AdventureTaco - turbodb's build and adventures


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With all the Tacoma bits removed, it was time to trim the dust shield to fit the Tundra caliper. I didn't need to trim much, but after trimming the little bit I did, I used a file to remove all the burs, round off all the sharp edges and get it "user-friendly" again. And then I hit it with a couple coats of Rustoleum enamel, to prevent future rust.

Fitting the Tundra parts came next. First on was the rotor - it just slips on, but a couple of lug nuts can help to snug it up over the hub and hold it in place. Then while rotating it, I could see if there were any places on the dust shield that rub on the rotor itself. For me there were, but I was able to easily bend those parts of the dust shield "toward the engine a little bit" in order to clear everything. And then, I just bolted on the caliper - careful to get the specified 92 ft-lbs on the torque wrench.

Starting to come together!

The pads required greasing and assembly (with the spacers), but that goes quickly - essentially, you put grease on all surfaces of the spacers, being careful to not get any on the friction area of the pads - and then you just slide them into the calipers, fastening them with a spring and pins (that are supplied with the calipers).

The spring was a bit tricky for me the first time, but I realized that if I installed it at the same time as the top pin, that the pin would help to hold it in place.

Then, the only thing left was to install the Wheeler's front brake lines. The Wheeler's lines are needed because the banjo-bolt on the caliper end has a slightly larger inside diameter than the OEM Tacoma banjo; otherwise, the lines are just stainless-steel versions of the OEM lines. They also come with crush washers and whatnot that you need to install them.

This is a pretty straight-forward process - essentially, the reverse of taking out the OEM lines and went really smoothly for me on the passenger side. The banjo bolts are torqued to 22 ft-lbs in the process.

But of course, nothing can be totally easy, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't slide the center anchor to the necessary location on the brake line for the driver side. And that meant that I didn't have enough line to reach the hard lines coming out of the engine compartment.

I played with it for probably 30 minutes before calling @Wheeler's Off-Road Inc. I talked to Steve and he mentioned that I should try greasing the brake line and then pulling with all my might - which I did.

Now, I'm not the strongest guy in the world (thank goodness), but I'm not really a slouch either (thank goodness). Even lubed-up and pulling hard, I couldn't get the grommet to move. In fact, instead the rubber coating on the exterior of the brake line itself started to deform - building a little "wall" that the grommet would never clear.

Well, that's no good.

Steve was great - he was happy to send out a replacement. Hopefully he'll be able to get it out overnight; or at least two-day so I get it Friday (c'mon Steve!) - then, it'll be onto the truck and I'll bleed the lines one last time, on my way to beefier brakes.

[Edit: Steve got the lines out with 1-day shipping, which USPS of course interpreted to be "by Saturday." Thanks Steve!]

Because as I keep reminding myself - if you're going to get bigger tires, you might as well consider bigger wheels to fit some bigger brakes. :)

Oh, and of course, this is one of those great mods - you know, the one's you can't even tell you did, but that you know when you look at your truck - there are some Tundra brakes in there!

[EDIT 2017-11-16][/CENTER]

Just a final follow-up here as I was taking care of re-forming (rather than cutting) and re-installing the fender liners today as part of the pinch weld mod and so had the wheels off.

I have two different types of 16" steel spares - one type fits over the Tundra 13WL calipers, the other doesn't:

Fits (1st gen spare):
  • label stamped in wheel: J 16X7 JJ DOT CMC 10 01 HM 31
  • backspacing: 4 3/4" strong (so 4 3/4+)
  • identifiable (for me) via all holes being round (P/N: 42601-0C010)

Doesn't fit (backspacing pushes the wheel too far in, interfering with the brakes and front suspension) (2nd gen spare):
  • label stamped in wheel: J 16X7 JJ DOT CMC 9 10 WT 14
  • backspacing: 5 3/8"
  • identifiable (for me) via one oval hole near the valve stem



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Tundra Brake Break-in and First Impressions
October 28, 2017.

New brakes nearly installed, I waited anxiously to see how the replacement brake line that Steve @ Wheeler's Off Road sent was mailed - was it fast, or would it be slow?

It was great - he sent it 1-day and I had it Saturday morning. Not only that, but he sent an entire brake line kit, so now I've got an extra line and set of crush washers to throw in the trail kit, in case something goes wrong on my or a buddy's truck! Thanks Steve!

Installing the line was pretty straight forward, especially as I'd done the other already. One interesting thing to note - and the reason that new lines are required - is that the stock Tacoma brakes use a line with a little "registering beak" on it (which fits into an indent in the caliper); the 13WL Tundra brakes don't. Additionally, the circumference of the interior of the banjo fitting is ever-so-slightly larger for the Tundra brakes (I hear).

At any rate, with the line installed, @mrs.turbodb came out and helped bleeding the system. A straightforward process, I started in the rear passenger, then moved to rear driver, front passenger, and front driver to ensure that the system was properly bled. Of course, the rear was good-to-go from the start since I hadn't messed with anything there, and the fronts had lots of air (needing to fill up the new lines, etc.). I made sure to keep the reservoir topped off as I went.

The process went without a hitch, mostly. One thing I discovered was that the bleeder valves on the 13WL calipers I'd gotten from Napa used a different size wrench than the old Tacoma bleeders (which are 10mm). In fact, they turned out to be 8mm, which extra-sucked, because I didn't have an 8mm flare nut wrench. Unfortunately, I'd already returned my Tacoma caliper cores, so I couldn't just grab the old bleeders and re-use them. I'll need to see about getting some different bleeders at the local Napa. Or Toyota. Or get another wrench.

System bled, it was time for the ultimate test - head out on the freeway (I-5), risking life and limb - to bed the new rotors and pads. At least I'd know quickly if I'd really screwed something up!

The bedding process, I'd learned, is a process by which you deposit a layer of pad material evenly across the braking surface of the rotor. This minimizes squealing, increases braking torque, and maximizes pad and rotor life.

