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Ask Slashdot: How To Add New Tech To Old Van?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the crusher-the-mega-van dept.

Media 212

First time accepted submitter Dslice_allstar writes "I have a '77 GMC Van that I would like to take into the 21st century with some good tech. I have several large LCD monitors, and I want to hook at least one up for watching movies and doing some mild PC gaming. I am concerned about power, i.e. using an inverter and not frying the computer every time the van starts/stops, and I'm worried about whether the alternator will support a computer/monitor setup as well as LEDs and the like. Would a UPC backup be a good idea? I would also like to be able to play music over the sound system, preferably off the computer. Should I be thinking mini ITX HTPC, or would a netbook better serve my purposes? How would you all pimp out an old conversion van?"

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Van Art (5, Funny)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491537)

Adding new tech to a van is OK, if you're into that kind of thing. (Which I am.) But of far more importance is what kind of art you put on your van. [] Be it a wizard summoning a space unicorn to be ridden by a hot babe, a barbarian protecting hot babes, or an interstellar wizard summoning hot babes for nefarious purposes, van art is what takes your van and gives it that certain je ne sais pas which says, "I am awesome."

In this case, I think you need to consider the technological contents of your van and create a motif based around that. For example, you can have a wizard summoning hot technological Linux cyborg babes. That would be cool. And when you drove down the street, people would be like, "that's cool." And isn't that the real purpose of owning a van?

Re:Van Art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491591)

Flame job, in purple and lilac with a silver pinstripe. 100% head turner and girl puller. You'll be fighting them off with stick.

Re:Van Art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492215)

> You'll be fighting them off your stick.


Re:Van Art (5, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491663)

And isn't that the real purpose of owning a van?

Oh? I thought this [] was...

Re:Van Art (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491731)

Considering that there is a request for installing TVs and gaming equipment, I'd say that this is a "van down by the river" type of van. Van art probably isn't a priority.

Re:Van Art (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492075)

The funny part is that people would probably not think a guy living in a van down by the river was all that shady if the van had a good paintjob, was clean and any personal belongings surrounding the van were all in good condition (as opposed to a dirty van with a 20 year old paintjob and rust and a bunch of broken lawn chairs and the like strewn around it).

Re:Van Art (4, Funny)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492109)

people would probably not think a guy living in a van down by the river was all that shady if the van had a good paintjob,

You mean the "Free Candy" on the side was not a good idea?


Re:Van Art (3, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492491)

...a dirty van with a 20 year old paintjob and rust and a bunch of broken lawn chairs and the like strewn around

If we call extra small portable computers ultrabooks, then you must be referring to an ultrahome.

Re:Van Art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492171)

This is the best thing I've read this week. Amen.

Re:Van Art (3, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492173)

Coolest one I saw was all airbrushed to look like an un-populated circuit board. The detail in the paint was incredible.

The guy had about $15,000 in tech inside and a stereo that would do 155Db in a SPL contest. The coolest part was the dashboard was 3 7" LCD monitors all running from a single mini ITX pc. you could change the gauges to anything you wanted and from the 13" touchscreen where the stereo would be you can select the GPS and then flick it to the dash. (it ran linux)

He then fired up the HUD that was very cool but fuzzy because of the double reflection from the windshield. He has not found the right coating to apply to the windshield to remove the double reflection, but the HUD projection from the projector (not a display, a projector) covered most of the windshield and would overlay turn by turn arrows and info as well as cues from his custom collision avoidance system.

IT was very cool, but I am unsure of how much was "mock up" in the HUD and "sensors"

Re:Van Art (4, Funny)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492401)

Screw the art.

Screw the tech.

Put a bed in the back.


Abandon all plans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491539)

Until you have a read stripe

Re:Abandon all plans (1)

oPless (63249) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491581)

Is that like a RED stripe?

Re:Abandon all plans (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491605)

Just like the A-Team's battlewagon eh?

Re:Abandon all plans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491661)

Much better to have a beer before this sort of work, especially strong Jamaican Lager []

Power problem answered: (3, Informative)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491547)

First, forget about connecting anything to the engine electrical subsystem. You've already identified the issue there, that being the risk of surging the equipment to death.

I would go with an isolated battery stack, a couple low-profile wind turbines and employing a substantial amount of roof area in collecting PV. This would easily accommodate the power requirements of a modern laptop (my Toshiba L755D draws less than 40W under load) and a late-model LCD panel (HP W1907v for example has a max load of 49W). Plenty of power there for an onboard computer, not including the sound system.

Re:Power problem answered: (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491853)

Or use standard subcharger linked to deep discharge gel battery like available OEM for some minivans like the Mitsubishi Delica. No need to push the stupid to 11 with half baked idea from someone who have never even thought aboot the probleme before crapping on his keyboard... yeah... wind turbine... go ahead, make my day Billy Joe...

