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99 Honda Civic - Black Box 1

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  • 99 Honda Civic - Black Box 1

    Hey, so this is my first carputer build so bear with me if anything is dumb or noobish. Now at the current date, aside from some power issues and some other repairs to be done, the project is nearing a "complete"/presentable state. I put that in quotes because really, the project car is NEVER complete =).........Anyways..


    -1999 Honda Civic
    -4dr, Green, Stock 1.6 Engine, Automatic
    -160k miles

    -fronts: 6.5" Alipine SPS600 80W
    -rear: 6x9 MB Quart 50W
    -sub: Alpine type R 500W in a ported Atrend enclosure
    -4 channel amp: Alpine F200 200W
    -1 channel amp: Alpine M500 500W


    -enclosure: M350 Universal Mini-ITX PC enclosure; black
    -motherboard: Intel NM10 Mini ITX Motherboard
    -CPU: Intel Atom D25 1.8Hhz Dual Core
    -RAM: 2X2GB 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 800
    -HD: Hitachi 2.5" 60GB Sata
    -power supply: 70W power brick going to 60W PicoPSU
    -USB and other accessories: BU353 gps dongle, rosewill RNX-MiniN1 wireless dongle, $5 webcam from amazon, Seagate 2.5" 200GB HD in enclosure, usb spiltter and extensions, logitech keyboard
    Kensington Bluetooth Dongle, Soliport ELM327 Bluetooth OBDII, battery voltage monitor (ac input)

    -screen: Liliput 7" VGA touchscreen


    -Duralast Gold Battery 550CCA
    -125A Alternator

    -1/0 Gauge wire from battery to distribution block and sub amp ground
    -4 Gauge wire from distribution block to both amps and the inverter
    -Cobra 400W inverter

    *The rest of this post will reflect the original posting*

    Okay so I will tell the story of the build up until now I suppose. I will include some pictures from the original build that I did (sorry if they are not very good, don't have a great camera and it was a mess then anyways). It began with a simple replace of the stock **** that comes with a honda (sony xplods, broken cd player in the head unit, missing a driver door speaker, REALLY bad wiring also). I ripped out the stereo, put in a Cheap Dual unit just to have SOMETHING in the car and then got to work on the speakers. I put in some 30W Pyles in the front (pyles of **** amirite?) and the 50W MB Quart 6x9 in the back. Now, since this was before I knew anything about sound quality or speakers I didn't bother getting amps or changing out any wiring (also I had no cash and a **** job, but that's besides the point). This was an infinite upgrade from what I started with buuuuut the engineer-to-be in me said why stop there? After doing some reading and research, I set my eyes on building the audio system that I described above. First, I installed the sub (my first foray into REAL car audio), the 1/0 wiring, and the mono-amp. Next, I got bored of destroying my MB Quart speakers and wanted better fronts so I put in a 4 channel and changed out all the speaker wiring to 14 gauge wire.

    At this point you probably think I am kind of a noob, but I have been learning and getting better at this, and it is my first build, so I will get there, eventually. With a pretty nice sound system now and being able to rock the bass pretty hard, I set my sights even higher. It was time for a damn CARPUTER!!!. So I did some research, found this beautiful site and now it was time to get to work again. My first plan for the project was to incorporate my modded original xbox that I had in my closet gathering dust. This was kinda funny but nonetheless an interesting idea. I was floating around ideas on what pc to build but in the meantime I picked up a 400W Cobra inverter and mounted the xbox on the sub in my trunk (vibrations are just a myth right? =p). For the screen I used a portable dvd player from ebay (only the aux in worked for the screen, so it was perfect and cheap) and for the inputs, i just used a wireless xbox controller I had. Naturally, the functionality of the xbox as a carputer was pretty damn limited so that project didn't stay for very long before I scrapped the idea. Also, the whole mounting on top of the sub had to be terrible for the internal components (like the hard drive in particular lol). Below are pictures of the "Project XBP (Xbox Portable)".

