Thursday 14 March 2019

Jeep Heated Seat Install, A Modification You Can Really Feel In The Seat Of Your Pants

If you have gone back and taken a look at my Green Jeeps build you may have seen that I installed a set of eBay seat heaters.  These really worked well until the drivers side finally crapped out.  I never did troubleshoot this before the Jeep was hit and written off.

With my Red Jeep I once again was without heated seats so wanted to reproduce this practical modification.

I found that Amazon had a few different options so I picked a cheap set with good reviews and figured I'd give them a shot.  In all they were about $35 per seat.

Out of the box I was pretty impressed compared to the last set I installed for a similar price these seemed better quality.  Mainly I am referring to the wiring harnesses that had a nice loom including heat shrinking.


1. Unplug the wires already connected to the seat.

2. Remove the seats, a breaker bar and quality impact gun are helpful as the bolts are very tight. I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean under the seats as they collect lost change and anything else that falls between the seats.

3. The seats come apart with 2 bolts on either side, the pull handles must be removed which just requires a little metal clip to be pulled on their backside

4. Opening up the fabric is simple as there is just a fold over plastic strip, this reminds me of the early Jeep JK soft-top.

5. Expose some of the adhesive on the heating pads and slide it into the cavity squarely with the adhesive to the foam.  Reach in and pull each strip off and press firmly when happy with the alignment.

6. I tied the power into the stock cigarette lighter outlet on the left of the dash, this is a switched power source which is only active when the ignition is on. The seat fuses are hidden behind the center stack lower trim panel.  Originally I was worried about tapping into the power outlet, however this is where the moper kit also taps in and the draw is relatively low.

7. I secured the relays to a metal post which receives a clip for the center console. I made sure the wires were neatly routed and that there would be no interference with any of the wiring, especially the airbag module. (Note while I had the seats out I did a radio install, and installed some sound deadening)

8. I laid out and marked the position of the switches and drilled pilot holes.  I used a step drill to keep increasing the size until the switches fit in. Unlike the last install I mounted these on the flat surface between the cup holders and the shifter. Ensure the location you choose will not have any interference once the console is reassembled.

9. Reinstall the seats, and ensure all wiring is securely fastened while allowing the seat full movement back to front.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Yaesu FTM-400XDR Radio Install

For years I have been using my Baofeng handheld radio for listening in to amateur radio communications, whether I have been volunteering at a rally race or out in a group of Jeeps.  It was these outings with friends wheeling that I started wanting my amateur radio (ham) license so I could legally take part in the conversations. After learning that a few acquaintances had enrolled in a 12 week course early last year I decided that would be the perfect time for me as well.

Taking a course was also secretly a way for me to justify buying a better radio and doing an install in the Jeep to have it for once I passed the test.  Once I started researching I found the options to be overwhelming and it was hard to pull the trigger on a radio as I didn't fully understand all the options each radio would have.  Because of this I ended up not buying a radio and just using my old, cheap handheld, while out on the trail.

Since acquiring my radio license the decision to buy and install a mobile radio was always nagging at me so as the year ended and I had to take some time off from work to use up vacation. I felt it would be the perfect time to buckle down and focus on a radio purchase and install.

Selecting a Radio 

For me I like clean installations of electronics and other modifications, I like everything to look like it was designed to be there so while they are a little more expensive I really wanted a radio with a remote head.  With this in mind I researched online and originally thought I had decided on an Icom IC-2730A however for not much more the Yaesu FTM-100DR had a better screen and APRS.  The trouble with the FTM-100DR is that as I understand it (and I'm no expert so could be wrong) that using APRS you would not be able to transmit or receive simultaneously for communication.

I had almost made peace with the Yaesu FTM-100DR limitations and was about to place my order when I noticed that the FTM-400XDR was discounted by $200 making it only about $150 more.  After talking to a friend who owns the FTM-100DR he stated that presented with this discount he would go with the FTM-400XDR. This was enough to help me to justify to blow what I planned to spend in my original budget.

