Update your loose lighter socket (and optional DIN socket) with modern 12-volt power and USB ports
Many early-1980s Vanagon dashboard cigarette lighter sockets are slightly larger than North American plugs, making for a sloppy fit when using modern 12-volt phone chargers, lights, fans and other accessories.
In addition, some Vanagons are also equipped with a DIN receptacle, a small enigmatic electrical ‘silver socket’ similarly mounted to the dashboard near the glovebox, and commonly used in Europe for 12-volt accessories. Sadly, accessories wired with this DIN plug are nearly impossible to find in North America, so the socket typically goes unused here.
Fortunately, both these power sockets can be rather easily updated with better fitting and more useful modern sockets; I opted for one standard cigarette-lighter socket, plus a modern dual-USB port for charging digital devices. Both sockets are close enough to the glovebox that charging cords can easily be routed to your electronic toys even when safely tucked away inside the glovebox.
We’ll start by removing the original sockets, enlarge the mounting holes in the dashboard, add new connectors to the existing wiring, then finish by mounting the new sockets.
PARTS & MATERIALS
- 12-volt Panel-Mount Socket (cigarette-lighter type)
- 12-volt Panel-Mount Socket (dual USB socket device charger)
- Fully-insulated 16-14-gauge female spade electrical connectors, .25″ tab
- flat-bladed screwdriver, very small
- electrical wire cutter/stripper/crimper
- Dremel-type motor tool w/ metal grinding bits
- 22mm deep socket
- electric drill & step drill bit large enough to fit new sockets (approx. 1.125″ or 29-30mm)
Such power sockets can see heavy usage in a Camper, requiring extra durability, so I selected a matched pair of heavy-duty marine outlets designed for use in boats. These outlets included optional heavy-duty mounting plates and snap-in water-resistant rubber covers, both of which I found to be unnecessary.
Step 1: Remove old cigarette lighter socket
As always, when working on a vehicle’s electrical system, disconnect the battery to prevent shorts and shocks. If your Vanagon is equipped with a second (auxiliary) battery, disconnect this, too.
It will be helpful to completely remove the glovebox from the van, so empty it out and unclip the two plastic retaining straps located in the front corners; pivot the glovebox completely downward until it can be disengaged from the hinge bracket and removed.
Reach up beneath the dashboard and wriggle loose the plastic wiring connector from the back of the cigarette-lighter socket.
To remove the original cigarette lighter from the dashboard, insert a very small screwdriver into the socket and carefully pry loose the two metal tabs locking the metal inner portion of the socket to the plastic outer surround. The metal socket must be removed first, allowing the plastic ring to follow.
Step 2: Enlarge mounting hole
Try fitting the new cigarette-lighter socket into the mounting hole; if it fits, you’re good to proceed. Mine was too large so I needed to enlarge the hole in my dash using a small handheld Dremel motor tool and a grinding bit. I recommend covering the seats and floor with plastic sheeting to catch the inevitable metal chips while grinding or drilling.
Step 3: Connect wires to new power socket
Fish the wiring connector out through the mounting hole and carefully cut the connector from the wires.
Depending on the model year of your Vanagon, you may have a variety of wiring configurations; in general, there should be two Brown ground wires, one or two Red Positive wires, and possibly a Blue wire for the optional green illuminated surround.
When rewiring the new cigarette-lighter socket, keep the Brown ground wires together, and utilize the same Red wire(s) for the power supply. If your new socket includes an illumination feature, utilize the Blue wire for this; if not, be sure to securely cap off this wire with a wire nut or electrical tape.
Strip the wire ends, insert them in their respective fully-insulated female spade connectors, and crimp securely.
Step 4: Mount new power socket
Prepare to mount the new socket by reaching within the dash and slipping the locking retaining ring over all the power wires.
Draw the wires back out through the mounting hole and connect all the wires to their respective spade terminals on the back of the new socket: Red to (+) Positive, Brown grounds to (-) Negative, and Blue to optional illumination terminal.
Insert the new socket into the mounting hole, be sure it is oriented straight, then thread the retaining ring onto the back of the socket from behind the dash; tighten securely.
If only replacing the cigarette-lighter socket, reconnect the vehicle batteries and test the new power socket.
Your van may also have an unused European DIN socket, or you may simply wish to install an additional power or USB socket; continue below:
Step 5: Replace DIN power socket
The European DIN socket utilizes its own independent power supply, but replacing it is nearly identical to the cigarette-lighter socket above except for a few notable differences:
a. The DIN socket is mounted to the dash using a retaining nut which must be removed using a 22mm deep socket from behind the dash
b. The DIN socket’s mounting hole is only about .75″ (19mm), so you’ll need to enlarge the mounting hole quite a bit to fit a new socket.
c. Originally, the DIN socket is grounded via the metal dash structure, so you will find only a single power supply wire. When replacing it with a new power socket, I suggest improving this by running a dedicated ground wire to one of the crown-shaped grounding points mounted to the vehicle chassis, located behind the dash near the driver’s left knee.
As mentioned above, this space can accept a second conventional cigarette-lighter socket, or a modern USB port; I chose a slick double-USB port for maximum charging capabilities.
I used a step bit designed for neatly drilling large holes in sheet metal, which worked quite well. First, measure the outside diameter of the shank of your new socket (in my case, approx. 1.125″ or 29-30mm), then find the corresponding ‘step’ on the drill bit. Wrap a section of tape around the bit to mark the proper depth to avoid drilling too deep/wide. When done drilling, smooth the hole edges using the Dremel grinding bit or emery cloth.
Install the second new socket as outlined above, utilizing the original wiring, then reconnect the vehicle batteries and test the new power sockets.
After a few camping trips with our new power sockets, we couldn’t be happier. Cigarette-lighter-type power plugs now remain firmly connected and no longer rattle loose, and the double USB power socket keeps all our electronic devices powered up while travelling.