Having a Jeep is easy. A gajillion companies make stuff for Jeeps. But what if you want some cool Jeep part for your other 4x4? For example, we wanted a clean wiring setup and a set of switches for the accessories in our ’10 Ram 3500 truck. We had seen the Spod power distribution and relay box on many Jeep Wranglers and even some Toyota Tacomas and FJ Cruisers, but nothing had been developed for our big 1-ton Ram adventure/work truck. We decided to take the problem in our own hands and build what we wanted. With the help of Spod, Viking Panels, and Western Fabricators we ended up with a clean, simple, and effective wiring solution.
Adding electrical devices to a new 4x4 is like playing Russian roulette. Since most new 4x4s run a CAN-bus system, where every part of the vehicle is computer controlled and communicates via digital signals, tapping into the wiring harness today is not as easy as days gone by. In fact, it isn’t a good idea to mess with the factory harness at all because adding additional loads to wires can set off fault codes and even shut down or disable certain systems.
For this reason we went with the Spod relay center. The Spod runs directly off the battery and feeds all the accessories while also monitoring the battery voltage so as not to overtax it. It does this completely separate of the factory harness except where it touches the battery terminals. We finished the install with a clean set of switches that blend well with the dash, offer day or night use, and keep our accessories within reach and our truck’s electrics happy.
Step By Step
New trucks have a CAN-Bus system of communication and wiring that control factory items like the lights and radios via digital signals. This means tapping into the wiring is nearly impossible to control nonfactory accessories such as these HID and LED lights from KC HiLites. On top of that, adding switches to your new truck is tricky if you don’t want to drill into the dash or the vehicle is a lease. Ford did it right with its factory up fitter switches, but we had to improvise on our ’10 Ram 3500.
Our truck has two sets of KC off road-lights up front, an air compressor, and two ARB Air Lockers, and it will eventually have rear surround lights on the roof rack. We spoke to the experts at Viking Panels about a switch panel that would have backlit labels, red warning lights when the accessory is on, and simple rubberized toggles. Viking can also offer the panels prewired for easy installation or open for custom wiring. They delivered exactly what we ordered in record time.
To mount the panel, we worked with Western Fabricators and had a laser-cut metal box formed. The box was then powdercoated a black wrinkle color to help match our interior.
We found a spot on top of our dash center stack to attach the custom switch box. There is a pencil holder there with two small screws into some U-clips. We replaced the U-clips with larger versions that accept a 1⁄4-20 bolt to hold the box.
We broke our one rule of not tapping into the factory harness because we wanted the backlit labels to light up with the keyed ignition. In fact, we wanted them to come on and be controlled with the dash lights, but the CAN-bus system didn’t allow that. We were able to tie these very low-amp LEDs into the power supply and ground wires going to the keyed cigar lighter power outlet. This is a fused factory item and so far has not had any issue, but we really wish that new vehicles had a better system for allowing aftermarket wiring upgrades.
We removed the face of the center stack in order to replace the U-clips for mounting and run the wires to the backlit lights off the cigar lighter. We also ran the wire that connects the Spod to the switches down behind the dash and through a factory firewall grommet and into the engine bay.
This is the brains of the system. The relay center houses six 40-amp relays. When you flip the switch on the dash it activates the relay and sends power to the accessory, in our case lights, compressor, and lockers. The control panel is wired direct to the positive and negative sides of the battery. Because it is wired direct, the accessories are available even if the engine or key is in the off position. However, if at any time the battery drops below 10.6 volts the Spod will shut off all attached accessories to protect the ability to start the vehicle.
The relay panel is wired to the battery via the supplied heavy-gauge wires, and the positive leg has an auto-resetting circuit breaker. Though the Spod can run many accessories it should not be used to control a winch, which should always be wired directly to battery. The wires from the switches plug right into the panel, and there are fuses for each item in addition to the relays. Along the front edge you can see the positive and negative connections for the KC lights we wired in.
Most Spod’s have mounts to install the power distribution center under the hood, but because they haven’t yet developed one for the Ram trucks we had Western Fabricator make a simple L-bracket mount to install the box in front of the drive-side battery. The box is mounted right above the factory fuse panel, so we’ll need wrenches to remove it if the time comes, but this allows easy access to the battery. Also note the extended mounting bolts and acorn nuts used to support the front of the Spod panel.
Our dash now has a clean industrial look with the new switch panel. The box is solidly mounted, and both the front Viking panel and a rear access panel make wiring a breeze.
Additionally Viking has various color options for the backlighting. We went with a green hue to closely match our factory dash. The lights are not distracting at all and blend in well after dark.
Spod also offers many switch panels for other 4x4s like Jeep Wranglers and Tacomas. This JK panel has paddle switches and a gauge for the air compressor.