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Solar Powered Excursion

 
  #1  
Old 06-06-2019, 12:15 AM
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Solar Powered Excursion

I have had a refrigerator for my Excursion for some time. It was a gift. I can keep cold drinks with me and get frozen shrimp and blue bell ice cream from Sam's Club an hour drive to the farm still frozen.

Here is what I have:



It works great. But it is plugged into my starter batteries. I have this insulating cover on it, which fits so perfectly this fridge has to be from the same assembly line as the Smittybilt fridge. Some trucker identified the transit bag in a review and it really does fit.




I have second row captain chairs and if you remove their armrests, this fridge fits so perfectly between the chairs that it stays in place by itself.

It is also convenient to have a big inverter (pure sine) at the farm, so I have this one,



So, the way to keep it off of my starter batteries is to put solar panels on the roof.

I picked some Renogy panels specifically for the size; these:



I got three. As a bonus, the price changed while I had them in my cart, saving me 120+ dollars for the three.

Combining three panels' wiring is trivial with these,




Bolted together with washers in between to let water and heat escape.
​​​​​



Getting those to the controller requires this, and the wires go through a grommet that is hidden behind the back glass. The wire goes down to the glass seal area next to the hinge.



The controller is an MPPT one, though mine looks different, for some reason.



Of course, there are batteries and cables, a ground, programming. The racks are made from these:



The pictures of these don't match the actual ones. The actual ones work in the slide track on the roof.

Cross members are superstrut from home depot and everything is held together the fastenal carriage bolts and regular bolts. As you'll see in the last picture I decided to tuck the cross members in from the sides vecsuse, basically, we have a very narrow treed driveway at the farm so no need tempting any snags, though I did consider having the rails stick out some for side lights. I can still do that but they would be bolted to the aluminum solar panel frames. I probably won't do that. I hate mentioning but anyone who has read my other threads knows I have a vision impairment so I am all about the lights, and, unrelated, I have a very hard time proof reading my posts so please make allowances.



These are VERY sturdy. Not to bore with details, just be assured I measured and just sorted out the bolts and nuts,. Cutting everything with a simple angle grinder. It took two ten foot pieces of superstrut. The little blue and gold nuts are also from home depot and the way they go in dictated the orientation of the open side of the superstrut. Or maybe all from Lowes, I don't remember (they are next door to each other here). In any case, cheap. This is the way to make a cheap and sturdy rack for sure. The mounts arrive with some just OK powder coat so I shot them with self etching primer and black automotive enamel, several coats. The cross members AR a very heavy zinc (yellow) and though I cleaned them with alcohol I'm not sure any paint is going to really stick. We will see. I actually wish I'd not painted the cross bars. My truck has gold accents anyway it might have looked better with gold bars! They are mostly covered so it isn't a big worry, either way.

I will post more tomorrow.

I assembled the whole thing on the ground and had help putting it on the roof. In retrospect the spacers between the panels were a great idea because they gave me a little flex to tilt the feet on the mounts into the track. Without that flex I would have had to remove the end of the track. I couldn't assemble them in the roof vecsuse the way I put the bolts and nuts you simply cannot get to everything (for theft deterrence). However, once the mounts are in place it is SOLID and all flex is gone. Not to overstate, but seriously, seriously solid. Not only is it not going anywhere, I put some thought into the orientation of the bolts, and used galvanized carriage bolts that are captured perfectly by the slots in the mounts, to make it nearly impossible to steal. Sadly one spun and whoa it was a real turd to get off with a nylon lock nut halfway down it. I used nylon lock nuts in some places, and lock washers in others. The result is a comfortable space between the roof and panels so they don't get too hot. A side benefit is that, at about 80 inches long and 40 inches wide, they shade my truck and keep it cooler.

I already have a hard, NMO antenna for my cell booster that is just out of frame so the height of the panels is fine.


These aren't going anywhere. You can rock the truck with them and they don't budge. Note this is before I put the bolted washers on the front and back of each mount to lock them in place. The wiring boxes are underneath now and somewhat protected.



Shows height.
 
  #2  
Old 06-06-2019, 07:58 AM
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I like it. Trying to make the Ex into an RV.
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 08:28 AM
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Super nice install!! Well done! Will this be exclusive to the fridge? Or do you have other plans?
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 09:05 AM
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Very nice, thanks for the detailed writeup! I bet you'll notice a cooler interior when the fridge isn't running, with the new shade up there.

