Over the past several months, there have been several articles published within this very forum, describing subscriber's personal mobile installations. Too many of these have depicted mounting positions that are far from safe, or convenient. In addition, comments made in the Mobile Forum would further indicate a lack of understanding of the basic safety rules all of us should be following.
Part of the issue is finding a convenient place which doesn't require drilling holes, or at least ones which can't be easily seen when the vehicle is traded. As a result, amateurs get very clever and resourceful, but in the mean time they forget a few important prerequisites. The biggies here are, safety, distraction, and convenience; and each of these are intrinsically intertwined.
For all practical purposes, every installation is different albeit there are common threads. For example, we need to supply power to them, they need an antenna connected, and they need a microphone. Some are remotable, but that fact doesn't mean they always are. Rather than cover each of these necessities, I'll cover just one facet; mounting methodology.
On my web site is a Photo Gallery containing some 500 photos. The majority of these depict installs by amateurs other than my own. It is by no means complete, and for good reason. To date, I have received just over 1,400 photos (>500 MB) from all over the world. I have hosting space to display them all, but I have chosen not to do so because far too many violate even basic safety rules. One even shows an Icom IC-706 mounted in the center of the SRS-equipped steering wheel! Hopefully, once you read what's here, you'll have a better understanding of the dos and don'ts.
If there is one location to absolutely avoid, it is the top of the dash! Depending on the vehicle in question, and the seating arrangement, the passenger SRS (airbag) will almost touch the steering wheel. This fact virtually eliminates the dash top as a mounting location. Yet, you see all manner of amateur radios, cellphones, clip boards, and GPS units mounted within reach of the airbag.
Just for the record, these so-called airbags aren't full of air. Their contents include cornstarch, glass particles, nitrogen, potassium nitrate, silicon dioxide, sodium azide (a Class A explosive, and a dangerous, carcinogenic inhalant), sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydroxide, talcum powder, and several different oxides. Ranging from benign to hazardous, these chemicals are involved in exploding the air bag (typically made of nylon) in less than 200 milliseconds. That's about 200 mph! Anything mounted in their path will be torn away and cast asunder.
Digressing for a moment. In one of my previous articles, I mentioned that there had been one confirmed, and one suspected death caused by a flying mag mount which dislodged as a result of a crash. One poster actually said he thought this was pretty good odds. I bet the person who got hit wouldn't agree, and you might not agree about the airbag scenario either. If you don't, just remember the old cliche; forewarned is forearmed.
Almost every OTR truck you see has a CB radio mounted in or on an overhead console. Typically, the microphone cord dangles within the driver's field of vision which can be a major distraction. Some might justify the position by stating that truckers only use channel 19, so they don't have to look at the radio very often. However, this isn't the case with amateur radio, even if we're speaking about channelized FM frequencies. Yes, the microphone can be remoted, or perhaps Bluetooth connectivity can be used, but the fact remains it is an inordinate, and distractive mounting position when compared with the lower dash area.
Probably just as important is the way we attach our radio gear. If you have to resort to double-sided sticky tape, magnets, Velcro, wedged in blocks of wood, and similar antics, you haven't thought long enough.
I recently critiqued an install which used a shaped block of wood wedged into a cup holder hole. In the bottom of the hole was a rubber protector. Had he thought about it, he could have removed the rubber piece, and screwed the mount to the bottom of the hole. Come trade it time, the protector is replaced, and no one is the wiser! Or, he could have used one of the many gooseneck mounts which use one of the seat rail bolts. Either way, it's a lot more secure, and a lot harder to steal!
Here are a few other don'ts. If you use a remotable radio, don't mount the main unit under the rear package shelf, as this is one of the hottest places in a vehicle that's parked in the sun. This goes for the various storage areas and rear cubby holes found in most vans and SUVs. This is especially important with respect high powered radios. If there isn't constant air flow through the area, you should find a better spot.
Another poor mounting place is the extra DIN slot some vehicles have. What little air flow there is, typically comes from the floorboard heater ducts. Fact is, I've seen installations where the plastic trim around the slot has deformed due to excessive heat from a transceiver.
If you remove seats in an effort to mount radios under them, remember this: Most front seats contain side impact sensors, side SRS devices, and rear passenger frontal SRS devices. In some vehicles, disconnecting the requisite wiring will cause the SRS electronics to send an error code to the EOBDII (Extended, On-Board Diagnostics, Mandate 2), which may or may not turn on the Check Engine light. Most service manuals will explain how to R&R almost anything on a vehicle, and how to avoid the aforementioned problems. The manuals are usually less than $100, and a worthwhile investment any way you look at it. Remember too, it doesn't matter if you disconnect the battery, because all SRS controllers have their own back up power.
Watch the cords! However you route the various cables, keep them clear of the controls, and other moving parts. If you do use an under the seat mounting position, make sure the wiring clears the seat mechanisms.
When routing any wiring, don't use stick on wire clips. Those things aren't very secure to begin with, and once the interior heats up on a summer day, they pop loose with predictable results. If you use TyRaps, use the UV protected ones.
Here's a few dos. Try to find a place where a downward glance will place the radio is full view. Any place lower than 30 degrees below horizontal might be too much, especially if you wear bifocals. This may require purchasing a ready-made mount, like the gooseneck one I mentioned above.
If you use an Icom IC-7000, and your vehicle has a Navi, think about one of these TVandNav2Go. They even have an input for a backup camera, or second video source.
Whatever mounting methodology you use, try to find one where your arm can rest on the console while your hand rests on the radio's controls. If you do as much mobile operation as I do, you'd already know why this is an important point.
Keep ancillary equipment to a minimum. There is no reason to have a wattmeter/SWR bridge permanently attached to an FM radio. However, you'd think it was a prerequisite especially if you've visited my Photo Gallery. If you have to have one, and you have multiple radios, then buy one with more than one remote sensor.
If your HF radio's SWR display is too small to read, then pull over to change bands. After all, keeping an eye on a SWR bridge and the road, (no matter how big the meter face is) can be difficult at best.
The biggest "do" of all? Take you time planning and installing your radio gear, no matter what it is. And, remember the seven Ps!
Alan Applegate, KBG