the starting battery, you don’t want them loose when not clamped onto the battery—if they touch each other or other metal they will spark. Get a bicycle inner tube and clamp them to it and wrap them so they are insulated. You can buy a bike tube cheap at Walmart.

This should cost you very little money and let you start having some electricity right now! Later, when you save some money, you can install a continuous duty solenoid and do the job right. But this will work for now.

One of my favorite 12 volt appliances is this Roadpro 12 volt oven. In this photo I am cooking a Stoufers frozen French Bread Pizza. It took about 30 minutes and works great while you are driving. Since I have solar, I can use it any time I want.

One of my favorite 12 volt appliances is this Roadpro 12 volt oven. In this photo I am cooking a Stoufers frozen French Bread Pizza. It took about 30 minutes and works great while you are driving. Since I have solar, I can use it any time I want. I thought it was a toy until I got one. Now I love it!

Question: How do I get power out of the battery once I’ve bought it and I’m charging it from the starting battery?

There are two kinds of appliances you may want to use in your car or van: 12 Volt or 110 volt. I’ll tell you how to get both from your new marine battery. First, here are some things that you can use:

12 Volt Appliances You May Find Useful

  • 12 volt fan
  • 12 volt sleeping pad
  • LED light
  • Roadpro Oven
  • 12 volt Compressor Fridge

All these products are available from Amazon.com at these links:

RoadPro 12V or Battery Dual Power Portable Fan
Heated Fleece Travel Electric Blanket – 12 Volt – Red Plaid
RoadPro 12-Volt Portable Stove
Whynter 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator/Freezer

110 Volt Appliances You May Have:

  • Cell Phone Charger
  • Laptop
  • Camera
  • Battery Chargers
  • Compact Florescent Lights
  • Radio
  • DVD-TV

How to Connect 12 Volt items to your Marine battery.

You can buy a very simple and cheap little device that has red and black wires with alligator clips that you clamp onto your battery positive and negative posts. On the other end is a cigarette lighter plug you can plug. Wal-Mart sells them back in automotive and most auto parts store should have them. Or you can get them at Amazon.com at this link:
Roadpro 12V Battery Clip-On and Cigarette Lighter Adapter
If you need the cigarette lighter plug further from the battery, you can buy an extension cord here:
RoadPro 12′ Extension Cord with Cigarette Lighter Plug

This simple device lets you connect any 12 volt cigarette lighter plug item to you houe battery. One of heh best purchases you will make as a vandweller.

This simple device lets you connect any 12 volt cigarette lighter plug item to you house battery. It’s one of the best purchases you will make as a vandweller.

How to Connect 110 Volt items to your Marine battery.

For this you need an inverter. This is a simple device that either plugs directly into a cigarette lighter plug or connects to your battery posts directly. I recommend a Cobra 400 inverter. Once connected it gives you two regular 110 volt plug-ins just like on the wall outlet at home. It also gives you one USB port that you can charge anything that uses a USB charger. I’ve owned lots of inverters in the last 11 years, and this one is my favorite and also one of the cheapest. Highly recommended.
Cobra 400-Watt 12-Volt DC to 120-Volt AC Power Inverter with 5-Volt USB Output

 

This Cobra 400 inverter comes with two ways to connect it to your batteries. This is the best way with color-coded clamps to hook it to their positive and negative posts posts. The other is with a cigarette lighter plug-in. That's easy but can only handle 120 watts of power and not the whole 400.

This Cobra 400 inverter comes with two ways to connect it to your batteries. This is the best way with color-coded clamps to hook it to the batteries positive and negative posts. The other is with a cigarette lighter plug-in. That’s easy but can only handle 120 watts of power and not the whole 400.

 

This Cobra 400 has been the best inverter I've ever owned, and the one a recommend to you.

This Cobra 400 has been the best inverter I’ve ever owned, and the one a recommend to you.

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

Posted in Budget, Electrical
105 comments on “Baby Steps: How to Have Electricity in Your Car or Van For Very Little Money
  1. LaVonne says:

    There you go, reading my mind again. I’ve just been going slightly crazy trying to figure out what minimal setup I need to get by until I can afford more. Relying on the library and relatives for power is getting old fast. Thank you!
    LaVonne recently posted…The key to achieving your dreamMy Profile

  2. Dan says:

    Great post. I would agree with it all.

    I would also recommend that everybody that does what you suggest, also be mindful of the risks of potential hazard. Of course life is full of risk, and we all need to be mindful of the tradeoffs between risk and opportunity in all our activities throughout our lives. Make safety job 1.

    First there is the battery risk: For the gel-cell marine batteries, you will end up paying more, but you have less risk from the electrolyte inside of the battery [sulphuric acid]because the acid is in a gel, and won’t spill out.

    If you have less money and cannot afford the more expensive gelcell lead Marine battery, then you’re left with the normal lead- liquid acid Marine battery.

