If you are bugging out in a vehicle, or just traveling and in your vehicle a lot, you really need to up your communications to a mobile radio. First, they have 25-50 watts and will reach out much further than your HT (5watts). Secondly the external antenna on your vehicle will produce a much more effective radiated signal. In addition, most mobile radios will provide many more memory channels than most handheld radios (a Baofeng and similar radios have 128 memories, most mobiles have 500 or more).
Manufacturers are always releasing new radios, so it is difficult to recommend any specific radios. If you ask 6 hams for their recommendation you will get at least 12 answers 🙂 Look at the article What Radio To Buy? for some considerations.
On the low budget end of the scale are the BTECH brand mobiles. If your budget allows you should consider a HF radio as this will give you the ability to communicate over a much greater area and without the use of repeaters.
I’m not a fan of all-in-one solutions so if your budget allows for an HF radio, you should consider one of the BTECH or cheaper mobiles so you have a separate 2-meter/70cm option. This also allows you to monitor 2-meters/70cm while also operating HF. Another option for a mobile is the Yaesu FTM-400DR (will do text messages over APRS as well as private groups) or the Connect Systems CS-800D if you have DMR repeaters in your area.
For mobile HF your options are the Yaesu FT-857D, FT-991, FT-891 (HF only) and the Icom IC-7100. You may also find some older mobile radios that are not current production.
Mounting radios in modern vehicles can be a challenge with limited console space in many vehicles. We discussed mounting options for radio in the February issue. Removable face plates give you more options installation so always check before you buy a radio. Be aware that most of the BTECH radios mentioned above do not have removable face plates.
Lidoradio.com makes mounts that secure to seat bolt. They come in various lengths, depending on your vehicle, and with different plates to mount a variety of radios.
There are many options for antennas, depening if you want to mount on a lip mount (no damage to vehicle) or use a magnetic mount. My experience with magnetic mounts is that they will still scratch your roof, expecially if there are any small particles of dust or dirt trapped under them. They can also get knocked off by branches or other objects.
If you park your vehicle in a garage then you need to make sure that you have enough clearance. Many of the antennas have a fold over option, but you do have to remember to fold it over before going into your garage.
Some of your antenna options for the tri-band radios such as the BTECH models (2-meter, 70cm and 1.25m) are:
For dual band (2m/70cm) mobiles the Diamond NR770HA (or HAB if you want black)
HF antennas for mobile options and a little more difficult as most HF antennas are much longer. For them to work over a number of bands you are either looking for a motorized antenna that allows you to tune the antenna to the frequency by raising or lower the antenna, or a whip antenna with an automatic tuner. Either of these options are not cheap. You could choose an antenna for a specific band you intend to work but this would require you to change antennas every time you wanted to change bands. This many not be your best option for bugging out as one of the best methods for COMSEC (communications security) and reduce the amount of SIGINT (signals intelligence) you provide to anyone outside your group is to change frequencies (and bands) often. For more information on COMSEC and SIGINT see the articles in the February and March 2018 issues.
The Icom AH-740 is an auto-tuning antenna for Icom radios. This has the tuning components in the base of the antenna similar to the Stealth and Codan antennas discussed below. It can be set up in a NVIS configuration by tying the top of the whip back to the vehicle (with non-conductive cord), as often seen with military set up on Jeeps and Humvee’s you create a NVIS antenna. As discussed in the February 2019 articles, NVIS antennas are the set up for HF communications between 30-300+ miles. https://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/hamantm/2397.html
https://www.dxengineering.com/parts/ico-ah-740 NVIS configuration.
The Icom AH-4 is an older auto-tuner designed to work with the older model Icoms such as the 706MkIIG. This can be used in a mobile installation by using the AH-2b, which is a 8.2ft (2.5m) whip.
The Yaesu ATAS-120 is an auto tuning antenna designed to work with the Yaesu radios. It doesn’t cover all HF bands including 40 and 80 meters where NVIS communications are ideal.
The SGC SG-230 is an automatic antenna tuner that will work with any radio and cover all the HF bands. While normally used in a fixed installation it can be mounted in your vehicle and connected to a 23ft (or longer) whip.
Another antenna option, and ideal for the mobile HF setup is the Stealth 9360 antenna. While I’ve found a lot of reviews on this antenna, I’ve not been able to locate a supplier (but did find one for sale on eBay). The Codan 9300 antenna is a very similar product. This set up is often seen in Australia, where HF is the only communications available in the outback. These are not cheap antennas (around $2,800), however, if you have the money, they would be my choice as they are designed to take an extensive beating.
The Opek HVT-400B and HVT-600 is not auto tuning however you change a jumper for different bands. It is cheaper and far easier to install and set up that an auto tuning antenna. https://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/hamantm/5066.html https://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/hamantm/5578.html
Antenna selection will, in part, depend on where you can mount your antennas, and this will depend on your type of vehicle and where you park it. If you park in a garage you have to be careful of the roof height otherwise it can get costly replacing them. If an antenna is not mounted centrally on your roof, then the signal radiation will be impacted as your vehicle will shield part of the signal. Corner mounts can give you -2 to -3db of signal loss but may be your best option if you garage your vehicle.
One of the most versatile mounting options are the trunk/hatchback mounts such as the Diamond K400S and the Comet RS730. They are available in a couple of options that include SO-239 or NMO (depending on your antenna connector) and the coax. Other options include luggage rack mounts such as the Diamond K515S, and motorized mounts such as the Diamond K9000, which allow you to fold the antenna over for garages. One word of caution with the motorized mounts, they are useless if you forget to fold over your antenna before going in the garage!
I have used the Comet RS730 and Diamond K400S mounts and the same ones have been on my vehicles for the past 8-10 years without any problems.
For HF antenna mounts you can also consider a tow hitch mount. With HF an important consideration is a good ground to the vehicle. This can sometimes be a challenge but if you are getting high SWR readings or poor transmission or reception this is the first thing I would check. A good grounding strap from the base of the antenna to your vehicle is essential.
Many modern vehicles now have 12v outlets similar to cigarette lighter plugs. While these might be suitable for low power radios such as the BTECH’s, they should not be used for any radio over about 20-25watts as they are now wired to be able to draw high current.
The best option to power your radios is to wire them directly to the battery or the main ignition bus if you want them to turn off with your ignition. Quality 12awg wire should be used and fuses are a must. Be careful where you run the wire so that it does chaff against metal and cause a fire or short. When grounding make sure you have removed any paint under the bolt or screw so the contact is to bare metal.