Truck Camping - Dual Battery Setup

Truck Camping Essentials: Why You Need a Dual Battery Setup

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Printable Truck Camping Guide Available at End of Article

One of my most frequently asked questions about my truck camping setup was always in regards to a dual battery setup and adding an isolator. Up until now, my answer had always been, “I don’t know, but that’s something I really wanted to do before leaving!”

Before we get into how to install a second battery in your car or truck, maybe we should talk about WHY. A dual battery with an isolator, for those who don’t know, is pretty much what it sounds like: connecting two car batteries to your vehicle’s alternator while adding in an isolator of some sort to keep the batteries separate (isolated!).

In practice, this system means that while you are driving around all day you are charging both batteries like normal, but when the vehicle is off the batteries are not connected and cannot see one another.

Thus allowing you to connect your accessories and electronics up to this secondary battery to use while camping without ever worrying about killing your main battery and being unable to start your vehicle the following morning.

Truck Camping Essentials: Why You Need a Dual Battery Setup truck-camping

Standard Single Battery Use

Previously when I spent the better part of a year living out of my truck and on a West Coast USA road trip, I was running the normal single battery that every vehicle has.

Here you can see under the hood of my 1991 Toyota Pickup and how tight the engine compartment is for a dual battery setup.

This meant that when I was charging my electronics out of the canopy (I had a pod of three cigarette lighter adapters hooked up to my main battery in the back where I would run my 400w inverter) I would, perhaps over cautiously, idle my truck about every hour in order to ensure that I would not kill my battery.

The three prong cigarette lighter setup and inverter that I have installed in the back of my truck canopy for electronics.

I can think of few things worse than getting stuck out in the middle of Grand-Staircase Escalante’s Hole in the Rock road, or some other remote area and being unable to start your vehicle and being stuck without cell service.

I now picture Walter White in Breaking Bad rigging up sponges and various metal components to jumpstart their RV battery… Although I could never do that!

Alternatives to a Dual Battery Setup

Of course, you can buy portable emergency jumper batteries, they also sell batteries with a special jumper built right into it. But you don’t ever really want to kill your starter battery–it’s not good for them in the long run and they aren’t built to be drained down to zero and then charged back up.

I would read and read about the dual batteries and how to do isolator setups on the Internet from various websites and on Expedition Portal. But I just couldn’t really get my head around it.

Amps, grounding, various gauge wires, wiring, voltage, solenoids, blah, blah, blah. It’s all Greek to me.

Getting a Dual Battery Setup Installed

So I just bit the bullet this year before setting out on the road again and made some calls to area businesses and had them set me all up with a second car battery for accessories.

In all it only cost me about $370 for them to do it, about $120 of which was the cost of labor, the rest was the parts $120 for a deep cycle marine battery (which is what you definitely want as they are designed to be discharged down to zero).

I got an ACDelco M24MF marine battery, $55 for a NOCO 90A Isolator–which you can grab for less than $30 on Amazon, and the rest for miscellaneous parts like electrical wires to hook up the battery, new battery tray, etc.

Here you can see the deep cycle marine battery above (accessory battery) and the starter battery hidden down below to the right. The isolator is mounted to the frame right above the accessory battery.
Here you can see the deep cycle marine battery above (accessory battery) and the starter battery hidden down below to the right. The isolator is mounted to the frame right above the accessory battery.
The main starter battery now moved into the space below. This does make it a little trickier to get a jump start, but it is possible.
The main starter battery is now moved into the space below. This does make it a little trickier to get a jump start, but it is possible.
The new accessory battery which runs everything in the canopy. The thin red wire runs to the back of the canopy. That wire has since been replaced with a thicker gauge.
The new accessory battery runs everything in the canopy. The thin red wire runs to the back of the canopy.

Of course, you can order super duper fancy dual battery isolators with a smart brain and panel readout which shows how much power remains in each battery, how much they’re charging, and how much they are being drawn down.

But those kits run upward of hundreds of dollars themselves, and that’s without the second battery or any installation.

Or you could go a little simpler and get a switch that you have to physically turn on or off to ensure that you are charging both batteries or isolating them. The risk with those setups, of course, is that you can forget to isolate the batteries at the end of the day and end up, possibly, running both down.