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    Once I was done fooling around with the xbox idea, I shelled out some money for the computer that I described above. This is where the real project begins for the carputer. Sorry, I don't have any pics yet (my phone is the only camera I have right now and the camera does not function for cyanogenmod9 yet, so I will take pics and upload them when that works). Anyways, the intent that I have is for the carputer to be housed in my glove box, hence the name 'black box'. This will provide an advantage in having maximum accessibility, minimum trunk usage, and shorter VGA/usb cables. As for the OS, I began with trying to get Ubuntu (or another linux distro) to work, but I ran into the issue of no functional GPS software.. SO I unwillingly switched to Windows and went with a Tiny XP build that would ensure quick booting and stability. As for software, I will make another post describing the different programs and such that I have went through. After the building (this is actually the first computer I have built) and the installing (went smoothly aside from the mess of wires and the crude screen installation--some duct tape involved), I ran into a road block. Everything worked really well with the engine off except for the dreaded ground loop!! This ground loop had first reared its ugly head during the xbox build, but I had been able to subside it by just plugging in the xbox into my head unit (I will explain the ground loop in another post in more detail). The bigger problem though was that when I started the car, the computer would shut off. UHHHHHH this was a problem. What good would the carputer be if I could not have it on while driving. Well, this sounded like a serious problem to me but since the computer was able to be turned on after the car was already started, I figured it was just something stupid and I could deal with just turning the car on first, and then the computer. However, ignoring that has led me to ignore the underlying problem of the alternator going bad =(. So today I put the car in the shop to get a higher ouput alt in the car and hence why I had the time to write up this whole thing. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to install the alt (I know the guy at the shop so he is going to let me do some of the work to save some money--plus I enjoy learning this stuff anyhow). But regardless, the project will soon to be moving on. This week I am on spring break so that means plenty of time and nice weather for me to get this project working and cleaned up. If it goes according to plan, I will have a finished project to show off.

    -Put the computer back in my car (it's out so I could figure out some programs and such while the alt is being fixed)
    -Clean up the USB cables and such so that they're run neatly and the driver/passenger area is clear of the clutter
    -Install the monitor properly (it's duct taped in nicely, but it's still duct taped in mostly)
    -Tidy up the wires in my trunk (they are neater now than in the image, but they could still use to be better/more professional looking)
    -Find a working OBDII cable and program (I tried out one cable and it was the wrong one and finding compatible software is proving to be difficult as well)
    -Purchase a better camera and install in my grill (sick driving videos )
    -Do something with my ****ty camera (I am thinking either an inside camera or a backup camera for the hell of it)
    -Figure out software to use for everything (I have had it with frontends and am currently using various programs, but finding a touch/driving friendly music player is difficult)
    -Add more lighting and maybe do some painting and such for the interior
    -Lighting in the vents, trunk, and under the car

    -Exhaust problem (something rattling; gettin that fixed this week as well)
    -Backlight for HVAC controls appears to not work anymore (no fuses are out and the other lights for the buttons and dash work fine)

    -Ground loop (prevents me from plugging the computer directly into my amps (may be solved by the new alt or it may be my inverter)
    -Back speakers got damaged by not using a four channel amp the first few months (upgrade is due anyways)
    -If I upgrade the speakers, I may need to look into going with a higher powered 4chan (definitely sticking with Alpine though)
    -Wiring is too short for my back speakers, it often gets snagged on things when I use the trunk for what it was designed for (storing luggage and such--pfft obviously the REAL intent was for subwoofers)
    -My door speakers sometimes get the wires vibrated out of the connectors so I need to connect them more solidly


    I will be continuing to update this thread and hopefully as the days get warmer, I will be able to put more work into this again. Working on my car in the winter is never really a fun thing to do. Also, I thankfully have all spring break to dedicate to this so I will definitely get **** done. Be back soon!
    Last edited by duncanator24; 07-26-2012, 06:23 PM. Reason: mileage
    "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"

  • #2
    So the car is in the shop still. Saving money by going to a friend is great but the amount of time it takes for work to get done is terrible. Going a day without driving seems so foreign for me. Anyways, I have used the time to catch up on some research and have come across the idea of a sheeva plug attached to a fusion brain. This of course is a long term goal but one can dream. With an always on sheeva I would have a dedicated battery for sure as well. It would be great to add scripts for shutting down the carpc, seem-less web integration/control, and an endless amount of extra things to do. I really really want to work on my car right now.. like I finally have the free time so this is milling me to wait. But till then I will keep reading!
    "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


    • #3

      Xbox (no longer used)
      -Softmodded to Ndure with splinter cell hack
      -XBMC 11
      -No scripts or apps; only used stock mod
      -PROS: Hard shutdown, xbox games, fastest boot, stable, lowest power
      -CONS: touch screen, navigation; pretty much everything except media, limited apps and development nowadays

      Linux (no longer used)
      -Ubuntu 10.10
      -I don't really remember some of the software that I used but it was not nearly as functional as I would have liked. Only was really able to get music, wifi, and video recording to function
      -PROS: it's linux so the options are endless, if I had the time
      -CONS: No navigation software, no frontends, hardware compatibility; sound card

      Windows (current use)
      -fiddled around with win7 since I had an 'extra' copy but boot time was a little slow and there were apps that I wanted which refused to function.
      -settled with TinyXP
      -Winamp for music
      -Navigator Free for gps
      -Debut Video for camera recording
      -Nexus for a useful taskbar
      -I am trying to configure roadrunner to use as a frontend but that is a little complicated but I am sure one day I will figure it out.
      -PROS: boot time is quicker than expected, software/hardware compatibility is great, no learning curve, easy to follow other projects
      -CONS: windows is boring and not very customizable, I really wanted to do my build with linux but I will save that for another time


      My philosophy on frontends right now is that I would much rather just use separate programs for each function I want to incorporate. This is mostly because of wanting to use various different software and that the function I want to use isn't always available in that particular front end. The only way I could imagine using a front end would be coding something into Labview since that would allow me to place any app in there for use.
      "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


      • #4
        Got Some Stuff Done!!

        So, after waiting four days I FINALLY got my car back. That's what I get for trying to save a bit of money. In the end I paid $150 for the new alternator and got 25 more amps added to the car. The only other downside to saving all that money is that I had to install the part myself. Although it was kind of entertaining to learn how to do that anyways. In other news, I spent all of today working on making everything work correctly. This is for sure the most progress that I have made in months, if not the most progress ever. I will first start with some pictures.

        Around noon when I started

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        These first few images were from before I took anything apart. As you can tell there is a little bit of a mess. Essentially my goals of today were to: run all power wires under the center console, zip tie any and all wires, reorganize the trunk mess of wires, properly install the inverter and carputer, remount the screen with a proper bracket, install the usb splitter so that the wires are nicely tucked, test and evaluate everything.

        I wanted to take pictures during the build but I kinda got carried away. Essentially I just took off all of the front panels and center console. Then I put in all of the wires that were there previously but now in an organized and neat fashion. I had to drill some holes to mount a bracket for the screen. I still may need to redo the screen mount but now at least there is less duct tape. And finally, I put the inverter in the trunk and made sure the computer worked. When I turned it on, everything worked great! Plus now it is MUCH neater. I could consider this a complete build, BUT after the images I will explain more of what I have planned. I suppose this is a major milestone though because I have all of my original planned updates except for OBDII.

        The RCA cables are'nt really all that neat but since they are behind my sub in the trunk, I didnt really see the point of tucking them. I will get to eventually but this is still a work in progress and other things are more pertinent.
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        The Inverter is in the trunk plugged into the wires that I had installed a while ago. Thankfully I didn't have to do this part because I didn't have any wire strippers or the hardware to ground anything else.
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        Keyboard for the backseat passengers as a method for changing songs, typing in youtube videos, and other internet usage; not tucked in because it is more of a secondary item that I would leave unplugged and under the seat when not used.
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        The only place where the power wires are now visible. This was the best place to send the wires so that there was maximum neatness everywhere else. That 0 gauge would have never fit anywhere else anyways.
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        No more red wire!! It has been over a year with that obnoxious red wire running the left side of my car. It is so odd seeing it gone, but so much more professional this way.
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        Usb hub behind the cupholders so that it is tucked away but easily accesible. 2 free ports for accessories (keyboard and charging my phone when tethering.
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        Hole that I cut so that the wires would nicely go in behind the hub. Fits more naturally this way.
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        Carputer in the glove box. All the usb/vga wires are crammed in there. Don't care if its a little messy for now because it's only seen when I need to change something. Just need a place for registration/insurance papers now...
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        Gps attached to the outside of the car (don't worry its waterproof BU-353). Also, the duct tape is holding my winshield molding on because it's old and tore but is not worth going through changing the whole damn thing. And the mirror is being held on as well because some smart person in Boston messed it up in the middle of the night somehow.
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        View of the gps and camera on my dash
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        Some lights I installed. There are also sets under the driver and front passenger seats. Those lights were already there months ago but the dash ones hadn't been hooked up till now
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        Now that everything is clean and installed, I can continue working on the software in the correct environment and fiddle with things until they are perfect. In the mean time, I will also start looking into getting the correct OBDII cable and software for it. Other things on the to-do list include: run a power wire so I do not have to open the glove box to tun on the computer (doing that tomorrow if it doesn't rain too much), Look into Fusion Brains and then Sheeva Plugs (long-term), learn my way with the navigation software/look into other programs that are available, discover a working frontend, put in more lights (vents, HVAC controls, interior map light upgrade, trunk).
        That is just a list of things I want to do off the top of my head. I will begin another post when I have a more solidified plan of what I want to do and how I am going to go about doing them. I am just excited to play with my new toy now =). Let me know if you have any questions, as I am now on the forums at least once a day. Peace!
        Attached Files
        "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


