Managing 12 Volt Vehicle Accessories on your Rig

Whether you’re navigating muddy trails, ascending rocky inclines, or traversing desert landscapes, the modern offroad experience is enhanced by a myriad of 12-volt accessories that add both functionality and excitement to the journey. From powerful LED pods and light bars to winches, air compressors, and more; safe and effortless control of these accessories is crucial for an enjoyable offroad adventure.

The key to managing multiple 12-volt accessories in your offroad vehicle is a power distribution system. In recent years, a variety of robust options have come to market from a number of manufacturers. Each system has it’s unique features and options to tie in an efficient and safe fused control box to power and control accessories. A standard feature of these systems is a remote-mounted switch panel which allows single cable routing into the cab—placing control of up to 8 accessories at your fingertips. The primary component of the distribution box serves as the nerve center for controlling and managing the flow of electricity to each accessory. 

Switch Pros SP9100 Switch Panel
The nerve center: Switch Pros power distribution controller

LED lights and air compressors are among the most common 12v installations we perform here at Mount Zion Offroad. Each of these accessories needs an appropriate fuse, and high-draw accessories (e.g. compressors) require a relay to divert power directly from source to load. Many higher end options, such as those from SwitchPros or Spod offer advanced solid state relay systems, streamlining the whole unit. Switches allow users to toggle between different lighting configurations, or shut down power to the accessory disabling it entirely. This is important for accessories such as a winch or compressor, which could cause fast battery drain or damage to the vehicle if left running unattended. Some systems will also offer a low-voltage cutoff feature, which shuts the power distribution system down if the battery is drained below a certain voltage. This low-voltage cutoff feature prevents damage to the battery, and ensures the vehicle always has enough power to start the engine.

SwitchPros switch panel
In-cabin switches on a SwitchPros power distribution system

Winches are another critical accessory for off-road vehicles, offering a lifeline in challenging situations. Powering the winch effectively is imperative, and thoughtfully wiring this into a well-designed system protects your investment and ensures seamless  operation at a moment’s notice. Most winches include a wireless or wired remote control, but an in-cabin kill switch or override is an option we can easily accommodate to ensure a safe and controlled recovery process and eliminate unwanted strain on your battery.

Battery with accessories
Vehicle battery with multiple 12V accessories connected

Air compressors are essential not only for maintaining optimal tire pressure, but can be integral to a locking differential installation as well. When used for airing up tires, the long strenuous run times of the compressor demand a lot of power. For this reason careful installation of the unit by an experienced technician is imperative. Proper wire gauge, fuse size, and relay are all factors for painless, safe operation. As stated earlier, we feel routing an air compressor through a circuit controller is a great option to ensure the compressor is only ever powered when the vehicle is attended.

Effective control of 12-volt accessories is not only about convenience but also about safety. Circuit protection devices, such as fuses and circuit breakers, safeguard the electrical system from overloads and short circuits. Regular maintenance and inspection of these safety features are crucial to preventing electrical failures that could leave an off-road vehicle stranded in the middle of nowhere.

SPod with ARB Air Compressor
SPOD Controller with ARB Air Compressor

In conclusion, the world of off-roading is evolving, and so are the technologies that enhance the experience. It may seem like extra effort to add a 12-volt control system to your vehicle, but it is not just a matter of convenience; it is a critical aspect of ensuring a safe, reliable, and enjoyable adventure. You’ll also enjoy easier installation of future accessories as a result. As technology continues to advance, off-road enthusiasts can look forward to even more sophisticated and integrated control systems that seamlessly manage the power flow to a diverse array of accessories, elevating the off-road experience to new heights.


by Jon Tirrell
Mount Zion Offroad Staff Writer