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Folks, before you get all “geeked out” that I am gonna present you with all the latest facts and data on some new Bluetooth gizmo or a high tech, infra-red, heat-seeking camera set up, let me tell you up front that I am taking a slightly different approach! See, I am not really all that up-to-date with the current technology — but I can fix you up with a list of electronic items that will make your days on the road a little more enjoyable.
Bryan’s Top 8 Electronic Gadgets
1 Custom sound system with satellite radio capability and iPod compatibility. After all, the cab is where you spend the biggest portion of your time on the road, and typically those factory sound systems leave quite a bit to be desired. If you invest around $1,600-$2,000, you can get a decent high-powered system installed with a head unit that will be XM or Sirius ready. Plus you can plug your iPod or other mp3 player right into the front of it! Imagine: clean, crisp audio with a kickin’ bass beat and no commercials! Can’t beat it!
2 Invertor/TV/DVD player. This will make layovers, the hours waiting to load/unload and sleeper berth time a little more like home and provide some entertainment to break the mental stress of being out there on the road. If you are fortunate enough to drive a truck that’s equipped with an APU, you won’t necessarily need the invertor. If you don’t have an APU, I suggest you get a good quality 1,500/2,000 watt invertor. This should run almost any normal accessories you may need to use and give you a 110-volt outlet in the bunk that you can access for a hair dryer, coffeepot or laptop. Be sure to get the installation kit and the circuit breaker kit if you plan on installing the invertor yourself.
Another tip: There are several manufacturers now who offer a 20-inch flat screen TV with a built-in DVD player — these work real well for mounting to the sleeper wall and provide a good size picture screen.
3 Mini-fridge. Keep cold drinks or snacks for between meals at your fingertips. It would be helpful if your rig was equipped with an invertor or APU to operate it, but there are many good quality versions that operate on 12-volt power.
4 Hands-free cell phone setup. Whether it’s a headset and ear bud, a Bluetooth or a hands-free cradle of some sort, we all know how dangerous it is to use a conventional cell phone while rolling down the highway at 60-70 mph, or cruising through a busy downtown during rush hour. Nearly all of us have almost been in an accident by paying attention to the phone rather than the road. Whatever step you take to be a safer cell phone user — it’s all good.
5 Navigation/GPS unit. I haven’t gotten one of my own yet, but I have driven some rigs that have been equipped with them and, man, what a timesaver! This really reduces the need for several phone calls asking for directions and eliminates a lot of lost time and back-tracking. These units have also become very affordable with many running around $300 or so. One tip: When purchasing a GPS unit, try to make sure it is commercial truck friendly. That way it will show low underpasses, weigh stations and other road information that would be relevant to a trucker.
6 Digital load gauge. These also have become very affordable and accurate. For $300-$400, you can have a system installed that will tell you within 100 pounds what the weight is on your drive axles. If you pull a dedicated trailer, you could invest another $300-$400 and know what the load on your trailer tandems are as well. This small item lets you load to the max, while possibly saving you a headache at the scalehouse.
7 Heated blanket for the bunk. Sounds kinda wimpy doesn’t it? Oh well, I’d rather be a comfy wimp than a shiverin’ tough guy! All kidding aside, this does allow you to shut the engine off on those brisk nights and stay comfortable without idling. These are also available in 12-volt or 110-volt versions if you are equipped with an invertor or APU.
8 LED flashlight. Get a good one! These things will run for years on the same set of batteries! How many times have you heard an air leak under the truck or trailer during the wee hours of the night? But once you dug around in the side box for an hour, you located that good old dollar store flashlight only to discover she was deader than a doornail! Invest in a good LED light and try to get a bracket so that you can mount it in the cab or sleeper for easy access.
Bryan Martin leads the Chrome Shop Mafia at 4State Trucks in Joplin, Mo.