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Road trip with solar panel between roof rack...

17048 Views 15 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  MorganBrogan
Hello Forum! I'm planning a 8000+ miles cost to cost and back road trip this August. It is going to be Me, Wife and 2 preteen kids. I'm going to camp most of the nights and though about how I can make this trip as comfortable and convenient as I can for them. I had several ideas that came across my mind. One of them include mounting a 250 watt solar panel between the roof rack of my 04. I searched around the internet and didn't find any Sienna owner posting about mods with solar panel so I'm starting one here.

Why solar panel??? I was thinking that I can run a chest freezer and bring frozen food to the camp sites. I'm not sure if I will proceed. If I do, I will only need to get a few parts and the rest, I already have.

  • 250 watt solar panel - ~$400 Amazon
  • Solar MPPT Charge controller - ~$100 Amazon
  • 12v Batteries - I have 4, 12v, 75ah but 2 is probably sufficient for my needs
  • Inverter - I have a Xantrex 1000W sine inverter
  • Cables - I have 50' roll of 4 gauge cable.
  • Chest Freezer - I have a 5 cf Kenmore. It may take up too much space. Considering the following smaller ones
    • Danby 3.6 cf - ~$200
    • Avanti 2.1 cf - ~$200
    • Whynter 65 Quart - ~$500
    • ARB 63 Quart (splurge ~$900)
  • Small Microwave - ~$100
  • Fan-Tastic Vent - Not sure of the cost and not sure if I want to punch a hole on the roof of my Sienna.
So my question to you Forum is, will this work? One issues that I can think of is charging the battery in the heat when parked under the sun. That is why I consider the vent fan. But I'm not sure if I can install that vent fan on the roof of the Sienna.

My other option is to wire the inverted to car's battery and run the chest freezer when driving. My concern is that there will be periods of time where I won't drive much for 2 to 3 days. Will stuff stay frozen in a unpowered chest freezer for 3 days in a sun heated car?

My other, other option is to run off 2 (or 4) of the 75 ah batteries that I have and charge those battery when driving. But is it safe to run a chest freezer off batteries in the heat of a closed car (probably up to ~115°f)?
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happycamper, thanks for your suggestion but I have never tow and wouldn't want to start for an 8000+ mile trip that includes some unpaved roads. I can't disagree that comfort and convince is better but, cost is probably not less. I defiantly would consider it for shorter trip.

Quick cost breakdown.
  • Hitch ~$200
  • 4 week rental for a popup tent trailer $xxxx
  • MPG penalty 5 mpg to 10 mpg of my usual 25 mpg is $320 - $850 in gas at $4/gal for 8000 miles
i doubt a solar panel is going to come close to keeping any kind of chest fridge/freezer functioning. The 250 watt solar is in full sunshine maxed out. even the smallest compressor cooled chest is going to use a lot more than that and you have to consider clouds and night in the equation. the $$$ you are considering investing will buy a lot of bags of Ice along the route. Even a DC powered fridge will empty a regular size 24 RV battery down to nothing in a few hours. Some more reading on current requirements:
Thanks for the link. The article is very interesting and informative. But nowhere does it indicate a compressor cooled fridge / freezer will drain a battery in a day. It does mention the solid state cooler draining the battery without running the engine. I am not looking to use the solid state coolers.

The article does strengthen my belief that the power from the solar is sufficient to power a chest freezer. The author used the following setup as his example.
  • 100w panel (that cost $950 back then :0)
  • A highly efficient SunDanzer freezer rated at (~1000 current day price)
    • 36.7 amp-hour/day load at 90° F (summer)
    • 22.6 amp-hour/day load at 70° F (winter)
​I am thinking of using a the following setup
  • 250w panel ($400 shipped)
  • Not so efficient but a lot lest costly (under $200) chest freezer rated at
    • 215Kwh / year (equivalent to 49 amp-hour/day)
    • Adding an excessive 60% summer efficiency reduction will equate to 78 amp-hour/day
What I am concern about is the heat from the sun and freezer exhaust, trapped into an enclosed car. Heat is not good for electronics and battery. I guess this whole setup depends on if I want to take on the challenge of installing the roof vent. I have time to think about this...
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Thanks to all that responded. I'm going to abandon the solar idea and just get one of the ARB 12V freezer. It is super-efficient. I will be able to run it off the Sienna's battery and set it to cut off at certain voltage to protect the battery. Here is a line taken form Amazon's product description
The 50-quart model is able to maintain sub-freezing temperatures in 90 degree heat while only drawing 0.87 amps per hour from a 12-volt power source​

With this, everything is a lot simpler. No need for all the complicated setup that I mentioned before.

datsa noydb - This is more of a see the country trip and sleep at camp site to save money. I'm not planning to spend much time at the camp site other than shower and sleep.
Quick update... bought lots of goodies for my van.

- ARB Fridge Freezer 50 Qt (10800472)
$677.48 shipped from Autoplicity

- CURT Receiver Hitches - Class 3
- WeatherTech Side Window Deflector - All 4 Windows
$225.61 shipped. Both from AutoAnything

- Airlift 1000
$63.63 after using a $40 off $100 form Advanceautoparts

- ScanGauge II Digital Trip Monitor
$115 after using coupon from Advanceautoparts

- Planning to get a hitch bike rack to carry 4 bikes

As for maintainance
- flushed the brake lines
- checked brake pads
- changed front rotors
- flusled trans oil and coolant about 10k miles ago
- Planning to change the oil (Mobile 1 extended performance 5w-20) and used oversize oil (Purolator PureONE PL20195) filter right before leaving for the 8k miles tirp
- Debating if I should change the timing belt... 04 with ~65k miles on it. What do you guys think?
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I'm back from my trip. Traveled a bit over 9200 miles from Coast to Coast and reach over 12,000 ft at Rocky Mountains. Overall, my Sienna did a great job. I managed to average 26 MPG as per ScanGuage, traveling mostly at the speed limit. I did manage to scrape a hole in the front exhaust pipe when pulling off to the side of the road. Other than that, the ATF temp reached 240F on a ~100F outdoor temp climb up Yosamite National Park. I got worried and pulled over for it to cool a bit. It was quite common to see ATF temp reach up to 230 on a long hill climb even when the air temp was in the 80's.

As for my ARB frig, I was able to keep it running all through out the trip without any issues. Having a icy drink after seeing the hoover dam at 100F was nice :p
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