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jsyn

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Steering Stabilizer

I was not one of the ones with steering problems. My JT was responsive and happy from the get-go. I turned the wheel, even just a little bit, and the tires turned appropriately. But all you folks scared me. Everyone talking about how horrible their steering was. So during a sale I picked up a Teraflex Falcon Nexus UE 2.2 Fast Adjust Steering Stabilizer from River City Offroad for just under $300.

You're going to want a good torque wrench in the middle range to install this. It will take a good hour and you're going to get greasy and you're going to curse occasionally. Watch the install video on Teraflex's website and just take your time. It's actually pretty easy, assuming you don't misunderstand and remove something you didn't need to remove and then crush your hand with a wrench while you're trying to put it back. There is definitely a trick to getting it in the right place for the final bolt installation.
IMG_4985.jpg


Once installed, this steering stabilizer offers three different steering options: Firm, Medium, and Soft. I've also heard them described as "Highway", "Around Town", and "Off-Road". Just reach down and flip the lever, switching between the options is as easy as can be. One note, though: the word you see from the front of the car is NOT the word it's pointing to. You'll quickly realize that the selected option is the one pointing UP, not the one pointing FORWARDS.
IMG_4986.jpg



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Bed Rack and Tonneau Cover

I live in Las Vegas. The roads here are DUSTY. Like, really dusty. I probably should have just purchased an RLD complete bed cover. Huge expense up front, but happiness ever after. Instead, I decided I couldn't wait for that (and couldn't afford that, silly me) so I wanted a bed rack that would work with a tonneau cover.

At the time, the best option available was a JCR Full Height Rack (~$1000 including all the accessories) along with an Access Soft Rolling Tonneau Cover ($425).
IMG_3563.jpg


These two options DO work together. The first 6" of the tonneau cover are a little awkward, but it's not bad. However, I've since come to regret this combo purchase.

Cons:
  • JCR were dicks when I asked them a question. Since then I have zero faith in their customer support
  • The full height rack is not full height. You still can't have a canoe, ladder, RTT, or anything else stick out over the cab of the truck
  • The top front-to-back supports are massively wide and they don't sell anything to help you mount things to the open groove. I've tried to fabricate metal options but this rack has been a complete thorn in my side. I really want to hang my Pull-Pal from one of the front-to-back supports. I got it to work for a while, but have since run into some metaphorical speed bumps.
Also, while the JCR bike rack seems like a cool concept, it keeps your bike up and out where branches can destroy it, it won't support a newer eMTB (they're heavier), it only works with one obscure brand of locking axle mount, and it's tough to use being that high. Looks cool when in use, but I'd skip it.
IMG_3835.jpg


The Access Tonneau cover, on the other hand, is lovely. It works well and I've had no complaints. It does a pretty good job of keeping rain and dirt out.
IMG_3824.jpg


Now 99% of the dust and dirt in the bed of my truck comes from below, in the gap between the floor of the truck bed and the hatch.

Edit - I forgot to mention the best addition I did to my rack!
On the back passenger corner I added a Marine Grade bottle opener and down below it (visible there on the inside) I placed a powerful magnet to catch the bottle caps
IMG_4948.jpg


Next you'll see why this rack really didn't make me happy, once I tried to add a roof top tent (RTT) to the mix...
 
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Roof Top Tent (RTT) AND Solar Power (Part 1)

Now that I've got a Jeep, I wanted to take the family camping. I'm fine with a "normal" tent on the ground, it's what I've always slept in. But now I live in Las Vegas, where the ground is covered with razor sharp rocks that radiate heat like an oven, and where every single plant has spikes and wants to kill you. There's me, wife, and three year old girl. I need big enough for the three of us, but also really fast to put up and take down, since the 3 yr old has the attention span of... well... of a 3 yr old.

Once I'd decided to get a RTT, the options were Soft Top or Clamshell. Soft Top can be bigger but take a LOT longer to put up and put away. That's a nope for me.

Okay, so large clamshell RTT. There are some new options on that front that have recently been posted in this forum. They're slightly cheaper than the more famous brand. But they're new, they're unproven, and most importantly, no one makes or sells and accessories for them. Only iKamper's Skycamp 2.0 has the brand recognition and history to have lots of companies selling lots of accessories.

The Skycamp 2.0 provides a king sized mattress. That's plenty big enough for my family for the next 6-7 years. It takes less than 60 seconds to put it up and takes less than two minutes to take down. It's just easy.

