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

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

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

Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the comments when people get into your vehicle.

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Don't forget to check out my video podcast for this build:
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