Building, Driving and Adventuring the MTN4RNR

MTN4RNR

Adventurer
Kenwood TM-V71A Installation

One of the most important tools to have when adventuring in remote areas is a good communications system. CB radio had long been the tried and (sometimes) true source for inter-vehicle communication. This loyalty has been changing more recently in the off-road scene in favor of a far superior form of communication; HAM radio. HAM radio, more technically known as VHF/UHF is uses higher frequency range to establish a clearer signal over a farther distance. However the most important advantage to using HAM over CB is the ability to use repeaters. With proper use, a well placed repeater can extend one vehicle's range over hundreds of miles. And anyone that explores remote places without cell reception knows how important this ability can be.



I started my HAM career with a single Yaesu FT-60r, soon after buying a second as a back-up. The reception was good for a handheld, and it was easy to get acquainted with while I was learning the basics of HAM communication. After a number of trips, and a few instances when the range wasn't enough with the Yaesu, I realized that I wanted to upgrade to an installed mobile unit in the 4Runner. I had a short list of requirements:

  • Dual band operation to monitor multiple frequencies
  • Removable faceplate to allow me to mount the head unit in in 4Runner without taking up a lot of room
  • Cross band repeating capabilities so allow for a hand held to “tap” into the mobile unit and extend it's range
  • Built in weather channels for monitoring changing conditions
Choosing a Radio
With all of those requirements in mind, I ended up with two choices; the Yaesu FT-8900 and the Kenwood TM-V71A. Both filled the requirement list, and there were some subtle differences. The Yaesu is a Quad Band radio, which opened up a few more options if I were to up my license to a General, but for me it didn't really count as a plus. The mic on the Yaesu plugged into the movable faceplate, and the Kenwood plugged into the main unit which meant I would need to put it close enough to me so that the mic cord would reach me when plugged in. In the end, I chose the Kenwood. It had a more mounting friendly face plate, it was green or amber backlit (I use green), ALL of the buttons are backlit (something that the Yaesu doesn't have), and in general it felt like a better fit in the 4Runner. Either one would have done the job, but I liked the TM-V71A best.

Installation


The Head Unit:
I wanted it to be in a place where I could easily see the screen, and adjust volumes/squelches without diverting my eyes from the road or the trail too much. Looking down is never a good idea, so I started looking at the top layer of the dash. To the left of the instrument panel would have meant fabbing a mount, and then having the unit be closer to a window (more of an attention grabber for would be thieves). Centered on the instrument panel, or mounted on the steering column would have been a good option if adjusting anything or pushing any of the buttons wouldn't have required me to reach through the steering wheel, so that was out. I settled on the center of the dash, covering the clock. It's a flat space, and with the height profile of the faceplate, it barely rises above the upper dash. I used a standard cat5e cable to extend the faceplate to it's location, and then a female to female adapter to allow for the extension cable to connect to the provided cable which plugs into the faceplate. A pretty easy solution to extend the faceplate wherever you like!


The “Brains of the Operation”:
I mounted the main unit of the radio in the center console for a few reasons. First, it needed to be close enough that I could plug the microphone into and still have it conveniently reach me in the driver's seat. Kenwood does offer a “remote kit” for their radio that includes cords to extend the faceplate, and the microphone jack. But this kit is rather expensive, so I used cat5e cable to extend the faceplate, but I didn't want to use a non-shielded wiring setup to extend the microphone jack because the internets told me that it might effect my sound quality in the 4R and to others listening. Below the driver's seat is the most common place to install the main unit of the radio, but with the microphone reach being an issue, that location was ruled out. So, in the center console it went. This location ended up being a great place to place the brain as it is out of view, more dust/water protected than under the seat, allows for the mic to plug in and come through the factory cord grommet in the center console, and in general it is a much cleaner installation. I used the stock mounting bracket, drilled some new holes to bring it as close to the side as possible and mounted it with 3M extreme fasteners meaning I can remove it easily if needed, and no drilling into the console aside from the grommet hole I drilled at the bottom to bring the wires through. If I were to sell the 4R, a quick plastic plug would make the hole disappear to a new owner.



The Mic:
The microphone plugs into the main unit in the center console and runs through the factory grommet under the lid. I mounted the mic to a Nite-Ize Steelie mount to the left of the shifter. This allows for an easy reach to the mic, and it makes it really simple to grab and put back as there is no physical clip to slide into like the one provided with the radio. I highly recommend this mounting option because it's so simple and convenient. When the radio isn't in use, it fits perfectly in the kleenex holder on the lid. Incognito.


