Before you got into four-wheel driving or trucking, you probably thought that only semi drivers and serious truckers were the ones using CB radios.
Although an older form of communication for people on the go, the CB radio is still in use today and is a practical and safe way to keep yourself connected when you’re on the road less traveled.
The CB radio isn’t just about giving your location when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, but it can also provide useful updates on weather, a tracking tool for people you’re traveling with, communication between others in your group, and up to date information on the conditions of the road or trails you’re on.
How do you install a CB radio on your 4WD or truck, though?
Installing a CB radio is easy enough to do on your own, but you first need to decide on the best mounting location and the type of setup you want.
With virtually hundreds of options out there to choose from, having a basic understanding of how these radios work for 4WD drivers will give you the best chance of finding the right one.
Once you’ve found your dream CB radio, learning how to install it is a breeze. You can decide where you want to put it and what you’ll use it for, and then there’s just a few simple tools and some know-how needed to get it all together.
With our help, your 4WD will be equipped with a practical and easy to use communication device that you can use from wherever you go.
What is a CB Radio?
A CB radio stands for citizens band radio and it’s a device used for short-distance communication between individuals.
The land mobile radio system works with two-way radios that operate on 40 channels on a high-frequency band, and are often found attached in vehicles that travel long distances like semi-trailers, trucks, and four-wheel drives.
The range of a CB radio is an important feature to consider when shopping for one of these devices, as you’ll need it to reach far enough to allow you to communicate with others.
In the United States, a standard CB radio has a range of between three and 20 miles, with factors like terrain and line of sight impacting how strong the signal is.
According to the law, all CB radios must work with the same four watts of power, so looking at this feature alone won’t do you much good.
Instead, you need to consider their size, range capability, antenna length, and other features to determine whether they’re going to be enough power for your needs.
What Are CB Radios Used for Today?
The notion of a CB radio might seem outdated or only suitable for those driving semi-trailers over long distances, however, they’re common in many domestic vehicles today.
All kinds of people use CB radios for communication, including 4WD owners and people driving campers, and there are lots of ways you can put them to good use:
Vehicle to vehicle communication
When you’re traveling with a group of people, another car, or just looking for general chatter with another motorist, you’ll be glad you have your CB radio.
They make an easy way to keep in touch with others in your group so that nobody gets lost, and also to break up some of the boredom and time spent driving long distances.
Driving on the road or off-roading can be dangerous when the weather makes a sharp turn, and having access to up to date information with your CB radio is a must.
There are several weather channels you can dial into in various locations that give up to date information on extreme weather warnings and general forecasts.
There are several things that can go wrong when driving in the middle of nowhere and having the ease of communication that a CB radio offers can be lifesaving.
When you’re in distress and with no cell service, a CB radio can make emergency contact and get assistance from the various emergency services and local volunteers who listen out for calls.
A CB radio can give you access to information about traffic conditions, which can be especially helpful in areas where cell service is lacking.
There are countless stations available that offer these types of updates, or you can listen out for other drivers giving updates about what they’re experiencing.
What Parts Are in a CB Radio?
If you’re brand new to the world of CB radio, you might be tempted to buy a complete kit and be done with it. However, most CB enthusiasts will tell you that you’re better off assembling the important pieces separately so you can be sure that they’re the best quality.
These are the basics you’ll need for your new CB radio setup:
- CB radio: When you purchase a CB radio, it’ll come with the mounting bracket used to attach to your car, the power cord needing to run it, and a microphone for speaking into.
- CB antenna: The antenna is considered the most important part of the setup, even more than the radio itself, so take your time when choosing one to make sure it’ll get the best signal.
- CB antenna mount: Depending on where you want to attach the CB radio and antenna to your car, you’ll need a mount to do so. There are some types of antenna, like a magnet mount, that requires no bracket as it attaches magnetically, so this will depend on what you’ve chosen.
- SWR meter: This device helps you to tune the radio once it’s been installed and ensures you get the best signal. Without a correct tuning of the antenna, the device will be useless, and might even do serious damage to the radio.
- Coax cable: Many antennas come with an included coax table that connects the device to the CB radio. Be sure to check whether or not this is the case, otherwise, you’ll need to purchase one of adequate length.
Choosing a Mounting Location
Where you mount your CB radio on the 4WD or other vehicle will be paramount to how successful communication is with it.
There are a few popular options for placement, but ultimately it depends on the type of vehicle you have, where you feel most comfortable, and what type of signal you hope to receive. In general, the basic rules are:
- A longer antenna will be able to reach a better signal, so find one that’s got the best height.
- A higher-quality brand will offer better performance in most cases, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars to kit out your 4WD.
- The higher on the vehicle you can mount the CB radio, the better quality signal you’ll get. The best placement is having half of it above the line of the roof where possible.
These are some of the common placement options for a CB radio. You’ll have to determine what is best for your vehicle, so check out what each of them offers.
Center of the roof
Regardless of what type of vehicle you’re driving, the best position in most cases is to mount the antenna in the middle of the roof.
