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We bought our 2016 LWB Transit Connect for the purpose of converting it into a road trip vehicle. We often drive long distances to ski (we live in Michigan and there aren't any mountains here) and ride mountain bikes. The van is intended to serve those use cases. It isn't intended to be lived out of for long periods of time, it just needs to be comfortable enough to pull off the road when we get tired and catch some good sleep. When we get to the destination, we will stay in more legitimate accommodations (VRBO, AirBnB, etc...).

I'll start with the electrical system. Having slept in my various cars (Subaru WRX and Subaru Forester), I knew that we had to invest in keeping warm. If I had my say, I'd invest in better sleeping bags and be done with it. Mrs. Chong, on the other hand, was having none of that idea. It was heated blanket or bust. Luckily, I have some friends who are electrical engineers. They helped me design a power system that will power the heated blanket we bought for a full 1.5 days without recharging. The BOM for this system is as follows:

2 Optima YellowTop D31t 75Ah Deep Cycle Batteries

Battery Boxes

Blue Sea Systems 120A DC Add a Battery Kit

Noco Genius 10AMP 1 Bank Battery Charger

3 Blue Sea Systems Fuse Block Terminals

3 125A Blue Sea Systems Terminal (slow blow) Fuses

Blue Sea Systems 6 Circuit DC Fuse Block

1000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter

Combination Cigarette Lighter and USB Outlets (DC)

2AWG Copper Wire

And various other bits for wiring up the circuits.

The first thing to do was to run the wiring from the engine compartment into the cabin. We ran this through the stock grommet in the firewall behind the glove box on the passenger side. We ran one 2AWG wire to the positive battery terminal and one 2AWG wire to the stock chassis ground next to the battery. We installed one of the Fuse Block Terminals and Slow blow fuses between the starter battery and the add a battery kit:

IMG_1624.jpg

We then got to work on wiring up the rest of the kit. Here's a shot of the panel I made for the Add a Battery Kit and the DC Fuse Panel:

IMG_1630.jpg

That panel lives in that little cubby beneath the passenger seat. Here's an in-progress shot of wiring up the batteries, charger, and inverter:

IMG_1647.jpg

 

You can see that every single battery has a fuse on the positive terminal. This should keep the system from drawing too much current. If something needs more than 125A, that likely wouldn't be good. It will be neat to see what that inverter does when I finally power it on with a load. Those fuses are rated to sustain 2x the current load they are rated for, for a duration of 1 second, I believe (I'm not an expert on this stuff, but I have friends that design the transformers that live on the global electrical grid, they signed off on the design).

And the forum is now telling me I'm at the attachment limit for a single post. Really need BBCode so I can link these from flickr. To be continued...

 

Edited by chong

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The original plan was to try and store the batteries under the floor extension. While they will fit, it wasn't going to work out to be a good situation. We decided that they would live behind the passenger seat.

IMG_1648.jpg

The next phase of the build would be insulation. We are hardcore skiers, and it gets COLD at night. We've used a lot of different types of insulation in our build. We have 12" thick rolled attic insulation fully wrapped in vapor barrier under the floor extension.

IMG_1633.jpg

Edited by chong

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We used Frost King 1/8" thick duct insulation on the floor and ceiling.

 

IMG_1638.jpg

Above that we used 2 layers of 1/2" thick closed cell foam board insulation on the floor. The plywood in this shot is just weighing everything down while the glue sets up and dries.

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As you can also see, we built everything up so that we can still get under the floor extension, if necessary.

The next phase was putting down the plywood floor. This was pretty simple, just cut a 4x8' sheet of plywood down to 4x7' or whatever the length of the cargo area is. That gives us the flexibility to screw everything down to that and not put holes in the sheet metal.

We took Torton's basic cabinet design and modified it a bit. We have batteries and an electric cooler that we need to accommodate so our front cabinet is a bit bigger. We are still planning to utilize the drawer concept that he came up with, but we aren't finished with that just yet. This is where the cooler will live. It will slide in and out on a 2' long 500lbs capacity set of drawer glides.

IMG_1672.jpg

IMG_1672.jpg

Edited by chong
fix error on thickness of foam board insulation

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One of the stretch goals was to be able to load a bike or 2 into the van with all of the cabinets in place. Given the fact that we had to increase the cabinet for the cooler, only the smaller bikes (eg: dirt jump bikes) will fit, but we're still pushing forward with building up a drawer that pulls out the back of the van. This drawer will be 4' long and mounted on 500lbs capacity drawer glides similar to the cooler. This will end up being a nice large table. Plenty of capacity both on the roof and the hitch to cart bikes around so not a big deal.

IMG_1676.jpg

Some more random shots coming up in the next few posts...

 

Edited by chong

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View from the back with the "bed" platform folded up.

IMG_1675.jpg

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Bed flipped out.

IMG_1671.jpg

Edited by chong

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The batteries final resting place. Everything is secured down.

IMG_1678.jpg

I cut a 2" hole into the bumper of my brand new car to mount up this plug. The other side of it plugs into that battery charger in the previous picture.

IMG_1669.jpg

IMG_1668.jpg

That's about where the project stands right now. Obviously the craftsmanship of the cabinets and stuff is pretty low. Everything is simply sanded and polyurethaned to avoid splinters and make it water resistant. We are shooting for function over form as we're preparing for a 2000 mile (each way) trip from Michigan to the Banff National Park in Alberta. The car has to be warm and it has to provide a restful sleep while on the road.

The plan is to make refinements during the summer when its not as cold outside!

 

Edited by chong

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Nice .  Can't wait to see the rig with all the gear aboard.

