I wanted to add solar panels to my travel truck, which meant installing a sturdy rack to mount the panels on. Instead of buying an expensive roof rack system, I commissioned a simple steel rack at the SLO MakerSpace, and then installed it on the fiberglass camper shell using stainless steel hardware, DIY neoprene gaskets, and a lot of silicone sealant. The solar panel mounts are bolted onto the rack, so we can swap in new brackets if we want to upgrade our panels, or remove them completely and have a cargo rack.

We used:

  • DIY steel roof rack, 36" x 48". Thanks to MakerSpace Nate for the welding help!
  • Masking tape
  • Sharpie
  • Small piece of 2x4 to brace the camper shell while drilling
  • Mineral spirits
  • Black spray paint/primer for metal
  • Stainless steel hardware: flat washer, 1.5" button head bolt, locking washer, nut. We needed 8 sets of hardware for our rack.
  • 2 feet of black webbing, used to create permanent hangers for mounting a cargo net inside the shell
  • 1/8" neoprene sheet gasket, cut to size with scissors. I used this one: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0075DXNTA?psc=1&...
  • Silicone sealant
  • Cargo net, for storing lightweight items. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00K73QBKS?psc=1&...

Tools used:

  • Cordless drill
  • Spray paint handle - optional but highly recommended
  • Caulk gun
  • Scissors
  • Woodburning tool

Step 1: Drilling the Holes and Prepping the Rack

First, I put the rack on top of the camper shell, making sure to align it on all sides. Then I stuck blue painter's tape under each mounting foot, marked the spots for the mounting holes, and removed the rack. Here's the process we used for drilling through the fiberglass, which turned out to be super easy:

  • Drill through the marking tape, staring with the drill in reverse. This gets you through the top gel coat without cracking.
  • Use a fast drill speed, but don't put a lot of pressure on the drill.
  • Have a helper press a piece of wood up from the inside of the shell, to brace it against the pressure of the drill.
  • Drill a slightly larger (1/32") hole than your bolt or screw size. It was tough to get the bolt through several layers of washer/shell/gasket/rack without a little wiggle room.

I drilled all 8 mounting holes with no problem. Using the drill bit as as guide, I measured the thickness of the shell at 1 inch, so I needed bolts about 1.5" long to accommodate the mounting washers and nuts.

Next, I cleaned the rack and panel mounting brackets with mineral spirits to remove grease and dirt, then gave them three coats of black semi-gloss spray paint. The spray can handle is definitely worth the extra $5.

<p>what are the best panels to put on a vehicle???</p>
It all depends on your electrical needs and space. These are 3x 15 watt panels, so not terribly powerful, but they're plastic and fairly durable. For a bit more $, you can get a 150 watt single panel that isn't much bigger but has a glass top with more risk of breakage. Even more expensive are some of the flexible solar panels, which are ideal from a durability standpoint if you have the option. <br><br>
<p>Thanks! I'm building a motorcycle camper, and adding a solar panel to it.</p><p>Good instructions!</p>
<p>what are you using the energy for? Accessory lights, chargers, etc?? </p>
<p>We run a string of LED lights in the evening and a fan (sometimes all night, if it's hot) plus charge phones and laptops. So far we've had plenty of juice! </p>

About This Instructable




Bio: SLO MakerSpace offers tools, training, and consultation services that enable community members to experiment with and master a wide variety of Maker skills. We are ... More »
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