In the past, hopping into your van and driving aimlessly along the open roads was nothing more than a pipe dream. While you might have been able to take a day trip, it would be hard to manage very long without light, kitchen appliances and heat or air conditioning.
Table of Contents
- What Is a 12v Inverter?
- How Do I Install an Inverter in a Van?
- What’s the Difference Between Inverters and Converters?
- How Does a Camper Van Power Inverter Work?
- What Is the Best Power Inverter to Buy?
- Which Brand of Inverter Is Right for you?
- How Do You Build Your Own Pure Sine Wave Inverter?
- Get Help Finding a Power Inverter for your Van
Nowadays, thanks to advancements in technology, more and more people are able to spend extended periods of time in their vans. Devices like 12v inverters let you power everything you need to live comfortably, making for a lovely and luxurious journey. Here’s everything you need to know about 12 volt power inverters, from how they work to how to choose a great option for your van life journey.
What Is a 12v Inverter?
To understand what a power inverter for vans is, you have to first recognize the difference between DC and AC power:
- DC (Direct Current): This current only flows in one direction. It’s used to power electronics that rely on batteries (such as cell-phones).
- AC (Alternating Current): This current changes directions (which also alters the voltage amounts). It’s used to power corded appliances, such as televisions, kitchen supplies and HVAC systems.
In a standard home, you power most of your household items by plugging them directly into a socket, which serves as a connection to your home’s electrical system. Vans, however, don’t have the large-scale infrastructure found in houses. To power your van appliances, you’ll need to purchase an external power source (such as a 12v battery).
Once you get your battery, you’ll need a 12 volt battery inverter to change your DC power to AC power. This will let you power lights, 12 volt refrigerators, computers, televisions and any other appliances you have in your van. Simply connect your van life inverter to the 12v battery, plug in your AC devices and you’ve got a strong, portable power supply on your hands.
How Do I Install an Inverter in a Van?
Installing an inverter into a van depends largely on the size of your camper or cargo van power inverter. Small inverters can be conveniently plugged into your van’s cigarette lighter or an accessory socket. However, van inverter installation becomes more complex if your product is large.
If you have a large, 12v inverter (500 watts or more), you’ll need to wire it to the battery with an in-line fuse. Before wiring an inverter into a van, consider where you want to place it. Van inverter set-up can be done in the following places:
- Under a seat
- Under the dashboard
- In the glove compartment
- Directly on the floorboards
- In the garage area under your bed setup
The electronics you plan to plug in should be able to easily access the 12v DC AC power inverter. For instance, if most of your electronics are near the front of your van, then you probably don’t want to put the 12v inverter in the back. However, if your appliances are situated toward the back of your van, then the garage area may be the ideal spot. Once you’ve settled on a place, you can move forward with connecting the van life inverter to your battery.
How to Wire an Inverter in a Van
To wire your inverter for vans, you’ll need to connect the battery to your inverter (ideally with a cable). The length of the cable depends on the distance between the 12v inverter and the battery. Try to use a thick wire, as well as a fuse or circuit breaker, for protection. The table below outlines general cable size recommendations:
|Inverter size||<3ft||3ft – 6ft||6ft – 10 ft|
It’s important to keep in mind that these are just general estimates — the actual recommended cable size varies from van to van. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to follow for those who are unsure of what cable type to buy.
Gathering your supplies can take time. If you’re set on completing the entire installation process on your own, you may want to just get all of your supplies in bulk by investing in a kit.
Inverter Kits for Vans
A camper van inverter kit comes with everything you need to properly install your van life inverter, including DC to AC inverters, cables, lugs and fuses. Some may also offer a van inverter wiring diagram online to help give you a visual representation of the task. You can find van inverter kits by visiting the following brands:
- Callidus (leisure battery inverter kit)
- Thor Power (full camper van electrical wiring conversion kit with inverter)
- eBay (cheap inverter kits)
Whether you purchase a kit or just gather the supplies on your own, it’s important to follow proper safety guidelines throughout the process.
Van Inverter Installation Safety Tips
A 12v to 240v or even 110v inverter can be dangerous to handle. Not only can those volts of electricity damage your items, but they can also cause bodily harm. As you move forward with the installation, keep the following safety tips in mind:
- Put the inverter on a flat surface (horizontally or vertically)
- Avoid areas with water/oil/acid contamination (such as under the hood)
- Avoid heating vents and any location that puts the 12v inverter in direct sunlight
- Make sure the inverter will not get wet (and do not use if it is exposed to moisture)
- Try to keep the external temperature between 50° and 80° F
- Keep your inverter well ventilated (do not crowd items around it)
If assembling and installing the inverter is too complicated for you, it might be better to hire a professional instead. Not only can professionals handle the job safely, but they can also perform it faster than the average person. In general, van inverter installation costs about $1,000 to $1,500. However, prices vary depending on the size and location of the 12v inverter.
