During the trip out to Overland Expo and back, I made sure I kept a notebook with a running log of things that worked, things that didn’t, and things I wish I had in my truck. This is something I have done for years on nearly all of my trips, and it had became the starting place for many of my modifications and changes to my vehicles. The trip to and from the Expo was no different, with my notebook filling more than usual with my new-to-me FJ Cruiser. One that stood out the most was the inability to charge most the gear that I brought while I was off the grid during those days.
While all my electronics were capable of charging from USB or 12V, I didn’t have the adapters nor the outlets to do so. I run a Go-Pro Hero HD as a dash cam for capturing my travels, and during long days the batteries can drain quickly. I made do this trip with running an extension cord from the back 120V outlet, but that just made for a cluttered front seat and console with chargers and cables everywhere. I wanted some USB and 12V outlets I can use with some short 6 inch USB cords for charging things nice and neat. Naturally, I looked at the products by Blue Sea Systems, which offer some of the nicest 12 volt components out there, and settled on one USB and one 12V panel mount outlet from them.
The outlets I used are fairly inexpensive at around $20 for the USB model and $8 for the 12V model, and the quality and appearance are great. The caps are rubberized and weather-resistant, yet removable if you wish for easier access. Deciding where to place them was pretty easy; I wanted them to be easily accessible by either driver or passenger, while still looking as if they were installed from the factory. I know some people install them in the rectangular space on the center console, but I’m planning to use that space in the future for a switch panel, so I opted for elsewhere.
Due to how the console bolts together, I had to space the outlets apart a bit, which wasn’t really much of an issue anyway. The outlets called for a 1 1/8″ hole, which was easy enough to drill through the plastic console with a good hole saw. Some of you may be hesitant to drill and cut interior components, but as you’ll see in the end, the finished product looks almost factory. If you’re worried about future resale value if you’re modifying your interior, as long as you think things through and do quality work I wouldn’t worry about it in the long run.
With both holes drilled out and making sure the outlets fit correctly, I removed the upper console portion and used a deburring tool to clean up the cuts. The back of the outlets have the + and – terminals clearly marked, so it’s as simple as using a female spade connector crimped on to suitable wiring. I used 16ga wiring since this is a pretty low draw application.
After sealing up the ends with heat-shrink to protect and insulate the connections, the wiring was closed in split loom to prevent any chafing on the cables underneath the console, which could lead to a potential short. Split loom is easy to find in large lengths online or in some auto supply stores, but I’ve found it to be much cheaper in bulk on-line as opposed to a place like Auto Zone.
Due to the outlet location, I opted not to use the panel mount flanges provided by Blue Sea. The outlets are held in by a plastic nut you can see in the previous wiring picture, and this area of the console is thick enough to not flex when plugging or unplugging cables. If mounting on a surface such as thin sheet metal or plastic, then I would probably recommend the mounting flanges.
Here we have the finished product with the covers closed. No exposed wiring, and a nice clean, professional look. These outlets were wired to always-on power to allow charging with the vehicle off if needed. The parasitic draw (power the outlets use with no devices plugged in) is about 15mAh (milli-amp hours), which is negligible even if your vehicle is sitting unattended for days or even weeks. Many modern cars have normal parasitic draw readings upwards of 50mAh. One must remember to unplug high-draw devices such as chargers, however, if leaving the vehicle off for longer periods of time. This is partly why I will install a separate on/off switch for these, so I can leave devices plugged in and still switch off power.