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Wiring up a “Chase Vehicle”

As chasers, we can often “live” in our cars.. Days and days on the road, in the high heat, humidity, mud, rain, sand… You know what I mean.. We load our cars with all sorts of neat gadgets for safety, information or even convenience. Without proper installation however, these gadgets can jeopardize our safety, whether it is fire, electrical shock or even just getting tangled up in your own mess. Through high school and into my first year of college (back home in western, IL), I had the pleasure to work for Warning Systems Specialists, who did emergency equipment (lights, sirens, cages, etc) installs on emergency and commercial vehicles. Through this I learned a lot from some really smart people, that gave me a one up for doing my own installs. Now, before we continue, I do want to preface something. Installation like this is probably not for everyone… If you drive a BMW chasing, then 1) you probably have too much money, but on a serious note, 2) you probably don’t want to be drilling holes into the roof and trim and worrying about killing the resale value. With that, here we go!

Under the hood:

This is where it all begins.. At the battery… You should gleam all your power from here.. Running tons of things off of cigarette lighters is just a recipe for disaster. 1) It’s just messy having all those wires running around… 2) Nine times out of 10 you can’t get all the power you need from the cigarette lighter. You don’t want to stress this and risk losing a fuse when crunch time comes and a tornado is hunting you down. So, hook up right to your battery… Get some 10 gauge or bigger wire, put a fuse in line (see pic), and run that into your vehicle.. You will need a way to get through the firewall.. There should be a big grommet underneath your kick panel somewhere.. In my Jeep, unfortunately, I had to drill a new hole and use a new grommet into the floorboard. As for the fuse size, probably a 25 to 30A fuse is fine.  You (shouldn’t) be using more than that with anything I can think of typical for chasers. I can’t’ stress this next part enough… SOLDER THE HECK OUT OF THINGS.. Don’t use butt connectors, don’t leave bare wire, don’t just twist things together and call it good.. Solder all your connections, then wrap them generously in electrical tape.. When you have to move something, something gets pulled on, something gets rattled, you won’t have any shorts or sparks.

In line fuse, off battery power source.
In line fuse, off battery power source.

Mounting equipment:

Now you have power into your car. I’ve always found it’s much easier to keep that power source at one location (mine is under the steering wheel/knee panel area), and bring the power to it, rather than trying to run wires to each individual piece of equipment. So, my next step is generally to mount my equipment how I want it.. Now, I’ve already explained that I take this seriously. My chase vehicle is my chase vehicle (soon to buy another vehicle for daily), so if it gets holes in it, so be it.

Antennas: I only use NMO mounts. They offer a better ground plane and seem to do much better with both transmit and receive.. When you use magnet mount antennas, you get a couple issues.. 1) you have that magnet scratching your roof and rusting and 2) you have to get the wire into the car somehow, which usually means there is some wire run through a door which breaks the water seal, damages the wires, etc. You will obviously need to drill holes for this, have access to the roof panel, etc.. Be cautious if you have a sunroof that you don’t drill too far forward or drill into the control module for that. Also, you want the maximum spacing that you can get so that things don’t interfere.. Receiving, you won’t have an issue, but transmitting, you can overload other electronics.

IMG_20150329_131405510
Scanner, cell and HAM radio antennas

 

Radios: Radios need to be in an easily accessible place for whoever plans to communicate. Mine is mounted to my kick panel like you see in the picture. It makes it easy for me to see when driving and have quick access too. You need to remember a few things with radios.. 1) They will need ventilation 2) water is not a friend 3) you have to be able to get an antenna to them. Just keep these things in mind while mounting and positioning. Most radios are going to have an inline fuse as well.. Make sure you keep it.. Just because you have one under the hood doesn’t excuse each item from having its own.

2m HAM radio mounted to kick panel.. All wires hidden.
2m HAM radio mounted to kick panel.. All wires hidden.

Power Inverters: Really, I don’t like power inverters.. Unless you have a really nice sine wave inverter, they do terrible things to electronics. My vote is to always to DC if you can.. I have ALWAYS done this until I recently bought a laptop that was just too powerful for any 12V power supplies. So, I went out and bought a beast power inverter. This one from Energizer also allows me to see the watt draw and voltage so I can monitor if any problems were to arise. Mine is drilled into the floor under my passenger seat. One key thing to make sure of is that the inverter still has proper ventilation and that it’s well protected from water. Any unused power ports should be plugged so that no water, dust etc gets into them.

1100 Watt power inverter with LCD readout
1100 Watt power inverter with LCD readout

Laptops: Not much to say here.. Get a laptop mount… Laptops aren’t made to be tossed around. They need to be held firm.. A nice laptop mount will align to your vehicles contours (I recommend RAM mounts). Mine swivels left and right, adjusts up and down.. It really fits well.. You will see I also have “wire loomed” all my wires up to the laptop.. I have a small USB hub that I plug into.. All my wires are tied to my laptop mount so they aren’t exposed and running all about.. I can just hop in my car, drop in my laptop, plug in and go!