To me the real reasons to select this radio were:

  • It was on sale, and I am a sucker for a 'deal'.
  • It should be easier to use as all menus are clearly listed and selectable on the touch screen. 
  • It has a proper dual receive functionality so I can listen to multiple channels at the same time.  A big plus because I like listening to the truckers when out on the highways to be alerted of any issues ahead. 
  • It has the ability to use APRS while still setup to talk on the other half of the radio. 

I ordered the radio, antenna, and coaxial cable from GPS Central and had it delivered within a few days. They seem to be the go-to source for radios in Western Canada.


I think the majority of Jeep owners who have a radio with a remote head tend to mount the radio body under the front seats.  There are lots of great resources online for this type of install including youtube videos such as the one by Trailrecon. I had a couple problems with this strategy for an install on my own Jeep.

     1. The first issue is that I already have Bestop secure storage drawers under both of my seats.

     2. The second issue was that I didn't want to add any vulnerability, should I be pushing the Jeep to the limits for which it was designed. eg. having water ingress through the doors when fording water. Not to mention the notorious roof leaking, which so far I have been able to avoid with frequent cleaning of the seals and careful freedom panel installation.

Another friend with a Jeep had told me years ago about his radio install under the dash on the drivers side.  I know he had a writeup somewhere online but for the life of me could not find it, or any other instructional write up.  After taking a peek under the dash I understood the concept and knew I could figure it out.

The radio will end up mounting on the same tray as the factory amplifier. To start I pulled off the kick panels exposing the tray and amplifier.

Next I disconnected the factory amplifier (I assume thats what this is anyways) and pulled out the bolt at the front.  The tray and amplifier lifts up then then pulls out as one nice unit.

Next up was trying to figure out what orientation to mount the radio in.  Originally I wanted it facing toward the driver for easy access to the USB port and micro SD slot by simply pulling off the lower panel.  I tried drilling several sets of holes in order to find a suitable position but was not successful. I ended up mounting it sideways with the front of the radio facing the center tunnel of the Jeep. I can still access the SD slot and USB should it be needed but its a little more tricky and I need to lay on the floor to do it. (Thinking about it now as I write this I may have been able to get away with the radio facing towards the driver if I had spaced off the radio mount from the tray.  Something to explore in the future perhaps...)

The one concern I had with this mounting position was its location next to the heater vent intended to blow air across the drivers feet.  Since there was a baffle which would directly blow air directly at the face of the radio I ended up cutting this baffle out and then screwing the cut plastic back onto the vent as a shield for the radio. I may get creative in the future but for now this should keep the radio from overheating when I have the heat cranked or being filled with dust due to this Jeeps lack of cabin filter.  I tried taking a picture to better describe what I had done.  Circled in blue was the baffled that I cut out of the duct and screwed on to keep the air going down instead of across. The red represents the orientation that the baffle was in directing air sideways across the drivers feet.   Just keep this in mind if doing a similar install and decide if you too want to make any modifications.

Regardless of the mounting orientation the amp will need to be spaced off the tray so that there is clearance for the nuts attaching the radio mount.  Like with my Redarc BCDC I used small pieces of fuel line as spacers. At each step I checked clearances with the steering column, but had no issues.

I also had to clearance the amp ever so slightly to allow for the longer bolts I used. To create this clearance I just drilled into the amps aluminum case from the side slightly. Picture to the right shows with bolt installed at the top, and what it looks like without a bolt below.

Once the mount had been mocked up it was a bit of a puzzle on how to get the assembly installed in position as it was too bulky to slide in in full.  If I recall correctly I was able to bolt the radio bracket to the tray, then install the bolts and spacers for the amp. I then installed the radio to the bracket and slid the whole unit into place through the dash.  Once that was complete I was able to carefully slide the amp in overtop and start all the bolts.  I then had to tighten each down, any way I could. I think I ended up switching between a socket with an extension or an opened ended wrench depending on the bolt. One benefit to this is it would make the radio incredibly hard to steal.

Not pictured but I ran the power from the radio up behind the dash and through the hole on the cowl into the engine compartment.  I encased the wires in loom for a cleaner look and ran the positive and negative both directly to my house battery (see my other writeup on the dual battery install).