Re:Power problem answered: (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491897)

Go chase cars, Sparky. I've already done it. 35W panel and vertical axis wind generator on the back of my cycle (both mounted on the helmet box) runs to a pair of 140VA marine batteries which in turn feed a netbook and 50W 2.1 sound system.

Re:Power problem answered: (2)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491951)

Why not just filter the engine electrical subsystem? I mean use chokes/caps to get rid of short spikes and feed that into a DC-DC converter (or an inverter) that can handle higher input voltage. Should be cheaper than an entire new subsystem.

Also, if the engine start is followed by a spike in the voltage, just connect a relay that disconnects the inverter during engine start until a few seconds after the engine has started. Use a big capacitor or a small battery to provide the power for the period when the relay is disconnected.

I mean what is so different about that van compared to my 1982 Mercedes sedan? In the 17 years that the car has been in my family (my dad used it, now I use it), no tape deck (or anything connected to the cigarette lighter port) was fried.

Re:Power problem answered: (2)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492479)

Adding any serious amount of kit to it like it sounds like he wants, he's going to need a couple extra batteries. Also, not everyone has access to an oscilloscope to be able to tell when they've cleaned the power enough to justify hooking thousands of bucks of hardware up to it. Whatever he does, he needs to spec the wires to be able to handle the load and get the proper size fuse.

A side note from my own experiences in this, burnt caps stink.

Re:Power problem answered: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492237)

First, go to a company capable of setting up TV news vans.
Second, ask them to do what you want to do.
Third, pay them.

Re:Power problem answered: (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492409)

I've half a mind to fit a 24V alternator, deep-cycle battery system and properly large inverter in my car. There are a pair of chunky brackets helpfully provided for an air conditioning compressor that Citroen clearly felt wasn't required in the UK climate - not to mention that the pipes get in the way of the rest of the right-hand drive stuff.

The Muzzies are coming (-1, Offtopic)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491549)

The Muzzies are coming, The Muzzies are coming
Every on keep calm
They're evil and thy're violent
And mean to do us harm

Do it HAM style (4, Interesting)

havana9 (101033) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491565)

You should look how amateur radio operators and/or people with RV are setting up thei systems. I think you should stay with a 12V power supply system, an inverter is a more complex system rather than a lead acid battery, and yu'll need a DC/DC inverter for the sound system amplifiers. A mini ITX pc with a 12 power supply it's not a big deal, so a satellite receiver. If you want to be sure to not fry your electronics, use a dual battery setup with a contactor that disconnects the secondary battery from the main circuit when the engine is not running, like RV pepole sometimes are doing, and remenber to flip on the switch when needed, or use an automatic system. If a dual battery system is too much take the supply from the electronics directly from the battery poles, with a suitable fuse on both poles. Put some L-C filters and a big diode in antiparallel to the supply.

Re:Do it HAM style (0)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491677)

I knew a guy who had installed 5 additional generators in his Peugeot 504 to run his 240 Volt HAM equipment in the eighties with also 5 batteries in the trunk. He had several free 240 Volt outlets to run tools and other stuff so I know it can be done.
He lost about 25% of the car's power to run these.
In modern cars there just isn't enough space in the engine compartment to install that much crap.

Re:Do it HAM style (2, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492269)

In modern cars there just isn't enough space in the engine compartment to install that much crap.

Good thing the OP has an old van, then, eh?

Re:Do it HAM style (5, Informative)

rrossman2 (844318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491891)

Sorry, but this is wrong on many levels. An inverter isn't any harder, and most likely easier than going without because anything that would normally plug into the wall will.. Well... Just plug in and work.

Now the issue is you don't want to use just any old inverter as there are major differences between them. Get one with voltage stabilizing (does a good job of keeping a steady output voltage, just like the some home theater power centers do), and also make sure it's a pure sine wave. Pure sine waves run a bit more, but are much safer for sensitive electronics vs a non-pure wave system. The last one we did at the stop was a 2000watt RMS/4000 max pure sine wave that ran about $800-1000 (can't remember exact figure), but you can fine similar setups with less watts for a lot less money.

Also, use a good deep cycle or dual-purpose marine battery all the way around. Try to use the same battery in all locations, as using different batteries (different in style as in deep cycle vs a starting battery, or a smaller capacity vs larger capacities) can cause issues as one battery may fully charge before the other, but because of the load imbalance one may over charger or one may remain undercharged.

Also look into the after market audio areas for an alternator/generator. The same RV van I put the power inverter into above we also put a tsunami alternator which produced around 240amps at a fairly low rpm. We also used one of their heavy duty relays (500amp rated) to isolate the rear batteries from the one under the hood when the key was off so the main battery wouldn't drain and leave you stranded.

The setup used all home equipment (made a custom flip down mount for the 36" tv we put in), including the directv receiver and home theater system.

