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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
hi guys, I noticed a few members on this forum who are interested in installing a carputer (carPC, car computer, whatever you want to call it ;)) into their Fusion, some have even PM'd me about my system. so I created this thread to show how I made/installed my system in order to give others an idea of what it took to create my system, and hopefully get others [who never thought about doing it] interested in the world of carputing :) ok, so lets get this thread rolling...

Many people are concerned about the cost of installing a computer in their car. there are many different options out there for different experience levels and different budgets. there are ready-made bolt-in systems like the Infil G4 that simply mounts in place of your factory stereo and is pretty much ready to use out of the box. this type of system requires no modifications to your fusion's interior because everything is housed in a double-DIN chassis. the downside to this system is that it costs a fortune, around ~$2,000, and it's not as powerful as other systems.

for most of us, we don't have an extra $2,000 in our back pockets, so we have to build a system ourselves. the advantages to this is that the cost, look, and integration is all up to you! you decide how much you're willing to spend and you decide how much work you're willing to put into it.

I used the following components in my system:
Computer
I used an old [Dell Inspiron 8000, 650MHz PIII 392MB ram] laptop that was just collecting dust in my house. back in 1999 I payed almost $2500 for the then "state of the art" laptop, but now it's worth about $150 on eBay :( it's slow by today's standards but it's fast enough for basic carPC functions (movies, music, GPS, OBDII diagnostics/sensor reading, etc.
monitor
I used a Lilliput EBY701. this is a 7" VGA touchscreen monitor. it almost fits perfectly into the Fusion's factory stereo opening (for those who want to use the factory bezel with no headunit). these monitors sell for around $170 on eBay (I snagged one for $119). it has a VGA monitor input and 2 RCA monitor inputs. the touchscreen interface is standard USB, the touchscreen takes the place of a traditional keyboard and mouse, although you can use those too if you wanted)
power supply
I used a cheap auto/air charger for Dell Inspiron laptops. I got it on (guess where...) eBay for about $15. it got really hot it it's stock plastic case so I mounted it in an old ATX PSU case and mounted an 80mm case fan to suck the heat out, now she runs nice and cool :) there are better quality DC-DC PSUs out there, including some that turn the computer on/off automatically with the car's ignition.
docking station
I bought a used docking station from (you guessed it...) eBay for $20. this made the install much easier because I didn't have to modify the computer at all. and I could remove the laptop anytime for security, home-use, maintenance, formats, installs, upgrades, etc. I soldered wires onto the docking station's power button so I wouldn't have to hack into the laptop itself. this meant that every single connection to the laptop is via the docking station, nothing is directly plugged into the laptop itself, which makes for easy removal at any time.
OBDII interface module
I bought a generic OBDII USB module on (see a pattern here...) eBay for about $70. this module plugs into the car's OBDII port (under the steering wheel) and allows you to hook a computer up to it for reading/clearing diagnostic codes and reading live sensor data (like engine RPM, speed, engine temp, fuel pressure, air intake temp, barometric pressure, and many many more). it came with basic software that did the job ok. there are other (not free) softwares out there that can display a nice virtual gauge cluster (which looks prety cool)
backup camera
I bought a small RCA auto-reversing backup camera from (surprise, surprise...) ebay for $100. this doesn't actually hook up to the carputer at all, it plugs directly into the monitors RCA input which is nice because I don't have to wait for the computer to boot up to use it.
HeadUnit
I bought a Pioneer DEH-P490I headunit from a local electronics store. it's a nice featured headunit with a simple display. I usually buy fancier headunits but for this application I wanted the foval point to be the computer screen above it, and not the HU. It has nice sounds and configuration options. an integrated IPOD controller and two AUX inputs. many carputer users run the computer's audio output directly into an amplifier (no headunit at all), I personally don't like software-based audio control so I chose to retain a headunit.
Misc wires & cables
I needed a VGA extension cable ($8) and a couple USB extension cables ($6/each) to run from my trunk to the dashboard. I had plenty of small wire laying around to use for the power button wire, monitor button extensions, info center button extensions, etc. I tapped into my amplifier/sub power and ground cables for powering the charger.

so my system cost me roughly $750 to build. that may seem expensive, but it's still alot less than an in-dash DVD/GPS system would cost, and it can do so much more. hell the Fusion's factory GPS unti cost $1500 and it doesn't even play movies :shock: ...so it's actually pretty cheap when you consider everything it's capable of.

next post, the installation/fabrication...
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
since i wanted to retain a headunit I had 2 options. first option was to install the headunit in the lower space of the factory stereo opening and install a motorized monitor above it. I didn't like this option because I wanted a clean dash look, and motorized monitors are subject to break easily, plus i would have to extend/retract it constantly. not exactly an ideal setup IMO. the second option was to make my own bezel to accommodate the 7" monitor and the single-DIN headunit. I chose option#2 ;)

making a new bezel for those two components meant I had to find another place to mount the info center / hazard buttons because the monitor would use the spot where they used to be. at first i just had them hanging from the wires and left them in the glove box. this quickly proved to be very annoying.

My solution was to remove the cig lighter / coin tray from in front of the shifter and make a new flat panel to hold the buttons. to move the buttons I had to extend the wiring a couple feet to reach the lower console. to make sure I would never have a problem with it I soldered and heat-shrinked every wire at both ends of the extension. it worked out fine and the buttons work and light up just as they are supposed to.

I made a simple panel to hold the factory buttons. there are also two black buttons added. the bottom button is wired to the laptop docking station's power button (to turn the carputer on/off). the upper button turns the charger on/off. I used a cheap charger i bought on eBay for $15, it works fine but causes an annoying squeal in the audio. for that reason i needed to be able to turn it on and off, which is OK because the carputer/laptop can run off it's own battery for about 3 hours.

here is a pic of the original panel:


a used that panel for a few months but needed to modify it later to add a couple more buttons. one button to turn the monitor on/off and another to change it's input (PC, backup cam, aux-2). I also added an analogue 15vdc voltmeter mainly to fill the extra space, but also to make sure I don't run the battery down too low to start the car ;)

here is a pic of the new/modified panel:


everything is wired using removable connectors for easy access
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
the next step was to make a new bezel. at first I just wanted to get the system up and running so I made an aluminum bracket to mount the monitor to the upper factory stereo mounting holes. I then cut a couple holes out of an spare piece of countertop laminate board (basically thin plywood with a plastic coating. it's flexible, easy to cut, and easy to paint). this was only a temporary solution until i had time to make a clean looking bezel to complete the project.

here is the temporary panel I used for a few months:



now that the monitor was in the dash i worked on the rest of the system. I built a platform out of MDF to hold my subwoofer amplifier and the laptop/docking station in the trunk:



for power I tapped into my amplifier's 4gauge power and ground cables. I hooked them up via a relay to the stereo's ACC line so that the charger would not drain the car's battery with the engine off. I did the same thing (different relay) up front for the monitor's power, which is hooked up to the now unused cig lighter socket.

Many people want their carputer to turn on and off automatically with the car's ignition, I didn't. for me the carputer was a novelty, I didn't need it on all the time because I still had a headunit to play audio for short trips and commutes to/from work. for this reason I simply soldered two wires to the docking station's power button and connected them to a button on the new panel pictured in the last post. this way I could turn the carputer on and off whenever I wanted.

I then ran RCA cables from the laptop top the headunit's AUX2-input for carputer sound.

later on I added an OBDII > USB interface module (that's what I ran the second USB extension cable was for ;)) and a backup camera. I chose an small outdoor/waterproof auto-reversing 12v RCA camera. I mounted it right above the license plate. It's a very small camera but it still sticks out a little. there are less obvious models I could have used but they would have required drilling a large hole in the trunk to fit a keyhole camera. as with everything else I've done so far, this needed to be removable so that i could put the car back to normal again if/when I decide to sell it or trade it in. to install this I only needed to file a small notch into the right license plate light housing to run the wiring through.

here is a pic of the backup camera installed:


next up... making the new fiberglass bezel...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
the final part in completing my carputer project was to fabricate a new bezel for the monitor/headunit. this was the hardest part of the whole project and by far took the most time. I can't even tell you the number of working hours I spent molding, mixing, pouring, brushing, cleaning, shaping, sanding, filling, re-sanding, filling more, sanding more, fine sanding, ultra-fine sanding, priming, painting, and clear-coating... I would estimate that I spent at least 20-30 working hours, probably more on this part alone. I had never done anything like this before, now that I have some experience I could make one alot faster with alot less headaches, but there's a first time for everything, and I enjoyed learning :)

the first step in making the new bezel was to make a mold of the factory bezel. I put masking tape over the entire piece, then covered it in 2 layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. I then mixed up a batch of plaster and poured it onto a piece of cardboard. I then pressed the foil-covered factory bezel into the plaster and let it harden up.

15 mins later I had a perfect mold of the factory bezel:




the next step was to mix up some fiberglass resin and pour it into the mold. I poured a thin layer then added some fiberglass cloth, then poured more resin, added some matting, then more resin, etc, etc.:


after the resin cured (only takes 2 hours to cure). I then cut out the holes and mounted the monitor bezel and headunit sleeve using 2-part epoxy from behind. then a thin layer of resin, cloth, and more resin to create a uniform paintable surface.



next step was to sand, fill, sand, and fine-sand the resin until it was smooth enough to paint. I didn't want a flat black, but I didn't want it very glossy either. I compromised by using a gloss black w/lacquer. normally lacquer would make it shine even more (when applied after the paint is dry), but I applied it between coats of gloss black (while the black was still wet). this created a nice semi-gloss black finish (it shines, but not enough to see your reflection in it ;) I'm actually quite pleased with the way this came out, and although it took alot of work, it was fun doing it, and I believe the end result was worth the effort.

so without further ado... my carputer project is finished... here is what my car's interior looks like now:


I hope this provides a nice glimpse into the world of carputing. If anybody is interested in setting up a carPC in their Fusion (or any other car) then I'll be glad to help. any questions, just ask :)
 

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looks great
but I have to say that the volt guage looks a little out of place in the modern dash you have
looks like it should be in the delorean from back to the future ;-)
cool install though

Bose
 

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Wow, you sure did put some time into this. What a great install. Thanks for the write-up. :klavergreg:
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
[quote author=bose link=topic=95098.msg1868699#msg1868699 date=1195611692]
looks great
but I have to say that the volt guage looks a little out of place in the modern dash you have
looks like it should be in the delorean from back to the future ;-)
[/quote]
lol... yeah I know what you mean about the volt meter. I thought it would look better but sometimes you can't tell until you actually do it.

at some point I'm going to make a different panel there anyways. I want to build a touchpad or trackball into it (probably a touchpad, I think it would look "cleaner"). the next version will be fiberglass and will match the monitor bezel.
 

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Wow, I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to do this. But, everytime I see this, I want to do it more and more!!
 

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That carputer is nice!!! I want to do it, but I know nothing about fabricating.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
[quote author=Ceace link=topic=95098.msg1935275#msg1935275 date=1198170079]
That carputer is nice!!!
[/quote]

Hi Ceace... thanks :)

[quote author=Ceace link=topic=95098.msg1935275#msg1935275 date=1198170079]
I want to do it, but I know nothing about fabricating.
[/quote]

you can still install a carputer without having to fabricate anything. I did it that way because I wanted to keep the cost as low as possible... (and because I like learning new hobbies ;))... there are a few options that won't require fabrication or modification of your factory dash panel.

1. you can get "plug & play" double-DIN carputers that bolt right in where the stock radio goes. I have seen a few different models priced from just over $1000 up to $2500. I saw one the other day for $1100 that was actually a really nice unit. (can't search right now, I'm posting this from my phone. when I get home tonight I'll find it and post a link)

2. you can get a double-DIN VGA monitor which will bolt in the same way, just connect a computer to it and you're ready to go. with this setup you don't use a head unit, just run the computer's audio output directly into an amplifier.

3. if you want to keep a head unit then you can get a single-DIN motorized flip out monitor and mount a single-DIN head unit under it.

as for the computer itself (unless you choose option #1) there are many options. if you have an old laptop then you can use that. otherwise there are some cheap & good options like the tiny VIA artigo pico-ITX system or the ASUS EeePC (tiny laptop).

:)
 
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