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How to Use a CB Radio in Your Wrangler

Written By: Louis Orellana

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A CB radio is an excellent way of keeping in contact with your fellow Jeepers while out on the trail and away from any cell tower. Should any of you encounter trouble, a CB makes it easy to reach out to the rest of the convoy even when they're out of view.

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One of the great things of hitting the open trail with your Wrangler is the ability to get away from civilization for a while and unplug from today’s modern world. Unfortunately, some secluded trails do too good of a job when it comes to disconnecting you from civilization by eliminating any form of modern communication, like cell-phone coverage. Thankfully, CB radios are easy to install and use. In this information guide we’ll discuss the components of a CB radio, advantages and limitations when using CB radios, common methods of installation/use and what’ll you’ll need to properly install and setup a CB radio in your Wrangler.

What is a CB Radio and What Do I Need to Use One?

Originally started in the United State in the 1940’s, the Citizen Band (CB) radio was designed to be a short-range radio communication tool. Typically, the CB radio spectrum consists of 40-channels within the 27mhz (11m) band. The CB technology is different than other personal radio services like FRS, GMRS, MURS, UHF, and HAM. The CB transmission can only support one transmission at a time and receipts of messages must wait for the transmission to complete and for the channel to open before submitting a reply. In addition, considering the short-range capability, CB radio use doesn’t require a license to operate. The transmission, however, isn’t encrypted and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

CB radios come in the form of a portable hand-held unit, powered by battery or a stationary radio that is hard-wired to the Jeep and powered by the Jeep’s electrical system. Both options require an antenna used to transmit and receive the CB radio signals. Components like the length and tunability of the antenna, along with the power capability of the CB radio, will help determine the radio’s range capability. The environment also has an impact on range, with densely forested areas often blocking radio signals, opposed to open flat landscapes with little to no obstructions.

In addition to the CB radio and antenna, a good grounding wire and SWR meter are helpful when tuning and optimizing the CB radio signal. The grounding wire should be attached to the Jeep’s chassis on one end and the CB radio antenna mounting post on the other end. An SWR meter is then connected to the system and the antenna’s tip is adjusted in accordance with the SWR meter readings.

There are also optional items like quick-disconnect or spring mounting posts for the antenna, that will allow for quick removal and storage of the antenna when not in use.  In addition, optional external speakers are used for optimal clarity in noisy environments. Depending on your preference of radio, there are also a variety of mounting solutions available for both portable hand-held models and hard-wired CB radios.

What are Some Advantages and Limitations of a CB Radio?

The CB radio’s major advantage is ease of use, installation, and portability. Modern hand-held CB radios often offer similar range capabilities and advantages of hard-wired radios. The versatility and ability to use a hand-held CB radio while on the trail, allows you to use the radio outside of the Jeep, while hiking on a trail, or at a campsite. 

As mentioned earlier, the CB radio’s major disadvantage is range and the variety of things that can affect it. CB range can be anywhere from 1 to 15 for mobile units and over 20 miles for base stations. The terrain between the communication points plays a big factor when it comes to range. Obstructions like dense forests, buildings, mountains/hills, power stations/lines all affect CB radio transmission. In addition to terrain, equipment quality and tuning can also contribute to the success/failure of range. Larger tunable antennas that are properly grounded and positioned correctly on your Jeep will have greater range. Typically, hard-wired CB radios can produce more power for a greater overall range, when compared to smaller battery-powered hand-held portable radios. 

In addition to range, sound quality can also be limiting when using CB radios. To help correct this issue, some CB radios come equipped with an additional external speaker. A speaker or headphone can also be added to portable units. Positioning the speaker along the top roll cage of the Jeep will help ensure the best sound coverage while in noisy areas or situations. It’s also important to note that as the range diminishes, so does the sound quality. Often breaking up with static or drops in sound, the increase in distance can lead to poor overall sound and communication.

What You’ll Need to Properly Install a CB Radio on Your Jeep

Antenna: One of the most important components of a CB radio is the antenna and positioning of the antenna. Ideally the longer the antenna you can install and the highest position you can place it in, the better your overall reception and range will be. As a general rule of thumb, you should have at least half of the antenna above the Jeep’s roof-line or one-third at a minimum. 

Some common areas to mount an antenna on a Jeep are the spare tire mount, taillight, front bumper or hood/fender. In addition to the mounting location, it’s also important to properly ground the antenna to the Jeep’s chassis. If the mounting bracket is powder-coated, the paint will need to be removed and the antenna properly grounded to bare metal. Once properly grounded and installed, the antenna will use the Jeep’s metal chassis to help with the transmission and receiving of radio signals. Finally, the quality of the antenna is also important. Brands like Firestik are among the most commonly used and offer a tunable tip that is required during installation.

CB radio: When it comes to CB radios, the two most popular and recognizable brands are Uniden and Cobra. CB radios like the Cobra 75 WX ST are portable hand-held units that can be hard-wired to a stationary antenna mounted to your Jeep. This offers the advantages of portability, while also retaining the ability of using a large antenna for optimal range. The Uniden 510 is a traditional hard-wired CB radio that offers a good mix of options and power that is unique to a hard-wired radio.

Coax cable: The cable connecting the antenna to the CB radio is often an overlooked, but important piece of the overall system. A good quality and properly routed coax cable should be able to hold up in harsh weather conditions without rusting or tearing up. 

SWR meter: If you live next to a Truck/RV shop that offers CB Radio tuning, you should use them to help assist with the tuning of your CB radio. If you would like to tune your CB radio yourself, you’ll need an SWR meter. A Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) meter measures how well your radio transmits a signal. These meters are fairly inexpensive, and it is always good practice to routinely check and adjust your CB radio’s transmission signal. The SWR meter is easy to use and the antenna’s adjustability tip is easy to adjust for optimal signal coverage.

Should I Use a CB Radio in My Wrangler?

CB radios should be considered a necessary tool when hitting the trail. They offer a reliable form of communication in areas with little to no cell phone coverage. Most Jeep owners and rescue vehicles commonly use CB radios as their primary source of communication while on the trail, allowing you to reach someone in the case of an emergency. CB radios also offer a good form of entertainment while on the road as you become familiar with the formats, dialogue, and commonly used terms. Overall CB radios are a fairly inexpensive must-have modification for your Jeep if you plan on doing any type of off-roading.

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