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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cell Phone Amplifier

During my 2015 travels I brought with me my old Wilson cell phone amplifier that have used for years in New England, but it didn't work in the southwest due to carriers using different frequencies.  This made it difficult to pull in fringe signals and many times I would have voice coverage without data.

4G LTE data works on frequencies that my old amplifier didn't cover.

Since I go off road on federal land and there are many secondary roads with spotty service I decided to buy a new all band all carrier Wilson cell phone amplifier for my 2016 travels.  

The unit is not cheap at $450+ but since I travel so much that it will be worth it in the long run.

This maximum coverage unit comes with a mini antenna (4") that is designed for higher gain for data than the 12" center loaded antenna.  The center loaded antenna is stronger for voice.  

For me I will use the data tuned antenna on my trip as I use data (Internet) more than voice.

I will evaluate this product during my 2016 travels and hopefully give me better coverage in case of an emergency.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Powering Prius Campervan

The other day I shared the modification to the Charging of the Prius House Battery and Prius 12 volt Battery as I get ready for my 2016 travels.

In this post I share a diagram of the Prius electrical system with the modifications I made the other day.

I recognize from other podcasts and comments people post about electronics, that my explanation of the changes the other day, may not translate to all.  In this post I will walk through the diagram above explaining the Ptius system as well as my modifications.

The Prius is a well designed hybrid vehicle that some before me have used for their campers, like Suanne and RailRider.  They both were helpful with their blogs when I was considering the Prius for my Campervan.  It was nice to meet Suanne last year in Ehrenburg, AZ.

How The Prius Works -

- Keep in mind that the Prius engine only runs for the following reasons as a way of conserving fuel.

It runs to:

1. To keep the engine at some minimum temperature.  So when you turn on the Prius it will run until it as warned up and then shut off the engine. Wen you run the heater it will take heat from the engine so it will run more using the heater.

2. When accelerating and needing power greater than what the high voltage battery can do.

3. When the high voltage battery gets low in capacity.

The Prius is not started per se but put into the "Ready Mode".  Once you push start it goes into "Ready Mode" and if the engine is warm enough and you are not accelerating the engine does not run.

How the Prius Batterirs are Charged - 

1. The high voltage battery is used to start the engine not the 12 volt battery.

2. The 12 volt battery is used to run the vehicle auxiliary items and engine computer. The 12 volt battery is an AGM battery in the rear passenger corner and is charged from the High Voltage battery. The 12 volt battery is vented via a tube through the vehicle chassis.

How I use the Prius 12 volt power to run my electronic devices -

- Engle Compressor Fridge is my main consumer of power and it is on 24x7.  During the day I plug the fridge in the cig outlet that comes off the battery.  When I'm out of the car for more than an hour I leave the Prius in Ready Mode and use a door key to lock the car.  I often take long hikes up to 8 hours an will leave the Prius this way.  The Prius starts about every hour for two minutes to charge the high voltage battery.  This cycle will occur as the 12 volt battery is depleted by running the fridge and charged from the high voltage battery.  Even doing this for my 3.5 month trip this year I still got 52 mpg.

Charging the House Batteries - 

- During the day I plug the battery charger into the 400 watt pure sine wave inverter tied to the 12 volt Prius battery and charge the house batteries.

At night - I unplug the fridge from the 12 volt battery and plug into the cig outlet tied to the house batteries.  Since the compressor fridge is so efficient it runs all night on the house batteries and in the morning I switch back to the 12 volt battery and then start charging the house batteries.

I have the ability to charge my phone and tablet front the front or back off the USB connections on either battery.  I run my USB fan off of both as well.

My heaviest power usage device is my 20 oz pot that I use for hot water when cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. I run this off the Prius 12 volt battery when in ready mode and it takes about 20 minutes to bring to a vigorous boil.

I monitor my Prius 12 volt battery and house batteries with independent volt meters since they are sealed lead acid battery technology.

I chose the BatteryMinder multi chemistry battery charger as it charges all 3 lead acid battery technology (wet cells, AGM, gel cell).  You do need to select the type of technology of the battery when you start charging as they all have different charge voltages and times before they switch to the float voltage.  

I also have a few 120 volt items that I charge from the inverter. 

When stealthing in parking lots or street side I am only in battery power at night to not draw attention.  

