Picture of Build a Bearer of Burdens
And so there came a day when I traded my old Rodeo for a Ford Focus, and though I gained reliability and fuel efficiency, I lost much cargo-carrying ability for bring kayak and outrigger canoes to the water. Exeunt the evil (though not the most evil) SUV and its practical applications for True Sports Utility.

But surely the Ford Accessories department has an answer. 'Hello, yeah, parts department. How can I help you?' 'Do you have a rack for a Focus?' 'Yup, for the wagon model.' 'Not the ZX3 coup?' 'Nope.' Short and sweet, the answer is No in the comfortingly predictable American Automobile Tradition.

Enter now The Grand Thule. Shrouded in swirling northern mists, enhanced by the evocative name of the ancient kingdom whispered about by the Greek traders and Roman invaders of Iron Age Europe, The Grand Thule called its ravens named Adventure and Spirit (in translation), and they croaked, 'Do we have the thing for you! You pay only $400 AND you get the aura of our name besides a 200 pound capacity!' I bowed and replied, 'I have a short roof Ford Focus.' The ravens screamed and flew off, The Grand Thule withdrew into a blast of icy wind peppered with ice shards, and I heard the fading but still grand voice, 'We offer no rack for your model at this time.'

Enter next the fresh, sleek, happy salesperson at Eastern Mountain Sports. 'We have just the thing for you, this Yakima roof rack. Oh, you have a short roof and the rain gutters do not extend past the door (coup model)? No problem, for we have this wondrous accessory.' She rang a bronze cymbal, and cloaked devotees came in from the carven stone grotto that all EMS stores have out back (and you thought it was all steel racks and stacked cardboard boxes, didn't you?), singing a hymn to the Updated Demeter, goddess of the earthy-crunchy sportslife. They bore on their litter the Sacred Short-Roof Adaptor. There followed a poetic explication on its use, chanted in decasyllabic meter. 'And your sacrifice need only be in the amount of $300 (on sale!).' That left me with one solid roof connection at the front on the rain gutters, and a won-drous bracket with a rubber pad resting on the roof top for the rear support, connected by the lon-gitudinal rails. I suppose it would work, but the engineering configuration did not fill me with $300 worth of awe. Now what?

Enter the workshop. It smells slightly of paint and sawed wood. The floor is dotted with drops of cured epoxy. The tools wait in their raw wood racks, saying nothing directly (they seldom speak like that), but insinuating promising possibilities (always!). Towla, a blacksmith character in my novel The Sorcerer's Chain, once made the comment, 'The only certain thing is the hard handle of a tool.' These fictional characters sometimes seem realer to me than many a flesh and blood persona (how sad; that's on me). I took his advice.


I built a hasty and crude roof-rack to fit my focus. I used scrap wood at hand (2x3 studs, 1x2 strapping), scrap rope at hand, Tightbond Glue (get the new Tightbond III waterproof type if you have to buy), some epoxy and graphite power left over from boat building (not needed but I wanted to try the graphite as a tough, slippery bearing surface for the kayak), some screws at hand, and then I bought one piece of 8 foot x 6 inch wide pine board for about 10 dollars, and two ratcheting nylon strap tie-downs for about 12 dollars.

I hastily painted it white to match my car, but would have used white in any case because that's the paint left over from boat building (exterior latex primer and glossy topcoat). I padded the roof-bearing surfaces with pieces cut from an old closed-cell-foam sleeping bag pad (end-lessly useful in projects, and you can sleep on it too).

The rack works great (have driven with my 70 pound kayak on top at highways speeds for about 400 miles so far; I can now also carry long heavy pieces of wood and uncut plywood -- the stuff I can't fit inside the car itself with seats folded down) and saved me a lot of money. How much would it cost if you had to build from all newly bought parts? Well, I don't know, but I'm think-ing not more than 40 dollars (probably less -- everyone has some glue, screws, and scrap wood available), still a deal.