        • #5
          The Ground Loop

          So, there is an issue that I have been having since the beginning of this whole carputer project. It is a nasty ground loop that I cannot seem to get rid of. Before putting in the inverter, I received no problems with the sound and the speakers were silent when no music was playing. This indicates that the radio is grounded properly, the amps are grounded properly, and that nothing else in the sound system can be the problem. That leaves only one culprit for the annoyance and that would be the inverter itself. The inverter is plugged into the same power distribution blocks as the amps and grounded in the same place as well. The ground loop is absolutely unbearable if the computer is plugged into the amps directly, but if it is first routed through the head unit (hidden behind my touchscreen), then it is only a slight buzz. The slight buzz is only audible when music is paused or playing very softly. Now the only real problem with that is sometimes I enjoy listening to classical music at low volumes which is not really possible with the ground loop in the way. Everything else sounds fine but since I am a bit of an audiophile, I am not really happy. Below is a crude diagram I drew up representing the way everything is powered. Fixing this has always been high priority but I would like to figure this out without having to replace the inverter. Right now it really seems like that is where my issue is rooted from, but hopefully not.

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          Now it is off to the store to get more duct tape and try to keep planning my to-do list. Yesterday was successful enough for now though. I consider 'phase 1' to be complete. Later.
          Attached Files
          "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


          • #6

            So this weekend I got a $200 'premium driving fee' (as I like to call it). Sooo that is definitely going to set me back a little bit since that was the money I had planned on using for the next couple of upgrades to the system. In the mean time I will continue planning but I will not likely be able to do anything major until May really.. I will soon post my full to do list so I can at least begin to compile everything that I want to do, whenever I get the money. For right now, the one thing I want to do which will not require money is sort out the software some more. Since there has finally been road testing and I have logged some hours with the system, I can give some conclusions on the User Interface so far. The problem of not using a front end is definitely apparent when I am trying to multitask (music, camera, navigation, internet). It is not that bad because the navigation is very touch friendly, but Winamp is definitely NOT touch friendly. It is easy to operate with a keyboard as the passenger, but I am talking about operation with only the touch screen while driving. I just want the simple tasks of pause/play, next/previous, and selection of track. I was able to make the buttons big enough for pause/play and next/previous to function, but selection of track is impossible. There really is no way around this by using Winamp so I need to find an alternative software. There is always the centrafuse option but that costs money and I am not really a fan of anything other than the music player it has. Anyways, I will post a full to-do list and continue to update if anything else comes up. The moral of the story is though, I HATE THE MASSACHUSETTS STATE POLICE!
            "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


            • #7

              Yesterday I found out that my heat is not working! Thankfully it was not very cold out but it was chilly enough that I wanted some heat. And I really needed the defrosters so ended up having to just use the AC at full cold, which made it a little uncomfortable for ~30 minute drive. This is something that of course I could survive now till like November since its getting warm out, but definitely something I want to fix! Not exactly sure what happened. I am assuming that something got damaged on the control box (loose wire, fuse, etc) but I have not yet been able to find the culprit. SInce the lights in the box have been out, I may end up just buying a new box (~$40 with shipping on ebay) and if that fixes both problems, great. If not then theres a ****ty wiring problem. Somewhere. Not exactly excited for the latter, but I fear that is likely going to be the outcome. Time to search the internets for a solution!
              "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