Zotac (2, Interesting)

gruntkowski (1743014) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491579)

Concerning the HTPC/netbook/..., check Zotac ( Very small but surprisingly interesting mini PCs.

Blue Water Sailboats (4, Informative)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491599)

Do some reading on the 12v systems of blue water sailboats. You'll find that they have a separate circuit for their running system/lights vs their navigational electronics/radar etc.
Generally they run the engine to charge the battery, and when that isn't possible, shore power or wind/solar. They will run the system/nav lights off of one 100ah (50ah real world use) deep cycle battery, and the other system will run off of 1-3 100ah deep cycle batteries, depending on size/budget. This is generally topped off by 1-2 400w solar panels (taking up the space of about a 4x8' sheet of plywood) and/or wind power. Wind power might be an issue in your mom's driveway though.
Also consider upgrading your alternator. Conversion vans typically come with a much higher rated alternator to deal with the additional loads the experience. Tapping in to the existing 12v system is asking for trouble, it's not designed for what you're going to ask of it.

Put in a marine alternator (4, Informative)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491751)

A very simple system is to put in a higher rated marine alternator, already available for conversion kits for marinising many older engines, and something like a Sterling ABY130 (I think) which is an intelligent charger with 2 outputs, one for the starter battery and one for the domestic battery bank. The Sterling device not only splits the load, it has all sorts of intelligence built in to provide anti-sulfating and to prioritise the starter battery. It charges the domestic battery to full charge, which most rigs simply do not do. It also waits till the engine is at speed before putting a load on the alternator, protecting the drive belt. Make sure there is plenty of space around it for the fan to circulate air. I ran one for years without problems. Get your 110V from a good quality inverter, put a 32W solar panel on the roof as a booster for your starter battery, put in a couple of leisure 110AH batteries as your domestic bank (100A traction fuses in the leads to each, min cross-section 25mm squared supply cable) , make sure you have a 2kg powder fire extinguisher on board, and you should be happy.

Re:Put in a marine alternator (1)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491875)

Could he bypass the need for AC to his computer by using a DC-DC boost convertor directly into a laptop supply, or a DC-DC ATX PSU to a standalone PC and a display panel that has a DC input for an external supply, with the relevant convertor?

Re:Blue Water Sailboats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491755)

Blue water sailor here. You're right in principle, but there are a lot of little errors in there.

For those who are interested, a small offshore vessel does usually use two battery banks. However, one is for the auxilary engine (CCA is what counts here, amp hours are largely irrelevant). The other is the house bank, and powers all the other equipment (4-6 6V deep cycle, high Ah batteries wired to providing upwards of 600Ah at 12V).

It isn't the engine that charges the batteries though. You barely touch it at sea. It's the your solar and wind that do all the charging. Generators are common too, but the renewables are, on the whole, doing the heavy lifting.

OK... (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491997)

So, AC, what are the errors? If I am wrong - and I operated that system for over 4 years and had it safety certified - please explain what they are.

Nowhere did I say I was writing about bluewater cruising sailboats. Their needs are quite different and they don't normally marinise production engines, but use small dedicated auxiliaries like Yanmars, Buchs and Listers, along with dedicated packaged generators which are quieter because there is no sound output from the hood via the shaft.. I was describing what is done with a whole lot of small powerboats including inshore and river cruisers in Europe, where not enough sun is available and one is frequently moored sheltered from wind.

Normally I can't be arsed to respond to ACs, especially when there is no possible issue of confidentiality of information being conveyed, but if you are going to warn someone off using this approach you need to spell out the errors. So what are they, so I can respond to them?

Relatively low (solar) powered PC (2)

Rogan (96782) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491623)

A while ago Tom's hardware did a series in a solar powered PC... many of the power saving decisions sound relevant to your requirements. The article is still available at,1685.html

Right, here's what you'll do. (5, Funny)

jimicus (737525) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491629)

Forget technology for now.

With an old vehicle, first and foremost it needs to be well looked-after. A well looked after vehicle - even if it's getting on in age - commands respect. A clapped-out rusty biscuit tin on wheels commands scorn, no matter how much technology it may have inside.

Fit bars to the front if it doesn't already have them. You don't want some idiot reversing into you and destroying the grille; I can't imagine parts will be too easy to find for a vehicle that age. Roo bars (the type that don't curve around the side) will probably look best.

Sort out any rust or dents it may have, then give it a nice shiny new paint job. I'm thinking something along the lines of a red stripe starting at the top rear and going diagonally to finish at about the level of the door handle, whereupon the red stripe goes horizontally along the door.

Paint it black below the red stripe, and grey above it.

Fit some lights to the roof just above the windscreen.

A spolier on top and red wheels complete the look.

Re:Right, here's what you'll do. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492155)

Might I also suggest placing some of those rectangular fog lights on the front of the roof just above the windscreen?