Bedding in Advantages:
  1. Gradually heat treats the rotor and eliminates any thermal shock in the rotor.
  2. Burn off volatiles and moisture from the resin that is near pad surface. This will eliminate “green fade.”
  3. Establishes a layer of transfer film about a few microns thick on the rotor surface. Shearing of the film during friction is an effective source of friction force. Otherwise, when using a freshly ground rotor without the transfer film, the main friction force would come from cutting, plowing, or scoring the asperities on the rotor surface. This leads to inconsistent braking effectiveness.
  4. Mate the two surfaces to a near perfect geometrical match, so that the contact area is high, and therefore the friction force is increased.
  5. The performance of a fresh rotor/fresh pad system would be inconsistent. This is due to ever-changing structures and properties of the two mating materials. Bed-in of pads and rotor will form a stable transfer film.
  6. If bedding in procedure is not applied, a stable transfer film may not be established for a long time. In other words, the rotor surface would have to be constantly regenerating a film that is not quite stable for a long time. This effect would reduce the performance and increase the wear.
Bed-In Procedure:
  1. Make a series of five gentle slow-downs from 60 to 45mph. Do it GENTLY to bring the brakes up to operating temperature. This prevents you from thermally shocking the rotors and pads in the next steps.
  2. Make a series of eight near-stops from 60 to about 10 mph. Do it HARD by pressing on the brakes firmly, just shy of locking the wheels or engaging ABS. At the end of each slowdown, immediately accelerate back to 60mph. DO NOT COME TO A COMPLETE STOP!

    Note 1: With less aggressive street pads and/or stock brake calipers, you may need to do this fewer times. If your pedal gets soft or you feel the brakes going away, then you've done enough. Proceed to the next step.

    Note 2: During this process, you must not come to a complete stop because you will transfer (imprint) pad material onto the hot rotors, which can lead to vibration, uneven braking, and could even ruin the rotors.

    Note 3: Depending on the pads you are using, the brakes may begin to fade slightly after the 7th or 8th near-stop. This fade will stabilize, but not completely go away until the brakes have fully cooled. A bad smell from the brakes, and even some smoke, is normal.
  3. After the 8th near-stop, accelerate back up to speed and drive around for as long as possible without using the brakes. The brakes will need at least 10 minutes to cool down.

    Note: Obviously, it's OK to use the brakes to avoid an accident, but try to minimize their use until they have cooled.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for a second break-in cycle. This may not be entirely necessary in all cases, but is good insurance to ensure a good break-in. Additionally, if you've just installed a big brake kit, the pedal travel may not feel as firm as you expected. After the second cycle, the pedal will become noticeably firmer.
After the break-in cycle, there should be a blue tint and a light gray film on the rotor face. The blue tint tells you the rotor has reached break-in temperature and the gray film is pad material starting to transfer onto the rotor face. This is what you are looking for. The best braking occurs when there is an even layer of pad material deposited across the face of the rotors. This minimizes squealing, increases braking torque, and maximizes pad and rotor life.

How'd it go?

Since I decided that the only place I could get eight, 60-10mph slow-downs, and then 10 minutes of "no brakes" was on the freeway, we headed out on I-5 at 11:00pm, hoping to find light traffic. We did, but only once we got ~45 minutes north of Seattle, near Marysville.

As we put on the hazards and started our series of slowdowns, everything seemed to be going well. The truck was stopping fine (not pulling one way or the other), and no one hit us from behind.

We did have one State Patrol pass us, and then pull over a car just ahead of us - but they didn't seem all that interested in my hazard lights being on, or my erratic driving.

Strange. Or maybe people do this all the time. (No.)

After the second bedding cycle, I pulled over to take a look at the rotors. As I got out of the truck, the smell of brakes, and wisps of smoke greeted me. Guess that's a good sign. A flashlight on the rotors, and they had a blue tinge to them - another good sign! And, there was that film of pad material. Pretty cool, guess it worked.

At that point, we headed straight back home. It was 1:00am, and way past our bedtime.

First impressions of normal braking

When I got a chance to take the truck back out again for normal braking, I can only describe the braking as "completely normal," which I view as a good thing. The brakes don't lock as soon as I hit the pedal, but it's easy to lock them with additional pressure. To me that means that I've got more braking power than before (larger rotors, pads), but that it won't affect my day-to-day driving in any way.

The thing I don't notice is any squishiness. That's apparently a common complaint of folks who own 1996-2000 vintage Tacoma's, where we have a larger master cylinder (1'' bore) vs. the 2001-2004, with a 13/16" bore. Monte (@Blackdawg) talks about this in his post here.

My guess is that he's correct in his analysis. Perhaps the bedding process helps a bit, but I don't know how it could make too much difference - after all, the same amount of fluid (and thus pressure) is in the system. Therefore, more likely is that I don't notice anything out of the ordinary because I'm used to my larger master cylinder already.

An interesting test will be for Monte and I to trade trucks. I bet the brakes in Igor are more sensitive, and will feel strange to me. And Monte will wonder if my truck is even stoppable.

And then we'll both be happy to go back to what we're used to!


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Adding a Ram Mount to the #%@#$@! A-pillar.
November 1, 2017.

I've always hated the A-pillars in my truck. Actually, it's the trim I hate. And I've hated it since I first tried (and failed) to remove it several years ago to run the wire for a microphone from my head unit up to the rearview mirror.

See, to remove the A-pillar trip, you also need to remove the grab handle. And for some reason, in 1997-2000 Tacoma's, the grab handle is attached with two M6 screws (no hex head) with a JIS head. That JIS head looks a lot like a Philips head, but it isn't, and I of course don't have a JIS driver.

So I use Philips, and hope.

Or rather, I generally try to avoid removal.

In fact, several years ago when I failed at removing the grab handle because I could tell the screw head was going to strip, I even went so far as to purchase some M6 socket button head screws that I could use to replace the OEM ones. But I never installed them because, well, that would require messing with the A-pillar.

But today I decided it was time to mount a 1" Ram mount ball on the driver side A-pillar. I needed it for some communication equipment, and frankly, it was time to fix the problem once and for all.

I was able to get the first screw out! The head didn't look great, but it held long enough to back out. Maybe I could do this.

But the second head was already a bit mangled from my attempt years ago. Almost immediately, it completely stripped out. Semi-expected, I retrieved my drill, a bit to drill out the head, and my screw extractors.

But then there was another problem. I couldn't fit the drill+bit into the head of the screw because the steering wheel was in the way. So, out came the steering wheel…which of course also means the airbag had to come out, and I risked re-installing the steering wheel "off-a-tooth" when putting it back on.

