More Mountain bike = Van

Hi I’m Craig, I’ve wanted a van for 20 years at least. Got tired of putting a muddy bike in the back of a Subaru so I bought a 2013 E250 Cargo van. I plan on using the van as my daily driver (22mi commute in Iowa so 25 minutes no traffic) and using it to find mountain bike trails in the surrounding states.

Plan for the van is to insulate, build a bench/bed, add a house battery charging off the alternator to run a diesel heater, lights and fan. I am thinking I will add decking boards bolted to ruvnuts along the sides so I can bolt in the modules and be able to remove them. I don’t want to lose the cargo function of the van so nothing to permanent and everything removable and durable. Maybe in the future I may add a fridge and solar in the but babysteps…

I’m here looking for answers (and hopefully advice from someone with similar usage intentions) on how to configure my electrical system so it’s not too expensive but also able to handle a solar upgrade later on. I am not going to live in the van, it’s a vacation and weekender build so my needs are different than the nomadic youtubers I see.



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Greetings & Welcome!

I’m not a huge fan of heaters that also require power for several reasons, the most important drawback for me is that they wake me up every time they cycle on or off. I also don’t like the requirement of having power to have heat. I’m frequently a cold weather camper, and I prefer portable kerosene heaters myself. They are wick type, no power needed, and will run on diesel too. You do need to keep your windows cracked for ventilation with any type of portable non vented heater.

There are also portable propane heaters, but they are reported to be unsafe to run while you sleep.

On to your electrical system… My current “build” was also the cheapest and simplest for power. I just went into a used battery shop, told them what I wanted, and they did it. For $80 they installed an isolator, a used deep cycle house battery in a nice battery box, and even hooked up a temporary switch so I could jump my starting battery with my house battery if needed. One of the best $80 I’ve ever spent! In talking to them, they also suggested low battery cut-offs for both my starting battery, and my house battery, and for $20 each I had those installed as well.

While this can all be done yourself, in my case it was cheaper and much quicker to just pay to get it done. It took them under an hour for everything! I also no longer buy new batteries, now I buy used/recycled batteries either fromm a battery recycler or a junkyard. They’ll last 5-7 years and usually under $20.

For DIY, you’ll need an isolator, and some connecters and some wire. A good source for the battery to isolator to house battery wires is a good et of heavy duty jumper cables. Connectors and the wire to activate the isolator should be available at any auto parts store, and I just use a marine type battery box that you should be able to find at Walmart. Put a high amp fuse or circuit breaker between the starting battery and the isolator, and another one between the isolator and the house battery. Then you’ll need to run an 8-10 gauge fused activation wire to your fuse box, to a fuse that is only activated when the ignition is turned on. Something like the radio or heater fuse.

Maybe this diagram can help:



"Smiles are contagious, pass them on!" ~ Van_Dweller

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It sounds like you lucked out on that deal. I checked and the closest place that deals in used batteries is 5hrs one way. Time plus gas makes that deal a no. I do have old set of jumper cables and I am going to go with the circuit breaker. Looks like I’m off to amazon.




Yeah, I guess I was lucky. There was one right down the street from me that I passed every day.


"Smiles are contagious, pass them on!" ~ Van_Dweller

YouTubers only show the positive side of the vanlife, but all of us know, sometimes it becomes tough to survive within your budget. I am not much in favour of the solar system if you are considering the future. However, I would advise you to don’t forget to take mountain bike insurance before the trip with better coverage plans.

On the other hand, it would also be great if you go with propane or electric heaters instead of diesel ones because it has dirtier fuels as compared to propane.