The impetus for this project was finding a spot on my dash for my RVIBrake2 remote controller, which plugs into - and is mounted on an accessory plug (Cigar lighter type plug). Unfortunately, there are no such plugs in the upper dash area of my motorhome. The existing receptacles are low and far from the driver, which is not convenient for using the remote.
Fortunately though, there is a storage area (storage bin and coin holder) in the upper dash area that I can re-use for my purpose. If the vehicle is ordered with a "Upfitter kit", this area would contain a set of 4 switches for use by vehicle conversion manufacturers (ambulance, RV, or other purposes), but if not ordered, Ford puts a small filler panel in that area that contains the storage bin.
I found that this storage bin just snaps into place, and is easily removed by standard stereo installer's dash tools. Once you get the bin out, you will find there is even a wiring harness available. So my plan is to have a custom panel made by Front Panel Express. I have had a dozen or so panels made by them over the last couple of years, and they do great work.
I made two different panels; one with the holes in it I think I needed, and one blank panel should I decide to make any changes (or if I did not do the primary panel correctly). I received the panels in less than 10 days.
When adding holes and slots into the panel, you will often want to consult the electronic parts specification sheets as many times, they have the suggested cut-out dimensions. It is often better to use those dimensions than using a micrometer even, as there may be clearance or fit issues.
For example, the switch I am using is a Carling 651/652 series. When consulting the spec sheet, there are three different suggested cut-out dimensions, depending on the thickness of the panel.
The panel has three different "modules" along with a switch. The modules, from left to right are:
The voltmeter is admittantly a bit of bling. When you have dash space, sometimes you think of things to put in the dash. However, the voltmeter is useful for watching the alternator charge kick in. As well, future plans may result in the voltmeter (via the switch) being able to monitor both house and vehicle batteries.
And since I will be connecting the panel to a non-switched power source (one of the existing Accessory Outlets), I need to turn the panel on and off so that I don't run the battery down... especially in storage.
I used 3M (Scotchlok) T-Taps to connect the panel to the existing wiring. These are superior in my view to the more traditional "splice" connectors. Either method is fine though, but make sure you tap into the correct wires or strange things can happen.
I have to say though - while I have not had any issues with the T-Taps, some people have reported problems with these kinds of connectors - generically called "vampire taps". I suppose in critical circuits this can be a problem, especially for connectors that are exposed to the environment. So use your own judgement as to which areas to use them in, or whether or not to use them at all. One caution I should make though is be sure you are using the correct size tap. If it is too small or too large, you might damage the wire.
Assembly otherwise is straightforward. All wiring was done with terminals, and the panel itself simply screwed into the dash with fashionable #6 hex head screws painted black.
I have to say, even after using the front panels for awhile, I am very pleased with the outcome of the project when using such resources. Your projects deserve such nice results.