The picture to the right is the radio fully installed and the one dash panel reinstalled, when the lower panel is installed the radio is completely invisible. Note the wire hanging down is the one for the remote head it will be fastened.  Also since the mic must attach directly to the radio body I have the mic cable secured to the crossmember with zip-ties to relieve stress on the connector.  I have since ordered a mic extension cable so I will relocate this in the future.

For the head I have temporarily mounted it just using an Ram mount above the dash.  I figured I would be playing with it a lot initially and wanted it somewhere easy to see and easy to reach.  Eventually I will mount it up over head if I can somehow make room near my switch pod. I also haven't included an pictures of the wires or routing as this is still a work in progress, I simply have the wiring running from the main body of the radio up over the dash from behind and the excess bundled at the side of the dash.

Next was running the antenna wire, I tried running this as far from any existing power wires as I could and I tried keeping as much distance between the antenna coaxial and the ECU.  I didn't quite keep the recommended distance called for in the radio's manual but I see that other installs which mount the antenna on the hood would have the wires in equally close proximity.

For the coax cable I needed to cut the radio end off to be able to thread this through the small firewall hole.  To have a new end installed I was able to take the Jeep to Omega Communications here in Kelowna who quickly had me setup again and a new connector, and were able to ensure the antenna was tuned sufficiently.  No adjustments ended up needing to be made.

For my antenna I decided to mount it to my ARB bumper, I have always like the Australian touring look as is evident in choosing the ARB bumper to begin with.  Unfortunately for VHF/UHF all the antennas are fairly light wire so it still doesn't have the big Firestik type antenna look.  I needed a step drill to slightly enlarge the hole in the bumper to accept the antenna mount.

Once everything was hooked up I installed the fuses back which had been temporarily removed and fired up the radio.  Now I can't comment much on my radios performance vs another on a similar Jeep, but the people I have talked to in close proximity can hear me clearly, and I seem to get pretty decent reception listening in near and far.  All I can say is that this install was as clean as I had hoped, and so far I have been thrilled with my choice of radio even though I haven't even started to scratch the surface of what it can do.

Monday 12 November 2018

Dometic CFX 50 Fridge a Worthy Overland Investment

Spring 2017 I made investment in our camping/overlanding experience with a 12v fridge. Everybody I talked to with them, or read about them, call them a game changer, and I really wanted to see for myself if this was true. 

I'll apologize in advance that this post is about a year and a half late so some details may be lacking, however I am happy to answer any questions as always. 

First step was deciding upon the fridge.  I happened to be at Peden 4 Wheel Drive the day of an openhouse and overheard the salesman talking to another customer about the Dometic fridge, while I don't remember all of what was said I was pretty much sold on this fridge.  I also did my own research as well and saw basically nothing but good reviews for this fridge.  A couple of the features I specifically like are the quality compressor that is used, the multiple voltage cutoff options, and the interior light. 

I also learned that the internals are the same as the ARB fridge which is actually manufactured by Dometic, this is visually apparent as the control panel is the same.  

Ordering the fridge from Peden was also awesome as it was on sale, and included the free transit cover. Shipping was quick and reasonably priced via Greyhound. 

It just so happened that pretty much when I got the fridge I also got an Overland Journal magazine with fridge reviews, the Dometic fridge place well, so I felt good about my decision.
I settled on the 50 quart size (CFX 50) which is great, it allows for ample room for food and drinks.  I'd say that if planned properly you could probably fit a weeks worth of refrigerated items for a couple people.  We probably could have gotten away with the 35 quart which I like because it opens from the end rather than side, not to mention a smaller profile. 

I used the fridge a view times without mounting it within the Jeep and it was awkward to say the least, especially since I have the cargo shelf that I built. I'd have to slide it out to the edge of the jeep while awkwardly supporting it on my knee as I accessed inside. I really lucked out when I started the slideout build as I had positioned the shelf just high enough that I had the perfect amount of space to clear. (I originally positioned this shelf with the horizontal line in the rear seat upholstery. 

 Slide Out Build

I got a sheet of aluminum cut to size, as well as a length of aluminum angle. I assembled the tray with some double sided tape as well stainless cap screws.  I also put 4 U-bolts near each corner to accommodate tie straps and keep the fridge that much more secure.

