This past year has been one large learning curve for me and this post begins with my new found knowledge of proper battery charging and health. The beginning of this story occurred several months ago when I discovered the voltage regulator on my alternator needed replacing. The shop that I took it to replaced the old one with an adjustable one that I later found out was the reason for my failing batteries. After my main starting battery as well as the secondary house battery had failed I knew there must be something wrong and discovered it was probably over-charging. A somewhat quick check discovered that my alternator was pumping out almost 15V to both batteries, this eventually dries the batteries out and causes them to fail. So after fixing this problem and turning down the regulator to a healthy 14.2 volts I was ready to start my newest project.
The Internet and the Vanagon mailing list I am part of have been incredible resources for both fixing, modifying and improving our camper. After a ton of research, I decided that I wanted to install a solar panel for the camper so that we can have extended periods of "off-grid" camping and not worry about starting the engine or plugging in. It's also a good idea if Zombies ever take over and we need to hide in the middle of nowhere. Ideally I wanted a panel that would fit in the front luggage rack as I have yet to use that particular space and wanted to keep the rest of the roof free as I have future ideas of a roof rack to put "toys" on. The problem I found was that the vast majority of panels were too wide to fit in the luggage rack or they were too small and didn't have enough power to handle my electrical needs. After many hours of searching the Internet, I finally discovered the ideal panel on eBay http://www.ebay.com/itm/321073962405?ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649 that fit almost perfectly and had 80W of power which was even more than I was hoping for originally and at a great price of $178. The panel was not sold separately and came as a kit with wiring and a charge controller which was fine with me as I needed them anyway.
Here is a picture of the panel the day it arrived
http://www.batteryconcepts.net/index.html and I didn't really mind waiting over 4 weeks, it was the extreme lack of communication that was upsetting. Anyway, long story short, the battery has been received and installed and I'm happy. Here is a shot of the battery in place under the driver's seat