After exploding in popularity during the 1970s, CB radio has receded a bit from the mainstream. Yet even with the advent of cell phones, CB radio activity continues to this day. And it can a great way to pass the time on a road trip or stay aware of highway construction, detours, or accidents—without having to fiddle with a GPS or rely on cell phone data.
The even better news is that getting started in CB radio is relatively cheap. Used CB radios are common in online classified ads and auctions, and you don’t need much more than the radio, an antenna with a mount, coax antenna cable, and some power hookup wire to get on the air.
So if the idea of ratchetjawing with other CB’ers sounds appealing, we compiled this list of five basic installation tips to help you put a CB radio in your car, truck, or SUV.
Special hat tip to our amateur radio pals over at OnAllBands for the help. If you’re not sure on the differences between CB and amateur radio, they’ve got this helpful article too: CB Versus Ham Radio: Three Reasons They Aren’t the Same
5 Easy CB Radio Install Tips
1. Run Separate, Dedicated Power to the Radio
While it may be tempting to easily pull power from an unused accessory output in the factory fuse panel (or worse yet, use a plug-in cigarette lighter adapter), it could hinder the radio’s ability to transmit and receive. That’s because a factory vehicle wiring harness is filled with interconnected circuits, and things like the vehicle’s fuel injectors or alternator could introduce electrical noise or radio frequency interference (RFI) into the radio.
You may also enjoy this article: What is EMI & RFI? And How Can You Stop Electric & Ignition Interference?
2. Position Your Radio for Visibility, Accessibility & Ventilation
Even the fanciest CB radio is no good if you can’t see it or reach the controls. Take that into account when deciding where to install your radio. You’ll need to be able to operate the radio without being distracted, and a good location goes a long way toward helping you keep your eyes on the road.
Just as important as accessibility though, is ventilation. CB radios will generate heat, especially while you’re transmitting, so airflow is essential to preventing you from burning up your transceiver. That’s particularly true if installing the radio into a DIN slot in a vehicle. Make sure there’s room around the body of the radio for heat to dissipate.
“Transceiver” is a fancy word for a radio that can both transmit and receive. CB radios are transceivers, but the regular AM/FM broadcast radio in your car is a receiver, because it can only receive signals, not transmit them.
Oh, and it helps to get creative—keep reading.
3. An External Speaker Opens Up Installation Possibilities
Many CB radios have an external speaker output, which lets you install a small, standalone remote speaker. This can open up a ton of mounting possibilities too. Since you can put the audio wherever you want it, it may allow you to place the actual CB radio unit in a console or up near the door.
As an added benefit, many of these speakers are larger than the ones built-into the radio, and can provide cleaner, more intelligible audio. Many are passive too, meaning that you won’t have to run power to them—just the single speaker wire is all you need.
An external speaker is also pretty handy if you have a loud rig with a lot of engine or road noise to contend with.
4. Use Rubber Grommets When Running Wires Through Metal
There’s a good chance that you’ll have to drill a hole or two to install your CB radio, either for the power feed or antenna cable (maybe even both).
ProTip: Whenever you drill a hole in your vehicle’s sheetmetal, make sure to paint the area you just drilled to ensure moisture won’t rust the newly-exposed metal under the paint. Just a few quick dabs of touch-up paint will work fine.
After you drill, you’ll want to insert a small rubber grommet in the hole. This will prevent the raw, sharp sheetmetal edge from cutting into the wire or cable’s insulating jacket after a few thousand miles of road vibration.
If the wire insultation is stripped away, it could mean the electrical conductor inside will make contact with the vehicle body or other wires nearby. In addition to subpar radio performance, it may seriously damage the CB radio. (And shorted wires are notoriously difficult to troubleshoot too!)
5. Mount Your Antenna as High as Possible
Though you may be limited depending on your vehicle, try your best to get the antenna up above the roofline. Even though a CB radio signal may travel miles, it can still be impacted by physical obstructions. And it all starts at the antenna.
The good news is, that CB antenna mounts are available for many popular vehicles, or you can opt for a universal mobile antenna mount that can clamp on a luggage rack or hatch lid—or simply just stick to your trunk decklid using magnets.
It’s worth pointing out that CB radio antennas come in different lengths. Without going into a dissertation on how radio waves work, the ideal practical CB antenna length is 102 inches, or about 8.5 feet. While that may be far too long for you, it’s possible to get a shorter antenna if you’re willing to compromise a bit on your radio’s range. For instance, you can get a two- or three-foot long CB antenna that’ll still let you talk between vehicles on a caravan.
Other Helpful Mobile Radio Installation Resources
We alluded to this earlier, but we’ve got some friends that are really into amateur (Ham) radio. While Ham radio is a lot more complex than CB radio, the same basic principles for mobile installations apply. So these folks are a fantastic resource. Want to learn more? Check out some of these articles: