Vanagon Kick Plate Overhaul

Written on 02/15/2021
Abel Longoria

When I bought my '87 VW Vanagon Westfalia back in August 2013 it had a few things that immediately made it on my list of things to change and/or work on. One of them being doing something with the gaping hole in the bench seat kick plate that used to house a subwoofer sometime ago. My first inclination was to install a larger 10" sub in place of the 8" sub it was originally built for. In the preparation for the Colorado 2015 trip I've come to the realization that every little bit of storage space counts and I've since decided against adding a subwoofer in that spot and use it at storage space instead.

The plan was to source a cubby hole door on the used market and enlarge the speaker hole in order to accommodate the door giving me direct access to the under seat storage without having to lift the bench seat. This is the best utilization of space in my opinion.

First step was to remove the kick plate from the bench seat which was a little harder than I anticipated since the kick plate was also stapled to the bottom plate from underneath. I did not know this but I managed to pry it out and get it free of the 1" long staples. Once the plate was removed I used a Dremel with a cut-off disc in order to cut the staples off flush with the top of the bottom plate.

I made a template of my MTI Industries LP/Carbon Monoxide Detector out of some spare foam core board I had laying around. I cut the foam core to the exact dimensions and thickness of the backside of the detector in order to help me locate it on the kick plate and miss my heater box, kick plate mounts and ECU. I placed the kick plate back in place on the bench seat and then spotted where I wanted the detector to go so that it wouldn't interfere with anything. I used generic blue painters tape to hold it in place.

Prior to any cutting I first covered the opposite side of the area where I plan to cut with blue painters tape. This tape on the bottom side of my cuts will help keep the laminate from chipping, cracking or splitting. With the detector located from my test fit earlier I used a Sharpie in order to draw my cut lines. The required cut out for the alarm is 5-3/8"W x 2"H so I marked two points on my centerline 1" from the edge. This allowed me to use my Lenox Tools 2" Hole Saw in order to cut the height correctly and then come in after with my jigsaw and square everything off.

My door opening was a little trickier since I wanted to make sure I got rid of the speaker opening as well as all of the associated screw holes that once mounted the subwoofer. After I measured my existing cubby hole door opening on my cabinet I transferred those dimensions over to the kick plate backside. I made all of my marks on the back side so whatever little residue from the Sharpies didn't come off it would be concealed in side the bench seat.

Once again I covered the opposite side with blue painters tape in order to protect the laminate as much as possible. Now that I had the outline of my box with the correct dimensions I added a mark 2" from each corner. These will be my center points to which I will drill a hole with my Lenox Tools 4" Hole Saw for the corner radiuses.

I drilled my four 4" diameter holes with my hole saw which created a nice and smooth radius corner.

Then I came back and connected the hole tangents with my jigsaw. I also cut these from the backside of the kick plate like I have done with all of my other cuts even though this photo is of the front side. You can see the incomplete LP/CO Alarm cut out on the far right of the kick plate which was squared off shortly after.

Door fit perfectly. I placed the hinges which I sourced from on the door itself and place the door in the opening. I maneuvered the door around a bit to make sure it covered the entire opening then I marked the spot where the hinges were and screwed them into the kick plate.

I ended up opting for the black version of the LP/CO Detector and I wasn't fond of using the bright silver mounting screws it came with. I took the supplied mounting screws and punched them into a cardboard box and gave them a few coast of this Rust-Oleum Truck Bed Coating Spray. Now the mounting screws will blend in nicely and not stick out like a sore thumb. I tend to do this will a lot of my various mounting screws.

The new cubby hole door and my LP/CO Detector is installed. Since I had the kick plate out I went ahead and installed a Blue Sea 12v Socket and a Blue Sea Dual USB Socket on the kick plate nearest the sliding door. This would allow me to sit outside the van and have a quick place I can hook up my phone in order to get a charge. I also run 12v LED lights outside of the van attached to my awning so this was a good place to plug those in as well. Some people say that they'd rather have two 12v sockets and simply use a dual USB plugin adapter in order to charge their phones when needed. I for one think having a Blue Sea dedicated dual USB socket is much better since I've had many dual USB adapter go bad and/or I lost them. Blue Sea makes great products and I don't expect any problems from these sockets whatsoever.

Much like with the test fitting of the LP/CO Detector I placed the kick panel back in the van in order to help me spot good locations for the 12v sockets. Keep in mind you have to miss the angle mounting brackets inside the bench seat, the side wall of the bench seat as well as the thin curved metal flashing that gets mounted onto the face of the kick panel. I mounted mine vertically with a 1-3/16" Forster Bit on a 2" center to center dimension.

Now that I have 3 items inside the bench seat requiring a 12v power source the next order of business is to figure out how to easily route my wires out of the bench seat and over to a Blue Sea distribution panel that I plan to install inside my main cabinet next to the water tank and 110v box. I looked at a couple of different options but the best I found was from someone that drilled a hole through the side of the bench seat panel and through the cabinet wall as well. This would lead me right into the are to which I plan to install a power distribution block.

I couldn't get my full sized electric drill into that small area because of the large heater box so I had to make a run to the local Home Depot for a Dewalt Compact drill. This drill coupled with a 3/8" Forstner Bit cut right through both wood panels giving me a clear shot to run my wires. Before making these holes be sure to check and double check your hole location so that you don't rip into any of the electrical wires inside your cabinet. Remove the false floor panel in the horizontal cabinet next to the stove and you'll be able to see what you're trying to avoid.

Here's the finished product. I really prefer the black faced LP/CO Detector over the white faced one that everyone else in the Vanagon community tends to use.

Once the kick plate was installed I then wired up the electrical pieces I added. I ran a heavier Ancor 12awg Marine Grade Tinned Wire to the Blue Sea 12v Socket and Dual USB Socket. I used a pair of Ancor Marine Grade Double Male to Female Adapters and some Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Tubing in order to protect my connections. For the LP/CO Detector wiring I used Ancor Marine Grade 14awg Tinned Wire along with more Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Tubing. The detector doesn't draw a whole lot so even the 14awg might be a bit robust for it but that's the smallest gauge wire I'll rub to my electronics.

This is my first time using Ancor products and I must say I love their stuff! Their products are all marine grade which as you know is the most harsh weather conditions you can plan for so they should work just fine in my Vanagon Westfalia. I will never use generic automotive wiring again after I've used this stuff. It's top notch!

Here's Libby all ready to go with her new digs! I still have a lot more projects on my ever growing To-Do List which I'll document in detail here on the blog as well.

If you’d like any more information on the products I’ve used feel free to leave a comment below and/or check out the Amazon links below for more specs. Thanks!