Adding "Shore Power" to a VW Camper Van




Introduction: Adding "Shore Power" to a VW Camper Van

My project before we go on an extended trip was to add 110 "shore power" to our 2002 VW Westphalia Weekender.  I've always been jealous of my neighbor's older Westy with original equipment shore power, so I figured it was time to get my own.

DISCLAIMER:  Working with electricity is DANGEROUS.  If you don't know how to work with 110 electricity, don't try to learn with this project.  Also, please refer to a guidebook to check any of the things I say in the post.

Step 1: Parts

Step 2: Install Power Inlet

I chose to put the inlet on the driver's side rear quarter panel because of easy access through the jack cubby and I wanted the outlets on that side.  Use a 1-7/8" hole saw to drill the hole.  You only want to put ONE hole in your van, so make sure you have the right location and tools - and double check.  Connect one end of the romex and install the inlet per the instructions on the package.  YES, IN THIS STEP YOU ARE TAKING A HOLE SAW TO THE BODY OF YOUR CAR - BE CAREFUL!

Step 3: Cut the Hole for the Outlet

I removed the original ashtray below the rear drink holder and enlarged that hole to fit the outlet box.  This is about the only location in the van that I thought would be both convenient and have enough room to install it.  

Step 4: Run the Wire

A "fish tape" comes in handy for this, but you can probably to it with a coat hanger if you don't have one.  I found that removing the rear speaker made it a lot easier also.  Don't remove any of the panels, just fish the wire through the space between the panel and the body.  I ran a second piece of wire from the outlet box to the front seat so that I can also install a battery charger for the RV battery - that is next week’s project.

Step 5: Modify the Outlet Box

My chosen location for the outlet has a body contour behind the panel (first picture, where the duct-tape is.  To install the box, I need to cut out a chunk.  (This makes the volume of the box smaller, which might make it a little harder to wire.  If you are a stickler for following housing building code in your van modification, you would have to measure the remaining volume to make sure it it still big enough.)  The Dremel saw and liberal use of JB-Weld took care of the required modification.  I used an "old-work" box because it has installation tabs that snug up against the panel and keep the box secure.

Step 6: Install the Outlets

Install the outlets just like you would in a house - make sure the GFI outlet is the 1st to be connected or the other outlet won't be protected.  The GFI outlet gives you protection if there is anything wrong with the power you are plugging into, or if a short occurs anywhere in the system.

Step 7: Install the Wallplate and Test!



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    11 Discussions

    A couple of notes/corrections. The GFCI will not protect against short circuits. Fuses/circuit breakers do that, and they are only expected to protect the wiring, not appliances attached to the wiring. That is why breakers are sized to the wire ampacity, not the anticipated load. The GFCI works by detecting an imbalance between the current passing out the hot line and returning (for lack of better terms) to the neutral line.

    Also- and most importantly- I have noticed that you do not mention bonding Ground to the body of the vehicle, so you have created an EXTREMELY dangerous and possibly deadly situation if the hot line ever comes in contact with the frame. If this was to occur, the vehicle would be at 120v potential. While inside the vehicle, there would be no danger to the occupants. However, if someone walked up and touched the vehicle, or if you stepped out of the vehicle while touching the car, you would be shocked.

    Also, not having the frame isolated from the ground reduces the safety the GFCI can provide. Please be careful!


    This was briefly mentioned by the author, so I just thought I should put more emphasis on the type of wire used in this project. Make sure you do not use regular household wiring, extension cords, or anything not specifically designed for this application! Chances are you do not have the proper wire already available at home. If you use the wrong wire, you run a major risk of causing a fire, shock, etc. Make sure you use the "marine grade" wire or an equivalent; "direct burial" cable might be suitable too. Remember this wire will be subjected to big temperature changes, humidity, possibly ultraviolet exposure, and serious vibrations that regular wiring is never expected to see.

    Also I would strongly advise not to modify any electrical boxes. If you cannot find a box that fits your space, go to a proper electrical supply store and talk to them. They will be happy to help you find a specialty box, likely for less money than would be spent modifying your own. This could mean the difference between a small electrical fault, and a major fire.

    i would have to suggest an inline fuse. or circuit breaker incase a major surge happens and doesnt catch your van on fire. of course that is the very worse case that could happen but as the saying goes better safe than turned into charcole in the middle of the night!

    4 replies

    The ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is designed only to protect against leaks to ground, such as when someone is getting a shock and/or if water gets into an outlet or device. This is very different from a fuse or breaker which provides overload and surge protection, like if you plug a hair dryer and a microwave into the same outlet. Without a fuse/breaker, you risk overloading the wiring which could melt and cause a fire. Both the GFCI and the fuse/breaker do different things, and I feel that it is very important that a breaker or fuse be installed in addition to the GFCI.

    Thanks for the question. The outlet box comes with tabs that rotate and tighten up against the back of the door panel my turning a screw. That is the feature of "old work" outlet boxes - they slip right in the hole and then snap into place. You can see the mounting tab on the top right corner of the box in this picture:

    That box is also referred to as a 'Remodel Box' in some areas. Ask for that if the guy at the hardware store looks at you funny when you ask for an 'Old Work' outlet box.

    Thanks!  First time I've dared to cut a hole in the body of a car (well, at least the body of a good car.

    Thanks for the question. The outlet box comes with tabs that rotate and tighten up against the back of the door panel my turning a screw. That is the feature of "old work" outlet boxes - they slip right in the hole and then snap into place. You can see the mounting tab on the top right corner of the box in this picture: