By Paul Abelson
There will always be the gadget nut who must have the newest doodad just because it is new. But sometimes new really is improved. Technology is having a real impact on truck accessories, and it’s always worth investigating how things have changed. Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson recently test drove a GPS and examined a CB that are true innovators.
The next generation in GPS technology is worth exploring
The route was very familiar and simple. I’d driven it many times. Going from my home in Chicagoland to the races at Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., I take I-94 past the merge with I-43, then continue north on I-43 after I-94 swings west. So why did the GPS want me to turn onto Milwaukee’s city streets?
I was doing a follow-up test after the rundown of GPS units I’d done a year earlier. My test unit was the Rand McNally TND 510, the next generation of the TND 500 introduced for truckers at the 2009 Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Texas.
Operationally, there is little to separate the TND 510 from the TND 500. Most differences are in the features accessible when stopped and doing route planning. But two key features are the virtual dashboard and real-time traffic capability.
It was the real-time traffic feature that threw me for a loop. Knowing the route to the racetrack as I did, I ignored the direction to exit the Interstate. There were signs for construction ahead, but that wasn’t for a few miles yet. And surely, at early afternoon congestion couldn’t be that bad, could it?
Yes it could. Just past Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport, traffic came to a grinding halt. I slowly made my way over to the right lane and 10 minutes later, took the next exit. Without missing a beat, or even announcing that it was “recalculating,” the TND 510 had me on a detour around the construction. Even though I was in my car, I had the GPS set for truck routes, programming it for an 80,000-pound, 5-axle, 13.5 ft. high tractor-trailer. There were a few streets I could have taken, but they were posted as truck-restricted. The TND 510’s routes would have kept me legal.
To keep up with traffic, the unit has software that automatically starts when you connect to any PC. It lets you receive the latest road construction and route updates, free of charge. For an extra charge, you can get Rand McNally’s Real Time Traffic Receiver. It comes with a lifetime subscription to NAVTEQ Traffic, a service that provides up-to-the minute traffic information including road construction, traffic speeds and crashes. It has its own antenna that attaches to the windshield using suction caps.
The other new feature is the virtual dashboard, the TND’s screen that displays actual speed, posted speed limit, milepost, compass direction, time at your yard, local time and time at your destination. It also shows altitude, sunrise and sunset times (important for oversize loads) and cumulative and average data for up to three trips. When approaching a maneuver such as an exit ramp or a turn, the TND automatically displays the junction. Once the maneuver is completed, it reverts to the virtual dashboard.
The feature also records average speed, average moving speed and maximum speed, which may be beneficial in the event of an incident. They can, however, be reset or deleted whenever you wish.
The same state-by-state logging and planning features as in the earlier models remain. There’s even a trip profitability calculator.
Space limits the features we can describe, but if you have an early model GPS unit, no matter who made it, I strongly suggest an upgrade. The new features made possible by the latest computer and memory chips greatly expand all the new units’ functionality, regardless of manufacturer.
A CB radio that fits today’s demands
Back in the 1970s, when Smokey and the Bandit was raking it in at the box offices and BJ and the Bear lit up our TV screens, CB radio was the accessory to have whether you were a truck driver or not. “CB” referred to Citizens Band, a group of radio frequencies set aside for use by the general public. Early users needed licenses, but soon the task of recording and cataloging the overwhelming number of applications and issuing licenses caused the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to drop the licensing requirement. That was about the time CB usage took off like a skyrocket. It was when this user went from being known as KKD3067 to having my unique handle, “Hot Air.”
Soon the airwaves around Interstate highways were filled with calls of “Breaker one-nine. Can I have a radio check?” Most of those were from passenger car drivers and were often ignored, except by other car drivers. More often than not, they were resented by professional drivers who used CB radio as a business tool to get directions, find fuel stops, get weather information and exchange experiences about shippers and receivers, carriers and other vital information.
To supply the growing need for this in-vehicle communications tool (or toy), manufacturers sold their products through truckstops, catalogs, mail order and the emerging “big-box” stores. But after a few years of popularity, demand for new CB radios dropped. Newly developed cellular phones contributed to the CB’s decline among passenger car drivers, but CBs remain as vital a tool for truckers as the cellphone has become.
Many CB suppliers dropped by the wayside, but one, Cobra Electronics, emerged as the market leader. One model, the 29, set the standard for performance. Its dimensions are the template for all truck builders that make space for CB radios in their cabs. While the basic performance of the radio is limited by the FCC to a maximum of 4-watts output, the features and controls have been regularly upgraded.
Modern style, functionality, upgrades
Their newest, the 29 LX, has a more aesthetic, contemporary design with a color-selectable LCD display. Drivers can change between red, green, blue or amber to match their cab’s décor or their own mood. Intensity can be varied to match ambient lighting conditions.
The 29 LX has a large center knob to ease channel changing and feature programming. A weather alert automatically advances to the clearest channel. A new clock/timer lets drivers track driving hours and doubles as an alarm clock. There are additions to the features that made the 29 a longtime favorite.
One problem with all CB radios is that they operate with push-to-talk technology. In order to transmit, you must push a button on a microphone, tying up one hand, leaving only one for the steering wheel, gearshift and all other controls. This is similar to the way cellphones occupy a driver’s hand and attention. That’s why many localities ban hand-held cellphones.
Regulators took note, and in some jurisdictions hand-held communications devices of all kinds are banned. That includes CB microphones in trucks. That led Cobra to develop its Remote CB Microphone, introduced at the Great American Trucking Show. It has an ergonomic headset that grips the head, above the ears, not over them. It has an adjustable, noise canceling boom microphone and a retractable cord. The unit connects through a standard 4-pin connection. Its push-to-talk button mounts conveniently to the gearshift handle, allowing the driver to operate the CB safely without having to reach for and hold a microphone or taking eyes from the road.
The Remote CB Microphone lists for less than $60.