I purchased the Rocky Black color, which is just a black Skycamp that has been given a Rhino Liner coating. From iKamper I also picked up:
IMG_4716.jpg


So far, we're loving the Skycamp. But when it arrived at my home I ran into my first problem: it wouldn't fit on my JCR Full Height Bed Rack.

I thought it would just be too long (since the JCR Bed Rack isn't tall enough) and stick out the back of the truck by a foot. But what I discovered is that the JCR Rack crossbars are too thick for the Skycamper mounts. What iKamper neglects to mention on their website is that the Sycamper mounts will only fit on crossbars that are 1.5" diameter or smaller. Ugh. Now what?

I turned to FrontRunner Outfitters for a solution.
Step 1: Install a pair of FrontRunner Outfitters 1400mm Universal Tracks on top of the JCR Rack
Step 2: Install two pairs of FrontRunner Outfitters 40mm-50mm Support Feet (sorry, there's no direct link to that part, just contact them and open a support ticket and they'll make you a custom quote of exactly what parts you need) to the Universal Tracks
Step 3: Install a pair of FrontRunner Outfitters 1425mm slats to the support feet to use as load bars
IMG_4954.jpg


This all didn't change the look of the JCR Full Height Rack very much, but it gave me crossbars that I could mount the tent to, plus it raised the tent just barely high enough that I could now stick it out over the cab of the truck
IMG_4889.jpg


IMG_4838.jpg


This mounting solution will work for now, but I've learned some things since then. This month I'll be upgrading the 2 load bars to a full FrontRunner Outfitters SlimLine II rack. Luckily, they're pretty cool about the whole thing and happily gave me a quote for just the extra parts I needed, so the cost of the load bars wasn't wasted. With a full rack I'll be able to also get a large awning to provide shade from the oppressive Las Vegas sun.

But I wasn't done yet!

If you get an iKamper Skycamp tent, I HIGHLY recommend that you get a couple accessories from Altitude Industries. They make a Bedding Net Kit ($60) that helps hold your bedding in such a way that you can store more of it inside the tent when it's closed. And their LED Lighting and Power Kit ($199) provides color changing LED lights both inside and underneath the tent. It also provides two USB charging ports for your phones inside the tent. The LED Lighting Kit (set to a red light) was perfect for when the 3 year old wanted a night light to go to sleep, but mommy and daddy didn't want to light up the area with lanterns and ruin their evening of sipping alcoholic hot chocolate next to the campfire while watching for shooting stars.

Still, not done. Because now it was time for:

Solar (Part 1)

Rhino Adventure Gear makes a new SolarHawk 100W Solar Panel ($490) that is specifically designed to fit on top of a Skycamper roof top tent. The tent is up there, in the sun, why not make use of it?

The SolarHawk uses 3M VHB tape to attach the flexible panel to the top of the tent. 3M advertises that this tape is so strong that the only way to remove it is with an angle grinder. Still, I wanted the tent as clean as possible for the install. So, since I knew I was going to get this eventually, I purchased it right away and installed it before the tent ever left my garage.

Install Note -- you don't actually want the SolarHawk centered front-to-back. Find that spot, then slide it forwards a couple inches. Once it's on, it's on, so it'll be too late to adjust. You want to make sure that the wire connection box at the rear can stick flat to the Skycamp, and that it isn't hanging a bit over the back curve. The rest of the solar panel is flexible. The wire connection box is not.

Install Note -- Right before the SolarHawk is installed, carry your tent and SolarHawk outside and lie them in the sun, if possible. Let it get nice and toasty. Now it will be more flexible and you'll be better able to push down the edges and get them to stick.

Install Note -- Rhino Adventure Gear says to use stick-on wire clips for the wires, but they don't provide any. I tried that, and they separated within a day. Best solution I've found is to get the standard stick-on wire tie clips, then use a razor blade to scrape the tape off them. Next, buy a roll of 3M VHB double-sided tape of the same width as your wire-tie clips and use that instead.

IMG_4817.jpg


However, just having solar power doesn't mean you can do anything with it. I would still need a solar charge controller and a lot of wiring. Which will come shortly in "Solar Power (Part 2)"...
 
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Solar Part II, Overlanding Fridge, Recovery Gear, and more will be coming VERY shortly, but it's been a long day and my little girl just got home from school. I'll be back tomorrow to try and finish this build log off (for now). Enjoy your evening!!
 

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Appreciate the effort in these write ups. Great info and links.
 
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Dual Battery Selection

Okay, so we've got our Jeep. And we've got a solar panel. Now what?

There are a million ways you could setup your power solution. I'll focus on my solution, but I'll try to mention the most popular options and why I did or did not choose to use them.

