Introduction: How to Install a Cool Looking Power Panel in Your Vehicle

Picture of How to Install a Cool Looking Power Panel in Your Vehicle
I wanted to share how I built a power panel in my truck consisting of:
2 x 12 volt plugs,
1 x 5 volt usb plug and
2 x 120 volt ac plugs.

Check out my other instructables here

If you like this instructable, do me a favor and shoot me a digg

This is a video podcast I made of the build as well

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

You will need a strip of aluminum, mine was some scrap about 1/8" thick.  I chose aluminum because it is easy to work with when cutting and filing.

You will need a power inverter.  I got mine as a present so I don't know what it cost. luckily it had pop out plugs because I could not find cool ones at the hardware store.  It also had a 5 volt usb plug which I thought would be cool to use.

All vehicles are different but you will need tools to get behind the dashboard plus whatever you are mounting the plugs to.

You will need wire and connectors to attach to the battery and the from the hidden inverter to the plugs. Be sure to use appropriate gauges for what current load you are expecting.

You will also need some inline fuses and a 12 volt extension plug.  The one I got had two outlets side by side.

I used a drill, an angle grinder, a jigsaw some sandpaper and some files.

2 small bolts and nuts to mount the panel.

Step 2: Location and Design

Picture of Location and Design

Where you are going to mount the panel is the first step.
I wanted the plugs to be accessible but not obtrusive.  I chose the floor console right below the drink holders.  this may be a bad idea for people who use the drink holders a lot because you could spill liquid into the plugs causing a short.  I don't use them much so this is where I chose to put my panel.

Once you are firm on a location, you need to design the layout and shape of your panel. I used a program called solidworks to do this but the freely available google sketchup will work fine.

Step 3: Transfering the Template

Picture of Transfering the Template

This is a cool trick I use all the time to transfer patterns.  I cut out the printed template, spray it with spray adhesive and stick it to the aluminum.  I spray the aluminum with a coat of spray paint.  Let it dry a bit and peel off the template.  You will be left with the areas you need to cut out marked with spray paint. Just be careful not to scratch the paint of when working on it later.  If you do though you can repeat the process with the same template again.

Step 4: Shaping the Panel

Picture of Shaping the Panel

I used a drill to drill into the painted areas. Use a bit large enough to fit in a jigsaw blade.  Then rough cut the shapes with the jigsaw.  You can finish the shapes with a file so it looks nice. this is where you will be happy you chose aluminum instead of stainless steel.  test fit everything as you go along. File off all the sharp edges as well.  The small slot for the USB was made by drilling a hole at either end and using some small files to shape the slot.  To give it a cool "brushed finish" all you have to do is run the aluminum back and forth in a straight line over some medium grit sandpaper.  I think I use 220.

Step 5: Ripping Apart the Inverter

Picture of Ripping Apart the Inverter

My inverter looked like it had an aluminum body for heat dissipation but it was just plastic.  I cut the cover apart to allow more air flow.  The on - off switch was mounted on a small circuit board that also had the USB plug mounted.  I desoldered the wires one at a time and replaced them with longer (aprox 3 ft) wires I got from an old trailer harness.  I used a connector from an old car radio to make it easier to pull apart and put back together.  I also desoldered the wires running the 120 volts to the outlets.  These also had to be replaced with longer wires.  I don't know what gauge was used but I used thicker wire than was in place before.  I set up bullet connectors to make it easy to pull this apart and put it back together.

Step 6: Wiring to the Battery and Hiding the Inverter

Picture of Wiring to the Battery and Hiding the Inverter

Use good connectors to attach the wires to the battery.  Again I used a heavier gauge of wire than the inverter unit came with.  After a few comments from my video and a pain in the butt situation I won't go into here.  I have decided to install an inline fuse near the battery even though there is an internal fuse in the inverter.  Run the wires through the engine compartment to the fire wall avoiding any hot or rotating parts. use cable ties where necessary.  I ran the wires through the firewall with the rest of the electrical wires.  You might have to drill a hole but I would avoid it if possible.  From there you need to fish the wires the rest of the way to the location for your inverter. I pulled apart my dash and found an ideal spot to mount the inverter with double sided tape.  The cooling fan is not obstructed and there is more air flow now than when the cover was on the unit.