I've been thinking about a rooftop solar myself, this gives me some ideas on a pathway. Many thanks.
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 09:25 AM
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I'm glad yall like it. The fridge with the black insulating cover looks stock in the truck and I'll shoot some pictures of that today. I honestly had no idea what I was doing on this project, at all, zip zero. And it works. The Smittybilt brackets were a real coup because I could NOT find any pictures of them that caused me to believe they would work, yet when they arrived I was happy to see that they are made for our roof track system and very sturdy.

The other use is just for the inverter. We have what most would call a large hobby farm and when I need electricity in odd places for tools and etc. I have, in the past, had to start the backhoe, lift the big generator, drive it where I need it, walk back and get things... It was a chore and occasiinally something falls off the backhoe like a NICE chainsaw I'd used once, and you roll over it at 2 mph ("What the hell was that?" I thought until I looked back) with all 16000 pounds of backhoe--that really sucked, BTW. Drilling a thick treated fence post for hinges uses every bit of my cordless drill battery for one hole. So using a corded drill saves alot of time. The inverter I got is 4000 watts so it runs everything I would use, tool wise. I tested the system with some deep cycle batteries I already had and it worked, so I gulped and bought the real ones for a total of 250ah... They will run the fridge for days without charging, so it can stay on 24/7.




And it is just cool have cold drinks in the truck all of the time and be able to get frozen things from store to freezer without worry. It is also a conversation piece! Hahahaha.

Finally, I have to keep a laptop with me for odd real work and it has to be done in the Excursion unless I'm at the house, because the cell signal has to be boosted for sufficient data to use my phone as Hotspot. So, I can plug the laptop in because even boosted, the data is not really fast. Sometimes I have to change positions to get it done. Those tasks are mission critical because they pay for everything else in our lives, so paying some to keep it all working is not a hard decision.

I've never had anything to do with solar beyond a watch or a calculator when I was young, so we have also considered this a scouting expedition to possible hard installations at the farm for workshop, well, etc. Where we already have wired electricity but need a backup. When poles and lines are compromised at the farm (twice this year they have been blown out of the ground), it usually takes at least a week to get back online. People keep LOTS of old milk jugs full of water to flush toilets when the electricity is out and wells are down and I could probably run our 110v well pump on this inverter in a pinch. So with solar that worry would be gone. I didn't even know what a solar charge controller was before I started this, and I'm still no expert but I'm satisfied that the parts for a solar system are sufficiently dummy proof that I can make one work.

We also have far too many dogs as a result of a dog pregnancy accident and the fridge helps keep them from walking on my second row seats. I've ceded the cargo area to them (they even have their own 7 foot ramp to get in and out the back of the truck because they are just too heavy to lift--60 to 80 pounds each, into a lifted truck. No good for my back).

These panels definitely cool the truck when it sits outside. They are also supposedly hail proof. I can attest that they are SUPER Sturdy. In fact I can't believe how sturdy they are. I could fight off a coyote with one and it wouldn't get damaged. I had no idea that solar panels were so tough but considering what they are expected to survive (very high winds, hail, rain, birds, people, sun) I now get it and have no qualms about them on the roof of an excursion. They are so tough I actually considered just attaching their frames to the roof mounts, but since I don't know how wind comes down over the top of the truck I decided on the cross bars to keep them from being pressed down or lifted up. I should add, this is a NO HOLE DRILLED installation. I'm waiting for rain to stop to snap some more pictures.

I don't have more pictures of the roof rack fabrication because (1) it is pretty basic cut and bolt and (2) I was making it up as I went. I had no real plan there and was just too busy working out how to make it work and keep denegerate thieves from taking my stuff. Also, I did all of this at night in my driveway because my wife feels a need to fill every moment of my spare time with little jobs and she was (and is) pretty sure that the solar project was just an expensive boondoggle.
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Excurvelle View Post
I like it. Trying to make the Ex into an RV.
Well, I have slept in the Excursion, once, when I just couldn't drive any further. Not by choice and never again!

The funny thing is that we do have a big travel trailer that we sometimes take on long trips and it just occurred to me that we are therefore already carrying a big fridge with us on those trips. Hahaha. But this is for the times when I'm not pulling the 34 foot trailer that wants to kill us at every stop, turn, and gust of wind.

