Barn Door for JK factory hardtops


Expedition Leader
At 11am I did a last check before leaving for a 10-mile bicycle ride. The sun was unobstructed and was about 80 degrees above the horizon. At that point the panel was providing 5 amps and the voltage at the output was 14.7 (the 1 is missing due to PWM).

One minute later, the controller decided that the battery was fully charged (the charge LED on the controller went out). The fridge compressor was not running when this photo was taken; current draw on the panel went pretty much to zero. The sun was still full with no obstruction.

I returned from the ride a little before 12:30; the sky was mostly cloudy. At the time this next photo was taken, the fridge compressor was running. The sun was directly above, although obscured by a cloud. Voltage was 12.3, which is about what it is when the battery is fully charged and the fridge compressor is running; power output from the panel is about 1.3 amps. Power draw of the fridge isn't visible in this photo due to PWM blinking the amp meter LEDs, but it's about 4 amps. Temperature inside the Jeep is 99 degrees.

Unless something interesting happens, I probably won't do another post until the end of the afternoon - at that point I'll be able to tell if the solar panel has been keeping up with the current draw of the fridge over the course of a cloudy afternoon. It looks like the battery will drain when the compressor is running and will charge when the compressor is not running. The duty cycle of the fridge will determine whether the battery is fully charged at the end of the cloudy afternoon or not, and the duty cycle of the fridge will be determined by the interior temperature of the Jeep.


Expedition Leader
High point of the day was at 1pm, the sun was directly overhead and not obscured by clouds. Power output from the panel was 6 amps, which is right on spec (the instruction manual says 5.56 amps max; the web page says 6.2).

Today ended up being what the weather people would call "mostly sunny." There were some clouds throughout the day but mostly the panel was in full sunlight except when clouds passed over.

At 5pm, it's about 80 degrees outside and the temperature inside the Jeep is 116 degrees. The fridge has had no trouble maintaining its 37 degree temperature and the battery is fully charged.

So the solar system can easily keep up with the demands of the fridge on a mostly sunny day but I need to test on a mostly cloudy day - the typical power supplied by the panel when a cloud passed over today was 1.25 - 1.5 amps. I don't yet know if that's enough to keep the battery fully charged if the day is warm but cloudy.

In most of the photos today one or more digits are missing from the volt/amp meter display on the kitchen power panel. They're only missing in the photos, to the naked eye the digits are illuminated and it's only because of the PWM power output of the solar controller and the fast shutter speed of the camera that the digits aren't captured in the photos.

The fridge and sink water pump run fine on PWM, and the digital meters are fine to the naked eye. The digital display on the fridge is fine and unaffected by the PWM power, and while I don't have the fridge schematic to verify this, I'm assuming the fridge power supply has a filter capacitor to convert the PWM pulses to pure DC.

If PWM power was a problem for some device that needed to be powered by this system, the solution would be to add a filter capacitor across the output of the solar controller. A 25-volt, 1000-5000 microfarad capacitor would probably be enough to smooth the PWM pulses into pure DC.

So some preliminary conclusions:

- At 100+ degrees interior temperature in the Jeep (the Jeep was only open for the short periods I was photographing the meters) and a mostly sunny day, the solar system can more than keep up with the power demands of the kitchen and keep the battery fully charged, even without any aiming of the panel. On a fully cloudy/very warm day this might not be the case, further testing is required.

- In full sunlight conditions, the panel typically provides 4 amps but can provide up to 6. In cloudy situations the panel typically provides 1.25 - 1.5 amps.

- The Harbor Freight solar charge regulator seems to work well so far. At under $20 retail I consider it a good value.

- The Harbor Freight solar panel performs to its specs in full sunlight and at $80 I think it's a good value as well. ($100 retail, I bought it when there was a 20% off coupon)

Next up: I'll test with the constant load in the circuit instead of the fridge and with it acting as the load I'll be able to do angle testing to accurately determine how much the angle/aiming of the panel affects the output. Might be best to do that on a more cloudy day when the output of the panel is more critical. Weather forecast seems to indicate more clouds tomorrow and 10-degrees warmer so may learn more then.


Expedition Leader
Today I planned to test the solar controller I found on eBay.

