Category Archives: Jeep

Jeep Wrangler RHB Radio Update

I bought my Wrangler Rubicon in the spring of 2013, and have loved it ever since.  It’s a wonderful, capable vehicle — much more so than me!  It’s a transformer… doors on or off, roof up or down.  Every day, it can be a different vehicle.

Like other parts of the Jeep, the 430N radio system also needs periodic maintenance, and mine’s been barking about the age of the maps for a while.  Unfortunately, those updates haven’t been available.

A week or so ago, I got a mailer that indicated that finally, map updates were available for my Jeep!  I ordered them, and they arrived late last week.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in the package, but what I got was a SD card reader, two SD cards, and a load of instructions.  The RHB software update was for version 50.01.01, and the Garmin firmware update was to version 5.11.  And along with that was Garmin’s City Navigator North America NT 2015 maps.

Thursday night, I got started.

Doing the radio firmware upgrade wasn’t too big a deal, and seemed to follow the instructions that Here (the distributor of the files) sent along.  However…

I started trying to do the map upgrades, and quickly ran into problems.  The mapping system is supplied by Garmin, and Garmin seems to always be goofy about licensing their material, making it funky to work with.  This time was no exception.

Following the instructions, I inserted the map SD card into the supplied USB card reader, and stuck it in the front of the radio.  Basically, the radio has to write something to the card, which, I believe, writes a file indicating the current device (the radio) and its map status.  This is apparently used as part of the map activation process.

As described, I removed the card, took it to my Mac, and tried to use the Here website to activate the map.  Unfortunately, it never seemed to work.

Undaunted, I backed the Jeep out into the driveway, and tried doing the map update, not knowing for sure if I had a valid activation or not.  The booklet said it would take up to two hours, so I started the Jeep, and I sat.  There was nothing on the radio screen as I let things percolate, although I couldn’t really tell if anything was happening.  The supplied card reader has a tiny blue light on it, but I couldn’t really see it well enough to see any activity.  After two hours, I pulled the Jeep back in the garage, turned it off, and then checked the maps on the radio.  No bueno.

I called Here Friday morning, and talked at length with them.  I described what I’d done, and the agent was convinced I’d done everything right.  He had me mount the SD card on the Mac, and he asked me to look for two files, gmapprom.gma and gmapprom.unl.  Neither were there, which implied that the map activation process didn’t work correctly.

He also hinted that there had been a ton of issues with owners of 2013 RHB radios (used across the Chrysler brands) trying to do these updates.  Here is just the middleman — Chrysler builds the firmware and Garmin builds the maps.  Here really doesn’t have anything to do with either end of things, but is the group getting the angry calls.  🙂

The agent indicated that they were working daily with both Chrysler and Garmin to resolve this.  He said he didn’t know when they would make progress, but that I could return the update within 30 days (September 15th), so I figured I’d give them until September 10th, and see where things sat.

Not giving up, though, I kept trying to activate the maps, figuring I needed to solve that before I would make progress.  One thing I’d noticed was that I was being prompted by the browser if I was sure I wanted to re-submit a form while on the activation page.  I kept clicking “no”, as it didn’t seem to make sense that the form with my information needed to be re-submitted.  Then I thought, “Well, why not?”  And, once I let it re-submit, activation seemed to take place, and I had a code on my screen and the expected activation files on my SD card!

So, today, I blocked off some time to install the maps.  This time, I decided to do it in the garage, leaving the engine off, yet having the Jeep key in the “on” position.  Also this time, I took my desktop SD card reader.  It has a big blue light on it, and it would be easy to tell if the card was being read or not.  The first time I tried, it appeared that the update was gonna work, but within a few minutes, it went back to the blank screen I’d seen before.  Guessing this wouldn’t be successful, I stopped the update, and started thinking about what else I could try.

And then I thought to try turning off the radio before trying the update… and it began working!  The blue light on my card reader was blinking, and I was seeing status displayed on the screen as the update was applied.

Twenty-five minutes later — not two hours! — I had 2015 maps on the Jeep, and all was good.

So, with all the yelling and screaming out there about this update, here’s the two things I did that I think were key.  The first was letting the form re-submit in the browser while on the activation page.  The second was turning off the radio before attempting the update.