Now that the tray is made it was time to mount it. Looking at the back of the JK it is clear that the task was not going to be simple as the floor is so intricate.  I wanted a semi-permanent install which meant hard mounting each corner. 

While I don't have any pictures of the finished mounts here are the 4 tacked together. Going clockwise starting on the far left we have the rear most left (driver) mount that mounts up against the pinch seam.  Next is the left hand front most mount which secures into the floor in 2 spots.  The next is the right front mount which bolted to factory hardware. Finally the rearmost right mount, which is the most complex it actually bolts into the storage area more or less vertically. The combination of these mounts makes for an exceptionally secure rattle free install. 
The tray all setup, I used double locking, full extension, drawer slides from Lee Valley.  These slides are rated for 400pounds, so stout to say the least. 
Note the placement of the slides, while I wanted the fridge over to the left as far as possible there is a door latch and a body seam to contend with, at first this space really bothered me as under utilized, however I have found that a small folding table nests in there perfectly. This slight gap also helps allow for adequate cooling for the fridge. 

I'll say that the fabrication and cost of this tray was a lot more than I was expecting, I'd probably just buy the slide out next time as it is not as bad as I would have expected. (My dad, who bought a fridge after me got one with his purchase and made the install much easier as he could just tie it into the seat hardware.)

For power I repurposed some old subwoofer wiring that was running power to the previous owners aftermarket secondary subwoofer.  I then bolted a 12v power port to the shelf I had built. This works well and I use bungees to secure the excess power cord.  I also have a Hella style plug that I picked up at a sporting good store going out of business that I will likely use specifically for the fridge leaving the 12v accessory port for auxiliary charging. 

The fridge was also a gateway modification because as well as it worked there were times that it would run the battery down until it cutout.   I wanted to make sure I could run it as long as possible without starting the Jeep, without risking a no-start situation somewhere out in the backcountry.  As a temporary measure I bought a portable jump starter however had basically made up my mind that there would be dual batteries in my future (another blog post). 

A picture of the finished product

Improvement Wish List 

As good as this fridge is there are a few little things I wish I could change, none of these however would make me change my mind if I were to do it all over. 

 - Better insulation in the lid.  In the heat of the summer it is apparent that the lid is a week part of the fridges insulation, its easy to feel the coolness through it. 

- Cover that opens with the Fridge.  Getting into the fridge with the transit cover is a little little tougher than it should be since it opens in the center and a piece flips backward and another forward before the lid can be opened sideways. 

- Voltage display, the fridge already has the ability to monitor voltage for the cutoff, and an LCD to display temperature, surely it couldn't have been too hard to display the battery voltage on rotation, or at the push of a button.  I'll likely install something to monitor voltages myself. 

- Better quality transit cover, mine started ripping within a few uses on the inside foil, I feel this was mostly my fault for not carefully releasing all the velcro before trying to pull the cover open. 

The Verdict

I can confidently say that I can agree with others when they talk about a fridge being a game changer.  I don't think I could ever go back to a cooler and ice.  If this fridge were to break I would absolutely order another in a heartbeat.  I also feel I have probably directly or indirectly sold at least 4 other people on a Dometic fridge as thats how many people I know have bought them after seeing mine and hearing me rave about it. Before this I didn't know anyone personally with one. 

Despite the improvements that I wish were made it is still a great device.  To help combat the lack of insulation in the lid (and around the fridge as per the Overland Journal review) I have added additional insulation (may post up about it later). I don't plan on doing a quantitative evaluation before an after, but I feel any additional insulation will be of benefit.  Even before the added insulation one time after a trip this fridge had lasted about 7-8 days on the low voltage cutoff setting while in the garage.  This was where I was not accessing the fridge or Jeep in this time however once the fridge did finally cutout (on the lowest setting) the Jeep would not start. 

I would recommend getting the transit cover as it will not only protect your investment but add additional insulation.  It also had 3 pockets in it (2 on the side and 1 in the front) that I've found had many uses from storing utensils, sticker and business cards, to my favourite use of storing wet naps so you can wash up prior to a roadside meal. The front pocket can also hold a small device while recharging it from the USB port. 

