Roof racks serve a number of purposes including hauling luggage, adventure gear, and even acting as a platform for some forms of portable shelter, however they can be quite expensive. Many do-it-yourselfers have come up with various methods of building roof racks without shelling out a large amount of cash by using materials commonly found in home improvement and hardware stores. The results mimic or improve upon commercial rack designs by companies such as Yakima, Thule and Saris.
Determine Your Design
Design your roof rack based on your vehicle and the cargo you plan on hauling. Many rack designs attach either to roof gutters or over the inside of the door jam with hooked feet. Heavier cargo will require a wider base in order to be stabilized on the roof, so you may choose to utilize the door jam type of rack design if you plan on hauling boats, multiple bicycles, or luggage over 100 lbs.
Gutter rail rack designs will be sufficient for small luggage and spare tire hauling. In extreme cases, such as for hauling ladders on top of contractor vehicles, you may decide to build a rack with flat square feet that then bolt onto the roof of the vehicle. You will want to make sure to seal the holes from these types of racks thoroughly with caulking. Not doing so could lead to leaks later.
Choose Frame Materials
Choose the right type of frame material for your roof rack. Many DIY roof rack builders choose lightweight, square tube aluminum due to its strength, low cost and light weight. Aluminum also will not rust like other types of metals, making it a great choice for temperate and wet climates. Choose a tubing that is at least 2 inches wide for rack sizes up to 3 feet; 3-inch square tubing will provide more strength and can be used for wider racks. You may also choose painted steel tubing for your roof rack if you need an extremely sturdy base for rough or long-term use. Make sure that all surfaces are thoroughly covered because steel exposed to weather will oxidize and rust. Some designers have utilized PVC piping to build racks, however the longevity of these racks remains questionable.
Attaching the Frame
Determine the most appropriate method of attaching the roof rack to your vehicle. Choose an attachment style that will not only ensure safety for the items you are hauling, but will also save your vehicle from damage. If you choose the door jamb attachment method, be sure to pad the inside of the feet hooks of the rack in order to keep the metal rack from scuffing the paint.
Damage to your vehicle's roof is unavoidable with roof racks that are drilled into the top of the roof, however utilizing a sharp drill bit and a pilot hole will help avoid scratching other portions of your roof paint.
The best way to avoid vehicle damage is to use the rain gutter attachment method. However, this method requires you to be sure the rack feet are secured tightly to each gutter, otherwise the rack could slip off and cause considerable damage to the top of your car.
- Photo Credit Red car image by Ellanorah from Fotolia.com
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