Step 7: 12 Volt Plugs

Picture of 12 Volt Plugs

I took the 12 volt extension that I bought and wired it into the 12 volt lines from the battery.  Be sure to use a fuse to protect the wires from shorts and your car from catching on fire.  I used Bondo as an adhesive to mount the plugs more as an experiment than anything else and it worked great.  It dries so fast and is easy to work with.

Step 8: Power Switch and 5 Volt Usb Plugs

Picture of Power Switch and 5 Volt Usb Plugs

I mounted the circuit board in the correct location for the usb plug, using wooden wedges, epoxy and double sided tape.  The power switch ended up being too short and on a bit of an angle.  I could have pulled the switch out and soldered wires but I came up with another idea instead. I went to the dollar store and bought a calculator.  I smashed it and took out the AC (all clear) button.  I cut a hole in the console so the button would fit and not AC stands for (alternating current)

There were also leds by the button and I left them buried. To be honest, everything I plug into it has some sort of led to tell me if it is powered up anyways.  I don't need more leds in my truck.

Step 9: 120 Volt Plugs

Picture of 120 Volt Plugs

The 120 volt plugs snapped easily out of the inverter and into the panel.  Im glad they did because I did not want to go and put in a crappy looking house plug.

Step 10: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

Cut the holes in the console to fit the backs of the plugs. Mount the panel using 2 bolts and nuts.  A bit of locktite or a lockwasher will avoid them loosening off.  Run the wires from the inverter under the carpet to the floor console area. Attach the connectors for all the wires and making sure they are all tucked under the console, bolt it back in place.
Put the dash back together last after it has been tested.

Step 11: Rock and Roll

Picture of Rock and Roll
Enjoy the comments when people get into your vehicle.

Please digg this if you found it useful

Don't forget to check out my video podcast for this build:
If you made it this far, you might be interested in our facebook page


Abqlloyd (author)2016-10-18

Abqlloyd (author)2016-10-18

Nice work. I used these.


JamesW33 (author)2016-04-07

This is pretty cool! I'd imagine I'd have to find somewhere else to mount my plugs, though, the BS 1363 plug sockets over here generally have really big borders.

orksecurity (author)2010-07-30

Pretty, though I too would be happier if the sockets were coffeeproofed.

What I might have done differently:

I would have been inclined to leave the inverter box closed (preserving the warranty) and just design a wiring harness that plugged into it and extended the 110VAC and USB connections out to the panel. The only problem with this approach is that your inverter has a push-on/push off switch.

If your inverter had a simple toggle switch, it could be left turned on, and power to the inverter run through a panel switch -- or, perhaps better given the peak power draw, a high-current relay could be controlled by a lower-power switch circuit.  An advantage of the latter is that the switch  could be fed from accessory,  or could be a three-way which tapped either accessory or an always-on circuit, to reduce the risk of leaving the inverter drawing power when it shouldn't and running your battery down. (Same reason dome lights are now three-way, and many headlights go off when -- or shortly after -- key is removed.)

Given the pushbutton... Hm. What happens if the button is held down before/while 12V is applied to the inverter? Would that be enough to cheat it into being externally switchable? If so, rigging something to hold the button down continuously would be easy and -- again -- would probably not void the warranty.

Yeah, the motto here is "If you can't open it you don't own it" -- but if you can find a way to achieve the same result with less work and without having to open it, that's preferable.

toyotero (author)orksecurity2014-06-15

Great project, the final product looks very good.

To solve your coffee issue, you might simply get some of the child-safety outlet covers that pug into the outlet.