              • #8
                Plans for the Future

                CURRENT TO DO LIST

                Hardware (within this year definitely)
                • OBDII cable (thinking a blutooth one from Amazon)
                • Blutooth receiver for OBD, cell phone calling integration, and keyboard
                • Mini keyboard for passenger use and debugging (currently using full-sized wired)
                • HD, waterproof, shock resistant camera to mount in grill to replace dash camera
                • Re-purpose current camera for use as either a backup camera or record inside the car
                • Microphone for calling and voice operation
                • In-line RCA controls to have quick access to 4-channel amp and sub amp levels
                • Run the power switch to the front of the car
                • Fix the ground loop; ground distribution block to a new hole with paint sanded down

                Hardware (possibly in the future/ would be cool once everything else is done)
                • Upgrade 4-channel amp to 400W (rms) instead of current 200W (rms)
                • Upgrade 1-channel amp to 1000W (rms) instead of current 500W (rms)
                • Optima yellow-top battery in trunk for audio equipment with additional fuse
                • Capacitors (1F should be enough)
                • Touchscreen tablet for some sort of remote operation
                • 5-speed manual transmission swap (that would be so awesome)
                • Power windows (not standard auto-windows; retain ability to manually crank as well)
                • Automatic/Wireless ignition and locks
                • If I get bored of the audio system (lol this is really a stretch), additional speakers should be added to really improve the experience. I would get 2 midbass drivers to put in the back doors (nonstandard install/custom holes needed) and 2-4 tweeters to place throughout the car to make the sound perfectly balanced. And most certainly another amp would be needed then (thinking Id use my current 4 channel amp if I upgraded to the 400W)

                Software (within this year definitely)
                • Front End (road runner preferably)
                • Navigation (need to download more maps for MapFactor, would rather find a better program that includes a better system for points of interest and such)
                • Music (Winamp is great, but I would like library organization to work better for in-car)
                • Cell phone (find software to integrate cell phone calls; Skype?)
                • OBDII software
                • Digital sound processing software
                • Nifty integration of Gps, OBD, and camera to create a cohesive video of some sort

                Software ( possibly in the future/ would be cool once everything else is done)
                • Linux distribution operating system
                • Total voice control with touchscreen as backup and advanced use
                • Total situational awareness (auto climate, automatic recording; video, gps logs, and OBD data)
                • Integrate power windows, locks, and auto-start to the computer and attached to internet
                • Control of everything from the internet and therefore from my phone
                "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


                • #9
                  Heat Working?

                  The other day, I drove my car around for some errands and noticed that when I tried to change the temperature for the AC, it actually got warmer! So I changed it to full heat and to my surprise, the heater was in fully working order. Now this is rather confusing because I did not do anything in order to fix it. It is nice that it functions correctly now but it does not really make much sense to me why it did not work in the first place. I will continue monitoring the issue and if it reappears then I will try to further investigate it. But for now, I will move on with the project and just hope it was a control box just being dumb issue.

                  On another note though, there appears to be another electrical problem. When starting the car for the first time after it has sat for a bit, I get some weird starting issues. I am thinking that it probably means my battery is going. I will look into figuring that out and if it is the issue, that will be an easy replacement (this time I will buy a better one though). By the end of the month, the development process for the summer should begin! I am excited to get working on things again and I will surely be posting pics of what I accomplish. Definitely going to add bluetooth, OBDII, better camera, and mount the screen more properly. Should be fun times!!!
                  "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


                  • #10
                    Hey duncan I just wanted to say good luck on the build. I really respect that you're actually getting things going and trying different things. Might not be the most elegant install ever, but props to you for just doing it.


                    • #11
                      This is great!
                      It's good to see new ideas.

                      Gonna be watching this thread for updates.

                      Good luck.


