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Thread: Installing car PC in 1996 Honda Civic

  1. #1
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    Lightbulb Installing car PC in 1996 Honda Civic

    Hi, I've got a 1996 Honda Civic and I'm interested in installing a car PC. I'm completely new to this... The pictures below show the interior of the vehicle. It's not my car pictured, but the dashboard, console, etc. is exactly the same. I'll get to my questions, but first some background info on the car...

    Dashboard
    Center A/C vents, head unit, climate control
    Back seats
    Good view of front interior

    Differences between the pictures and my car are: (1) I still have the factory head unit/speakers. The tape deck was recently hacked so I can input auxiliary input and I'm quite happy with that so far, so I'm not interested in replacing my head unit. Plus, factory keyless entry relies on factory radio. It seems to me that keeping the factory head unit would be easiest, since (a) no need to set up AM/FM tuner on PC, (b) no need to replace security system(c) i'm not looking to upgrade the audio system (d) the system is there and works fine. (2) I have automatic transmission (but the position of automatic is same as pictured manual transmission). Other than that, the picture could have been taken from my car.

    Some parts diagrams of the front area are below:

    Instrument Panel
    Instrument Garnish
    Console

    The area behind the front of the manual shifter on the "Front interior" picture currently holds a tape deck and cup holder. The tape deck is what I hacked and it currently has the aux input port drilled into the front of it. The "Console" parts diagram shows that area better. I'm not afraid to cut up some parts of the car, as long as they could be replaced with original ones relatively inexpensively (see the parts diagrams above to see what is cheap and what is not) in case the car was to be resold. Drilling holes in places not visible doesn't bother me other, as long as it makes sense and is not done sloppily.

    Now here's what I want:

    1. Good power system that is ready for current and future projects.
    1. I want to mount a 300 W or better inverter somewhere inside the car - probably would go inside the console or any place it can be stashed, completely hidden from view. Since it's 300 W or better it will have to be permanently connected to the battery I assume since the cigarette lighter only has a 10 A fuse and the wiring back there probably isn't suitable for much more. But since you're connecting to the battery, I assume you need heavy-gauge wire and a fuse(s) someplace so you don't start a fire.
    2. Can you draw too much power from your car battery? I.e. if I run my PC, defoggers, headlights, wipers, stereo, etc. at once will I drain the battery because the alternator can't keep up? How would I know if this happens? If the alternator (and nothing else) is the constraint here, how can I figure out how much growing room I have before the alternator would have to be upgraded? Could the vehicle's OBD-II system reliably indicate the draw on the battery/alternator? I'm concerned that if I drive through bad conditions and use a lot of stuff at once, I'll park someplace in the middle of nowhere and end up with a car I can't start.
    3. Since the inverter is hidden, I would like to mount electrical plugs throughout the car coming from the inverter, but do it safely (i.e. according to whatever codes apply to mobile AC electrical systems). One place I want to put two electrical plugs is on both sides of the cigarette lighter (that's a $20 item so I'm not afraid to cut it up). The next place would be two plugs behind the console so that rear passengers can get AC too. Again, this needs to be perfectly safe. And it needs to look 100% professional - I want the plugs to look like the car came wired with AC. I mentioned this to my dad and he said to be very careful about following code, as it takes care of stuff you don't think of (e.g. mechanic drilling someplace and hits a live AC wire - solution being use drill-resistant conduit). In addition, you don't want things getting wet/shorting/etc. But I'm not really familiar how to do this safely. I assume you have to put fuses and stuff places. I am, however, in no way an electrician. I will also need some things going from the inverter to power various fixed AC items (e.g. computer in the trunk if I go the AC route).
    4. The inverter is only half the project - the other half is providing reliable DC power to fixed DC devices. Eventually, I plan on installing (1) Linksys WiFi router, (2) powered USB hub (possibly) (3) LCD panel(s) (4) Valentine One radar detector (5) computer using DC-DC converter (6) who knows what else - leave room to grow and easily hook up new stuff. All these things are DC devices and it seems silly to run them thru an inverter. So in addition to hooking up an inverter to the car electrical, we have to do this stuff too. I don't know how to do this safely, or at all to begin with. I assume you need a fuse at your battery, and a fuse for each of the listed items at some kind of distribution apparatus.
    5. Cigarette lighter is off-limits. Powering fixed devices thru this looks unprofessional. Even splicing the wire behind it is not something I want to do, since that would further limit the output of the lighter.
    6. Very important: I need certain devices to turn off with the car. I assume this would be done using relays, but again I don't know how to effectively/safely set these up. For example, I want the following to happen: (a) The regular A/C plugs will lose power when car is turned off, (b) A/C plug to computer does not lose power for a few minutes, to allow time to turn off computer - in addition it would be good to have the computer know when the car has been turned off so it can automatically hibernate, (c) some of the DC connections need to keep power constantly (surveillance system, WiFi router), or for a set time period (computer example again), or immediately lose power when car is turned off (radar detector).