Then, I drilled out the head of the screw and screwed in the extractor.

And then, even though I'd used a small extractor, the head broke off. At least that mean that the grab handle was free! Of course, it also meant that I still needed to get the screw shank out. So it was back to drilling and "extracting." Except the extracting didn't work - I just couldn't get the screw to back out. Eventually, I drilled out enough of the shank that it just "fell out." And by that point, a couple hours had passed, and tools had been gathered.

The next step was to remove the A-pillar trim, so I could run wiring cleanly to the Ram mount. I did everything by the book - went slowly, pried carefully. I only broke one clip. "Meh success," I guess. #%@#$@! A-pillar

Now it was time to figure out how to attach the Ram mount. It wouldn't "just fit" because it's an M8 bolt, so I was either going to grind down and rethread the bolt, or I was going to drill out the A-pillar a bit more and re-tap it for the larger M8 bolt.

Ultimately, I decided to re-tap the A-pillar which ended up being a good (easier) idea.

Then, I ran some wires - a USB cable for power, and shielded CAT6 for the Ham radio - up from the dash and behind the A-pillar trim using a fish tape, and then re-attached the trim without incident. I also notched (by melting, which worked great!) the trim just a bit so the cables could snake out behind the grab handle.

And then, it was time to attach the Ram mount. I needed it to be slightly prouder than it would naturally sit, and a stainless steel nut, ground down slightly to fit within the grab handle, was just the ticket. Here's how everything went together, and then it screwed right in.

In the end, I'm super happy with the result. It looks amazingly clean and is going to be perfect for either a cell phone or Ham radio controller.

#%@#$@! A-pillar. Glad I should never have to deal with it again.


When I installed a Ram mount on the grab handle of my T100 a few years back, I don’t recall having too much difficulty with the screw removal. But when it was all done, no combination of Ram socket arms and swivel arms would position the phone in a location that was easy to see, oriented properly (landscape for me) , and still allowed reasonable clearance for my hands on the steering wheel. I finally moved it to the right side of the wheel, on the dash somewhere. Hopefully the Tacoma grab handle is located differently.


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When I installed a Ram mount on the grab handle of my T100 a few years back, I don’t recall having too much difficulty with the screw removal. But when it was all done, no combination of Ram socket arms and swivel arms would position the phone in a location that was easy to see, oriented properly (landscape for me) , and still allowed reasonable clearance for my hands on the steering wheel. I finally moved it to the right side of the wheel, on the dash somewhere. Hopefully the Tacoma grab handle is located differently.
I hear you. I had to dork around for quite a while to find the combination I liked. Ended up using a medium arm to double ball to short arm, and it's perfect for my ham radio display. And, as I recall, I could only get the medium and short arms from two other kits or something.

Luckily, I've forgotten the pain over time! :LOL:



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Where are you? Adding APRS to the Ham Radio Comms
November 5, 2017.

It wasn't all that long ago that I got my Ham radio license and installed an Icom-5100 in the truck. A great radio, it's gone now - because a great radio isn't all I need; I need a great radio that can also do APRS.

What's APRS and why's it so important?

Great question, let's start there!

APRS is the "Automatic Packet Reporting System," a machine-parsable protocol used on a known frequency (144.390 in the US) to send all kinds of information from one ham radio to another. But the reason I care about it is that it's can be used to report position information for a mobile ham station. With that position information, others locally (within range of your broadcast), as well as remotely (once your broadcast is received by an internet-connected receiver) can see where you are, and where you've been.

That's especially useful for someone who does a lot of remote adventuring for two reasons:
  1. When you go out adventuring with others, you can all see where each other are on a map (without having internet connectivity, since the communication happens through the ham radios)
  2. When you go out adventuring, people "at home" can monitor where you are - even if you don't have cell service. And, there are ways to communicate from ham radio to cellular text (and vice versa) should something go wrong.
So, as much as I liked the interface on the Icom-5100, it was time for it to go - because there wasn't a great way to get it to do APRS.

Why not? What do you need "to do APRS"?

Another great question. You are a savvy reader. Bringing your A-game as it were.

To do APRS, you need a little device called a TNC that is essentially like an old dial-up modem. (Remember those weird tones - you know "Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcchdingding*ding"?) The TNC is sending your position data in those tones to all the other ham radios within range. So you need a radio that the TNC can "plug into, and send the tones through."

Now, there are lots of different TNCs, and there's probably one that worked with the Icom-5100, but I had more requirements - specifically two:
  1. I didn't want to spend too much money on the TNC. (I already spent a lot on the ham radio.)
  2. I wanted to use a tablet in the truck to show a map of where APRS signals were coming from (like the one above).
So that pretty much meant that there was only one TNC that I could really use - the Mobilinkd TNC2. Conveniently, the way Mobilinkd works, it requires a connection to an Android tablet (generally running APRSDroid) which is where position information is retrieved from - via the tablet's GPS, as well as where other users' positions are sent - and displayed on a map.


Except now I needed a ham radio that would work with Mobilinkd (because it doesn't work with the Icom-5100).

Of course, there are lots of those too, but I've been spoiled with the Icom, so I wanted a dual band mobile receiver with a detachable control panel, and a relatively high-resolution display (not just calculator-style numbers). That narrowed the field considerably to something like the Yaesu FTM-400XDR or the Kenwood TM-D710G, since other front-runners like the Kenwood TM-V71A have all the necessary functionality, but not a great display.

In the end, I "traded" the Icom-5100 for a Kenwood TM-D710G - and by "traded," I mean that I sold the Icom for the same price I paid for the Kenwood - not a bad deal if you can get it.

I was pleasantly surprised by all the goodness that came with the Kenwood. Unlike the Icom, it came with a mounting bracket for both the receiver and control head - so I got started by mounting the bracket under the passenger seat, and then mounting the radio in the bracket - so much nicer than the Icom, which I just left on the rug under the seat!

The rest of the cabling (antenna, power, etc.) was all pretty much the same, so I was able to utilize all of the existing wiring - woohoo!

Bolting the seat back in was all that was necessary to complete the setup of the radio, which is now up and out of the way under the passenger seat.

The head unit got mounted on the new Ram mount I installed, just left of the steering wheel, and below the dash line.

