Focus wagon - Roof Rack Risk?

To Whom It May Concern: Reported Risk of Manufacturer Roof Rack Crossbar Structural Failure on Ford Focus Wagons

I recently purchased the Thule 825 Port Side kayak carrier to be mounted on our factory-supplied 2002 Focus wagon roof rack. The instructions in the package included a water sports hardware list, displaying which bolts to use on specific automobile manufacturer roof racks. However, the Ford Focus wagon was not listed. There was no explanation readily available as to why. After significant effort, I finally was able to talk with somebody in management at Thule.

The Thule representative checked into the issue and explained that Thule also must do testing on manufacturer racks, since their guarantees of product performance must include performance of the factory racks upon which the Thule components are installed. She explained that the roof rack cross members failed on the Focus wagon, thus precluding their listing of the Focus wagon on their recommended list. Her exact words were, “they snapped” upon testing using their testing protocols. Reliable mounting of the “J” bars was also reported to be an issue with these crossbars.

Since a major part of my decision to buy that car was its roof rack, I called Ford corporate to express my alarm and seek a remedy that would ensure the safety of our kayak and the safety of occupants and others in the vicinity of transport. Ford would not admit to any concerns with respect to any question of structural integrity of the roof rack crossbars and affirmed that the roof rack is rated to carry 220 pounds. After a tense and lengthy discussion of my concerns, the Ford representative curtly told me it came down to whom would I trust: Ford or Thule? Let’s see. The Thule representative encouraged me to either buy the Thule crossbar system to reinforce the existing rack OR return their product and buy a kayak carrier from another manufacturer, but please be careful in considering the Focus crossbars in making my decision. (Hmmm . . . certainly, attitude should factor into this decision . . .)

Beyond that, I was left with the feedback from both companies and my experience to go on. My experience is that we have been carrying our 65 pound 138T Old Town Loon, mounted flat on four foam blocks on the crossbars – quadruple-strapped both to the crossbars AND the main longitudinal roof tracks. Why? Because, when I slide the kayak onto the roof rack crossbars, the normally slightly up-bowed crossbars go flat under the weight of the kayak. Based upon this observation alone, I would never strap the kayak just to the crossbars without reinforcement. To me, in comparison to the main tracks, the crossbars feel flimsy.

The Ford representative said Thule was just trying to get me to buy their crossbar system, and I asked, “Why would Thule approve all the big Ford SUV roof racks, driven presumably by more wealthy people but try to con the little Focus drivers who have less money to afford expensive roof rack systems?”

My anger is focused (no pun intended) on what is evidence to me that I paid for a vehicle with an inadequate roof rack system. In virtually all other ways, this car has been a joy to own and drive, but I am completely disillusioned by Ford’s reaction to my concerns – not only for our sake, but for all the other Focus wagon drivers out there (AND those driving behind them) who may be at dangerous risk with use of these roof racks.

One more curious thing: Last night, my online research on this subject yielded references to later models of this vehicle being sold WITHOUT the crossbars, with one reference claiming they are available separately. If this is true, I guess it’s kind of like selling shoes without shoelaces. And it presumably shifts responsibility onto the car owner who installs them. (These days, we all need to learn to think like corporate lawyers.)

If you drive a Focus wagon, should you use your factory-installed roof rack to transport your kayak(s)? I have shared my limited understanding of the possible risks so you will be able to make a more informed decision. As for us, we plan to reinforce our crossbar system in the most economical, yet safe, way (probably Thule crossbars, since they test their products). And, when this otherwise great car finally wears out, this lifelong Ford driver will be looking at other manufacturers. I encouraged the Ford rep to have her company look into Thule’s test findings – for the sake of the public, if not their own possible liability. I hope she does. Meanwhile, I did report what limited evidence I have to the appropriate safety commission, but I don’t intend to wait for any possible recall.

I looked at a new Focus Wagon…

– Last Updated: Aug-04-07 3:52 PM EST –

...a few years ago. It only had the rails and not the crossbars. When I grabbed and twisted the rails with my hand they had considerable flex. I looked at the salesman and asked "for decoration?", he just nodded...

This would lead me to believe Thule..

we are on our
second Focus Wagon:

first was a 2002 (first year with plastic railing rated 100 lbs) and now a 2007 (same railing)

Using Thule clamp on cross bars, I have carried our 19 ft tandem for a lot of trips (longest was 3k mls) without any problems. the set up stood up to high winds and high speeds. On occassion, we carry 2 royalex tandem and a kayak on that rack. This past weekend I had a MR Synergy and an Esquif vertige X (both no lightweights…) on it for a shuttle.

I always use at lest front tie downs, though.

Cross members or side rails?
We haven’t seen a set of cross members to which we’d mount a boat yet, on our third (and last since they stopped them) Taurus/Sable wagon. We got Yakima towers that mount into the slot that carries to side rails, where the roof has its strongest structural members, Yakina bars across them, and have had no trouble with a variety of Thule and Yakima boat mounting devices on the third party cross bars. We’ve carried up to three boats and four stuffed with some amount of gear up there, and the only strain has been on the rear axle. The only thing we did have to do was replace the original towers with newer ones when they started seeming to be looser (haven’t had that issue with the newer ones).

