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Old 06-04-2011, 08:03 PM   #1
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Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

Here's my best first stab at explaining this:

So I have a 2001 E-350, 7.3L PSD passenger van that is handicap converted for my daughter (dropped floor + wheelchair lift -- still had two rear bench seats). I've been making some upgrades and would love to add some "camping" capabilities such as power (plenty more ideas that I'll address in another post such as sofabed or dinette, water, etc).

Right now the van has two batteries - regular heavy duty under the hood, and an identical one under the wheelchair lift - both running off aftermarket alternator. Additionally, I have a 600W pure sine wave inverter hooked directly to the starting battery to run her equipment and whatever else we want to charge (laptops, etc) while we're on the road. Typically we just keep the van running if we're parked somewhere and everything works great.

So, what I want is extended power when the van is off - self-sufficient and/or "shoreline" type setup. After reading through some posts, here are some ideas I have come up with, but I am not sure what is the best:
  • * Add a couple large AGM deep cycle batteries under or behind the rear seat (or under van?) - connected to alternator (would I need a larger capacity alternator?) -- her equipment can use quite a bit of power and I'd consider a small 12v A/C unit if I need it
    * Install a 12v plug we can switch our power strips to in case there is a power source where we stop (drill hole through floor and essentially run an extension cord through?)
    * something better??

Any thoughts or advice would be great. I need to maximize my space in the van b/c we bring A LOT of stuff with us on roadtrips and the van is used regular to run my daughter around daily.
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Old 06-04-2011, 08:44 PM   #2
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Re: Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

Find a local RV place and get real shore power (cord, plug, etc). You can browse the plugs or have them tour you a big RV to see what I'm talking about. A charger that works off 110v or an invertor that is also a charger (depending on your power needs). It's not at all uncommon, so no need to reinvent the wheel... or hack up an extension cord...

Anyway, solar is an alternative to keep the house battery topped off- you skip the cord, the plug, the 110v all around, and you can add a small invertor later if you need 110v.

The two batteries you have are just the starter batteries for the Diesel, so you don't want to use them for anything else- they drain together and you won't be able to start. There is some basic stuff about separators around, but basically you need a separate battery (house) connected through a separator (which connects the batteries when charging but leaves them apart when draining).

So minimum: AGM house battery (size on power needs), separator, and charging method apart from the alternator (charger or invertor, or solar panel and controller). Charge controller for 110v is going to be your smallest package.

You might consider getting some minimal system professionally installed, there are a lot of things to consider and while with more info we can give you ideas down to the wire size, in the end you still have to put everything together correctly. Once the basics are down you can expand on your own (more power ports, lighting, etc)
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Old 06-04-2011, 09:07 PM   #3
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Re: Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

Quote:
Originally Posted by jage
The two batteries you have are just the starter batteries for the Diesel, so you don't want to use them for anything else - they drain together and you won't be able to start.
Thanks! Actually, only one of the batteries is a starter, the other was installed for the lift specifically and connects to the alternator. Charging is still a concern, so when one needs replacing I'll do both so they wear evenly.

I haven't found an RV place that will work on a van in my area (Baltimore), so I've gotta keep looking for one. I've considered an actual shoreline, but wondered if it was overkill for what I need. I LOVE the idea of solar, but cost may be an issue at this point.

So, why do I need a different charging method? Why not just use the alternator and turn on the van if I need to charge them again (last resort)?
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Old 06-05-2011, 07:43 AM   #4
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Re: Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

The 7.3L should have two starting batteries, so if you really got one installed you should have 3 floating around. My guess is they tied into the second not realizing (caring) it was a starter, and the rest is a communication error.

Driving around with the stock alternator is not necessarily sufficient to charge the house batteries. I've got twin 4Ds, which is a lot of battery, and I know if I use them for camping and drive less than full days between they slowly get worse. That's not necessarily relevant for you, and my van sits a lot as well and suffers parasitic drain.

If you drive more than you sit, and add one battery, then it's probably not an issue- and you can add later. If you do have a 3rd battery I would make sure you have a separator between the starter pair and add a 4th to make a "house" pair, that the lift and everything else is on. Put a separator override switch inside and out to jump to the starters for emergency lift power and see how that works before adding more.

So leave off the extra charging sources for now, get extra battery(s) separated so you can use them without fear of not being able to start, and worst case you can still start and run the van like you do now to compensate.
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Old 06-05-2011, 11:52 AM   #5
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Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

Hmm. The original window sticker only says "heavy duty battery" was included - no mention of a second. I am the 4th owner and the handicap conversion was done during the 2nd owner, from what I can find out. Owner 3 said he had the second battery added under the van to make sure the lift didn't wear out the starter and I am certain there is no other battery. Strange if it must have two at a minimum - maybe it doesn't? I was baffled when I bought the van that there is no space for 2 under the hood b/c I thought it needed two.

Owner 3 could have been mistaken and the lift battery doubles as a starter, but I known it wasn't added until after the handicap conversion.

I attached some photos so you can see what I mean.

Thanks again!


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Old 06-05-2011, 11:57 AM   #6
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Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

I guess iPhone TapaTalk didn't get all the photos. Here is another.


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Old 06-05-2011, 11:58 AM   #7
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Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

And another.


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Old 06-05-2011, 04:39 PM   #8
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Re: Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

Yup. That's the stock Ford 2nd battery box underneath. The 2nd power lead from the under-hood battery shows that the two batteries are parrelled together. All Ford diesels have 2-starting batteries. Adding more batteries for a "house" setup isn't too hard. I do like frame mounted batteries because it keeps the weight low, and explosive gasses out of the cabin.
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Old 06-05-2011, 05:44 PM   #9
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Re: Trying to find best electrical setup for my van

Quote:
Originally Posted by carringb
Yup. That's the stock Ford 2nd battery box underneath. The 2nd power lead from the under-hood battery shows that the two batteries are parrelled together. All Ford diesels have 2-starting batteries. Adding more batteries for a "house" setup isn't too hard. I do like frame mounted batteries because it keeps the weight low, and explosive gasses out of the cabin.
Well I'll be. The previous owner had no idea it was already there. Funny. I'll be looking into adding two batteries then, for a "house" setup, but consider the best way to connect them as has been mentioned.
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