    With a little caution these can be handled safely. I’ve never had a problem of handling them for over 40 years, but I take precautions. When you charge lead acid batteries, they emit a small amount of hydrogen gas, which is normally not much of an issue, but it’s better if the battery is vented when being charged. Also, it’s better not to smoke cigarettes or have open flames around batteries being charged. Because these marine batteries have a lot of lead inside of them, they weigh perhaps 50 or 60 pounds or more. This can be helpful or risky. If you place the battery on the floor, and hold it down with straps or rope, or Better yet, build a box around it open in the top so the gases can vent ok.

    Attach the box to the wall of your vehicle so it can’t tip over if you go around a corner or have to stop, or if you should get into a fenderbender, and the vehicle suddenly decelerates when the other car is struck. If it tips over, the acid can spill out, and the acid is bad stuff. It is dangerous to skin, and it is poisonous, and it can destroy many materials. So keep the acid inside the battery is the best and safest policy.

    Beside the acid risk, the other reason to fasten down the battery is because of it’s large mass. You don’t want a 60 pound item flying around inside your car or van if you have to make a rapid stop, etc. Somebody could be injured or killed if you don’t have it tied or strapped down. Pipe strap is inexpensive and strong, but if you use metal, coated it with 1 or 2 layers of latex paint. many synthetic rope fibers, such as nylon or polyurethane or other plastic straps strong enough and may be less affected by sulphuric acid vapors from the battery.

    If you decide to use say half inch thick plywood [ a good choice ] for your battery box, it’s a good idea to make a lid to go over the top of the battery, but make it so there is a sizeable gap all the way around the battery, say one quarter inch wide, so the gasses can escape rather than collect and create an explosion hazard from the charging of the battery.
    The reason why you want a lid over the battery is because the terminals or metal posts on the top of the battery are the business- end of the battery. If you drop a piece of angle iron or other metals [for example] across the terminals of the battery, then you will have a very unpleasant experience.
    You will cause the battery to “short out”, which means you create a circuit which is a very high current low voltage path between the posts. This is very dangerous. There is a LOT of energy stored in one of these batteries, and the battery could literally explode from the rapid electrical discharge of the battery from a short. If it explodes, you could have sulphuric acid and large pieces of lead sent through the air at a very rapid speed right at you. You could be killed or badly burned. So safety is JOB 1. Put a non-conductive [non metal] lid over the battery posts plastic or better yet use the half inch thick plywood over the top that you used to make the sides of the battery box.

    Now, once in a while it’s unavoidable to short out the battery, for a very brief period. It’s not a problem if you only short out the battery for a quarter second, or a short period of time. In order to make sure that you never experience a longer short, it is a good idea to insert a fuse in series with the red wire from the plus terminal post on the battery. That way if you short the wire out, the fuse burns up instantly, and no problem. You just disconnect the wire, replace the spent fuse, and try again.

    Just for a point of reference, it turns out in the late 1800’s they were just starting to build electrical circuits for power, and they didn’t have safety standards, and in many situations people didn’t have fuses. Turns out that happened to one of the University of Missouri buildings on campus actually burned down because a wire didn’t have a fuse. Remember Power and energy can do wonderfully good things if managed right, and bad things if not managed properly. Safety is job 1.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Dan, that is all very, very good advice!! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us!
      Bob

      • LaVonne says:

        Now I’m confused. Again. Which type is the marine battery you recommended, Bob? I couldn’t find it in the description I found on Walmart.com.
        http://www.walmart.com/ip/EverStart-Maxx-Group-Size-29-Marine-Battery/20531539
        LaVonne recently posted…The key to achieving your dreamMy Profile

        • Bob Bob says:

          LaVonne, that’s the one you want. It says right in the title that it is a Marine battery. If you need to save some money you can buy the smaller group 27 battery.
          Bob

          • LaVonne says:

            What I mean is, are marine batteries the gel cell type?
            LaVonne recently posted…Vandwelling haiku for youMy Profile

          • Bob Bob says:

            LaVonne, the simple answer is that the Walmart battery is not an AGM battery, it is a lead-acid battery that you must check the water peridically and they do give off a small amount of corrosive and explosive gas.

            I’ve decided that the risk is real for them, but so small that I willing to take the risk. Many people are not willing to take the risk so they either get an AGM or put the wet-cell lead acid battery in a vented box.

            You will have to decide for yourself if you are willing to take the risk. An AGM marine battery will be over $200, so you have to also take into account your budget.
            Bob

          • LaVonne says:

            Ok thanks, that’s what I was afraid of. With my chemical sensitivities, I can’t take that chance so I’ll either save up for an AGM battery, or get someone to build a box for me.
            LaVonne recently posted…Vandwelling haiku for youMy Profile

          • Bob Bob says:

            Your right to be concerned laVonne. My friend Charlene has serious breathing problems and she bought regular golf cart batteries and they really bothered her. She had to return them and get AGM batteries instead. They worked great for her and hopefully for you as well.
            Bob

          • Sandi says:

            Bob, Can you recommend a gel battery?

