How to Install Solar Panels on a Camper Van Conversion with 3M VHB Tape (no holes!)

Last Updated: October 31, 2021

How to Install Solar Panels on a Camper Van Conversion with 3M VHB Tape (no holes!)

Solar Panels Installation

Solar panels are a key element for off-the-grid vanlife; if you say freedom, we say solar power! The electrical system of our campervan is designed to power our appliances (fan, lights, 12V fridge, etc) and can be charged with solar power, alternator or shore. The present article covers the installation of our solar panels; if you are looking for more info about designing your own system, then we have a very comprehensive Electrical System Design Guide for you here: faroutride.com/electrical-system .

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait-FarOutRide-Isabelle-Antoine-Van

Time Spent

0 HOURS

Total Cost

$ 0 USD

Material

ITEMDESCRIPTIONQUANTITYLINK
Wiring Diagram & TutorialFollow this for a safe and reliable electrical system1FarOutRide
Solar PanelNewPowa 180W2Amazon
VHB Tape Roll3M, 4991, Double-Sided1Amazon
Z Bracket KitRenogy2Amazon
Parallel MC4 ConnectorsAs Required (only if you choose to connect the panels in parallel)1Amazon
Cable Entry GlandRight Angle, 3/8″ (what we used)1Amazon
Entry Box (other nice option)1Amazon
Extension Cable15 feet, Pair with MC-4 Connectors, 8AWG1Amazon
Dicor 501 LSG-1 Lap SealantSelf Leveling Lap Sealant, Grey (for horizontal surface)1Amazon
Isopropyl alcoholTo clean the surfaces  
Primer, Paint & ClearcoatTo protect bare surfaces after drilling  

1- Disclosure

We would recommend this installation method for a new van, but we do NOT recommended this method for an older vehicle. Remember that the 3M VHB tape is holding on THE PAINT, so if the paint chips off (e.g. because of rust) you might loose your panels and potentially KILL someone.

2- Long Term Update

Hi, this is us from the future! It’s 2021, we still live full time in our van, and our panels are still holding strong (since 2016)! We didn’t have to re-do anything; we occasionally check them and it’s all good 🙂

3- Go Pro (An alternative to DIY)

Hi, it’s us again from the future. Vanlife has gone mainstream, it means a bunch of cool new products are now available! If we had to start over today, we would consider getting one of these new Flatline Van Co roof racks, because they have a few benefits:

FlatLine Van Co "Low Pro" Roof Rack
  • Modular: you can shuffle the cross bars around to fit your custom roof layout (e.g. solar panels/roof fan/etc);
  • Low profile: a bit more stealth and aerodynamic than the tubular aluminum “overland-style” roof rack;
  • Easy installation: it’s attached to the van’s roof with the factory mount points (no-drill!), and because they are modular they ship flat packed in a box and they are easier to install (less bulky);
  • Easy to install gear and accessories: the cross bars are 80/20 aluminum extrusions, so you can get creative and attach pretty much anything in any possible way: solar panels, decking, awning (Fiamma F45S direct-mount, no drill), light bar, etc.

For more info (features, specifications, installation, ordering, etc.) click below:

4- How we installed our solar panels on our van

4.1- Test everything

Just after we finished installing everything, we realized that we did not test any of the components… If any item was defective (panel, connector, wire), we would have to disassemble everything… Fortunately, things always work for the best so we did not have to undo our work!

To test, we could have just connect the panels to the MC4 parallel connector, then connect to the extension cable, and finally check the voltage at the end of the extension cables. We did that at the very end of our installation.

4.2- Pre-install the brackets on the solar panels

It’s easier to do this on the ground…

Solar Panel Installation, fastener stackup

4.3- Relocate the brackets in the inside edge

This is to minimize the gap between the panels, so they are installed toward the middle of the roof and are less visible from the ground. A minimum gap should be left to account for thermal expansion and for installation access.

Solar Panel Installation, relocating bracket

4.4- Install the 3M VHB tape on the brackets

We selected 3M VHB tape to avoid drilling through the roof. AM Solar have been doing it for YEARS and never lost a panel. Where a screw will grip through the sheet metal, the tape rely solely on the paint to hold; therefore, we don’t recommend to use tape on rusted, damaged or used paint. In other words, we trust the tape method because the van is NEW. Also, we check our panels installation regularly.

