Victron Energy electrical system

Victron CCGX screen image

We decided to install electrical components that would talk to each other as a system, so that we can control everything from one location rather than crawling around in the back of the van.

Victron Energy make a series of products that are sturdy, well engineered, and have been proven in home and marine installations for several years. They are a Dutch company but they sell worldwide.  Continue reading “Victron Energy electrical system”

Moving the factory interior lights

Courtesy light with switch above rear door

Crew vans come with interior (courtesy) lights in a line down the center of the ceiling. We removed the headliner, so they were dangling loose for a while. We didn’t want to cut holes in our new ceiling for them in the same place, so we moved them.

The biggest issue we thought we’d face is that the light closest to the front of the vehicle has a three-way switch on it: On-when-doors-open, off, on-all-the-time. Without that switch, the lights just wouldn’t function.

Poking around in the van when we were running cables, we found that there’s an identical plug sitting loose behind a light-shaped cut-out in the metal above the rear doors.  Continue reading “Moving the factory interior lights”

Taking a trip – using the van how it was intended

We finally got an opportunity to use the van for a biking trip. Maybe we were being overambitious to think we’d have it finished by now. Despite living out of plastic tubs, the trip was loads of fun.

The inside of the van still looks like a spaceship. All reflective aluminum foil with the odd loose wire dangling down. But we do have an insulated floor, an electrical system, a diesel heater, a bench seat in its final (third row) position, and a roof fan.

We loaded the mountain bikes in to the back, a cooler in the front (easier to strap down than the TruckFridge that we will finally be using), the dog crate next to the cooler, and a couple of bags of clothes under the bench seat.

Then we set off for Bend, Oregon. It’s a lovely biking destination and we hit town near the end of the season but with great weather and wonderful trail conditions. Four days of riding wasn’t quite enough, but it was sufficient opportunity to test the van out and also to stock up on some local beer.

On the way down we stopped at Stonehenge. It’s a monument we’ve meant to take a look at several times in the past. Somehow, with the van, taking a detour just felt more appropriate. No need to worry about leaving the bikes on the roof rack because they were locked safely inside. No need to worry about the dog because the roof fan would kick in if the inside temperature got too high. A great opportunity to take in some local sights.

Fuses will save your van (and maybe you too)

Blown 25 Amp mega fuse

We plugged a phone charger into the cigarette lighter socket in the front of the van. It’s a 25 Amp socket. The end broke off the charger inside the socket. A fuse saved us from a potential melt-down.

25 amps of short-circuiting 12 volt electricity creates a lot of heat. If the fuse hadn’t blown, by the time we’d realized there was a problem and disconnected the battery there might not have been much left of the central console in the dash.

Mercedes did a nice job of protecting their electrical system. We decided to do an equally safe job of the electrical stuff we added to the vehicle. Continue reading “Fuses will save your van (and maybe you too)”

Knowing how much juice your battery has

Victron BMV-700 battery monitor

It helps to know how full or empty your battery is. In the same way that you wouldn’t drive without a fuel gauge, you shouldn’t use a battery without some form of monitoring.

Lead batteries last longest if they are always kept above 50% of their capacity. Lithium batteries last longest if they are kept above 30% of their capacity. Abusing batteries by discharging them too far seriously shortens their useful life. The cost of a battery monitor works out to be much less than the cost of a new battery.

There are lots of monitors out there. Several of them are great demonstrations of what happens when you let engineers specify the design. They do their job (some very well) but they look horrible and their interface is terrible to configure. Continue reading “Knowing how much juice your battery has”

Solar panels are alive and charging

The almost 800 Watts of solar panels on the van did a great job charging the battery on our recent trip. The charger took a little bit of custom configuration, but the menus were easy enough to work with and now everything works well.

I started off with the default charge controller settings for a Lithium battery, but once the battery got close to full, the charger made the battery management system upset. The BMS wanted 13.5 volts float charge, the charger was producing 13.8. Not enough to hurt the battery in the short term, but something that I needed to take care of. If nothing else, I wanted to stop the BMS light from coming on!

Continue reading “Solar panels are alive and charging”