I hate to have problems when I'm on the road, so I try to identify and resolve minor problems before they grow into big problems. Good instrumentation is critical to identifying and resolving problems big and small. Ever wonder why airplanes have so many gauges? Pilots don't like to be guessing about how the planes systems are functioning.
The factory gauges are all computerized, which means that you are seeing what Dodge wants you to see. For instance, my factory oil pressure gauge stays on 0 psi for a few seconds after I start the engine, and then goes to about 60 psi and stays there. This is simply not the true oil pressure. My Auto Meter oil pressure gauge shows me the true oil pressure which can be as low as 10 psi with a hot idling engine. I don't want to see a pretty picture, I want to see the true picture.
Another concern I had with the factory gauges is that if a fault develops with the factory gauges, there is a possibility of losing all of the factory gauges. This would make it almost impossible to diagnose and solve problems. My Auto Meter gauges each work independently.
When I'm driving, I'm constantly scanning my gauges too see that temperatures and pressures are in the normal range. If I'm pulling a steep grade, I will see the EGT (exhaust Gas Temperature) approach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Shortly afterward, the engine coolant temperature will rise to about 210 degrees Fahrenheit, the Horton fan clutch will engage, and if it is a hot day or long grade, the oil temperature will begin to climb above 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If any of the temperature go higher than normal, I can let off of the accelerator to reduce EGT, manually engage the Horton fan if it isn't already engaged, or pull over and let things cool down.
By removing the factory ashtray and cup holders from the dash, I had plenty of space to install a gauge and switch panel that I built from scratch. I started with quarter inch aluminum plate, used a hole saw for the gauge cutouts, and had the panel anodized black. The panel contains Auto Meter gauges for oil temperature and pressure, automatic transmission temperature, engine coolant temperature, exhaust gas temperature, turbo boost temperature, alternator voltage, auxiliary air pressure and auxiliary fuel level. The panel has switches for air compressor master shutoff, locking differentials, manual Horton fan clutch engagement and fuel transfer. I installed a key lockout switch so I won't accidentally engage the air lockers or hit the fuel transfer switch. Indicator lights display the status of the individual switches.
I did an incredible amount of wiring and electrical work on my truck. Gauges, fog lights, driving lights, air compressor, auxiliary fuel pump, horton fan clutch, battery isolator, air locker solenoids, seats, stereo amplifier, camper batteries, AC inverter... the list goes on and on. I was hoping to find someone to wire and install all of the electrical components, but ended up doing the work myself. This is definitely the time to be meticulous. I don't think there is anything more annoying (and potentially dangerous) than problems caused by poor wiring and connections. I soldered all of my connections, ran the wiring through split loom plastic tubing, used waterproof connectors whenever possible, and carefully planned all wire routing. I'm please to say - with only one exception - all of my electrical installations performed flawlessly on my Alaska expedition.
My tips for reliable electrical installations:
- Use high quality wire of the appropriate gauge (West Marine has a great selection of high quality wire)
- Color code wires and be consistent
- Use fuses and circuit breakers on everything
- Use weather proof shrink wrap
- Solder all connections
- Run wires through plastic split loom conduit
- Wire tie everything in place
- Keep wiring away from hot items and moving parts
- Use LED indicators, they're more reliable than regular bulbs and draw less current
- Use Molex connectors so components can be removed without cutting wires
What I monitor
- ATF (automatic transmission fluid) temp (Auto Meter gauge)
- engine oil temp(Auto Meter gauge)
- engine coolant temp (Auto Meter gauge)
- EGT (exhaust gas temp) (Auto Meter gauge and pyrometer)
- tire (SmarTire wireless monitoring system)
- turbo boost pressure (Auto Meter mechanical gauge)
- engine oil pressure (Auto Meter gauge)
- auxiliary air pressure (Auto Meter mechanical gauge)
- tire pressure (SmarTire wireless monitoring system)
- auxiliary fuel level (Auto Meter gauge)
- distance traveled
- distance to destination
- estimated time of arrival
- VMG (velocity made good)
- average speed
I use Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges exclusively, and I've been very happy with them. They look great, are very high quality, and I have not had any failures with Auto Meter gauges or sending units.
SmarTire wireless tire monitoring system
The SmarTire wireless tire pressure and temperature monitoring system works well. Sensors are installed in each wheel that transmit tire pressure to a dash mounted receiver. If any tire pressure falls below a preset limit, or if the tire temperature exceeds a preset limit an alarm is sounded. The temperature function is also useful for monitoring for a sticking brake, or overheating bearing. On a sunny day, I can actually see which tires are in the sunlight since they will be running 5 - 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter!
I fasten the SmarTire receiver on my dash with Velcro. I can easily remove it and store it in my Tuffy security box when parked to remove the temptation for potential thieves.
When I had a flat on a remote road in Alaska, I probably would have driven a while before noticing the flat tire, but the SmarTire system alerted me immediately. I had problems with a couple of tire shops that were afraid of damaging the sensors and refused to change my tires. Sears in Anchorage sold me new tires but wouldn't install them. This really isn't a big deal, but some shops need a little hand holding.
Garmin GPS III Plus portable GPS
I can't say enough good things about the Garmin GPS III Plus, this thing is simply amazing. Buying a Garmin GPS III+ was one of the best investments I made. I attach my Garmin GPS III+ to the dash of my truck with Velcro, so I can easily remove it for hikes and boat trips as well as keep it out of view of potential thieves when parked. I always know exactly where I am, how fast I am going, and the time and distance to my next destination. The GPS III+ is small enough to be taken hiking and on boat trips, and provides a wealth of information. I bought my Garmin GPS III+ over a year and a half ago and as near as I can tell, it's still the best hand held GPS on the market. Be sure to get the 12 volt cigarette lighter adapter for use in your truck, since you'll only get about eight hours out of a set of four fresh AA alkaline batteries.
I tried a very expensive Magellan GPS 100 Satellite Communicator that was supposed to enable me to send and receive email from anywhere on the planet. The Magellan GPS had difficulty picking up satellites, had no map and the communicator simply didn't work in many locations, especially in the northern parts of Alaska. This thing was junk, and after much haggling, Magellan finally took it back for a full refund.