Category Archives: Accessories

Let the Good Tunes Roll!

One of the best parts about a new rig is that it’s a clean slate, primed and ready for you to make it your own.  That also means there are a lot of low budget mods that can offer you a huge bang for your buck.  Pictured above is my new Kenwood marine grade head unit replacing the 11ish year old Chrysler cd changer (blasted volume knob stopped working!) with all the modern day connectivity you could ask for for at around a $100 depending on your retailer.  Personally, I ❤ the good folks at Crutchfield.  They always take good care of me with quality customer service, techs that know mobile audio, competitive prices, and if that wasn’t enough… All the install gear (harnesses, connectors, dash kits) is generally included at no charge when you buy a head unit. #WINNING

The item on the right is SmittyBilt’s vaulted glove box.  It bolts into your dash and is made out of 16 gauge steel to discourage the few things in your Jeep from mysteriously walking away. A great purchase for peace of mind for fellow soft top owners at around $65 bucks.  This one is crazy easy to install and is another one of those items that I’m buying again b/c it was so good the first time I owned it.

In case you can’t tell, I’m incredibly excited to get these two mods in the Jeep so I can rake off the half upper doors and go for a nice drive while streaming some great tunes!  Hoping for a big install day this weekend to get everything done.

Denied!

Damn.  I’m convinced I have more trouble with state inspections than ANYONE I’ve ever met.  I thought certainly a bone stock Jeep could pass with flying colors, but the state ain’t having it!  The TJ failed due to a worn drive belt, rusty exhaust hangers, & readiness sensors not being set.

The drive belt is an easy fix despite the shop wanting $200 (that’s two HUNDRED bloody dollars!) for a $20 part & 5 minutes worth of work.  I sprung for the $30 belt from Autozone (3 year warranty on the belt thank you very much!) and popped it on.

The exhaust I knew was rusted out and was on my ‘to replace list’ anyways, I just didn’t expect to replace it immediately.  I’ve got an exhaust kit shipping to me now that I plan to write about when I swap out later this week.  The only downside is that since this is kind of an emergency (can’t title the Jeep if I can’t pass inspection), I picked up the cheapest kit I could find instead of taking my time to do a bit of research.  I watched a YouTube clip or two of the exhaust note and it didn’t sound bad at all.  Especially for this price point.

As far as the readiness sensors are concerned, I just need to drive it a bit to get those things to set themselves.  Luckily, I already have a Veepeak bluetooth OBD II scan tool & combined with the OBD Fusion app to check the readiness status.  Hopefully this three pronged approach will have me up and running legally by the weekend.  Fingers crossed!

We don’t need no stinking doors!

One of the absolutely coolest things about the Wrangler is that it’s just about the only vehicle on the market that you can easily remove the doors.  I’ve always said, and I stand by this to this day, A Jeep with no doors and no top is as close as you can get to the feeling of riding a motorcycle with out actually being on a bike.  Whether you are cruising around town or enjoy the killer visibility on off-road trails, taking the doors off can be a lot of fun!  But one thing you’ll need (on the roads at least) is a set of rear view mirrors.

As you scour the market for mirrors, you’ll find no shortage of options.  Some bolt into the door jam, some relocate the OEM mirror onto the a-pillar, and others add on a permanent mirror that you can pivot out of the way. One unique option that I stumbled on and really liked was the Die-Tech Off-Road mirror bracket.  It’s a fairly simple bracket that attaches an OEM mirror to the body in 2 points.  Those two points are what gives it much more stability and reduces vibration vs. something like a set of Safari mirrors.

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I chose to pick up an extra set of mirrors instead of pulling off my door mirrors every time I wanted to pull the doors.  I didn’t need anything super fancy, so I hit up ebay and found a pair of OEM style power mirrors from Kool-Vue for a very reasonable price.

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My master plan was to have power mirrors even though I had no doors b/c, come on it’s always easier to push a button to move the mirror than to have someone stand there while you say “a little to the left.  Ok, now a little to the right.”