(and if you don't get a +5 Funny then we're officially part of the older generation).

Re:Right, here's what you'll do. (5, Funny)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492187)

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Raspberry Pi it! (1)

YoungJules (1168465) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491633)

The Raspberry Pi [] would seem to be a good match as it's tiny, is portable, has very low power requirements, dissipates very little heat, costs next to nothing, and is powerful enough to run full-HD video!

Re:Raspberry Pi it! (2)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491659)

And someday you might even be able to buy one!

Re:Raspberry Pi it! (1)

YoungJules (1168465) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491671)

I have two, and a free t-shirt! You've just got to get up early enough :-D

Re:Raspberry Pi it! (1)

ratbag (65209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492201)

In the UK, Farnell and RS both emailed me in the last fortnight to say that my turn for ordering had come up and that I might receive it in August (I only ordered from Farnell). I only registered in April.

Re:Raspberry Pi it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491681)

I'm planning to do this too, if I ever get a chance to have good play with my Pi

The Q-Bus (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492365)

The Raspberry Pi [] would seem to be a good match

Naw, man. It's a '77 van, he's got to go all original.

He's got to install a PDP-11 with a tape drive.

He can call the van the "Q-Bus". Now, how cool would that be?

First Things First: (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491643)

Take out the shag carpet and mirrors.

Re:First Things First: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491707)

I'm confused. Is that so he can install the astroturf for his company selling modernized 77 GMC's? :)

Fill it with Raspberry Pi (0)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491709)

Come on Slashdoters, this is begging for a Beowulf post. Don't let us down, and keep the proud tradition of stupid and mindless repetition alive!

Imagine a parking lot full of vans filled with Raspberry Pi as a ...

Multimedia configuration for the van (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491713)

Laptop or netbook because of internal battary. Run the computer's charger and the external video display off of the inverter, then if the van's battary dies or a fuse blows or the inverter kicks out or something the computer won't crash. You can always hot-key over to the computer's built-in screen (fn-F5 or whatever) to get control back and see what you're doing to finish or exit when the external components die for whatever reason. You're going to want a 12-volt deep-cycle battary connected through a battary isolator for charging it off of the van's electrical system and protecting the van's starter battary from drain. Forget the UPS, they're not meant to be used for a continuous supply from their internal "emergency" battaries and anyway, the conversion losses for all that mess would be rediculous: 12-volt van, to AC inverter, to UPS, to components' power supplies, means many watts consumption for substantially less power actually in use by the gear.

I picked up a refurbed ACER Aspire One D257-1907 netbook with a dual-core processor and I'm TOTALLY satisfied with it's processing power for multimedia. I'm not a gamer so I can't address THAT issue. A 6-cell battary keeps it going independantly for hours. If it's trickled by plugging it into an inverter then it's always ready to go when the rest of the system gets shut off or dies.

Step 0 (2)

Bazman (4849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491721)

Security. 1977? You could open car locks with a bent pin. Central locking and immobilisers were probably a decade away in luxury models. Okay, maybe a van has better security in case it had a valuable cargo. But anyway, don't put 10k of tech in a vehicle that can be stolen with a bent wire coat hanger.

Free Candy? (3, Insightful)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491729)

You could put "Free Candy" on the side with LEDs. Also, you could put a good wifi antenna on it so when you are down by the river, you still have internet to stalk with.

All joking aside, go with a deep cycle marine battery array with it's own alternator. I worked in a surveillance van for a P.I. company back in the early 90s. That was back when video cameras were huge like boom boxes and recorded onto magnetic cassette tapes. It provided enough power to run the cameras and a little fan to blow on me while I cooked in the oven-like heat. Consider that marine tech, because I'm sure it's advanced, people far out in the water don't like to fuck around. Think about it.

Do the world a favor and keep all the distracting gizmos away from the driver seat area. We have enough retards on the road already without someone in a monster derelict van, like a douche-nozzle watching TV while driving. Both hands at 10 and 2, with eyes roving the road and mirrors please.

Re:Free Candy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491865)

Agreed in general, but hands at 9 and 3 please, its optimal configuration (asked profesional race driver instructor by myself).

Re:Free Candy? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491895)

When I drive, I keep my hands on the wheel the whole time, not just at two hours of the day...

Re:Free Candy? (1)

prefect42 (141309) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491903)

I also read somewhere that 9 and 3 (or even lower) reduces injuries due to airbag inflation too.

Re:Free Candy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492193)

I also read somewhere that 9 and 3 (or even lower) reduces injuries due to airbag inflation too.

it's 9 and 3 to give you a bigger turning radius without taking your hands of the wheel...heard it from a rally driver.

Re:Free Candy? (1)

prefect42 (141309) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492251)

My point was entirely supplementary to that of vehicle control and I assure you doesn't in any way relate to airbagless rally cars. But on your point, let's be honest, if you've got more than your thumb at 6, and you're not texting, you're doing better than some.