JamesW33 (author)toyotero2016-04-07

I wouldn't recommend those if you're sockets have shutters. I know people working with high voltage aren't going to poke small metal bits into the plugs, but to my mind it just isn't worth disabling the built in safety.

Tachyon (author)orksecurity2013-07-23

GIven how cheaply you can pick up inverters, I don't see this as an issue at all. In fact I like the way he did it using the original inverter plugs on a new faceplate.

Norsefalconer (author)2015-06-20

If anyone decides to do an install like this (similar), don't skimp on the wire size and talk to a mechanic with auto or truck electrical experience. I was a Service Manager at a major trucking company garage and I can't tell you how many tractor trailer trucks literally burned to the ground because of improper inverter mounting and use. The main culprit was the wires getting too hot, melting and catching the casing on fire which then ignited other parts of the vehicle. It can be done safely, just be smart and get expert advice/assistance.

chickerson (author)2013-11-19

This is officially my new project

veskeyw (author)2012-12-16

A fuse in a device is to protect the device, a fuse in the wire close to the bat( the closer the better) is to protect the vehicle!

Evolrocker (author)2012-11-06

Awesome Job.

ContainerHome (author)2011-08-03

Thank you for your time and effort GREAT Tutorial - !!!!! You can pick one up from HarborFreight -> for 30 bucks!!

Church1182 (author)2011-04-28

OUTSTANDING!! I have been contemplating doing this in my Xterra ever since I bought it and saw that they already include a 12V in the back. Now I have some better ideas for going about it.
My only thought is to add more USB's. Seems like everything mobile is going to USB charging. If I get around to doing mine I'll let you know how it turned out.

itobor2525 (author)2011-03-04

Good idea but: Did anyone else notice that the (liquid) cup holders are a scant distance from live AC? Why are all 3 leads from the AC plugs the same color (red) instead of black (hot), white (neutral) and green (ground)?

dave spencer (author)itobor25252011-03-04

thanks for skimming my instructable then posting a negative comment that if you had actually read it, looked at previous comments or watched the video you would have found addressed. As for the wires, I used what was on hand and it is not hard to trace back 3 ft of wire.

ratoon56 (author)2011-02-21

I agree with jeffharbert.

whiplash (author)2011-02-04

my only problem with this is working with the 110 volts, i believe all the necessasary regulations should apply to any "high voltage" system wether in a car or not

acutually i do have another problem with this... it wont fit in my car :P

3366carlos (author)2010-10-06

Very cool! You are Mr. Power Supply.

nubie (author)2010-07-18

If you want panel mount power jacks you can find them in the swamp cooler parts section. They are used to connect the water pump to the swamp cooler. I don't know how cool they look, but they should be available from your local hardware store. You shouldn't need to take apart your inverter now.

Darkshot (author)2010-06-29

Thanks for inspiring me for my next little college project! :D I am a gadget-junky but love to create electronics (go figure). Im going to college soon and want a laptop case that not only charges my laptop but also is not a lot of $$$. After seeing your 'ible at the beginning of the contest i realized I could put this exact same principal into the portable design! Basically build a solar powered laptop case, I first need to aquire the materials/money but it'll eventually happen. Im gonna mount the same set-up inside the top of the case, except my whole top will be one whole sheet of almuminum :) Thanks again -Tvman

tranoxx (author)2010-06-20

if you decide you want to run wires to your gps the same way that he did MAKE SURE YOU DONT HAVE SIDE CURTAIN AIRBAGS... that would be bad

dave spencer (author)tranoxx2010-06-20

yeah! that's probably a really good point. Thanks

DieCastoms (author)2010-06-13

Very Nicely Done! I glanced over your instructable at first and spotted the line including "wood wedges, epoxy and double-sided tape" and was honestly expecting a hack-job. I was pleasantly surprised at your end result. As others have said, the aluminum panel looks very neatly done and professional. A few comments I wanted to make: I would love to see some sort of safty covers added at LEAST to the 12 volt sockets. An errant penny in one of those will quickly blow fuses. I understand your comments that you rarely keep drinks in the cupholders, but weird things happen. Child safety covers are easily available for the 110 outlets. I am curious about the cooling characteristics of the inverter. Devices are generally designed to have a specific airflow through them to be sure certain components GET airflow. I wonder what your modification of the case has changed? I am NOT saying the what you did is detrimental, just being curious. Ingenious method of transferring the template to the panel.. just cut off anything that is painted.... All in all, I think it is a really well-done build and I intend to use some of your ideas when I continue on to my own similar project in a 97 Mazda Protege.