The wiring on the mirror is pretty simple, one ground wire and 4 directional wires inside a harness.  The tricky part was getting a connection piece to line up with the OEM harness.  I scoured the internet high and low, but the best I could find was either buying an entire door harness or having a plastics company build me 2 clips.  With either option winding up in the $100 range, I decided to table this plan for now and just ziptie the loose cable to the mirror bracket.

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In order to fit the control wires through the bracket, I cut a crude template out of cardboard and drilled a little hole.  I picked up some nice grommets, but when I installed both it felt a bit like overkill so I just stuck with the HD plastic tubing instead.

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With the brackets prepped, I assembled the mirrors to the brackets (2 screws) and proceeded to pull my doors for the very first time.  If it’s also your first time pulling the doors, prepare to use some muscle to remove these guys.  There are pinch collars on the door bolts that you can’t see or access until after you remove the doors.  Be gentle, yet firm and take your time to prevent any scratches.

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Thanks of my excitement of finally getting my doors off, I didn’t actually take ANY pictures of my Jeep with all the doors off.  The only picture I did take is below to compare the position of the factory mirror to where the Die-Tech Mirror bracket places the mirror.  Can you guess which is factory and which is the bracket?

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Give up?  The driver side is factory and the passenger side has the mirror bracket installed with no door.  There’s been a debate about how closely these brackets place your mirrors back to the the original position… And that is pretty damn close!  There is only about a 1-2″ difference in height of the factory mirror.

In the end, whatever mirror route you choose, pull those doors off and go for a ride.  It’s a blast!

Thanks, I like to tow!

I don’t know if it’s a guy thing or maybe I’m just weird, but I really enjoy towing.  Nothing too too crazy, just small trailers. Perhaps a pair of jet skis or a 20ish foot boat.  You know, right around the 3500 lb mark.  One thing that I’ve been dragging my feet on for some reason is getting a proper drop hitch.  I’m still using the same hitch that I was using on my old Jeep (that also needed a drop hitch!) and that I’ve been using on this Jeep since before it was lifted or had the bigger tires.

I plopped a trailer on the current hitch and took a quick measurement to check the angle on the trailer when attached.  Ideally, that number would be right about zero instead of 2.5* off.

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Locally, the biggest drop I could pick up that day was a 5.25″ drop.  Is it enough for my application?  We’ll just have to see.

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The new vs. the old.  5.25″ drop on the left and the standard 2″ hitch on the right.

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The new drop hitch helped a lot, but it’s still not quite perfect.  The angle is down to 1.5* and while I know the ground where I’m doing these tests isn’t level either, it’s also not off by 1.5*.  Better?  Yes, much!  Perfect… nope.  But it’s close.

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In a semi-related thought, I love the new backup camera when it comes to lining up to a trailer.  It really takes just about all the guess work out of it!

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Bike Rack Question

An excellent question was recently posted on Wrangler forum…
For those of you that have back up cameras, how do hitch mounted bike racks affect the visibility?

Not only do I have a camera and a rack, this is something I’ve been wondering about since I installed my very own back up camera.  I thought it would pretty much make the camera pointless since its mounted directly in front of the support post of the hitch rack.  Instead of speculating, I broke out my Yakima Double Down 4 bike rack and tested the alleged 170* viewing angle of the Gino Backup Camera.

YakimaRackMy Yakima rack is actually a little odd.  The rack was a gift and mistakenly ordered for a 1.25″ receiver instead of a 2″.  To correct the problem, I just got a 1.25″ to 2″ conversion piece that you can see in the picture.  This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for a few reasons.  First, it pushes the rack out far enough to get around my over sized spare and second, by being pushed that far back it doesn’t really impact the view on the back up camera as much as it could.  Sure I have to put a ratchet strap on it to keep it from swaying, but I’m pretty sure all of these racks have at least a little play in them.

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The Great Backup Camera Kerfuffle

The 2012 and newer Wranglers (that I’m aware of, it could be older) have been using the exact same head units as everything else in Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram’s stables with the exception of the new 8.4″ units that we’re starting to see in the Dart, the RAM line, and other recently redesigned vehicles.

