How to Install a Cool Looking Power Panel in Your Vehicle




I have had a few careers so far, soldier, school teacher, arborist, millwright. I love change an...
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

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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.

Please digg this if you found it useful

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


    3 years ago


    3 years ago

    Nice work. I used these.

    Ford BC3Z-19N236-A - SOCKET ASY - ADDITIO


    3 years ago

    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.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    3 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 3 years ago

    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.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    4 years ago on Step 11

    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.


    5 years ago

    This is officially my new project


    6 years ago on Step 6

    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!


    8 years ago on Step 5

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


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    8 years ago on Step 11

    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)?

    1 reply

    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.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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