Adding 120V AC Power To a Truck Bed
By Michael Zimmers
18 January 2005
When I was shopping for my current truck, I was told that a pickup with the crew cab option (four doors, full-size rear seating) was the fastest-growing segment of the new vehicle market in the US. It made sense, as crew cabs combine the convenience, ruggedness and practicality of a truck with a comfortable, roomy cab that seats four or more. There is, however, one indisputable drawback to a crew cab: it has painfully little room for installing accessories. The cab has almost no space, and the bed of the truck is unprotected unless one adds a "topper" or hard cover, both of which are expensive and compromise what you can carry.
One accessory I’ve craved to add to my truck, but couldn’t figure out how to house it, is a heavy-duty DC-AC power inverter and battery bank. For those unfamiliar, a power inverter takes battery-style electricity (known as 12V DC) and converts it to the kind of power (known as 120V AC) that you have in your home or office. There are a ton of uses for an inverter:
- camping and recreational off-roading
- construction and maintenance
- public safety/search and rescue
- AC-powered audio equipment
- AC-powered mobile communications
As appealing as an inverter is, though, installing one into a crew cab truck poses some real challenges:
- Space. As mentioned above, there’s very little room in the cab for aftermarket equipment. And even if I found an inverter of sufficient power that was still compact enough to fit somewhere in the cab, the auxiliary batteries would never fit there, nor should they (batteries don’t belong in the passenger area, for a variety of reasons). This means that the equipment must somehow go into the truck bed, leading to the next challenge:
- Weather. Inverters must be kept dry. Since I didn’t want to cover my truck bed, I had to provide a protective enclosure for the inverter. It had to be weather-resistant and provide easy access to its contents. This in turn, creates another challenge:
- Space (again). The beds in crew cabs are already shorter than full-size, to make room for the rear seating. I rarely need the full use of the bed, but I didn’t want to reduce my bed space any more than necessary. Whatever protective enclosure I was going to use had to have a minimal impact on the bed space.
- Security. This kind of equipment can be expensive, and it needs to be protected from theft.
After many evenings of surfing the Internet for inspiration, I hit upon an idea that I felt would work: I could put the equipment into a tool box. The trick was to find a tool box that would steal only a little space from the truck bed, would be weather-resistant, and would be lockable to keep the bad guys out.
In order to preserve as much of my bed space as possible, I chose a style of box known as a "saddle box" that installs directly behind the cab and mounts on the bed rails. This allows me to slide long items (like full sheets of plywood) under the tool box when I need to. I found a saddle box with "gull-wing" lids that open from the sides of the truck, making the box accessible without having to climb into the bed. This box, with some creative modifications and enhancements, form the platform for this project.
This article will take you through the various steps involved in installing and configuring a "power box" for your vehicle. I’ll give you some ideas of where you can get the equipment, how to prepare your truck and the tool box, and specific instructions for the actual installation. I hope you find this informative and entertaining.
Components Of This Project
While there are many possible variations on this application, adding AC power to a vehicle entails four essential components:
A complete list of the products and suppliers used on this project is found at the end of this article.
Now that the equipment was chosen…on to the installation!