                      • #12
                        Ordered some parts (beginning the summer fun)

                        Okay, so I decided to not wait for a paycheck and just go ahead to order some parts for the carputer (go go gadget credit card!). I went on Amazon and ordered a Soliport ELM 327 OBDII, bluetooth adapter, and a voltage sensor. Hopefully the OBDII device will be able to read everything like I want it to (I don't really need a fast refresh, just want it to work). Also, the bluetooth dongle will be able to pair my phone and then I can start trying to do fun things with that. These will be the first two projects that I try to tackle for the summer. To sum things up:

                        - USB to Bluetooth Dongle (
                        - Bluetooth OBDII connector (
                        - Bluetooth sync my phone to computer

                        The voltage meter ( will be to test my battery voltage levels and make sure that my strange starting issue is definitely my battery that is going bad. I would like to replace the battery ASAP if it is giving me low voltage since it is probably overworking my alternator and would therefore wear it faster! Once all the stuff ships out to me, I will put it in and post some results. Most of this is really just software and simple plugging in so I suppose I won't have too many pictures, but I will snap a few anyways.

                        Additionally, my short term plans include:

                        - Remount the screen in a fitted enclosure (will custom make)
                        - Change wiring for Inverter
                        - Change battery wiring
                        - Loosen Alternator belt (it squeals a bit because I made it too tight)
                        - Order primary and secondary batteries (?? for primary and Kinetik for secondary)

                        Ugh, I really need to get paid because I have a lot of stuff to get done lol..
                        Last edited by duncanator24; 05-14-2012, 01:29 AM.
                        "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


                        • #13
                          I'd suggest a voltmeter that monitors the battery direct rather than the cig socket. You may misdiagnose a low reading, and miss overcharging.
                          And I'd suggest 3 digit (eg, 12.7) - 4 digits will drive you nuts.

                          And a cap won't be necessary for your audio system - it's too small to damage a reasonable AGM battery.
                          Last edited by OldSpark; 05-14-2012, 05:43 AM.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by OldSpark View Post
                            I'd suggest a voltmeter that monitors the battery direct rather than the cig socket. You may misdiagnose a low reading, and miss overcharging.
                            And I'd suggest 3 digit (eg, 12.7) - 4 digits will drive you nuts.

                            And a cap won't be necessary for your audio system - it's too small to damage a reasonable AGM battery.
                            Yeah I know for a fact that my battery is toast so this simple meter would really just be for quick measurements that I can read from inside the car without any hassle. I figure that this is pretty much just a temporary fix that I will eventually replace with a hardwired voltmeter that somehow outputs to the carpc screen. As for the replacement battery, my only issue is that an agm battery for the starting battery would be much more expensive. But I do certainly want agm for my system so that it can run the battery low without damaging it. Also, it can't hurt to prepare for future upgrades that I may want to add, like a more powerful 4channel amp. Plus it never hurts anything but my wallet to be overprepared. But I have been thinking about just getting one agm with enough wattage and be done with it. Certainly going to think about it and research some more. Thank you for the advice
                            "It's not worth having if you can't customize it"


                            • #15
                              Except for rarely use cars and a few other cases, I NEVER recommend AGM batteries for cranking.
                              It's only in non-vented enclosures where flooded cells are illegal else unwise that AGMs are recommended.

                              Also in cases where low source resistance is required, but the audio scene contradicts itself a lot on that. (EG - they want caps or AGMs for peak currents, yet many claim higher peak SPLs with caps removed, ergo higher SPLs with flooded cells. And AFAIK & understand, that's a valid claim & observation.)

                              Originally posted by duncanator24 View Post
                              But I do certainly want agm for my system so that it can run the battery low without damaging it.
                              I don't know where you got that from. If anything, you'd want a flooded cell, but the ability to run a battery low is not dependent on its type (ie, AGM, gel, wet). However AGMs are more prone to damage if not recharged ASAP after discharging. [As a general rule, AGMs are less robust than wet cells.]

                              As to the voltmeter, if money is not an issue, then go ahead.
                              Otherwise a DMM is usually sufficient until you get a "proper" voltmeter.
                              And any carpc should be capable of reading the battery voltage - it's merely a voltage input.
                              The important thing is where it's being measure. A vehicle's charging system voltage is based on the voltage across the battery's +ve & -ve terminals, nothing else. (Except for temperature, and occasional battery type differences.)