Of course, I also had to buy a Mobilinkd TNC2 and miniDIN-6 data cable to make the whole system work (the way I wanted). This is an "optional" step, since the Kenwood has APRS functionality natively built-in to the radio - but a good one because while the Kenwood APRS tells you "who's out there" and their direction away from you, it doesn't have a map view.

And I wanted a map view. Really, we all want a map view.

Once I had everything, I was ready to install, which is super simple. First, I ran a USB power cable from the dash to the area under the passenger seat where the ham radio now lives and plugged it into the TNC2. Then, I plugged the MiniDIN-6 data cable into the Kenwood D710G's "DATA" port, and the 3.5mm plug into the TNC.

Install complete!

Finally, it was time for configuration of the radio and TNC. I stumbled my way through this part by reading various other folks experiences, so I don't know if this is the optimal configuration - but it works for me for now. I'll likely tweak it over time as I figure out how often this is trying to send my beacon (position) information. Configuration is done with two pieces of software on an Android device (that supports Bluetooth):
Use the Mobilinkd TNC Config first, to do the following (much of this from the User Guide)
  1. Start the Mobilinkd TNC Config app.
  2. Press the button on the front briefly to turn on TNC. The blue LED will flash rapidly.
  3. On the Android device, tap the app menu (3 dots) and select "Bluetooth Settings."
  4. Scan for Bluetooth devices and connect to "Mobilinkd TNC2". Use password "1234" when prompted.
  5. Go back to the main screen of the app and press the "Connect" button; select "Mobilinkd TNC2" from the listed devices, if necessary.
  6. If you want the TNC to turn on/off automatically when USB has power (if you switch your power with the ignition, for instance), tap on the Power Settings and check the "Power on/off with USB Power" option.
  7. Leave everything else as-is and close the Mobilinkd TNC config app (the TNC only supports one BT connection at a time)
Next, configure APRSDroid to send and receive position data through the TNC2:
  1. Start APRSDroid on your Android device.
  2. Go to App menu | Preferences and set the following settings (everything else you can leave as default):
    1. Callsign (without SSID) - set your callsign.
    2. SSID - set your SSID to "9".
    3. APRS digi path - "WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1"
    4. Connection preferences
      1. Connection Protocol - set to "TNC (KISS)"
      2. Connection Type - set to "Bluetooth SPP"
      3. TNC Bluetooth Device - choose "Mobilinkd TNC"
    5. APRS symbol - choose your favorite
    6. Voice frequency - set the frequency that you're listening to for ham radio transmissions
    7. Comment field - enter the comment you want sent with every position report
    8. Location settings - ensure it's set to "SmartBeaconing"
That's it - everything's configured and ready to go. To start tracking your position (and seeing other people's position), back out to the main app screen and tap on "Start Tracking." Now, you can use any of the three main screens to see APRS information.

The List screen shows all of the APRS stations (radios) that are broadcasting. You can tap on a station to see more information and communicate directly with that station.

The Map screen shows all of the APRS stations that are broadcasting on a map. This is the screen we want most of the time!

The Log screen shows all of the APRS information that is being sent/received, and can be useful when debugging cases where data may seem to be missing.



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Mod Wars - USB charger blocking Ham Radio Communication
November 9, 2017

Having just installed a new ham radio setup to get APRS, I was keen to play with Kenwood TM-D710GA and Mobilinkd to track my location. So, on a few local trips, I turned everything on and waited.

And waited and waited. Over the course of 30 minutes, I never got a single APRS beacon from another station. I knew something was wrong.

And then I realized that the difference between my initial setup and my current situation was that the truck was on. Turning the truck off resulted in almost immediate APRS packets coming through. Crap, something is causing interference - what could it be?

So I turned key to the ACC position - and boom, no more packets. Well, at least I eliminated pretty much everything in the engine bay! It had to be something in the dash.

Yeah, it had to be my Joying head unit. See, it's an off-brand, Chinese stereo that runs Android, and has a number of radios - AM/FM, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, etc.

I immediately tried airplane mode, and wasn't surprised that nothing changed - I figured that "airplane mode" in this unit might be implemented by ignoring the radio signals, rather than actually turning them off. At any rate, whenever the stereo was on, there was so much RFI that APRS didn't work at all. In fact, even the local weather (WX) stations would become static.

In the end, I knew I was in over my head, and headed back home to ask a few ham radio experts I knew, what I should do.

Their recommendation was twofold:
  1. Get a handheld ham radio, tune to the APRS frequency (144.390) and move the radio around the head unit (to find where the RFI was being emitted from).
  2. Make sure the stereo was well grounded, and that the ham radio was well grounded and shielded.
I tackled the second recommendation first - I installed ferrite beads on the ham radio, and I made sure that both the ham radio and the stereo had a good ground. It made no difference.

So I ordered a handheld, and waited.

The day before it was to arrive, I thought I'd go open up the dash - so it was easier to get at the stereo when the HT arrived. I thought I could also verify that it was the stereo by disconnecting the wiring harness, but still having the ignition in ACC - thereby eliminating everything else on the ACC/ON circuits.

So I got the ham radio and TNC up and running, and made sure APRSDroid was parsing stations. Then I turned the ignition to ACC, expecting everything to get really noisy/static-y. It didn't.

I confirmed that the stereo, tablet, my phone, etc. were all in the same config as previous (i.e. really noisy - BT and WiFi on, hotspot on from my phone) - they were.

Finally, I thought - "last time the tablet was charging via USB" so I plugged it in to the USB ports that I put in place of my cigarette lighter. BOOM - noise everywhere; just like before, I couldn't even tune WX on the second band of the ham.

That was good news! Rather than buy a new stereo, I'd just need to solve the interference problem of the Blue Sea Systems 1016 USB charger that I'd installed in place of my cigarette lighter back in 2015.

So I fired off an email to Blue Sea Systems, asking if they knew about any RFI issues with the 1016 USB charger, and what they recommended in order to fix the problem. I got a great response from Kevin:

…The 1016 did pass the FCC part 15 testing for interference. But honestly that bar is pretty low. We endeavored to engineer a in-house design with much improved interference filtering. The 1045 will likely help…

Ultimately after a bit of troubleshooting, he kindly sent me a 1045 USB charger for free to try to solve the problem - now that's some awesome customer service! (thanks Kevin!)