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Optima, Blue Sea, & NOCO are all quality parts.  You should have no problems with that set-up.  Oftentimes, the failures come by way of lesser quality parts.  You could easily save $$$ on a couple of cheap batteries, and other off brand parts that you could source online.  Yeah, save money on a battery today; have failed system tomorrow.

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And that's exactly how I rationalize spending $1200 on electrical equipment. The system is first class, and it should operate for a very long time.

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Now you can add a Painless fuse block for anything else that you might want.

 

http://www.painlessperformance.com/webcat/30004

 

Weatherproof Universal Style Pre-Wired 20 Circuit Fuse Block By Painless Performance

This weatherproof 20 circuit universal fuse block is a great starting point for custom wiring jobs that need something rugged and dependable that can withstand the elements. It comes fully assembled with wire leads that you can connect to your existing wiring and is completely sealed from the elements for trouble free performance. Includes mounting bracket.

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I like your electrical setup. I have been considering adding a aux battery to mine as well. This post is great. I also was considering placing the battery under the floor extension, which you said wasn't going to work out. What was the difficulty about that idea?

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While it didn't work for me, it may work for you. My biggest issue was the size of the batteries. There is one spot on each side of the floor that the battery boxes would fit, but then I wouldn't be able to put the steps back in. Here's a shot of when I had them under the floor.

30656531080_7cb473e5a3_k.jpg

There is certainly room under there, but I would have had to fabricate my own stairs. The other point is that if something went wrong under there, I'd have to spend a LOT of time taking everything apart. As it stands now, they are in a cabinet and I just have to yank 3 screws. I'm planning to put a nicer looking door there in the future for easy access. I do still have some electrical down there, but now its just a secondary chassis ground so everything doesn't have to go ~10-15 feet back into the driver's side of the engine compartment. 

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On 12/3/2016 at 7:32 AM, G B L said:

Nice .  Can't wait to see the rig with all the gear aboard.

Here's a bit of a teaser from when we test fit the ski box. I had to take a jigsaw to my nice box in order to make it fit the bars.

25324246489_2453564dc1_k.jpg

For our upcoming trip, the bikes will go on our Thule T2 hitch rack. 

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Our mattress gets delivered tonight! We got 3 custom cut sections of 4" firm memory foam to make up our bed/futon/whatever. The Foam Factory is a local company that makes memory foam mattresses. They are pretty nifty. You can actually send them a CAD drawing and get things more custom if simple rectangles aren't your thing. I can't wait to get that installed. I really hope its comfortable. Our real bed is a Tempurpedic, I have a difficult time sleeping on anything else. I'm planning to sleep in the van in the driveway over the weekend to test it out. Hopefully it gets colder so I can do a real test.

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Looks very nice.

You want to load the inverter and make the fan work. It looks like the inverter will be right under someone's head.  It would be an unpleasant surprise on a very cold night in the middle of South Dakota.

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16 hours ago, G B L said:

Looks very nice.

You want to load the inverter and make the fan work. It looks like the inverter will be right under someone's head.  It would be an unpleasant surprise on a very cold night in the middle of South Dakota.

I don't have any use for the inverter right now so its just completely off. It has a remote on/off switch which is pretty nifty.

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Cool. You said you wanted it for the electric Blankets That would make quiet operation important

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12 hours ago, G B L said:

Cool. You said you wanted it for the electric Blankets That would make quiet operation important

Found heated blanket designed for cars. It's 12V DC and plugs into a cig lighter. Claims to draw less than 10A too.

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Sounds  Very nice, Remember the amount of heat produced is watts. So the amount of power is the same for 12 volts and 110. Ten amps kills one of your batteries in less than 10 hours. Looking forward to the finish with the pre expedition pictures.

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So last night a buddy and I did a little hardware hacking. Mrs. Chong informed me that at least one night last week, the overnight temperature in Regina Saskatchewan dipped down to -40C. For those that don't know, -40 is the convergence point (-40C = -40F). That level of cold is bad for things on many levels and is the reason that many cars sold in Canada ship with dealer installed block heaters stock. I'm going to be reaching out to my local Ford dealer to see if I can get a block heater installed in my van before we leave, but I'm also going to have a contingency, Fobuino...

IMG_1698.JPG

What you are looking at is the inside of a Ford dealer installed 1-Way Remote Start Transmitter wired to an Arduino UNO. My buddy has been telling me that this is something I should be doing for van road trips for awhile now. I kept pushing it back until I found out just how cold it gets up there. My buddy was in charge of hardware and I was in charge of the software. I do write all kinds of software everyday at work so this wasn't too challenging for me. The Arduino is a very easy platform to pick up and develop on. Pressing the button is simply closing a circuit. We used the Arduino complete the circuit and start the car. I wrote some very simple code to do this every hour. I configured the remote start settings in the cluster to run for the max time of 15 minutes and configured the heater settings to use the last settings from the climate control. Now all we have to do before shutting the engine off to climb into bed is crank the heat and the fans. Fobuino will handle the rest.

I've made the code available under the MIT license. Version 1.0 seems to work pretty well. In the future, we plan to hook Fobuino into the OBD2 port to read the Engine Coolant Temp Sensor and use that to start the van rather than a simple timer. We didn't have all the hardware to do that last night, so the timer will work for now.

Check it out on GitHub!

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1 hour ago, chong said:

 

I've made the code available under the MIT license. Version 1.0 seems to work pretty well. In the future, we plan to hook Fobuino into the OBD2 port to read the Engine Coolant Temp Sensor and use that to start the van rather than a simple timer. We didn't have all the hardware to do that last night, so the timer will work for now.

Check it out on GitHub!

That is awesome

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What kind of block heaters they install in Canada? Pretty much all TC here have diesel fuel based Webasto or Eberspächer coolant heater standard, independent, programmable and/or remote controllable.

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