  • The 130 – el cheap-o grande.  This head unit is perfect for the folks that plan to swap out for aftermarket stereo components or if you simply don’t need anything more than just a radio and a CD player.
  • The 430 – An excellent feature filled full color touch screen Nav system.  The interface was designed by Garmin and the mapping software is theirs too.
  • The 730 – Chrysler’s top end system at the time including live traffic, football score updates, and a bunch of other goodies that I personally didn’t need.

In just about every Chrysler vehicle equipped with the 430 or the 730, there is a back up camera option.  However when it comes to the Wrangler, Jeep simply decided not to offer that capability.  Same head unit, it has the ability, they just turn it off at the factory.  Seems like an easy $100 up-charge to me.  Especially for my rig… She’s a got a big steel butt and that tire sticking off the end doesn’t help anything.   I started to investigate into the issue a few months ago to see what my options were.

Option 1 – OEM Mopar GrandCherokee/Commander Kit
MoparCameraMy first thought was to keep it in the family and go with strictly MOPAR.  I ordered the GrandCherokee/Commander back up camera kit which came with everything you see above.  While getting the head unit replaced in my JK, I had the service guys drop the wiring behind the dash and flash the CPU for the 430N to accept a camera.  After I got home, I set up the wiring for a test and toggled the 430N’s camera mode to ‘on’.

Unfortunately, that setup didn’t do the trick.  When reverse was engaged, the 430N would look for a camera but nothing was sending any signals.  A black screen would display telling you to check surroundings.  So the camera kit went back in the box and back to Mopar.  I would have liked for this to work, but in the end that specific camera housing is a bit of a pain to use on any vehicle it wasn’t intended for so maybe this is for the best.

Option 2 – NAVTool
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After the Mopar kit went back, I looked around for aftermarket options. There are three companies that have a similar product. NAV-TV, MyGIG LockPick, & NAVTool. I can immediately cross off both the MyGIG LockPick & NAV-TV since they each told me their products wouldn’t work with a manual transmission. That leaves me with the kit from NAVTool.  I clicked to buy and a week later a box showed up with the parts shown above.  A little blue control module with two buttons, one harness, and one RCA plug wire.  No instructions, nothing else, just the items shown above.

I contacted the NAVTool to see if I was missing anything, to ask what those two buttons on the control box are, and if there are any instructions.  I was told to ‘just plug it in and it would work.’  No instructions, no discussion of those buttons, nothing.  Just plug it in.  When I told them about the missing harness that connects all the other features (pictured below), they said that plug wasn’t included but they would send it that day.

Yay!  Except, they didn’t send it that day.  Or the next.  Or the one after that.  In fact, I called them daily for several weeks and every time I was brushed off or told it was in the mail but they could never provide any shipping information.  Communication with this company was incredibly sketchy.  No matter what button I pushed, I ended up speaking to the same guy who would insist my case was with another department.  The guy claimed he had a Wrangler that he took off-road all the time, but when I pressed him he couldn’t even name one single mod on his rig.  Not one.  Red flag!

NAVTool1As you can see from the image above, my cable did finally arrive. But after weeks and weeks of dealing with this company, I lost any faith I may have once had in their product. I didn’t want my CPU to be a guinea pig or wind up bricked, so I contacted them to start the return process. Just like everything else with this company, it proved incredibly challenging. My case was, once again with another department at every call. I got the run around for a few days before I reached out to PayPal for a resolution. Suspiciously, once PayPal was involved NAVTool was incredibly quick to come to a refund agreement. By quick, I mean within 30 minutes quick.  I contacted NAVTool to ship their product back, only to receive no reply. At this point, I’m calling the case closed and moving on with my life.

Option 3 – $20 water proof camera on Amazon
Up till now, this has been one hell of a wild goose chase.  But, what I do currently have is my CPU flashed by the dealership (code ‘XAC’), the skills to easily remove the head unit, a labeled cable that accepts a standard RCA plug, and a simple sub $20 flush mount waterproof camera from Amazon.  So, I decided to pull my dash, remove the head unit and give this whole thing one final run.
Clip2The cable pictured above is from NAVTool.  However, I found a very similar cable on Amazon that I think will also do the trick.  I haven’t tried it out for myself yet, but my buddy ordered one and when he’s ready I’ll help him with the install using that new cable.

