Want to build a robust, high-quality, off-grid camper van electrics system? You’ve come to the right place! In our 2+ years of van life, our van’s electrical setup has supplied us with reliable, consistent power regardless of the wide range of environmental and location factors we’ve thrown at it.
Our van’s electrical system has:
In this page, you will find everything you need to build your own robust, off-grid electrical system for your camper van.
There is so much to learn and great skills to pick up but it’s important to go slow and thorough.
Oh, and all the information here is 100% FREE!
So if you’re ready, let’s get started!
Camper Electrics Article Contents
What Do You Want From Your Setup?
By the end of this electrical guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of what you need, how to construct, and how to maintain your very own camper van electrical system.
(The Heart Of Any Camper Electric System)
The batteries that power your electrical devices are the foundation of any camper van’s electrical system. These batteries are typically called “house batteries”.
Not only do these house batteries provide electricity when you require it to power your devices, but they also absorb and store electricity for later. Getting your battery situation sorted out is one of the most important parts of your van’s electrics system.
Learn More About Batteries For Campers
AGM vs. Lithium Batteries
When first planning your camper’s battery system, it’s critical to know which type of battery you want to go with. In this article, we discuss the primary differences between AGM and Lithium batteries. The choice is up to you!
Calculate Your Required Battery Capacity
Camper 12v Electric System
(The Primary Electrics System For Every Camper Van)
At the heart of any campervan electrics setup is the 12v system. This is because most of the deep-cycle batteries sold here in North America are made to run on a 12v system. Therefore it makes it convenient to run a system that can run directly from the batteries without having to adjust the voltage.
Learn More About 12v Setups
How To Build A 12v System
Campervan Wiring Basics
From best wire size recommendations to wiring layout advise, our post covers all you need to know about campervan wiring basics. Bonus: Learn about what we did wrong and what we’d do instead if we built a second van!
MaxxFan Product Review
In our humble opinion, a ventilation fan is one of the most important electrical device in any camper van. Read our MaxxFan product review and installation guide to learn more about why a vent fan is so integral to Vanlife.
Solar Panels For Camper Vans
(Go Off-Grid With A Proper Solar PV System)
Planning to travel off-grid? Then integrating a robust solar panel system with your camper van electrics to charge your batteries is a must.
Though we can also charge from shore power and while we drive, power supplied by the sun is, by far, the #1 way we charge our batteries.
Below, we provide and awesome 7-post series on how to get your solar panel system up and running.
Learn More About Building A Solar Panel System
Solar System Beginners Guide
This post is the beginning of our 7-part series for building a solar panel system in your camper. Learn how to size your system, select the ideal wire size and connection type, and how to put it all together with intuitive installation diagrams.
7-Part Solar Series
Want to skip to a specific section? Check out each individual post in our solar panel series for camper vans.
120v AC Power With An Inverter
(Charge Your Standard Devices With AC Power)
If you plan to charge laptops, power a blender, or even just use an electric toothbrush, it’s necessary to have a solution to run AC power (120v) in your camper van.
Yes, if a certain device plugs into a regular house socket that means it runs only on 120v power and you won’t be able to run the device directly from your 12v system. You’ll need an inverter to boost the voltage from 12v to 120v.
Luckily, installing an inverter in a camper can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Read our post below to learn more.
Learn More About Building A Solar Panel System
Install An Inverter In Your Camper
Connect To Vehicle Starting Battery
One of the best and most reliable ways you can charge your camper’s batteries is by driving. When you drive, the engine automatically begins to charge your vehicle’s starting battery. And with the right connection, you can also charge your house batteries while driving.
What You Need
1. Vehicle Battery To Fuse
2. Fuse To Lithium Battery Isolation Manager
Next, run another short piece of 2/0 wire from the fuse to the “Batt Chassis” post on the lithium battery isolation manager (BIM).
This isolation manager is the brain of the battery charging process and cycles the charging process on and off to prevent overheating of your vehicle’s alternator.
3. Connecting To Our Campervan Batteries
With 2/0 wire, connect the “Batt Coach” binding post of the BIM to the positive bus bar.
4. Ignition Connection & Grounding
In order for the battery monitor to know when the ignition is turned on, we hooked a 12awg wire from the BIM post labeled “Ign” to our van’s fuse box under the hood. We found an unused fuse socket that is ONLY activated when the van is turned on and stuck our 12awg into the socket.
To ground the whole system, take another 12awg wire and connected from the BIM’s “Gnd” post to a ground point on the van’s chassis.
Final Result (Fig 6.1)
When finished, the entire connection should look like the diagram below.
Finished! Complete Camper Van Electrical System
If you followed our campervan electrical system chapters , you would end up with a flexible and robust electrical system that you can rely on no matter the environment you’re in.
1. Three ways to charge your batteries
- Solar Panels
- Shore Power
- While Driving
2. Properly placed switches, fuses, & breakers
All ‘downstream’ components are protected from unexpected electrical surges with the switches, fuses, & breakers we put in.
3. Birdseye Snapshot of Your Electrical System
With the bluetooth-enabled Victron Battery Monitor and Solar Charge Control, we are able to understand the status our electrical system day after day. We always know what our battery’s state-of-charge is as well as how much solar energy we harvested that day.