And with that, I’m now current with my maps!

NJT: Drake Billet Inserts, or, How I Gave My Rubicon a Nose Job

Yesterday, I spent some time working on the Lil’ Red Rubicon. Earlier in the week, I’d ordered a set of Drake grille inserts. For some reason, Jeeps don’t have any kind of mesh to prevent bugs from ending their lives against the radiator fins… some kind of insect genocide, I guess.

With that, there’s a whole bunch of instructions out there for DIY grill inserts/guards, and I’d thought about going that route — it’s easy and cheap, and can be done with parts from the hardware store. In the end, I wanted something a little more “finished” looking. Enter the Drake inserts.

These things are beasts, built of billet aluminum in three different finishes (I chose black; a choice I would later question), and can be installed with no glue or permanent alterations of the grill. Winner, winner, winner!

As I thought about putting these on the Jeep, I was also looking at “blacking out” the nose. Folks usually do this with Plastidip spray-on coating. This stuff is used for a lot of purposes, but I think it’s primarily for putting a rubberized surface on tools for better grip. It’s also dynamite as a removable coating for things like grills, wheels and fenders. I figured that as long as I had the grill off, I might as well black out the grill too.

Pulling the grill was easy. Drake’s instructions were spot-on, and I had the grill off in about five minutes. And then, I was confronted with how committed I was to changing the nose of my virtually new Rubicon.

I sprayed the first couple of coats on the Drake inserts — no commitment needed there. But, then the grill stared at me, challenging me as to whether I was ready to start blacking it out… and then I pressed my finger on the can nozzle. I was committed, and continued on about my spraying.

In the end, I used two coats of ‘dip on the grill, and four coats of red paint on the inserts. Starting out with black inserts was probably a mistake. It took a lot of coats to get the inserts to the color I wanted. Had I started out with brushed aluminum inserts, I think the painting would’ve gone easier … it’s just a lot easier to NOT have to cover up all that black.

Installing the inserts was easy, and re-installing the grill was a piece of cake. Frankly, I love the look. It’s unique, and I did it… both good things!

A close-up is worth a thousand words…


NJT (New Jeep Toy) : Welcome Distributing Front Grab Handles

Welcome Distributing Grab Handle
Grab Handles
In the old Jeep, I had velcro grab handles to help get in the front/back seats. They worked, but it seemed like they were always in the way. Turn your head to look out the window and … WHACK … your face is sitting against the grab handle. Blecch.

I’d seen a lot of discussion about various grab handles on the Jeep forums I lurk on, and I noticed a new design I hadn’t seen before. This was not a velcro strap on the roll cage, but instead a steel loop mounted up front, toward the A-pillar. Very cool.

Pretty quickly, I ordered up a set of them from Welcome Distributing. After a couple of really cool emails with the CEO, Ken Welke, I had a set on the way. A few days later, I had ’em in hand.

Grab Handle Mount
Grab Handle Mount
Essentially, they mount to a couple of pre-existing bolt points in the roll cage, using machined spacers to mount the grab bars out where you can get to them. And man, are they sturdy. I don’t exactly blow away in a small breeze, and they seemed to be able to stand up to me using them with no flexing or any feel of them giving way. That’s a pretty cool thing.

And now that I’ve got ’em place, I’m kinda hankering for a set for the rear — Welcome Distributing has a set specific for the rear seat of the two-door Wranglers. Now, I don’t expect to have a lot of folks in the back seat… mostly because I’m not sure there’ll be a back set in there most of the time. However, those grab bars for the back look like they’d make terrific mount points for cameras, GPS devices, and anything else that could be mounted with a nice grip mount. I like things having multiple uses!

So, in the final analysis, these things are dynamite. They’re sturdy, easy to install — took me about thirty minutes — and seem like they’ll be useful for far more than just getting in and out of the Jeep. Color me sold!

Little Red Rubicon

Lil' Red Rubicon
My 2013 Lil’ Red Rubicon
The Little Red Rubicon is now almost 1200 miles old, so it’s probably time to write up the new rig!

