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Options For Warming Up Your Wheeler

Posted in How To: Electrical on April 29, 2015
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Photographers: Fred Williams

When building a 4x4 the priority is typically on items like beefy axles, big tires, a winch, and lockers. The fancy interior upgrades are typically left to the hot rod guys. Who needs A/C? Or heat? Half the time we remove the doors so we can see better off-road, or build a tube car with no doors or windows at all! And then you meet someone special that you want to take on a winter run, or even to the desert or the mountains in the summer after the sun goes down. And they get cold. And miserable. And you are too. Good luck getting that special someone to come wheeling again!

At that point you wonder why you thought building a crawler without a heater was a good idea. Or why you didn’t just fix that heater core leak instead of tearing it all out from under the dash. Or maybe you are driving your 4x4 to work every day and freezing your tuchus off, not to mention the fogged-up windows that make street driving a game of dodgeball between your mud-terrains and all the commuter cars.

Why are you driving your 4x4 to work and freezing your tuchus off?

It’s time for some heat in your truck, and since your engine makes heat naturally it’s almost a free upgrade! Plus, you’re already getting dirty looks from your boss for showing up to work in that mud-covered beater. At least you won’t walk in with chattering teeth and blue fingers too.

Your engine makes heat and the coolant is there to cool the engine, so make it work for you by making sure your heater works well. Oftentimes the coolant runs through a heater core, or small radiator that is fed by forced air from a fan. These cores can wear out over time and typically are not that expensive or hard to replace. We say “typically” because some are a headache to access because you may need to remove the whole dash. But the heat is worth the work. You can order most replacement heater cores from

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If your vehicle didn’t have a heater to start with or maybe was a buggy built from scratch, then you should consider a Mojave heater from Flex-a-lite. These small units measure 10 by 9 by 5 inches, yet when plumbed into your engine’s coolant system they pump out up to 12,000 Btu. We have ones stuffed under the dash of our Fun Buggy rockcrawler and the big orange Tug-Truck project we built for Ultimate Adventure 2014. Installation is as simple as finding a place to mount the heater, plumbing the coolant hoses to the heater from your engine, and wiring in the multispeed fan controls.

We’ve tried a couple different types of 12-volt heating systems, such as electric blankets from a truck stop that plug into your 12-volt power port. Most are useless for making significant heat and barely help in an open-topped vehicle.

Wearing the right clothing is important for making any outdoor winter adventure fun. We recently got our hands on a parka by the company 66° North while on a trip to Iceland. The clothing is awesome, but you could probably put a heater in your truck for what it costs. Expect to look like an Eskimo if you get the furry hood.

A new heated jacket from Milwaukee Tool uses the same rechargeable lithium batteries as the company’s tools. You can recharge the batteries in your 4x4 with a 12-volt charging cord. The clothing line, known as the M12 heated gear, is available in a variety of styles and even Realtree camo as well as a hand-warmer belt.

If you’ve had the chance to ride in a late-model vehicle with heated seats you know it’s a luxury, perfect for cold winter days. But did you know that you can have seat heaters added to many brands of aftermarket seats? We have a project in the shop right now that is getting a set of heated MasterCraft Safety seats for winter wheeling. Mounting the seats is just like any other aftermarket seat; then just wire in the 12-volt heating elements and controller.


Fife, WA 98424
MasterCraft Safety
Santee, CA 92071
Milwaukee Electric Tool
Brookfield, WI 53005
Madison, WI

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