What’s the Difference Between Inverters and Converters?
When looking for inverters for van conversion, you may have come across a product called a “12 volt AC to DC converter.” Converters are essentially the opposite of inverters – they turn AC power into DC power. They’re most commonly used to power 12v battery banks.
If you want to use both an inverter and a converter, you can invest in an “inverter/charger.” This device combines both products, letting you power AC and DC electronics. While these may be slightly more expensive due to the dual function, the way they work is similar to how your standard inverter for vans functions.
How Does a Camper Van Power Inverter Work?
12v AC inverters have been around since the 19th century. The earliest versions relied on an electromagnet – when the DC current hit the magnet, it would pull a wire attached to a spring. This spring would then change the flow of the current.
These older models were often clunky and released an irritating, buzzing sound. Fortunately, inverters for vans have improved over time. New versions are made with transistors, which make up oscillating circuits that are capable of changing the current direction with ease. However, not all van life power inverters are created equal. Rather, they differ in wave type, watts and volts.
Types of Waves in 12v Inverters
As your 12v battery and inverter get to work, the current will release waves that impact your powering abilities. There are three types of waves:
- Square waves
- Modified sine waves
- Pure sine waves
Alternate current creates a sine wave – this is the wave you get from the outlets in your house. An unfiltered camper or sprinter van inverter, however, makes a square wave, which is not as strong as the pure sine waves we enjoy at home.
To turn a square wave into a sine one, your power inverter for van life will need to be filtered, or enhanced with extra technology (like resistors and capacitors). A cheap inverter lacks filters, resulting in a square wave that’s good for minimal powering needs (such as powering a coffee machine or simple motor). A mid-priced 12v inverter for RVs can produce a modified sine wave, which can support more complex items (such as water pumps and phone chargers).
If you want to power a large appliance, such as a refrigerator or a microwave, you’ll need a pure sine wave. These are the most powerful inverters, and are generally considered to be the best for vanlife.
12 Volt Battery Power Inverter: Watts
If you look at 12v inverters online, you might notice that you can choose between small inverters and big inverters. This doesn’t refer to the physical size of the inverter – rather, it refers to the amount of watts (a unit of power) it can support. The smallest inverter will only be able to support a few hundred watts, which is enough to power a laptop and some lights. The biggest inverter, on the other hand, is capable of supporting thousands of watts, which is enough to power multiple appliances at once.
To decide, which size campervan inverter you want, consider the following:
- What appliances you want to power
- How many appliances you want to power at once
- How many people are in the van
If you’re traveling alone, you’ll be more than satisfied with a 1000 watt battery inverter. With a 12 volt, 1000 watt inverter, you can power a 600 watt coffee machine and use your 300 watt computer simultaneously.
On the other hand, if you’re traveling with multiple people and plan to use several appliances, then a 1000 watt RV inverter is unlikely to be enough. If you want to keep your refrigerator plugged in and use other devices, you should consider something stronger, such as a 3,000 or even 5,000 watt power inverter for a van.
12 Volt DC Power Inverter: Volt Conversions
Not every work van power inverter will tell you how many watts it can support. Instead, you might see the voltage amount. For example, if you see “12v to 120v inverter efficiency,” this means that the inverter takes your 12 volt DC battery and produces 120 volts of AC power. Generally speaking, the higher the voltage conversion, the more powerful the inverter.
If you know how many amps your 12v inverter draws, you can calculate the watts by multiplying amps by the AC voltage. For instance, if you have a 12v to 110v inverter that draws 4 amps, then it can support up to 440 watts. Most inverters for vans will list both these amounts.
What Is the Best Power Inverter to Buy?
Now that you understand how 12 volt inverters for caravans work, it’s time to pick one of your own. However, with so many options out there, you might be wondering – which inverter do I buy? And who makes the highest quality inverters for vans?
To find the right inverter for your needs, consider the following:
- Your budget
- Your powering needs
- The size of your van
If you have a large van, intend to power several appliances and have the budget to afford it, then you’ll probably prefer a pure sine wave inverter with a high voltage or watt amount. However, if you don’t plan to use too many appliances at once, you can probably manage with a modified sine wave inverter or one with a low wattage amount. Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, the next step is to find a seller that offers it.
Which Brand of Inverter Is Right for you?
