Keep on Truckin!

Project Autonomous4X4 has been plodding along. If that sounds a little pessimistic it’s because the project continues to be a costly and time consuming endeavor. Building a vehicle takes twice the time and money you expect. I have built plenty of custom cars and trucks over the years but building a house on the back of a truck is a first for me. I have the added pressure of trying to get everything right the first time. For an over-analytical person like me, it adds greatly to the mental workload.

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In a more optimistic tone, I travelled to Eastern Nevada to cover the Best in the Desert, Silver State 300 race. I love that area; it’s remote and very beautiful. The downside was weak cell coverage that prevented any internet access. I have been watching the progress of satellite internet from a high priced novelty to several providers who are trying to make it financially viable for the general public. Hopefully, progress towards that goal will continue. For someone trying to live off the grid by simple means, the cost is still prohibitive.

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The pop-up has been sold and the new box is not done so I roughed it; sleeping in the shell. It reminded me that all you really need is a place to sleep; all the rest is comfort. The F-350 just got new JE Reel drive shafts before the trip and their construction was chronicled in a not yet published tech article for Offroad Extreme website.  The new shafts are beautiful and gave me much more confidence in the old rig. People talk about pouring money into an older truck but I prefer simplicity and always figure that by the time I invest the same amount of money as I would with a newer truck, I will have a personalized vehicle that is unique. It will also be much better than any factory offering. New trucks have incredible technology but in my opinion are electrical nightmares waiting to happen. If I had the resources, I would do a Cummins 6BT diesel conversion. The Cummins diesel is as basic as they come and runs forever. It would be a nice combination with the Ford Manual 5-speed.

For now, enjoy some photos from my trip and I’ll get out to the shop!

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Point Of Contact

Most people don’t think about it too often but your vehicle only touches the ground at 4 small points of contact, (the contact patch). Regardless of the road surface or terrain, your tires have to provide the traction to accelerate, brake and change direction. That is a lot to ask, especially when you start loading your vehicle with everything, and a kitchen sink. One of the most important features that some people overlook is load rating. Load rating should be one the primary factors in deciding which tire to run on your vehicle. Water tanks, extra fuel, provisions and all the flotsam required to venture into the boonies will add significant weight to your vehicle. If your tires, and your wheels, are not up to the task, you will have problems down the road, (pardon the pun).

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The Autonomous4X4 runs a Falken, Wildpeak AT tire that measures 37×12.5-17. That’s 37 inches in diameter, 12.5 inches wide and made to fit a 17” diameter wheel. A 37” outside diameter is quite large but so is the truck. The large diameter increases our ground clearance and with the additional width also enlarges the contact patch. The large contact patch gives a sure-footed feel to the truck. When you are in challenging terrain, it’s nice to have the assurance of solid predictable handling. The Wildpeak’s all-terrain tread pattern is a great compromise between good street manners/mileage and traction offroad. Falken also has a Wildpeak MT, (mud terrain tire), if you want a more aggressive tread pattern.  All this would be for naught if the Wildpeaks were not able to carry the weight of the truck. The Falken Wildpeaks in the 37×12.5-17 size have a maximum weight rating of 3,525 pounds each. That means the pair of tires on each of our axles can support 7,050 pounds, all four max out at 14,100 pounds. That is safely within the maximum weight we will see on the Autonomous4X4.

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Just as important as a good tire, your wheels need to support those tires. After a lot of research, I chose the Trailready Beadlock wheel with a “World Series” reinforced ring. The Trailready Beadlock wheel is a heavy duty wheel that is cast right here in the USA. It is a true beadlock wheel; designed to accept the World Series clamping ring. It has a 3,400 pound weight rating and the wide “World Series” ring adds additional strength. The beadlock design allows you to take the locking ring off to service a tire in the field if needed. There is a saying that goes, two is one and one is none. Redundancy is a necessary policy when you travel far off the beaten path. Carrying multiple spares is smart; having an additional back-up plan is even smarter. Having the ability to repair a tire, stuff it full of grass or whatever it takes to get back to the pavement is a huge benefit. Trailready beadlock wheels give me that option and all the strength I need.