Final Camper Van Electrical System Diagram
If you finished building your camper vang electrical system following our steps, your system should look similar to the diagram we put together below.
Remember, you can always download our Van Electrical Wiring Diagram for FREE.
Tips To Maintain Your Camper Van Electrical System
Just because you’ve finished building your camper van’s electrical system doesn’t mean the work is over. While traveling in your van, it’s a good idea to keep up with proper maintenance of your electrical system.
In our case, maintaining our van’s electrics mainly involves two areas.
Best Battery Charging Tecniques
Knowing how to properly charge your batteries is crucial to the long-term health and lifespan of these batteries. Spoiler alert: Different battery chemistries require different charging strategies.
Did you know:
- Traditional AGM batteries should not be discharged lower than 40%?
- Lithium batteries don’t like to be constantly kept at 100% charge?
Doing either of the above can significantly reduce the lifespans of those batteries. And we’ve seen multiple van lifers throw away almost new batteries simply because they didn’t understand proper battery charging & discharging techniques for their own batteries.
If you’re interested to learn more on how to maximize your battery’s lifespan and prevent unnecessary, additional battery expenditures, read our battery maintenance article.
Make Sure Screws & Bolts Are Tight
Because of all the vibrations that our camper van incurs due to driving, all the screws and bolts in our van electrics become loose over time.
Of course, we want everything in our van generally being held tight together, but loose electrical components is also a fire hazard. Short circuits in a camper can, and do, happen.
So once a month, it’s a good idea to take a screw driver and a ratchet and make sure every screw and bolt is fastened tightly.
FAQ - Camper Van Electrical Systems
Watts, Amps, & Volts. Do I Really Have To Understand These Electrical Terms?
Eh, not really. You definitely do not need a degree in electrical engineering to complete your own campervan electrical system. You can simply follow our free PDF guide and be one your way. But if you’re interested to learn more, knowing basic electrical jargon can help you better understand what’s going on “under the hood”.
I Have Zero Electrical Experience, Can I Do All This By Myself?
Yes, you can! We also had zero experience in electrical systems and managed to piece together quite a complicated system that has served us well for over 2 years. Our step-by-step electrical installation instructions can get you from start to finish.
There Are So Many Different Wire Sizes. Which Do I Need?
We understand there are ways to calculate the ‘proper’ wire size you need for each type of electrical device you want to run based on that specific device’s power consumption. Frankly, it’s a waste of time.
We list the only four wire sizes you need for your electrical system.
How To Ground Your Camper Van Electrical System?
Unlike a regular house, a vehicle doesn’t have normal “ground” points. In the case of campervans, it is OK to ground your electrical devices to the vehicle’s chassis. In our Ford Transit there are multiple “ground” chassis connection points.
The above diagram shows all the possible chassis ground points on a Ford Transit van. We primarily used 31 & 35 for our ground points.
MPPT Charge Controller vs Cheaper PWM?
Those converting their campervan’s on a budget tend to purchase PWN Solar Charge Controllers because of their lower price point. But the newer MPPTs are roughly 10-20% more efficient at putting solar energy back into your batteries. To us that’s enough reason to spend a bit more on an MPPT.
Should I install a tilt system for my solar panels?
Being able to tilt solar panels towards the sun can significantly boost your daily intake of solar power, which is especially useful in the winter when the sun has a lower travel arc. We did not install a tilt system and our 350 watts of solar have provided more than enough power in both winter and summer traveling. And in the small occurrences when our batteries do run low, we simply hook up to our van’s vehicle starting battery to charge our batteries while driving.
Do you recommend getting an inverter/charger so you can connect to shore power?
Having the option to connect to shore power is convenient. Though we do not often stay at pricey RV parks with supplied shore power, we do on occasion stay at these parks for 1-2 weeks to rest and recoup. Being on the road 24/7 is draining! And we’ve found that many RV sites are quite shaded, which is nice, but is terrible for harvesting solar power. In the shade, our batteries will reach 0% in 4-5 days. So being able to connect to shore power has given us more flexibility.
I’m building my camper van electrical system on a budget. What should I not skimp out on?
100% don’t try to save money on batteries. They are the life blood of your campervan electrical system. And so much of ‘van life’ depends on electricity. Even if you can’t afford fancy lithium batteries, as best as you can, get good quality AGM batteries. And while battery quality is important, battery QUANTITY is just as crucial. Read our article to figure out what size battery bank you require. Undersizing your battery bank will lead to faster battery degredation and wasting money to purchase new batteries.
Recommended Tools To Build Your Camper Van Electrical System
Final Thoughts: Building Your Own Camper Van Electrical System is Rewarding!
We hope you learned enough from our camper van electrical system article to be able to build your own electrical setup.
When we first started, the whole process was completely overwhelming. There were so many components to purchase and so many steps to complete. But we took our time and made sure each step was done to the best of our abilities.
In the end we found the entire process of building our own electrical system in our van conversion both completely doable and a highly rewarding process!
If you have any questions or comments about our van electrics article, please post a comment below or send us an email through our Contact Form.