The last thing you want is to spend $100’s of dollars only to discover that it doesn’t actually meet your needs. To help you find the right inverter, we’ve looked at dozens of options and assembled a list of the best options for vanlife.
Largely known for its solar products (including 12v solar inverters), Renogy offers a wide range of high-quality power inverters. Its emphasis on durability and longevity have helped Renogy earn its place on the list of best power inverter brands. Here are a couple of their top products:
Renogy 2000w Inverter Charger
The Renogy 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter is an all around great option for van conversions. It offers a low transfer time, which means it can be switched from solar to shore power with no interruptions. This 12 volt 2000 watt power inverter charger also uses clean energy, which is ideal for the environmentally conscious user. If you need a stronger wattage, the RV inverter 12v to 120v (3000w) also fares well in DC power inverter reviews.
Renogy 1000w 12v Pure Sine Wave Inverter
This 1000w pure sine wave inverter is one of the best-rated inverters by Renogy. It creates an advanced, quiet pure sine wave and is equipped with safety tools (such as cooling funds and ground-fault circuit interrupters). This 12 volt pure sine wave power inverter also protects and expands the lifespan of your electronics. If you’d prefer a charger, then you might like the 1000w pure sine wave inverter charger instead.
When discussing power inverters for vanlife, you can’t leave Krieger off the list. Along with customized door and windows, Krieger is known for making some of the most reliable power inverters. If you’re wondering about the differences between a 1000 vs a 2000 watt inverter, Krieger has both. Here’s a closer look at each of these products.
Krieger 1100 Watt Inverter
This 1100 watt modified sine wave inverter offers more than enough power for tools, televisions, home electronics and RV appliances. In addition to being protected by heavy-duty aluminum casing, it has an LCD display that shows output wattages, input voltages and battery levels. Together, these features make it another great option.
Krieger 2000w Inverter
If you’re looking for a 12 volt 2000 watt inverter that will stand up to heavy power demands, then this product fits the bill. It builds upon your standard 1000 watt modified sine wave inverter by supporting small air conditioners and larger van appliances. This version also comes with a wired remote control and 3-year warranty.
While the brand may have a goofy name, KickAss power inverters don’t compromise on inverter quality. According to caravan inverter reviews, this Australian brand offers some of the most efficient inverters that you can find online. You can choose anywhere from the standard KickAss1000w inverter all the way to the ultra-powerful KickAss 3000w inverter.
KickAss 3000w Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter 12v to 240v AC
If a 1000w 12v to 240v inverter isn’t enough to meet your powering expectations, then this inverter (12v 240v) might do the trick. Able to support up to 3,000 watts, this model comes with high surge protection and a remote control option.
KickAss 2000w Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter 12v to 240v AC
With a 12 volt to 240 volt inverter efficiency, this product can support several of your van appliances, from your television to your kitchen supplies. While this 240v inverter for vans is slightly less powerful than the 3000w model, you’ll still enjoy many of the same features (including surge protection and a separate remote control).
If you’re located in the UK, you’re probably familiar with the brand “Screwfix”. This inverters UK seller is mainly known for having the best 12v to 240v power inverters (which is more powerful than a 12v to 220v car inverter). The company can also help you find van inverter installation in the UK. However, its doesn’t create their own 12v inverters – rather, it sells two brands (Maypole and Ring).
The reverse polarity, short circuit and overload protection features make Maypole one of the top inverters for campervans (UK). In addition to protecting your electronics, this model is highly affordable.
If you’re looking for a mini inverter, then Ring fits the bill. A good power inverter for small needs, these inverters can fit into tiny spaces and transform any van into a working office. Best of all, they’re incredibly affordable.
How Do You Build Your Own Pure Sine Wave Inverter?
If you’re incredibly tech-savvy and want to save money, you can build your own inverter instead of purchasing one. To get started, you’ll need to gather several parts, including:
- Isolation set
- Ohm resistor
For the actual assembly, it’s helpful to get a visual representation of what to do. This “1000w inverter 12v to 220v: How to Make” video takes you through every step of creating a quality, functioning power inverter for vans.
Get Help Finding a Power Inverter for your Van
Once you have your van set up, it can be tempting to just hit the open road and see where it takes you. However, if you want to have a fulfilling journey, you’ll need to take the time to plan ahead. Without a proper inverter, you won’t be able to enjoy most of the comforts inside your van.
If finding an inverter, choosing a brand and installing it seems overwhelming to you, don’t worry — you don’t have to do it alone. Our team at Darien Overland is passionate about everything related to van life and is more than happy to help with any questions you may have. Contact us today to get the guidance you need for your van journey!