The following steps show vaguely how; they are suggestive instructions since your own car's di-mensions and configuration will differ from mine.
pobly wood2 years ago
I know it has been a long time but I feel the need to share this. I drive a focus and have a ford OE (original equipment) rack. Mounts into pre drilled holes in the car and all.
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Wade Tarzia (author)  pobly wood2 years ago
Hi -- That's interesting. My Ford dealer said they had nothing to fit my car. That is exactly what I need. Thanks for showing me.
bowmaster4 years ago
Gotta love the Focus. I have one (wagon, came with the rack) and it's fun to drive, handles great, lots of storage space, comfortable (could have a bit for leg room for 5-6+ hour drives, but I'm 6' 3" so not exactly normal). The only thing I find lacking is engine power, and that's still fine for 95% of driving, and the other 5% requires 4WD.
jjb_19774 years ago
thank for idea... my car are same as your car.. but you think? strong enough if i will put the bike
abadfart6 years ago
very nice
carguy7 years ago
I happen to have a focus "white I might add ' I would look into a tow hitch. not for towing but for additional support in the guise of a truck bed extender as sold by harbor freight tools, in short don't let the roof determine the configuration of your sleeping quarters, flip down legs preferably recycled could easily expand your possibilities. have a nice trip
ladle247 years ago
There are strap/hooks you can get that go in between the rubber/metal and hook onto the metal. They do not destroy the rubber, but they DO still let in rain. You can get them from
On that page, there is a link for instructions how to use them too.
Hope that helps!
Wade Tarzia (author)  ladle247 years ago
Thanks for showing me that. I will have to re-investigate my car structure for use of these things.
Nice Rack! I have done this, another thing you want to be careful of when running the straps through your doors, is eventually the straps could damage your door gaskets. But I love the design and I also love not paying Thule or Yakima a gazillion dollars for something you could make yourself. Nice work.
If your concerned about fuel efficiency, the last thing you should ad is wind resistance to your car with a roof rack, which will increase your coefficient drag. Great job though, just wasn't sure if you knew that.
Wade Tarzia (author)  drivethruecp7 years ago
Yup, I had that figured out ;-) However, carrying the kayak without a rack seemed worse than with one (I dented my roof in a little when I tightened the tie downs). Any ways, I take the rack off when I am not carrying the boat, which is an advantage of this rack; I probably would not be unbolting a commercial rack after each time I came back from boating. So in a sense this strap-on rack encourages fuel-efficient habits. A rack for the 21st century! ;-)
madmedix7 years ago
If you live where the winter temps dip, do not use PVC. I watched a covered load "shotgun" on the freeway from a pvc rack in the winter. -20c and consider the wind chill of doing 120km/h....Sure was cool to see though :-)
Wade Tarzia (author)  madmedix7 years ago
Well, that's good to know! However, I wouldn't have built a rack all out of PVC -- just use either small diameter PVC pipe, or quarter sections cut out of larger, to make plastic bearing surfaces over the structural wood to slide loads on and off. The high density plastic strips sold in some woodworking stores as bearings for lumer saw guides might be better if more expensive.
isnt that about -70F going 80mph?
hondagofast7 years ago
Dude, get a Honda.
rimar20008 years ago
Very good instructable. An important and very easy and economic improvement is to place screws whose head stands out down an inch, separate 8 or 9 inches along each support. That allows to hook easy and quickly the used rope to tie the baggage.
Wade Tarzia (author)  rimar20008 years ago
Oh, I think I see: on the sides of the rails, so you could zig-zag lace a load on?
An image is worth more than a thousand words... (I Made a drawing in OpenOffice, but I could not make the upload. ) The thing is simple: in the inferior part of each horizontal bar, some screws are added with the head standing out an inch. These screws will work as hooks, avoiding the nuisance of having to pass the rope ball below each bar. To tie and to untie the baggage with that improvement, insume some few seconds.
TangMu8 years ago
I remember seeing something about an inflatable roofrack on the internets that could fit any make or model car called the Handirack. Unfortunately i cant get on the company's website but a quick google brings up several shops with it in stock.

Still, buying something that you could make yourself takes all the fun out of it :p

I'm liking the removable aspect, definately saves the pennies.
Wade Tarzia (author)  TangMu8 years ago
True, buying soils some of the fun and created dignity (never underestimate the sense of dignity conferred by a hobby; so many dignity-reducing forces exist out there!). I did have to buy the car, though ;-) But perhaps next time, if I can get one of those desk-top milling machines (I covet one, or at least the idea of one), I can build the car too. Or better, a jet-pack. My old boss at UConn's now defunct Precision Manufacturing Center, had a desk top milling machine for hobby use (his hobby was improving the design of stock motorcycles), and thereby he adapted automobile tires to a Suzuki 750 to convert it to side-car mode. He redesigned the suspension, too. Man, I wanted one of those machines after that ;-)
dchall88 years ago
We are new to kayaking and ended up searching Craig's list to get a couple sets of J-racks (Thule and Yakama). I like this idea. Do you have any trouble closing the door or window? Another consideration for building material is PVC. Two-inch PVC is pretty sturdy stuff. You can run rope or straps through the inside. One concern with PVC and a kayak is that the PVC is like ice on Teflon - very slippery. Of course you are going to tie it down anyway.
Wade Tarzia (author)  dchall88 years ago
No, no trouble with door; it closes over the strap, and the window is entirely unaffected. PVC, that's a great idea. Somehow I never think of PVC (because I have scrap wood around, I guess). I could use a small PVC tube as a roller or edging. For serious kayakers with some money to spend, a commerical rack is best, no doubt, though this rack encourages me to take it off when not in use, so my gas mileage is better that way.
Wade Tarzia (author)  Wade Tarzia8 years ago
You also inspired me to think that a PVC tube with a section cut out could be screwed over the cross-bar fronts to make a good hasty almost-aero leading-edge, and also double as a slipperly bearing surface.
flywoodkb8 years ago
Great work, both on the rack and the Instructable! But... hmm.... a store-bought kayak, eh? ;) Are your novels as enjoyable to read as your Instructables?
Wade Tarzia (author)  flywoodkb8 years ago
Thanks. Yeah, sorry about the kayak. I'm not a 'kayak man' really; I use it when I can't go sailing (which was all summer long since my new outrigger is taking way longer than planned, you know the feeling. As for the novels (all two of them), I can't say, except they are of course very different from instructables. I have a free novel The Silent Man Called (sword & sorcery, heroic quest fantasy, whatever) post on the fiction page of my web site in PDF, and some novellas and short stories as well (most of them published in small magazines). My second novel should be coming out from Finetooth Press as soon as the artist finishes the cover, I'm told.