Before installing it in the dash, I verified that I could charge devices with it and APRS would still work (it did!); then it was as easy as unscrewing the retaining clip on the 1016 and inserting the 1045.

RFI mystery solved! Communication center complete!



Excellent write up. I like your setup that you have there with the Ham on the left. I hadn't considered doing that. I'm also interested to hear of your experiences with APRS. I considered going that way when I bought my radio, but I wasn't sure how much I'd actually be using it. If I were to do it again I probably would've gotten an APRS-capable rig just in case. Love that display on the Kenwood by the way.

Here's my setup as it currently sits. Old phone running Torque Pro, head unit testing out my front-facing camera, and my Alinco DR-735T mounted on Panavise bracket. It's a little lower than I'd like, but it's also not super distracting down there. The thing I like about my Alinco is the display....very large, and I can set custom colors for every frequency and mode (tx, rx, etc). It makes it so I can see out the corner of my eye if a frequency is active.

I'm also curious as to how your tablet mount works offroad?


Active member
Excellent write up. I like your setup that you have there with the Ham on the left. I hadn't considered doing that. I'm also interested to hear of your experiences with APRS. I considered going that way when I bought my radio, but I wasn't sure how much I'd actually be using it. If I were to do it again I probably would've gotten an APRS-capable rig just in case. Love that display on the Kenwood by the way.

Here's my setup as it currently sits. Old phone running Torque Pro, head unit testing out my front-facing camera, and my Alinco DR-735T mounted on Panavise bracket. It's a little lower than I'd like, but it's also not super distracting down there. The thing I like about my Alinco is the display....very large, and I can set custom colors for every frequency and mode (tx, rx, etc). It makes it so I can see out the corner of my eye if a frequency is active.

I'm also curious as to how your tablet mount works offroad?
A few questions in there :).

APRS - I use it on every trip, so very glad to have it. Usage depends on the trip but generally falls into two categories.
  1. It's always used for folks at home / family to monitor where we are. Since we do quite a bit of solo-vehicle travel, it adds a layer of safety for us - if the APRS doesn't move for a couple days when it should be, people at home can start worrying and have a reasonably accurate position to start the search. This generally seems to work, though there are some places where you can't hit a repeater/igate for an extended period of time. I've only ever felt like it wasn't working long enough to let folks know we were OK one time...and we had cell service the entire time on that trip!
  2. When other rigs with APRS are on the trip, we also use it for positioning - but not often. We're usually in a pack (normal), but if we go off in search of a camp site or something, it can be handy to all get back together.
Kenwood display - it's nice, but nothing compared to the Icom-5100 that I had as my first mobile. Oh, how I wish APRS were easier on that rig!

Ham radio positioning - you've got yours where I have my CB radio (essentially). Really, I find that once everything's set, there's no real need to be looking at it all the time, so I think it's a fine place.

Tablet mount offroad - works great! The actual cradle for the tablet is one I made myself out of wood so that it could be as minimal as possible. Tablet is very secure there, as it's held in place on 5 of the 6 faces, and there's also a magnet on the back that really keeps it stable. The RAM mount that suctions to the windshield is good too - very sturdy, partly because the arm also rests on the top of the dash, helping to "wedge" the whole thing between the dash and windshield.

Of course, as often seems to be the case, it wasn't easy to find the right RAM mount bits for exactly my situation. I ended up with: a suction ram mount to the windshield, and then a long arm to a diamond mount. That diamond mount attaches to the wooden holder.

I've heard really good things about this mount as well: Mob Armor Mob X Tablet Mount - Fits 7" - 10" Tablets, though I've never tried it myself.


Active member
APRS Explained
Over the last couple years I've been asked a few questions about APRS, and figured that the topic would make a good post. This isn't everything there is to know about APRS (by a long shot), but it does explain things in (I hope) a way that can help clarify how various components in the system work...

At any rate, here were some of the questions that got asked:

  1. I'm wondering what tablet you use ?
  2. I have a windows based laptop for programming my radio and wondering if I can use that ?
  3. Some tell me I needed a TNC , but ham outlet told me I don't because my Yeasue FTM 400 dxr has everything I need for aprs ?
I'm very new to ham (1 year) and I'm confused as heck as to what I need and don't need. Still going through growing pains , and don't have anyone around to help. Heck I went to a ham fest last year and asked around about aprs , people looked at me like I had two heads !

Basicly im trying to get aprs , maps, navigation , pretty much what you are doing.
Welcome! Let me start by saying that I'm no expert - but I'm happy to tell you the little bit that I know :)...

Easy question first: What tablet do I use?

I use a Nexus 7 (because I had one laying around; it was free).

There are better tablets to use. Mine only has 16GB of storage, and no SD card. For offline maps, you want a lot of storage, so I recommend something that's cheap, but with a micro SD card slot.

The only requirement is that it can communicate with the TNC via Bluetooth (if you're using a Mobilinkd, the only TNC I have experience with). That really means that it needs to be Android or Windows based (iOS doesn't support the necessary protocols over BT). I prefer Android since there are apps that work well on it (APRSDroid, Back Country Navigator). Windows should work too though, since it has APRSISCE/32.

Whew, even the easy question had a complicated answer.

What is APRS, and what's needed to "do it"?

OK, before I mention how to get APRS setup with maps/nav, it's important to realize that APRS and maps/nav are seperate things. You don't need maps/nav to "do APRS," and "doing APRS" doesn't get you maps/nav. Think of APRS info as data that can be overlaid on a map - just like an address, or GPS track might be overlaid on a map. Also - APRS does more than just position beaconing - it allows you to send/receive messages and data - but let's stick with the position stuff for now.

To "do APRS" via your ham radio you need three things:
  1. A GPS - APRS is about reporting your position, and so you need a GPS to get the lat/long coordinates of your current position
  2. A TNC - You need to convert the lat/long coordinates into sounds (tones) that get sent over the ham radio, and to convert the sounds you receive from others back into lat/long coordinates that your device can display. The TNC does these conversions for you (it's a modem).
  3. A Ham radio - Needed of course to send out the tones that the TNC generates to other ham radios/repeaters/iGates, etc.---
  4. Optionally, you can have a 4th thing - a map application that understands APRS data - where you can display the GPS/APRS information
These four things connect like this (either as seperate devices or internally in a single device)

Can I "do APRS" with just my ham radio (in this case an FTM-400XDR)?

