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DIY towing mirrors using copper pipe

 
Old 05-01-2013, 07:26 PM
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Default DIY towing mirrors using copper pipe

With a local trailer trip coming up in a couple days I needed a set of tow mirrors so I could safely see along the sides of my 8-foot wide trailer. The JK's mirrors are far too close in to the body, and even the "universal fit" CIPA-type mirrors that clamp onto the factory mirror just don't have enough reach. I tried them before and while they're an improvement, they still didn't provide enough visibility to make me feel safe using them.

I searched everywhere for JK towing mirrors but no luck. Time to roll my own.

Since I didn't want to drill holes in the JK, the obvious choice for attachment points were the factory bolts on the corner plates, at the bottom corners of the windshield. The main problem to solve was how make the extension arm strong and rigid, so it wouldn't stress the attachment points.

The way to do this was by using multiple attachment points, with more than one arm. A triangular bracket arrangement - unlike a rectangular one - would be inherently strong (google it...), and since the corner plates have multiple factory bolts in various locations, it could be a good foundation for a triangular bracket.

But this introduced another problem: the factory bolts are in odd locations and planes; how do you attach arms to them while having those arms extend in the right orientation to connect together at their endpoints?

The solution was copper plumbing pipe. The fact that 45 and 90 degree joints are available off the shelf, and that the pipe is cylindrical so lengths can be rotated within those joints, means you can piece together a structure with near universal joints. That is, you can make a rough "wire frame" structure in your desired form, and then twist/wiggle it to line up exactly with the factory bolt locations. When all components of the form are in their proper orientations, just solder it all together. Final adjustments and tweaks can be made by reheating joints and twisting the pipe with pliers, and even by sliding sections in/out of their joints, as there is some leeway here as well, when the section is reheated enough to melt the solder.

I chose half-inch diameter pipe. There are two thicknesses available; I chose the thinner, in order to reduce weight, especially at the far (mirror) end of the arm. The downside is that the walls are weaker, which might matter at the places where you bolt the pipe to the JK. So far (haven't done a road test yet) the thinner pipe seems plenty strong. You could easily just use thicker pipe at the bolt-on part, and thinner pipe for the rest of the bracket.

For attachment points I chose the two forward-most bolts, and on the side, the lowest bolt. I ran a short section of pipe across the two forward-most bolts, diagonally, drilled with a smaller pilot bit at first, followed by the final 5/16-inch bit (a close match to the diameter of the factory bolts). This section gives the bracket most of its attachment point strength. From there, a 45 degree elbow levels out the next arm section. From there, a short length of pipe to a T joint. See the photos for the exact components, but the basic idea was to construct a triangle to add strength to the extension arm. A critical point is making sure the short section between the first 45 degree elbow and the first T joint is the proper length to allow the bottom of the triangle to come close enough to the third factory bolt attachment point (on the side, lowest bolt down). Pictures are worth 1000 words here, much easier to see it than to write about it.

The two forward-most bolts are removed and replaced with longer bolts, size M8, 1.25 pitch, with a flanged head, and about 45 to 55 (mm) length. Make sure the pitch is 1.25 mm, because you don't want to strip any threads inside the JK mounting points. An easy way to see if you have the right pitch is to press the factory bolt up against the one you're considering using, and see if the grooves fall into each other perfectly or not. If so, pitch is the same.

The factory bolts have plastic washers on them that fit into recessed holes on the JK. Instead of re-using the factory washers, I cut my own out of soft plastic. For each bolt I cut two plastic washers: one fits inside the hole, and the second comes out about 1 mm from the mounting surface. On top of that washer, I placed another washer, this time metal. The whole idea here was to not tighten down metal against the painted surface on the JK - don't want to scratch it and introduce rust. After the metal washer, the pipe is placed, and the flanged bolt goes through the pipe.









For cutting the parts I initially tried a hacksaw, but the blade kept snagging and it was a big PITA. Save yourself some trouble and get a copper pipe cutting wheel - clamp it down on the pipe, rotate it and it repeat a few times and you get a nice clean cut with very little effort.

With all the sections cut and test-fitted, it's time to solder everything together. I used a basic plumbing soldering kit - a gas can stuck on the end of a torch head. I won't go into details about how to sweat the pipes... please read that elsewhere, readily available. Here's a pic of the tool (lighting a piece of wood on fire for my son. That's not part of this project).





Once the parts cooled, I bolted them back up, reheated joints as needed to rotate things into final orientation, and then removed the entire assembly to paint it, using Rustoleum spray can.

The mirror is from Pep boys, just a standard clamp-on thing, nothing fancy, about $10 per mirror.

Some shots of the final result follow. I will do a "version 2.0" at some point, using what I learned here and making some minor improvements. This was a bit of a rush job. One side down, one to go.













Each mirror requires:

- one 90 degree joint
- two 45 degree "street" joints (male-female, NOT female-female) - be careful to get the right style
- one 45-degree "normal" joint (male-male)
- two T joints
- a little less than 3 feet of copper pipe

My Home Depot had pipe available in 10, 5, and 2-foot sections. The 2-footers are a little more expensive but easier to fit in the jeep for the trip home.