Here is a closer shot of the NOCO battery isolator that I had installed for my dual battery setup.
Here is a closer shot of the NOCO battery isolator that I had installed for my dual battery setup.

Really you just need a simple battery isolator kit, which also means that less that can go wrong with it on the road as well. Which electronics are absolutely notorious for doing.

Reading online it never sounded too complicated–but with the grounding of the batteries and things of that nature, it was just over my head. So, if you’re able, definitely follow this Expedition Portal thread about a $50 isolated dual battery.

Or, if you’re like me, and that’s still too complex, do it the true dummy’s way and have a local handyman install it for you.

Most normal auto repair shops will not want to do a dual battery setup.

So your best bet is to call around to car stereo specialists (they often install a second battery for their clients to run their high-powered stereos) or to call an RV repair place or shop (who are more specialized in the needs and demands of using a second car battery for a home on wheels).

I called both. The audio stereo specialists quoted me a price of upward of $500. And the RV repair folks quoted me about $350.

I ended up going with Affordable RV Repair in Bremerton, WA. They had the best rate and they came recommended by my neighborhood mechanic.

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Toyota 4 x 4 Pickup 22RE

The other complication with doing an overland dual battery setup in my truck, a 1991 Toyota Pickup (Hilux) which predates the Tacoma models, is that it features a small engine compartment.

The 22RE models are renowned the world over for their reliability and toughness (the AK-47 of the automobile world–indeed insurgent groups in the harshest of conditions often use the Hilux), it is quite a tight little engine and there isn’t a lot of room under the hood.

Another problem is that a deep cycle battery (as mentioned, this is the kind you need for an accessory battery) is slightly larger than your standard car battery so you need a little bit more room for them.

Just when I sort of thought I had a grasp on the logistics of mounting a second battery to a truck, I struggled with the question of where I could actually PUT the second battery in this small space. I’d prefer to put into under the hood of the engine rather than placing a second battery in my truck which can release noxious gases into the sleeping compartment.

All the more reason to take it into the professionals.

Chatting with the pros, we decided that we could move the starter battery down a little bit into the empty space near the radiator (just down and to the looker’s right of the original location), and thus mount the larger deep cycle marine battery where the starter battery used to go.

They wired each battery up to the alternator and then mounted the isolator to the frame nearby.

Another shot of my truck camping dual battery setup and engine compartment.
Another shot of my truck camping dual battery setup and engine compartment.

As a side note, this did cause a problem when I shipped my truck back to the United States from South America. The boat journey was more than a month without starting the truck, meaning the battery died. The dock workers in Florida tried to jump-start my truck on the boat (trying to jump the second battery) and obviously failed, so they had to push and tow it off the boat.

When I came to collect my truck in Jacksonville, they told me the truck wouldn’t start but I convinced them to try to jump me again, explaining the second battery, and it started right up. If you’re ever in a similar situation, definitely put a note in the window — I asked about doing this in Buenos Aires, but they assured me that it wasn’t necessary.

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You Need a Dual Battery Setup!

Besides adding a truck canopy and outfitting the back for gear storage and sleeping, I think adding the second battery was the best thing I’ve done to make life on the road more comfortable.

I have yet to kill my second battery and have been able to keep all my electronics charged without fail while camping for up to three nights without ever even starting my truck.

Again, I don’t know how much things are drawing down, or how far I could have taken my single starter battery previously, I just know now that both Andrea and I are able to easily keep our two cell phones, two cameras, two laptops, and other miscellaneous electronic devices charged and ready to go.

We’ve even been running a personal fan off the secondary battery throughout the nights in the heat of the desert or tropical coast while camping, which makes it so much more comfortable to sleep.

If you have lights installed in the back of the canopy and you tend to use them a lot, then be sure to have their wiring switched over to draw power from the accessory battery rather than the standard battery. In either case, I don’t really use them that much and don’t have any high-end special lights installed in the back, just the standard canopy LED light that came with the canopy.

Running a standard household personal fan off my dual battery setup which can run through the night, no problem.
Running a standard household personal fan off my dual battery setup which can run through the night, no problem.