Sunday 4 November 2018


When using a fridge in your rig you start realizing just how valuable the 12v capacity of the truck is. Driven by this it has always been my desire to install dual batteries, not only does it it give you additional capacity while not on the move but it also gives that added security out on the trail or at a remote solo camp that you can jump start yourself.

There are a few kits out that there that supply all the parts needed to set up a dual battery system in your Jeep.  Some of these kits, like the Genesis Offroad one have rave reviews and provide all the components most people need to accomplish a clean install. I however decided to make my life difficult as I wanted to base my system around a REDARC BCDC rather than just a simple solenoid.


I chose the REDARC BCDC for 3 main reasons, the first and most superficial is that I have always tried to have an Australian inspired build.  I like the 4 wheeling culture and components that exist Down Under, you'll see this in my ARB, OME (Old Man Emu), Maxtrax, and now REDARC components.  This seems to be a respected brand in that market and the standard that all high end builds are using.

Secondly, I wanted to treat my batteries with respect and I didn't want to be restricted to 2 of the same batteries if I didn't want to.  Basically whether you have an isolator, or just have both batteries wired in parallel, when the Jeep is running and both batteries are receiving power they are being treated as one bigger capacity battery.  I don't claim to be an expert on the ins and outs of the alternator charging theory of the JK but it seemed to me that unless both batteries were identical (including state of charge) one would either be stressed (overcharged), or under charged which could also risk premature failure.

Since this is a charger rather than a solenoid it is taking the power from the battery terminals while the alternator is producing a charge, and producing a controlled output of voltage an amperage depending on battery chemistry and state of charge. This allows the truck and alternator to almost be unaware there is even a second battery and no stock systems are disrupted.  Another good point on modern vehicles with computers controlling everything and susceptible to electronic fluctuations.

Thirdly, we use the Jeep for camping a lot and this charger (BCDC1225D) allows for solar input.  While its great to be out always exploring some days just end up being lazy days chilling around camp.  Being able to eventually setup a solar input to the Jeep will be amazing to keep the beers in the fridge chilled without relying on running it.  In fact this charger is smart enough to take what it can from solar before supplementing with alternator power if you have vehicle mounted panels.

Battery Tray

Ideally I would have liked to use the Genesis Battery tray as it seems to have great reviews for fit and finish.  I also like that it keeps the batteries away from the engine and will work for all years of JK whether you have the 3.8 engine like I do, or the 3.6 engine.  I had thought I had seen the tray only available from some American sites, however I couldn't find it from any of the Canadian sites and didn't want to risk duty and brokerage.  It was also at a premium price for just the tray.

This forced me to start looking at the usual suppliers and I eventually found this Rugged Ridge tray that had decent reviews, and was a good price. I had had good luck with the rugged ridge hood latches so figured I'd give it a shot.


So now the fun part.... I'm not documenting this as a whole step by step install, mainly because I did a fairly poor job of taking pictures but I will describe the high level detail of my install.

The first step is to start dismantling items attached to the plastic tray running along the passenger side of the jeep, this includes removing the battery, the airbox, the TIPM (Total Integrated Power Management), as well as moving the power steering reservoir out of the way. After all this is complete remove all the 10mm bolts holding the tray in.

Note that there is a fastener in the wheel well that needs to be removed as well.  While the bold from the top seems to secure the tray and thread into an attached mount in the body this faster on the bottom will need to be removed to allow the bolt come out.  I'd recommend removing the wheel well side first as I ended up breaking this bolt the second time I tried to remove it.

*Note in the picture on the right, just how much aftermarket wiring has been run on the passenger side of the jeep.

With all these items removed or loosened you can carefully fish out this big plastic tray.  This will be cut later to preserve parts of it while adapting to the Rugged Ridge tray.

Once the tray is removed mark out the line as described in the instructions to cut on, you can see here I marked along a structural rib, that I preserved to act as a natural transition. I made the cut with a hacksaw as this tray is incredibly easy to cut. I did have to remove the blade to complete one small section.  After cutting I used a small die grinder to just clean up the edge.