    • ILDan says:

      Just a thought as to a coating of the inside of battery boxes…. I have recently had success with the spray-can rubber stuff like you see on TV. I bought mine at Menards, a big home improvement store, so I imagine most large stores have an alternative brand (Rustoleum too).

      It’s messy and NOT smooth. Be careful and tape/cover. Go slow and in layers. Don’t expect pretty, at all (maybe better if you’d follow with a roller…). Buy on sale, if possible. Mine were BOGO @ $12. I was able to coat the bottom legs of pine 4 shelving units; bottoms, and 7 inches up with multiple coats until I had good “feet” to thwart future flooding damage in the basement, using both cans.

  3. CAE says:

    Good stuff….thanks. I need a good 12v fan and now I know what to get.

    • Bob Bob says:

      CAE, I’ve been real happy with it! It will also work off of D batteries which I’ve never done, but there could be situations where that would be an advantage.
      Bob

      • klbexplores says:

        I have been adding to my energy savings plan over the last few months and have a small portable solar battery recharging box that recharges my AA, C and D batteries. I am able to run small fans I have 2 with D batteries, off of my 12 volt battery system or AC… It gives me a great number of options as placements for the fans for optimum comfort. I have also added a 130 watts solar panel kit in a briefcase to charge my 12 volt battery. Using all of these has extended my energy bank a great deal.

        • Bob Bob says:

          klbexplores, that is a very good plan you are following!! I think everything you are doing is perfect. Te 130 watt panel should meet all your needs. However, we just had 4 days without any sun and it’s very good to have a back-up plan for when you run out of power. Your solar battery charger and D powered fans is a great back-up.

          Do you have a link for your solar battery charger?
          Bob

  4. If you need to find low cost batteries, I have found that you can go to a auto parts store, ask them if you could check out their battery return cores, ( sometime you can find a battery that is not completely shot) for a few dollars, that would give you some power. Although it would not be like new, but can still work.

    Also , a good friend has acquired used solar panels for almost free from state road maintenance facilities, they upgrade some of their signs with new ones and discard the old ones, they still work just fine..

    Not trying to hurt sales from Bob through Amazon .. Just passing on some info that may help
    GadgetMe (new name) recently posted…The first droid / Computor from the 1770’sMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      GadgetMe, that’s a great idea that I’ve never thought of before. I know that Solar Mike at the Slabs took all the trade in batteries he got at his store and tried to recondition them and use the last little bit of good out of them. He ran his business and home off a whole bunch of them.

      I had no idea about the used panels from the state. That’s a great tip and well worth checking out.
      Bob

  5. openspaceman says:

    Bob_

    That Roadpro oven seems like a good play…what other foods have you cooked with it? I was thinking about the Wavebox microwave but read mixed reviews and it’s a little pricey and I would have to get a bigger inverter. So it looks like the Roadpro for me to.

    Thanks again.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Openspaceman, all kinds of things!! I’ve cooked:

      fish sticks
      frozen meals of all kinds (lasagna is great)
      frozen burritos (my favorite!)
      cookies from tubes
      biscuits from tubes
      Jiffy Mix corn bread
      brownies from mix

      And others I can’t think of. It is a terrific addition to any vandwellers kitchen!
      Bob

      • Mark Alan says:

        Donna and I are also RoadPro enthusiasts and we’re eating better on the road than we ever thought possible. One of our favorites is fritattas: 4 eggs, bacon bits or pre-cooked sausage, some thawed frozen hash browns, mushroom pieces, olives and maybe artichoke
        hearts or chopped broccoli all mixed together. We’ve also made chili dogs, country spareribs, assorted baked fish dishes, smoked turkey drumsticks, as well as the aforementioned lasagna and meatloaf. Brownies also. This may sound like it takes a lot of preparation but mostly it’s just opening a few cans and throwing some stuff over the main ingredients. One thing that does require a little extra effort is using a glass loaf dish instead of the aluminum pan. The food cooks more evenly and we feel it’s healthier.

        • Bob Bob says:

          mark, wow, that is very creative use of the Roadpro! Do you have solar that allows you to use that much power? How do you cook the eggs–details please! Actually, I’d love to have you do a guest post on how you use it and some of your recipes!
          Bob

          • Mark Alan says:

            We would love to share some recipes so we’ll get together. To answer some of your questions we do have solar (we have the flexible panels on our fiberglass roof) although most of our cooking is while we’re driving. We’ve been known to run minor errands just so our meal could cook without stressing the battery! We also have a 12v plug hooked to our golf cart batteries so we can use our oven when stationary.
            The eggs and other ingredients are put into a quart size freezer bag kneading the mixture so it can be poured into the pan. Plug it in and about an hour later breakfast is ready.

          • Andrea Kovar says:

            Bob, for instance how long does it take a frozen burrito to cook? tube cookies?