Which Battery Should my Solar Panel Charge?
  • Option 1: Just charge your car battery from the solar panel. This is certainly the simplest solution. But your car battery doesn't like to be deeply discharged. It's made to push a lot of power, all at once (to start your car) and it's made to have a very slight drain the rest of the time. If you connect an overlanding refrigerator to it, it's going to be hurting after a couple hot nights. Also, if you only have the one battery, then you're running the risk of draining it and being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to start your car.
  • Option 2: Dual Battery Solution from Genesis. I call this option out separately because it's a special kit made just for the JT and it's really popular on this forum. You remove the existing under-hood battery and replace it with two smaller batteries that just barely fit into the newly available space. The Genesis kit includes an isolator the allows your alternator to charge both batteries without linking the batteries together, so you can drain one without draining the other. Their hardware kit linking the two batteries is really cool. However, I don't like this option, and will explain why in a moment.
  • Option 3: DIY Dual Battery Solution. I went this route. This way I could make appropriate choices based on my infrastructure needs. It's not as clean as the Genesis option, but it's worth it to me to have the appropriate solution for my needs.
Why not use the Genesis Dual Battery Kit?
The Genesis Dual Battery Kit is a really cool bit of hardware. I've wired up similar dual battery solutions with isolators on my last two trucks, and the Genesis solution is 100x simpler (and 10x more expensive). However, here's the real problem: The Genesis kit requires two matching Group 25 batteries.

Car batteries come in different physical sizes. These sizes are defined as a "group". So two matching Group 25 batteries means two batteries that are each 9 1/16" long x 6 7/8" wide x 8 7/8" high.

You will not find a true deep cycle battery in such a small size.

Yes, you read that right. It's a dual battery setup that doesn't allow for the second battery to be a deep cycle battery. Now, to be fair, the batteries they recommend are Optima, and Optima does have a yellow top battery that is almost a Group 25 size. Optima Red Tops are starter batteries (ie normal car batteries) while Optima Yellow Tops are considered "dual-purpose", meaning they can crank your car but can also be (relatively) deep cycled. They advertise that the yellow top can support 300+ discharge/recharge cycles. But a true deep cycle battery can support 1000+ discharge/recharge cycles. If my overlanding fridge is left on all the time (so I can drive home with cold groceries on a random Wednesday night while it's 113°F out) and the fridge is discharging the battery each night (when the solar isn't actively recharging), then that very expensive Optima Yellow Top is going to last less than a year, while a real deep cycle battery will last 3+ years. That's a big difference!

Also, I live in Las Vegas. When I lived on the East Coast, car batteries lasted 10 years for me. Out here the heat destroys batteries. It just decimates them. Regular car batteries are expected to only last one year. If you pay extra for the best of the best batteries then you can hope to get 2-3 years per battery. If I have to buy 2 Optima Batteries every 1-2 years to work in my Genesis dual battery kit, I'll go broke!

What other option is there?
There's not a lot of room in the engine compartment for a big, old, deep cycle battery. So I went with building a power station in one corner of the bed of the pickup. This way I can overland and have power but I can also quickly remove the whole setup (it's held in place against my BuiltRight Molle Bed Panels via a single carriage bolt and a thumbscrew) for those times when I need to use my pickup as a pickup and go buy more plywood, or to get a load of topsoil.
IMG_4882.jpg


I'll go into more details on that in a minute. For now, let's focus on Battery Selection.

Which Deep Cycle Battery is Right For Me?
There are lots of different types of Deep Cycle batteries.

Lithium
A popular option these days is Lithium. Think: Tesla. Here's the trick: Lithium Batteries get really hot. Much of Tesla's design is around keeping those batteries cool. The other big negative is price. A Lithium Battery will cost over 3x what a more traditional deep cycle battery costs. However, if you have the extra $$ to throw at a Lithium Battery and think you can keep it cool, there are some huge positives. The first is weight. A Lithium Battery weights close to 1/3 the weight of a comparable standard deep cycle battery. The second positive is how long they last. A good lithium battery should last for 4000+ discharge/recharge cycles. The third is how much you can discharge these babies. You can completely drain a Lithium battery if you want. Normal Deep Cycle Batteries will have a decreased lifespan if you ever drop them below 50%.

I wanted the light weight of a Lithium Battery, but the $900 price tag was too much for me.
Here's the 100Ah Lithium Battery I debated (before realizing it was too damned expensive)

AGM
This is your "standard" deep cycle battery. AGM stands for "absorbent glass mat" because that's what's inside the battery. It's good. It's reliable. It's heavy. Get one that's completely sealed and leak-free. Here's the big downside: it can't handle the temperatures here in Las Vegas. You should store them in ~105°F or lower temperatures, and it was 113°F here the other day!

