Build decisions

Seizing opportunities

Painted fenders

I’ve been eyeing a set of Nemesis Crawler fenders as an alternative to lifting Smokey before I upgrade my tires early next year. That plan took a detour today, as I stumbled across someone local to me selling a set of Jk Sahara take-off fenders for a price that was too good to pass up.

I’d given up on the idea of finding factory painted fenders for a reasonable price, and I’m looking forward to weather warm enough to permit me to swap out my fenders. The Nemesis flares? Oh, I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually, but I can live with these a few years and focus on other areas of Smokey’s build-up.

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Product comparison: JK accessory power-distribution systems

Jeepers accessorize, there’s no denying it. It’s nothing short of a wonder, then, why it took so long for the aftermarket to realize the potential in offering pre-wired systems to power and manage our lights, lockers, compressors, winches and more. The list below, while lengthy, is by no means exhaustive. It is, rather, a collection of the most popular products and companies in the off-road power-distribution market. I claim no expertise as an electrician, but as I narrow my own search for a solution to eliminate my own under-hood rat’s nest, here’s what data I have found from each company. Click on each product’s name to visit the company’s website.

And, be sure to share in the comments what system you chose for your own Jeep and how you’ve liked it in daily use.

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Traditional systems

It’s no surprise that individuals who collectively eschew modern technology, aerodynamics and the like would be drawn to simplistic ATO fuses and relays to power their electronic accessories and gadgets.

4×4 Spod

6-switch dual-lit LED panel

sPod BasicThe first name in the Jeep power-distribution market is still the industry leader. Spod (“Ess-pod”) affords users six or more circuits, a convenient panel-mounted LED cutoff switch and low-voltage cutoff. The company’s hardline pricing stance has created a market saturated with would-be competitors, but Spod continues to be the name to beat.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 50 amps

Relays: Six at 40 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery

Mounting point: Windshield header

No. of switches: Six (Eight-circuit systems available)

Max. accessories: N/A

Available gauges: Yes

Mobile app/Bluetooth: At-cost option for some models

Main power line length: Yes

Over-temp protection: N/A

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: Yes

Switch legends: No

Illuminated switches: Yes (amber, red, green, blue)

MSRP: $520

Apollointech

Overhead Six-Switch Pod

ApollointechOne of a large number of ‘Brand X’ systems to crop up over the years, the Apollointech version of another popular product has gained, perhaps, the largest following among these carbon-copies. Though sold only on Amazon, it boasts an attractive price, built-in voltmeter and a reputation for responsive customer service. Quality is above average for a product clone, though some decry the overly simplified mounting method and not-quite-sturdy relay box. It’s also worth noting that while these switches appear to be Carling Technologies Contura rockers, they are not a direct replacement for the Contura rockers. Fortunately, 10 labeled rockers are included with the system.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 80 amps

Relays: 6 at 40 amps

Power connection: Ignition-switched

Mounting point: Header

No. of switches: 6

Max. accessories: 6

Available gauges: Voltmeter, included

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: 6.5 feet

Over-temp protection:

Over-current protection:

Low-voltage cutoff: No

Switch legends: 10 included (NOT standard Contura rockers)

Illuminated switches: Yes (green, blue or red)

MSRP: $165.88

Painless Performance

Trail Rocker 57000/57001/57002

Painless 57002Painless Performance, a well-known name in the racing and classic-car restoration scene, brings their hallmark professionalism to the off-road market with the Trail Rocker. This system offers moisture-resistant housings and utilizes factory holes for a finished, easy-to-install package. Painless offers multiple systems for the Jeep JK. The models denoted here mount their four switches (five in 2011 – 2018 models) in the lower-dash panel, replacing the factory cargo net.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 200 amps

Relays: Eight @ 30 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery

Mounting point: Lower dash

No. of switches: Four (including up to two on-off-on)

Max. accessories: Eight

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: 21 feet

Over-temp protection: N/A

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: No

Switch legends: None included (system includes standard replaceable Contura XIV rockers)

Illuminated switches: Yes (white)

MSRP: $435

Trail Rocker 57003/57004

Painless 57003Augmenting its lower-dash models, Painless’ 57003 and 57004 models add additional circuits, mounting six switches (two additional unswitched circuits are available for user-installed switches) above the rear-view mirror. (The different model numbers are for Jeeps with or without, respectively, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.)