          • Bob Bob says:

            Frozen and bake goods are in the 30-45 minutes range.
            Bob

      • Andrea Kovar says:

        Bob, for instance how long does it take a frozen burrito to cook? tube cookies?

  6. There are also laptop/USB chargers that plug into 12 volt cigarette lighter outlets. You can find them at places like eBay. Be sure to check the specs so it puts out the correct wattage and has the connecter your device requires. This way you don’t need to go from 12V to 110V to 12V in order to charge your computer or phone.

    Like Bob, I also thought the lunch box oven was a toy, but it works great. And a fan in a small space like a van or car can do a LOT to help you feel cool without air conditioning. And LED lights use very little power. I have some car customizing strip lights installed and running off the house battery, but I also have some LED tap lights running off AA batteries. The lights aren’t bright enough to read, but enough to putter around the van at night.
    Al Christensen recently posted…LaterMy Profile

  7. Oh, and a tip on the RoadPro oven: it comes with three foil liner pans, and truck stops usually carry 3-packs of additional pans, but I line my liners with foil. That way I can just toss my foil and not need to wash or toss the liner pan.
    Al Christensen recently posted…LaterMy Profile

  8. Linda Sand says:

    Our daughter makes meatloaf in her RoadPro oven. She puts all the ingredients in a gallon zipper bag and kneads the bag to mix the ingredients. Then she dumps it into the pan while turning the bag inside out and uses it to press the meat down. No hand washing required!

  9. WriterMs says:

    In solar panel set-ups, there is a way to monitor how much charge is left in the battery so that you don’t discharge it too much. Anyone have advice on the cheapest way to monitor the battery charge? Thanks much.
    WriterMs recently posted…Take a Hike…More SafelyMy Profile

  10. Curtis says:

    Great post Bob!

    Really helpful all the posts with step by step instructions which does 2 things.

    One, makes it harder to fail.

    Two, takes away all our excuses for not going forward.:)

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Curtis. That is exactly my thinking. I have the advantage of not being handy, so I am sympathetic toward people who aren’t handy. Because of that I am always looking for the simplest and easiest way to do things.
      Bob

  11. Thank you very much for the details and the range of information you are sharing. I will be on the road in ’15. You have addressed and answered many questions that I have. Thank you.
    Woody Creature recently posted…More Tools to CarryMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      I’m delighted to hear that I’m being helpful Woody! That really is my goal. I remember so well first moving into a van and what a shock it was to me. I’m trying to solve problems for my readers before they become problems.
      Bob

  12. gail says:

    Bob, thanks for this post with easy, not-intimidating instructions, with pictures!!!! I’ve been to so many sites that just show what looks to me like a bunch of scary wires that made no sense whatsoever to me. This is very helpful info!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Gail, that’s music to my ears! Being someone who actually is intimidated by anything mechanical, I can appreciate how hopeless it makes you feel and I want to offer all the easy alternatives I can.

      Be aware that the jumper cables will work for awhile but you really do need to get a permanent solution. There are increased risks with temporary solutions like this one.
      Bob

  13. james [4wheel] palmer says:

    reading your site for hours at a time.lots of good useful information.my wife and I are retired and live on a small farm in michigan.we like to travel as much as we can, to see as much of america as we can.we want to build a small camper on our 1/2 ton 4×4 silverado.your tips and ideas will help us with how to live in our camper on the road.our thanks to you and everyone who sends in ideas.really enjoy your site.
    jim,julie palmer.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jim, I’m glad you like the site! there are lots of things you can say about me, but generally I’m not boring!

      A 1/2 ton has limited carrying capacity so you are going to want it to be as light as possible! Once you are on the road, I’m sure you will love it!
      Bob

  14. Glen says:

    A $15.99 solenoid battery isolator is a cheap investment and you don’t have to worry about disconnecting your battery all the time, I got mine on ebay also there are battery boxes that have a hose to vent them, however the cheapest Iv found is $65.00 used on race cars, The Walmart group 29 battery is the best deal 105 ah and a 24 month replacement warranty. however I have a gell that is over 7 years old and still puts out full power, the cigarette gauge only measures the engine battery, so a permanent cig lighter plug for the coach battery with two or more outlets would be what you want then you could use the cig lighter volt gauge.

    • Bob Bob says:

      You’re right Glen, the solenoid is by far the best and cheapest solution. But many of my readers don’t have the skill to install one, nor the money to pay someone else to do it for them. I’m always on the look-out for a solution for them and i thought this was a good one.
      Bob

  15. Glen says:

    The battery Is group 27 however Menards has them if you catch them right for $68 on sale and 11% off, as stated above you could fashion a coated wood sealed box, with two holes for the cables and one for the vent the aluminum ones on ebay only have a 3/4″ vinyl hose for a vent

  16. Rich says:

    Harbor Freight was having a big sale today, got a 2000/4000 watt inverter for 129.00 a 2 cycle mini-generator for 99.00 a battery charger with emergency start back up battery for 29.00.

    pretty sweet set up for less than 270 bucks.

