How to get electricity in your van

When i started working on Pamthevan I had no idea on how electricity worked. Even after finishing the electrical system i still have no clue. But i guess it’s a bit like using a car while not knowing how it exactly works: you know it’s dangerous and you know you have to be careful!

Electricity can be dangerous, so unless you feel 100% confident you can do it, i would rely on an expert electrician.

That said, with a little practice, loads of reading and some precaution i feel like anybody can install a fairly simply electrical system in their van.

Pamthevan’s system is VERY simple as it only powers the LED lights and an inverter to convert 12v AC to 240v DC.

The two most important pieces of equipment you will need are:

  • a leisure battery, from which you will draw energy to power your devices;
  • some kind of split charge relay to allow you to recharge your leisure battery from the starter battery.


So the first thing you will need to purchase is a so called leisure/marine battery. This battery will be used to draw energy to power your utilities and devices. You don’t want to use the starter battery directly from your vehicle as there is the risk of it getting flat and you getting stuck somewhere. Leisure battery are also more suited to discharge smaller electricity inputs for longer periods while starter battery are developed to give a big electrical input for a very short time to start your car up. The leisure battery will need to be charged from the starter battery of your vehicle while driving (using a split charge relay).

The kind of battery you want for your van depends on your needs. Before purchasing your battery you will need to do some homework to find out how big you need your battery to be (more here). In short, the more AH  a battery has, the more devices you’ll be able to plug in for longer periods of time.

I decided to go for a 110AH battery, as it was the biggest i could afford within my budget. 110Ah should be enough for you to power LED lights a laptop and a phone charger for a couple of days if you are sleeping off grid.

Before you purchase your battery you will also need to find a place for it. You will need to check the measurements of the battery keeping into consideration that you will want to fit it in some kind of box. Most people like to fit the batteries under the passenger seat, however mine didn’t fit, so I had to fix it behind the passenger seat.

I got mine from Amazon, however you can also find good deals at Tanya’s batteries and on Ebay.


A split charge relay system will allow your leisure battery to get charged from the starter battery while driving. A split charge relay will automatically connect the leisure battery to the starter battery while the vehicle is running and automatically disconnecting while the vehicle is off. There are different kinds of split charge systems out there (more here), however i have found the split charge relay the most convenient solution as it doesn’t require any manual switching. You can find ready made split charge kits here and here. The kits will come with everything you need to install the split charge which I’ve found very convenient, especially if you are new to the business.

Those two pieces of equipment are the basis to both simple and more complex van conversion electrical systems.


-A ridiculous amount of coffee has been sacrificed to write this blog post so if you are feeling particularly generous, you can buy me one HERE .

You can also support Pamthevan’s adventures by visiting my Etsy shop HERE -

0 thoughts on “How to get electricity in your van

  1. A split charge relay is an expensive piece of equipment (at 95 pounds or so) which measures the voltage of the input and compares it with the voltage of the output. When the input is 13.5 volts or more, the relay “clicks” and allows electricity to flow from starter battery to leisure battery. A much cheaper alternative exists which is very much cheaper but is a little fiddlier to fit. Go to a car spares shop, and ask for a relay for the headlamps - usually costs two or three pounds. It has 4 stubs. Connect 1 stub to the starter battery, the opposite stub to your leisure battery, the third stub to the van, and the 4th stub to the read lead that powers your radio.. When you switch the ignition on, you power the radio and you hear the relay “click”. Not so simple. but a lot cheaper.

    1. Hi Jan, as someone with no experience/knowledge in the area,I found the split charge relay the most convenient option at the time but I certainly consider this for the next conversion, that’s a lot of savings!

    2. connecting to the read wire of your radio, is not a good idea at all… I have changed my radio, and have it connected to my leisure battery, so my car battery stays safe… why I did that?..because in my radio I have also tv (screen 7 inch)… so when I am parked, I can still listen radio, or watching tv… So dear Jan, your idea is not suitable….

  2. I personally prefer to manually engage the relay. There can be times you don’t want to connect battery 1/2, plus it is dead simple and cheaper to have a “link switch”.

    1. Hi Wolfang, knowing myself, i was sure I would forget to switch it on and off! This way I don’t have to think about it but yes, you are right a “link switch”” is a cheaper solution.

    1. Hi!
      If you want to run a small heater from the cigarette lighter receptacle the heaters in commerce will all run in 12v. As I imagine the cigarette lighter is still connected to your main starter battery and you haven’t got a leisure battery, you will need to be careful not to drain your battery or you will end up stranded. More than worrying about the watts the battery can draw (the heater you linked draws 150watts so your battery should be absolutely fine with that), you should worry about for how long you can use the battery for. To do this you’ll need to do some calculations first. Maybe this thread will come useful . Keep into account that your battery is more likely to be 45 to 60 ah. Hope this helps!

  3. Hi Marina, I’m very inspired by your experience. What I don’t unerstand is how you cope with overheating inside the van during sunny days, when not on the road?

    1. Hi Maria! That’s a very good question, as it has been an issue. When I bought the van the guy told me that it had air con. I later found out that it didn’t so I just managed to make it with a small fan attached to the second battery. Not the best solution let me tell you, it would be better to install a ventilation fan on the roof of the Kangoo. I am thinking about it! 🙂

      1. Propane produces a lot of moisture as well as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide when oxygen gets burned up. If you can keep humidity down then it’s easier to stay warmer. Check out Propex heaters. Expensive, but they keep the gases outside the van. Or as the Vandog Traveller says. Go south in the winter.

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