Not only does this give you the highest location with minimal interference, but it will receive signals from all directions and give the best signal strength. Better still, you can use a simple magnet mount setup that takes a lot of the headache out of installation.
A toolbox mount is popular with pickup trucks but can be used by 4WDs as well if there’s one in place and it’s been firmly secured to the vehicle.
A fiberglass antenna is best because of their durability, but it has to be placed around ½ a length above the roofline for the best signal and preferably on the driver’s side, otherwise the cab of the truck will block transmissions.
The stakehole of a truck is a good place to mount your CB radio, especially if you don’t have a toolbox available.
This square space can be fitted with a mount to suit it exactly, and it’ll get good clearance for signals. The best placement is fitting it on the driver’s side as this will give you the best reception.
Installing an antenna on your bumper seems common with some rookies, but it’s the lowest point on the car and therefore the one with the worst reception.
A bumper mounted antenna is blocked immediately by the vehicle in front of it and it prevents a lot of signals from being sent and received, so should be avoided.
The hood mount is a popular choice for pickup and 4WD drivers as it has a clean look and still gets a good signal.
The best option for this is a fiberglass mount as it’s more durable, but whatever you choose, make sure at least a third of the antenna is located above the roofline.
Dual antenna mount
This setup is where you have two antennas installed on the vehicle. When installed correctly, they’ll have a significant effect on your radio’s performance, as well as looking cool, too.
Two antennas will increase the range in some directions but won’t always work for every type of car, and can be expensive.
How to Install a CB Radio on Your 4WD
With the right CB radio chosen and all of the tools and parts ready to go, you can now get ready to install your system. Follow these basic steps to see how it’s done, but always consult the instruction manual of your CB radio for the most accurate advice.
- Get into the driver’s seat of your car and look down to find a suitable place for the CB radio. You should be able to see it clearly and be able to reach the unit from where you are.
- Mount the chosen antenna onto the spring and then the spring onto the magnet mount. Make sure the location isn’t blocked by any other parts and that it’s cleared about half of its length from the roofline.
- Connect the coaxial cable of the CB radio to the antenna and then the ground wire to a metal part. Check the length of the cable to see that it’s straight and fully connected.
- Connect the microphone part that comes with the radio to the unit.
- Take off the necessary panels of your car’s dash that allow you access to the power supply. Connect the red+ wire of the CB radio to the red+ wire of the power plug in the car using a wiretap crimp.
- Crimp the end of the black- wire of the bolt onto a metal screw found on the vehicle’s body panel to give it power. Replace all of the panels so everything is back in place and check that the power connection is working.
Tuning and SWR
With your system correctly mounted and the antenna in place, you might think you’re ready to go. However, CB radio antennas need to be tuned before you can use them, so you can get the correct SWR or standing wave ratio.
Without this, you could seriously affect how strong your broadcast signal and ultimately make the whole system obsolete if done wrong.
To tune your radio will depend on the type of CB setup you have, and you’ll need to follow its instructions for the correct steps.
However, the easiest way is usually with an SWR meter, coaxial cable, and somewhere to take notes about the readings and make adjustments. This is a process that takes time and patience, but when you do it correctly it shouldn’t have to be done again for a long time.
Costs and Considerations
Installing a CB radio is a relatively easy process, but if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, there are communication specialists who can help with the process. This will cost extra to do though, so expect to spend a few hundred dollars extra to have it professionally installed and tuned.
A quality CB radio complete with all of the other parts needed, including a good antenna, should cost no more than a few hundred dollars when you shop around.
When you purchase a radio, it might already come with an antenna, but the quality of these is sometimes lacking. Be prepared to spend extra to get better quality parts, ensuring the best signal strength and capabilities for your radio.
Once properly installed and with a radio unit chosen from a reputable brand, these devices can last for decades.
If you’re someone who regularly goes four-wheel driving or spends large amounts of time on the road, it’s a critical piece of gear that’s not only practical but has the ability to save your life someday.
A CB radio might seem like an outdated device, but it’s something that many 4WD owners and other road enthusiasts still rely on.
If you’ve got a 4WD or truck and have been considering adding the power and practicality of a CB radio to your vehicle, check out some commonly asked questions and their answers for more information.
Do Truckers Still Use CB Radios?
As many truck drivers who have been working in the industry for years prefer to use the CB radio as their method of communication, it remains a popular choice.
However, there are other ways they can communicate these days, namely with a cell phone, but due to the poor reception in areas that they commonly travel, the CB radio is still the most reliable.
How Do I Increase the Range of My CB Radio?
A CB radio can only be as powerful as the antenna it’s connected to, so looking at this part first is the best idea.
To extend the range of your radio, you can raise the antenna higher so it’s able to get a better signal, which should improve the quality of communications. If the antenna can’t reach any further, you may need to tune it again or invest in a longer antenna.
Can A CB Radio Talk to a Walkie Talkie?
Although it might seem that you should be able to use a walkie talkie to communicate with a CB radio, it won’t work in most cases.
The CB radios work on a different frequency and have been designed to only work with other CB radios, so any attempts to speak to someone from a walkie talkie will be pointless, as the transmission will not be heard.