On the Subaru, one of the newer designs where there is no rain gutter or slot up top, we have to mount the towers to the side rails. Then the Yakima cross bars hook into that. We have received mixed info about the maximum weight that’ll take, but it is still considerably more than if we were to rely on the factory original crossbars.

It sounds like this post is about using the factory original cross bars, which generally should produce a much lower weight limit than using third party cross bars mounted on towres.

Focus Wagon and Malones
A lady friend has a Focus Wagon and uses Malone “Wings” without any reported problems.

Mount to side rails I think
As I recall, both of the loaders mount to the stronger side rails on cars rather than the cross members. Then the boat can go onto either the factory cross members or third party rails in a normal configuration.

Focus wagon - Roof Rack Risk?
Be very careful with factory racks-I had a '95 taurus wagon with them and one day I was carrying 2 sheets of plywood when the siderails broke, tore out of the roof and stripped the whole mess away. apparently ford uses stove bolts (#10-24)imbedded in the plastic for anchors. The wrecker told me that this is quite common as he will recover 1 sound rack out of 20-30 cars, they all start to break where the bolts are imbedded in the plastic

Roof Rack Blues
Ahhh, the trials and tribulations we boaters have over haulage.

Straps or ropes?

Bow & stern lines or not?

Decisions, decisions.

Some folks kick the tires on car lots. I twist the roof rails. Never twisted those on a Focus, but I did twist a similar-looking set on a Merc Mariner. Very flexy. And the rails on Ford’s new Edge are made of plastic. RAILS OF PLASTIC!

When I bought my Suby Tribeca the OEM bars bolted into bosses located under trim pieces and the bars had a 150# rating. So naturally I scratch fabricated a system that used Yakima Rail Riders. And now, for 2008 Suby has decided to include…rails. Bastards.

Clarion estimated that the new CRV has about 7 inches LESS bar spacing than Mike’s earlier version. ANd no barn door cargo access.

By 2025 we will be reduced to through-bolting 2x4’s to the roofs of our hydrogen-powered mini-boxes.


Factory Racks
In my experience, the factory racks that come on most wagons and SUVs are not strong enough to support two kayaks, or one tandem kayak. It is my understanding that factory racks work fine for securing cargo to the roof (i.e. luggage), but the weight of two kayaks (or tandem) is too much for them. Everyone I know with factory racks had to replace the crossbars to carry kayaks.

1996 Passat

I had no problems carrying 2 sea kayaks using Yakima crossbars on the roof rails on a 1996 Passat wagon.

Is this rack the same on all Focus’s?
Ness has a focus and we’ve blown down the 90 at 80mph with two kayaks strapped on (may have been 90…I didn’t want to look)the top.

Rich: ness would have me believe
… you don’t miss a thing when it comes to racks. ";.)

But, her Yakima mounts in the doors. No fact-rac.

My next-door neigbor has a
about 4 year old focus. He works on it everyday. It really is Fix or Repair daily. My dads subaru has 140,000 miles on it, its 17 years old, and all we had to do was get new tires for it.

Legs, not racks…
…Clarion, not racks…LEGS. McYak never misses a good pair of shapely feminine legs and dainty feet in high heels, usually when we are at Tim Horton’s for coffee after a paddle. He has been known to drop the conversation mid-sentence and simply stare.

That said, I have a 2005 Focus 4 door sedan (not a wagon) with 60,000 miles on it. It had no factory-installed racks. Hopsing installed the Yakima I was using on my Neon onto the Focus, with some Yakima hardware additions.

My Yakima racking system seems sturdy (has side bars and cross bars and mounts inside the doors). I usually carry two 16 ft. kayaks (in j-hooks) at speeds of up to…80+ mph (not 90 mph on the I-90; McYak exaggerates!). I use front and rear tie-downs.

The Yakima rep. told me the racking system has a load limit of about 120 lbs. for the Focus sedan. Yes, I have exceeded that weight limit, considering two poly 16 ft seakayaks with no gear in the hatches weigh about that much.

Just as a side note, one factory rack I saw on another local paddler’s vehicle (a small SUV) looked flimsy, and felt springy. MHO was she’d need to get an after market rack.

No worries!
I’ve got 160,000 happy miles on my 2002 Ford Focus wagon, and a great deal of them were driven with 2 poly sea kayaks on top. I would not use any manufacturer’s factory crossbars for kayak transport; I added Yakima Lowriders and crossbars and have never had a problem. I am usually guilty of far exceeding the speed limit, and drive in all conditions. I couldn’t be happier with this car! In fact, I recently purchased a 2007, not because I needed a new one yet, but because this is the final year Ford is making the wagon. It’s waiting in the garage for the sad day when I do retire the 2002.

Drop me an e-mail if you’d like more info. I want to see you enjoy your Focus as much as I do mine!


Focus wagon - Roof Rack Risk?
Thanks, everybody, for the feedback on the roof rack question. I decided to trust Thule and ordered a set of mounts and crossbars for the Focus. This was my first post here and your responses are greatly appreciated. Since my kayaks won’t now become airplanes, maybe some of our paths will cross on the water!

I had a focus wagon (Estate car here)
With factory fitted side bars. I regularly carried 2 mountain bikes without a problem.