Building an electric system in a camper van is one of the most daunting projects when converting a van. There’s so many different products, components, and wires to piece together.
WHICH do you need and HOW do you do it?
Though there’s many components to a camper electrical system, this post will specifically focus on how to build a 12v system in a camper van. In this step-by-step guide, we show you exactly what you need to build the exact same system as in the diagram below.
The 12v system above is the exact same system we use in our camper van and has served us extremely well.
(Remember: You can always download our electrical wiring eBook for convenient offline reading. It’s 100% free.)
So if you’re interested, let’s get to it!
Confused where to start with DIY electrics? Check out our comprehensive camper van electrical system guide to start from the very beginning.
Wiring 12V Batteries Together
If you have multiple batteries, you will first need to wire them together. If you don’t know which type of batteries you want or how many batteries you need, check out the articles below to learn more:
More than likely, you will need more than one battery. So in this section, we discuss how to wire multiple batteries together in parallel, as shown in the diagram below.
Battery Wiring Diagram
These are the three products you’ll need to successfully wire multiple batteries together, either in series or parallel.
- Leisure Battery – There are many batteries to choose from but we recommend investing in a quality lithium (LiFePO4) battery. SOK batteries routinely get high marks for quality components and lifespan.
- 2/0 AWG Wire – These thick battery cables are perfect for wiring batteries together because they can handle large amounts of current (amps) without threat of overheating.
- Copper Lugs (3/8″ – 2/0AWG) – These ring connectors crimp onto the 2/0 wire and attach to the battery terminals. Heat shrink is included.
Below are the four tools you’ll need to complete this step. Many of these tools will continually used all throughout your electrical system build.
- 2/0 Cable Cutter – Required to cut through 2/0 gauge wire.
- Hydraulic Crimping Tool – Crimps copper lugs onto 2/0 AWG wire. Better and easier to use than the cheaper hammer crimper.
- Heat Gun – Activates heat shrink over the copper lug and 2/0 wire.
- Utility Knife – Cuts away the 2/0 wire insulation jacket to expose the bare wire.
Instructions: Attaching Lugs To Wire Ends
Below are step-by-step instructions to attach a 3/8″ lug ring connector to a 2/0 wire end. You will need to attach copper lugs to either end of the 2/0 wire in order to connect them to the batteries.
After adding heat shrink, your 2/0 wire ends should look something like in the photo below and are ready to connect to the battery terminals. Note: You will need to attach many more lugs to 2/0 wire ends to build the rest of your camper van’s 12v system. So keep that hammer and lug crimper nearby!
Instructions: Wiring Batteries In Parallel
To connect multiple batteries in parallel, simply combine all the positive terminals together (red wire) and all the negative terminals together (black wire).
Download our electrical eBook (with diagrams) to learn how to wire an electrical system in a camper van.
Wire Batteries To Bus Bars
Now that the batteries are wired together, you are ready to connect the batteries to the positive and negative bus bars.
What Are Bus Bars?
Bus bars are power distribution centers that collect and distribute electricity to/from multiple sources. While not ‘required’ to build a 12V system, they are recommended because they help keep electric wiring clean and simple.
In this section, we will focus on piecing together the components as shown in the below diagram.
Wiring Diagram - Batteries To Bus Bars
In the below wiring diagram, you can see how the leisure batteries are connected to the bus bars. A fuse, an off/off switch, and a battery monitor are installed in-between.
Below are the materials you will need to connect the leisure batteries to the bus bars.
- 2/0 AWG Wire – This is the same size wire used when connecting multiple batteries together.
- Copper Lugs – Help at attach 2/0 wires to each component.
- 300A Fuse – Protects 2/0 wire and all downstream components from over-current situations.
- On/Off Switch – Turns off electrical system. Good for when conducting maintenance or when storing the camper van long term.
- Bus Bars – Power distribution and collection centers. Essential to keeping the electrical wiring clean and organized.
- Battery Monitor – Displays charge percentage of the leisure batteries.
|Victron Energy BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor (Grey)||$201.00||Buy on Amazon|
Once you have your materials & tools, below are the steps to connect your batteries to the bus bars.
Is A Battery Monitor Required?
It is not required. But installing one helps to keep you on top of your battery’s state of charge and plays a big role in maximizing the battery’s lifespan.
Connect Bus Bars To 12v Fuse Panel
In this section, we focus on connecting the positive & negative bus bars to the 12v fuse panel. This is a critical step to providing power to your 12v devices.
By the end of this step, we will piece together all the components shown in the diagram below.
Wiring Diagram - Bus Bars To 12v Panel
Below are the materials you need to connect the bus bars to the 12V panel.
- Fuse panel – Takes 12V power from the batteries and distributes it to each individual 12V device. This Blue Sea Systems model uses high-quality components and safely handles high amperages . It has 12 terminal posts so that you can wire up to 12 different devices to this unit. Highly recommended.
- 120A Circuit Breaker – Protects the 2/0 wire and 12V panel from over-current situations.
Once you have your materials & tools, below are the steps to connect the bus bars to the 12V fuse panel.
Connect 12V Devices To Fuse Panel
In this section we discus how to connect all the 12V devices in your camper van to the 12V fuse panel, as shown in the wiring diagram below.
Below are the materials you will need to connect the 12V panel to all the 12V devices in your camper van.
- 14/2 AWG Wire – Appropriate wire size to connect 12V panel to all 12V devices.
- #8 Ring Connectors – Attaches 14 AWG wire to the 12V panel.
- Butt Connectors – Connects 14 AWG wire to each 12V device.