The Speaker:
The speakers that come built into mobile HAM radios with removable faceplates are notorious for being very quiet. The easy solution is to purchase an external speaker. I went with the Kenwood branded external speaker (I know that there are much cheaper alternatives, but there is something nice to be said for having a matching set of logos on the dash) and tucked it into the lower console cubby that I seemingly never used. It's centered on the dash, so the sound comes through evenly and in line with the faceplate, something I appreciate. I used double sided tape to secure it in place, and through Death Valley and a trip in freezing temperatures, it hasn't budged and it is plenty loud to hear with the windows down.


The Antenna:
I used a Diamond trunk mount to mount the antenna to the passenger side edge of the hood. This will keep the antenna in my sights as I navigate trails and trees, so I can lower or remove the antenna to avoid damage to it on the trail. My trip antenna is a 38” Diamond NMO antenna, and my everyday antenna in and around the Bay Area is a 16” Comet NMO antenna. Both have performed well and have shown good feedback on the trail and on the road.

Thoughts:
The mobile unit is definitely the way to go if you are in remote areas, or need the power and capability to reach far away repeaters or contacts. I was recently in a situation where the group I was in had a mechanical failure, but using the radio I was able to make contact using a repeater 35 miles away located in a local town. I was able to let a small group of HAMs know our location, and expected time back to town. We had no cell service, so the radio was our only point of contact. I was thankful that I had the ability to reach out if we needed it, and thankful that I had the equipment to do the job.





 
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wrenchMonkey_

Adventurer
As always, great write up and pictures. Clean install.

I've been wanting a radio for sometime, but I agree, while a CB is easy for trail chat, a HAM is a much better investment. I just wish they made a VHF/UHF/CB combo so I didnt have to buy two radios.
 

YetiX

New member
Great build, well thought out and considered. Great photography as well. Thanks for this so far, looking forward to your next developments.
 

MTN4RNR

Adventurer
Baja Designs Squadron Pro Fog Replacement

After a weekend of driving in the mountains in bad/wet/snowy weather I decided that it was time to upgrade my fog lights with something that would cut through the dust/snow/rain/whatever as well as provide a wider field of vision for dark two lane roads. I went to [MENTION=87816]Baja Designs[/MENTION] with my requirements and we came back with the Squadron Pros with the wide/cornering amber lens. They have their 4Runner fog kit that we added on to the order for a seamless installation. Plug and play.

The Install:
The install was simple as I followed the instructions. I used a jack to lift the front end so the suspension was fully extended. I also turned the wheels to driver's lock to give me the most room to work. The driver's side was really straight forward. Two screws out, OEM fog out, Squadron with bracket in, screws in, wires, DONE. That easy. The Passenger side was a bit trickier. I removed the lower five screws holding the inner fender plastics in and pulled it back just enough to be able to get my hands in there. There is a plastic shroud around the stock fog that needed to be removed. There were 2 push clips, one on each side. With some patience I removed the shroud and set it aside. The Baja Designs mount doesn't allow for the clip to go back in, so the shroud becomes useless. After removing the shroud, its the same process as the other side; two screws out, OEM fog out, Squadron with bracket in, screws in, wires, DONE. I screwed the fender liner back in and the install was done.

The Results:
I will let the photos speak for themselves. I will report back when I have had more time to use them in various conditions. But both the Squadrons and the previously installed S8 fill in and add to the beam pattern of the HID's I have installed. Overall the lighting field in front of the 4R is very complete with the exceptions of the far sides which may be fixed with ditch lights later on.



Low Beam HID's


Low Beam HID's + Squadron Pros


Low Beam HID's + 20" S8


Low Beam HID's + Squadron Pros + 20" S8


More to come...
 

YetiX

New member
Looks great!! I've been thinking about talking to Diego to see if he can work something up for my 4th Gen.

Question: Do you think you could drive with the fog lights on without blinding oncoming drivers? Or are they too bright? I have a set of Squadron Pros on my KTM but they have a dimmer so they run at 50% when my low beams are on and 100% only with the high beams.
 

MTN4RNR

Adventurer
Looks great!! I've been thinking about talking to Diego to see if he can work something up for my 4th Gen.

Question: Do you think you could drive with the fog lights on without blinding oncoming drivers? Or are they too bright? I have a set of Squadron Pros on my KTM but they have a dimmer so they run at 50% when my low beams are on and 100% only with the high beams.
Do it!

