The TechMobile, v3.0

On 18-Apr-2017...


I was on my way to work and got rear-ended on an off-ramp (thankfully, I was not injured at all nor was anyone else). The impact was enough to pretty much destroy the van's rear hatch, and it also shoved me into a pickup truck in front. Said truck, a mid-80's Ford F250 with bumpers which wouldn't have looked out of place on a Sherman Tank, was barely scratched.

Unfortunately, the damage to my rear end was, given the original TechMobile's age (17 years, of which we got 14) and high mileage (294K), considered to be a 'Total' by my insurance carrier. Thankfully, I had the footage from my dash-cam to prove, conclusively, I was not at fault. My insurance company even refunded my deductible because of this. It's interesting to note the van was still driveable after the incident, but the radiator failed a couple of days later. 

Thus began the (somewhat frantic, admittedly) search for a new set of wheels. My lady and I wanted to stick with a minivan, but neither one of us were terribly thrilled about the current offerings from Chrysler/Dodge (way too much highly-reflective chrome trim in the passenger compartment, well within range of the driver's line of vision).

Based on some serious homework, and advice from my regular mechanic, here's what we settled on.


Overall photo, new van

You're looking at a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. This was taken after I finished refitting it with the requisite radios and supplemental safety gear. The light bar was salvaged from the original van, and has long since been converted to use all-LED light heads. No more power-hungry/RF-noisy Xenon strobes or incandescents in this bar!

The antenna arrangement has changed completely. Where the original van had six mounts plus GPS, this one only needed two NMO mounts and an extra 'sharkfin' combo antenna (behind the light bar, not visible in this photo). One of the two NMO's is supporting the Larsen dual-band whip visible in the photo. The second is reserved for future use and is currently rain-capped. The mounts, and the sharkfin, are all aligned on the vehicle's center to provide optimal ground plane effect.

One thing I want to mention early on: In order to do a proper antenna installation with the Sienna vans, you HAVE to drop the headliner. There's just no easy way to do it without risking serious damage to the van's interior components, or falling back to poor-performing thru-glass antennas.

I learned the hard way that dropping said headliner, even with a full set of instructions obtained from Toyota TIS, is neither simple nor quick. I would strongly recommend you reserve a full day for the job, have a friend along to help, and have a LARGE working space available to stack all the interior trim which gets pulled out until it's time to reinstall it. You also need the proper tools. Get yourself a good automotive trim-removal kit, and have a handful of spare clips and fasteners used to hold the interior trim in place. No matter how careful you are, you're going to break at least the 'Christmas Tree' style fasteners which hold the headliner up. It's as inevitable as breathing!

A big reason for the reduced antenna count: The Sienna has most of the 'infotainment' electronics I would want in a vehicle already built in: GPS Navigation system, XM Satellite and HD radio tuners, along with stock AM/FM, CD and USB capability. It also provides Bluetooth integration with my phone. The original Dodge van was much too early a model year (2000) to have any of this as standard equipment, which was why it had so many antenna mounts and so much extra gear.

As for the sharkfin: It's dedicated to doing GPS and 3G/4G cellular for the Enfora GPS tracking beacon I installed. Rather than trusting some outside company with data as potentially sensitive as my real-time location, I set up my own GPSGate server on our private home network. The tracker's data goes straight to it, which helps my wife see where I am if I happen to be on a road trip without her along.

Moving along to the interior: Here's a photo of the rebuilt console, a Havis C-3010, the shell of which was salvaged from the original TechMobile.

Photo of equipment console

The equipment shown, from left to right:

That's it for now. Please feel free to drop me a note if you'd like more details about some aspect of the installation. 73, de KC7GR!


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