Last year we bought a 2018 Subaru Outback to help me commute to a new job out of town. My wife named the car 'Otto'...she thinks he looks like an Otter. It wasn't long before something bit me and I wanted to make it my own. Being a new car, my wife wasn't so sure about that so a rule was put in place...nothing permanent. What ever I tweak, it has to be such that I can put it back to stock. A Trail Chameleon if you will. Grocery getting dad wagon by day and trail slayer by night. I held off on posting this for a little while. I don't really feel the need to share this sort of stuff just to share but if it gives others good ideas and/or I get some in return as I finish the build, that would be just what I think is great about this community.
The first thing I did was change the tires. I wanted off road tires. I also needed winter tires...and i wasn't in love with the cheap tires the car came with. I also planned on putting about 20,000 highway KM in the first year alone so didn't want KO2s. Being budget conscious, I just swapped the OE tires for winter rated A/T tires. Yokohama Geolandar G015s were the best choice. Good on all terrains, fit on the OE 18" wheels, and are actually more quiet on the highway than the OE tires. So far they are up to every terrain I've thrown at them.
After that I noticed that the car was pretty good at spraying itself in the wet so to protect the paint as much as I could, I ordered up a set of Rally Armor mud flaps. They fit perfectly, and do a really good job of keeping the crud off the paint. Very much worth the price. Came with all the brackets and hardware to mount them in under an hour.
Being a Ham, I always have a radio in my vehicles. Not being able to screw mounts into the inside of the car PLUS wanting to add a CB since a lot of the 4x4 clubs still go the CB route posed a unique challenge. The solution was two fold. First magbase antennas. I have two at the back of the roof. A small circle of clear vinyl rock guard protects the paint from the magnets. Inside the car I have a Yaesu FT-2900R and a Cobra 29LX. I built hooks to let them hang over the cup holders on the passenger side of the centre console. It's not the prettiest thing but it's very effective. Velcro keeps the radio brick from flopping around by securing it to the carpet. Power wires route around the back of the drivers seat under the carpets to the fuse panel where they steal a bit of power from the sun roof fuse.
The Cobra radio was second hand and ended up having an issue with the speaker. Fixing simple problems with overly complex solutions is sort of my wheelhouse so instead of fixing or replacing the speaker I installed a small 4 channel pre-amp in the centre console. This takes the speaker signal from each radio and mixes it into the aux input for the stereo...with several channels left over to connect to something else like a phone, tablet, HT radio...anything. It's overkill to pipe a CB radio through a 7 speaker Harmon Kardon system but it works very well. On top of the pre-amp are some magnet mounts (not pictured) for holding my phone. The fit was pretty good and it all comes out with the pre-amp if I want to put it back to original condition. The amp is powered from wires piggy backed off the power lines for the radios.
When I first got into getting off the main roads, I wanted a nice GPS. A proper off road friendly GPS is pretty expensive so I used an old tablet. The apps which are available these days are amazing. I had an old Samsung tablet which was commuting with me anyhow so I built a mount for it on the dash. This lets me run mapping apps and/or ODBII gauges via an ODBII bluetooth dongle under the dash. Helps me keep an eye on things the dash doesn't show like Trans temp...or measure my quarter mile time LOL. The tablet has a GPS so I can also run Google Maps offline or Viewranger or any other number of good off road mapping apps.
I've lowered the mount since that picture was taken so that it doesn't obscure my view of the road. I'm still playing around with the mounting. It's tough to mount a tablet without any permanent mounts but a combination of a suction cup base and a CD slot base cobbled together are doing an OK job so far.
Spoiler alert! I like lights...a bit too much...
The LED headlights on the Outback are excellent...but that's no fun. I was always a fan of rally racing and Subarus when I was a kid so I wanted some big round driving lights. I happened to find some Lightforce Genesis lights on the cheap locally. Not wanting to do what everybody else does, I picked up three 210mm Halogen lights. That's about 8 1/4 inches each. I built my own light bar which bolts to the factory steel bumper. Completely removable with no cutting of the front bumper plastics required. These have been upgraded with LED bulbs from Aliexpress. They're just as bright as the 100W bulbs which were in the lights but the color now matches the LED headlights. The cube lights on the hood are an experiment which I may or may not stick with.