Yes. But it may not be as useful as if you also run some mapping app that understands APRS.

Now, you're Yaesu FTM-400XDR has all three of the required things built into it - there's a GPS and TNC inside the control head, and of course it is a ham radio :). That's why Ham Outlet said you can "do APRS" with just your radio. Essentially, the picture becomes this:

The inclusion of the GPS and TNC is unlike most mobile ham radios, which require an external TNC and GPS - which is why Monte said you need a TNC. So, if what you want to do is send positional beacon information so that people can track you on, then all you need to do is configure your radio and you're set. I don't know how to configure your radio since I don't have one - but it looks like there's an entire manual (in addition to the normal manual) about how to do it. Of course, I can give you detailed instructions if you want to send me a 400XDR so I can figure it out! :)

The thing is, if you "do APRS" via just your radio, then you're limited to displaying that information in the way your radio displays it - which is on the control unit (likely as a list of beacons you've received, and your distance/direction to them) - as opposed to overlaid on a map. That's why we generally all use external TNCs and GPSs - because those allow us to do the map overlay.

How do I get the APRS data overlayed on a map?

As I mentioned, APRS data is (for the sake of this post) just position information from a GPS displayed on a map. So, that means you need a few things:
  1. APRS data for both your position and the position of others (think of this as GPS data)
  2. Offline map software that also knows how to consume the APRS data and overlay it on the map
Now, Yaesu, Kenwood, and the ham radio manufacturers generally want you to use their stuff, so it's not always easy to get the GPS/APRS data out of the radio (usually it's possible but it's so radio specific that you have to spend a lot of time in the guts). But, if you have an external TNC that can communicate with a device that has a built-in GPS, then things get "simpler" because you can use the ham radio as a "dumb transmitter" and do all the heavy lifting of APRS outside the radio. This is what we generally do. It makes the picture look like this:

Getting this setup is what I covered in my previous post on my Kenwood D710G, using a Mobilinkd TNC and an Android tablet (Nexus 7 in my case, but any tablet will work) running APRSDroid. The configuration for a Yaesu 400XDR is similar since you turn off all of it's APRS functionality and just use it as a "dumb transmitter" (I'm sure, but I've never done it myself - again feel free to PM me if you want to send me one and I'll be more than happy to try it! :)).

The tablet/laptop communicates GPS/position data to the Mobilinkd TNC via Bluetooth, which in turn communicates via a cable with the ham radio.

Can you do maps on your Windows laptop?

Yes, absolutely - but with caveats. To do it, you need to get an offline (assuming you go places without internet) APRS+map application that you can run on your laptop, and you need to be able to get your own GPS information (which usually means you'll need an external GPS that plugs into your laptop, since I've never seen a laptop with GPS). The only software I know of that can do offline APRS+map is APRSISCE/32. I've never used it, but there are a bunch of YouTube videos, and of course info on their site. Spend some time looking through it - you won't understand everything at the beginning, but it'll sink in over time.

Lastly - a bit of soapbox :sorry:

I think that there's a tendency to think about APRS or even just ham radios as "critical" - some thing that earns super-mega-expo-points. In my experience, that's not the case at all, and it's important to understand why you're doing it. If you regularly go out with others who have APRS capability, then it's a nice thing to have. In that case, you should emulate their setup, so that you can help each other troubleshoot/share parts/etc. - it's just another thing on your rig which you should think of as community property when you're out exploring. If you don't regularly go out with others who have APRS, then you should really think about why you want it. There are good reasons to have it - safety reasons even, but it's not necessary (there are other ways to overcome the safety reasons that are both safer and easier - e.g. a Garmin InReach)

Much more important IMO is having offline maps and GPS, which you can get working super easily on a cheap Android tablet with Back Country Navigator - I've explored for 18 years in my Tacoma, and that was by far the single biggest improvement in my experience. Being able to have a satalite map (vs. paper maps or just "directions") available offline, and even a pre-run GPS track telling you where to go - that's 1000x more valuable than APRS.


Hope that all helps. For me, the ah-ha moment in understanding it all was realizing that I could think of the TNC like an old dial-up modem. All it does is convert digital<>analog, and send that converted data either to the ham radio for transmission or to the APRS+maps application for display.
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Active member
The Day After Thanksgiving...Must be Christmas Tree Time
November 24, 2017

Last year's hunt for a Christmas tree hunt went nothing like we planned it, so this year we were itching to get out and see what the adventure would bring. It turns out, everything went exactly as planned, perhaps making up for last year.

We headed out around 10am, with three goals in mind:
  1. Test out the APRS setup.
  2. Check the clearance of the new tires as the rear of the truck flexed.
  3. Get a Christmas tree.
Of course, there was a fourth goal as well - try to do all the above without @mini.turbodb asking "are we there yet?" a million times.

Read the whole story: The Day After Thanksgiving...Must be Christmas Tree Time



Nice write-up on APRS, thanks for putting it together. I especially liked the last segment and how you were straightforward and told it like it is. None of the guys I've wheeled with have fact none of them have Ham either. I can't see myself using APRS enough to make it worth my while at this point. I'll probably have to install CB to communicate with others while wheeling, but will keep using my ham radio as much as possible.

Ham certainly is very useful. In fact, the other day I picked up a transmission while driving to lunch from a guy who went wheeling up in the mountains but got blocked by snow drifts and had to turn back. He had no cell coverage and wasn't sure if he could make it back down and wanted someone to have his info (contact, planned travel route, estimated time, etc) in case he didn't show up when he expected. He eventually made it out and contacted me to confirm all was well. Without ham there's no way he would've gotten in touch with someone unless he had a satellite phone.


Active member
Finally, the Pinch Weld Mod
December 4, 2017.

Having recently installed bigger-than-stock tires, it was of course clear that I needed to do something to get them to fit up front, even before I get my new wheels installed...

I mean, they didn't rub when driving on perfectly level ground which was nice, but pair a turn with some articulation of the front suspension and I had a bit of rubbing (just discernible on the bottom of the plastic) in the rear of the wheel well (like everyone).

