Really Simple Roof Rack (for Cars Without Rain Gutters).




Introduction: Really Simple Roof Rack (for Cars Without Rain Gutters).

I wanted a roof rack to carry boats and lumber and whatnot.  I was about to buy the NRS Quick and Easy set for roof-rack-makin', but neither of our cars has rain gutters. So then, what to do?  

This rack evolved from an earlier version that just used the big pool noodle with ratchet strap running through it.  Problem with that is the load can still end up hitting the car top and screwing up the paint.  If you don't care about your paint, well, do what you will.  I wanted something a little more robust, so I walked over to the hardware and was so happy when they even had the pool noodles.

Stuff to get:
  • 3/4" dia. EMT electrical conduit. Get 2x of the 5ft length. It's really about 1" outer diameter. I think the nominal dimension there is the inner diameter.  Cost: about $2.75/ea
  • Large diameter pool noodle, any color.  Buy two: 1 to cut up plus 1 for the kids. Once they see that thing they'll want to play with it and it just ain't right to cut up the only one.  Let your least spoiled kid pick the colors. Cost: $4/ea
  • 3/4" conduit clamps.  Cost: $3-4.  You only need 4, but my store only had bags of 20. It was about 1 dollar more for 16 more clamps.  That's a no-brainer anyway. Get the 20 pack!
  • Some screws. For attaching the clamps to the feet. You probably have some. I had a few leftover stainless steel screws that were perfect. 
  • set of 4 ratchet straps. Cost: $??  You probably have some of these already. If not, go get good, strong ones. They're not that expensive and you'll find other uses for them.  
  •  2x4 scrap lumber, at least 16" in length. Cost: $0  This is for making the feet that go on the roof.
  • grippy padding stuff. It goes on the feet to keep them from slipping and messing up your roof.  You probably have something suitable lying around: old mouse pads, those jar opener things, that rubbery shelf-liner stuff, a hot water bottle, a rubber chicken, etc. I had some kind of rubberized stuff or vinyl coated polyester. Cost: $0
Side note: I found it quite strange that a large foam pool noodle cost more than the 3/4" galvanized steel conduit.

Step 1: Cut Your Feet Off and Get Soles

  • I made the feet about 4"x4". Any longer than that and I don't think they will make much more contact with a curving roof anyway.
  • Mark and cut up your 2x4 into four approximately same sized blocks.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure Moment: You may want to make your rack higher off the roof. You could mount the clamps on the 2" wide side of the blocks.  I went with the lower height. You can always change it later, but bear in mind how you attach your grippy padding material...
  • Attach the "soles" to the feet. Glue or nail or staple your chosen grippy padding material. If using mechanical fasteners, make sure to attach ONLY on the sides or top of the feet so that no metal bits are on the "bottom" of the foot, touching the roof.

Step 2: Mock Up and Mark-Up

  • Place the feet on the roof about where you want them. Near the corners of the roof where it is strongest is probably best. 
  • Grab a few of the conduit clamps.  Lay one of the conduit cross-bars across the roof and set it on the feet. Hold on to it so it doesn't roll off.  The clamps will sort of clip on to the conduit by themselves.  Clip one on directly over the foot on whichever side of the vehicle you are standing.  This should keep it from rolling off while you move to the other side.  On the other side, clip on another clamp.
  • Adjust the position of the bar and the clamps until everything is sitting pretty much how you would like it when it is done.  Don't worry about the bars not resting flat on the feet if your roof is curved. We deal with that in the next step.
  • Using a marker, mark the positions of the clamps on the cross-bar and their positions over the feet.  This is just a starting point, before the clamps are tightened you can adjust their position along the bar.
  • If you think the bars will be wider than you need, now would be the best time to cut off the excess length from one side.

Step 3: Attaching Feet

  • Take everything off the roof and set it all on flat ground as it would be on the roof.  Make sure the clamp position is where you marked and screw them on to the feet. If laying the blocks flat (on the wide side) make sure your screws don't protrude out the bottom.
  • When you have one of the bars complete with the feet on it, set up the other two feet and cross-bar next to it on the ground and assemble it in the exact same way.  Now you should have two identical bars with feet.
  • If your roof is curved and you want your rack feet to make better contact with the roof, you can bend your crossbars right near the foot location.  Bend a little at first then test it out by setting it up on the roof.  Make sure you don't bend the bar so far that the door will hit the bar end when you open/close the door.
  • Now the pool noodle comes in to play. Cut it in half or in quarters.  I cut mine in quarters so that each piece could be slid around and adjust for boat gunwales of different width.  After you are done bending, remove one of the feet from each crossbar and slide on the pool noodle pieces for that bar. Reattach the foot you removed.

Step 4: Get Strapped

  • Use 2 of the 4 ratchet straps and figure out how to best strap the thing down to the car. I run my straps through the cabin.  Make sure the when they are tight don't prevent the door from closing well, otherwise you might get rain coming in and it will probably be noisy as well.
  • When you load something on top of it, use the second pair of straps to hold the load on.  I would hook the straps around the load to the straps that go through the car. That way the rack is just there getting held against the roof and isn't getting pulled both ways by straps.

Step 5: Notes and Errata

Rust: Yes, it will probably rust because I didn't paint the conduit. I intentionally left them unpainted. Reasoning: The conduit was less than $6 total.  The good rustoleum spray paint was about $6/can.  Plus, I didn't want paint that would rub off on anything I might put on the rack. 

Weight limit: I don't even know. The conduit is pretty strong, and the pool noodles holding it against the roof should help support a good amount of weight.  I don't think I'd put more than 100 pounds on there, but the straps are what's really holding everything on. Be sensible. Make sure your straps holding the roof bars down don't pull  directly on the conduit clamps or feet: the feet should just end up wedged in place between the bars and the roof. I wouldn't trust those clamps to hold forces pulling from weird directions

Boat usage: Make sure you have a rope or attachment at the front of the boat to the front of the car somewhere in addition to the straps going around the sides.  Don't be in a hurry after a day on the water. Take the time to secure everything.  See the notes on this picture. A ratchet strap going around the boat in front of its widest point will keep the boat from moving forward. One behind the widest point will keep it from moving backwards. The front, center tie down strap will keep the boat straight and keep it from moving backward.

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    4 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Great idea.

    How about feeding some rope through the conduit so that the roof bars can be tied to the vehicle?

    You might also be able to use plastic tube, if the load isn't very heavy.


    7 years ago on Step 4

    Looks like a Crown Vic. Just the roofrack that I need. I would add two more pieces of electrical conduit with four ninety degree angles and join the two cross pieces together. Would keep the whole thing together and eliminate the danger of

    Looks like the roof rack I need for my 93 Crown Vic. I would just add some rubber caps on the ends of the cross pieces for safety reasons. Thanks.