Here's the 100Ah AGM Battery I debated (before realizing the temperature limitations)

Gel
A GEL battery is a deep cycle battery that's made with a gel suspended electrolyte. From the outside they're mostly just like an AGM battery, with one key difference for me: they can handle the heat better. Their operating temperature range and storage temperature range top out at 140°F rather than at 105°F, and they only cost about $15 more than an AGM battery.

I ended up with a Deep Cycle 100Ah Hybrid Gel Battery from Renogy. Perhaps someday I'll upgrade to a Lithium battery. Maybe in 3-4 years when this battery dies, Lithium will be cheaper. Here's hoping!


Okay, you've got a Jeep, a Solar Panel, and a second battery. Now how to hook them all together...
 
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Just wanted to thank you for your detailed and thoughtful write-ups with links to products. I’ve learned a lot, and raised some great ideas. Amazing job, and huge THANKS.
 
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Solar Power Part II

Okay, you've got a battery, a solar panel, and a Jeep.

You can't just connect the solar panel directly to the battery. You need a device that will monitor the battery's charge and recharge it accordingly. There are a couple options, but one of the most common (and the one the SolarHawk 100W panel requires) is an MPPT controller. An MPPT controller takes the raw power from the solar panel and uses it to keep your battery charged. You'll also need to find an MPPT controller that supports the type of deep cycle battery you chose. (Not all will support lithium or gel batteries.) But before we decide on which MPPT controller to buy, we need to make another decision...

Should we use our Jeep's alternator to charge our second battery?
This is what I've always done in the past. It's what the Genesis Dual Battery setup does. It's what most dual battery setups do.

Option 1: We charge our second battery from our alternator AND from the solar panel, and if the spare battery is full we then trickle charge our Jeep's main/starter battery from the excess solar power. This is a pretty good option. For this we'll want to get an MPPT controller that also handles the alternator input.

For this option I would purchase a Renogy DCC30S 12V 30A Dual Input DC-DC On-Board Battery Charger with MPPT. This is a pretty cool device. It works with all battery types (you have to set the battery type within the settings). If the car is running it will use the alternator's extra power to charge your spare battery. It will also use the solar panel to charge your spare battery. And if your spare battery is 100% full it will then take any solar energy coming in and trickle charge your starter battery as well. Like all the Renogy MPPT controllers, it also has a temperature sensor that you put with your spare battery so it can change its charging profile based on how hot the battery is getting.

Option 2: We don't link the rest of the car to our spare battery. We keep our overlanding power completely separate. We trust that out solar panel can keep our spare battery full enough. Why do this, when Option 1 is so damned tempting? For me, I chose this option because I'm installing the spare battery way in the back of the bed of the pickup, behind the passenger wheel well, and I hate running big long power lines the full length of the vehicle. 14ga wire? No worries. 8ga wire, run the entire length of the vehicle, always hot, not switched? It just rubs me the wrong way. To each his own.

Perhaps I'll learn someday that I need more juice than the solar panel by itself can provide, in which case I'll switch to Option 1. For now, though, I went Option 2 and bought a Renogy Rover Li 20 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller. This also includes a remote temperature sensor that you put with your spare battery so it can change its charging profile based on how hot the battery is getting.


Battery Ah, Solar Panel Wattage, and MPPT Amp Ratings
I chose a 100Ah battery, but you've got options. The bigger, the heavier. Then there's the MPPT controllers. The Renogy DC-DC MPPT controllers come in 30Amp and 50Amp sizes. The straight Renogy MPPT controllers come in 20Amp, 30Amp, 40Amp, and 60Amp sizes. So which Amp rating do you need? And you can always daisy chain more solar panels together. Is a 100W SolarHawk going to be enough?

That depends on your usage and the output of your solar panel. Yes, we're going to have to use google and do some math now. First, figure out your expected usage.