When I connected it according to the instructions (battery first, because it senses whether it's a 12v or 24v system), then the solar panel, then the load, the output was 20v. Way too high, the fridge refused to run on it. I disconnected it and reconnected it and then the output was 12v:

But it only output 12v for a minute or two before it quit entirely, no output voltage:

Apparently a bad unit. I've already been in touch with the seller and they've offered either a refund or a replacement unit. I've asked them for a replacement.

I'll swap the Harbor Freight controller back in and hopefully will have some time today to also swap in the constant load resistors and do some aiming testing. It's a bright sunny day so I'm not sure the aiming tests will be conclusive - the panel performs great at all angles in bright sun.

Last night I did another test - I temporarily installed the 12,000 lumen LED driving lights on my Wrangler pickup and tested them. Very impressive! I'll work up a full review and probably post it tomorrow.


Expedition Leader
As I said in my last post the panel performs very well laying flat without aiming - the solar system kept up with the demand all day and the day ended with the battery being fully charged. With the bright sun low in the sky this morning I did a quick aim test.

Laying flat, with the morning sun at about 30 degrees above the horizon, current output is 2 amps:


That simple aiming increased the current output by 50% to just under 3 amps.

Based on yesterday's testing, one could conclude that laying the panel flat is adequate to keep up with the demands of the fridge in good weather. The panel was flat all day, the fridge kept it's cool in the over 100 degree inside temperature in the Jeep and at the end of the day the battery was fully charged.

I was hoping today would be cloudy, because while the panel laying flat keeps up on a sunny day, I don't know if it will keep up (laying flat or aimed) on a cloudy day and I also don't know if the same increase in output would happen if the panel is aimed properly on a cloudy day.

More testing to do, here's hoping for a cloudy day soon.


Expedition Leader
As I was typing the last post I had another thought - there was morning dew on the panel when I did the quick aiming test. Would wiping off the dew increase the output even more?

Yes. Another 1/2 amp.

That's all the solar I have time for today, other projects are calling.


Expedition Leader
The 9 Inch 12,000 Lumen Spot Beam LED Driving Lights that AuxBeam sent me to test and review ( arrived the other day and I got a chance Sunday to install and test them.

Opening the box, the light kit is very securely packaged and includes an Auxbeam decal:

I decided to use my 2006 Wrangler pickup for this test because I could easily bolt the lights to the factory fog light holes in the bumper. Two packets of hardware are included, one for each light. Multiple bolts are included since there are several mounting holes in the brackets for different mounting situations. The hardware appears to be stainless - the bolts respond mildly to a magnet (some stainless alloys do) and the nuts and washers don't respond to a magnet, so my guess is that the hardware is stainless. The web site says that the mounting bracket is also stainless. The contents of the hardware packet for one light:

There's also a foam pad for putting between the mounting bracket and the mounting surface, a nice touch to keep water from getting between the parts and causing rust. One small negative comment - the mounting instructions that came in the box were for a light bar and have nothing do to with mounting these lights, but instructions for mounting really aren't necessary for these - mounting is obvious.

The supplied wiring harness is well thought out, complete and impressive. Each leg is about 10' long, so it's hard to imagine a situation where it won't be long enough. The harness laid out on the driveway:

The battery end of the harness includes a relay, a fuse holder with a 25-amp fuse, and large spade lugs for connecting directly to the battery.

The cockpit side of the harness includes an illuminated round rocker switch, and a disconnect plug which should allow the harness to pass through a smaller hole in the firewall than would be necessary to pass the switch through. Another nice detail.

Since I am only temporarily installing these lights for this test, I didn't route the wiring harness through the firewall - I plugged the light ends into the lights, attached the two spade lugs to the battery, and routed the switch end into the cab through the passenger door. That literally took less than two minutes; dressing the wires nicely, zip-tying them in place and routing the switch wire through the dash would have taken a bit longer but the wiring is so well thought out that the task is very easy.

Aiming the lights is easily accomplished with the supplied Allen wrench; there are two Allen screws on each side of the lamp housing and one of the holes is slotted to allow for adjustment.

I did a quick comparison between these and the factory low beams in twilight just after the sun went down. The camera is set to manual exposure mode so turning on the lights doesn't affect the exposure from one photo to the next for a true comparison:

After dark I pointed the Jeep at a neighbor's fence that's about 150 feet away to see the difference in brightness and coverage. A comparison between low beams and the LEDs:

The LEDs really go the distance - they light the neighbor's house beyond the fence, and the trees behind their house.