Of course, never forget your ABCs — Always Be Charging — while you are on driving throughout the day, for us that usually means cell phones connected up front, perhaps a camera, and then charging other items in the back of the canopy, most often the laptops.

If you’re really wanting to do it right, you should run a thick gauge wire from your secondary battery back to the canopy hook-up, that way you’ll get the strongest connection with the power. For instance, I cannot run my laptop connected to the inverter, I can only charge it and then later run it off the laptop battery.

Since I originally posted this, I’ve run thick, heavy wires from the second battery straight back to my inverter. I can now run pretty much whatever I want back there, including using my laptop while it is connected. It was a great change!

You can get super complex, some campers even run mini-fridges out of the back of their canopies while on the road. It seems cool, but I haven’t gotten to that point, nor am I willing to shell out the $600+ for one of those fridges. You might be better off just going for one of those Yeti coolers.


All-in-all, I am SO happy to finally have an isolated dual battery setup, and anyone that is seriously looking at spending a longer stretch of time on the road and truck camping should absolutely have one in their setup.

So even if you’re a mechanical and electrically dummy like me, you shouldn’t be intimidated, just call around to your neighborhood RV and car audio specialists and explain what you are looking for, a dual battery setup with an isolator in order to charge and run accessories.

It should run you around $400 and is absolutely worth every penny, as far as I am concerned.

Have any questions about getting a dual battery setup? Do you have one of these systems in place already? Sound off in the comments below with your experience and perspective.

Dual Battery Resources

Looking for more truck camping essentials? Read more about what I take along truck camping or browse the site for tons more posts about truck camping, road trips, and travel off the beaten path.

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The Most Common Truck Bed Camping Mistakes

Pickup Truck Camping Guide

Turn your pickup truck into the ultimate adventure mobile. This printable truck camping guide will help you through the process.


  1. Get a truck if you don't have one! 🙂 I've traveled all over the world in my 1991 Toyota Pickup. The bigger the truck bed the better. Short beds have workarounds but they are not ideal unless you are quite small.
  2. Find a new or used canopy for your truck. Read this guide on what to look for when buying a canopy. My top recommendation is to find an elevated canopy like the Leer 122 (what I use).
  3. Decide on what sort of truck bed sleeping platform you want to build. The two most common are an elevated sleeping platform or the backshelf (and side-shelf) approaches. I did a transformer setup for the best of both worlds, here is my step-by-step guide building the transformer style setup.
  4. Purchase essential gear to start truck camping which includes a sleeping pad or mattress, sleeping bag, two-burner stove, cooler, storage boxes, etc.
  5. Go on a test truck camping run at a free boondocking campsite without amenities to test your setup. Read more about finding free camping in the USA.
  6. Consider your electronics system and how you will charge devices while on the road. You could get an outside system like the GoalZero Yeti but I recommend using a dual battery and isolator under the hood.
  7. Join the Pickup Truck Camping group on Facebook for an amazing, like-minded community where you can ask questions and get answers from experienced truck campers. Be sure to pick up your #PTC stickers, shirts, and swag!
  8. Review the detailed truck camping gear and accessories (plus a packing list) and start planning your epic truck camping adventures. Might I suggest this national park road trip, the most scenic drives in the USA, or this west coast USA road trip? Here is more info on road trip planning for you, based on 10s of thousands of miles of adventures.
  9. Sign up for more truck camping tips, tricks, and info delivered straight to your email inbox from yours truly.


I hope this helped you get started with truck camping! I know it can be confusing when you are just getting started, which is why I started writing so extensively about it.

If you have any questions about truck camping, road trips, budget travel, or anything else shoot me an email at

(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)

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Truck Camping Essentials: Why You Need a Dual Battery Setup truck-camping


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 43

  1. Thanks for sharing this information! Now that I have read and understand each step. I’m completely prepared to carry out the procedure in an easy and simple way

  2. If you have your batteries mounted close together, it are willing to spend the extra money for heavy gauge wire to run to the back battery, you can also run a heavy jumper wire around the isolator with a simple manual isolator switch.
    Normally leave it off and the Electronic isolator does it’s charging job and isolates the back battery when the engine is off, but if you get in a bind and find that your engine battery has died on you, you just turn the switch and the isolator is bypassed and you have the two batteries connected to start your truck!