What I like most about this electrical system is that it supplies all the power I need to live in and out of my Prius comfortably without having to carry solar or generator.  The system uses very little fuel so not to adversely affect mpg.

Of course inside living space and ground clearance are major factors if consider a Prius as your campervan conversion.  I'm 6' and I manage living in and out of the Prius well.

My 2015 posts cover many aspects of living in the Prius.   

I will be covering other changes for my 2016 Travels.  


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prius House & Car Battery Charging Modification

(Drivers side rear)

It's not until you use something that you learn how good your design works.  Last year i was working with concepts and I knew I needed a house battery, or batteries.  I also knew that I wanted to use existing Prius space and my house batteries would be 12 volt gel cells.  

Then the question was how to charge the gel cells.  There is a company that sells 12 volt gel cell chargers but this wasn't the path I took as I also wanted to be able to charge and condition my Prius 12 volt battery.

My decision was the Battery Minder's multi chemistry battery charger as it allowed me the ability to switch and charge either the house battery or the Prius 12 volt battery. (Charger can be selected to charge AGM [Prius 12 volt battery], lead acid 12 volt wet cells, and 12 volt gel cells)

With time running out last year I left with the ability to have a cord from the house battery and another to the Prius 12 volt battery and had to plug and unplug the cables as I chose to charge one or the other.  Mostly I charged the house batteries.

I had to plug and unplug even the house battery as the charger design is that once a battery is plugged into the battery charger the power from the battery is exchanged with the charger and the charger lights are on.  That meant that as long as I was charging all was good but once I stopped charging the battery was feeding the display of the charger draining the house batteries.

This resulted in two problemsat year I wanted to solve.

The solution was a double pole / double throw switch / with a center position (on/off/on) where there is no center connection.  

I selected this switch with lights but the lights can't be used as the outputs of the switch are batteries and not powering a load.  The power back feeds and keeps the lights lit even when the switch is in the off position.

I dressed the switch with some old connectors to match the charger cables.

I have the charger mounted the on the drivers side rear.

I selected the spot and used the vibrating saw to cut the switch hole. Then I put the switch in and cabled it.

The switch on the upper left supplies power from the house batteries to the panel on the right. The center is the voltage monitor and the left is the dual USB charger and the right is a 12 volt car outlet.

Here is the charger and wiring to and from the two batteries as well as the power distribution for the house batteries.

I use this flat heavy duty power cord to the orange power cube to feed the charger.  The cube allows for me to power other AC devices while on shore power.  The flat cable fits nicely through the hatchback gaskets.

When not on shore power I charge the house batteries through a pure sine wave 400 watt inverter from the Prius 12 volt battery on the opposite side rear on the Prius.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Prius Campervan Storage Design


Last year traveling in my Prius I knew every cubic inch was valuable.  Having downsized from my Class B campervan a lot of work went into finding items that would replace full size items.  These changes were not necessarily cheap.  For example I had a standard folding camp chair that slide into a cylindrical draw-string bag.  I had no room for it but wanted a chair so I bought the REI backpacking folding chair at a tenth the size.

Even with doing all this planning, replacing items, and replacing the Prius foam fold down rear seats with 1/2" plywood  it was still tight for space to live in and out of the Prius.   

The 60% side is where I sleep and under the rear passenger wheel well is where I stored water and my clothing. The water tank was the 7 gallon tank from Walmart. 

This worked ok but it's size was difficult to manage the space around and above it.  I put my clothing in waterproof pillowcases to keep them together and clean.  The problem was that this method also allowed the pillowcases to slide and catch on things and rip the bags.  I also didn't need 7 gallons as I was able to live on a gallon a day on average, and carry 2 one gallon water jugs on the front passenger floor that I fill from my tank so when I want water I don't have to pump the water.

The space under my bed is easy to access as it is under the folding plywood platform I made last year.  The space and access is key to my redesign of the space for this year.

First I needed to come up with a replacement for the 7 gallon water tank.

My choice was this 6 gallon freshwater Poly tank with off-set fill.

The tank fits perfectly in the wheel well behind the passenger seat and the seat is still positioned if I want to take a passenger.

Now I needed to design the space around the water tank.

My first step was to Design and build a fixed wall container for my clothing that sits on top of the tank.

I decided to make it out of 1/2" PVC plastic leaving a notch for access to the water tank.  The plastic wood needs no finishing.

