Add AC Power Outlets to Your Jeep Wrangler Console
It’s always a pain in the butt to try and hook up those little A/C inverters to your 12V DC plugs when you’re on the road. The laptop needs to be charged, so do the external batteries for the camera equipment, the GPS is already using one plug, etc. Wouldn’t a 500W work light be a great thing to be able to use when you’re working on a broken down rig on the trail?
In this entry, I’ll show one technique for adding two A/C outlets to the back of the jeep’s console, proving 800 watts of power on tap, ready for your laptop or work lights. The focus will be on integrating everything so that it looks like it came that way from the factory, and providing control of the inverter through your switch panel.
I used a Vectra 800 Watt (1600 peak) 12V DC to A/C 120V inverter that I had previously cut up for some presently unknown reason. There are a number of models from other vendors that look, and seem to operate the same, so the general plan of action should apply for any similar inverter.
The finished product will look like this:
You’ll need the following parts:
- (1) Vectra 800W inverter
- (1) SPST momentary switch
- (3 pair) Molex connectors (2 or more poles)
- (4) 10 gauge crimp lugs
- (1) 30 Amp heavy duty fuse assembly
- (1) 10 gauge butt connector
- (1) 14 gauge male crimp spade
- (1) 14 gauge female crimp spade
- 10 gauge wire
- 14 gauge wire
- 18 gauge wire
- heat-shrink or electrical tape
You’ll also need the following tools:
- Soldering iron
- Wire crimpers
- Wire strippers
- Philips screw driver
- T20 Torx driver
Remove the face plate from the power inverter by removing the four screws at the corner of the face plate.
With the face plate laying open, record or mark the relationship of the wires going to the A/C outlets.
Cut the wires leading the A/C outlets and connecting the outlets together, making sure to leave enough of the two internal black and white wires to connect to easily later. Remove the outlets from the face plate by pressing the side tabs in and pushing them out at the same time. And unscrew the rubber dust covers from the face plate.
Now, we can either completely remove the small circuit board from the face that contains the LED number display and buttons, or leave it un-touched to retain the ability to monitor voltage input and output. If you like, you can cut all wires and extend them, mounting the face plate on your dashboard or such. For our purposes, we just want a switch on our switch panel to control the inverter’s on/off functionality.
Orient the circuit board such that the first wire to your left is a black wire. Locate the first red, and second black wire on the circuit board, these will be the wires we’re going to use. (See photo below.) If you want to retain the original circuit, solder onto these pads, instead of cutting the wires and soldering to them.
Cut all of the wires leading to the circuit board, and keep track of the two wires you just identified.
Now, we’re going to wire our switch to turn the inverter on and off. A momentary switch will connect our black and red wires. Use an SPST momentary switch. It should be labeled “off-(on)” indicating that the ‘on’ state is momentary, or only connected for as long as the switch is held down. Wire one of your molex connectors to the switch, and solder the other to two lengths of 18G wire long enough to go from where you mount the inverter to where your switch is installed. (I put mine under the passenger seat.)
Now, solder the lengths of wire to the red and black wires we prepared in the previous step. Clean everything up with heat-shrink.
note: I used a DPST switch because I had one laying around. Just connect to one of the normally closed pins and the normally open pin in this situation.
Now, our inverter turn on and off with a quick press of the button. Go ahead and hook the inverter up to a bench power supply if you have one, and verify that the switch works.
If you manage to hook the red wire up to the wrong black wire, don’t fret – the worst that will happen is that the inverter will not turn on.
Now, it’s time to wire up the A/C outlets. Cut two lengths of 14G wire, long enough to go from the location of the inverter to the location your A/C outlets are to be installed. Solder each end to one of the large black and white wires found in the inverter. Solder the other ends to TWO molex connectors, making sure to be consistent about what colors of the molex connector are wired to which of the A/C wires. We use two connectors, so that we may install and remove the A/C plugs easily. See this photo:
note: using the same colors on the molex connectors resolves confusion later. As I only had one color 14G wire, a blue electrical tape tag identifies which is connected to the white wire.
Go ahead and solder the other ends of the molex connectors to the A/C plugs removed from the inverter. Use only two pins on the molex connector for the A/C lines. The ground line will need to be connected between the two (as in the original wiring inside the inverter), but use a standard male/female spade for these (see later picture) so they may be connected AFTER installing the plugs.
note: the standard molex connectors that I show here can be harvested from computers and numerous other scrap electronics. These are rated at 7.5A load, more than enough for our purposes. If you wish to buy new connectors, any type is fine as long as they have a minimum rating of 7A.
Go ahead and install the inverter in its final location. For me, I placed it under the passenger seat, other locations can include the rear cargo area, behind the dash, etc. Just make sure that it gets adequate ventilation, and is protected from the elements.