RAM laptop mount
RAM laptop mount

Extras: Depending just how serious you are, you will probably have extra things you want to mount.. Like me! I have wireless internet in my car, using a Cradlepoint router. It utilizes both Verizon and ATT data streams and rebroadcasts signals in my car. I also have the latest Wilson 4G cell amplifier. Also, I like to mount a flashlight and flashlight charger in my car for any situation that may arise.

Cradlepoint MBR1200 router and Streamlight Stinger LED light + charger
Cradlepoint MBR1200 router and Streamlight Stinger LED light + charger

Final steps: 

This is one of the most critical things in my mind to have a really nice, finished looking vehicle, and also ads a lot of simplicity… Switches!! When I go into chase mode, I just flip one switch and everything is on… My inverter, amp, laptop power, police scanner, radio… All of it.. But, it’s not as simple as just tying everything into a switch. These switches, barring you have some huge demon switch, are not made to handle the load from inverters, laptops, radios etc.. So you need a way to take the load off the switch. I do this by using a “relay”.. What happens here is you tie all of your equipment into one lead, and attach it to the relay. The relay, when given 12v power (from the switch), will then  open the connection to the battery, thus connecting all your “accessories” to the battery. So the only thing the switch has to do is send 12v to the relay.. All of the load is on the relay, not the switch. These relays are capable of handling a much bigger load! You will see in the pic of my HAM radio above, that I have 2 switches up under my dash that control everything.

Relay that powers all added equipment in my Jeep.
Relay that powers all added equipment in my Jeep.

General notes:

I hate wires.. I hate them showing.. Part of it comes from me building squad cars and having to have the perfect look, but I just hate them getting tangled in things, being in my videos, etc.. You will see from my pics that I don’t expose wires.. They are run through interior panels, floor boards, etc.. Yeah, this takes a lot of time, and it kills your hands and fingers working in there, and it’s tedious to remove all them without breaking something, but it’s worth it!

Radar detector + GPS puck -- Wiring all hidden in A pillar.
Radar detector + GPS puck — Wiring all hidden in A pillar.

There is usually always a way to hide a wire. Here’s a shot of my streaming camera, which obviously has wires running to it.. But the first thing I do is put that wire into the A pillar and forget about it! You also see my 2nd GPS puck.

Logitech 1080p webcam + 2nd GPS puck
Logitech 1080p webcam + 2nd GPS puck

If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will try to reply!

 

 

 

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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.

10 thoughts on “Wiring up a “Chase Vehicle”

  • March 29, 2015 at 8:33 PM
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    would you know how to hotspot a ipod touch and a iphone 4s

    Reply
    • March 29, 2015 at 8:35 PM
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      You’re trying to turn your 4s into a hotspot? What carrier are you on? Does your plan support hotspot?

      Reply
  • March 29, 2015 at 9:51 PM
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    I would to turn my LGReam into hotspot could that be done help please .pamfrazier

    Reply
    • March 29, 2015 at 9:56 PM
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      Is the LG Ream a Boost mobile phone? I don’t think it can be done, after I looked at Google.

      Reply
  • March 29, 2015 at 11:38 PM
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    how many gigabytes are you averaging per chase. We are averaging around 6 per chase. It adds up once you get to May and June. I’ve tried to find alternative routes but pretty sure there’s nothing else. Didn’t know if you knew anything.

    Reply
    • March 30, 2015 at 12:20 AM
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      Wow! You use a lot!! I only use about 1-1.5 max per chase, but I also don’t stream.. Who do you stream with? Do you have an unlimited data plan?

      Reply
  • March 30, 2015 at 12:18 AM
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    Brandon, is there any way you could provide a more detailed description of the products you use? (More of the things you use for wiring) I am interested in wiring up a “chase vehicle” but I’m not exactly sure how or where to start. Would you recommend getting help from someone more experienced than me? Thanks!

    Reply
    • March 30, 2015 at 12:28 AM
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      Hi Tucker.. As for most of the parts, I’ve never known there to be too much differences.. You can pick up most everything at Auto Zone, etc. You just need some good wire, a soldering iron, lots of electrical tape and connectors.. All of this you can get at a store like Auto Zone. Even the switches, etc you can get from there. A nice drill, set of drill bits, etc are also important if you’re mounting things. What type of vehicle do you have?

      Reply
  • March 30, 2015 at 1:52 AM
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    Streaming is what takes up all the data. We stream on TVNweather, and no I don’t have unlimited data. Come may we will start paying at least $375 a month for data.

    Reply
    • March 30, 2015 at 1:55 AM
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      Wow, that’s terrible!! The only thing I can suggest is searching eBay for someone with an unlimited data plan for sale, which is super hard to find, or to get a couple different carriers. I don’t usually bother streaming anymore… I can share big things that happen with Twitter/FB + streaming doesn’t really generate a ton of revenue or following.

      Reply

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