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 200 amps

Relays: Eight @ 30 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery

Mounting point: Windshield header

No. of switches: Six (including up to two on-off-on)

Max. accessories: Eight

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: 21 feet

Over-temp protection: N/A

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: No

Switch legends: None included (system includes standard replaceable Contura XIV rockers)

Illuminated switches: Yes (white)

MSRP: $524.99

Rough Country

MLC-6

MLC-6Prior to the debut of Rough Country’s MLC-6, the Jeep power-distribution market was primarily divided into three categories: (1) high-end/high-quality products, (2) low-end/questionable quality products and (3) home-brew systems. Rough Country split the difference, offering their own take on a quality design at a bargain-basement price. Six circuits offer plenty of options for users, and its integrated low-voltage cut-off circuit protects the vehicle’s battery. Initial units’ always-on design annoyed some users with the constantly glowing blue LEDs on the switches. Newer models incorporate a small push-button on the side of the switch panel to disconnect the panel from its power supply.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 50 amps

Relays: Six at 40 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery, with switch-panel LED switch

Mounting point: Windshield header

No. of switches: Six

Max. accessories: Six

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: N/A

Over-temp protection:

Over-current protection:

Low-voltage cutoff: Yes

Switch legends: None included (system includes standard replaceable Contura V rockers)

Illuminated switches: Yes (blue)

MSRP: $199

S-Tech

JK 4-switch system

S-Tech 4-SwitchAffordability and simplicity are the name of the game for S-Tech Switch Systems. The company made a splash on the Jeep market a few years ago with its four-switch header-mounted system. The panel offers four circuits, a weather-resistant fuse/relay box and supports up to 30 amps on a single circuit. S-Tech boasts a three-year warranty on this system.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: None included, 60-amp recommended

Relays: Four at 30 amps

Power connection: Ignition-switched or constant from battery

Mounting point: Windshield header

No. of switches: Four

Max. accessories: Four

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: Five feet? (Unverified)

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Available

Illuminated switches: Yes (Green, blue, amber, red or mix)

MSRP: $199.99

JK 6-switch system

S-Tech 6-SwitchWhat do you do when your new product is a hit with the consumer? Expand, of course! S-Tech’s four-switch system proved popular, but the demand was clear from the start — Jeepers wanted more circuits. The subsequent six-switch system follows the same basic design of the earlier model, but with two additional 30-amp circuits.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: None included, 60-amp recommended

Relays: Six at 30 amps

Power connection: Ignition-switched or constant from battery

Mounting point: Windshield header

No. of switches: Six

Max. accessories: Six

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: Five feet? (Unverified)

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Available

Illuminated switches: Yes (Green, blue, amber or red)

MSRP: $279.99

Universal switch system

UniversaltoaddbuttonstoNot everyone needs a vehicle-specific housing, and S-Tech has a pair of options to fit those users. Their Universal system provides six circuits rated at 30 amps, controlled by a tiny two-by-three-inch push-button switch panel. The Universal features over-temp protection and includes a complete wiring harness and easy-to-follow instructions. Users will have to choose their own mounting bracket for the power-distribution box, though, at additional cost.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 60 amps (not included)

Relays: Six at 40 amps

Power connection: Ignition-switched

Mounting point: User-determined

No. of switches: Six

Max. accessories: N/A

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: Five feet

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Yes

Illuminated switches: Yes (green off, yellow on)

MSRP: $199.99

Universal switch FX system

universal-FX-kitnobracket-1The S-Tech Universal FX takes the company’s universal system and adds a notable touch of style. Their Universal system provides six circuits rated at 30 amps, controlled by a tiny two-by-three-inch push-button switch panel. The Universal features over-temp protection and includes a complete wiring harness and easy-to-follow instructions. Users will have to choose their own mounting bracket for the power-distribution box, though, at additional cost.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 60 amps (not included)

Relays: Six at 30 amps

Power connection: Ignition-switched

Mounting point: User-determined

No. of switches: Six

Max. accessories: N/A

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: No

Main power line length: Five feet

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Yes

Illuminated switches: Yes

MSRP: $279.99

Solid-state and/or wireless systems

Where traditional switched-relay systems offer a certain simplicity and cost savings, modern solid-state electronics afford greater resistance to damage from moisture and vibration. Totally wireless options add to that the convenience of not having to run wires between accessories, switches and your vehicle’s battery.