The "normal" solution is to cut out the rear of the fender liner and bash down the pinch weld, giving another 1-inch or so clearance for the tire. I was going to do just that with a twist - instead of cutting out the plastic fender liner, I'd reshape it once the pinch weld was gone, so that it'd continue to protect the wheel well.
At least, that's the hope. :fingerscrossed:

First things first - I had to take off the fender flare and plastic liner - always a bit of a pain due to the plastic grommets. This time, 1 of the 16 or grommets actually came out unscathed - a rousing success if I ever saw one!

Next, it was time to take a look at the pinch weld and come up with a plan. I'd grind down the first four inches of the weld from the tab near the center of this picture, and then bend the rest of the weld towards the engine compartment.

The grinding went smoothly, and while I had the grinder out, I cut the pinch weld where I'd bend it inward.

A crescent wrench works well to start the pinch weld bend, and then it's hammer-bashing time. I've only ever bashed one other thing on the truck (to make room in the engine compartment for my compressor), so this bashing was very uncomfortable for me.

In the end though, it came out just fine, but of course in the process of grinding and bashing and bending metal, much of the paint came off. So, I cleaned it off with some alcohol and hit it with a couple coats of Rustoleum Undercoating to button it all back up.

Having not thought ahead, I ordered some grommets and proceeded to wait two weeks to re-install until they arrived from China. I saved a few cents but would recommend purchasing the OEM part - 90189-06028 instead, both timing-wise, and because the ones that I got were slightly shorter than OEM.

With the grommets in hand, I reinstalled the fender liners and got to work with the heat gun on the liner. This worked amazingly well - in that it heated and made the plastic pliable without melting it - and in conjunction with a welding glove to protect my hand, I was able to form the liner around the modified pinch weld - saving 1-1½ inches in the process!

From there, I buttoned everything back up with new stainless-steel washers and #12 flat-head screws (vs. the hex-head OEM screws) to reduce the profile of the wheel well even further, and then hit them with a bit of black paint so they'd blend in.



Active member
No More Lugging - Re-Gear to 4.88's and Front ARB Locker
December 6, 2017.

Over the last 17 years, the truck has been amazing. Truly a joy every time I get in it, work on it, or even just get all googly-eyed looking at it.

But, as we've started bigger and longer adventures, and turned it into an adventure truck as much as an around-town-mobile, the truck has slowly gotten to a point where it was time to do something about the drive train.

Big Tires = Big Problem
…and by slowly, I mean it was about like this:

And that cliff, right there at the edge, was the installation of bigger tires. See, before that, even with all the extra weight from bumpers and sliders and bed racks and CVTs, the gearing was OK - so I could get rolling easily in first gear, climb up a rocky road without going into 4L, and my gas mileage was still pretty reasonable.

But those tires screwed all that up. I was lugging as I'd start from a stop light, and simple hills would require downshifting to third gear, from fifth. And my gas mileage dropped from ~19 to 14 mpg.

Such is the slippery slope of vehicle modifications, I guess. To more easily go on the adventures, you need the bigger tires, so those weren't going away. Instead, the discussion of what gears to get, and how to get them began.

There were really two choices I had to make:
  1. What gear ratio to go to?
  2. How to get those new gears installed on the truck.
Choice 1: Gear Ratio
From the factory, the truck came with a 4.10 gear ratio. Of course putting on larger tires meant that the gears were pushing the truck further down the road (since one rotation of the wheel is now a larger circumference), and so at any given speed, my RPMs were lower by about 6-7%.

To bring those RPMs back up into the power zone (between 2500-3000 RPM on a 1st Gen, V6 Tacoma), I'd need to change the gearing. My choices: 4.56, 4.88, or 5.29 ratios.

5.29's were out - that would be too much gearing for my 33" tires, especially since the truck is still my primary vehicle. Driving around in town would feel like being in 4L, and I didn't want that.

4.56 vs. 4.88 was a tougher decision. For "around-town," 4.56 might be better - it'd get me back to (essentially) stock gearing, but when the truck was loaded for adventure, it might still require downshifting into 4th on hill climbs, and there might be places where I'd have to go into 4L that I may not otherwise. For adventuring, 4.88's would provide that lower gearing and power, at the expense of some "around-town" efficiency of 4.56's. In the end, I decided that the direction the truck is going is towards adventure - and so 4.88's would be the best fit.

Along with that decision, everyone I talked to recommended that I get a front locker as well. I already had the OEM rear locker, and putting an ARB air locker in the front at the same time would be the obvious, economical choice. And of course, it wasn't their money! Lucky for me, I already have an ARB compressor, so much of the work was already done.

Choice 2: How to Install?
In the early days of the truck, the only real work it needed was "regular maintenance" - which for me meant an annual oil change since I drove it so infrequently. With a coupon from the dealer, it made little sense to do any of this myself. But now, I try to do most of the modifications and maintenance myself - both so I can learn more about the truck and so that should something break on the trail, I have a better sense of how to fix it or what it "should" look like.

So, I initially thought I'd partially install the new gears and locker myself. Really, I had several options:
  1. Order some gears (perhaps through a group buy) and install them myself.
  2. Order some new, assembled differentials with the gears already installed, and replace the diffs myself.
  3. Pay a shop to install new gears in my existing differentials.
As I researched thought about it more however, I very quickly realized that #1 was way out of my league. Being one of the more finicky items on the truck, I knew that I didn't have the tools or the know-how to do the actual gear install myself. I also talked to some guys who did have the know-how and did install their own gears, only to hear them say that they wouldn't do it again - they'd pay someone.

Well, hearing that also made me question #2. There are really two reputable places to get gears - ECGS (East Coast Gear Supply) and Zuk in Arizona (Toyota Gear Installs). I liked the Zuk was using Nitro gears, and a quick email exchange with him netted a lot that I liked hearing - he was happy to do both the gears and the locker, and he'd do it for a totally reasonable price. But, there was a problem - he didn't do the actual install on the truck, so I couldn't drive it down for a couple days and "be done." Instead, I'd have to take out my diffs, ship them down, get them rebuilt, and then wait for them to get shipped back so I could reinstall them.

That would mean two weeks of "truck on jack stands" - longer than I wanted (or could really pull off given the lack of a shop). I was also unsure that the front diff removal/install was in my wheelhouse - at least alone.

So that left option #3. It was the most expensive option, but it was also the one with the highest success rate, and the shortest timeframe. I had a great recommendation from Mike (@Digiratus) for a semi-local shop - JT's Parts and Accessories - and so I gave them a call.

