Friday, July 31, 2015

2016 Colorado Diesel Feature on Expedition Portal

Rumored to produce 34 mpg with a tow rating of 7,700 lbs; this little truck stands alone.

The upcoming 2016 Duramax powered Colorado will hopefully set the bar for other domestic  vehicle manufacturers. We could definitely use more compact diesel off road vehicles in here in the United States. You can view the full article on ExPo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015 Mercedes G500 4x4²

2015 Mercedes G500 4x4²

In January of 1886, Karl Benz with significant help from his wife Bertha Benz, created the World’s first automobile. Two years later Mercedes-Benz was born and the first internal combustion powered cars were available for sale. In 1896, Karl Benz was awarded a second patent for his latest invention: the “flat-engine”, also know as the boxer or horizontally opposed engine. From winning the first ever automobile race in 1894, to producing the first electric automobile in 1906, Mercedes-Benz continues to prove itself as an avante-garde in the industry in which it created. This forward thinking stands out to this day. Enter the Mercedes-Benz G 500 4x4².

Unlike most of MB’s understated AMG hotrods, the G 500 4x4² stands out like an exposed carpet tack. Even if you are unfamiliar with the G-Wagen you can tell something sinister is afoot. Visually, the Portal axles betray the otherwise subtle cues that MB worked so hard to tastefully blend into the package -cues such as the carbon fiber fender flare extensions, G 63/65 front bumper, or the LED lights that sit poised atop the corners of the windshield.

Looks would be nothing without the power to back it up. The direct injected, 4.0 l biturbo engine produces a strong 422 hp and 450 lb/ft of torque. Twin side exhaust pipes eliminate the rear muffler while providing a spot more ground clearance. MB intentionally created a throaty exhaust system that crescendos in intensity as the needle approaches redline. The cacophony of 8 cylinders firing in time is menacing enough to make sports car drivers think twice at traffic lights.

The additional 9.45 inches of ride height afforded by the Portals provides a total ground clearance of 17.72 inches. That’s more than enough clearance to pass over a cinder block standing on end without a scratch! At each corner you will find twin rally sport inspired shocks controlling the additional heft at each wheel while keeping the Portals in check. From the cockpit the driver can cycle through shock valving adjustments in as little as 15 milliseconds.

Passengers who successfully summit the high door sills will find themselves rewarded with the incredible comfort that Mercedes-Benz is known for -in spades. The seat bolsters, headrests, door armrests, center console and dash are adorned in white-stitch accented, black leather. The beautiful seats also receive diamond stitching and DINAMICA microfibre a material that is reproduced on the roof and body pillars.

Make no doubt about it, the Mercedes-Benz G 500 4x4² may be the little brother of the mighty G63 Brabus 6x6 but it certainly has learned to hold its own at the table. With any hope, MB will turn this concept into reality and make some lucky (and wealthy) few happy.

18” beadlock wheels -off road
37/12.50/18 MT tires -off road
22” wheels -on road
325/55/22 tires -on road
39.37 inches of water fording
52* approach angle / 54* departure angle
69.84 inch track width
112.20 inch wheelbase -same as standard G-Wagen
88.58 inches from ground to crown of roof
stainless steel skid plates

Monday, May 11, 2015

Electrical Issues Part II

In the last installment we looked at some reasons why it is important to isolate auxiliary wiring from your vehicle's main harness. We also touched base on safe methods of doing so. In this post we will cover one method of adding an aftermarket fuse panel (in this case a Blue Sea model #5029). We chose to go the custom route.

Here is a list of items used to install the fuse panel in our 2012 Jeep JK 2 door.