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One thing to keep in mind with a beadlock wheel is balance. If you take the wheel apart and then re-assemble it, the balance can be affected. Thankfully there is a great solution for this too. Instead of using traditional wheel weights that glue on or are pounded onto the wheel lips, (I despise both!) I found Centramatic Dynamic Wheel Balancers. The Centramatics take care of any imbalance issue by balancing the wheel dynamically. They mount between the wheel and hub. You just throw them on and forget about any balancing!

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Now that you have great tires that are designed to carry the weight of your rig, you need to take care of them. Get yourself an accurate tire pressure gauge and make a habit of checking your tire pressure and/or inspecting them before heading down the road. Underinflated tires wear quicker, can blowout due to overheating and waste precious fuel. Checking the pressure will alert you to a possible slow leak or damage that might be overlooked. If you want the ultimate in tire insurance, get a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) like I did. The Autonomous4X4 uses a TPMS from Pressure Pro. The Pressure Pro system monitors air pressure wirelessly. The monitor mounts in the cab and the wireless senders screw onto the valve stem in place of the cap. They have systems to monitor your truck, truck and trailer or commercial rigs all the way up to 34 tires! Technology is awesome!

Power to the People

The Autonomous4X4 F350 now has the solar charging system sorted out. I have a single 120 watt solar panel mounted to a custom fabricated roof rack. When I mount the box, the panels will move to the roof of the camper. I have an additional 200 watts that will be added to the system.

Custom roof rack to mount solar panel.

Custom roof rack to mount solar panel.

My Odyssey group 65, AGM battery under the hood is charged by a Powermaster 200 amp alternator before it sends power back to the dual Odyssey group 31, AGM house batteries.

Odyssey group 65 AGM battery

Odyssey group 65 AGM battery

The heart of the system is the CTEK D250S dual charger. It acts as a battery isolator and solar charge controller. “The D250S automatically selects the best connected DC energy source (of 2) for the purpose and switches between these energy sources to achieve high efficiency multi-stage charging.”

CTEK D250S charge controller.

CTEK D250S charge controller.

Everything will change when the camper box is mounted but the system is up and running. Right now the house batteries are powering my Whynter 65 quart mobile fridge through an extension cord plugged into the Samlex 300 watt pure sine inverter. Cold beer in the desert at last!

Whynter 65 quart portable fridge.

Whynter 65 quart portable fridge.

The Autonomous F350

This 1992 F350 is undergoing extensive modification to enable me to reliably travel to offroad destinations. One of the first things I considered was wheels and tires. I wanted to be able to repair a flat in the field. Beadlock rims allow you to take the rim apart, perform a repair and then put it back together again. You can also wrestle a tire on and off without a beadlock but I wanted a very strong wheel. I chose Trailready beadlocks for their quality and the super wide “World Series” ring that they offer. It reinforces the rim substantially, much more than many other designs available.

 

My tire of choice was the Falken Wildpeak in a 37×12.5-17. The Wildpeaks are a great all terrain tire. I spend a lot of time offroad but I also cover huge distances on the highway. I have to consider durability, traction and fuel economy. The Wildpeaks give me all that. They also have a load rating of 3525lbs each.

 

If you are going to repair a tire in the field, any conventional balancing that was done when mounted is now compromised. Fixing a flat and then hitting the pavement for a couple hundred miles with an out of balance condition will kill your tire. I HATE! wheel weights but thankfully there is an awesome solution to this problem. I use Centramatic dynamic wheel balancers. It does not matter what the balance on the wheel and tire is, the Centramatic Dynamic balancers will make the wheel run smooth and true. They mount between the hub and the wheel. The minute I drove with the Centramatics I could feel the difference! If you hate wheel weights like me and want to get the most mileage out of your tires, wheel bearings, etc. you should check out Centramatic. I run the Centramatics and NO wheel weights.

 

 

My tire pressure monitoring system is by Pressure Pro. The sensors mount to the valve stems and send a signal wirelessly to the dash mounted display. You can monitor up to 6 tires with this unit. Once programmed it will sense a slow leak and give you a warning. It’s great peace of mind when you are towing, (my trailer will have the sensors too), or carrying a heavy load. I have not installed the unit yet, I am still laying out the dash. The super wide “World Series” rings on my Trailready beadlocks also protect the Pressure Pro sensors from damage offroad.

 

There is much more about the truck that will be covered as we go along so stay tuned.

 

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