Feb 12, 2019 update to the Ford E-250 project car

Project Van: Adding an Inverter

We’re working on turning this $2000 van into a do-it-all machine that can tow a car to the track, then serve as a mobile workshop and hotel room for the weekend. Up next: adding electricity.

Electricity is pretty useful–that’s why most houses have it, after all–but it’s not particularly easy to find at the track or at the camping site. In order for our budget tow vehicle to run power tools and a coffee maker, we’d need to add a source of 120-volt electricity.

We considered a generator, but dismissed that idea. Generators are expensive and noisy, and many government-run campgrounds in our area ban them. Plus, they take up a fair bit of space and can make a van smell quite bad.

Instead, we turned our search towards inverters. How do you pick the correct size? Look up the requirements of the largest appliance you’ll be running, then buy an inverter big enough to handle it. In our case, our largest draw would be the coffee maker. Mock us all you want, but there’s nothing better than waking up in a cold paddock to a nice hot cup of coffee. It’s rated to draw 1200 watts, meaning we were hunting for at least a 2000-watt inverter.

And, during a trip to Harbor Freight Tools, we found one on the clearance rack for $100. Score! But now we had to install it.

After confirming that the open-box item worked, we set down to do some math. We determined that in order to pull 2000 watts six feet from the battery, we’d need 0 gauge wire. We fired up Amazon, and found a kit with 25 feet of wire and an ANL fuse box with a 200 amp fuse for $31. It’s meant for wiring subwoofers, but after confirming it really was 0 gauge wire, we decided to give it a shot. A 200 amp fuse isn’t really a big enough fuse for this inverter’s 4000-watt peak capacity, but we figured we should err on the side of caution with Harbor Freight products. Plus that 4000-watt peak would only be for very brief periods of time, hopefully not enough time to blow our fuse.

After mocking up a few locations, we decided that we wanted to put the inverter under the passenger seat. Why? It wouldn’t eat up any space in the van, it would be easy to access from both inside and outside of the van, and it was close to the van’s main battery, as well as the factory frame-mounted battery box that was installed on diesel Econolines. Down the road, we’re planning to add a second battery with one of those boxes, so consider this planning ahead.

Luckily, a quick test fit confirmed our in-store eyeball measurement. It would fit!

Bye seat!

Next, we needed to figure out where to route the huge wires. Notice we said wires, plural. An inverter this big needs a good ground, too–we weren’t willing to just screw it to the seat frame.

We found an opening in the vinyl flooring where a better-optioned van would have had wiring, and peeled it back a bit: Success! There was a grommet that’s the perfect size. And the wires fit like they’re factory. We ran the postive cable in plastic casing down the van’s frame, while the negative cable goes down to a factory ground strap bolt on the frame.

We cut a scrap of plywood to act as a mount, and called it done. Now we have a ton of power that doesn’t take up any space. The seat has a full range of motion, too.

Success! Now we can brew coffee anywhere, run a grinder on the side of the road, and more.

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View comments on the GRM forums
a_florida_man Reader
2/12/19 9:59 p.m.

Is it a square wave inverter, or a sine wave?

You want a sine wave, some electronics, especially things like battery chargers for tools don't like square wave.




wae SuperDork
2/12/19 10:35 p.m.

Being able to step out of bed and stroll through the paddock/camping area first thing in the morning on a two-day event with a hot cup of coffee in your hand is one of the most sublime pleasures of motorsport.  

I see a "power level" gauge on the inverter.  Does that have some way to shut itself down to preserve starting power in the battery just in case?  

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
2/13/19 8:39 a.m.

In reply to a_florida_man :

It's a square wave. Yes, a pure sine wave would be better, but we've used these cheap inverters for years without issue. It charges tool batteries just fine. At the end of the day, it was a great deal, which is why we chose it.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
2/13/19 8:40 a.m.

In reply to wae :

Agreed! It doesn't have an automatic shut-down, but we usually have the engine running while we're using it for big stuff, anyway.

californiamilleghia Reader
2/13/19 9:00 a.m.

I had thought about adding a 2nd battery under the passenger seat with an switch so it would not pull down the vans main battery , 

Does the inverter make any buzzing sounds ?


Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
2/13/19 10:24 a.m.

In reply to californiamilleghia :

Nope, the only noise is from the cooling fan, which runs under heavy loads.

a_florida_man Reader
2/13/19 11:04 a.m.
Tom Suddard said:

In reply to a_florida_man :

It's a square wave. Yes, a pure sine wave would be better, but we've used these cheap inverters for years without issue. It charges tool batteries just fine. At the end of the day, it was a great deal, which is why we chose it.

Cool. Glad to hear you were aware. Many folks aren’t. Love the van project. 

93gsxturbo SuperDork
2/13/19 12:03 p.m.

May want to mount that lil guy right-side-up.  For extended run time it a warm environment you may run into cooling issues having the heat sink upside down and buried in the floor.  I know most car amps are unhappy mounted that way if run for a long time in a hot environment.  

I do love a nice cup of coffee in the morning outdoors, definitely one of life's simple pleasures.  I make mine on an old Coleman stove, so I can also make some eggs and bacon!

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
2/13/19 12:14 p.m.

The heat sink is about 1/2" from the floor, and over the past two years it's been fine. I've even run my house off of it through a transfer switch!

iceracer UltimaDork
2/13/19 6:56 p.m.

Do you have 167 amp. input ?  At least that is what you need for 2000 watts.    How many watts does the coffee maker draw ?    My Mr. Coffee doesn't say.

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