    Armed with these I went to walmart and got their biggest marine battery for 99 bucks. I wanted to use the smaller terminals on the marine battery to hook to the inverter so I could use the larger terminals for charging and connection to the starter battery, but walmart didn’t have the connectors I needed so went to Pep Boys.

    One thing I saw at Pep Boys I’m kicking myself for not buying was a auto-disconnect switch, it looked like something from an old Frankenstein movie, flip the switch and your starter battery and house battery would be disconnected. Think I’ll go out and get that tomorrow before I start on the box.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Rich, sounds like you are getting set-up really well with the things you need! that simple switch will serve you well to keep your starting battery from running down when you are using the house battery.

      One warning though, don’t throw the switch while the motor is running. That can throw a spike through the electrical system and damage the car electronics.
      Bob

  17. Joe says:

    Hi Bob, Been following your adventures for quite a while. A question if you please? What do you consider as being the best Wifi antanae? Appreciate your input……..HoboJoe
    Joe recently posted…When the Sun goes down and the stars climb the sky there will be a new one tonight.My Profile

  18. Herb Parsons says:

    I have found your web site very informative and simple to use how to do’s. I am currently converting a 6×12 Cargo Enclosed trailer to a off the grid atv hauler / over nighter camper for two adults. keep the info coming

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks for you kind words Herb. i’b glad to be helpful. I’m also a big fan of converting cargo trailers. Send me some pics of what you are doing.
      Bob

  19. LaMarr Harding says:

    When I started over in a new van I added a 100 Watt photovoltaic panel and an adjustable charge controller.

    With the help of a VoltMinder tm adjustable low voltage alarm which I keep set at 12.35 volts and turning everything off if the voltage should ever drop that far, I have ran a Dometic 27 litre refrigerator, a window fan during the day, charged my Android phone, and all the LED lights I have wanted for the last 5 months, without having a house battery, and so far I have never had to turn everything off or start the engine. I’ve just used the starting battery, but, I’m aware of the voltage level.

    • Bob Bob says:

      LaMarr, sounds great! Yeah a 100 watt panel is all a lot of people need. Glad it’s working so well for you!

      Are you my friend LaMarr in the Chrysler minivan? If so, are you still in it?
      Bob

  20. Sue Ann Whitaker says:

    Once you put your battery or batteries in a box with air space on top does it have to be vented outside?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Sue Ann, there is a slight risk to it, but I don’t have my batteries vented. But, technically yes, unless you have AGM batteries that are already sealed) they need to be vented.
      Bob

  21. C says:

    Hey Bob, I appreciate what you got going on here. I have been logged into your forum since the year of ’12 I got a lot of good advice from good people when things were truing south for dad, that is about three years and I have not been kicked out, I think maybe this may be where I fit in.
    For some odd reason since I was a young fella I have been asked to leave Sunday school, church camp, asked to NOT to return to church camp next year! One fine day I, my daughter and wife were removed from the circus by 4 clowns, I have been banned from forums of various types, but this one seems to tolerate me just fine.
    Thanks Bob.

    I appreciate you and what you got going on here.
    I watched you on the video, you sure look like a happy man, I have some property up in Nebraska where I grew up, by a creek has an orchard, been kind of kicking the idea of making it sort of a place for folks to stop in for a spell.

    I do not know, but I sure am appreciative of your web site and forum.
    Thank you.

    C

    • Bob Bob says:

      C, us odd-balls got to stick together!! If we don’t accept and love each other, who will!!!!!???

      All kidding aside, it truly is a great joy to me to know that perhaps I’ve helped a few people a little bit in their journeys through life.

      Life can be hard and we all need all the help we can get!
      Bob

  22. Pama says:

    Bob,
    I simply cannot tell you how wonderful your postings are to me. I’m certain many others feel the same way I do too. As we read your posts, it is easy for us to forget how much research and work is put into it by you. Thank you for ALL you do for us. Your info on so many subjects is truly priceless to us. And add the time to update that info is, well, an added act of love give give all of us. You are truly special and I just needed to let you know how valued you are to so many of us Van-camping Van lovers.

    As for me, I recently bought a gently used Chevy Limited SE Conversion Van with the Explorer Van Company package already installed. While it comes with all the bells and whistles I do prefer to not use the main battery or onboard inverter. I have purchased a free-standing power supply, 2800 watts, for my basic electrical needs…Fan, RoadPro Oven, LED Lights, DVD player, radio, etc. Of course I cannot use all of those at the same time, would not need to do so, but with careful planning it seems to work well enough until I can go to a Goal-Zero Solar generator complete set-up.
    My question is this: Does what I am currently doing sound like something I can continue to do for a while longer without causing any down the road problems for me? My current power source has it’s own encased battery, 6 plug-ins for AC use…but I only use one or two at a time. I know that my current set-up is not for van dwelling full-time. I won’t be dwelling in my van, instead I do take it for extended road-trips to the ocean and stay-cay camping around the deep south. That said, should I be doing anything differently or ceasing to do anything I am currently using to run off the powerhouse power source? Sorry, I am so knew to all this. It is much different than how my Airstream TT works off LP Gas or campground power. Like anything in life there is always a learning curve. You and your wisdom makes that curve much shorter and sweeter to learn! Thank You!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Pama, that seems like a lot to ask from a small battery. Are you charging it as you drive? There are so many variables it’s hard for me to give you a good answer. However, my best guess is the battery in it will die fairly soon but if you only use it for a few weekends a year for one or two days at a time it might last you for years. If you try to use it every day for a couple months I think it will die very soon.