The lengths of the sections, starting from the attachment point and moving outward:

- 3 1/2 inches for section that bolts to the two upper holes
- 1 5/8 inches for the shortest section between the first 45'er and first T
- 4 5/8 inches for the horizontal section of the triangle
- 15 inches for the long arm with the mirror on the end (adjust as needed for your trailer)

And now the remaining parts of the triangle:

- 4 5/8 inches for the vertical part of triangle
- 5 1/2 inches for the diagonal (hypotenuse) part of triangle

Sure it looks a little - er, um - functional - but they're on there only when I'm towing. For "version 2.0" I will probably use black hardware and will use studs with wing nuts instead of hex-head bolts, to make it easier to put on / take off.

Also, there is no provision for allowing the mirrors to give if they hit something or get hit. This could damage the JK at the mounting points, depending on where the weakest link is. I'm hoping that will be the copper pipe (a good reason to use the thinner wall pipe), maybe at a solder joint, but I'm not going to test it. I might use a copper pipe cutter to gently score a ring at the innermost part of the long arm, just after the T joint. This could encourage that to be the breaking point if the arm gets whacked, hopefully sparing the JK from damage.

Last edited by mostlystock; 04-19-2014 at 04:26 AM. Reason: fixed broken links to pics
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Old 01-26-2014, 06:40 PM
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Default Easy and Cheap way for Wrangler mirrors

OK.... Great writeup using the copper pipe but after being stopped by the NH state police, I came up with a super easy solution. All you gotta do is get a 3 foot piece of square aluminum stock at HD. I drilled two holes in the bottom of the mirror plastic, matching thru holes in the alum stock. Capture nuts/bolts. I forget the size of the bolts but it dioesnt stick all thru the nut. I added two mirrors from autozone drilled thru the stock at the end. Hardly any vibration. Looks silly but works perfectly. And.... if you bump anything they fold in with your mirror. Simple but works perfect. Takes 5 minutes to install/uninstall. Oh Yea... 10 bucks for the alum, 10 bucks for the mirrors, 2 bucks for the bolts/nuts.
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Old 01-29-2014, 04:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Hubba View Post
OK.... Great writeup using the copper pipe but after being stopped by the NH state police, I came up with a super easy solution. All you gotta do is get a 3 foot piece of square aluminum stock at HD. I drilled two holes in the bottom of the mirror plastic, matching thru holes in the alum stock. Capture nuts/bolts. I forget the size of the bolts but it dioesnt stick all thru the nut. I added two mirrors from autozone drilled thru the stock at the end. Hardly any vibration. Looks silly but works perfectly. And.... if you bump anything they fold in with your mirror. Simple but works perfect. Takes 5 minutes to install/uninstall. Oh Yea... 10 bucks for the alum, 10 bucks for the mirrors, 2 bucks for the bolts/nuts.
Thanks for the tip. The copper pipes have worked okay but I'm always feared whacking something and bending the body. I think they also expand/contract slightly with temp, making it a little tricky to get the bolts in sometimes. I've thought about doing them in PVC instead, and putting in some kind of metal rod / stiffner to keep them from bending. But I like your idea of bolting the square stock to the underside of the mirrors. I couldn't find a flat surface anywhere on the mirror housing to do that, but never thought of the underside.

Definitely checking out that option, thanks again.
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Old 01-29-2014, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Hubba View Post
OK.... Great writeup using the copper pipe but after being stopped by the NH state police, I came up with a super easy solution. All you gotta do is get a 3 foot piece of square aluminum stock at HD. I drilled two holes in the bottom of the mirror plastic, matching thru holes in the alum stock. Capture nuts/bolts. I forget the size of the bolts but it dioesnt stick all thru the nut. I added two mirrors from autozone drilled thru the stock at the end. Hardly any vibration. Looks silly but works perfectly. And.... if you bump anything they fold in with your mirror. Simple but works perfect. Takes 5 minutes to install/uninstall. Oh Yea... 10 bucks for the alum, 10 bucks for the mirrors, 2 bucks for the bolts/nuts.
Just occurred to me you could split the aluminum tubing near the mirror, keeping a short stub permanently attached to the stock mirror, and joining it and the rest of the tubing via a slightly larger square coupling section, with pins or bolts, maybe quick release style or with wing nuts. Allows much quicker install/uninstall, and less wear/tear around the plastic mirror housing with multiple install/remove cycles.
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Old 01-29-2014, 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by mostlystock View Post
Just occurred to me you could split the aluminum tubing near the mirror, keeping a short stub permanently attached to the stock mirror, and joining it and the rest of the tubing via a slightly larger square coupling section, with pins or bolts, maybe quick release style or with wing nuts. Allows much quicker install/uninstall, and less wear/tear around the plastic mirror housing with multiple install/remove cycles.
Didn't realize all the pic links broke. Fixed, mostly.
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Old 09-12-2014, 01:38 PM
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I sold my Wrangler but still have the mirrors. Anyone want them? I live in the Boston area if anyone is interested. You can reach me at [email protected]. Put free mirrors in the subject line...

Fixed the email address

Last edited by Hubba; 09-13-2014 at 05:48 AM.
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Old 09-12-2014, 01:48 PM
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Very clever!
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