UHF radio for caravanners

A mate who tows a van has asked for my opinion on a UHF radio for his vehicle. He is thinking of a GME TX3200, mainly because of the low price of an offer with a cigarette lighter plug, a tiny (no gain) antenna and a top-of-dash mount. (Zero installation problems!) Seems to me that without a proper antenna he'd probably be better off with a handheld and that it would probably be just as effective for his purposes.

It got me thinking. When travelling (we don't pull a van) Val and I tend to go bush and a decent range is important to us, so use a 6 or 9db antenna mounted high on the roof and push a full 5 watts into it. Caravanners though generally don't go off-road so maybe don't need the range. Would a pair of handhelds, costing about the same, offer advantages over a vehicle mounted set? Freedom to communicate after leaving the vehicle, talking through reverse parking or getting out of tight situations, talking a safe passage when overtaking -- all short range stuff.

Caravanners - I'd like to hear your thoughts - how do you use UHF? What works for you?

Thank you

John

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Reply By: Dingojim - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:05

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:05
Hi John,Val & all. If the primary purpose of his setup is communication on the road I consider it adequate. If he wants to use it as you do then a setup like yours will be much better. With experience you can generally, but not always, get a fair idea of the distance away of a transmission by the strength (clarity and volume ) of the received signal. This is particularly helpful when travelling roads which you are not familiar with which have call points, normally bridges, ranges or localities. These call points are common in FN/NW/CW Queensland where many of the roads are single lane bitumen. We have a GME 3220 in the M/home and a hand held 5W GME in the Suzuki chook chaser and on the odd occasion we are travelling with both vehicles have no problems communicating over 4-5 km. Very handy when hooking the trailer on and if wife or I go for a look see out of sight of the MH a valuable safety aid. Cheers.
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:22

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:22
Thanks Jim,

You pretty much confirm my thoughts - if a range of 100m is enough for most caravanner's purposes, why aim for 5 or 10 km? I wonder if the $$'s are better directed at portable flexibility rather than range.

Good point about judging distance by using signal strength.

Thank you for your comments. I look forward to further thoughts in similar helpful vein.

Cheers

John

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Reply By: The Bantam - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:20

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:20
One issue with hand helds is the performance is very variable.

There are units out there with claimed power outputs ranging from 0.5 to the full 5 watts, the effectivness of the aerials fitted also varies considerably.

The range and reception is also very much effected by the body of the car and in this case caravan.

I have traveled in convoys with a couple of members using hand helds, and the reliablity is frustrating as hell.

The contact with those running in vehicle units with good aerials has been pretty solid, the contact with those using hand helds has been patcy at best.

The single biggest factor in any radio system is the aerial and its location..this is where the hand helds suffer the most.

Another constant issue with all UHF radios is speaker quality, even the in car units suffer because of cheap small speakers and or bad speaker placement.

the hand helds without exception have pissy little speakers and often low audio output.
this means you have to have the unit close to your ear in amny situations to get good inteligibilty.

Inteligability is a constant battle on UHF.

Seriuolsy a hand held in a vehicle is a very poor second.

cheers
AnswerID: 525146

Reply By: Idler Chris - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:48

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 10:48
When towing a van below 100 kph a good UHF radio properly installed I see as a safety issue IMHO. When a truck (or any other vehicle for that matter) is passing you you are the one in danger. If a vehicle coming the other way appears the truck will move over and push YOU off the road and hope you survive rather than have a head on where almost certainly someone will be killed. With a radio, if a truck is trying to pass you, you can communicate with him so that it can be done safely. I also have a 5 watt hand held, again primely for my safety. I carry it bush walking or away from the van or car. It is also a backup should I have trouble with the in car radio. Most of the time I turn to low power (1 watt) (this increases battery time) for getting/giving directions in hitching/unhitching the van.
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Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 11:20

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 11:20
John,

It's 28 years since Linda & I stepped out of a van we'd travelled around the Barkly Tablelands for 6 years, so I might not qualify :-). But I've just purchased one of these plug 'n play Electophones for my sedan, so might just scrap in?

