Roof Rack Alternative

-- Last Updated: Sep-30-05 7:22 AM EST --

Last winter we replaced our aging Ford Econoline van with a Dodge Grand Caravan. We had used Quick-N-Easy towers and two-by-fours to haul canoes in the past, but of course the Caravan has no rain gutters for the Quick-N-Easy to clip onto. It does have factory-intalled roof rack rails, however.

I spent WAY too much time trying to figure out how to car-top our canoe on the Caravan. First option was, of course, to purchase a rack system from Yakima, Thule, or from Dodge. But I was spoiled by the simplicity of the Quick-N-Easy rack and balked at paying a couple of bills for a rack that I didn't really want. I liked the idea of continuing to carry our canoe (with wood gunnels) on a simple wood rack (not strongly practical consideration, mostly esthetic).

So here is what I came up with. Using the bolts and special rhombus-shaped nuts from a Thule Trakker Kit, and a set of four metal plates made to order by a local machine shop, I attach the two-by-fours right onto the roof rack rails. The metal plates are about 3 by 1.5 inches in size, made of 1/8 inch stainless steel, with two holes for the Thule bolts and a central hole with a 3/8 inch nut welded on. The wooden cross bars are held on with one 3/8 inch bolt at each end. I use a socket wrench to tighten the bolts holding the two-by-fours, being careful not to tighten too much which might split the wood. After the outing I remove the two-by-fours and leave the small, unobtrusive steel plates attached to the rails, ready for the next adventure.

Works great.

For pictures of my idea go to

neat idea, one suggestion
Looking at your second photo though, it looks like the rack (and your plate) are on a camber due to the sloping roofline. I would recess the bottom of the 2x3 so that it matches that camber. Otherwise, you are pulling on an angle when you tighten it down. That can’t be good for the rack to roof mounting system. Looks like it would exert a twisting force to the factory rack to roof mounting.

Way to go!

Re: Suggestion
You are right, recessing the two-by-four would be logical. Since the bolt is only tightened enough to keep the cross bar snug, it doesn’t appear to result in a significant twisting force. Also the nut on the plate fits in a recess in the bottom of the two-by-four, helping to spread the forces.

guess it depends
If you are only hauling one canoe for a short distance, it may not be a concern. I tend toward the “bomb proof” in all my DIY endeavors.

Re: Roof Rack
I agree it makes sense to camber the contact between the two-by-four and the plate, and if I had better woodworking skills or tools I likely would have. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to affect performance. We car-topped two tandems this summer 500 miles round trip via freeway and mountain roads thru a nasty, windy storm that downed multiple powerlines and trees and it all held very well. But if someone wishes to create something like my homemade rack, they would be wise to follow your suggestion.

Sounds like it’s been stress tested
I love good homeade roofracks, like yours.

Looks sharp, have saved it for a future car should I get one.

To show the differences between sexes, I was looking at the roof rack bracket, wife asks “Why would someone take a picture of a wedding ring on P-net?”