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  3. Actually you shouldn’t run any battery down to zero. Deep cycle marine (AGM) batteries shouldn’t be discharged below 50% and most Lithium chemistry based batteries can be discharged down to 20%. They will both handle deep discharges better than standard lead acid batteries (which will die after only a few deep discharges) but you will not get the 100s (or 1000s) of charge cycles they are capable of.

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      Fair enough, Larry, although in practice, I think most people won’t be constantly fully discharging their deep cycle marine battery as an accessory battery and most will find they get plenty of life out of the batteries. My first one lasted a few years of almost constant truck camping and use. Thanks for the detailed explanation!

  4. I put mt second battery underneath the bed in my canopy and used a 12 volt relay that activates when the truck is running to charge it and drops out when the truck is parked, Reason for the relay is that you dont loose the 0.6 volts that you would with the solid state isolater. in a 12 volt system 0.6 Volts does make a difference

  5. this has been such an awesome guide to truck camping!!!! THANK YOU! i am a true city gal that bought a 2018 tacoma! i’ve always wanted a truck and i’m really into this idea of learning how to truck camp! i love road tripping but camping is foreign to me. after reading your guide i feel better about starting this journey soon. question: who would be the best person to have build the dual battery line to the canopy? would that be someone who installs the dual battery? there’s no way in hell i can do that! anyway, thanks again! your guide is now permanently saved in my notes!

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      Yes, could probably be the person who installed the battery if you don’t already have some connection back there. Just make sure they install thick enough gauge wires so you get whatever current you need back there. If the person who installs the dual battery doesn’t do it, you could talk to pretty much any mechanic who does electrical work. It isn’t too tricky, basically just feeding the cables all the back and fishing them out of holes. Glad you liked the guide!

  6. Hello my name is keiran and I’ve been wanting to set up a dual battery in my truck for quite awhile now but I’m wanting to do the work myself. I also happen to be in Bremerton and would love to take a look at your setup!

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      Haha, wow, it’s a small world! Unfortunately, I’m not in Bremerton at the moment but rather way down south in Medellin, Colombia. Hope the article helps you get something setup though…

  7. Hey I have a 2014 Ford F 150 supercrew offroad, has the 6.5 ft bed with a canopy on it. I set it up with a dual battery isolator by Stinger, used a 500 amp. Got 2 Optima batteries, one Red Top and one Yellow Top. I put the second battery in my bed in my canopy. I built a sleeper system with lots of storage. My wife and I are quite comfy back there when we boon dock. My off road lights are my next big project after my brush guard install. My pickup has the 3.5 liter Eco boost v6 twin turbo and 4×4. Has the max tow package. Thank you for your ideas on building my camper so my wife and I can enjoy camping

  8. hi Ryan! awesome site with a lot of great info! i have a ’90 hilux with the Yn105 motor with 54k kms. I noticed in the stock diesel versions of the hilux they put the battery in the right side of the engine bay (opposite side of original battery). Any reason why you didnt put it there? I’m deciding to get a dual battery set up but wanted to get your thoughts on that. cheers Al

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      I didn’t have any room in my truck to put the battery on the right side. Basically the only free space was the area just below where the originally starter battery sat, so that’s what we had to do. If you’ve got the room, it would be better if they were situated so tightly like mine.

  9. Hi Guys!

    So I used 6ga wire, ran it to the back of my car, and put a power inverter back there! Sadly tho, it seems 12v doesn’t operate well under long distances. So to fix this, i added a second battery in the back of my car! I used Blue Sea Systems Auto Charging Relay, and some more 6ga wire, to have my inverter run only off the rear battery, or both batteries at once! To top it all off I received two 8v (1.88 amps) DOT approved solar panels from a friend, and wired them to make 16v (amperage stays same), then put a solar charge controller inbetween them and the battery, and now I never have to worry about a dead battery. If it dies, I just wait for the sun to come out. I now can charge construction batteries in the back of my car without the fear of having a no start situation

    1. And Ryan, The inverter in the back canopy is far less efficient than if you were to wire it up front! This is what made me put my second battery in the back of the car. If at all possible, rewire it as close to battery (preferably in the cab somewhere) and run 110v back from there! Please also to remember to fuse everything that you do! As without a fuse there is nothing to stop the flow of power if you were to be in an accident!

