While no longer common place for the everyday driver, CB radios are a necessity for many off-road drivers and required equipment for many organized trail rides. This guide will address some common questions about choosing a CB for your vehicle, and some specific installation tips for off-roaders.
Choosing a CB Radio
One of the primary things to understand when choosing a CB radio is that the transmission power on all CB’s is limited to 4 watts by the FCC. This means that all CB ‘s are manufactured to meet this requirement; therefore, choosing a CB isn’t about the power, but choosing a radio that fits your vehicle.
CB’s come in many shapes and sizes, and while any CB will work, off-road vehicles often have limited cab space and need a CB that is functional while out of the way. Durability is also a key consideration. While many CB radios have extra bells & whistles, off-roaders tend to want radios that are simple and can withstand hard use.
Popular CB Radios for Off-Road Vehicles
One of the most popular CB radios for off road vehicles is the Uniden Pro 510 XL. This small, simple radio is has basic CB functions and is very resilient to vibration and dust. If you are looking for a few more features, such as PA (public address) capability, choose the Uniden Pro 520 XL for a few more dollars. Another popular CB for off-road vehicles, specifically Jeeps, is the Cobra 75 WX ST. This unique radio contains all the CB controls in the microphone and attaches to a small control box that is easily hidden. The Cobra 75 receives 10 NOAA weather stations, which is ideal for tracking weather conditions on multi-day trips.
Because CB radios are restricted to 4 watts of power, the CB antenna is the most important part of your CB setup. The quality and length of your CB antenna will be the primary factors in determining your CB’s range and performance.
There are two common types of CB antennas, fiberglass and magnetic. Most off-road drivers vehicles use fiberglass CB antennas, as they are more suited for trail use. The two fiberglass CB antennas that we recommend are the Firestik FS and Wilson Flex. Both antennas have tunable tips for matching the CB antenna to your vehicle (see “tuning your CB antenna” below), while each antenna has a unique design. The Wilson Flex antenna was created specifically for off road users who drive in areas with low hanging branches, brush, and other obstacles. As its name implies, the Wilson Flex antenna is able to bend 180 degrees without breaking. While the Flex is a great antenna, The Firestik FS is the most proven CB antenna on the market. The FS is a thicker antenna than the Flex, and without a spring, the antenna does not have the same range of flexibility. However, where the antenna lacks in flexibility, it makes up in performance and transmission range. The Firestik FS is made of quality components, and as a result, it gets consistently better range and signal than the Flex antenna. If you are looking for the best of both worlds, we recommend choosing a Firestik FS antenna along with an antenna spring.
For many Off-roaders, choosing a location to mount your CB antenna will be an easy task as companies such as Teraflex make Jeep JK, TJ, YJ, and CJ specific mounts. If you drive an FJ cruiser, you will want to look at the Bandi mount, designed by Bandi of FJcruiserforums.com. For the rest of us, there are many universal mounts that make attaching a CB antenna an easy task. When choosing a mounting location, you will need to choose a metal spot on the vehicle that is grounded to the chassis, or can be easily grounded. Some of the best places to mount a CB antenna are the hood rails, the bumper, the front or rear fender, inside the doorjamb, or to a vertical or horizontal bar. Specific mounts are made for each of these applications, and installation is relatively simple.
Installing a CB antenna onto an Off-Road vehicle
As I mentioned previously, off-road vehicles often present unique challenges when mounting a CB antenna. The central theme of most CB installation challenges is grounding. Having a solid ground is crucial, as the CB antenna uses the chassis of the vehicle to create a radio ground plane for sending and receiving CB signals. If your antenna mount is not properly grounded, your CB will have poor performance, and you run the risk of burning up components inside the radio. The two most problematic mounting areas on off-road vehicles are aftermarket bumpers and tailgates.
Mounting to an Aftermarket Bumper
ARB, All-Pro, and other aftermarket brands make great bumpers that are sought after by off-roaders. Many of these products even include a hole for mounting a CB antenna. Sincer the bumper is metal, and includes a designated spot for mounting a CB antenna, installation should be easy, right? Wrong. While most aftermarket bumpers are very functional and look great, the majority are powder coated and thus insulated from grounding to the vehicle. If you have a powder coated bumper or other CB mount, you will have to scrape off the coating in the areas where the CB antenna stud attaches to the bumper, and where the bumper attaches to the vehicle. Following this instruction will enable the CB signal to flow from the CB mount to the chassis of the vehicle, and perform properly.
Mounting to a Tailgate
Many Jeep and Land Cruiser drivers choose to mount their CB antenna to the spare tire carrier, which is located on the tailgate of the vehicle. While this is a great place to mount the antenna, you will want to be sure that the mount and spare tire carrier are both properly grounded, along with the tailgate to the body of the vehicle. Often, the hinges of the tailgate do not have good metal-to-metal contact, and the CB is only grounding to the tailgate of the vehicle, rather than the chassis. This can be a tricky problem, as your CB will indicate that it is grounded, but the performance will be poor. To solve this problem, you want to be sure there is metal to metal contact between the body of the vehicle and tailgate, or install a ground wire from the tailgate to the body.
Tuning your CB antenna
The final step in CB installation is tuning your CB antenna. Without getting too involved, CB antennas need to be adjusted to match each specific chassis and mounting location, as the ideal signal length from the CB to the antenna differs for every vehicle. While this process might sound daunting, it is actually quite simple. Using a standard or built in SWR meter, you will test the CB system and either raise or lower the length of the antenna (using the tunable tip until the SWR is at its lowest point. Tuning your antenna is important as it ensures peak performance of your CB and protects your equipment. For detailed instructions of how to tune your CB antenna, please see our CB antenna tuning guide.