When I was still toying with what I wanted to do for lights I bought some super el-cheapo chinese light bars to play with. I didn't want to waste them so I was able to squeeze a 30 inch bar inside the opening of the lower grill. It's just wide enough that the brackets and bolts are hidden. It's not super functional so low but it's pretty stealthy.
I still want to put roof lights on somehow. Right now I think I'm going to put a row of LED pods on the front of the cargo basket. I had good success putting rivnuts into the aluminum. Not sturdy enough for a light bar but for some small pods it should work great. I may also have some side facing lights or even some lights I can clamp to the basket to light up a camp spot. Nothing makes setting up in the dark easier than lots of light.
All the lights have cheapo eBay harnesses with wireless remote controls. No interior switches routed. All the lights are linked to the high beams however I am going to change the lower grill light bar to be linked to the fog lights instead. They're very low and I'd rather have them supplement the fog lights than the high beams.
I also swapped the fog light bulbs for LEDs since the Aliexpress bulbs were only $17 a pair.
For the past 10 years I've had a Thule Aluminum rack on my Jeep. Since the Subaru is my new adventure wagon, I took it off the Jeep to see how it fits on the Subie. It fits exceptionally well. I like the look and the bar spacing was even the same. The factory bars are sturdy enough to hold plenty of weight...enough for my needs. I added some Koplin Rhinoflex mounts with rivnuts for holding things like a shovel, tarp poles, canoe paddles, etc. I'll be using these to hold up my Big Agnes Twin Butte awning while in camp.
I had a proper class III hitch installed from the dealer. Driving around town there's a tow shackle hanging back there. Once negative of a lot of new vehicles is the spare. It's either too small or too hard to access or both. The Subaru is no different. You can buy spare tire carriers which slide into the receiver hitch but they're very pricey...so I built one. It's basically a 500 lb rated steel cargo basket on a hinged mount which I adjusted (by redrilling some pin holes) to primarily ride upright. On the under side (now the rear) of the basket is a spare tire carrier and a steel jerry can holder. I rebuilt the basket so that it could be accessed through the sides and I use this space to hold traction boards. I also wired it with trailer lights as I was worried the boards might obscure the tail lights. Since there was wiring there, I also added wiring for four LED work lights. These run off the same wireless remote harnesses like are in the front. There's also two Koplin Rhinoflex mounts for holding a small shovel. I still have some space back there for future expansion. I left the hitch ball out of it. The bolt hangs down too low and drags in the dirt. Instead I use it as a tow point with a big shackle. I don't have a great picture of the rack since I picked up the jerry can and the traction boards. Here it is flipped down. in an earlier version.
Less exciting but I've also replaced the pathetic OE horns with Hella Supertones. They fit behind the bumper in the OE locations perfectly and the Subaru wiring is beefy enough to handle them thanks to a circuit and fuse for each horn. Not as loud as in the grill but again, I like having everything either hidden or removed in grocery getter mode.
My to do list is a lot shorter than it used to be but other than some roof lights, I'd like to put a bit of a lift into it. It's a bit beyond the set rules I made for myself but an inch or so is barely anything. There are so many options and it's a big investment so I'm not jumping into anything just yet. A friend of mine is bugging me to put a winch behind the bumper. It can be done but requires replacing the bumper internals with an expensive tube steel assembly and I can think of better ways to pull myself out of a rut for a thousand bucks plus the cost of the winch itself. I'm never in a rush and come-alongs are cheap. Anything after that will purely be accessories for the betterment of my overland experience. Maybe a 12v fridge or a different tent.
Once the last few things are done I'll give Otto a good wash and take some nice pictures to finish up this post. This is how he looked after I mocked up all those bolt on goodies.