Battery Size
  • I have an overlanding fridge that averages somewhere in the range of 0.7 to 2.7 amps. That will run 24 hours a day. Worst case, 2.7 amps x 24 hours = 64.8Ah
  • I have LED lights in my Skycamp. I don't have the specs, but google tells me that most RGB 12V strip LED lights use approximately 4.4 Watts per foot at 12V. The kit includes four 1' long strips. 4.4 Watts divided by 12V = 0.36amps. There are four of them, so 0.36 amps x 4 = 1.46 amps total. I will run those for maybe 2 hours a day while camping. 1.46 amps x 2 hours = 2.93Ah
  • My iPhone will be charging all night from a 2.1 amp DC charger, but it really only takes about 3 hours to fully charge. 2.1 amps x 3 = 6.3Ah. Oh, wait, my wife and I both have phones. Let's double that. 6.3Ah x 2 phones = 12.6Ah
If I total up those main uses of my spare battery, I get 64.8Ah + 2.93Ah + 12.6Ah = 80.33Ah. That means that if it gets no power to recharge, then over the course of 24 hours of camping I'll use about 80% of a 100Ah spare battery's power. You never want to drain non-Lithium batteries more than around 50%, but notice that I used worst case for everything, especially the fridge. If it's not 100°F+ out, then it'll use only 1/3 as much of its allotted 64.8ah. So, realistically, I can probably safely use a 100Ah battery to my hearts content and not over-discharge it during the course of 24 hours. And either way, I'm not putting up with the massive size or weight of an even larger battery. But this does tell me that I definitely wouldn't want a smaller second battery than 100Ah!

Solar Panel Size
Now I should calculate my load, to see how much I expect to drain the battery versus how much power my solar panel will give the battery.
  • The fridge is (worst case) 2.7 amps at 24 hours. 2.7 amps x 24 hours x 12 volts = 778Wh
  • The Skycamp LED lights we decided are 1.46 amps at 2 hours. 1.46 amps x 2 hours x 12 voltes = 35Wh
  • My wife and I's iPhones getting recharged was 2.1 amps for 3 hours. 2.1 amps x 3 hours x 2 phones x 12 volts = 151Wh
If I total up those main uses of my spare battery I get 778 Wh + 35 Wh + 151 Wh = 964 Wh. So, now we have to ask ourselves, where do I live? Where am I traveling to? How much sun can my solar panel reasonably expect to receive? Living out here, I think that's it's very reasonable to assume I can get close to 12 hours of sun a day. In. the middle of the summer it's probably longer than that. And on the shorter days of winter the temperature will be much lower and the fridge will use MUCH less power, so I'm going to go for a good mid-ground day of 12 hours.

Now I take my Watt-hours and divide by the number of hours of sun I expect to receive. 964 Wh divided by 12 hours = 80.33W needed per hour. But that's in perfect conditions. This excellent article about sizing your solar system recommends you then add a fudge factor of 1.3. So 80.33 Watts x a 1.3 fudge factor = 104W. My solar panel is 100W. Hmmm, I'm a little under. Well, screw it. I'm using a 1.2 fudge factor then, getting 96.4 watts needed, and saying that my 100W solar panel is just barely perfect.

This means that there will be days when I will dip below my preferred threshold. It's not cloudy often here. And realistically, I'm not overlanding every single day. And on non-perfect days the temperature will be lower, my fridge will use 1/3 the worst case power consumption it does on the straight sunny days, and I'll still end up well within any recommended constraints.

MPPT Amp Rating
For this I need to look at the specs for my solar panel. A SolarHawk has a Pmax current of 4.37 Amps. That's WAY below the 20amp smallest size of MPPT controller (of the ones I'm looking at), so I should be just fine with plenty of wiggle room. No need to purchase a more powerful, more expensive MPPT controller if I'll never take advantage of the extra higher amp rating.


Okay, we have a spare battery, a solar charge controller, and a solar panel. Time to start wiring...
 
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Overlanding Power Station

Here's what I did to build a full overlanding power station in the bed of my truck, behind the passenger wheel well.

Tools
First, let's talk about tools. We all love our tools, but wiring requires a special set of tools.
Here are some that always come in handy for me when working on my JT:
  • Wire crimper for the big wires (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 AWG cable lug crimper)
  • Cable cutter for big wires (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 AWG cable cutter)
    • Note - the link for this one goes to a combo crimper/cutter set, similar to the one I picked up. You'll also want this set to do your winch installation, which also uses some pretty big wires
  • Crimping Tool Kit
    • It's hard to overstate how useful this is. Crimping ends on smaller gauge wires becomes a breeze with the right tools
  • Heat Gun
    • This will give you professional-looking installs as you heat shrink your components correctly instead of accidentally melting them with a poorly help Zippo lighter
  • Heat Shrink Wiring Connectors, Variety Pack
    • This is a combo pack that should get you through most smaller gauge jobs on your Jeep. Lots of variety means you've always got the right piece available when you need it. Combine these with the Crimping Tool and the Heat Gun and your installs will look better and be stronger than any done by your local shop
  • T-Tap Wire Connectors, Variety Pack
    • This is less useful for an Overlanding Power Station, but it's incredibly useful for everything else, especially anything you install inside your Jeep. Want to hardwire a Radar Detector? A Dash Cam? Just grab the appropriate wire from the passenger seat area and T-tap into it!
  • Wire Cutters
    • You'll need both a smaller gauge wire stripper (e.g. 12-20 AWG stranded) and a larger gauge wire stripper (e.g. 6-12 AWG stranded)

