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Rig Review - What Worked and What Didn't in Colorado?

October 12, 2020.

There's no doubt about it, the truck worked pretty well on the Clear, Colorful, Colorado trip for the entirety of the two weeks. Heck, it even got me there and back on the highway - two 20+ hour drives straight, with a bunch of dirt thrown in-between.

So, without further ado, let's do a quick rundown of what worked well, and what could have been better.

Oil spray in engine bay (resolved)

TL;DR - seems to have resolved itself. The fluid was power steering fluid, I believe.

I still had bit of spray at the beginning of the trip. A quick inspection of the engine bay by everyone came to the conclusion that it was power steering fluid from when I removed the PS pump to replace the A/C compressor. We agreed that it was either: residual fluid that'd seeped into various crevice's and was leaking back out as the engine bay warmed up, or I didn't get the banjo bolt quite tight enough on the pressurized power steering line. By the end of the trip - having done nothing - no more fluid was being thrown around. I still plan to tighten the banjo bolt slightly.

The Drawer in the In-Cab Battery Cabinet Rattles (new)

TL;DR - I need to find a way to secure the drawer a little more securely in the cabinet to stop it from rattling.

The inside of the cab is remarkably quiet now that I've sound deadened everything. Because of that, I notice and am bothered by the drawer where I have many of my electronics installed, rattling in the drawer slide as I bump down rocky roads. It's obviously not a functional issue, so not of critical importance, but I'd like to find a way to reduce the rattle - somehow securing the drawer better to reduce vibration.

All Kinds of Problems with the CB Antenna (new, resolved)

TL;DR - The CB antenna basically pooped its pants. I've replaced it.

A couple days into the trip, my CB reception and transmission essentially stopped working. My SWR jumped to over 15. The problem - we discovered - was that the wire wrapped around the fiberglass shaft had come unsoldered from the base, essentially rendering the antenna 2" long. We were able to fix that on the trail - solving my problem in the short term - but then on the way home, a strong headwind broke the fiberglass portion of the antenna. Or rather, separated it from the metal base.

I've already ordered and received a replacement antenna (FireStik FL3-B w/adjustable tip) that will solve all the problems.

Ham Radio Antenna Getting Caught on Branches (long-term, resolved)

TL;DR - I got a new, shorter antenna. And it's great. Should have done this a long time ago.

One of the biggest problems with a ham radio antenna installed on the roof of the truck is that low-hanging branches catch it, and try to pull the NMO mount out of the thin sheet metal. The biggest issue is the coil that exists in many antennas - to increase length and improve reception. To solve the problem, I replaced my Diamond NR770HBNMO mobile antenna (a great antenna that I still plan to run on trips where trees aren't an issue) with a STI-CO ROOF-FT-NITI mobile antenna. This antenna is about half the length, has no coil, and is so flexible that it can be tied in a knot.

I ran this antenna for the entire trip, and my APRS beacons were just as plentiful as they've been with the Diamond. My reception - regularly the best in my group - continued to exceed that of the other setups. So yes, this antenna seems great, and I'll be using it any time I'm headed into wooded areas!

I should note: this antenna is tuned by trimming it to length. I've trimmed it to a length that is optimized for approximately 145MHz, since I primarily tune my Ham radio within the 2m range - using 144.390MHz for APRS and 146.520MHz for simplex communications. This is part of the reason I may continue to run the Diamond antenna in situations where I can. Doing so will allow me to take full advantage of the 420-450MHz (70cm) range.

My Headlights are Too Dim (long-term)

TL;DR - My forward facing lights suck - I need brighter headlights, at least.

I've not liked my headlights for a long time; they are extremely dim. I believe that part of this is inherent to '98-'00 Tacomas - they all seem to have low light output and no good aftermarket replacements. It also doesn't help that my bulbs are over 20 years old at this point - likely outputting only a fraction of the light that they did when new.

I've added Hella 700FF Driving Lights to the bumper to try and compensate for the headlights - and they've been great, especially since I made them come on automatically when the hi-beams are engaged. Still, I'd like more light out of the front of the truck, given the countless hours I spend driving at night - largely on the highway, getting to/from a destination.

Cooper ST/Maxx Tires (new, resolved)

TL;DR - I gouged a sidewall, and I need a new tire.

I've been running Cooper ST/Maxx tires for the last several years. They are a great tire, and I have yet to find a tire that I prefer, overall. Traction is excellent in a variety of terrains, road noise is low on the freeway, and while they are only available in a heavy, stiff, "E" load rating, there are no other tires at the size I use - 255/85R16 - that are available in lighter variants.

On this trip, I finally damaged a tire, by gouging a sidewall on Black Bear Pass. While I'm not happy I have to buy a new tire, this only increases my respect for the ST/Maxx - this is a large, deep gouge, and the tire continued to perform flawlessly through the remainder of the trip, as well as after being aired up for a 1000 mile trip home on the highway.

The CVT Roof Top Tent (long-term)

TL;DR - The tent is still great, but I've got some qualms with the tarp/cover - part of it is coming unstitched, and the zipper sucks whenever it gets dusty.