It also just occurred to me that the load port on the charge controller and the inverter will make boondocking our travel trailer on the beach a whole new experience! Yay! Now THAT'S maybe the best benefit yet!
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 12:16 PM
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I bought my Ex for the sole purpose of camping as a base for bicycle/dirtbike exploration - no trailer. Pitch a tent if I have time and conditions are good, sleep in the Ex if otherwise. My intent is to base from it for up to a couple weeks, moving locations every few days. Having reliable power would be a huge bonus, allowing for less 12v anxiety when stationing remotely.
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by PrescottIce View Post
I bought my Ex for the sole purpose of camping as a base for bicycle/dirtbike exploration - no trailer. Pitch a tent if I have time and conditions are good, sleep in the Ex if otherwise. My intent is to base from it for up to a couple weeks, moving locations every few days. Having reliable power would be a huge bonus, allowing for less 12v anxiety when stationing remotely.
Oh now that is interesting. You might want to consider a similar setup but with panels that sit on the ground to keep your roof available for carrying things. But those roof mounts and superstrut roof rails are dead simple and very strong. Unless you have a rack setup already I'd recommend just making one, or at least the base for one. Those superstrut lengths have very handy openings for attaching lights or tie downs or anything else you can imagine. I got the lighter version. There is a heavier version of the superstrut that is not much more money.

I did NOT like sleeping in the EX. At least with captains chairs in the second row, even folded down, it is not a straight, flat floor.

Also, there is a bracket for attaching superstrut lengths at right angles and many other little attachment options for them so you can make a base, or an entire HD rack for cheap. It might be a little heavy but I don't subscribe to the 150 pounds only on your roof theory. I weigh more than that and I've been all over the roof with no damage.

I do plan to add some flat bar on the sides, front and back of the solar panels to conceal their nsture and make the front less blunt to the wind, just to deter theft attempts. My roof is about 7 feet tall and the panels another 5 inches or so max so no one standing next to it should be able to tell what they are if the rack has something around the solar panel frames. I'd like to use aluminum but I cannot tig weld. I'll just have to sort it out.
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 09:23 PM
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Very nice nice solar installation and thanks for the write up and pictures, excellent job!

But this quote concerns me a bit.

Originally Posted by CharlieV View Post
But this is for the times when I'm not pulling the 34 foot trailer that wants to kill us at every stop, turn, and gust of wind.
Whats up with the homicidal TT? Is it that poorly behaved behind the EX? All that our EX does is tow our 41' TT and it's very well behaved and comfortable on the road.
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 10:57 PM
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Originally Posted by WE3ZS View Post
Very nice nice solar installation and thanks for the write up and pictures, excellent job!

But this quote concerns me a bit.



Whats up with the homicidal TT? Is it that poorly behaved behind the EX? All that our EX does is tow our 41' TT and it's very well behaved and comfortable on the road.
Thank you.

Eh, I would have to guess that we have two main problems with pulling our TT.

First, me. I have never really gotten used to it, probably because we don't pull it often enough, it is alot heavier than our last one (superslide and small slide, and always loaded to the gills) and we invariably end up driving through Dallas on our way to somewhere. I'm good with long long trailers but the TT seems different. I don't like driving in Dallas In a CAR with the winding concrete barriers everywhere and inconsiderate drivers, traffic jams, quick stops, etc. Not to mention that my wife is so scared of heights she closes her eyes when we take the taller bridges, which somehow puts me on edge because she's supposed to help me keep a lookout for things. I have a visual impairment on top of all of that. I can still drive but it isn't fun. The cherry on top is that my first case at a particular firm concerned a young surgeon who was pulling a TT with an Excursion that violently flipped on the highway and he was killed in a terrible way I won't describe but vividly recall, in front of his family. That's sometimes in my mind and I can't unrememeber it.

Second, and more chronically, it seems to make the steering too light when we have the TT on even with leveling bars and anti-sway. I probably need timbrens or air bags. When I retire (not too far off) we are thinking about getting a diesel coach--I can't decide if it would be better or worse.

41 feet! Wow! That's a biggie!
 
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Old 06-06-2019, 11:27 PM
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The Fridge

It rained most of the day.

Apologies for my mess here but this shows maybe the scale of the fridge and how it fits between the seats. When I'm by myself or with my wife and no one is in the back seat I just pull it to the back of the center console so it is in easy reach. The solar charge controller and batteries are behind the driver side rear seat and subwoofer in a jumble. I haven't had time to go get the board and long bolts to connect it to the unused stud holes in the spare tire. Probably have that done this weekend. I've CONSIDERED attaching straight to the inside plastics but I really resist any drilling, not because I'm ever going to sell the Excursion but because I might change my mind or get a different controller or whatever.

Not a small fridge. I like iced tea. Gallons of it fit inside. Along with ice.


 
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Old 06-07-2019, 11:17 AM
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Batteries - A Question.

Lest anyone think this thread is the equivalent to an answer column in the newspaper, there is a question of my own in here somewhere.

First, apologies for not posting more pictures. We are getting to the electrical end of things and it is currently a jumble of wires and therefore an embarrassment. On the off chance that I get hit by a bus before everything is neat and organized I'm waiting to post those pictures because I don't want to be remembered that way. In fact, on that subject, I should probably edit out my comments about my wife's fear of heights.