dave spencer (author)DieCastoms2010-06-13

Thanks and good point about the 12 v penny catchers. To be honest I always have those two plugs full in my truck. One for my bluetooth and one for my phone charger. My spare empty one is the factory one in the dash. It would probably be a quick and easy hack to create some sort of plug for those though. Again though, if you dropped a penny in or spilled liquid in you are only looking at a blown fuse as a worst case scenario. I see what you are saying about the airflow in the inverter as well but I have used this for over a year with no problems.

legless (author)dave spencer2010-06-17

Hey Dave. Nice job by the way. With all the mention of covers for the sockets, I wondered if the original covers from the inverter might have been used somehow?

dave spencer (author)legless2010-06-17

Yeah, I could have totally reused those. It would have been about 2 minutes with a file to fit them into the panel. Honestly though I just threw them out.

DieCastoms (author)dave spencer2010-06-13

Thank you for an awesomely fast response!
Radioshack and Walmart have carried rubber caps for the 12 volt receptacles, but if you always have something plugged into them, then they would probably be in the way more than useful..  A friend had her accessory fuse start blowing out seconds after replacement and I took her stereo out to check the aftermarket wiring..  I spent at least 90 minutes searching for faults or shorts before she told me that a cellphone charger had fallen apart inside the cigarette lighter socket.  A chrome ring from the tip of the charger was still inside the lighter socket and was cooking fuses almost immediately ......  What a hassle that all was . . .  Oh well.
In my Mazda, originally, there was a stereo head-unit at the top of the dash and a seperate CD player unit further down in the dash.  The aftermarket stereo all fits in the top location, so the bottom unit's bay as well as the ashtray and cigarette lighter areas further down will be replaced by a single aluminum panel.  A new 12 volt outlet with a rubber cover, two 110 outlets, and various toggle switches (for my amplifier, inverter, eventual neon lighting, etc.) will be located in the panel as well.
Also, I really hate that 'ible's comments do not recognize hard returns ...

jdtwelve12 (author)2010-06-04

Slick project. The brushed aluminum looks great. One thing I noticed from the photos was that your cup holders are right behind and above the power outlets. In my car, I often get condensation dripping from the sides of cold drinks. It might just look this way in the pictures, but I wonder if you don't risk shorting from having liquid so close to current?

legless (author)jdtwelve122010-06-17

At risk of getting a flame warning I just have to say it. Geez give the guy a break. He mentioned that there could be problems several times. It is an instructable of how HE built and uses HIS power panel. Above all it can be considered a guide not a rule book. Most writers of Instructables assume quite reasonably I think that people are going to engage their brains before doing some stuff. I never use "cup holders" in my car.

jdtwelve12 (author)legless2010-06-17

No flame war necessary. This was a question for discussion, not a detraction. The author pointed out that he addressed my question in the video, of which I'll admit to having skipped parts. I stand by my comments that he did some slick work and it looks great.

dave spencer (author)jdtwelve122010-06-04

There is absolutely potential for a short to happen from drinks. I don't use the drink holder very often and I am very careful when I do. I did talk about this decision in the instructable and in the video. It was the best spot for me but not for everyone.

Inkydog (author)2010-06-04

Nice! You might want to consider affixing a label showing the maximum wattage above the AC outlets. Never know if someone is going to try plugging a hair dryer into the thing...