  10. Though never did truck camping before but i guess this is a no brainer, keeping two batteries to have one in case of emergency if you end up being in the middle of no where. isn’t it?

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  11. i have a Toyota and was not able to install dual battery in it. thanks for this awesome article which helped me to install another battery easy. much appreciated!

  12. Thanks tons Ryan! We are taking a long term trip this summer and I need more power and I am a mechanical/electrical dummy like you 🙂 Just hope my husband (an even worse dummy) will agree to the extra expense!

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      That’s awesome! Yeah, I would definitely recommend the dual battery setup, it’s a total game changer. Hope you get your husband on board! 🙂

  13. All very helpful Ryan! So appreciate what you have offered. I am hoping my 2009 Toyota will have room for a dual battery setup…time will tell. For the time being I have kept my truck without any wood using hammock nets and a few containers….I was a member on FB but for some reason it doesn’t recognize me…maybe too low key…will photograph someday for you when I am actually on the road. For now it’s weekends…a senior hoping to paint plain air. Happy travels!

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      Hey Elizabeth, thanks so much for the comment and glad the article was helpful. If my little ’91 22RE had room for a dual battery, I’m sure someone can squeeze another battery into yours. Just have to talk with a creative mechanic. Look forward to seeing photos!

  14. Cool Thank you. Found them. Very similar set up. I went with the top sleep at up tho because my canopy is a bit taller. I’ll keep an eye out for you around WA. Cheers!

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  15. Hi Ryan,

    Just wondering if you have any pics of your ’91 Toy? I have a ’94 that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m not on any social networks anymore as I got tired of seeing what my friends where eating for dinner. I’ve been thinking of the same set up but progress is when I have time. In Puyallup WA.

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  16. Hi Ryan,

    Really enjoyed your posts about your bed setup and batteries. I can relate since my wife and I have been truck camping for years all over the west in a 1997 Ford f-150 4×4 extended cab (which I love the extra room in the cab)with a wedged carpeted Leer camper shell. Love it and makes a great base camp. We’ve done extended self sufficient trips in remote areas with 7 to 10 days between town resupplies so I have carried an extra battery for some time and it works great. Even hooked up LED X-mas lights one time on a cactus with a inverter. I use a very simple isolation set up. I just use a manual kill switch between batteries to isolate the deep cycle when not charging. Kill (isolation )switch is under the dash and easy to reach. Mounted 6 12v outlets in the cab and 2 in the camper direct wired to the deep cycle battery with separate fuse. That gives me 8 12v outlets in the cab including the ones that came with the truck and 2 in the camper. Plug in some small USB plugs and ready to go with all kinds of electronics. Also carry a small 140V inverter for some electronics …bought at Walmart which is handy too. We find we can camp in much rougher terrain than where a tent would be uncomfortable and impractical, and I carry some basic leveling blocks, also double for jacking blocks for recovery. The camper is also great to get out of wind or marginal weather and still get some sleep. We have a big tarp to extend off the back or side so we can still be protected when cooking or getting out of the truck or need desert or summer shade.

    For security I have a chain and pad lock behind the grill so I can lock down the hood and we can put some valuables under the hood for security when parked for hiking etc. Poor man’s safe. I also have a well hidden kill switch that completely kills the ignition. Some one tried to steal our truck in Las Vegas and if they had succeeded they would have had a bundle $$$$ in truck, camping, ski, and climbing gear. Broke the door lock and ignition so it could be started with a screw driver but the kill switch saved our bacon although they got some items from the cab. I now also have a stout length of chain that goes around the steering column and then around the brake pedal with ends locked tight with a pad lock. Can’t brake or shift the gear shift, or turn the steering wheel as a result. Also have a crude loud home made security alarm on the camper door that triggers a second horn under the hood. Got paranoid after the Vegas theft attempt. Mainly this stuff slows down the thief and makes a difficult and slow target and hopefully they move on.