I started with two batteries out of the Excursion that I replaced in a rush, out of town, and that are AGM dual regular/deep cycle--just for proof of concept. They work and when I finally got past the emergency I had them tested and they were just fine (and still under warranty. Ugh.); my ground needed work. Wasted money. I don't trade in batteries unless I'm SURE they are bad because we always need batteries for something.

I got the solar batteries in my first post after that. They are HUGE and HEAVY. As I sit here pecking on my phone keyboard I can't recall the size but let's say 24 is the size class of the Excursion batteries and 29 is the size class of the solar batteries, for the sake of argument. That might even be right. The question is where to put them. The answer was going to be along the frame rail underneath the truck where there is a surprising amount of room outside the frame and inside the body, and there are many options for frame mount brackets on Amazon for 24s but not a single one for the dimensions of the 29s. I cast about on Google and left empty handed. The solar batteries are designed to just sit outside and all reports are that they are "mil spec". Okay, whatever. Which military? The Bahamas or Russia? My only concern in that vein is not dumping a 90 pound battery on the highway both because they are expensive and I don't want to hurt myself or anyone else. So they may have to be inside, which is something I wanted to avoid to preserve my sense of order and leave maximum room for dogs and tools in the cargo area. Last week I drove all of the way to Dairy Queen with my drill sitting on the freshly waxed roof of the Excursion and it made it 5 miles there and 5 miles back on country roads, still on the roof and I've made it two hours' drive with my cell phone sitting on my back bumper, so I am a gentle, slow driver but it still seems prudent to find a bracket or box or something to keep them from carpet bombing my head and spouse in case some idiot pulls out in front of me or runs into me.

I'm generally good at and take pride in finding things that are made for one purpose and work perfectly for another. But I am striking out here.

Anyone have a suggestion for battery mounts? I stupidly thought that big rigs have large batteries strapped to their frames in all sizes so it will be no trick to find a bracket. Wrong so far. Maybe I should go to a big rig repair shop with my little solar setup and after they stop laughing at me (if they stop) ask if they can suggest anything that will hold my orange stickered "mil spec" batteries. Or just boldly walk in and say my old Peterbilt 389 is stranded and needs a battery bracket, give the dimensions, and tell them to go get me one. Haha. Any port in a storm.
 
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Old 06-08-2019, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by CharlieV View Post
Anyone have a suggestion for battery mounts?
Do you know of a metal fabrication shop anywhere close? Doesn't seem like it would take much material or time to have something made.
 
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Old 06-08-2019, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by msuser92 View Post
Do you know of a metal fabrication shop anywhere close? Doesn't seem like it would take much material or time to have something made.

That's a great suggestion and yes, I do, and have gone to one near me many times. That one is too big, though (they do industrial projects and have worked on my backhoe and our trucks, for instance) but I bet I can find a smaller one.

I'd like to find something I can order, though, if only because on these Excursion projects (I've had a few I posted in the forums) I like to give the exact thing for others to order if they want to do the same project. But not everything is on Amazon, that's for sure!

These are the specs of the batteries: WEIGHT 75LB SIZE : L=12.9" W=6.8" H=8.7"

That's interesting. The other batteries that are the same size weigh about 15 pounds less. Maybe the ones I got really are "mil spec."

That length is the problem. The off the shelf brackets I can find stop at about 12 inches. Here is an example of a tray... It is just under 11 inches long.



Digging further for the battery group size here: https://www.batteryequivalents.com/bci-battery-group-size-chart.html.

So closest is going to be group 33 or 60. Those are oddball. Looking at all of the similar batteries in Amazon reveals that they are ALL that size, even the lower capacity ones. I bet they are all made in the same place.which seems to be Indonesia and runs counter to my general philosophy on buying things. ('Merica!).

I may need to return these batteries and get some that are a more standard size, working backwards from the brackets for a slick install.

Truthfully, that's poor planning on my part because if the batteries were going to stay the cargo area I was better off with a single, large (137 pound!!!) 200ah battery that costs substantially less than the two batteries I got, though the two I got have 20 percent more capacity, total. At up to 40 amps charging the batteries I have are vastly over served by these three panels, though I will never run out of daytime power for the fridge, when it needs the most, for sure. Hmm. I always have an eye on re using things from these projects in others, in case I fall flat on my face. And the bigger battery fits that bill with no need for additional cabling. Returning 75 pound batteries sounds like a daunting task. But I just talked myself into it. Cheeto agrees and he has never steered me wrong when he agreed with me.