Per manufacturer recommendation, the minimum application temperature for 4991 tape is 60F.

Solar Panel Installation, apply 3M VHB to brackets

4.5- Trim Out the MC4 connector from the extension cables

This is to allow to route the extension cables through the roof AND to connect them into the Victron MPPT solar charge controller.

Red Cable

Trim out the MALE MC4 connector:

Extension-Cable-for-Solar-Panel-with-MC4-Connector-(RED-TRIM)
bLACK Cable

Trim out the FEMALE MC4 connector:

Extension-Cable-for-Solar-Panel-with-MC4-Connector-(BLACK-TRIM)

4.6- Route the extension cables through the cable gland

It’s easier to do on the ground! We used right angle glands, but if you chose an entry box it’s just fine too. Remember that the cable end with the MC4 connector goes OUTSIDE the van; the cable end without MC4 connector goes INSIDE the van.

4.7- Pre-Fit the solar panels on the roof

Now get up there with the solar panels and mark their exact location (e.g. by tracing the footstep of the Z brackets).

4.8- Drill the holes for the cable glands (or entry box)

4.8.1- Drill

We found it easier to do this by removing the solar panels. We pre-drilled and then used a hole saw:

Solar Panel Installation, drill roof
Solar Panel Installation, saw roof

4.8.2- Break the sharp edges with a file and smooth the surfaces with a fine sandpaper

This is to prepare the surface for touch-up.

Solar Panel Installation, file and sand

4.8.3- Apply Primer, Paint & Clearcoat on hole edge

Paint protects bare metal from rusting. It’s important to restore the finish after drilling (or cutting) the metal.

TIP #1: You can have your exact van color prepared for you in almost any auto-parts store. Just give them your color-code (printed on the driver’s door frame), year of production and make.

TIP #2: Spray works best, but DO NOT spray directly on the surface for small touch ups (it does a messy job)! Spray a small amount of paint into a plastic container and touch up using a brush. This photo shows how NOT TO DO IT (lesson learned!) 🙂

Solar Panel Installation, edge touch up

4.9- Install the solar panels on the roof (don't secure them with the vhb tape just yet)

Connect all the cables. Route all the cables in a way that they won’t rub with the roof (because this would damage the paint in the long term). 

Solar Panel Installation, cable routing

4.10- Route the extension cables through the roof without securing the glands yet

Solar Panel Installation, cable interior routing

4.11- Clean the roof with isopropyl alcohol, peel off the 3M VHB tape and press firmly to adhere

No picture here, sorry… We had to act fast and it turned out a bit more complicated than anticipated: you get no access to the center of the roof, the cables must be neatly fitted and you get one chance only to stick the 3M tape at the right place…

4.12- Fasten the glands to the roof

No picture here, sorry…

4.13- Seal all the brackets and the glands with Dicor Lap Sealant

The bracket are sealed to prevent water contamination with the tape; it should help in the long run. We could not seal the inner edge of each bracket because we had no access.

Solar Panels Installation, sealing the brackets

4.14- Final Test

We don’t have the charge controller installed yet, but we can ensure there is voltage coming from the panels. It works!

Solar Panel InstallationSolar Panel Installation, testing the voltage, testing the voltage

4.15- Reward earned!

A fresh double I.P.A. and a poutine will do just fine as a reward 🙂

Solar Panel Installation, double IPA
Solar Panel Installation, Poutine

5- On second thought...

2 years 5 years later and we’re still super happy with the solar panels; it passed the test of time! We did upgrade our PWM solar charge controller for a MPPT solar charge controller, but we updated our Electrical System article and Wiring Diagram accordingly. We also reviewed the Victron MPPT charger and the Victron system monitor:

6- Inspiration of the moment

Did you ever have this wild dream of quitting your job and travel the world in a van? These guys had this dream, and went after it… very motivating reading!

Download the eBook from Amazon.

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About-Us-Narrow

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then, and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!