    After years of remote truck camping we opted for the elevated shelf for sleeping with two large pull out drawers. The bed is also divided into 4 hatches. But our camper shell is wedged with extra height so it gives more head room. Although one draw back to a wedged cap and bigger tires and stiff suspension is to watch out for lower clearance parking garages!!! I need 7 + feet.

    Have a bunch of other additions as well. Use an Acer tablet with a GPS and topo program for navigation. Same program on my Android phone. Down load maps off line or anywhere I have wireless or use hotspot on my phone if I can get cell coverage. This works great especially at night, If I have data coverage I can use Google Earth to see the terrain in detail, and have found some good camping spots this way at night. Have lots of camp sites and points of interest listed on the topo program. It also tracks me real time and can post waypoints and tracks, and measure distances, goto’s etc. Great and user friendly program with numerous mapping options. Back Country Navigator Pro. Last thing I purchased was a Scan Gauge that plugs into the port for engine diagnostics so I can track gas mileage, engine performance, and engine codes etc. Can also easily check battery voltage and charge levels. Also on a search and rescue team in AZ so all this stuff comes in real handy on remote SAR missions if I take my own truck.

    Good adventuring,

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      No, inside the cab it is still hooked up traditionally to the starter battery where you can’t charge without the key. In the canopy though I can charge whenever with no key in the ignition off of my second battery.

      1. Out of curiosity I have one of those conversion Van’s from the 90s that were set up to be quite comfortable has storage spaces and the rear bench seat that transforms into a bed and I was thinking about using it as a cross country camper would this dual system work or would I need to try something else I had originally wanted to do something similar to u with truck and canopy unfortunately I do not have the money to purchase and upgrade a truck sufficiently

  17. That’s a really cool setup! My husband wants to do something similar with our truck. However, he has no idea what he’s doing, so this tutorial is going to be really helpful! Thank you.

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  18. Great write-up and set of resources. I’m ordering parts and have a few questions:
    1) Does the isolator you chose prevent overcharging of the deep cycle battery?
    2) How does the Noco isolator differ from the less expensive solenoids listed in the Expedition write up?
    3) What does the wiring look like leading from the second battery to your power delivery points?
    4) Do you have a DC port and/or inverter in your cab as well as your camper shell.
    5) Did you route that wire through the engine firewall and further back, or did you route it under the chassis? Pictures would be great! 🙂

    Thanks for the continuing great resources!

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      Lots of questions! I’m not the best one to answer, haha, since I’m relatively incompetent at electrical stuff. 1,2) Don’t know, though I don’t think it overcharges the battery–not any more than it would your regular starter battery, right? It’s been hooked up for half a year at least now. 3) I’ll have to grab a better picture for you. 4) I have a second inverter, but I did not hook it up directly to the second battery, I’ve thought about it though. Sometimes I will pop the hood and hook my second inverter up directly to the battery and run my extension cord from the inverter to where I need–primarily just to use my computer while it charges (I can’t from the inverter in the canopy). 5) The wire to the canopy is routed underneath the body of the truck all the way to the back corner and up into the canopy.

  19. This a good idea for peace of mind. I have been out in the wild, in my Tacoma, worried if it will start the next day.
    I have seen where they will put the extra battery in the bed of the truck. You don’t have to run a huge battery cable to it from the isolator in the engine compartment, as it is just charging the battery. I think you may smell it in that confined space though.

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      I would definitely recommend it, totally worth it to be able to charge your electronics, run your lights, etc with no worries of being left stranded the next day! I thought about doing it in the bed, but then you should definitely get one of those fully sealed batteries that wont give off any noxious fumes.

  20. Nice update. I’m heading out on another road trip this summer in my tacoma and I may just consider this. I’m ok with charging my electronics while driving (ABC’s, I liked that). But seeing that picture of a fan had me wishing for a dual battery. Sometimes it gets stuffy under the canopy.

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      Hey Tim, I’d definitely recommend doing the dual battery setup. It has made life on the road so much better. Seriously. The fan is clutch, and being able to keep everything charged without worry is a huge step up. Love it and wish I had done it two years ago… Hope you are well!

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