Shopping Trip
First, I had to decide what options I wanted in my Power Station. I went a little overboard (who, me?) and added, well, all the things. I decided I should get:
  • A Renogy 500A Battery monitor that would constantly show me exactly how full my battery was. It comes with a shunt that you connect to the ground terminal of your battery. You then connect every single other thing to that shunt instead of directly to the battery's ground terminal.
  • An ARB fridge power port. This isn't just a regular 12V socket. The fridge has a special plug that screws into this socket and prevents it from rocking out when you're off-road.
  • A Quick Charge USB port for fast charging phones and other devices
  • Some weatherproof standard 12v sockets for all the generic 12v accessories (including the Skycamp accessory light kit)
  • Some standard DC USB ports since so many accessories and rechargeable lanterns charge via USB these days
I also wanted to be able to turn each individual power socket off as needed to conserve power. That meant switches. A LOT of switches. I was in a hurry and was trying to be cheap, so I picked up a 5-bay set of switches plus two single switches.

Rather than wire them all off the battery, I chose to pick up a 12-port Fuse Block so that each power outlet would have its own correctly sized fuse and so I'd only have one wire running to the battery for all that.

Sadly, we're not done shopping yet. Everything you do should have a fuse. That includes one between the solar panel and the MPPT controller and one between between the MPPT controller and the battery. For those I picked up a set of 3x 10AWG waterproof fuse holders. I also didn't know which fuses I would need for everything, so I picked up a variety pack of blade fuses.

Now we need wire. I chose 14 AWG for the accessories, and 10 AWG for the big stuff. Big stuff includes solar panel to MPPT, MPPT to battery, and battery to battery monitor shunt. I measured the location of my solar panel connector down to where I wanted to MPPT controller and ended up buying a 25ft roll of red/black wire. For the accessories I already had the remains of a 20ft spool of 14 AWG red/black wire from an earlier project.

Almost done shopping, but the SolarHawk Solar Panel has an Anderson connector, and all we've got is a spool of 10 AWG wire. A 4-pack of 6-10 gauge Battery Quick Disconnects should allow us to f--- up one or two while we're learning and still get a good quick disconnect Anderson connector on our own wire.


Fabrication
I used Baltic Birch Plywood because that's what I've got lying around. That's 18mm thick, so basically it's the fancy metric version of 3/4" plywood. There are plastic boxes you can buy on Amazon that you drop a battery in and that provide a few power ports on top. They seem fine, just really expensive for what you get. I figured It'd be cheaper to just build my own abnd it would allow me to make the most of the limited space in the bed of my truck.

Cutting holes for all those accessories was fun. First I had to lay it all out and realize I didn't have anywhere near as much space available as I thought.
IMG_4662.jpg


I popped out all the switches, laid everything down, and traced the holes. Time to start drilling!
IMG_4667.jpg


In my defense, it was now Thursday afternoon and we were leaving Friday morning. It's all a hell of a rough job, but hey, it works.

I built a box to hold the battery (front/back/top, but open on the sides), and a space between the battery and the power panel for all the wiring. I mounted the MPPT controller behind the battery.
IMG_4882.jpg


Some things about the picture above:
  • The MPPT controller is black and hanging off on the left
  • The power station ports all face to the right
  • The opening beneath the messy wiring area allows me to still reach and use my 110v bed outlet
  • The top (vertical 3" piece of plywood) area is a charging shelf that is open at the top, with a sheet of tool drawer liner dropped in it
  • The battery is raised up on a platform of plywood so that it can actually stick out over the top of the drawer slide for my fridge. This was to save space
  • The battery platform is carved out so it fits tight up against the wheel well. I would say the bottom of the passenger wheel well hump stretches an inch or two under the left side of the battery platform
  • The temperature sensor for the battery is resting on top of the battery, so the MPPT controller can change its charging profile accordingly
  • That stack of wood sitting on top of the battery is 4 thin strips of plywood glued together. I used a forstner bit to give them two indentations on the top. Two short 1/4-20 bolts stick through the top charging platform and press down into those indentations. This is done to lock the battery in and keep it from bouncing or sliding anywhere. I can tighten those two bolts further to provide additional pressure
  • The shunt for the battery monitor is mounted on the left, inside the battery compartment, just above the ground terminal of the battery
  • This entire power station is held to the wall by a metal L bracket and a carriage bolt that goes through my BuiltRight Molle Bed Panel. I added a quick disconnect for the solar panel wire at the MPPT controller as well, so I can remove one thumbscrew from the carriage bolt and pull the whole thing out when I need a pickup instead of an overlanding vehicle
  • The whole contraption is tossed together with Kreg pocket screws, because I was in a hurry and they were lying around
  • The power station is not connected to the large piece of plywood on the bottom by anything other than gravity. That's for the fridge, which we'll discuss shortly
When it was done, the power station looked like this from the front:
IMG_4884.jpg