    2. Next question: given the pictures/parts diagrams, where would be the best place to put the car computer I/O? I need: (a) front USB ports (b) touchscreen LCD easily visible by driver while driving (c) front flash media ports (compactflash, secure digital, etc.) (d) possibly an additional aux in port (e) laptop DVD-ROM drive, connected to computer via USB (I assume I have to find a suitable slimline drive enclosure someplace...). I want things to be safe too - in an accident I don't want somebody getting hurt by any of these modifications. Also, this needs to look professional. The area to the right looks like a good place to snap in an I/O panel for the USB/flash. I'm not sure where to put the LCD and slimline DVD-ROM.

    3. In addition, I want a microphone suitable for voice recognition - I want to command the computer to do things. And it needs to do it when I'm listening to music, for example.

    4. Could video feeds recorded while I'm driving be easily used as evidence if I got a traffic ticket (e.g. if I wasn't speeding could I use the time & distance argument coupled with video)? What if these feeds were combined with incoming OBD-II data into a video feed? What about if somebody vandalized the car while it was off?

    5. Summarizing: must be (1) completely safe, for example in the event of an accident or short, (2) look completely/mostly professional (3) inexpensive (I'm in college) (4) meet the needs mentioned above.

    Thanks for all your input on this matter. I want to get this job done right and have fun in the process. Once I have the power/car PC framework set up, I'll be looking into setting up GPS, WiFi, OBD-II, video cameras, bluetooth, and more.

  2. #2
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    Hi. My system is also for a 1996 Civic, but it's a hatchback.

    I'm just getting started with it. I'm mostly confused about power. All the a/v wiring is no problem, but the power issues make me so nervous about damaging some of my hardware.

    Anyway, since you were asking where are good locations to put things, I thought I would share where I intend to put ports etc...

    I'm planning on putting a 4 port mini usb 2.0 hub in the empty square next to the head unit. I'm also planning to put a set of aux rca jacks and an ac plug in that little removable piece on the back of the center console. I'm planning on putting a slot load dvd drive in the din slot behind the cupholders. Everything else I'm going to mount in the trunk (inverter, xbox, carpc, av selector).

    How's your project coming along?

  3. #3
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    Still completely in the planning phases.... been busy learning quite a bit...

    I agree that the blank area next to the DIN slot is a good place for USB ports and things of that nature. But it still leaves open the question: (1) where does the DVD-ROM for the computer go? (presumably ripped from a laptop) (2) more importantly, where is the LCD going to go?

    Given the fact that the current front panel doesn't really have a good spot for an LCD (short of a retractable unit, which would impair airflow from the vents), I've been trying to figure out how/if the 96-98 control panel can be replaced with one from a 99-00 civic. Check out this page. This guy did a real nice job there... and it looks like USB ports, etc. could be drilled into the lower-right corner of the panel. Maybe even a slot-loaded optical drive. It's perfect, except that my parents didn't bless me with a 99-00 civic. So I think it should be replaced with one from a 99-00 civic (perhaps from a junkyard someplace?). If you find anything else out, let me know.

    Also I want to use relays controlled by a computer to control various parts of the car. I.e. windshield wipers, cruise control, climate controls, windows, locks, etc. etc. This would be really sweet when combined with some voice recognition software (pictures myself saying "Windshield wipers on"). But thats a project for after the initial construction of the computer.

  4. #4
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    You'll need to consider two things just to get started. First, where will you put the inverter? Inverters generate heat so I wouldn't recommend putting them inside a console. Possibly under one seat or the other.

    Second consideration is where the computer will go. This takes up space as well and may not be easy to locate near the inverter. Again, an under seat install may work for you or take a look at a custom cabinet in the back.