      The Roadpro oven is a heavy draw, I would only use it off the cars cigarette lighter with the engine running.

      If you are going camping enough, you would be far better served with a house battery (about $100) and a 100 watt Renogy solar panel kit (about $200). If you drive a lot on your trips, you might be satisfied with just connecting a house battery to the starting battery with a solenoid between them so you can’t be left stranded.

      I hope that helps.
      Bob

  23. Pama says:

    Bob,
    Thanks so much for your quick reply. I’m sorry, I didn’t state things clearly about the RoadPro. Yes, I only use it in the cig lighter when driving. When my food is done I take the tin out, cover it with AL Foil and put it in an insulated hot/cold pouch…like the pizza delivery people use, works great. My fan is a free standing small fan, runs on AC or DC batteries, I do some of both when it is hot. My phone I charge off the powerhouse power source. Since it is almost never used it holds a charge for several days. The DVD is used only on rainy days, a movie or two. Other than that I pretty much just enjoy the views and nature around me. The beach always has something new to see and enjoy. Yes, going back and reading my post it did sound like I used all that power at once or for long periods of time, my mistake, I do not do that. Yes, agree that careful management of the powerhouse resources is key. I hope to upgrade by the end of the summer to a more permanent system. Thanks for the info about what to consider upgrading to!
    Have a fine weekend and if you celebrate The 4th stay safe and enjoy the fireworks!

  24. Isaac says:

    Bob,
    How can you make sure you don’t overcharge your AGM battery when charging it from the starting battery?
    I’m thinking of going with the jumper cable idea. Also, would a group 24 batter suffice for low power items like laptops etc?

    Thank you Isaac

    • Bob Bob says:

      Isaac, your car has a voltage regulator that protects the starting battery from overcharging. If the house battery is on the other side of the starting battery it will never be overcharged.

      Jumper cables work but if you are using the clamps and they come off and touch something you can do some bad damage. A group 29 won’t be much more so why not get it instead?
      Bob

  25. Jason Strong says:

    My brother in law and I were trying to fix my back window that wouldn’t roll up. We got the covering of the door off to take a look at it, and we realized that it was a wiring problem. We are wanting to find an auto electrician that can help us out, but we don’t know what to look for in one. This helped, and I hope that we can get this figured out soon.

  26. TooManyDogs says:

    Bob-
    Can you explain a bit more about the solenoid? How exactly would one wire it in between the two batteries?

    I’ve bought the 100W Renology kit and will (most likely) buy the group 24 Wal-Mart marine DC battery. All the talk on the forums about the benefits/necessity of an occasional higher bulk charging rate makes me wonder if I should wire in the house battery to the starting battery. I’m planning on trying to camp out of my Ford Escape initially but it won’t be the final setup. I have too many dogs to live in the SUV. 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      TooManyDogs, wiring the house battery to the starting battery and also having the 100 watt Renogy solar kit is a very good idea. The solenoid is fairly simple to install. A wire goes from the starting battery to a post on the solenoid, and another wire goes from another post on the solenoid to the house battery. A third wire goes to the wiring harness of the vehicle that goes off when the key goes off. A common choice is the power wire to the radio since they usually go off with the battery. What happens is that when power comes from the wiring harness when the key is turned on, that power energized a magnet in the solenoid that makes a connection between the two wires between the house batteries.

      Generally there is a 4th pole and it goes to a ground.
      Bob

      Often

  27. Hi Bob!
    I have read where you enjoy finding a nice day park, or city park to spend a day. So I wanted to share with you a super kitchen appliance I use at day parks and city parks. I find it is great for steaming/cooking my one pot meals to take with me later…
    It is: “The Wolfgang Puck Mini Rice Cooker”.
    While it is called a rice cooker it does steam foods/meats wonderfully.It also steam food beautifully.
    Great for those solo one pot lunches.
    Amazon sells both items, the mini steamer and the travel bag!
    What’s great about the travel bag is this, you can cook your foods first, then leave them in the cooker and put it in the travel bag making it act-like a thermal cooker for later. And it only uses 200 watts of AC power so with a 12 converter adapter plug you can even use it in your car, van, truck, whatever. Anyway, I own two of them and two travel bags. Thought I would pass the info along since Christmas Holidays are coming up and people are shopping through your Amazon links. Search Amazon for them and post any links to them.
    I hope you find this info as a good-to-know-about. With this cooker and the Road-Pro Oven that is about all you need for kitchen cooking on the go. BTW, the carry bag even has a handle and shoulder strap. Bonus! 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      Pamela, thanks so much for that feedback! Would you be willing to do a write-up with pictures of your cooker? If so I will put it up as a post on the blog.