I won't go into all the reasons I like my CVT Mt. Shasta tent - there are many. On this last trip, two issues that have been simmering over time came to the forefront. First, the cover has some reinforced areas that keep the ladder on the top of the tent from rubbing through. One of those patches has started to come unstitched, and I'll need to re-sew it. Second - and more importantly - it is getting harder and harder to zip the cover when I've been in dusty terrain. This has happened for a while now. I'm 100% sure this is due to the fact that the dust gets onto the zipper and zipper mechanism, and causes friction. In the short term (last few trips) I've been able to blow forcefully into the zipper mechanism when this happens to "clear out" some of the dust, allowing the zipper to move again for a few more inches. Longer term, I need a better solution.

I feel like this problem - dust when camping - was predictable and could have been designed around. It's one of the great things about a GFC, and one of the things that worries me about GFCs new Superlite.

ADS 2.5" Coilovers with Remote Reservoirs (long-term)

TL;DR - I need limit straps to prevent the shocks from over-extending, which can lead to shock tower failure.

Ever since I installed the ADS Coilovers, I've liked them. They've been higher maintenance than previous setups I've used, but their performance has outweighed that maintenance in my opinion. One of the things that's been an issue from the beginning is that they seem slightly shorter than the shocks I've had installed previously - like maybe ½-inch shorter.

This length issue causes them to fully extend, making a clunking sound, more quickly than other shocks I've run. I initially tried to fix this issue by removing "preload" (which is really just lowering the resting height, preload isn't changed) in an earlier rig review. That has worked well, but there are still conditions where I get the clunking - especially if I'm going faster over terrain.

The problem - or potential problem - if I don't do anything about this situation, is that each time the coilovers "clunk," they are pulling down on the shock tower. This downward force is different than the normal force on the shock tower, and - I believe - is what causes shock tower failure similar to the one that the Redhead had on our 2019 trip to Colorado.

The solution is to install limit straps, and I'll be doing that soon. I've already received the ones I ordered.

Coleman Camp Stove/Grill (improvement)

TL;DR - after modifying the propane neck to use a flexible tube, I like the stove even more.

The Coleman Camp Grill/Stove has continued to work well from a cooking perspective. It is super convenient to have a burner and a grill in a single unit. My biggest complaint about it was that the propane bottle sat diagonally behind the unit when it was in use, requiring a bunch of room behind the unit - inconvenient if it was setup on a tailgate or shallow-depth table. In fact, it was the reason I gave up on a fold-down table for my swingout, because there was just no way to make it deep enough for the stove + propane bottle.

However, a recent modification to the neck has changed everything. The mod works so well - and allows so much flexibility in where the propane sits - that I can't believe this isn't the design from the factory. This is a tweak that I💯recommend everyone who has a propane stove - regardless of make or model - perform. You'll love it!

Seemingly solved from previous Rig Reviews

  1. The Ham Radio Antenna - solved as noted above.
  2. Oil Spray in the Engine Bay - solved itself. I hope.

Unchanged / Still an issue from previous Rig Reviews

There are some things that have been featured in Rig Reviews that are - as yet - unchanged from when I originally reviewed them. Rather than highlight those things again, I'll simply link to them here.

  1. Oil Leaking from Transfer Case - I haven't done anything about this yet, though I seem to be getting less leakage.
  2. The Windshield Has Seen Better Days - I plan to wait until summer to fix this, just so winter rocks, sand, etc. don't immediately destroy the new one.

 

Check out older Rig Reviews

2 Comments

  1. John
    John December 16, 2020

    Two things...the radio antenna problem is real for fixed mount applications and I didn't realize that when I bought magnetic mount antenna for my VHF and GMRS radios I was doing myself a huge favor. Now, when the terrain gets wonky and they tip over, I just mag mount them to the back of the cab until the trail clears. They're not in an ideal position for use but they still work and aren't getting bent over to the point of breaking.

    Second observation...well designed LED lamps from Baja Designs or the equivalent put out prodigious amounts of light in a small form factor with less load than a traditional bulb and make themselves worthy of their price point. With halogen headlights having a lifespan of <1000 hours, you should do yourself a huge favor and drop $30 on a new pair. If it's the housings going yellow or opaque, Rock Auto is your friend. Replacements are crazy cheap.

    This would be good in print. 😉

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 17, 2020

      Thanks John. I hear what you’re saying about the magnetic mounts, but I am a fan of the NMO mounts, since they’ve proven themselves over time in my set ups. A ham set up is measured by its ability to receive, and the antenna is the biggest part of that. The diamond antenna that I use gets amazing reception, and it is a fold down antenna, so it’s really just a laziness that results in it ever getting hit on the trail. That laziness would come back to bite me with the magnetic mount as well, which could get pulled off of the truck. I’m also not a huge fan of having the wire for the magnetic mount dangling out the window - just doesn’t seem “finished” given how often I’m on the trail!

      The short whip antenna I got is going to be great, and has also seem to work well on future trips. I don’t think I will run it all the time, but I will definitely be running everyone trips where I will be in trees.

      As for the headlights, I’m definitely aware of what Baja Designs and Diode Dynamics have on offer. Both seem to be great products and I’d especially likes set of the SS3 Max spots and SS3 selective yellow fogs. The biggest issue for me is price, since I’ve already had a set of lights that were mounted to my bumper destroyed by hitting a deer.

      However, I have some ideas in store for the headlight situation, and I’ll be posting more about that soon! 👍

      Lastly, I’m out on the trail right now, but I will shoot you an email when I return regarding how this would look in print. 😉

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