  1. 1 sheet of 16ga weld steel from Lowes 8"x24"
  2. 1 Blue Sea fuse panel part #5029
  3. Electric angle grinder and cutting disc (Harbor Freight)
  4. Cordless drill and 0.25" drill bit
  5. Template for bracket (DIY)
  6. Rattle can car primer
  7. Rattle can high temp gloss black paint (I prefer satin but already had the gloss)
  8. 1/4" ratchet and 10mm shallow socket
  9. 8ga wire x 1'.
  10. 2 8ga ring terminals
  11. Wire crimpers
  12. Heat shrink tubing and small torch
  13. 1 Sheet of 120 grit sandpaper to clean up the rough edges
  14. Hardware to mount the fuse panel to the bracket

I didn't photograph the cutting of the bracket as it seemed a bit self explanatory. I used the drill bit described above for the mounting holes and cut the rest out with the angle grinder. I could have also used a jigsaw and a metal blade to make the cuts. The grinder is much easier to handle on such a small piece as jigsaws tend to push materials around the bench. You could use the mounting holes to secure the steel to a large piece of plywood in order to hold it still while you trim it. I recommend 1/4" plywood to do this as thicker pieces may make cutting curves more difficult. Either method works fine, just be careful, cut slow, and keep clothing and body parts away from power tools.

Oops! It looks like I leaned against the passenger side driving light. I ran two different lights up front, the driver side is a spot beam and the passenger side is a driving light. This permits a little of both worlds without taking up extra space.

The 45* notch above the fender mounting holes was made to clear the factory plastic mount. For cleanliness and to make a modification truly reversible, modify accessories around the vehicle rather than vice-versa. 

I designed the bracket to line up with the fender, and contoured the fuse panel on the other side. Small details like this are easy to produce and can make a simple job look more professional.

Above you can see the reason for the notch. The bracket rests gently against the right side of the plastic bracket thus adding a bit of additional support. 

Here you can see how the bracket contours the fuse panel. 

Close-up shot of the panel and bracket installed.

Cover installed.

Overall, I'm pleased with how it turned out. I may have change a few things if I am ever inclined to make another.

As you can see here, there is at least 5/8" of clearance between the bracket and the factory battery -more than enough to keep the bracket from making contact with the battery while traveling off road.

With the bracket and fuse panel installed, next task: create a harness for the accessories then wire everything in. Stay tuned for Part III....


Friday, May 1, 2015

ARB Remote Fridge Monitor

Click image above to see official product release on ARB's webpage.

The ARB fridge-freezer is arguably one of the overlander’s best friends. Freedom from ice replenishment duties, perfect chardonnay temps to convince your wife to come along for the trip, or perhaps it’s simply your turn to bring the beer. Whatever your reason, a fridge-freezer is very rewarding and useful luxury item.

One of the pitfalls to carrying a fridge inside the confines of a vehicle are the inconsistent ambient temperatures it faces. At times you may find yourself chugging along at highway speeds with the windows up and the A/C blowing and other times your engine is off and the fridge is baking in the sun. To make matters worse, fridge-freezers are almost never mounted in a convenient location to monitor the temperature display effectively. So what’s an overlander to do?

Until now, you were forced to check the temperature reading in between fuel stops or upon arriving at camp. That’s where ARB’s new Remote Fridge Monitor comes into play. This slick piece of kit wirelessly transmits information to a small backlit display mounted in the cab of your vehicle. Information is fed to the receiver via an easily mounted wireless transmitter. You now have the ability to monitor compressor usage, internal temps and voltage all within the comfort of the drivers seat. And if you find yourself with two fridges, you can monitor the second fridge by purchasing an additional transmitter. At only $80 USD, it’s a steal!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Uro-Camper on Expedition Portal

I was fortunate enough to have another article featured on Expedition Portal. This time it is a company profile of Uro-Camper, a Spanish based camper company that really produces a slick product.

Clicking on the image above will take you to their awesome Flickr feed.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Easter Jeep Safari on Expedition Portal

Stopping for lunch just off of Shafer Trail, Utah.

We recently had our first experience with Easter Jeep Safari. You can read our editorial here on Expedition Portal. You don't have to be a member to read the article, but if you aren't already a member I highly recommend joining. You won't find a more welcoming group of like minded people. Give it a test drive.

Click the logo below to be taken directly to their homepage.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Electrical Issues

Don't let this happen to you! Route those accessory wires away from heat and moving parts. Tie them up with zip-ties where necessary and finish it all off with a proper fuse panel.

So the here is the scenario. I have a winch, a pair of spot lights, an air compressor, a fridge and all of the required bits that are necessary for all of these things to be safely wired into our Jeep JK.