I've tried handhelds in vehicles, with little success, due mainly to many of the points Bantam mentions, poor audio, small antenna and even the bulk of the van blocking signals. Also, as many vanners are Grey Nomads, their hearing may not be 100% anymore. Any overtaking activity, of say a Roadtrain, may involve a verbal exchange with a driver whose diction leaves a lot to be desired, so good reception is a must.

The plug 'n play is a neat, very small unit, with everything required to interact with fellow motorists. The suction cup mount is quite large, and not suited to my Falcon sedan, but may sit better on other vehicles with a steeper windscreen. I just "chucked" the radio in the console for the moment. Modern electronics is amazing......this UHF is about the size of 2 packs of cigarettes, whereas a GME UHF I bought in 1982, would be nearly 10 times the size.

Have talked to a work mate, in a truck, and he said the transmission was better than some of the trucks. However his replies were a little difficult to understand, but my hearing is borderline!

John, in hindsight, my preference would be to buy one these, but include a good antenna, say 6dB, and maybe have this on a magnetic base. Also, in my case, an extension speaker, positioned closer to my ears might be a necessity.

Bob.

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AnswerID: 525150

Reply By: Member -Pinko (NSW) - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 11:24

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 11:24
Hello John
If it were possible you and your mate visit a dealer who has multiple radio brands and types.
When I was working I had a handheld on my hip and a (pissy) mike/ speaker attached to my shoulder epaulet, detach the mike curley cord and the hand held speaker functioned.
Either way I had no problem with conversation.
A trial of differing brands and types will help with a decision.
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Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 12:22

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 12:22
G'day John,
I rather like the handheld for your intended purpose. I have used mine in short range communications in the vehicle and love it when out in the tinnie to call back to the bride in time of need. Like already stated range can be an issue but used mine on Fraser over allong range whilst waiting for a friend.
Kind regards
AnswerID: 525152

Reply By: Member - Bruce C (NSW) - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 21:50

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 21:50
Hi John,
I have several handhelds as well as a GME TX 3500 permanently installed in the Cruiser.

I use the GME extensively when towing the van, communicating with the truckies to arrange overtaking procedures or with other vans I may be traveling with.

A mate has a hand held only. The hand held is a B nuisance in my opinion as it is left sitting on the seat beside the driver and it is difficult for him to hear transmissions, therefore he is always asking me to repeat my overs. Handhelds usually sacrifice a good speaker for a cheap one due to space requirements. The range is poor also even though it is a 5 watter.

My suggestion is by all means get the TX 3200 as it is a 5 watt unit unless it is a 40 channel unit being sold cheap. It would be a waste of money, if it is 40 channels, unless it was dirt cheap.

Once he has the radio go to Super Whatsit and get one of their 7 or 9 db antennas and mounting base (around $75 for antenna and mounting base) and mount it externally on the side of the bonnet or rear boot deck or wherever it suits. Bull bar is best.

You never know when you will need the extra range and one day your life might depend on the extra distance.

I use the handheld radios when reversing into a tight spot in which case the chief navigator becomes another very important set of eyes minus the shouting match.

I consider the 5 watt fixed radio an essential bit of kit. I wouldn't leave home without it.

Cheers, Bruce.
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Reply By: Member - Arsenal Phill - Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 23:54

Sunday, Jan 26, 2014 at 23:54
Have a permanent set up in the Cruiser. Great tool. Useful for safety on the road, and coordinating group when out off road. Best range we calculated was 18km.
Also bought a 1200 handheld off of here. Nice little unit but it is very quiet. We use this primarily for parking up the van and an reversing down tracks. Priceless really as we don't have reverse camera and gives me piece of mind when manoeuvring in dense tree areas. The 1200 we lend out to friends when out in a group, but have to say it is hard to hear when on the move and doesn't compare to the fitted units in the other vehicles.
AnswerID: 525184

Reply By: Member - John and Val - Monday, Jan 27, 2014 at 08:12

Monday, Jan 27, 2014 at 08:12
Thank you everyone for your thoughts.

Consensus is that a proper vehicle transceiver is the absolute winner. A handheld is very useful outside the vehicle, but a pain inside.

Cheers

John
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