The water tank comes with 4 threaded inserts on top in case you want to use an electric pump.  I use a hand pump to extract the water right now so I used 2 of the 10-24 inserts to hold the storage unit to the tank to keep the plastic from sliding.

Here is the water access left open to access during my travels.

You can see I can easily access the water fill from the side door. And my bed platform mostly covers the storage.

The shape of the plywood was necessary for it to fold up when I wantt he space.

I needed to add a tapered shim to support the plywood sleeping platform.

This also will save me from carrying and using a rod to hold the corner of the plywood up when I sleep in it. (a bonus)

Here is a side view of the plywood platform supported by the shim top of the storage unit on top of the water tank.

Just to the left of the tank (above photo) is my hand pump in a void space created in the design.

To the center console I still had some space for storage.  In the photo above you can see a matching insert to fit next to the storage that sits on top of the water tank and uses all the space from the floor up.

The picture above shows how the matching box I made rests to the side of the first storage box.  I could have made one box to fill both spaces and save a 1/2" of plastic wood thickness, but I thought the modular aspect of this space may be useful.

Here is my top-down view of the storage.

To the left in this picture is a detergent bottle I use for waste water.  


Saturday, November 14, 2015

RTR - Rubber Tramp Rondevious

(Photo from

The generic name for living in a van, camper, car, or other converted vehicle is Vandwelling.

Each January there is an impromptu gathering of like minded people in Quartzsite, AZ.  (See web link under photo)

My last two years of travel took me to the southwest leaving mid January and driving my mother to FLorida and leaving her with her mother.  I enjoyed this trip and visit to Florida and meeting Cuz Dick who hosts the Southeast RTR, but missed the southwest RTR hosted by Bob Wells, who is renowned for his efforts in helping all with Vandwelling.  His website and related blogs is s wealth of information for anyone looking to vandwell part time or full time.

My departure is set for Monday 1/4/16 and travel without delay to AZ to first visit some friends in Tucson before heading over to the RTR in Quartzsite.

I will arrive a few days after its official start but will plan to be there until it it finishes on 1/19.  I met Bob and a couple others  after the RTR last year in nearby Ehernberg, AZ on BLM land.

At this southwestern RTR there are seminars where you can learn about how to do just about anything with your vehicle.  There are also many other groups in Quartzsite at this time we'll into February.

My goal is to stay with the Vandwellers and socialize with them but also check out other groups that my be close by.  

Since cell service has been good in Quartsite during my past visits I plan on blogging each day.


Prius Tire Chains

I traveled last year without tire chains for my Prius.  Last year there were places I could not travel without having chains and I am going back to Park City Utah in March to spend a week with one of my sons and family.  Last year I stayed in Salt Lake City and didn't drive up the mountains of weather was bad or left early of snow was coming in.

This year I am staying with the family at a rental house so I need to be more prepared for dealing with snow.

I chose a more aggressive tire chain (not wire cable) that uses chain links and they crisscross for better traction.

When I got the chains I noticed I had bought a tire chain for my Prius that has a bonus.  It will also work off road.

Now I traveled last year without getting stuck but but not without worry.  I crossed many a wet and dry wash and traveled on some sandy roads that could have been problematic for the low clearance Prius.

Now I have an option to help me if I spin my front drive wheels on BLM and Forest Service Land, as long as I don't hang up the body of the car.


New Fresh Water Tank

I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted.  Work and more work around the sticks and bricks.  Well it is now less than 2 months until I leave on my 2016 Travels.

I now have over 12,000 views on my Brent's Travels Blog so I know there are a number of you that are interested in Prius camper conversions or living out of a car.  I decided some time ago to travel again with my Prius but I wanted to make some changes and as of the cold weather returning to the Northeast US my focus is now on design and build.

I am replacing my blue 7 gallon Walmart water tank with a commercial 6 gallon tank that sits lower on the rear passenger side floor (picture above).

This tank sits lower but also allows the front passenger seat to slide nearly all the way back when I travel with company, which is rare. The taller blue tank would hit the reclined front passenger seat.

I will show the install of the new tank in another post.

What is nice about this tank is that it is for drinking water and the fill is offset so I can easily access the full when I open the rear passenger door.

Now focus is on designing the space around and above the tank.  I am sure you will find this more interesting

I'll be posting more soon.