For any photographers reading this - this was a difficult pair of photos to shoot. The two photos above were shot with a Nikon D7000 DSLR on a tripod in manual mode - 1/10 second exposure at F4.2 through a Nikon VR 18-200 zoom lens. Both photos are a bit darker then the scenes appeared to the naked eye - the LEDs are so bright that I had to set the exposure to avoid overexposing the LED scene, and with that same exposure the low beams appear dim. Even at this exposure, the center of the LED beams is overexposed. But what's important in these photos is the relative difference between the two.

I'm very impressed. The build quality is excellent - stainless hardware, a well thought-out and complete wiring harness, and all parts are nicely finished. The illumination is outstanding - far better than the factory headlamps and aftermarket headlamp alternatives and based on the photos and my testing, it's easy to believe these put out 10x more lumens than the factory low beams. If you're looking for long-range, very bright driving lights, these are definitely worth a look.

Edit: A link to the lights on Amazon:
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Expedition Leader
The new switch panel I was offered to test arrived in today's mail. Travel this week will prevent me from playing with it until next week, I'll post about it as soon as I test it.



Expedition Leader
I'm typing this at the beach this morning - I'm at the Jersey shore. Overland Outfitters borrowed by JKU for the New Jersey Jeep Invasion.

At this show they released two new products and both have gotten tremendous attention. Probably the most hated feature of the JK/JKU is the saggy net pockets on the door panels, and to solve that OO just released their door pocket solution. The also released their Grab Bar Pockets in both black and tan...

They wanted to bring a lot of product to the show so they borrowed my Jeep-tub trailer to do the hauling. It generated a lot of attention and my most common response to questions about it was "Sorry, it's not for sale" :).



Expedition Leader
Auxbeam 6 Gang on-off Control Switch Panel kit review

Auxbeam asked me if I would be willing to test and review a new switch panel they're offering; I agreed, so they sent me a unit and it arrived the other day. A description of the switch panel on their web site: The panel is priced very nicely considering the features it has, so it seemed worth a serious look.

The kit arrived nicely packaged, and includes the switch panel with 45 switch labels, the relay box, an extension to reach between the relay box and the switch panel, a fuse tap for connecting the system to switched power in the Jeep, two methods for mounting the panel (a metal bracket, and a piece of double-sided tape for attaching the panel to a flat surface), some hardware, zip ties and a few extra fuses (a nice touch).

The switch panel has an aluminum housing, six switches, LEDs to illuminate each switch, a main off/on switch (more on that later), and a sensor to auto-dim the switch illumination in low lighting conditions:

A thoughtful detail - the back of the panel has a channel that the wire can be routed through to allow the panel to mount flush on a flat surface. The channel allows the wire to exit the bottom of the panel or the top. The panel measures 3 3/4" wide and 2 5/8" tall.

A sheet of 45 self-stick labels are included, and cover most typical electrical applications one might find in a Jeep. Five blank (black) switch labels are also included.

The relay box is very nicely designed. Each circuit has a 30-amp relay, a fuse, and a screw terminal for the positive lead to whatever accessory is being controlled. The negative side is not part of the box, and it doesn't need to be - the ground for an accessory can be done locally to the frame or body or home run to the battery if necessary. A two-foot main power lead with a protective shroud allows mounting the panel up to 2 feet away from the battery, and wires for connecting to switched power and the switch panel are also attached to the box.

A closer view of the relays and fuses:

The screw terminals are shown in this view. The box has two substantial mounting lugs, one of which is visible in this photo:

I did a quick bench test to verify everything was working properly. I was going to shoot a video showing the bench test but Auxbeam has an excellent 4-minute video on YouTube that does an excellent job at showing how to install the unit. The video shows the installation in a JKU, although most of the steps apply to pretty much any vehicle one might install the system in:

A few comments on the video:

  • The fuse tap is shown being installed in fuse position M6, which is the switched power for outlet 1. Fuse M7 can also be used, it's the switched power for outlet 2. These can be configured to be always on, so make sure they're set to switched power in the information center display in the dash.
  • There's a view of the relay box at about 30 seconds into the video - the box is shown just setting on the battery and not secured in any way. For this test I installed the box in both a JK and a TJ.