      I looked it up on Amazon and they don’t list the travel bag, is it separate?
      Bob

  28. Rob E says:

    WriterMs., The most accurate way, is to have an inverter that includes a volt readout. This way, you’re seeing the actual voltage going to your appliances. Depending on your wire gauge and how long your wires are from source to appliance, you can have as much as 1.5 volt difference by the time you begin using it. As an electrician, I always tell folks to use the largest wire (0 guage) and run it the shortest distance possible, to reduce power-drop. Also, even with solar systems, I recommend running your aux battery to your starting battery, by way of an isolator switch to make the most of your vehicle’s alternator… Which comes in REALLY handy in cloudy, rainy climates. If you have any questions about any of the things I mentioned, don’t hesitate to ask. -Think, Live, Be Free!

  29. Sue says:

    Thank you Bob for taking ALL the stress away when it comes to me getting electricity in my van as I am about to embark on going full time!!! I can’t believe that I will be able to sort this out myself!!! I treasure this website and I thank everyone for their questions and answers about everything!!! Everyone is SO helpful!!!

  30. Michael says:

    Bob,
    Do you have any advice on installing a panel on a fiberglass van roof? I am a little hesitant to drill into old (1989) fiberglass.
    Thanks,
    Michael

  31. suzette says:

    Is it possible to run a small fan by using D batteries that can be recharged with a cigarette lighter outlet?

    • Bob Bob says:

      It is possible. Just get the fan, battery charger and batteries from Amazon and also a little inverter to run it. Probably 200 watts. You can get 12 volt fans that will run off the cigarette lighter while you are driving or from a house battery if you install one.

      If you use this link to enter Amazon, I’ll get a small percentage of your purchase and it won’t cost you anything.
      http://amzn.to/28YD00k
      Bob

      • Joanne says:

        Hi Bob…do we have to shop a certain way on Amazon for you to benefit or is it just by clicking the link you provide?

  32. becky says:

    Bob, I just discovered this site and love it! Thank you for such great info and advice! I haven’t found the answer to this yet: I’m still trying to figure out how to add a house battery to my Dodge Caravan. I just pulled the headliner out, insulated the roof with styrofoam and reflextic and wow! What a difference! About 20 degrees cooler than it was before. Now I want to add a Fantastic-Fan in the roof, but have no idea what to wire it to. I work on my own car, and managed to figure out how to replace the radiator fan by myself. So I can do basic stuff if I have clear directions. I think I can handle the solenoid job! This is where I am lost – not knowing whether to put it on a house or starter battery. I will only use the house battery to charge lap top, cell phone etc. and maybe to watch movies at night. My lights are LED AAA battery powered, or I use a headlamp or other battery powered light. At night I’m usually so tired I just go to sleep! I do want to get a low watt microwave to heat soup and power my hot pot. https://www.amazon.com/MaxiMatic-EHP-001-Cuisine-32-Ounce-Electric/dp/B002DUCC8S/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1466898654&sr=1-3&keywords=hot+water+cooker I keep reading about charge controllers, and monitors and just don’t know what I need besides the battery! Can you list the things for a basic set up and what they do? Thank you!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Becky, I’m not sure what you have now, but here is what I recommend you end up with. Get a continuous duty Solenoid to go between the starting battery and the house battery so it charges when the engine is running but won’t drain the starting battery when the engine is off. Connect the fantastic fan to the house battery and drive enough to keep it charged.

      A microwave is a much more difficult thing and you won’t have nearly enough power to run one. For a microwave I recommend 400 watts of solar, 4 golf cart batteries and a 2000 watt pure sine inverter. That’s quite a lot of money.
      To greatly simplify solar, I recommend you buy a Renogy kit,most people find 200 watts is enough. That makes it super easy and simple and just about as cheap as is reasonable. I prefer the MPPT controller and buy in-line fuses since they do not include them.
      Bob

  33. Rayven says:

    Hey been using your site as a reference for a while. I’ve been living in a converted short bus for a while now and always check up for some tips. One thing I’m wondering is if I set up a deep cell house battery that recharges off my starting batteries, even if I put a solonoid between them, won’t this wear down my alternator a lot? Or is the idea to keep the house battery usage low enough that the alternator doesn’t have to do too much work? Because I’m in a bus I need two batteries just to throw my starter and relie on my alternator to fill those back up. Just want to be cautious that I wouldn’t be overloading my alternator recharging my starting and house batteries.

