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From what I've seen, there are generally two ways to power a mobile radio:

  • Positive lead to battery, negative lead grounded to chassis
  • Both positive and negative leads to battery

I know that antennas should be grounded to the chassis, but what about the radio itself? There must be some electrical difference, but I'm not sure what it is and I've seen a lot of contradictory information.

What is the "correct" way to do this? The vehicle is a 2012 Honda Accord.

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    $\begingroup$ Would you happen to have links to examples of the contradictory information? $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Jun 4 '15 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ Aren't they both already grounded to the chassis? The battery by cable and the radio by the mount....? $\endgroup$ – SDsolar Oct 15 '17 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ I have wires running directly from my battery to my IC706 but unless I also have a short direct ground wire to the chassis, transmiting causes the IC706 to restart. $\endgroup$ – Cecil - W5DXP Feb 12 at 12:36
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There are two reasons for the advice to run direct to the battery:

  1. Minimize the area enclosed by the power connections. This reduces both interference picked up by the wiring, and inductance (which is undesirable in power supply connections).

  2. Minimize resistance. A radio can be a fairly heavy load as car accessories go, so you want to avoid any voltage drop you can, and the chassis may not give you the best conduction to the battery.

Neither of these is a reason to wire specifically to the battery per se, only to avoid using a completely different conductor (the chassis). According to K0BG.com, a site dedicated to mobile amateur radio, some modern cars have electrical systems in which you shouldn't wire direct to the battery terminals, for example:

The use of these sophisticated subsystems have necessitated the relocation of the ELD to the negative lead of the SLI battery as shown at right (surrounding the battery ground lead), and below right (incorporated in the battery negative connector). The photos are of a 2014 Nissan Titan, and 2013 Honda Accord respectively, but other makes are similar such as Ford's F150 shown below at left.

Ford's Battery Monitoring SystemIt should be obvious that transceiver ground connections cannot be made directly to the battery as recommended in the past, as doing so would bypass the BMS. Thus in the examples shown, the negative lead would be attached to the battery's chassis connection point (Titan), or on the ground side of the ELD (Honda).

(Note that the reference to connecting to the chassis is to the point at which the battery is connected to the chassis, not elsewhere on the chassis.)

The article goes on to say, after discussing other possible complications:

The bottom line here is, if in doubt, read your Service Manual, or contact your dealer's service department before undertaking your installation.

To summarize:

  1. Learn how your vehicle's electrical system works — specifically, where it is safe to tap for a high-current accessory.

  2. Run a dedicated, fused 2-conductor power cable between that connection point and your transceiver.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Kevin. Based on the link you provided, it looks like I should not be hooking up directly to the battery due to the battery management system and electrical load detector. In my case (Honda Accord), the linked article states that the ground should be connected to the ELD. I would be happy to accept your answer if you include some of this information. Thanks again for the very helpful reference! $\endgroup$ – Ben Jun 8 '15 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ @BenBurwell I've added some info, how's that? I don't want to suggest that the ELD is the only thing that can be a complication, so I kept it general but quoted that part because you did say you have a Honda. (The next reader may have a different car.) $\endgroup$ – Kevin Reid AG6YO Jun 9 '15 at 0:10
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Have a 2018 Subaru Forester Has a heavy 2nd wire from negative batter terminal going to an ELD sensor...the wire from the sensor to the chassis ground is enclosed within aluminum tubing and cannot be easily accessed. The head tech for Subaru in my location went to my car opened the hood and pointed to the main chassis ground bolt between the fuse box and the shock mount...good enough for me..

Main Chassis Ground Bolt Main Routing Scheme

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Never ever connect your radio or amp directly to the vehicle battery. You always ground to body of the vehicle. Positive can go to battery but best to follow manufacturer on location. If your new radio comes with a fuse on the ground, cut it off so as to only fuse the positive lead.

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    $\begingroup$ The fuse in the ground of the radio wiring harness protects the radio and its wiring harness in the event the chassis ground bonding is lost in part of the vehicle. There is no harm in leaving the ground fuse in place (other than reduced reliability due to the additional components). $\endgroup$ – Glenn W9IQ Jul 3 '18 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GlennW9IQ Actually, I think I figured it out. The fuse on the negative wire helps if the radio is grounded (intentionally or accidentally) at two points in the system, and those two points aren't well bonded together through the chassis. Then ground current from other vehicle systems could flow through the radio's ground wire, potentially resulting in overheating. $\endgroup$ – mrog Jul 9 '18 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ Also, K0BG says that both the positive and negative wires should have fuses, and it's hard to argue with that sort of expertise, even if he doesn't really explain why. k0bg.com/wiring.html $\endgroup$ – mrog Jul 9 '18 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @mrog You are correct. I had this with a used Wrangler I bought from a dealer. The engine to chassis bonding wire had broken. All the circuits on the chassis side sought out a return path through the strangest routes. If a ham radio had been installed with direct battery connection, it would have been the ground connection. A fuse in its ground would have blown to protect the radio. $\endgroup$ – Glenn W9IQ Jul 9 '18 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeWaters If the negative fuse blows, your antenna cable could provide a path to ground for the current used by the radio, which hopefully isn't too much for the cable to handle. Performance might suffer, but that's just an inconvenience. If there's no negative fuse, the radio's negative power wire could be used as a return path for the radio and lots of other devices at the same time, which could result in an electrical fire. Given the choices, I'd choose to keep the fuse in the negative wire. $\endgroup$ – mrog Jul 9 '18 at 21:00

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