Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why do you want to live in a van? Part 2 - Electrical

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

The VW Westfalia, invented so that couples and families with small children could venture into the wilderness and have a nice and relaxing weekend. With sleeping quarters for four, a fridge, sink and stove, one would think that this is the perfect vehicle to spend long periods of time in however they would be wrong. Despite the German engineering, this van has plenty of design flaws and omissions, perhaps due to cost cutting reasons or simply miscalculations. If one wants to be comfortable in this van, the list of mods below should be done. Note: the list only concerns making the van more useable and does not cover all mods or to-do items like new fuel lines or spare belts, etc...

Lets start with Electrical:
Do you need to have power in the woods? If no, skip to the next section and remember to keep your interior lights off.

Unmodified, the van's entire electrical system runs off the starting battery which, unfortunately, includes the camp lights, cigarette lighter, map light and interior lights. All these will conspire against you to drain the main battery flat, however the van does have a space to install an auxiliary battery under the driver seat and it can easily get recharged while driving by drawing power from the 12v fridge supply at the relay under the driver seat. The downside is that all those accessories need to be rewired to run off the auxiliary battery which is a bit of work, I am leaving the wiring (except for the camp light) intact and will install a separate aux port near the auxiliary battery to charge laptop/phone.

The radio is also tied to the main battery but I will be rewiring this to take power from the auxiliary.

How big a battery? well, there is a short list of them that can fit so check out the discussion on thesamba.com to get the right one but the general agreement is to go with a regular battery instead of the deep cycle. This seems to be driven mainly by the size of the space and the cost of the batteries vs performance.

Keeping the auxiliary battery charged without running the engine requires an external power source like solar panels, wind turb ine or plugging into someone's house and using a battery charger. How big a charging system depends on how many devices you run off the battery and what their current draw is. It may be possible to get a solar panel but only use the main battery if in a sunny location like Arizona.

All this work for a bit of power seems crazy if your plans are just for weekend excursions but not so if you intend to be away from the grid for extended periods of time or if you need lots of light, fans, entertainment.

Next: Part 3 The water dilemma

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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