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Wiring Tips for your Storm Chase Vehicle

Recently I’ve fielded a few questions about vehicle wiring and how I outfit my chase vehicles. Getting that new ride and having a fresh opportunity to create an effective, efficient wiring setup is something I really enjoy! When I got my Toyota 4Runner I drove to Illinois to outfit my vehicle at the shop where I used to work, Warning Systems Specialists, where I would install equipment on squad cars, fire trucks, construction vehicles, etc.

Anyways, I am writing this blog so I can point many of you who ask about my setup to it, and hopefully help you setup a sweet chase equipment install that won’t catch fire and will survive all the tough conditions we go through out there!

I have a few general rules when I am working with wiring, so I will start with those.

  1. Always hide your wires
  2. Always use solder, never just crimp things. They can pull apart or not have an efficient connection.
  3. Avoid using an inverter at all costs.
  4. Always have a great ground. Don’t be afraid to run a few ground wires from the front.
  5. Always use in line fuses, it will save your butt someday.
  6. Measure twice, drill once.
  7. Relays, relays, relays!
  8. Be sure your install location won’t become a problem later.. Near a steering wheel, or shifter, or will create issues for passengers, etc.
  9. Hardwire when possible (don’t use cigarette ports, etc)

I will address most everything of the above rules at some point in the blog below, so follow along! I’ve also included links to most everything that you see here that you can buy on Amazon.

Top Down Thinking

I start each install wondering how many wires I will need to start with and how will I get them into the vehicle? Most vehicles have a grommet in the driver’s side kick panel area where you can take a carpet knife and slip a wire in.

Many people you see will buy extra batteries and run things that way. I’ve never done that. To each their own. I guess if I ever have some issue with an alternator or something I may look into that.

In any case, the battery is my main hub. I use a powerful Optima Yellow Top battery (if you purchase, make sure you find the one for your car). Hot or cold, I’ve found this battery to be bulletproof.  I stem off of that to feed hot 12V to my equipment. You’ll see a yellow box in this picture. This box acts as a shut off to all of my internal equipment (laptop, scanner, HAM radio, etc). This way if I get out of my car and I leave that equipment on, it will shut off at a preset time after turning the key off, then re start once I start the car. This device is called a “ChargeGuard” and you can purchase it on Amazon. Lot of equipment such as my off road lights, winch, sound system, etc, will all feed to my battery directly, they do not run through the ChargeGuard.

 

under-hood-battery
Wiring Hub – Optima Yellow Top Battery

 

Below you can see the details of the ChargeGuard. A series of dip switches sets how long the timer runs after you shut your car off. Once the timer expires, it will kill the power to all of your equipment. It will also kill the equipment if the voltage gets too low. Once you start the car again, it will then restore power to all of your equipment. Pretty sweet!

 

chargeguard
ChargeGuard Vehicle Power Management

Hide Your Wires

I mean really, do I need to explain this? They are annoying and just look really tacky. Take time to take off some interior panels (I like to wear gloves to avoid lots of dirty fingerprints. If you are removing panels, you will probably want a plastic fastener puller. These are great for those various clips. If something isn’t coming off, don’t pull harder, make sure you didn’t miss a clip somewhere. Wire loom, that black plastic stuff is also fantastic for making things look more pro. You see a lot of it in my truck.

 

Avoid Inverters

I hate inverters. Most don’t realize they are an issue because the issues don’t manifest themselves obviously. In my ride, the issue was I had a humming noise that was evident while transmitting on various frequencies on HAM radio. This was caused not only by the inverter, but the cheap transformers of everything else on it. Power strips, camera chargers, laptop chargers… All of these have some transformer in them.. You’re essentially going from DC to AC back to DC when you use an inverter. It’s hard on electronics too.

Unfortunately, I just purchased a new laptop that has such a high wattage requirement I haven’t yet found a suitable method for not having inverter. So, IF you have to use an inverter, get a pure sine wave inverter. This will do miracles for you with much less interference and much more efficient use. Here’s the one I have.  Also, ground the heck out of it. I have a separate ground ran to mine, which servers to remove as much noise as possible from the system.

If you look at your equipment, such as your camera charger, you’ll often see that the output is some DC voltage, despite being plugged into 120V AC. What you can do is add a voltage regular, and apply a 12V DC current to it, and adjust the output. For example, my Sony camcorder takes 120V AC in and outputs 8.4V DC. So I hooked 12V into a voltage regulator you can get for $15, and used a voltmeter to adjust it to 8.4V. Boom, easy!

 

voltage-regulator
Installing a Voltage Regulator

Switches. Relays. Fuses.

The instinct many have is to just grab a switch throw some power to it and hook in your item you’re aiming to power. While this can be fine with some items that require very little current draw, a much better thing to do is to run everything on a relay! What this means is you apply 12V to a switch, and when you turn it on, instead of turning on an accessory, you’re turning on the relay, which has everything hooked to it, and then it bears the load of everything. Relays are cheap, and you can find them on Amazon for a few bucks. Also, it’s a great idea to put a fuse in line with anything hot. If something shorts out, you want to blow a fuse, not a piece of electronics! One last bit here.. Make sure you’re running good quality wire back and forth. If you’re working with something that has a good current draw, don’t use tiny wire. There’s a reason big sound systems that take a lot of power have big wires! Here’s the wire that I use.

 

switches
Interior Switches

Be Discrete?

This isn’t for everyone, but for me, I like to not draw any more attention than I have to. If my back window (tinted) is closed, you’d never know I have a sleek light bar hidden on my lift gate. I only use this in emergencies when I am pulled off the road for something. You won’t see me running down the road with it on, ruining everyone behind me view of the storm, ruining their video etc. Anyways, it’s discrete, low profile. That’s how I like it! I don’t do reflective tape, or stickers or magnets.

 

lightbar
Lightbar

 

Don’t Be Scared to Drill

I know, the thought of drilling into your brand new ride, wheter interior or exterior is scary. That said, it’s usaully the best answer. Sure you can sticky tape here and there but that sucks when sitting out in the sun and it falls off, etc. Trim pieces are replacable, and if you’re drilling holes in your roof, you can easily plug them. You will always get better results from a roof mounted, drilled in antenna, but there are cases where I don’t use them. For example, with my car being so tall, if I were to have a big antenna on the roof, I couldn’t fit in my garage. So, I have two trunk mount antenna mounts that I use for my scanner and ham radio, that fit on the hood of my car. Then my cell amp antenna is small, and is on the roof. You’ll also see in this pic that I have special mounts for my off road lights, so I don’t have to drill those either.

 

nmo-trunk
Trunk Mount NMO

 

So there you have it. That’s a little background on how I do my installs and what I would consider tricks of the trade for others looking to setup their vehicles. It’s great to go out on every chase and just know my equipment will work, it won’t catch fire, it won’t be in the way of my passengers, I won’t be tripping over it or re mounting this or that, etc.

If you have any questions drop a comment!

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Brandon Sullivan

I am an entrepreneur, meteorologist and storm chaser. I travel and take captivating photos and videos across the world. If I'm not chasing, I'm at the gym. All opinions are my own and do not represent my employers or investments.

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