The five-switch panel starts with #1 as the ARB fridge-specific port (bottom left) then works around the perimeter clockwise. Then you can see that the bottom right two ports each have their own switch. Again, not how I'd recommend doing it, I was using the cheapest stuff I could find on Amazon that would actually arrive within a week. Figure out what ports you need, add 2 extra, then probably make your switches more intuitive than this.

And the top charging shelf looked like this:
IMG_4886.jpg

You can see in this picture that the solar panel is currently charging the battery with 4.66amps.

In the future I need to dismantle the whole thing and finish the plywood, plus I need to fix that stupid crack where I didn't pre-drill. Damnit. By this time is was dark Thursday night, so I was just happy that somehow all my wiring had worked on the first try. Isn't it awesome having the proper tools?

Installation Note - be sure to connect the MPPT controller to the battery and set the battery type and voltage (12 vs 24) BEFORE you connect the solar panel!

Installation Note - A Renogy MPPT controller offers connections for solar panel (+ and -), for battery (+ and -), and for load (+ and -). Load is only for something really REALLY low power. If you connect something to "Load", it will run directly from the solar panel until there's not enough sun, at which point it will switch to battery. I didn't trust that the fridge would always be low enough power, and so I left those connections empty.

I connected the 10AWG wire with my new quick release connector to the solar panel
IMG_4926.jpg


Then routed the wire across the inside of my rack and on down using zip ties
IMG_4957.jpg


Installation note - The size of the fuse between the MPPT controller and the battery depends on the size of the MPPT controller. (20 amp for 20 amp, 30 amp for 30 amp, etc, not to exceed the recommended max for the size wire you chose). But the size of the fuse needed between the solar panel and the MPPT controller depends on the size of the solar panel. Renogy's manual says this should be 1.56 times the amperage from the solar panel. The SolarHawk solar panel is rated at a Pmax of 4.37A, and 4.37 x 1.56 = 6.8, so I used a 7amp fuse.

And look at her in action!
IMG_4817.jpg


During a weekend at 10,000 ft, my spare battery never went below 89% full, and by 10am each day it was always at 100%.

But of course, all this was to power an overlanding fridge...
 
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jsyn

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Overlanding Fridge

I've seen a lot of complaints on this forum that most overlanding refrigerators won't fit under a tonneau cover in a Jeep Gladiator, that the bed isn't tall enough. Luckily, ARB's new Elements 63 qt fridge ($1372) fits with a tiny bit of room to spare. It's weatherproof and runs off DC or AC.

This thing is pretty impressive. I set it to 39°F, and the only time it went above 40°F was when we hit 110°F+ outside temperatures, but even then I never saw it go above 43°F. If you're used to using a cooler, 63qt might not sound like enough for a big overlanding trip, but remember, it's a fridge. That means no space wasted on ice. That makes a 63QT fridge able to hold a LOT more than a 63QT cooler. I've found websites that claim that this fridge uses 0.7 to 2.7 amps on average, but there's a youtube video out of Australia of a guy measuring his ARB Elements fridge in the heat and finding that it used less than 0.6 amps on average, including the initial cooling time. It's powerful and yet sucks at your battery like a tiny little hummingbird.

But now I needed to find a way to slide the fridge out so I could get inside it to reach my groceries. After much searching, I found DFG Offroad. They custom make drawer slides for most models of overlanding fridge. Their ARB Elements Drawer Slide ($350 on sale) raises the fridge by less than an inch. Actually, it's closer to 3/4 of an inch. That's impressive for a full-depth slide that support this massive fridge while it's laoded down with food.

However, the fridge slide can't just sit in the back of your truck. Pickup trucks have ribs that stick up front-to-back in the bed of the truck, and this drawer slide needs a flat surface to rest on.