    Any info helps! Thanks,
    Ray

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ray, you’re right, charging a house battery through a solenoid will reduce the life of the alternator–the only question is how much. For most people the advantages more than offset the extra wear on the alternator. But in your case with a bus, my guess is that you have a large, heavy duty alternator and the difference in its life will be minimal. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it.
      Bob

  34. Marcia says:

    Hi there, thanks for sharing your wealth of information! Just wondering if you could put a link to the color coded clamps: This Cobra 400 inverter comes with two ways to connect it to your batteries. This is the best way with color-coded clamps to hook it to the batteries positive and negative posts. The other is with a cigarette lighter plug-in. That’s easy but can only handle 120 watts of power and not the whole 400.
    Thanks!

  35. Marcia says:

    Hi,thanks so much for your quick response! Trying hard to get off grid full time before the weather turns. Stuck in a friends driveway right now using elect hookup so I have air conditioning in this wicked hot weather.I’m hoping soon I can be on my way. This is the only one I could find on Amazon and doesn’t have clamps. Maybe I should check out autozone? https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001550DVU/ref=ox_sc_act_title_3?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

  36. Annette says:

    I intend travel when I am free of obligations but do not want to make a lot of changes to my van. Ca I just use my cigarette and an inverter to run a 1 1/2 quart crockpot while driving

    • Bob Bob says:

      Annette, yes you can do that. However, I don’t know how much power your crock-pot draws so be careful at first. Plug the crockpot into the inverter and check often for their temperatures. Hold the inverter plug where it goes into the socket and also hold the wires along their run. If it gets hot, then it is a fire risk and won’t work, unplug it. Same with the crock-pot cord. Be certain none of the cords get hot!

      If they do, it won’t work. You could then run a heavy gauge wire from the battery to a new cigarette lighter plug and that should work. But that defeats your purpose of no modifications.

  37. Bryan says:

    Just curious, how long would it take to charge let’s say a 100 amp hour battery using the car’s alternator? I’m certain that it depends on the type of battery and the output of the alternator, and if the car is being driven or at idle, but a ballpark guess would be very helpful. Thanks for all you do. This has truly become my “go to” website for trustworthy reliable information.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Bryan, these are just pretty wild guess because there are too many variables to give a firm answer, mainly just for the principles involved. Batteries can be bulk filled pretty easily, that means bringing it from 50% up to 80%. So maybe 4 hours of full speed driving. It’ll probably take another 3 hours to bring it to 90% and another 3 hours to 100%. So, all day should do it.

  38. Hi Bob, In Texas, I found a company who would take batteries 3 yrs old or less and redo them and sold them for $45. with a 90 day warranty, I bought one for my Dodge Van, and its still going,, so that is another option to look for, and I found that on Craigslist.

  39. Jeana Riley says:

    Hey, Bob. In order to save money, I am trying to set up a system as inexpensively as possible using the battery (ies), and an inverter for my tiny travel trailer. My biggest needs will be running a 5000 btu window a/c and mostly the refrigerator – small (bigger than dorm size) a/c fridge. I have many questions but the first would be do I need a charge controller to monitor the marine batteries when charging from a generator or even from my car. I do not want to drain them too low or over charge them

    • Bob Bob says:

      I hate to give you the bad news, but AC off solar is virtually impossible without a very large system and lots of batteries. It will cost a minimum of $2000 and that’s parts only, not installed.

  40. Gail says:

    Love all your info!!!
    If I purchase the group 29 marine battery and the cobra inverter like you suggest . What can I run off of this system? Regular house appliances? Toaster oven? Coffee maker? Hand vacuumed? 2 burner stove top?

  41. Scattervanshine says:

    I’m getting ready to hit the road (so excited!). I bought a van and have been getting it ready. It was used as a catering van and I got it off Craig’s list, so I can’t ask the previous owner. It has 3 12 volt plugs where the radio used to be—perfect I thought. However they are not hooked up. The wires are there, I see the fuse box but can’t figure out how to hook them up. I also would like to install an AGM battery on the floor of the passenger seat and hook up a solenoid so the starter battery could charge while driving. Obviously I’m no mechanic. Do you have a suggestion of where I could go to find a mechanic that would be knowledgable to do this for me. I was thinking maybe an electronics shop or an auto parts store. I just don’t want to pay an arm and a leg. Do you have any idea on how much I should expect to pay? Mechanic shops in this area charge $100/hr just to do anything. Any info would be helpful…thanks.

  42. Chip says:

    Hi Bob, Like everyone states: “You help a lot of people”; including myself. I’m ‘on my way out’ this fall to live out/ in of my Chevy S-10 truck w/ topper. Just wondering if I go to AZ in winter, & back to MT in summer… How to I get my mail & or packages I order? Also- MAJOR concern is; my many meds are shipped to me by mail. How could I get it mailed to Quartzsite, AZ in winter, then later in summer to MT. They require a designated address & PH # to mail them. I’ve lived in MT for about 47 of my 55 years. I’m a Very green small town man. H E L P Also I’ll need a cell PH & internet… no idea how. Read Verizon is best for both??Thank you, Chip~

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

CommentLuv badge