Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Just in Case

The Solartech 10 watt panel is left loose to to keep it potentially efficient no matter what the parking situation is.

The Solartech 10 watt panel is left loose to to keep it potentially efficient no matter what the parking situation is.

Having replaced the Ford’s dual batteries this year (for the first time), their cost was such that I decided to apply a small solar panel and charge controller to keep them topped up while the Ford sits unused for a couple of weeks at a stretch. Not that I can complain about getting seven years off a set, but if I can expand that without losing too much bread in the process, so much the better. Modern vehicles tend to use power when they sit unused, and the drain adds up over time. Starting batteries do not like

much over a 5% discharge, especially if it’s extended over time.

Yup, the wiring is mess. But it's also out of the way. The wires going out the rear side window lead to the solar panel.

Yup, the wiring is mess. But it’s also out of the way. The wires going out the rear side window lead to the solar panel.

I’d actually had a similar setup last year, using a 7 watt cheapie Wel-Bilt panel on sale at Northern Tool, but it broke after being blown to the ground in a windstorm. I already have a leftover Battery Minder SCC-180 solar charger sitting around from my failed first foray into solar power, and its one benefit is that if it can manage to pump the battery up to 14 volts for awhile, it will kick over into a maintenance mode that includes desulphation. Sulfation, or the buildup of deposits on the battery’s lead plates, is what actually kills them. Keeping them topped up slows the sulphation rate quite a bit, and a desulphating charger is icing on the cake.

A Batteryminder SCC-180 solar controller is attached to the truck's rear window with adhesive-backed Velcro. The little box below is Batteryminder's version of a voltage meter.

A Batteryminder SCC-180 solar controller is attached to the truck’s rear window with adhesive-backed Velcro. The little box below is Batteryminder’s version of a voltage meter.

When I found a high-quality 10 watt panel at Northern Arizona Wind & Sun for $50, I decided that it might well pay for itself in the long run, especially if the new Interstate batteries weren’t quite as good as the originals. It’s a rather heavy panel for its size, owing to thicker glass and a much more substantial aluminum frame. Rather than do a quality installation, I opted to jury-rig the thing and go for flexible/easy. Since all panel power is ultimately going to the Ford’s dashboard power outlet (and on to the batteries), I mounted the solar charger out of the way on the inside of the rear window. Wires to the solar panel are split with an SAE plug set I picked up a a local tent vendor in town, making it real simple to disconnect the panel and run the wires to whatever location I need, inside or outside. That gives me the option of placing the solar panel on the ground, the bed tonneau, windshield, between the windshield and the reflective sunshade on the inside, or just sitting flat on the top of the dash. Whatever.

Connection to the Ford's batteries is made via its power outlet on the dashboard.

Connection to the Ford’s batteries is made via its power outlet on the dashboard.

The only issue is that, with so little wattage to work with on two rather large batteries, the panel will never reach 14 volts to go into desulphation mode on its own. Plugging the system into the power outlet at the end of an errand has a fighting chance though, since the vehicle’s alternator will have just topped up the batteries on its own, leaving the charger little to do but trip into miracle mode. As with so much else having to do with the Defiant, time will tell!

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4 thoughts on “Just in Case

  1. 7 years is a LONG time on all the start batteries I’ve owned.
    They are a wear item & I figure every 5 years is about right… not that I wouldn’t try & stretch them out for longer.

    • Yup Rob, I’m used to 5 or 6 years, myself. Maybe the overall lack of stress from ample capacity, plus the very quick fire-up of the engine helped. Certainly not like the old days with carburetors on cold mornings!

  2. That looks like a nice solution. I was wondering, though, if the solar panel would fit on the dash inside the car. When I arrived in Quartzsite this year I was told that solar panels not attached to roofs were being stolen, so be cautious when you are away from your campsite for a while. 🙂

    • Yup BJ, the dash is deep enough to lay it right on top, and that’s where it spends some time as well. And yes, someone in the pulloff at “Chickadee Flats” lost a panel on the ground, and he was in the process of losing his satellite dish when he interrupted the theft. Quartzsite is rather famous for occasional thefts, and I’m counting on the truck always being present so it looks like I’m “home”, as well as the sequence and noise it takes to remove any panel. They’re a bit large and heavy to to a simple grab and run, and I’m still considering a simple tether system that would require a ladder to dismount them. Thanks for mentioning it!

      By the way, your blog is loaded with some superb photos!

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