- Blade Fuses – Protects each 12V device from over-current situations. Inserts into 12V panel.
- Wire Stripper – Critical multi-tool to cut, strip, and crimp electrical wires.
Popular 12V Devices
Below are four of the most popular 12V devices used in camper van conversions.
- Maxxair Vent Fan – Most popular vent fan for campers. Includes rain cover.
- LED Puck Lights – Recommended lights for DIY builds. Energy efficiency, bright, and slim profile.
- USB & 12V Socket – Used to charge USB devices like smartphones, cameras, and 12V vacuums.
- Water Pump – Pumps water through the faucet and shower heads.
Once you have your materials & tools, below are the steps to connect your 12v devices to the 12v fuse panel.
How To Size Your Blade Fuses
You can generally find blade fuses rated for 1A, 3A, 5A, 10A, 15A, & 20A. To calculate which size fuse is needed for each device, simply take the total watts the device is rated for and divide by 12. Take the result and round up to the next size rated fuse.
Were these wiring diagrams useful? We have more great diagrams in our free electrical eBook.
Recommended 12v Devices
Which 12v devices you want to put into your camper is entirely up to you. Below we list the six most popular 12v device groups for camper van builds.
Installing lights that run on 12v is a great way to brighten up your van’s interior when natural sunlight isn’t sufficient. We recommend getting a pack of LED Puck Lights to install in your camper’s ceiling. They’re bright, provide warm colored light, and draw only a tiny amount of power from your batteries.
- Super Slim - Ultra thin, thickness 0.52", lightweight and compact body fits narrow places. Shock and...
- Full Aluminum - Made out of full aluminum, keeps radiating heat away from LED chip board so as to...
- Energy Saving - LED contributes to energy efficiency. It consumes lower power of your vehicle...
To learn more about how to install LED puck lights in a van ceiling, head over to our other post: How To Install A Beautiful Cedar Plank Ceiling.
Puck lights not what you’re looking for? Check out these two other popular alternatives.
A roof vent fan is practically a must when living in a camper van. Vent fans not only help to bring in cool, fresh air and expel stale air, but they also help to regulate the internal temperature of your van and get rid of greasy smells when cooking.
We leave our vent fan on 90% of the time while we’re in the van.
Best of all, if you choose the MaxxFan [Amazon], the product comes with a built-in rain cover so you can even use the fan when it’s raining. In our experience, a rain cover is critical.
12V Sockets & USB Ports
Having at least one pair of USB & 12V sockets is invaluable for van life. With sockets like these, there are so many different electrical devices that you can power. From your smartphones, to desktop fans, 12V fridges, USB propane detectors, cameras, portable inverters, and even aromatherapy diffusers. The list is endless.
We’ve installed 3 pairs of these USB & 12V combo sockets throughout our van and they are constantly in use.
- 【QC 3.0 Fast Charge】The max output of the QC3.0 port can reach 18W, which is 4 times the normal...
- 【PD 3.0 Fast Charge】The PD port can quickly charge Apple 12 and other devices, which makes up...
- 【Well-designed Button Switch】The button switch which more stable on control than touch button....
A 12V fridge is an under-appreciated appliance in many camper builds. Good quality RV fridges aren’t cheap and can take up valuable space inside a van. But having a fridge is practically a necessity when planning to live and travel long term in a camper. Compared to cheaper coolers, having a proper 12v fridge keeps your food cool 24/7, eliminates the need to look for ice every 2-3 days, and allows you to boondock in the countryside for much longer periods of time.
We love our 12V Dometic fridge and wouldn’t go any other route to keep our food cool. To learn more, check out our Dometic Fridge review!
- NO ICE NEEDED: Refrigerate or Deep Freeze down to –7 °F using powerful VMSO3 compressor cooling...
- RUGGED CONSTRUCTION: Heavy-duty, lightweight ExoFrame construction and aluminum alloy handles will...
- ULTRA LOW POWER CONSUMPTION: Power via AC, DC or Solar and built in 3-stage dynamic battery...
Installing a diesel heater in a van is a luxury item, but it’s amazing how well they work, how fuel efficient they are, and how comfortable they can make winter van life.
For two days we were stuck at a campsite in Grand Canyon National Park after 2 feet of snow fell all around us. Though temperatures dropped to 9F (-13C) at night, we were still warm & toasty inside. Our diesel heater has also made getting up in the mornings so much easier because with just a push of a button, our van heats up in minutes.
- Flexible Mounting - The heater can be mounted on either side at a 90° tilt, meaning it can be fixed...
- Smarter - Download the "Parking Electric" App, available for iOS and Android devices, which enables...
- Automatic Altitude Compensation - In plateau mode, the heater can work at altitudes of up to 16,000...
A water pump is a convenient item to have when it comes to van life. We installed one because we wanted our camper van to feel more like a real home with instant running water with just a flick of a switch. If we could build a second van conversion, we would 100% install a water pump again.
Check out our other post to learn more how to install a water & plumbing system in a camper.
- Positive Displacement 3 Chamber Diaphragm Pump
- Check Valve: (1-Way Operation) Prevents Reverse Flow
- CAM: 3.5 Degree
Conclusion: A 12v System Is Just The Beginning
Great job! If you followed this post from beginning to end, you should have a solid understanding of what is needed to build your own 12v system in your camper.
As we mentioned above, the 12v system is the heart and soul of any camper electrical system. But it’s not the only part. There are other pieces to the overall electrical system puzzle as well.
For more regarding solar, check out our solar system installation guide. It’s an 8-part series that will take you through the entire process to build a robust solar panel system for your camper.
Or…head back to our camper van electrical system homepage.