I didn't want to raise it any higher than I had to (space was already tight!), so I took a piece of 18mm Baltic Birch plywood and routed out grooves for the truck bed.
IMG_4877.jpg


Above you can see the fridge on its plywood support, fully underneath an Access soft tonneau cover. The only trick is that I have to open the front 2" of tonneau cover if I want to slide it out, as the support bar at the end of a tonneau cover is slightly lower than the rest of the cover. You can also see my power station, described in an early comment.

I have the fridge constantly connected to DC power. However, both the DC and AC power cords are connected to the back of the fridge. See that extra loop of cable in front of the power station? That's the end of the fridge's AC power cable. If the fridge is off, I will plug it into an extension cord from my house, so that my battery doesn't have the drain of getting the fridge down to temperature. The ARB automagically recognizes when there is AC power available, and switches to using that when it's there. When you disconnect the extension cord the ARB switches back to DC power withou you having to do a thing.

Here the fridge is pulled out and opened up. I can get to anything inside of it with the tonneau cover almost completely closed. The fridge slide also locks into place when it's closed so it can't slide back and forth on bumpy roads.
IMG_4880.jpg


The fridge is held down to the drawer slide with the standard ARB lock downs, which I believe came with the DFG Offroad fridge slide.

Just like the power station, the plywood base of the fridge is attached to the truck via an L bracket and a short carriage bolt through my BuiltRight Molle Bed Panels. When I need to remove the fridge and use the pickup as a pickup, it's as simple as removing one thumbscrew, then lifting it all out.

This thing made camping a breeze. Nothing says "overlanding in style" like brie and fig jam omelets over a bed of fresh arugula.
 
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jsyn

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Well, that's the brunt so far. I still need to post details of:
  • Latch-It Bike Rack (hint: it's awesome, buy this)
  • Recovery Gear
    • Straps
    • More straps
    • More straps
    • Gloves
    • Snatch Blocks
    • Pull-Pal
    • Shovel/Axe/etc
    • Tools for Repairs
    • Recovery Boards
    • Rotopax Gas
  • Camping Gear
    • TemboTusk Skottle
    • LifeSaver Jerry Can
    • Rotopax Water with spout
    • Gaia GPS Software
    • The magic of fancy pre-sealed pour-over coffee
    • FrontRunner Outfitters Utensil Set
    • Snowpeak Cutting Board/Knife Set
    • Camp Table options
    • Prep table options
    • Fireside Outdoor Pop-Up Fire Pit
    • so many other, little things, what's worked, what hasn't
  • Communication Gear
    • GMRS + license
    • Should I do Ham as well?
  • How I manage to pack all that and some firewood under the tonneau cover for a trip
  • All the future modifications as they come
But it's been a long day and I got the big stuff down and recorded.

It's a good start!

I hope some of this helps and/or inspires other forum members. This forum has been a HUGE help to me since before I even picked out what options I wanted in my future JT, and I just wanted to give back a little by writing all this up. Have fun!!
 
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nabegg

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Fantastic thread. Thank you for sharing and providing usable information. I live in Salt Lake and would love to reach out to Kent in Idaho. Would you have contact information for him or the name of his dealership? Thanks again.
 

MeanMachine

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Steering Stabilizer

I was not one of the ones with steering problems. My JT was responsive and happy from the get-go. I turned the wheel, even just a little bit, and the tires turned appropriately. But all you folks scared me. Everyone talking about how horrible their steering was. So during a sale I picked up a Teraflex Falcon Nexus UE 2.2 Fast Adjust Steering Stabilizer from River City Offroad for just under $300.

You're going to want a good torque wrench in the middle range to install this. It will take a good hour and you're going to get greasy and you're going to curse occasionally. Watch the install video on Teraflex's website and just take your time. It's actually pretty easy, assuming you don't misunderstand and remove something you didn't need to remove and then crush your hand with a wrench while you're trying to put it back. There is definitely a trick to getting it in the right place for the final bolt installation.
IMG_4985.jpg


Once installed, this steering stabilizer offers three different steering options: Firm, Medium, and Soft. I've also heard them described as "Highway", "Around Town", and "Off-Road". Just reach down and flip the lever, switching between the options is as easy as can be. One note, though: the word you see from the front of the car is NOT the word it's pointing to. You'll quickly realize that the selected option is the one pointing UP, not the one pointing FORWARDS.
IMG_4986.jpg
love these posts!! I'm the same as you, my steering is fine - do you like the addition of the adjustable steering stabilizer? Worth the $300?
 

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