    Try tracking down Civics in the "Show off your project" forum, you'll find things you like and hate about people's installs but you're sure to get ideas as well.

    With an inverter you'll need to consider how you will power it on or off, most likely using an automated startup/shutdown controller (SDC).

    As far as drawing down the battery too much, your alternator light ought to come on if that is the case. In addition, the inverter will sound a low voltage alarm if it is equipped with one.

    For controlling items in the car, consider using a USB or serial relay board. Do some searches using those terms and you'll begin to put the pieces together.
    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruzer View Post
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
    Want to:
    -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
    -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

  5. #5
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    Inverter will go in the trunk or some other place that is well-ventilated and shaded. Haven't really decided where yet. As I mentioned in my post, I want to put female electrical plugs in the front/back of the car, which will hopefully look like the OEM wired the car up with an inverter.

    The computer will go in the trunk for now, since I can get an ATX desktop PC case pretty easily. It seems to me that to install under the seat, there are a few problems: (1) expensive case designed for such a low profile, (2) can't use fancy video cards or non-low-profile PCI devices, (3) maybe it's hotter there? (4) what if somebody spills a drink under the seat? The trunk seems to be a better place, though I'm not sure how to mount it so it doesn't slide around.

    Was thinking one of these would work nicely to control startup/shutdown of computer - it appears to work with DC/DC setups as well as inverted. The other electrical plugs would be connected thru a simple relay that would switch the power on/off along with the car (nothing fancy). The inverter itself would always be switched on (but accessible to switch off in case I leave the car unused for an extended period of time).

    In addition, I'm thinking that for DC/DC components (e.g. Linksys router, touchscreen, powered USB hub, etc.) a combination of (1) voltage regulator, and (2) relay to immediately cut power to all DC devices, will do just fine for my needs.

    Good to hear about the alternator light - I do believe I read somewhere in my car manual about a light (wasn't called the "alternator light" per se, but it advised immediately turning off accessories, A/C, etc. if it came on).

  6. #6
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    Does anyone have any good advice about running their dc power to the trunk? This is where I'm stuck. I would like to run a barrier terminal there and run my dc devices off that, but I'm super confused about what gauge wire, if I should buy a kit or just get the wire from home depot, etc... I would really appreciate any advice on the subject.

    Oh, and about your question on where to put the screen and drive. I'm going to evetually put a dvd drive in the din slot behind the cupholders, and I'm going to velcro the screen to the area above the glove box, and evetually I would like to mount it in the passenger side sun visor.

  7. #7
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    I think I'm going to go ahead and replace the heater control panel with one from a 99-00 civic, which fits an LCD perfectly. Going to go to some junkyards and hopefully find what I need. After studying the schematics, it's going to require:

    1. 99/00 panel.
    2. Power transistor to replace the resistor block currently in the blower.
    3. Blower motor high relay.
    4. New duct to go behind vents
    5. Air mix motor (as another poster mentioned, the air mix is currently being controlled mechanically by a lever - the new panel is electronic).

    Then its just a matter of mapping pins from the old wiring to the new one, but I think I figured that all out. Most of the stuff maps directly, the only odd stuff going on is the fan settings / air mix, and that will have to be replaced as mentioned above. As long as the new parts fit my existing parts fine, I should be good to go.

  8. #8
    Constant Bitrate emdzey01's Avatar
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    this is what you need to change your 96-98 climate control to 99-00.

    99+ climate control with climate harness
    99+ complete heater core box
    99+ complete blower box
    99+ heater core harness
    99+ center dash vent

    it's hard, but i think it'd be worth it.
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    Brushed Aluminum for Centrafuse 1.4


    xenarc 700ts | via epia-m10k | audigy2 nx | holux gm-210 | usb wifi | 40gb 2.5" | slot-load dvd-cdrw | morex 3688 | opus 150w | centrafuse, iguidance

  9. #9
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    I saw that too - seemed like overkill. For example, it says to get a complete blower... But if you look on one of the sites selling Honda parts, you can see that the part numbers for 98 and 99 blowers are the same, *except* for the fact that the 98 one has a resistor and the 99 one has a power transistor. Seems to me it would be a lot easier to just swap that instead of replacing the entire blower. The swap looks easy - you can remove the resistor by simply removing the glove box - you don't even have to remove the blower. How convenient.

    After reading that, I *really* am not in the mood for replacing the entire heater unit if I can help it (cost + hassle).

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