Run the switch wiring to your switch panel, or wherever you wish to install the switch. My switch panel is at the lower column panel (like the daystar panel, or 12Vguy’s panel), so the wires are neatly tucked under the shifting column. Install your switch now.
We’re going to remove the rear panel from the console. The first steps is to push both front seats all the way forward, and remove the four bolts on each side panel of the console using a T20 Torx driver. Once these bolts have been removed, loosen up the side panels by first popping the plastic retainers by pulling on the rear bottoms of the panels, and then pull up on both panel sides to have them loose at the back.
Now, free the rear panel by using your fingers along the inside edge to pull away from the center, releasing the plastic pins, and backwards to slide off the retaining posts. If you have power windows, simply pull the wiring harness free.
Prepare the rear panel for cutting by removing the cup holder assembly, and marking the exact locations where you want the A/C outlets to be installed, from the back side. For all cutting and marking, always work from the rear of the panel, so any mistakes will not affect appearance.
To make the appropriately sized holes, mark two rectangles .85″ tall by .95″ wide. Cut these with a plastic cutting bit on a dremel tool, working slowly and carefully.
After the holes have been cut, bring the molex connectors through from the outside, and pop the A/C plugs in from the outside. It should look like this, front and rear:
note: the ground pins of the two outlets are now connected together using a simple male/female crimp spade and 14G wire, this way you can always remove them later without cutting any wires.
You can now install the original dust covers by replacing the tiny screw with a slightly larger self-tapping plastic screw (there are a few that can be harvested from the inverter its self), put the dust covers in place and mark where the screws should be located. Start a hole with a tiny drill bit, and then screw them into place with a screwdriver.
Go ahead and put the console back in place, and connect the outlet connectors, but do not bolt anything back in yet.
Now, we’re going to run power to the inverter. For this, we will need two lengths of 10G wire long enough to reach from the battery to the inverter. Since mine is installed under the passenger seat, I use the foam-filled hole in the passenger side of the firewall to run the wires. Simply use your fingers to pop off the side dash panel, and then run a long screwdriver through the foam-filled hole to open a path. Run the first wire through. To make life easier, you can use the first wire as a fish for the second by pushing it several inches back through the firewall, and taping the second wire to it as shown below. Then, simply pull both wires through.
The wires are then run behind the kick panel along the door back to the passenger seat. You can get enough slack in the panel by simply lifting up where the plastic retainer is near the seat. The first wire we will hook up will be the ground wire.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE:
It is imperative that you always hook up the wire ends to the invert first before hooking them to the battery. Imagine holding the hot wire end, with it connected to the battery, and letting it touch anything metal on your vehicle. The results can be quite shocking!
Take the end of the wire nearest the inverter that will be used as a ground wire, and crimp a round wire lug to the end. Remove the screw for the inverter’s black post, slip the lug on it, and securely screw the post back down.
Now, take the positive wire, and crimp a lug on its end, and repeat the process of attaching it to the inverter.
We’ll prepare the battery end of the positive wire by using a butt joint to connect it to a 30A high-load fuse assembly, and then crimping on a wire lug to the other end of the fuse assembly.
note: if you wish to only have the inverter work when the vehicle is on, you may omit this step and wire to an appropriate fuse location in the fuse box under the hood, instead.
Add a crimp lug to the end of the ground wire at this point as well.
First attach the ground wire to the negative pole of the battery, and then the positive wire to the positive pole using 12 and 10mm sockets or wrenches. Be very careful to not let your wrench or ratchet touch anything metal on the vehicle – including that huge ground strap going to the hood – while operating on the positive pole.
Turn the jeep on, and test the inverter. If it doesn’t turn on when you hit your switch, or you don’t get power, check these following conditions:
Symptom: nothing happens when you press the switch
Check the wiring to the switch and the power to the inverter. Use a multimeter across both the positive and ground feeds to the inverter, verify that at least 12 DC volts are present here. If not, correct the battery wiring.
If battery wiring is correct, check the switch wiring. Make sure you used the proper poles on the switch if not using an SPST switch, and that you used the correct black and red wires from the inverter. Disconnect it from the battery, and try changing wires.
Symptom: the inverter beeps and the fan comes on when the switch is pressed, but no AC power available at the outlets
Check the wiring to the outlets. Make sure to turn the inverter off before doing anything. Assure that the outlets are wired properly, and there is no possibility of a short between the white and black wires of the inverter.
Make sure the device you plugged in does not exceed the inverters specs, or does not require pure sine wave power. Use a digital multimeter to validate that you get an AC signal from the ports when turned on.
Now that everything works, you can go ahead and button your console back up and screw the side panels back in. Note that it is difficult to re-install the side panels if they are slightly out of alignment, check their alignment and press down hard on the top while inserting the torx bolts.
Now you’re all set, you’ve got two AC outlets that are turned on and off with a simple press of a switch!