Re:Free Candy? (2)

BeaverCleaver (673164) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492327)

Fair point, but there weren't too many '77 GMC vans with airbags.

Re:Free Candy? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492507)

I also read somewhere that 9 and 3 (or even lower) reduces injuries due to airbag inflation too.

Airbags were introduced in the 70's but not in widespread use until the 80's. If this van did have one it's now about 35 years old...

Why bother? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491735)

Just get a decent stereo with bluetooth then run sound from a netbook/ultrabook through that.

Secure it! (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491773)

It hasn't been said yet, but make sure to secure everything as strongly as possible. An amplifier or speakers in the back of your vehicle can quickly turn into a head-crushing projectile in the event of an accident if not properly secured.

Finish High School... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491795)

...and stop wasting your time and money on this shit.

Re:Finish High School... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491889)

When I read the first sentence of the submission, I thought to myself, "Most Americans are poor because they do stupid shit like this.
To Dslice_allstar, here's some practical advice - maintain the van if you need it to carry something, sell it and by something fuel efficient and reliable if you don't. Of course, I don't expect you to actually exhibit common sense, because you've been conditioned that it's perfectly OK to be an idiot and then to complain that it's someone else's fault when you're broke.

The correct way (4, Informative)

Technician (215283) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491833)

First is to do the math. Just like a bank account, there needs to be a balance. Just like the bank, you can store some savings.

Batteries are sized in Amp Hours when buying deep cycle batteries. Batteries that list cold cranking power are lower capacity and built for a momentary high current load. They are not designed for deep cycle use.

Look at your supply side. If you turn off the headlights, wipers, heater fan, defroster, air conditioner, all those unused loads are excess generation capacity for use, but there is a catch, while the engine is running and not at just an idle. Alternator capacity is reduced at an idle. Headlights are about 60 watts each. The heater fan is about 200 Watts, Rear Window Defogger, 60 Watts.

Volts X Amps in DC = Watts.

Shutting off the headlights is enough capacity to run a typical larger flatscreen monitor. Shutting off the AC/Heater fan is enough to run a PC, etc.

A larger inverter is quite efficient so don't assume a 1KW inverter will draw 80 Amps all the time. Advice is go larger on the inverter to deal with startup current many devices use. Forget the 75-300 Watt sizes and start with a 1KW or larger. Follow the installation instructions on wire size and length.

I have done two inverter installs in vehicles of mine. Both are 1KW in size. My Prius has a trunk mounted inverter that is used in place of a portable gas generator for many odd jobs including camping. I use LED and or CFL lamps (120V is much easier to find than 12 V) Laptop computers, musical instruments and PA amplifiers, flatscreen TV, and a vacuum cleaner. 12 volt car vacs just don't work nearly as well as a dirt devil hand vac.

My second install is in a 29 foot motorhome. I found the AC outlets are on 2 breakers. The driver side includes the kitchen and bathroom. I left that on the generator or shore power for use with hair dryers, coffee makers, waffle irons, and other power hogs. The other side of the motorhome is all on the inverter. This powers LED desk lamps, the flatscreen TV, and outlets for cell phone chargers, laptops, DVD player, etc. I put a 19 inch flat screen TV up front in place of the original tube set, this doubles as a rear view mirror with a backup camera. A flatscreen TV eliminates the need for a DTV converter box. It only draws 40 Watts.

On the energy side, the original motohome lights were power hogs. The 1187 bulbs draw 2.1 Amps each or about 25 watts. Using the inverter, I use 1.5 to 7 Watt LED lamps instead. The main dining area ceiling light has 2 bulbs, so the TV actually draws less than the original "Dome Light". With one or two LED lights on, I can run the TV all night on battery on the 2 deep cycle RV batteries. This saves lots of gas as I don't need a generator running burning 1/2 gallon of gas an hour just to run the TV and a few lights.

As mentioned in another post, a separate cabin battery is highly recommended. After running the PC and monitor all night, you will want a way to start the engine. Use a battery isolator so you charge both sets of batteries.

Re:The correct way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492291)

None of the answers so far apply to the question you asked. Have you considered hooking up a UPS between your inverter and your laptop? It seems like that would address most of your issues. The LCD, it better be low wattage.

Re:The correct way (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492421)

On the energy side, the original motohome lights were power hogs. The 1187 bulbs draw 2.1 Amps each or about 25 watts. Using the inverter, I use 1.5 to 7 Watt LED lamps instead.

led 1187 []

No need for an inverter to handle lighting, no need to swap fixtures to reduce power consumption.

Call... (1)

mattydont (849321) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491843)

Alvin Nathaniel Joiner, he knows how to update cars and vans apparently.