First off, I never thought about having a red — make that a Deep Cherry Red — vehicle. As the sun has come out to play for spring, I’ve discovered that this is a really pretty color. I’m really glad I decided to go that direction. Something about the speckles in the paint really jazz me up. (That’s about as street as I get.)

I also chose to get a two-door this go ’round, instead of a four door. That has proven to be a good decision, although there are some definite differences. For instance, I tried to get in the back seat, and that is one tough proposition, even with the tilt forward seat on the passenger side. I thought I was gonna have to call AAA to rescue me. 🙂

Frankly, there’s not a lot of storage space with the two-door model. But, the back seat is removable, and I’ve had it out for a few weeks, enjoying the nearly empty interior. I have reinstalled it recently, just to use as a stowage bench until I can put a locking storage box in the back. You see, the stuff I lob nonchalantly in the back tends to roll around, and I figured I’d suffer a back seat for a while until I get a home for the stuff roaming around in the open cabin.

So… beyond the goodness that accompanies a new vehicle, what’s cool about this Jeep, especially as compared to my ’08 Wrangler Unlimited X?

Let’s start at the back of the new Jeep. One of the things that just killed me with the ’08 was with the swing gate. It wasn’t uncommon to have the gate open, only to have the wind or gravity (she’s a heartless old broad, or so I’ve heard Sheldon say) slam the thing shut… hopefully without my body in the way. There have been some aftermarket toys to keep the door open, and it appears that the Jeep folks paid attention. The new swing gate has a gizmo with a stop on it to hold the door open. Wonderful!

The little storage area under the rear carpet has even been improved. In the storage space are indents for the door hinge bolts and the bolts for the hard top, along with a little space for roof straps or other doodads. This is a really nice touch. To my eye, it kinda looks like the storage space is a little smaller, but there is a nice Jeep rug over the storage area, so maybe that’s a good tradeoff. 🙂

My last Jeep had both a hard and soft top, and frankly, I got pretty tired of switching them twice a year. In fact, until I busted the zipper on the back window, I’d just kept the soft top on. But I loved having the soft top available so I could drop the top and get the full airflow it afforded. When I first lowered the two-door’s top, I discovered just how much easier it was to raise and lower. The latch system and edging are much, much easier to deal with, and I think I’ll probably bust my knuckles a little less.

The doors also have a new harness latch. I’m not a huge fan of the locking mechanism on them, and I’ve already seen at least one thread on a Jeep site showing the locking parts broken off intentionally to make it easier to deal with the harness connector. While that’s not a bad idea, the good news is that with a two-door soft top, I have three less of those latches to deal with on a regular basis!

The interior on the Rubi is beautiful, sleek and black. It’s comfy, with redesigned seats that seem to hold my back and backside in just the right way. And there’s tons of power in the thing — one 12V outlet at the subwoofer, another in the dash, and a USB-style connector inside the center console. I also like the new autodimming mirror… it’s even got map lights!

I also put a Garmin nav system in the dash. I have two other Garmin systems — one for running and another for hiking — and this one plays right into those. Can’t wait to get it on the road, and see what it can do.

This new Jeep now has automatic headlights, which are pretty dang cool. I had those on my Chevy’s, but having that in the Jeep is a very nice feature. You can even set the Jeep up so that the headlights and foglights come on automatically — excellent!

Rubi also sports the new 3.6L Pentastar engine. I dunno if it’s the smaller body size, or the new engine, but this thing is like a rocket ship! It really has a lot of get-up-and-go, and is nowhere near as sluggish as my ’08 felt. And with the 6-speed, I’m enjoying the heck outta shifting gears while I travel. I’m all about process, and a stick is about as process-driven as it gets. My only complaint is that the shifting pattern has 6th gear being slightly offset as you slide from fifth. It’s very easy to accidentally slide it toward reverse from fifth… which isn’t a good thing. I’m getting used to it, but it’s not exactly natural.

In all, I really love this new Jeep. It’s a huge improvement over my ’08, and moving to a two-door really suits me. Woot!

RMH II — Day Five : RNMP

This was the big day for us… finally, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park! Man, I just love that place, it’s one of the big five for me: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and the Grand Canyon. These are all places where I “hear” and “see” like no other places I’ve ever visited. I see God’s hand, I hear His voice, and I find the kind of peace that I simply can’t find day-to-day anywhere else.

