DIY Solar Motion Lights for Your Minivan RV

This is an easy DIY project that anyone can do to add outside lighting to your Minivan RV.  These solar powered motion detecting lights are currently only $28 a pair and are easy to mount with a small modification.  This post covers the DIY but if you want to see how they perform, check out the video at the bottom of the page.

I’ve written about the fear of camping alone in the past, but even if you aren’t afraid of the Bogeyman there are some other good reasons to add automatic lighting to the outside of your van.  My number one reason?  Skunks.  The last thing you want to do is open the door in the middle of the night and startle a skunk.  He might not only get you and the dog, but the interior of the van as well.  If that happens, you are NEVER going to get rid of that smell…

I guess bears are a good reason to, but at least there you won’t be suffering as long.

Rather than spam this post up with Amazon links, you can find everything to build this project in the Kit box at the bottom of the page.  If you can hang a refrigerator magnet, you can do this project.  There is NO wiring, NO drilling, and it only takes about 20 minutes to make a pair of these lights.  So let’s get started.

Looking at the back of the lighting unit, there is a raised area that runs around the perimeter of the light and that’s where we’ll attach our magnet. Note that if you have a fiberglass RV, or one of the old Lumina minivans with plastic body panels, you can still use these.  Just grab some suction cups at the craft store and use the notch at the top to hang these on the suction cup.  That method would also work if you want to stick them to the glass.

 

To prep the surface for the adhesive magnet sheet, we are going to “rough up” the back of the light.  You can use acetone or nail polish remover (without moisturizer) which contains acetone.  Dampen a rag and wipe the BACK of the light.  Be careful not to use too much or touch any other part of the light, because this stuff essentially dissolves the plastic.

 

Notice how the surface now looks like it’s been sanded?  This will help the magnet to stick on and stay on.

 

Peel the backing off of the adhesive side and lay it on a flat surface with the sticky side UP.

 

Set the light on top of the magnet and push down GENTLY.  Then flip it over and smooth out the magnet with your finger, to promote adhesion. Notice how the magnet doesn’t reach all the way to the edge?  That’s no problem because it will help you get your fingernail under the edge to pull it off.

 

Grab a razor blade or your Exacto knife to trim the magnet.  Make sure you do this part on a table that you don’t care about, or put something under the light (like this random aluminum plate that I’m sure you have handy..)

 

The goal here is to “score” the vinyl around the edge of the light.  Don’t try to actually cut all the way through as you would need to put too much pressure on the razor blade.  If you have trouble on the next step, go back to this one and repeat.

 

Pull the vinyl away from the light and it should tear along the score mark, leaving a clean edge.

 

After trimming the edges, we have to cut out the center on the back.  Push around the edge of the hole and cut along the edge of the recessed portion.  Hold your blade so it’s pointing toward the middle at a 45-degree angle (the edge of the hole is ramped as you will see in the next photos)

 

My second light had a cleaner edge, but I’m going to show you the rough edge because it doesn’t matter either way.  This part will be covered when you mount the light.

 

See the button on the right?  That’s the on/off switch and you’ll want access to it.  When you store the lights, click the switch to the OFF position.  That way they won’t be turning on in storage and will be ready to go the next time you want them.

I chose these vinyl magnets because they will minimize the chance of damaging the van’s paint and can be wiped free of grit before you stick them on again.

Now go find a flat spot on your van to try these out.  The lights only activate at night, but you can test that they are on by covering the white sensor sphere with your hand for a couple seconds.  At night, if motion is detected, they will light for 30 seconds.  If the motion continues, they will stay on for another 30 seconds.

Here are a couple of photos of the different places you could mount these motion lights on your van camper.

I’m using 4th generation Litom Solar-Powered Motion Detecting lights with 30 lights. They come in bigger and smaller sizes, but you may have to get the last generation lights for the smaller units. I see no difference in the specifications between generations, it just looks like a styling change.

 

This position gave motion and light coverage to the entire side of the van and some coverage to the rear sides.

 

This position allows for sun charging of the unit (solar cells up) and keeps the light from traveling too far. I might do this if there were other campers in the general area to control the light pollution.

 

In this position, you’ll get a 25-30 foot range and the light shines upward into the eyes of anyone who approaches. Without shielding your eyes, it would be impossible to see in the windows. I’d use this position where humans are the main thing you are watching for.

 

In the video, I have this mounted further up on the hood, near the windshield. That will shine the light over a wider area, but this position will give the sensor better range.

 

This mounting position allows the solar cells to be exposed to the sun but keeps the light down low. If you use these in a campground, I’d keep them low like this.

 

 

 

This position exposes the solar panels and gives maximum coverage down the sides of the van. If I only had two, this is the position I’d use. It leaves the rear of the vehicle uncovered, but you usually aren’t going out that way. I might also use this arrangement if there was a busy road or path behind me.

Note that in some cases I mount the lights facing up, which would be better if humans are your primary concern, as it dazzles anyone that approaches.  Just be sure to flip them upright every couple of days to expose the solar cells to the sun.  Also, these are really only intended for use when parked.  Make sure you pull them off when driving 🙂

I’d like to claim that this was my idea, but I got it from a white van I saw at RTR 2018.  The dude was parked near the entrance to one of the washes, but I’ve lost his information.  I thought it was a cool idea and have been planning to do this for the last six months.  To order the parts (under $50) go to the Kit box at the bottom of the page.  These are Amazon links, so if you use them to order, it will not cost you a penny more, but we will get a few pennies to keep this site up and running.

I’ve read elsewhere that people have had issues with these lights turning on when you move around the vehicle.  I think that may stem from a misunderstanding of how these solar lights work or experiences with older technology.  I deliberately tried to cause this issue and I’m confident that they will not illuminate from movement in the van.  I suppose if you mount them up high on an RV it could be possible (they will be moving in a wider arc as the RV pivots on the suspension) but I don’t think so.  If you experience this, let me know, but I don’t think you will.  Check out the video below to see these lights in action.


Here’s how the Kit box (below) works.  If you click on an individual photo, it will show you the item on Amazon.  If you click on the bottom (or where it says “view on Kit”) you can see my comments on each item.  This is something I’m trying out to eliminate the spammy Amazon links on this website.

–Darren at Odyssey Camper

For a complete list of my DIY minivan camper conversion projects, click on the menu item at the top.

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