Fuel Injection (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491877)

It starts with fuel injection. Get rid of that restricted, poor-performing engine (if it's from the 70's, there's all sorts of useless crap on the engine done for smog reasons that, 35 years later, probably don't work anymore and are robbing your engine of efficiency). Find a drop-in turnkey crate engine with fuel-injection and you will move up to the latter half of the 20th century, tech-wise. You will likely get better fuel-efficiency (measured by both MPG, and wasted fuel out the exhaust), better performance, a warranty on the engine, and you'll never have to deal with the peculiarities of a carburetor again. The other big thing, you will get a better alternator, from which you can power the devices you want to add on.

Put a new engine in the vehicle and then come back. Until then, your van is a 600 lb obese guy, trying to lose weight by doing crunches.

Re:Fuel Injection (1)

Smivs (1197859) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492271)

Agreed....drop in a nice big V8 with open headers. That'll take care of the 'music' as well :)

Have you heard of the m4-atx dc-dc power supply? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491907)

If you're looking for a reliable power source the following might be a good choice for you. I have used products from this company for previous auto-pc builds and have been quite happy. Includes intelligent shutdown control, no need to shut down the pc manually when you turn off your car.

Specs are:
- 250 Watts (300 Watts peak)
- 20/24 pin ATX, 6-30V wide input
- Programmable timing settings via USB
- Intelligent shutdown controller
- ON/OFF motherboard control
- Survives vehicle engine cranks
- Battery deep discharge prevention
- High efficiency, 250 watts output
- "Anti-Thump" Amplifier remote control
- 1.5mA standby current
- VIA, Intel, AMD CPU support
- OSCON / POSCAP (solid polymer) capacitors, Japan

I used the next one down in my build (M3-atx), but was only running a micro-atx via based system that only needed a smaller supply, but you mentioned gaming, this one should put out enough juice for gaming if you don't go to crazy on your video card and processor choice.

Laptop. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40491925)

I'm planning on adding some more tech to my car, and I figured the easiest way to go would be to use my old laptop. Already get a battery backup, already designed to be low power, and you can buy a car charger for $20 online so you don't have to mess with inverters or anything. Then I figure I'll just separate the screen from the body, maybe wire up some one-click shortcut buttons into the keyboard, and it'll be done. Not going to help you use your existing monitors, but if you've got any kind of laptop laying around it'll probably be a lot cheaper than messing with inverters and batteries.

You can also buy LCD monitors designed to be mounted in cars (for example, check the 'car audio' section of which shouldn't need inverters either, and they're in the $100-$200 range. Of course, none of the ones I've seen take VGA input, so you'd probably need a laptop with S-Video or perhaps HDMI output. But if you've got that, set it up for separate X sessions for each screen and you should be good to go.

Car stereo buffs solved this long time ago (4, Insightful)

Snjit (18259) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491937)

Check out your local high end car stereo shop. There are off the shelf products that will resolve all your issues; battery isolators, second alternator, inverters, regulators, etc. They'll be able to give you good advice on wiring paths and proper mounting of your equipment as well so its solid.

never ind me (-1, Offtopic)

Alicat1194 (970019) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491949)

Just posting to undo a bad mod

A basement (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491967)

If you're gonna be gaming there, you need to live in your van's basement. Since it probably doesn't have one yet, it stands to reason that this is your new #1 priority.

Also, it will lower your center of gravity and will therefore improve handling.

Re:A basement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492131)

Yes, at this rate, Asker will be able to keep his virginity for long past when your average basement dweller would just go to a prostitute. Viva the van filled with gaming equipment!

Go electric (1)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 2 years ago | (#40491969)

First thing I would do is realize that fuel economy doesn't exist on a '77 GMC van. You can drive one of those down the highway and watch the fuel gauge creep towards empty at an alarming rate.

If you're going to "modernize" it with electrics, you may as well go all the way... install a proper electric battery system and an electric motor/drive system to replace the combustion engine. This will also give you a stable power supply from which you can run the other electronics you want to have. You can also outfit it with a generator and/or solar panels to use when it's parked, if you want to be able to recharge the batteries even partially while away from a charging plug.

Re:Go electric or propane or LNG (1)

mnemotronic (586021) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492257)

Retrofit that 318 with propane. Add some large aerodynamic tubes up top for more hot babe artwork. The implications there are obvious.

Alternative could be supercooled LNG storage in the back

Non-budget (!) asian or european car, or give up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492009)

I have a '77 GMC Van that I would like to take into the 21st century with some good tech.

If you want it to be functional tech:
Buy a non-budget (!) asian or european car, and you are pretty much done. There is no point mounting a touchscreen on your bbs terminal.

If this is a DIY project so you have the best wifi/tv on your favorite camping site, bolt your the (G3 WAN) wifi and tv on and voila done.

You Need to Ask Elsewhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492037)

Go to
    These folks can really help you.