We’d gone into the park a little late, and were told by the ranger at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center that he’d buy us a steak dinner if we didn’t see elk at some point throughout the day. He pointed out some good places to find them, and with some good suggestions in hand, we headed into the park.

And right out of the chute, I watched the moon set between Mineral Point and Baker Mountain in the Never Summer Wilderness. My goodness was that wonderful to see. Of course, I photographed it, but there’s just not words to describe the majesty of watching the clockwork precision of the moonset as the almost-gibbous moon slid behind the young mountains. I stood on the trail for 45 minutes, watching this gentle ballet unfold, like it had countless times before. What a great way to start the day.

We worked our way up Trail Ridge Road, eventually coming upon Milner Pass at Poudre Lake. This is the point where the road crosses the Continental Divide — a geologic feature we’ve documented many times from lots of locations throughout the western US. When I last saw this particular pass in June though, it was covered in snow to the point where the sign noting the divide was one of the few things visible through the snow pack. In fact, were it not for the slight depression of the lake, you wouldn’t have known that it was there in June — there was still too much snow. However, in late September, the lake was well clear of snow, and Beck and I took a couple of short hikes at the pass, one on the “Atlantic” side of the divide, and another on the “Pacific” side of the divide.

I wanted to visit the Alpine Visitor Center, but work in the parking lot really made that pretty impossible — there was no parking left, and in general, it was a madhouse. This is a pretty popular place to visit, and despite the thin crowds in the park today, I think everyone who was in the park was trying to get into the center. We opted out and went on down the road to the Tundra Communities Trailhead. At about 11,700′ it’s not quite as high as the Alpine Center, but it had a nice trail with a terrific overlook. There’s not much higher than you at that point, and you can really tell it. The short hike really winded us, but the spectacular view of the tundra was well worth the effort. It’s pristine areas like this one that really leave a mark on me, and make me long to live in or near the mountains, rather than being at least two days away from them like I am now.

For our afternoon, we drove down to the Moraine Park area of RMNP. I’d never been to this valley before, and I was taken by the difference twenty minutes of driving could make. At Tundra Communities, we were near 12,000′ and surrounded by tundra; at Moraine, we were just above 8,000′ in a lush high valley with thriving flora and fauna. It was here that we saw our first big herd of active elk. And the first elk we saw was a couple of males “arguing” over a harem of females. Once the interloping male was run off, the master of the harem trumpeted, and I thought I was gonna fall over. I’d never heard that sound in the wild, and couldn’t believe I was hearing and seeing what was unfolding just a few hundred feet in front of me. Beck and I watched the herd for about an hour, watching them eat and enjoy a creek, listening to the male trumpet, and just living in the moment as these wonderfully large creatures went about their business as they had for more years than I can imagine.

One of the places I wanted to get to when I was at the park in June was Bear Lake. Due to snow, I couldn’t really get over there, but today, with the lack of snow, we dropped down to that part of the park. This was a very crowded spot, much like the Alpine Visitor Center, but with a parking lot that wasn’t under construction. We found a spot, and walked up to the trailhead. There are loads of trails here, but with us already tired, and hiking around at 9500′, we decided to just take a short walk to the side of the lake. We were told by the folks at the Moraine Park Visitor Center that this was one of the most photographed parts of the park, and I could see why. The water was so still and nestled among the mountains… it was a very serene place to visit. Definitely someplace to re-visit when I have more fuel in the tank, and an earlier start.

At the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, we were told about the Old Fall River Road. This is a single lane, one-way dirt road running east-to-west along the ridge for nine miles from Endovalley to the Alpine Center. It was one of the original roads through the park long ago. After hearing about it, I knew I had to take the Jeep on a classic drive. This road is one of the last to open after the winter snows, and I don’t believe it was open when I visited in June. With the dry conditions, I knew it’d be the perfect opportunity to run around and get the Jeep a little dirty. The road didn’t disappoint! While it was easy enough for passenger cars to make their way carefully, in the Jeep it was a breeze, and attacked it pretty aggressively, taking each hairpin turn in stride, and enjoying the beautiful views. This road has no guard rails, and at times waltzes along the edge of drops that were easily hundreds of feet almost straight down — that just made the drive that much more enjoyable! Along the way, we stopped at the Chapin Creek Trailhead, taking photos of a nice little alpine lake. What a wonderful drive!