Communication was great with Carl and we worked out a mutually agreeable time and price - I'd bring my truck in when the shop opened on December 6, and I'd drive it home when they were done the evening of December 7. Not too bad, especially since it meant a night in Leavenworth with @mrs.turbodb while we waited. Win win.

Install Day
I was up early on install day, leaving Seattle by 4:15 am. With a fuel stop, that got me to JT's Parts & Accessories just before they opened at 7:00am - perfect timing. I headed in to say hello.

A couple guys were there and let me know that Jared and Chris, who would be doing the work would get started around 8:00 am or so. They suggested I take the short walk into town and grab some breakfast, and then that I was welcome to hang out and take pictures of the work once it got started. Sweet.

At 8:00 sharp, Chris and Jared arrived, and it was time to get started. Into the shop we went, and as they got the truck up onto the lift, I was immediately jealous. I need a shop like this.

Not losing any time, the wheels came off first, and then the truck went higher.

Next, out came the rear diff oil (apparently "weird" on my truck because the drain plug is on the wrong side), as well as the rear axles. Watching Jared work, it was clear to me within the first 15 minutes that I'd made the right call - while I could have wrestled these things myself (though much harder without a lift), it was great watching an expert do it the first time.

It's not every day you see your drive shaft up between the gas tank and exhaust…

As the rear diff was disassembled and drained, Chris got to work opening the new parts to be installed, and doing the final machining on a solid spacer for the rear diff. Even though these guys do this all the time, it was nice to see Chris excited to open everything in the same way I'd have been - "Oooo, a new ARB!"

And now, I've hit the 10,000 character limit for a post. Continue reading the rest to see how this project turned out at:
No More Lugging - Re-Gear to 4.88's and Front ARB Locker


Active member
Breaking in the new gears
December 7-12, 2017.

Before leaving JT's Parts & Accessories, I'd gotten the rundown from Jared and Chris on how to best break in the gears they'd just installed. Essentially, it boiled down to what gear manufacturers recommended as well...

Break in Procedure

New gear sets MUST be broken in correctly to prevent damage. Not following proper break-in procedures will lead to overloading and overheating the ring and pinion as well as breaking down and ruining the gear oil. Not following proper break-in procedures can be determined during inspection and will void the warranty.

Please follow the below guidelines to ensure a proper break-in and long life of your gears.
  • On initial run, drive lightly for 15 to 20 minutes then stop to allow differential to cool completely for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Avoid towing and heavy acceleration, as well as vary speeds every 5 to 10 minutes while driving on highways.
  • Drive conservatively and do not drive more than 50 miles at a time without allowing a cool cycle during the first 500 miles following installation.
  • After completing initial break-in, change gear oil at 500 miles. Small metal particles are normal and gear oil will typically be black. Excessive metal in gear oil should be reviewed by a competent differential mechanic to ensure safety of internal parts.

The one tweak to those recommendations that they had was that it would be good to do three "initial run" cycles, letting the differentials get up to temperature and cool down completely. We’d already done the first cycle on the test drive, and the second cycle would get us to Leavenworth - perfect because that's where we'd arranged to stay at Sleeping Lady for the night anyway - you know, because this whole thing was supposed to take two days, not one!

Suffer we wouldn't.

It turned out that we were one of two couples staying that night, and so it was bottomless filet and desserts at the Kingfisher restaurant, and we had the hot tub on the mountain all to ourselves!

In the morning, I headed back towards Seattle on US-2, with a plan to do three more break-in cycles (two more than called for) as well as make a few stops to keep the initial runtime of the gears to less than 50 miles between cooldowns.

I made stops at the entrance to Tumwater campground, at the turn off to Merritt Lake trailhead, and then again at Steven's Pass, where the sun finally came out and I was able to get some photos. Each time I stopped, the rear diff was hot to the touch - in the 180°F range, I'd say - but cooled off quickly in the 29°F-and-windy weather

I spent the time editing pics from the day before, and was back on my way within 25 minutes.

From Steven's, the next stop was longer - 35 miles to Sultan - with varied speeds and some curvy roads to break in the gears - at least in the rear. And from there, 35 more miles on WA-522 into Seattle rather than taking I-5 or I-405 - it took a bit longer, but I was able to get more varied speeds - a good thing for the break in.

The next few days I drove it around town, and also decided to head the Snoqualmie Pass direction to get a few 4WD break-in cycles for the front diff. There's no way I'd get it to the 500-mile-first-oil-change, but I knew that I could at least do 3 break-in cycles on some easy trails.

FS-9020, 9021, 9030, and 9031 were good candidates, and I got 4, 15 minute cycles on those roads, even exploring some offshoots I'd never been on in the past.

It was especially interesting to see how much less water was flowing down Mine Creek than just three weeks before when we'd crossed it to get our Christmas Tree. Now there was only a trickle, all flowing through the culvert.

I also got to test a bit of the rear flex a bit - still trying better understand if I've got an issue with wheel positioning in the rear wheel wells. I was able to get one rear up off the ground and the other was still relatively OK - definitely set back in the wheel well, but not contacting anything. Anyway, just another data point.

When it was all said and done, I got my 500 miles and am ready for the first oil change. That'll be interesting, but will have to wait a week given other holiday plans that involve sunny weather!

So how are the new gears? They are so amazingly awesome that it's almost impossible to describe. It's like having my old, stock truck back - the one with no extra weight and stock tires - except that I've still got a bunch of extra weight and big tires! Starting from a stop is now "normal" again. First gear (even in 2WD/4H) is once again slow. And on the freeway, not only can I maintain speed on hills but I can even accelerate in 5th gear!

As if all that isn't enough, my gas mileage is much improved - right back into my "pre-big-tires" range. The last two tanks have averaged a bit over 19mpg - only two data points, but very promising, especially given there was both around-town and some light 4WD involved.

So. Fricking. Cool.

So remember that chart that started all of this? Well switching out the gears from 4.10's to 4.88's was totally worth it. Driving is again super fun. You could even say that it's the double-rainbow-all-the-way mod for our trucks.

The CVT Tent and ARB fridge are the only other mods that have been anywhere close, but I'll experience the gears every time I drive - putting this mod at the very top of my list.