PCfreak (author)Inkydog2010-06-06

who would use a hair dryer in a car anyways?

moorea7 (author)PCfreak2010-06-07

How about my 26" CRT TV that I'd love to have along on a camping trip? Can I plug my toaster and griddle in so I can cook breakfast too? - Plenty of opportunities to overload. This probably will not happen while you own the truck, but a future buyer might try this!

legless (author)moorea72010-06-17

This would be really easy to prevent when he sells the car by just removing the inverter. As he said he is careful.

dave spencer (author)moorea72010-06-07

worst case scenario is a blown fuse.

The Arbiter (author)PCfreak2010-06-13

The same people who would use it while showering, hence the "Do not use while showering labels on hair dryers" LOL

Inkydog (author)PCfreak2010-06-07

It's just an example, freak. There are lots of high wattage devices that someone could potentially plug into a car. A number of power tools come to mind. People do dumb stuff. A little caution is better than a burned-out mod.

bowmaster (author)2010-06-06

Cool, I want to put in three sockets so you could have your 3g wifi hotspot and two laptops to have LAN battles in the car. I would also like to find a system to turn this off when the car was off so it wouldn't drain the battery if you left something pluugged in.

ac1D (author)bowmaster2010-06-06

The positive wire, don't plug it to the battery. Plug it to the accessory wire, Either at the start (in most case, it's near the battery. Follow the wire going from it.) or near the keyhole.

dave spencer (author)ac1D2010-06-06

That would totally work but I wanted the option to run stuff while the truck was shut off. I guess I never covered that but the inverter has an alarm and an auto shut off if you drain the battery too far.

jordan_twin (author)dave spencer2010-06-16

You can hook your accesory wire to a twelve volt relay so that when your car is turned on the inverter is also. This will keep you from over drawing your acc. circuit. Then hook up a seperate toggle switch that also turns the relay on. your can use this when your car is turned off and you want the power on. The only problem i see with this design is then you will backfeed current into your acc circuit and power other things like your radio with the toggle but a simple diode in the acc wire will fix the problem

ac1D (author)dave spencer2010-06-06

I wish mine would have an alarm. I have an power inverter in my car because I plug an smoke machine in the trunk, with pipe so the smoke go outside the car. Some day I forgot it in. It drained the battery, so much, it was dead. I needed to get a new one, Canadian Tire were unable to recharge it.

bowmaster (author)ac1D2010-06-06

Cool, thanks.

F22-Raptor (author)2010-06-15

Great instructable and cool video edit. One suggestion: spray some clear coat on the aluminum to protect it from scratches and give it a cool look . If you can mix the clear coat with some black paint that would be even cooler. 2-3 layers of clear coat should be enough.

ii_awesum (author)2010-06-15

Excellent job! I have a Dakota as well and the same needs. The dash outlet is in 100% use powering my XM rig. I opted to put a 12v Acc outlet sideways on the drivers side of the console to keep the drink holder accessible and just in case drinks spill I don't have to worry about getting any on the outlet. I use it to power my 75w inverter which charges my Plantronics headset. It's a bit clumsy but serves the purpose. Dodge did a poor job with storage and organizing in that truck, I might eventually do an instructable on a full center console with storage in the armrest.

fzxdf5 (author)2010-06-14

a nibbler would have worked great here

dave spencer (author)fzxdf52010-06-14

I have never used one, only seen them on tv. Files are cheap if you are not making a lot of them. I'm not sure I could justify the expense and storage of that tool.

fzxdf5 (author)dave spencer2010-06-14

you can pick one up from Home Depot, or simular store or any electical supply house, that is hand operated and is in the $30 range, I think mine is Klien, but it works great and anything you can put into it...stainless is kind of hard upon it

dave spencer (author)fzxdf52010-06-14

hmmm, I might have to go have a look at that. I thought they would be more expensive. thanks for the tip

About This Instructable




Bio: I have had a few careers so far, soldier, school teacher, arborist, millwright. I love change and I love learning.
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