For some real tech (1)

halfdan the black (638018) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492103)

How about swapping in an LS engine out of a newish GM. You get an all aluminum block, and kick ass fuel injection. Some suspension and brake upgraded would also be nice, again off a newish GM truck.

Re:For some real tech (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492431)

Swapping an LS would be a PITA but swapping in a Vortech V6 would be a relatively straightforward job, pretty inexpensive (there's been one listed up here in Lake County, CA with harness and ECU for $500 for a while, off and on) and will put out about the same as a really old (say, 1970s) 350, while reducing weight somewhat and definitely reducing fuel consumption.

security system (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492115)

You are going to want to protect all the equipment that is in the van, you could shell out some money for a good security system or simply put Rape Van on the side of it. Nobody will want to break into a rape van.

How to do it? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492125)

Go out and buy it and install it. [] has all you need for the high tech dash. Add in a nice double din navigation unit or two. Fiberglass in a 15" outdoor transreflective touchscreen monitor and hook up a PC, You can make a custom fiberglass dashboard based off the old one quite easily once you learn fiberglass. []

This is done every day, just check out the custom car shows to find old 1950's trucks with a full digital dash, I saw an awesome slammed, shaved, and chopped 1962 mustang that had all dakoda digital dash and a really cool 15" touchscreen built into the dash.

Or do you mean, "how cant I build a high tech van for little to no money." That I cant help you with. What you want to do will cost several thousand dollars to do it right no matter what direction you choose.

What works for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492143)

I have been living in my truck for most of my life. What works for me may not be what works for you, but I'll describe my setup. I use 2 - 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series to function as a 12 volt battery. Golf cart batteries are designed to put out steady power over a long time, more so than marine batteries. I have an Intelli-Power PD9245C 45 Amp RV Converter/Charger [] that I use to charge my batteries when I'm parked by my friend's houses. It makes sense to take full advantage of grid AC power to charge batteries when it is available. I also can charge my batteries using my truck alternator, or using a portable solar panel which I have, but mostly I just charge my batteries at my friend's houses. I use an Asus 1000HE netbook for most of my computing, because it only uses 11-12 watts. I also have an IPad 2 which only uses 3.5 watts with the screen at half brightness, and 4.5 watts with the screen at full brightness. I extensively tested both the IPad and the Asus netbook using a Kill-a-watt meter. [] Testing power usage of my devices has been important to me because my path has been to lower my power usage rather than to try to have a lot of generating capacity. For lighting at night, I use a 12v LED bulb.

Re:What works for me (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492467)

This guy is right. Use golf car batteries. You have to maintain them, but they are cheap and last for years (as long as they don't boil out when charging).

Replace 8-track Tape Player (2)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492153)

Couple of options here... you can go with the cassette player, or the new "Compact Disks". (2)

RockoW (883785) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492157)

I have done a similar project before. From my experience a very good resource for information is Mp3Car [] . There are a lot of projects with pictures. People over there is very helpful on this matter.

There are many solutions to powering your computers I have used DC-DC power adapter that transforms 12v to ATX compatible power (M4-ATX). It take of engine cranks and any voltage variation. A good place to buy parts is Mini Box [] they have a car computing section.

Absolutely essential tech (1)

puddingebola (2036796) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492197)

Shag carpet, 8 track tape player, disco ball, CB radio, inexplicable ladder on back door (never understood that). What the first guy said about van art of course. Maybe these people can help []

A suggestion for you! (1)

Lisias (447563) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492203)

The difference between a bunch of electronics bundled together and a gadget that everybody wants to use is the design. [] . ;-)

How funny (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492213)

Back in 77, several of my friends had vans. They had a sound system, and a bed in the back. I would say that is about right for an old van.
You might want to have a magnetic sign to put on the back that says either 'taken' or 'if the van is a rockin, don't come knockin'. Or simply hang a tie.

m#od. down (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492245)

moronic, dilettante Only way to go:

Junk Yard (-1)

csumpi (2258986) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492273)

If you want to do good for the safety of yourself and others on the road, send that van straight to the junk yard. It's not cool or historic. It's junk. Instead of burning money on "tech", buy a new, fuel efficient car. I'm actually amazed that nobody's worried about the environment, unless we are talking about global warming.

Options (1)

hardburlyboogerman (161244) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492275)

Use a 2nd battery to run the auxiliary equipment,making sure to have a battery isolator to keep the starting battery separate.
Change the stock 80 amp alternator to a 120 amp or better alternator.You will have to use an external regulator on it.\
I did such customizations to a 1990 and 1992 Ford Aerostar van.Worked out great

Re:Options (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492439)

No, he doesn't have to use an external regulator. He can get internally regulated aftermarket alts all over the place.

If it were a 7.3 Ford he could swap to a 3.8 liter taurus alternator to go from 65 to 130W. Dunno WTF he can do with his tchevy.