I should state that although not terribly complicated, wiring your rig should be taken very seriously. It's a safety hazard at very best and, if at all possible, you should avoid adding extra complexity at all cost. This means that if you had a moment to yourself thinking, "I really like those rock lights, or man! That guy has a lot of LED lights, I bet I can get more ...yeah, definitely." Then perhaps it's time to take a step back and reconsider that next widget purchase and instead use that money for fuel for your next big trip.

Before you get all bent out of shape don't worry, there are some items you will find it hard to live without, and those are the items you should release those hard earned bills back into the economy for. Moving on.

Despite the potential fire hazard from running wires to your prized LED collection, reliability issues can be a factor as well. When you attach the illumination wire for your accessory switch to the factory harness in order for the switches to light up proud and pretty, you risk harming the factory harness. Sometimes manufacturers, for reasons unknown, will route power for one component through another. When I was a professional mechanic, there were times I found myself folding out layer after layer of factory manuals tracing wires through a complex electrical schematic only to find out the power to the rear wiper motor is required for the pop up headlights to well, pop up. Adding the bells and whistles that make us so happy can make the trouble shooting process even more difficult.

Having warned you, and having stated that I too have widgets, lets move on. If even after hearing me carry on you still want to add some widgets to your rig then the name of the game is "isolation". You want to create a separate electrical supply for all of your auxiliary items. The best way to do that is with a quality fuse block. There are many out there and I'm not here to tell you which one is the best (Blue Sea ...they're the best. No, really.), I'll leave that argument to the interwebs and just tell you what I have.

Blue Sea Fuse Block #5029
Dimensions vary between 5029 models. Mine is 8"x4"x2" (203mm X 102mm X 51mm approximately).

So how did I come to this particular model you ask? Well the first thing you will need to decide is how many accessories you think that you will be adding and then leave room to expand later. If you haven't already guessed, I don't really have plans to add much more so I went with a 12 circuit model. This gives me the flexibility I need to wire both accessory and switch power sources to a proper fuse. The next thing you will face is the amount of load that will be necessary to run all of those devices at one time. You simply add up your amperage totals, then look for a fuse block that can support this load safely. If you are unsure how to do this, or you are uncomfortable for any reason, the best thing to do is to contact Blue Sea directly and speak to one of their representatives. They will help to safely guide you away from that imminent fireball that all of your friends are secretly longing for behind your back.

One thing I would also like to point out, and it may seem odd or perhaps even a bit ironic, but your fuse block will also need to be fused. If for some reason the supply wire to the fuse block were to short or come loose, then that entire length of wire no matter how long or short will catch fire. 

The 5029 I chose requires at maximum a 125 amp fuse. That's not to say I need to run that high of an amp rating, but this model is not designed to support above 100 amps and as such, I will keep my system within these guidelines (FYI, each circuit on the 5029 is rated at 30 amps max). Since my air compressor requires between 14 and 25 amps, I should be fine. Typically you want to fuse 25% above the maximum load (25amps* 1.25 = 31.25amps). That's close to the limits but still very safe.  

The 5029 comes in a few different dimensions, don't ask me why they don't designate each one separately. This is the model I have. Notice it does not have the common negative bus like the one above. I tend to ground my accessories to factory ground points and see no need to run them all the way back to the battery. It's less wiring and a cleaner install.

Now that you have determined your load requirements and selected your fuse panel, the next step will be determining a suitable location to mount it. As far as fuse blocks go, it's all about location location location. It should be mounted as closely to the positive battery terminal as reasonably possible. The further the load has to travel ...nix that. Just trust me, mount it as close as you can to battery and you will be fine. It's not the end of the world if you have to mount it a few feet away. Just make sure that the supply wire is the appropriate size. 

I'm choosing to mount mine between the battery and the passenger side fender. Luckily enough, there is enough room there and a couple of fender bolts that will hold a bracket nicely. Now that I know where it will fit I can begin planning out the method of installation. I am a big fan of making cardboard templates. They are cheap, easy to cut and are easily transferrable to the particular material you choose for the final product. For this occasion manilla folders were plentiful and nearby so that's what I went with.