At this point the re-assembly can begin! First install the battery tray, and the plastic piece that was removed, then add the second piece of the battery tray layering it over the plastic and starting the 3 bolts from within the battery tray.  Then place the TIPM mount back in place and secure all the bolts.  I carefully lightly tightened the bolts to make sure everything fit nicely without stress before doing a final torque.

Here is a picture of the tray installed and a single battery test fit.  I did have to omit the use of the washers on the 3 bolts attaching the 2 part of the tray together as there otherwise was not enough clearance for the battery to sit fully in the tray.

Next up was dealing with wiring, notice in my starting pictures just how many wires were running up the passenger side of the Jeep, these were from the winch, the LED lights, and rock lights, as well as the wiring harness for the ARB bumper.  The LEDs and the rock lights had relays at the firewall by the battery.  Also connected to the battery was the wiring harness from the ARB compressor. Finally there was the old subwoofer wiring that I have been re-using for my power to the rear of the Jeep.

While I would argue the wiring was all done fairly well in terms of reliability and quality, it wasn't very pretty.  Earlier in the spring I had bought a fuse/relay block and had my dad fabricate an aluminum mount for it. I'll take the opportunity to clean up some of this wiring over to that however the writeup will be separate from this.

 What I did do right now however was to shorten the stock ARB harness as I think I was running it stock length with a couple feet of excess wire tucked away.  I also replaced the ends on some power, and ground terminals to uninsulated connectors with shrink tube, rather then the red/blue/yellow ends that are typical with hardware store wiring supplies.  I think that the heat shrink tubing looks a lot more professional, as well as I used the double walled adhesive lined stuff too so should be more corrosion resistant.  I opted for this project too to replace my cheap pair of crimpers with some better ratcheting ones.

Next up it was time to mount the BCDC charger. I was originally going to build a mount on, or around, the batteries however the area is too cluttered with wiring.  I instead went with the easiest solution which was to mount it to the flattest part of the airbox.  For this I marked out the 4 holes of the charger and drilled the airbox, I then ran some stainless bolts up from inside the airbox, and threaded on some nuts with red Loctite from the top.  I did this as it would make it easy to remove the charger if needed, as well as I didn't want anything that could fall into the clean side of the airbox and risk it going into the engine. I then used some fuel line to space the charger off the airbox.  I did this since the surface isn't flat and also to provide airflow underneath.

The charger has a few small gauge wires that won't be needed for my application, at least right away so I capped them off.

I don't have any pictures of it, but the next step was to extend the 8 gauge wiring of the charger to the batteries and to the ground.  Speaking of the ground there is a conveniently located ground on the firewall where the ground strap is placed with a long stud.  I used this to ground the secondary battery as well as the charger. REDARC also recommends the use of MIDI style fuses, I ordered a few 40amp ones as they seemed hard to come by in town.  The holders in town are also quite expensive, so I ordered a few online.  Since I was anxious to have this setup I just bolted the terminals direct to the fuses and shrink wrapped the whole thing.

After the initial install of the tray I was worried that the heat from the manifold could end up being a problem, or at least wouldn't be ideal for the battery.  I ended up ordering some aluminized adhesive heat shield.  I pulled the tray back out and I stuck some on the tray where it sits over the exhaust manifold and cut out the slots in the bottom of the tray.  Also not pictured but I took and added some foam tape to the bottom of the trays so the batteries didn't scratch through the finish.  Finally I also took some fuel line an placed it down the centre rib of the tray to protect it from being damaged when installing the batteries.  These measures were made to try help prevent rust.
Lastly its just a matter of getting both batteries in position bolting them in as well as reconnecting the wires as cleanly as possible (I probably still have some room for improvement for another day).

Here is a picture of the charger powered on the first time running the Jeep after the install. Note the LED on the far right is a representation of the status of the charge, one of the small gauge wires can be used to bring this into the cab to keep tabs on how things are charging.

 Before and After 


Below are my amazon affiliate link to some of the components to complete this install.  Note that using the links below helps me get a small kickback when a purchase is made. 

Redarc BCDC

Fuse Holders

Blue Sea Fuses