What a van... (1)

ultraexactzz (546422) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492287)

...and whoever tagged this article with "Krieger" knows his stuff. Good work.

You're talking about something the RV community.. (3, Interesting)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492313)

solved long ago.

Get yourself some regulated 12V buck-boost supplies. I use a Logic Supply Intelligent DC-DC Converter; good for 10 amps. Then get some 5 VDC regulators from mouser; a Texas Instruments PT78HT205V works nicely.

Now you're ready to rock. Plug a Roku into the 5VDC regulator, a TV into the Roku, and you're almost there.

Get an OpenWRT compatible wifi access point. A Buffalo WZR-HP-AG300HR has more horsepower than you need. Plug a hard drive into it, set it up. Install lighttpd and roconnect, install the ro-cnnect channel on the roku, and you're good to go for movies.

Now install some of the other channels; you can play movies from a usb stick, and there are some music channels.

Set up the wifi access point to serve up the movies and music; now you can stream from your van to your iPod or whatever.

And the whole thing draws about 3 amps, not enough to worry about.

I've done it (4, Informative)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492351)

I've done a lot of stuff like this. So here's my advice:
1. your van likely got 12mpg city when it was brand new... What it gets now is probably a lot worse... so keep that in mind.
2. The alternator is likely already beefy. I'm not sure about your particular model but there are likely even higher amperage alternatives you can get. This will, of course, hurt your millage even further. The key here is to get the power consumed lower than the power produced by the alternator AT IDLE. You can literally drain your batter dead while idling in a parking lot otherwise.
3. for extended life while the engine in off, simply get more batteries. Preferably deep cycle. Get a HIGH amperage relay and put it in-between your primary (starter) battery and your extra batteries then hook the relay on-terminal to the "ON" part of your starter switch. The premise here is that when you start the van. All the batteries are in parralel, but when in ACC mode your equipment is only hooked up to the extra batteries. If you drain them dead, that's fine because the starter battery isn't connected.
4. There are 12volt power supplies (regulators) for computers made for cars. You do not need an inverter and I'd highly recommend against them as they are very inefficient.
5. Laptop diskdrives are designed to take shocks. When choosing drives, laptop drives are your first choice.
6. Por15 and Hurculiner are your best friend on old vehicles. Rip out the carpet, coat it in one or the other and put the carpet back in.
7. Metal vans are bad for wifi... you'll need an external antenna.
8. Don't over-do your stereo. It's dempting but really anything over 200 watts (even the sub) is just to annoy people outside the car.
9. When running your cable for power from your extra batteries, etc... Make sure you put fuses as close to the batteries as possible. If one of your cables rubs and contacts metal, your vans going to go up in flames if it's not properly fused.
10. The cables you use should be bought from a farm implement supplier. (Farm and Fleet, Fleet Farm, etc...) You can get rolls of battery cable the thickness of your index finger, for very cheap. The ridiculous stuff they sell like monster cable, etc... is totally worthless and costs a fortune.

Good luck!

Stupid question... (1)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492385)

When all the answers have been on ./ in the last 2 days: a radar that can see individual raindrops and a lightning bolt weapen!

simple steps. (1)

CrAlt (3208) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492425)

First off I would upgrade the factory alternator wiring. Just hook a heavy gauge wire from the B+ post on the alternator and run that strait to the "+" terminal on the battery. This by passes the undersized factory wiring and stock alternator gauge. Install an after market volt gauge in the van so you can keep an eye on the voltage level when parked.

Second I would install at least a 2nd battery(deepcycle marine) with a battery isolator. If your going to put them inside the van and not under the hood make sure you install them in a sealed and outside vented battery box. Batteries give off explosive gases and thats not something you want in your van.

Third, make sure you size your inverters correctly. They are most efficient near their rated capacity. Running a 200watt load on a 5K watt inverter is a total waste because most of the power is going to be used powering the electronics inside the inverter. Only buy inverters you can find the efficiency charts for. You may be better off running a few smaller ones that you could switch on as power is needed rather then running one big 5,000 watt inverter just to run a playstation and small TV.

And fuses.. Fuses everywhere. Would suck to have your ride go up in flames.

Another online retailer... (1)

Slugster (635830) | more than 2 years ago | (#40492437) look around at is They specialize in mobile PC setups, and have been around at least 6-7 years now...

Though most are not hardly 'gaming' rigs, they will surf, play movies and music just fine. They are micro-form-factor and they can run straight off of 12V systems as well.

...Looking recently, I find the monitors to be shockingly expensive (considering you can get portable DVD players for $100) but then most of them are touch-screens I suppose. A keyboard's not real handy rolling down the road, even for passengers...

Pimp Yo Ride! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40492539)

Dude, just drive the thing. Stop trying to turn it into a geeks paradise. It's cheesy and the fact that you felt the need to ask the question at all shows how shallow you are.

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