Actually, I kind of did things a little differently than I normally would. I had a thin piece of aluminum that came with one of those Radio Shack project boxes I purchased so long ago -for reasons that fail to surface right now. I began by using a piece of paper and a pencil to mark where the factory hardware would pass through the bracket. I placed the paper over the heads of the bolts and used the side of the pencil graphite to create a rubbing of the bolt head placement. Then I marked the center and used the rubbing as a template to center punch the piece of aluminum (aluminium for you Brits). Next I drilled the holes starting with a small bit and working my way up every other size, like you're supposed to do ...nah, I jumped from the small hole to the final bit size like a proper rebel! With the holes drilled I then carried the aluminum sheet over to the Jeep and laid the bracket holes over the holes on the fender (I had removed the bolts earlier). The holes lined up perfectly! 

All done! I wish it was that simple. As with any modern vehicle there were several bits of plastic and odd shapes to work with as well. So I began to mark the aluminum with a pencil to show where to make my cuts -I used a Harbor Freight electric angle grinder and cutting wheel to slowly reveal the bracket amongst all of that aluminum. Everything was going well until I made a mistake on where to snip a bit off and it was back to the drawing board. That's ok though, it wasn't a total loss and these things rarely are. I was able to use the remaining bit to lay out on the aforementioned manilla envelope and trace it out. Only this time with the correct shape. See how much easier it would have been to start with a piece of cardboard? 

I still have to pick up a piece of aluminum to finish the project. If for some reason I can't source aluminum locally, I will move on to steel. It's a small bracket and the weight difference is minimal. My main concern was the ease of which aluminum cuts versus steel and painting will be necessary too. No harm no foul, either way I'll be plenty happy.
Here is where I am tonight.

Here is the botched recycled aluminum lid (it once functioned as a switchbox for another project -thus all of the holes), the manilla folder concept and ...wait! Does that chick have a beard? Why does that chick have a beard? And of course the Blue Sea 5029. Seriously, she has a beard.

Here is the final bit traced and cut out of the manilla folder.

I will be continuing this project soon so check back periodically for updates. Thanks for visiting Overland Essentials.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Special Announcement

I am honored to be taking part in a monthly Google hangout discussion called Overland Roundtable. The event is hosted by Dan Cole of 4x4 Podcast fame and will take place on the third Sunday of each month. We will be discussing products, vehicles and other overland related subjects. There will be a total of five regular presenters in addition to guest speakers. If you would like to know more about the show, please tune in for the second episode which will occur on Sunday, May 17th at 8:00 pm Central.

You can also leave a questions and comments via voicemail at 904.600.DIRT, or if you prefer, email us at

We look forward to hearing from you!


Sunday, March 1, 2015

2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk vs. 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A side-by-side comparison.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk vs. 2015  Subaru XV Crosstrek: A side-by-side comparison.

Grasp your pitchforks and light those torches because neither of these vehicles has solid axles or body on frame construction. But that’s ok. What they lack in common with horse drawn buggies they make up for in computer aided traction systems that are filled with magic only electrical engineers can explain. To the rest of us, this means increased forward propulsion with far fewer cracks of the whip.

The 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and the 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek may not find themselves on everyone’s “Ultimate Expedition Vehicle of All Time” list, but in today’s terms both choices are surprisingly capable. To find out why, let’s start with the Subaru.

Paired with a respectable 8.7” of ground clearance the XV Crosstrek takes full advantage of Subaru’s decades of all wheel drive experience. A double wishbone suspension provides a comfortable and responsive suspension system for twisty paved roads such as Tail of the Dragon or the rough, 62 mile corrugated Hole in the Rock Road.

Subaru’s former Chief Designer of Advance Design, Andreas Zapatinas once said of the company that “"innovation, courage and individuality"” would typify the designs of future Subaru vehicles”. It’s not clear whether he was talking technology or bright colors setting the brand apart, but the list of gadgets available for the XV Crosstrek is impressive –especially considering the low cost. Eyesight Driver Assist Technology, adaptive cruise control, 7” inch touch screen voice activated sat/nav, all help the driver to safely keep on track. Long legged drivers, including myself, are sure to appreciate the telescopic steering column. Subaru owners may have a bit more experience with techno gadgets, but under Fiat’s direction, Jeep has made leaps and bounds in this category.