With the sun quickly setting, we set about heading back down the west side of the park, heading back to Grand Lake. However, almost as a farewell sendoff, we saw one last herd of elk on Trail Ridge Road just a fraction of a mile from the exit for the park. It was a fitting way to conclude a very full day of enjoying the glory of this national treasure.

Built Like a Tank

Today was the day to start getting the repairs to my Jeep started. Once I picked a repair site — a Jeep dealer — I took it up there so they could evaluate it. The great news is that they saw nothing that will keep me from driving it until they get the parts in. That’s a big relief.

And what’s the damage gonna be? Well, the bumper, bumper cover (plastic), and the steering wheel all need replacing, which is gonna run less than a grand before insurance picks up their cut. Even with all that, the repair time is about four hours. Considering the nature of the wreck, that’s amazing to me. I didn’t think you could find someone to sneeze on a vehicle for under a grand, much less do repairs.

The small amount of damage is stunning to me. If I’d only looked at a photo of the other vehicle, I’da bet good money that the damage to the front end of the Jeep would’ve been significant. Not so.

Certainly is a great testament to the safety of this vehicle… and will probably keep me in one for a while!

Adventures in Automotive Husbandry

So… What happens when someone elects to cross their Saturn with a Jeep Wrangler? Well, here’s how the Wrangler looks:

Here’s how the Saturn looks:

Basically, this is the result of a Saturn pulling across two lanes of traffic at the behest of someone stopped on the inside lane of two lanes going the same direction. (“The lady waved me across” is the quote that I will remember from this event.) I was in the outside of those two lanes, and wasn’t party to either the decision to wave across, nor the decision to pull across both lanes. I was, however, driving the unfortunate vehicle that was in a position to t-bone the passenger side of the Saturn.

Becky and I are ok, as was the other driver, apparently. I’ve got a couple of bruises, and some soreness, but that’s to be expected.

So how’s the Jeep? Well, the bumper damage is visible in the photo. The steering appears to be off by a bit, measured by the steering wheel not being aligned right when the Jeep’s driving straight down the road. The biggest weirdness is the steering wheel itself. It appears that at the time of impact, I had a death grip on the top of the wheel… and bent the steering wheel a fair amount. Near as I can figure, that probably was the culmination of my arms being stiff, preparing for impact, and holding on rigidly enough to push the top of the wheel forward.

So we’re ok. I’m really bummed about it though, along with all the uncertainty that comes along with something like this. Deep breaths….

Elks and Buffalo

This weekend, we’ve had great weather — 75° in early November. I’ll take that! With the great weather, Becky decided we all needed to get out and enjoy the surprisingly mild weather. She was right.

With the doors off the Jeep, and the roof down, we all piled into the Jeep and started driving. We took a quick spin through Route 66 State Park, visiting the museum and letting Sio learn about Times Beach from the museum caretaker and Becky. We learned that the bridge connecting the park to the museum is about to be torn down, rather than be repaired. That’s a shame really. It’d be a great path across the river to link cyclists and pedestrians to the gift shop on the other side. Without the bridge, the two halves of the park will be completely separated, with only two separate exits from the interstate connecting them. Bummer.

One we were through with Route 66, we drove to Lone Elk State Park. We’ve had great luck there in the past seeing both elk and bison. This was the first time we’d been to the park so late in the day — about two hours before sunset. As it ends up, we had terrific views of the bison munching away, and elk both lounging and wandering around.

When I bought the Jeep last year, I wanted to be able to have nature really close to me by being able to take the doors and roof off. Today was the first time I’d really gotten that chance… and it was glorious. I felt like I was walking right alongside the elk and bison — they were so close you could touch them, and so near you could smell them. It was such a great experience, and I believe I’ll try to hit up the park late in the day again.

Of course, once the warm weather wears off in a few days, I imagine the behavior of the critters may be different. But that’s fine — I can run without the doors or roof down to at least 40°!