Clip3First, find the camera input in the harness, plug in the camera feed and grab a little electrical tape to make sure it stays put.  I like to tape these connections since I have no interest in pulling the dash after I go over a few bumps in case the cable has wiggled loose.

Clip4I’m not using any of the other plugs at the moment, but what’s to say I may not want to use them for something in the future?  To keep them from flopping around, I taped them to each other.

Clip5Since I’ll have some extra harness pieces behind the dash, I added a little foam padding to minimize any rattling noises.  If you don’t have any foam on hand, just cut a beer koozie in half.

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Clip7You can see the loose ends all taped up above and ready to tuck behind the head unit.
430NNow that the cable is ready and the head unit has been removed, you can see that there are two 22-pin slots on the back.  All of the factory connections go in the right slot while the new wiring harness goes in the left where the red arrow is pointing.  This is a fantastic time (if you haven’t done so already) to test out your camera to make sure you are getting a signal and you can see the camera image on the 430N’s screen.

Did it pass the test?  Take a minute to rejoice!  When you are done with your celebration, remove your rear tail light housing on the passenger side in preparation for the next step.

Run the wiring from the head unit behind the dash towards the passenger side and down behind the kick panels.  Feel free to remove your glove box if you need an easy way to get an extra set of hands back there.  Keep running the cable towards the rear of the Jeep down the passenger side behind the plastic panels.  There are other wiring harnesses running front to rear that you can attach your wiring to keeping it nice and neat.  Once you get to the rear corner of your JK, pull up a little carpet to find a rubber grommet with a wiring harness running through it.

**Warning, this part is kind of a PITA**  Fish the RCA plug through the rubber grommet down into the tub of the Jeep.  If you have a spreader that can make this a lot easier.  I used a set of 11″ 45 degree needle nose pliers as a spreader to get the plug through the grommet.  If you did this part right, you should see an RCA plug dangling in the opening where your tail light used to be.  As a side note, this isn’t the only way to run the video feed to the camera.  I’ve seen it run under the cargo tray next to the drain plug as well.  I personally prefer my method, but the choice is completely up to you as long as the video cable gets to the camera, you win!

Next, go get the other plug that came with the camera kit.  It’s the one that has a red and a black wire (power/ground for the camera) that plugs into the non-video plug coming out of the camera.  What we are going to do is jump these wires onto the existing power sources going into your rear tail light on the wiring harness.

Wiring1Grab the tail light wiring harness and use your tester to determine which wires you’ll need.  I’ll give you a hint… black is ground.  To test, turn the key to the accessory position and put the vehicle in reverse.  Touch the tester to the connectors in the harness and when your tester lights up, that’s the cable you want.  I’m 90% sure it’s that white wire with a gray stripe pictured above but it’s been a few weeks since I completed the install and my memory is getting a little foggy.  If your tester is flashing while maintaining a good contact, you’ve found the turn signal.

With the wiring connected to power and ground, feel free to plug in both cables (power/ground & video feed) to the camera and test it one more time.  This is a great time to decided on a mounting location if you haven’t done so already.  It’s also the last chance you have before the point of no return… Making holes in your Jeep!
CameraHole1 I wanted my camera to go right smack in the center of the bumper, but that’s what works for me.  You should put your camera where ever you can get the most visibility and wherever it works for you.  I taped off the entire area to make it easy to draw on in pencil and measured off dead center.  Using a center punch and a small sledge hammer, I made my first mark to help guide the hold borer that came with the camera kit.