4×4 Spod

Universal 8-circuit SE panel

sPOD UniversalWith the success of the Switch-Pros system in 2015, 4×4 Spod delivers its own solid-state programmable control system. The Universal system exchanges the traditional rocker switches for a sealed control box featuring eight programmable push-buttons. All eight of the Universal’s circuits are rated for 30 amps, and include low-voltage cutoff protection. Bluetooth connectivity is available as an option for an additional $180.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 50 or 100 amps (information discrepancy on company site)

Relays: Eight solid-state circuits at 30 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery

Mounting point: User-determined

No. of switches: Eight

Max. accessories: 32

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: Yes

Main power line length: 10 feet

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: Yes

Switch legends: Yes

Illuminated switches: Yes

MSRP: $750 (multiple configurations available)

Raxiom

Bluetooth Light Switch & Accessory Controller

Raxiom WirelessThe Raxiom Wireless Accessory Controller, a near-twin of the Trigger Accessory Control System, allows you to skip the wiring and run your lights or other accessories via a wireless RF signal or Bluetooth command via the free mobile app.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: N/A

Relays: Two at 10 amps, two at 30 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery

Mounting point: User-determined (brackets exist for roll bar, windshield header and A-pillar)

No. of switches: Four

Max. accessories: 24

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: Yes

Main power line length: Yes

Over-temp protection: N/A

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Yes, rudimentary

Illuminated switches: No

MSRP: $206.99

Switch-Pros

Model 9100

SP9100Switch-Pros made a splash with its SP8100 debut at SEMA in 2015, winning the best new product award. Simply put, the revolutionary product, now in its second-generation SP9100 version, is a solid-state ‘smart’ power-distribution system. Switch-Pros’ product features eight circuits, half rated for 20 amps and the others at 35 amps. Its sealed weather-resistant panel measures a scant two inches by four inches and includes Bluetooth connectivity to give the 9100 both wired and wireless programming and operation. The 9100 can execute pre-programmed strobe, flash, momentary and master-slave functions, and has a built-in memory, automatic power-up, among its many included options. Backlighting on the second-generation product is RGB, offering the user literally any color he or she chooses.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 125 amps

Relays: Four solid-state circuits at 35 amps, four at 20 amps

Power connection: User-determined through control panel

Mounting point: User-determined (Mounts available for A-pillar and lower dash, along with a multipurpose option)

No. of switches: Eight

Max. accessories: Eight outputs

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: Yes

Main power line length: 11 feet

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: Yes

Low-voltage cutoff: Yes

Switch legends: Yes

Illuminated switches: Yes, with unlimited color options through app

MSRP: $549

Trigger ACS

4-Plus Solid-State Relay Switching System

Trigger Four-Switch ACSTrigger’s 4-Plus solid-state system eliminates any need to run wires through dashboards or firewalls, activating accessories via radio frequencies or the included Bluetooth module. An iPhone/Android app allows users to activate or deactivate accessories from outside the vehicle. The four-switch remote control attaches via a strong magnet, allowing it to be locked away for safe keeping when on the blacktop. Early adopters reported trouble with Bluetooth functionality, but Trigger has released a revision to that product to address the issue.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: N/A

Relays: Two solid-state circuits at 10 amps, two at 30 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery or ignition-switched

Mounting point: User-determined (Mounts available for A-pillar and lower dash, along with a multipurpose option)

No. of switches: Four

Max. accessories: Six

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: Yes

Main power line length: Eight feet

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Yes, rudimentary

Illuminated switches: No

MSRP: $230.97

6-Shooter Solid-State Relay Switching System

Trigger Six-ShooterExpanding upon their original solid-state product, the Six-Shooter offers six outputs on three circuits at five, 10 and 30 amps, respectively. Each is wirelessly triggered via radio waves for convenient no-wiring operation. A mobile app for Apple and Android platforms adds Bluetooth functionality for remote operation of accessory function from outside the vehicle.