In the JK/JKU, the relay box can mount beside the battery. I used a hardware store angle bracket at the front end of the box. I cut the legs a bit shorter and drilled new holes so the box could mount as low as possible to clear the closed hood. The bracket is secured in place with one of the fender bolts. I then drilled a new hole in the engine compartment side for the back of the box because the spacing of the holes on the box is a little wider than the distance between the fender bolt the bracket is secured to and the factory screw hole in the engine compartment side. The bracket can be seen in the left and center photos; the new hole can be seen in the center photo. The right photo shows that the relay box is not in the way of removing the battery.

Even though there's more air space in a TJ/LJ engine compartment, there isn't a place on the firewall or inner fender that's convenient for mounting the relay box, so I mounted in on the grille brace rod. I used 1/4" insulated wire clamps to go around the rod, and bolts through the clamps and the mounting lugs of the relay box. The rubber of the clamp grips the rod very well when the bolts are tightened. I angled the box down about 45 degrees; if it is mounted horizontally if will stick up far enough to interfere with the closing of the hood.

I believe the main power lead on the relay box is long enough that the box could be mounted in the cockpit on the firewall below the glovebox in a TJ, but I didn't test that.

Once the box is installed and the main power lead is connected to the battery and the switched power leads are connected inside the engine compartment electrical box, the switch panel lead can be routed through the firewall and the panel can be mounted where desired.

If there isn't a label for a particular accessory, additional labels could be created with a drawing program. DIY labels can be printed adhesive-backed white labels from an office supply store, and the surface protected with clear tape. I drew a few, left to right - spotlight, AC inverter power, USB outlet power, sink pump (my Trail Kitchen has a sink with running water), and main power for the kitchen.

I had some Avery 94237 labels on hand, so I printed the ones pictured above. I used matte Scotch tape over them for protection. They worked out pretty well. The top row of labels came with the product, the bottom row I made.

Powered up, the AIR, KITCHEN and A/C INVERTER circuits are on:

My homemade switch labels are a bit brighter with the backlight than the factory switch labels - I like them better that way actually. For my use, I'd probably do all custom labels so everything matched.

A few notes about switch panel operation:

  • When the panel is powered up, the backlight is on. Unless it's dark, in which case the backlight dims. The small round thing below/between the Hood and Rock switches in the photos is the light sensor.
  • The OFF/ON switch turns everything off - whatever is on at the time switches off. When the OFF/ON switch is pressed again, the system goes back to the state it was in before the first press of the switch. So if three of the circuits are on at the time the OFF/ON switch is first pressed, they go out on first press, and on the second press, those three circuits come back on.

While I haven't yet done a final install and used this panel on the road or the trail, I'm very impressed with the quality of the components and the ease of installation. I think it's very reasonably priced considering the functionality it provides and I can recommend it - it works well, is easy to install and I think it's a good value.

It's available directly from Auxbeam and also can be found on Amazon:



Expedition Leader
Other things have kept me from getting back to the solar panel testing but I hope to get back to it in the next week. In the meantime, I've been thinking about protecting the panel when it's not on whatever mount I'll eventually make for it.

I always keep an eye on Craigslist for useful things, and a few years ago I found this brand new bikini top for $20. I had no idea what I would do with it, and being gray I haven't had a use for it until now - I've sewn lots of things out of black and spice soft top fabric, but never had a need for gray. This morning I laid the bikini on the floor to see if it contained enough fabric to make a bag for the solar panel.

Soft top fabric would provide excellent protection for the panel, and there was plenty of fabric, so I unsewed the bikini and resewed the liberated fabric into this:

I plan to test the panel in overcast conditions and see if varying the aim/angle of the panel in those conditions makes enough difference to warrant an adjustable mount. In full sun, the panel can easily keep up with the kitchen current drain laying flat, but maybe that's not true on an overcast day. I'll report on the testing when I do it.


Expedition Leader
The JK/JKU door pockets that Overland Outfitters released a few weeks ago have turned out to be pretty popular so they've asked me to design something similar for the JL/JLU/Gladiator. I did two slightly different prototypes for them:

They're trying to decide which version to go with; if anyone has any feedback post it and I'll forward it on to them.

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