Whether you’re converting a luxury camper or aiming for a budget build, your van will require some sort of lighting. In this step-by-step guide, we show you how to wire 12V LED lights in a camper van. We include helpful wiring diagrams and material lists to help you understand how everything fits together.
Our Recommended Lights
We recommend picking up a set of ACEGOO RV Puck Lights. These LED’s have provided us with strong, reliable light for the last 4+ years and we will be using this product for our wiring tutorial. These lights are energy efficient (3W each), easy to install, and will easily brighten up your camper’s interior.
Note: We use 12 of these LEDs in our van (2 packs).
We use 12 of these 12V puck lights in our camper van. They fill the van with bright, warm white light and only consume 3W per device. Slim profile means they take up minimal ceiling space. Easy to wire to batteries.
Let’s get started.
Choose Location of Lights & Switches
Once you’ve selected your lights, you will need to decide where in your van you want to install them. The most logical place to install LED puck lights is within the ceiling boards and along the underside of overhead cabinets (if applicable).
Extra Reading: How To Install A Van Ceiling (With Lights)
It is critical to plan the location of your lights in the early stages of the van conversion because when you’re laying out your electric wires, you’ll need to know where to place the wire ends to attach your future lights. If you’ve already installed the insulation and ceiling boards and then decide you want to change your lighting arrangement, it’s difficult to rip out all your work and start again.
Need more lighting planning & inspiration? Read our camper van lighting ideas post for more information.
Below is a diagram we made of our van ceiling. You can see the cedar plank boards and how we made room for the vent fan (grey square) and how we planned to install six LED puck lights in our ceiling (black circles). Can you spot all six lights?
Want to create your own ceiling diagram? Read our post on how to create your own digital camper van floor plan for free.
After finalizing the location of your lights, it is equally important to plan the location of your switches. As with lights, this is because you will need to lay out your electrical wire so that the wire ends are in the correct places to connect to the future switches.
In the picture below, you can see how we laid out our wire so that the wire ends were where our future switches would be located. Once the wiring was completed, we then mounted our walls and then finally attached the switches to the walls.
Wiring Guide & Diagrams
To get your LED lights working, you’ll need to wire the lights to your batteries. We break up this process into three smaller sections.
- Connect batteries to bus bars
- Wire bus bars to 12V panel
- Attach 12V panel to switches & lights
In the end, the wiring system should look like the diagram below.
So let’s get started with our step-by-step LED wiring process. We’ll also include all the parts and components we used to complete this project.
Section 1: Connect Batteries To Bus Bars
If you have followed our 12V installation post, you’ll know that we first recommend wiring your batteries to bus bars. See our diagram below for how to connect the bus bars to your batteries. We will also provide a material list so that you can recreate this same system.
What are bus bars? Bus bars are the power collection and distribution centers and are highly recommended to keep your wiring simple and organized. If you haven’t already, pick up a pair of these bus bars. They are exactly what we use in our van.
For a complete diagram set, download our free electrical wiring eBook.
Below are the materials you will need to connect the batteries to the bus bars.
Section 2: Wire Bus Bars to 12V Panel
Now that the batteries are connected to the bus bars, you can wire the 12V fuse panel to the bus bars. The fuse panel distributes power from the batteries to every 12V end device in the van. In this post, we only wire the panel to the LED lights, but keep in mind that you can also connect the panel to a vent fan, water pump, 12V fridge, and more.
Below are the components you’ll need to wire the bus bars to the 12V fuse panel.
Section 3: Attach 12V Panel to Switches & Lights
The final step is to wire the 12V panel to the switch and LED lights. Note that different switches may require different types of wire terminals. The switch we recommend in the diagram below will use female spade connectors.
Note: We recommend using 14 AWG wire to connect the 12V panel to all end devices. But if you wire runs will be longer than 20 feet, you may want to upgrade to 12 AWG wire to prevent voltage drop.
Below are the materials you’ll need to wire the panel to the lights.
Hopefully by this point you have the information and tools you need to wire your 12V LED lights in your van. If you have chosen to follow our diagrams, you should have multiple light switches controlling different lighting zones in the camper.
If you have any questions regarding our wiring approach, please let us know in the comments section below.
For more van electrics information, check out our DIY van electrical system guide. We also provide a FREE electric wiring eBook that will guide you through your solar, inverter, and DC-DC charging installations.
As always, happy building!
Go back: DIY Van Conversion Guide
1. Light Switch Types
For most van conversions there are two types of light switch designs:
- RV & boat switches
- Standard household switches
RV & Boat Switches
Switches specifically designed for RVs, campers, and boats are generally more compact in design and easier to wire. This is especially true if you want to install multiple switches in your van.
Models with multiple switches, like the 2-switch panel below, make the wiring process simple and straightforward. Many of these switches also come with USB ports and 12V sockets for greater convenience.
Compact 2-gang light switch with USB charging ports. Easy to install and wire. Comes with useful voltage meter for battery state-of-charge (SOC) readings.
Standard Household Switches
These are the same types of switches you can find in any standard house. Compared to RV-specific switches, there are many more design options to choose from. These include:
- Rocker & toggle switches
- Vertical & horizontal switches
- Motion sensor switches
- Different colors and designs
The downside of using household switches is that they’re more difficult to install because each switch must be wired individually. Each set of switches must also be paired with an outlet box and this box must be attached to the backside of your walls.
In Our Opinion…
Though RV switches are more utilitarian and easier to install, we prefer our household-style switches. They make our van interior look and feel like a real home.
It is possible to install a dimmer switch in your van so that you can reduce the intensity of your LED lights. Here are two things to be aware of:
- Not all LED lights are dimmable – Make sure to confirm that the lights you want are dimmable.
- Need proper dimmer switch – You won’t be able to use any old household dimmer switch. You will specifically need a 12V dimmer switch.
Below are several popular examples of 12V dimmer switches.
2. What Fuse Size To Use For 12V Lights?
Assuming that you will wire the LED lights to a 12V fuse panel, you will need to insert a standard blade fuse into the part of the fuse panel that is connected to your selected group of LED lights.
Blade fuses typically come in amp-ratings of 2A, 3A, 5A, 7.5A, and higher.
So which size fuse do you need to keep your circuits safe? We show you how to do calculate the ideal fuse size below.
- Step 1: Identify max Watts demanded by all lights on a single circuit.
- Step 2: Divide total Watts by 12V to get max Amps.
- Step 3: Add 25% to max Amps and round up to next fuse size rating.
Are camper lights 12V?
If you are in the USA or Canada, most of the lights specifically made for camper vans and RVs will operate under 12V. Though you can find 24V LED lights, there will be less selection. It is recommended to utilize 12V lights for your camper.
What kind of light bulbs does a camper van use?
LED lights are the most popular option for camper vans and RVs. This is because they are energy efficient and don’t drain your battery as fast as florescent and standard incandescent light bulbs.
How much power do camper van 12V lights use?
Each 12V LED puck light consumes approximately 3 watts of power (~0.25aH). So if six of your puck lights are currently on, you would be using 18W of power (~1.5Ah).
LED puck lights of some of the most power efficient lights available for camper vans.
Are LED lights better for an RV?
Yes, we think so! Not only are LED lights energy efficient, they are also small, don’t take up much space, and don’t emit much heat when turned on. These lights are perfect for RV and camper van living.
Are puck lights dimmable?
Some puck lights are dimmable, but not all. Be sure to check the user manual to ensure the puck lights you want are using are dimmable.
The LED puck lights we recommend are dimmable.
You must also be sure that the dimmer switch you are using function properly for 12v lights.