Fuse/circuit-breaker rating: 100 amps

Relays: Two solid-state circuits at five amps, two at 10 amps, two at 30 amps

Power connection: Constant from battery or ignition-switched

Mounting point: User-determined (Mounts available for A-pillar and lower dash, along with a multipurpose option)

No. of switches: Six

Max. accessories: 24

Available gauges: No

Mobile app/Bluetooth: Yes

Main power line length: Yes

Over-temp protection: Yes

Over-current protection: N/A

Low-voltage cutoff: N/A

Switch legends: Yes, rudimentary

Illuminated switches: No

MSRP: $369.95

Finally, back on the air!

 

With the NASCAR race rained out and my Houston Texans losing to the cursed Patriots, I took advantage of the afternoon to install my new CB and Tuffy overhead console.

I’ll attempt a write-up in the near future, but for now, here are a few quick photos of my first real SWR check. Suffice it to say, I like the mount a lot, and I’m thrilled to have a working radio in the Jeep again!

First Look: Uniden Bearcat 980 SSB

I won’t have time to permanently install my new Uniden Bearcat 980 SSB until after Labor Day, but I couldn’t let that stop me from doing a quick temporary install to give it a try.

Here’s an initial report:

  • While there wasn’t a great deal of traffic the evening I tested it, I did hear a few signals that were quite clear, even at a distance.
  • The 980’s digital signal processing produces an incredibly crisp sound quality. Impressive.
  • From my driveway, I made a contact that measured less than a tenth of a mile shy of five miles. The other party reported my signal was strong, loud and clear. (That’s a barefoot radio and the stock mic, pushing out on a four-foot Wilson Silver Load fiberglass antenna.)
  • I have to keep the squelch up a little higher than I’d like, but since my temporary setup includes a coax coupler and keeping the hood up for battery access (both of which can affect reception, I’ll reserve judgment until final installation.
  • My SWRs, before any adjustment, range from 1.0 (Channel 1) to 1.5:1 (Channel 40).
  • I prefer a traditional dial to the 980’s digital stepped RF gain control.
  • Switching from night to day mode is a tiny bit cumbersome. The CB-only Bearcat 880 employs a simple button to toggle back and forth. The 980 adds single-sideband functionality, necessitating moving it into the menu. It’s not complicated, but it’s more than I’d like to do when the vehicle is potentially in motion.

Watch for more, coming soon!

One step closer …

Haven’t I been here already?

For the second time in as many months, a delivery service left a new CB on my doorstep today.

When I decided to utilize birthday gifts to replace my aging and cracking Cobra 75 WX ST all-in-one radio, I at first set my sights on the Uniden Bearcat 980 SSB. I recall my father tinkering with AM sideband while I was growing up, and I’d recently been inspired to pick back up on the amateur radio hobby I’d left behind after college. But, I couldn’t decide how to fit a full-size radio in a two-door Jeep JK, so I instead turned to Uniden’s allegedly bulletproof Pro line. My first CB was a Pro 510 XL, and it provided more than 20 years of trouble-free use.

The new Uniden, however, showed me a lot may have changed in 20 years. Gone were the crisp channel changes, as the new 520 XL I picked up would change frequencies unintentionally with the slightest twist of the dial. The real issue, though, came one night while I sat in my driveway trying to raise a contact.

At the alarming smell of smoke, I turned on the interior light and scanned for the telltale white indicator. I didn’t find any sign of trouble there or under the hood, though, and called it a night. The next day, I discovered my 520 no longer received or transmitted at anything resembling normal range.

Some experimentation revealed I couldn’t send or receive past about a half-mile, and the visual signal indicators dropped to zero anytime I installed a microphone. So, the three-week-old radio was quickly shipped back to the online retailer from whence it came.

Presented with this second chance, I decided to go with the unit I’d wanted in the first place, the feature-packed 980 SSB. It’ll be a little while before I’m able to make time to install this radio, but stay tuned for my initial impressions and installation in the not too distant future.