Put a Weather Radio in Your Micro-Camper

If you camp off the grid where there is no cell signal, it’s a great idea to have a weather radio in your RV or van.

What’s the most important thing to know when you are living outside?  The weather of course!  This is especially important when traveling in tornado country.

It may seem archaic in this world of weather apps and 24-hour TV coverage, but NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) still maintains a series of weather broadcasting stations across the United States.

The signals are AM, but not the frequencies that you can receive with the factory radio that came in your vehicle.  Fortunately, most factory radios are easily replaced with a DIN (a standard) sized radio.

I did a little research to see if I could find a replacement head unit that fit my requirements AND had a weather band.  I wasn’t able to find any that were intended for automotive purposes, but many of the radios designed for marine use have this feature built in.  They aren’t any more expensive than their automotive counterparts and use a single DIN chassis, just like the 2004 factory Honda Odyssey radio.  I settled on the Dual AMCP500BT

I would have preferred black, but it seems that all the marine radios come in white.

This unit also comes with a remote, which is handy to control the radio when I’m hanging out at the back of the van, or laying down.  It also has Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls or streaming music.

You can check it out on Amazon by clicking on the picture (or buy it on Crutchfield and get the free installation kit, here)

Crutchfield’s prices may be slightly higher, but they include the right installation kit (a frame that makes the radio fit the hole in the dash) , a wiring harness that let’s you plug into the factory wiring, rather than cutting it up to match the radio (so you can always put the original radio back in), plus install videos and phone assistance.  This is one time where I’d suggest you look at the Amazon listing, but BUY from Crutchfield.com



Almost every new vehicle comes with Bluetooth connectivity for your cell phone and streaming music, but that wasn’t the case in 2004.  Because I conduct business while I’m on the move, Bluetooth was a requirement for my Odyssey Camper.  I wanted the ability to connect my iPhone and stream Spotify, and the option to upgrade to SiriusXM later on (because stations are limited when you are in the middle of BLM land with radio or cell signal!).

RV Weather Radio
Here’s what’s in the box

Installing the Radio

This install shows how I replaced the factory radio on my 2004 Honda Odyssey, but if you don’t have an Odyssey, a lot of the tips and techniques apply to any vehicle.  Most modern vehicles have the same DIN or Double DIN mount, so it’s just a quick trip to YouTube to find out how to pull the trim off and get to the screws.

If you’ve never done something like this, don’t be afraid to try it.  Installing a radio is not difficult, especially if you buy it through Crutchfield, because they supply the radio with the adapters you will need and an installation kit.  If you can turn a screwdriver, you can do this.  Just work slowly and leave yourself plenty of time.  It took me 2 hours, but it could take 4-5 for a first-timer.

Here’s what the factory radio looks like.  Hold on to it in case you ever sell the vehicle.  Some people like the look of the original radio.

A set of “trim removal tools” can help to pull the dashboard trim pieces without scratching the trim.  You can find them on Ebay or Amazon for about $7.

Start at the corner of the trim under the fuel gauge.  Honda did such a great job fitting the trim that it all looks like one piece, but it’s not.  Pry out gently and you will feel the clip release.  If it won’t let go, leave your pry tool in place and use another pry tool to proceed to the next step.

Keep working around the trim, left to right, top to bottom until it pops off.  I’d also suggest you take a look at this video if you have a 2nd Generation Odyssey. He does a good job of explaining the radio removal.

Now you have to reach behind the panel and pop off all the wire connectors.  On this one, you squeeze the sides to release it.  Some of the other require squeezing in the opposite plane.

If you can’t get a grip on one of the connectors, gently press on the release mechanism with a screwdriver and guide it out.

Success!  The panel is removed and can be set aside.

Four screws hold the factory radio in place.  Two on the left…

…and two on the right.

 

Side view of the bracket.  The install kit provided by Crutchfield will mimic these mounting points.

Simply pull the radio forward and disconnect the blue modular connector and the antenna cable (not shown).

Crutchfield supplies these awesome adapter harnesses that make connecting the radio and vehicle harnesses together, a snap.

Here I connected the adapter just to make sure it is the right type for my vehicle.  I’ll then pull it off and connect the harness that came with the radio, to this adapter.

Although the color code is somewhat common, not all replacement radios will use the same color code.  So, reading the code on the package and then matching it to the instructions for the radio is the way to get it right.



I like to solder my connections, but many a radio install has been done by twisting the wires together well and then wrapping them in electrical tape.  If you are unsure of your skills, find a local repair shop or trade school and ask them for help.

Bluetooth Phone Mic

This radio came with Bluetooth capability, meaning you can take phone calls through the radio.  It’s a cool safety feature that automatically stops the music and makes it easier for both parties to hear the other.  It also means we have an extra wire to run for the hands-free mic.  I positioned the mic on the front A-pillar (next to the windshield) and then ran the wire under the rubber trim.

When you get to the bottom of the trim, near the dash, run the wire under the dash to the radio opening.  Make sure you don’t put it near the steering column or brake pedal, where it could get damaged.  Tie the wire in place with zip ties or electrical tape.

The little ball on the mic snaps perfectly under the trim piece, with no need to drill or clamp.

The other cool piece that Crutchfield supplies with your radio is this trim bezel.  This fits around the radio and then provides holes for you to mount the radio.  I forgot to shoot a photo, but it gives you little tabs to put the original screws through, to secure the radio in the original slot.

Assemble by reversing the procedure

  1. Connect radio to the blue harness, the hands-free mic, and then screw it in place.
  2. Hold the dash trim up near the radio and reconnect the cables.  They are all secured and of different sizes, so you can’t really get it wrong.
  3. Starting at the bottom and working up, then left, press the trim back into place.

 

Finished and receiving weather bands!

This radio proved itself on my journey through the Badlands and the Black Hills, where radio and cell phone coverage was spotty.  While it was nice to know the expected high and low temperature, it gave me warning that high winds were expected during the night.  That saved my camp chair from blowing over the side of a 90-foot cliff.  But that’s a story for another time.

–Odyssey Camper

Want to find great, out of the way campsites? When I’m not boondocking for free, I use my Passport America membership to save 50% on campgrounds.  It pays itself back after a couple nights and then cuts campground costs in HALF!

Don’t get stuck buying a separate membership for each campground chain, join Passport America instead!

–Odyssey Camper


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