Answer: At 100%, you'd likely bother people in urban areas. In more remote areas, say on a 2 lane road, maybe not. I need to test them a bit more to see what the reflectivity is. Eventually I will use a SPOD or a Switch Pros setup that will allow me to dim 0-100%. In bad weather or in the snow, I wouldn't hesitate to use them within reason. It's always a judgement call with LED lights. Some people have none and feel that running a roof light bar on the highway is OK. Ha!
 

MTN4RNR

Adventurer
Baja Designs Hatch Dome Light(s) Installation

As many know, the stock hatch lights on the 5th gen 4Runners are terrible for anyone that uses their rig for anything other than day to day. They light up directly below the hatch, but hardly anything inside the cargo area, and they don't throw any light to the surrounding areas. From experience, they work ok for day to day “gotta grab the milk before it falls out the back” scenarios, but they fall short on anything requiring a good amount of light (camping, cooking, working, etc). I tried upgrading the bulbs to a brighter LED Philips and to their credit, they are brighter. But not bright enough. Plus they turn off after 20 minutes, which sucks when you're mid way through pouring a cocktail. SO to the aftermarket I went, and I landed on the Baja Designs Dome light (w/ switch). Low draw, high output, built in switch. Check, check, and check. I decided that I wanted a white and a red light on the hatch. White for cooking and high visibility situations; Red for situations when I don't want to have a bright white light ruining night vision but I still need to see where I am stumbling after hanging out around the campfire.

White Baja Designs Dome Light
Red Baja Designs Dome Light

The Install:
I attached the lights to the small plastic access panel on the hatch. This way if I wanted to change things, I can replace the small (cheaper) piece instead of the whole plastic panel, speakers and all. Cheaper is better. Using the supplied cap screws and nuts, I lined the 2 lights up to my liking and drilled 2 holes each with a step drill to get a smooth hole. I then made a notch per light on the outer edge of the panel to route the wire inside the hatch. Each wire has a positive and negative wire inside which I routed to a pre-wired positive (to battery) and negative (to hatch ground) connection I already had in the hatch from my S2 installation. Some shrink wrap connectors, dielectric grease, shrink wrap, and zip ties cleaned everything up and provided a solid connection. Here are some of the results!

Laid out for alignment


Installed!


Stock vs. White LED vs. Red LED (same camera settings for an accurate comparison)


Overall I am very happy with the product quality and the light output! Problem solved!

More to come…

 

camodog

Adventurer
How do you organize and what do you keep in your dewalt tough cases. I use the med box that you have as a sort of kitchen chuck box.
I want to get the small one, they are only $25 at homedepot now.
 

redthies

Renaissance Redneck
I'm going to admit not having read your thread yet, but I will offer kudos to somebody whose trip report list is almost as long as his mod list. There is something to be said for doing a few basic mods, and then going out and actually using your rig!!
 

MTN4RNR

Adventurer
How do you organize and what do you keep in your dewalt tough cases. I use the med box that you have as a sort of kitchen chuck box.
I want to get the small one, they are only $25 at homedepot now.
I had my camping equipment and "kitchen" in the larger DeWalt box, and "campsite amenities" (soap, Tecnu, First-aid, tape, etc) in the smaller DeWalt. I have since moved on to the Front Runner WolfPack for all of my camping storage. I loved the organization in the DeWalt, but the WolfPacks are much more modular and stackable.
 

MTN4RNR

Adventurer
I'm going to admit not having read your thread yet, but I will offer kudos to somebody whose trip report list is almost as long as his mod list. There is something to be said for doing a few basic mods, and then going out and actually using your rig!!
Thanks man! I really try to only add things as I need them, versus going crazy with mod's first. It lets me get to know what I will need before I spend money on things I don't. Keeps me and the wallet happy!
 

villaphoto

New member
I'm only on page 7 of your build thread, but you're rocking some great coffee gear. I'm going to have to add my Kalita to my kit for our trip in a few weeks. I'm fairly certain I spied some Honey Co. coffee in one of your other trip threads as well. Nice build!
 

JCDriller

Adventurer
I love your build. When I designed my drawer I saw your pull out table and modified it to work with my design, but forgot where I saw it. Thank you for the idea! Also, the Baja lights, both types, are another great idea that I'm going to barrow. I love your thinking outside the box.
 
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