If you have a stock rubber bumper, the hole borer that came with the kit will probably work just fine.  For anything a little heavier like a steel bumper, I’d suggest drilling a pilot hole the same width as the drill bit on the hole borer first and then using that hole as a guide to bore out the full diameter hole needed for the camera.  Why the extra step?  Because the drill bit on the hole bore is garbage.  Mine snapped in half as I was drilling the initial hole.CameraHole2With the hole drilled, take a metal file to edges and a little flat or semi-gloss black to cover up any exposed metal.  Let the paint dry for an hour or so, and then go get a friend to help you out with the next part… Aligning & installing the camera.  The actual install is incredibly simple.  You really do just pop the camera in the hole you just drilled.  But WAIT, before you do, make sure the camera is facing right side up and the guide marks are parallel to the ground.  The camera itself has no markings on it, so you’ll have to kick on your screen to help you align it exactly how you’d like it.  This is where a friend comes in handy.  One of you to rotate the camera and the other to watch the screen.

Once you have it aligned perfectly, slowly but gently push the camera into the bumper hole.  I really hope you have this aligned because once it’s in, that camera ain’t coming out!

CameraCompleteAt this point, all you have left to do is a little tidying up.  Reconnect the wiring harness and put your passenger side tail light back on (4 screws).  Reinstall your dash (4 screws), glove box (if you removed it) and you, my friend, are done!  I hope you enjoy your new camera.
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Despite my long journey to finish this mod, I’m really happy I did it.  The camera displays a very clean image on the screen and has helped me park (especially parallel parking!) with out having to worry about backing into anyone or anything.  Knowing what I know now, I’m pretty sure I could wire this up in about an hour or so with all the parts on hand and the CPU flashed.  For under $100 in parts/labor, this mod is well worth the effort.

Housekeeping

This past weekend found a bunch of house keeping tasks that needed to be attended to.  Nothing extremely exciting or glamorous, but things that needed tending too.  First things first, I pulled each and every wheel off of the Jeep to change out the lugs and torque them properly.  While I had the wheels off, I finally washed all the mud off the inside.  I think they look much, much better with out those damn rusty wheel locks!
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The next plan of attack was to finish off my back up camera install.  When the dealership recently swapped out the head unit, I had them drop the connection wires and flash the CPU for a MOPAR camera kit.  However, when I plugged the kit up for testing, nothing worked.  The head unit was looking for a video feed, but the camera just wasn’t kicking on.  Damn!  Well, on the plus side I learned how to take my dash off.  Surprisingly, not that bad.
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It sure as hell looks eerie missing all the trim!
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Another big housekeeping chore that needed to be done was a tire carrier adjustment.  The ARB Carriers are adjustable to fit wheels of different back spacing and tires of different sizes.  Over the winter, I still had my carrier set up for my stock tires and it was time to change that.  I popped out the 4 bolts that held the carrier plate on, ground off any rust, hit it with a little semigloss, replaced all the bolts, drilled a fresh alignment hole, applied a little blue Loctite, and presto!  Ok, it was actually a pain sizing it out to get it to sit juuuust perfectly, but I like to remember it as just that easy!  The 35×12.50 used to sit at a fairly steep angle, but now the tire is almost perfectly perpendicular to the ground as it should be.  It’s still pushing on the tire carrier per ARB’s recommendation to help the swing arm support/balance the weight.
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All that’s left, a good well deserved deep clean.  I used Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash and Wax to get all the road grime off and bring the luster back.  For the tires, I tried using Black Magic Tire Wax (Excellent product by the way) but the sidewall tread destroyed the applicator pad after about 30 seconds. I had to fall back to a can of No Touch Seriously Wet, but I think it did the trick.  If you have the time, let the Seriously Wet soak in to your tires for 2+ hours (they claim only 20 mins, buuut I like to really let it get in there).  Don’t have 2+ hours?  Sure you do.  Before you call it a night, apply No Touch, pull the jeep forward about a half a turn of the wheels to touch up the parts you missed and call it a night.  That time helps it bond with the rubber, prevents spinning off and keeps your tires shiny longer.  The fenders and black plastic trim are done with ArmorAll Outlast.  A new(ish) product from ArmorAll that I’ve been meaning to try.  Hell, it’s got a picture of a JK on the cover, I think that targeted market really got me!  It’s only been a few days, but so far so good.  Will it live up to its claim of 100 washes?  We’ll see.

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