My two truck batteries hold, I would guess, 50ah each, at most, and I've left the fridge on for two days with no panels attached, in the garage, and not running the truck at all, and had no noticeable drop in starting amps just from listening when I turned the key, so a 200ah battery is vast overkill, too. Once the fridge is down to temperature (at least at fridge temperature-(it can go down to - 22!!!!) it draws an average of 4 amps. It could go a very VERY long time with no sunlight (and indefinitely with solar charging) even using the inverter for other things that I haven't dreamt of yet. I bet I could park at Love Field, fly to Las Vegas, win enough money to pay for this whole project, see some shows, and fly back and the fridge would still be running so I could have a cold Coke when I found my truck. Except don't do that because I wedged my lifted land rover in a squatty parking garage at Love Field a decade ago, at it was a real embarrassment, headache, and expense that more than offset the savinga I had from riding in a cattle car (Southwest Airline) to get the roof fixed, and Excursions with lifts are even taller.

The inverter does draw some power at idle but I'll turn it off. It loses approximately 18 percect doing its inversion when under load, if memory serves. Factoring all of these things but not putting a calculator to it, my gut is that I have have limitless power for foreseeable uses day and night, Las Vegas or not.

On that subject I lucked out getting a pure sine inverter because I didn't read the fridge instructions until well after the inverter arrived and if I ever want to use ac for the fridge it has to be pure sine.

There is a great YouTube video of a guy who makes a solar generator using lithium pouch batteries he buys in bulk but, oh my, what a lot of work. I'd never finish.

Lithium batteries are the holy grail but they are priced accordingly and with our current dispute with China they aren't getting any cheaper. They can keep their lithium. Give me diesel power and good old lead batteries any day.



Separate subject. I pulled out my spare tire today and wow what a huge space that leaves. It has never been used in 14 years. Pristine. The spare is held by a screw setup in the hub bore of the wheel so all of the lugs openings are available for big bolts that could hold a project board and then the wires would enter the carpet tire cover through the zipper opening or just snaked around the tire, then be hidden behind the tire. If I'm feeling lucky I can ground to the giant eye bolt that holds the spare in place. I can't decide: to spare or not to spare. I have had Toyo M/Ts for 18 years or so on several vehicles and never had a flat but the one time I remove my spare and drive around like a feckless melleniial will be the time I get utterly stranded. Hope is not a tactic to a baby boomer and former boy scout. So I guess I'm going to measure those stud openings and go get some long threaded bolts and some sort of board or aluminum plate that won't slice my dogs to pieces, then bolt that against the spare... to have a spot off the floor for my controller, inverter, switch, and display. I need to go to Lowes anyway to get the end caps for my superstrut cross bars. And, actually, I think I'm going to get the right angle brackets instead to prepare for the flat bar I want to use to hide the whole setup. Perfect time to do so because it is TOO HOT outside for an old man and the rest of the family is taking a nap. Another case of poor planning on my part because the right angle brackets require two mount points on the horizontal cross bars and as you could see from my pictures, the second ones are now covered by solar panels that are bolted in a way to make them almost impossible to remove. I would get about a tenth of a turn on each try at the inner nut and life may just be too short to do that eight times, then another eight times tightening them, all while holding the carriage bolts against their keeper and standing on a ladder with my cane down on the floor, in the dark because it is took hot in the sunlight.i just talked myself out of it. Oh heck and I cut the bolts off short so there might not even be enough thread for the bracket and nut. Yep, I post wins and losses. That may well be an early loss. Blue end caps here I come! The only reason I would change this course would be that I need some highway time to see how loud the whole setup is and, if it is too loud, I will need front and side deflectors. In a past life I had a smart alecky BMW with Yakima bars and they drove me insane with all of their noise. Of course, the BMW had a little less engine drone than a 6 liter open breathing diesel, too.

Here's the big battery, which does make a tiny bit of sense over the two others because cable length and thickness are so critical when you have more than one battery, and it is less to secure. I can lift 137 pounds, and so can my sons, but I think I'll just dig out my engine crane when it arrives to protect everyone's back. Anything over the weight of a sack of concrete gets special lifting around here as I age.

 
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Old 06-08-2019, 11:44 PM
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Ford E series vans used a frame mounted battery box that fits trucks just as well as vans. It fits along the right side frame rail and the frame already has bolt holes to mount it. That area should be empty enough to fit at least 2 of these battery boxes.
The link to the auction below is as cheap as I have seen "new" take-offs, but these do not have the plastic lid. The same seller also has them complete with lid for $50 + $20 shipping.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Ford-Econol...4383.l4275.c10
 

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