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 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.
While your space may be limited, particularly in newer vehicles, there are some clever radio mounting solutions and CB radio mounting brackets that can make your installation go a lot smoother.
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:
Where’s a good mount spot for cb radio in a 2020 Chevy Silverado 2500
Hey Martin, that all depends on how much modification you’re willing to do. But I’ve got a small mobile CB that’s about the same size as a deck of cards. Here’s a pic of it in a home base radio setup (Hot Wheels Corvette added to show scale); it’s tiny and I imagine you could stuff a similar radio in a lot of places. It’s got stout heat sinks and doesn’t generate a ton of heat if you’re not talking too much.
And, if you find one with a remote speaker output (like we talk about in our third point), you can stuff that somewhere to ensure you’ll be able to hear it.
As far as antenna mounting goes, though I’ve never used one, I know the folks at Comet make vehicle-specific “No Hole” fender mounts that eliminate the need to drill holes for the antenna. You may want to look into that–here’s a model that says it’s for a 2020 Silverado, but you should probably talk to the DX Engineering folks to make sure.
Hope this helps!
My CB handle and nickname is Bushwacker. I live in Moncks Corner, SC. After reading the 5 steps of CB installation, I would like to add a couple helpful hints of my own. Not that I’m a pro repairman, (strictly Amature) but I have found that mounting your antenna in as much of the center of your vehicle as possible and high above the highest portion of the vehicle will increase your ability to perform. The vehicle acts as a ground plain for the antenna. Also, grounding directly to your antenna bracket from the battery or sure grounded chassis is by far better than relying on mount to body ground. And maintaining clean connections throughout your system is crucial for peak performance.
I haul a truck camper in the bed of my pickup that hangs out over the roof of the truck so nowhere to mount an antenna. I installed a through the glass antenna as an alternate to a fender mount for which would require a hole in the firewall. It don’t work that good. Mostly static only occasional voice receiving. Any idea how to get this thing to work?
Hey Glenn, if I understand you, I actually ran a similar setup for a little while–a pair of small adhesive pads sandwiching the glass. While it worked OK for short range comms, I quickly upgraded because I had the same experience.
I don’t know if yours is identical, but my biggest issue was that the antenna itself was really short, like maybe 16 inches long with a small loading coil near the base. And that’ll significantly compromise your transmit/receive performance.
I can understand your hesitation with drilling a hole in your firewall, but I’ve done a couple of CB and Ham radio installs where I was able to run the coax antenna feed though an existing hole/port the factory had already cut. In fact, on one in particular, I was able to squeeze the coax alongside the factory wiring loom and through the big, factory rubber boot/grommet too. Check out your firewall and you may get lucky.
I don’t know what kind of truck you have, but there may even be access body plugs on the floor or in the back of the cab that you can run cable through–the factory often puts those there for things like optional auxiliary lights or console wiring/shifter linkage.
Hope this helps.
I live in a complex building.
I can’t put the antina of any kind outside my window or roof top?
Land lords rules..
Is there any good antina that I could
Use for skip indoor?
I have a general lee old school I don’t drive any ideas thanks..
Hey John, a long while ago, I had a pal running a FireStik indoor antenna. If I recall, it had roughly the dimensions of a typical Christmas tree in the corner of his apartment. Failing that, you could make your own wire antenna and, just a thought here, I’m not sure how strict your rules are but you could run a modest wire antenna through your window with a pass-through panel like these ones from MFJ.
I don’t do much home CBing, but I currently have a small Workman B-100 mounted to the side of my house attached to the Sears Roadtalker base station in the pic from the article above. It says it doesn’t need a ground plane, but I’m not sure I believe them. It works…OK. But it’s relatively inconspicuous and can be installed temporarily, maybe to a balcony railing or with u-bolts around a downspout? Perhaps that’s an alternative.