 In a not too distant past, Jeep owners were excited to find cruise control or air conditioning as options. Now, it seems there is enough technology in the brand to rival NASA. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk benefits greatly from these vast improvements. A twist of a knob here, a push of a button there and you will find yourself safely traversing several grades of terrain. True, older Jeeps could also cover the same terrain, but with a much more involved driver white knuckling the controls. If there are teen drivers in your household, then the parallel / perpendicular park assist function may give you piece of mind. Another improvement drivers will come to appreciate is the amount of thoughtful storage Jeep has integrated into the Cherokee. My favorite is the under seat-cushion storage panel –Dominic Torreto would approve. Another welcome gadget is the selectable rear locker -this may be the single most important feature of this vehicle.

Jeep Cherokee under seat storage bin. A great place to store either recovery gear or extra tanks of Nitrous Oxide.


    Landrover-esque terrain knob.
  • Base Price – $30,090
  • Engine –
  • 2.4l 4 cylinder “Tigershark”
  • 184hp @ 6250 rpm; 171 lb ft torque @ 4800 rpm
  • Optional Engine –
  • 3.2l V6“Pentastar”
  • 271hp @ 6500 rpm; 239 ft lb torque @4400 rpm
  • Fuel Economy (MPG) – 19 city/25 highway (4 cylinder, 4WD model)
  • Fuel Capacity – 15.8 gal
  • Max Range – 395 miles (4 cylinder model)
  • Transmission/transaxle – 9 speed automatic
  • Vehicle Curb Weight – 4044 lbs
  • Exterior Dimensions:
  • Overall Length – 15’ 2”
  • Overall Width – 74.9”
  • Overall Height – 67.8”
  • Wheelbase – 106.3”
  • Track Width – 62”
  • Ground Clearance – 8.7”
  • Approach Angle – 29.9*
  • Departure Angle – 32.2* 
  • Max Cargo Capacity – 54.9 cubic feet
  • Brakes – Front: 13” /Rear: 12.6”
  • Steering – 37.6’ turning diameter
  • Tires – P245/65 R17 OWL All Terrain
  • Suspension – multilink
  • Locking Differential – Rear only


  • Base Price – $21,595
  • Engine –
  • 2.0l horizontally opposed “boxer” 4 cylinder
  • 148hp @ 6200 rpm; 145 fl lb torque @ 4200 rpm
  • Fuel Economy (MPG)– 26 city/34 highway
  • Fuel Capacity – 15.9 gal
  • Max Range – 541 miles
  • Transmission/transaxle – CVT (AWD)
  • Vehicle Curb Weight – 3098 lbs
  • Exterior Dimensions:
  • Overall Length – 14’ 7.2”
  • Overall Width – 70.1”
  • Overall Height – 63.6”
  • Wheelbase – 103.7”
  • Track Width – 60”
  • Ground Clearance – 8.7”
  • Approach Angle – 18.0*
  • Departure Angle – 27.7*
  • Max Cargo Capacity – 51.9 cubic feet
  • Brakes – Front: 11.6”  / Rear: 10.8”
  • Steering – 34.8’ turning radius
  • Tires – 225/55 R17 95H all-season
  • Suspension – double wishbone front and rear
  • Locking Differential – NA


  • Superior approach and departure angles.
  • More towing capacity.
  • More powerful 4-cylinder engine and even more powerful 6-cylinder option.
  • Slightly larger cargo area.
  • Thoughtful small item storage.
  • Selectable rear locker.

  • Fuel economy and range.
  • Turning radius.
  • Much lighter curb weight than the Jeep.
  • Low foot threshold makes getting in easier for smaller drivers.
  • Optional six-speed manual transmission.


  • High purchase price.
  • Poor fuel economy.
  • Wrangler and XJ owners won’t recognize you as a “real” Jeep owner.
  • Exterior design lacks imagination.
The Cherokee suffers from an abysmal fuel economy of  19/25 mpg.

  • Poor approach and departure angles.
  • It’s still a wagon –sorry Subaru.
  • CVT transmissions inherently degrade driving enjoyment.
  • Poor acceleration.
  • Underpowered engine.
  • Strange sounding name.
At 148 hp and 145 lb/ft of torque, the iconic Subaru boxer engine may struggle to keep up with traffic when loaded down with gear.


A few bones to pick: With all of the technology available today, there is no excuse for the XV Crosstrek’s lack of power. Subaru could have used a turbocharger to maintain it’s impressive fuel economy while providing more power when needed.  The Trailhawk is an extremely complex vehicle. As we all know, complexity can have dire effects on long-term reliability. Jeep continues to struggle with fuel economy. Even compact vehicles such as the Trailhawk receive abysmal mpg ratings. With that out of the way, both manufacturers have done a remarkable job of turning what could have been very benign offerings into well-rounded, surprisingly capable platforms. If you asked me ten years ago if a “cute-ute” or station wagon could be even half as capable as these two the answer would have been a shortsighted “no”.

Though neither vehicle will bring you high praise from the overlanding elite, both are worthy of serious consideration as adventure mobiles. There are certainly a fair amount of well respected vehicles out there that are nowhere near as comfortable or capable. Perhaps it is time to rethink what it means to be an adventure mobile.

Even in such a beautiful rugged setting, the Cherokee struggles with its outward appearance.

Most of the colors are highly subjective, but overall, this is such a great looking vehicle.

Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van: Improvements for 2015 featured on Expedition Portal

Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van: Improvements for 2015

[This article originally appeared on Expedition Portal.]

The Mercedes Benz (MB) Sprinter van is an albatross of a vehicle. Not only is it extremely long (the 170” wheel base model is 24’ 1.2”) it’s also extremely tall at a slight tic over eight feet (8.03 ft) -for the High Roof model.  Just to put that into perspective, the van is as tall as the ARB 2500 awning is wide. So who cares? We already know this is, and it’s the same as it was last year. Well, as one could imagine, a vehicle of this immensity is prone to scary and dangerous lane changes with even the slightest gust of wind. New for 2015, MB introduces their proprietary Crosswind Assist. Using the vehicle’s Load Adaptive Electronic Stability Program to modulate the brakes individually, the Sprinter aids the driver in steadying the helm at speeds above 50mph (81km). What this means for the driver is greater vehicle control and an increased margin of safety over previous models. All this technology works towards making this behemoth appear smaller from behind the wheel. Not only is the new Sprinter van safer, it is also much more capable.

The 2015 MB Sprinter 4x4 on the factory proving grounds.
Safety 3rd

Also new for the 2015 North American market is a four-wheel drive option. That’s right, a four-wheel drive, diesel, Mercedes Benz van for North America. With two additional drive wheels (additional cost, $6500 USD) buyers now have the option of a push button, low-range transfer case (additional cost, $300 USD) providing a 42% crawl ratio reduction. OK, so, no doubt everyone is thinking: how capable can something like this be? In a word: very.
In the small town of Ladson, SC, where all of the Sprinter vans are produced for the North American market, lies a small off road test track. Peppered with strategically placed ruts, hills and off camber portions, drivers can test the computer controlled traction aids as well as the increased suspension ride height (+4.3” front, +3.1” rear). 

The 2015 Sprinter is a bargain at just under $45,000 USD. It’s only a matter of time before camper versions begin to appear on your favorite trails and back roads. Expect to see some interesting conversions showing up in increasing numbers to events like Overland Expo very soon.

I don’t know about you, but I for one am excited to see what the community does with these.

Specifications: Via
  • Diesel engine
  • 6-cylinder, V 72*
  • 4 valves per cylinder
  • Displacement: 2987cc
  • 188 hp at 3,800 rpm
  • Rated torque: 325 lb-ft at 1,400-2,400 rpm
  • 5 speed automatic
  • Fuel Type: Ultra-low-sulfur diesel
  • Tank Capacity 26.4 gallons
  • Electronically controlled direct injection with common rail
  • Turbocharger and intercooler function
  • Battery 12V/100Ah, alternator 14V/220A

The large van does incredibly well maintaining forward progress even with one wheel lifted completely off of the ground –something that would leave two wheel drive versions in need of recovery.