It’s time for the next update on Project Ironhide. In this post we’ll cover the installation of the N-Fab Light Bar and 801/803 series KC Rally lights. Lets start with the truck lighting from TruckElectrics.com. Pretty standard piece of hardware and bolts onto the truck fairly easily without any real modifications. N-Fab does a really nice job with the design and incorporates some nice touches. That being said, if you want to really do a bang-up job that makes the install look really clean (no wires zip tied to the bar) then you have to take it just a tad bit farther. This is where having some skills in the shop come in handy.
There are a couple of ways one can go about mounting everything for a build like this. But there’s only one real way (in my opinion) to get this done, and that’s to pre-wire and mount everything to the light bar BEFORE it goes on the truck. I have opted to have some of my mods done by the dealer and I couldn’t be happier with that decision. I always freak out when it comes to drilling into brand new metal, but sometimes, you just have to do it. Thankfully I had two very talented guys working on my truck, Kevin Piper and his apprentice Aaron. Kevin started working on the light bar well before I arrived in order to have everything mounted up and ready to go. Part of the prep for Kevin included making sure the install looked as clean as possible and that meant drilling into the light bar and running the wires through it, rather than simply tie-wrapping them to it. Boy, what a HUGE difference that makes. N-Fab should look to this as a best-practice and modify their design to incorporate this way of wiring the light bar to the vehicle. I’d add some grommets for a clean look and to keep water out of the holes (we used some black silicone).
Once the lights and pre-wiring are complete, it’s time to move on to mounting the light bar onto the vehicle. With the new EcoBoost F-150’s, the license plate bracket on the front of the vehicle has been moved off to the side to allow for proper and unobstructed cooling of the turbo intercooler. This presented a slight hiccup when mounting the light bar, but it was easily cured with a little bit of “modification” of the factory bracket. For the non-EcoBoost engines, the license plate bracket is centered on the vehicle and bolts to a small lip extending from the side of the opening. Kevin sawed the lip off and we were back in business. Given that we won’t ever need (or want) to block that front opening, no loss here.
Next, we bolted up the light bar to the truck and started wiring it up. Ford has paid attention to the little details now and providing things like nice flaps to cover wide empty (eg. ugly) spaces provides us with an opportunity to hide the relay switches behind one of these flaps.
Before running all the wires to the interior, remember to check your connections! There’s nothing worse than doing a bunch of labor intensive work and routing your wires nice and neat only to discover later you wired it wrong or there’s a problem somewhere. As I preach in software development & design, test early…test often! With the initial wiring out of the way, we lit up everything to confirm we are good to proceed.
Now for the fun part, the interior. Lets start with running the wiring through the firewall. What an incredible PAIN IN THE ASS! Ford did such a damn good job sealing the interior from the firewall forward, that it didn’t leave many options for getting wiring through to the main cabin. After much battle with finding a suitable ingress point and taping wires to a wire hangar, Kevin and Aaron were finally able to pull the wiring through. This is no trivial task as the small little hole we used was not visible to the eye from below the glove box and required feeling our way through the heavily insulated carpet up behind the dash by the glove box while another person was fishing the wire down from the outside. Again, Ford has stepped up quality and craftsmanship significantly which made it that much more difficult for us to do without drilling holes unnecessarily. Did I mention I’m not a fan of drilling into new metal?
After getting the wires set up, it came time to figure out a solution to the switching. This is probably the single most mind-numbing part of the install, which I lost countless sleep over, trying to figure out how to best accomplish while maintaining a high degree of fit and finish. I searched the forums endlessly for examples of how others had installed the switches for their lights. Not a single example passed my sniff test. I poured over literally hundreds of parts websites and aftermarket lighting/panel specific manufactures. You know what I found for the F-150? BUPKIS. Nada. ZILCH. Sure, there were plenty of switches and tons of dash mounted options for Jeeps, but it seems like nobody thinks people put lights on anything but a Jeep, including Ford! Using cheesy switches and drilling or screwing them to the dash or trim just looked cheap and I wasn’t having that. What irked me more than anything was that Ford has a perfect solution for the Raptor with 4 neatly mounted aux switches that would have fit the bill perfectly. I would have just used that part from the Raptor but there are a couple of buttons that would have gone to waste and the cost for the part was not cheap. I was about to give up and assume that I and the rest of the non-Raptor F-150 universe was left out in the cold for a nice solution to this. No so fast skippy, that’s where that decision to buy from Bickford Ford paid off…again.
After brainstorming with Kevin, he spotted a nice sheet of 1/4″ aluminum he had laying around. The idea was to fab a plate that would go where the F-150’s coin/junk area was just forward of the shifter / cup holders and mount the switches to that. Taking it one step farther, I have a VIAIR On Board Air compressor I’ll be installing soon and that comes with a gauge and switch as well. We figured, why not make a complete switch panel that also allows for future add-ons? We removed the center console and went to work. First, the junk holder was going to have to go through a slight modification so we could fit everything and run wires. After getting that modded, we used it as a template to cut the aluminum plate.
After some fit and finish work and giving the plate a brushed look, time to measure things up, lay out the switches and see how this beast would come together. A little drilling, filing, sanding and a quick run to the auto parts store (for some extra switches to make them all uniform), and the panel was complete. I have to say, this came out better than anything I could have possibly bought on the market! Not only do I have the switches for the lighting in place, but now the OBA gauge is mounted cleanly and in a place that makes sense. For the switches I used Blue for the OBA, Green (4 total – 2 in use now, 2 for later) for lighting, and (2) Red for a couple of things I have in mind in the future. You’ll have to come back and follow the build to find out what those are!
Thanks a million to Kevin, Aaron and the entire crew at Bickford Ford. They far exceeded my expectations on this. Stay tuned for more updates coming soon, the best is yet to come! Full pics after the jump…