I never had the need for roof racks before having the kids. I also avoided it becuase I’d seen some many Troopies with them with rusted gutters. But now I have one I don’t know how I ever did without one.
When we first started to camp with the kids, we were tossing around the idea of getting a trailer / camper trailer instead of the roof rack. In a world of options which way do you go?
So it was research time. I’d collected a number of DVD’s from adhoc purchasing of 4WD Action magazines over the years and I watched a number of camper trailer reviews. Given we were going through the high country etc, I was looking for off road capability without limitations. When I watched these DVD’s closely together there was a pattern emerging – a good chunk of the day was spent recoving the guy who was towing the camper trailer (but the camper trailer was tough and strong). 🙂
The Roof Rack Search Begins
After looking through retail stores and a couple of camping shows we realised that trailers were also extremely over priced for what they were. We came across a couple for $5,000 but the trailer quality was poor. At $10,000 – 15,000 it improved but it still wasn’t ideal. Ofcourse, beyond $15,000 up $60,000 it just got crazy and we really questioned the value. We looked at second hand trailers but they were either beaten up or still holding their value if unused. Around this time I also spoke to a few people that had been to Cape York etc and they spoke about how their gear got wet during creek crossings. This was due to the camper trailer not being completely sealed. Given our finances we decided that we could have a large number of holidays in place of buying the trailer.
So we started to focus on a roof rack as the solution to our space requirements.
I wanted a good quality roof rack so I could store a bit of gear up on the roof, especially the gas bottle so it’s not in the cab of the vehicle. I started looking around at retailers. At one point I thought we might still go and get a camper trailer. I was stunned that a set of four roof racks was over $800, and a steel cage over $1,200. If you wanted an aluminium basket to cut down on the weight it was over $2,100. These baskets weren’t huge either and didn’t make full use of the roof space. For just under $3,000 I felt I was comprimising on the solution too much.
I must admit there were some cheaper options but I like to buy once, which rules a lot of cheap crap out.
I started looking for second hand racks roof rack bars. After a couple of months I gave up, and for three reasons.
- People that have roof racks on Troopy’s obviously don’t sell them very often
- I couldn’t find a solution where the roof rack was close to the roof. They all seemed to have a good 75 mm between the roof and the bottom of the rack. I think this is because the rack they allocate to the Troopies is actually repurposed from commercial vans that must have a higher dome in the roof from the gutter.
- When you added the basket to the Rhino solution, it sat on top of the roof rack adding to the overall height.
However, looking second hand was the best thing I ever did. Because while looking for roof baskets I came across the perfect solution. An aluminium basket with fixed legs – and there were a number of them for sale.
Ebay in particular seemed to have quite a few. So I started bidding on the auctions only to see a number of them within about 100 Km’s go for over $800. After missing a few auctions, I expanded the search area up to 500 Km’s. When I did this I found a few around 250 Km’s away. I bid on one in particular that looked in good condition and won the auction for $250. I borrowed a mate’s trailer and picked it up. The bolts holding the legs on were a bit rusty, so I pulled it apart and replaced them with 10 mm galvanised bolts using lock nuts.
Now i had a full roof basket that was solid for about $400 considering purchase price, fuel and a few bolts.
While I had it apart I took the time to polish it with some aluminium polish. It came up like new and I would definitely recommend it if you have the time. I already had the polish from a car I restored previously. I’ve had this roof rack for over 4 years now, and I’ve polished it again just recently. This time I bought a polishing kit from Bunnings that included the rough brush, fine brush and both polishing compounds in the form of blocks. I must say I found the polish provided in block form useless compared to the liquid polish I had used previously. After trying the block polish briefly I went back to the wet polish (which I still had – you don’t use very much).
One of the reasons I never put a roof rack on was because you see a lot of old Troopy’s getting around with rusty gutters. Now that I needed the roof rack, I wanted to take what ever steps I could to prevent scratching and rust at the mounting points.
The roof rack had rubbers on the feet but they were thinner than I liked (The sealant in the gutter from factory also means it’s not a flat surface so I wanted padding). The standard roof rack rubbers were also old and a bit hard. I was concerned they would scratch the top side of the gutter. Then the bracket that goes on the outside to pull the roof rack down into the gutter was also steel with no protection. This meant with vibration it would most likely rub through the paint also. I needed a solution.
So I headed to Clark Rubber. They had exactly what I needed. They had a roll of U section with approximately 4 mm of rubber on the bottom for the feet. For the outside bracket I bought a length of 25 mm x 3 mm Neoprene rubber that I could stick on to the brackets. Make sure you let a couple of mm’s stick out past the bracket edge so that when it bites during tightening it keeps the corners of the bracket from directly contacting the vehicle.
After four years I am yet to scratch my paint and currently have no rust. Each year during winter, I’ll take the roof rack off the car so that I can inspect for rust and repair if need be. So far, I’ve just had to give it a wash and polish before refitting it.
I also replace all the rubbers every year to ensure they are soft and free from dirt. It costs about $20 a year.
When I got the roof rack on I started to think about how I was going to get gear up there. The car is 2.2 metres high without the roof rack on. With it on it’s just under 2.4 metres. That’s a long way to get your gear up. So I went to a metal fabricator to enquire about making me a simple ladder. As it turned out, he said he had one at home for a Toyota Landcruiser Wagon but said it might fit. When I went to check it was perfect. It was a TJM ladder. My only concern was where would I store it as I wouldn’t have room in the car, and even if I did given it’s odd shape I needed to make sure I could use it when I needed it (i.e. without unpacking the whole car).
As luck would have it, when I held it up to the back of the roof rack it was almost a perfect fit. It just needed to be moved back slightly to allow the curves in the latter to fit around the roof rack. So with a couple of bolts and some 50 mm and 25 mm aluminium tube I made some brackets and bolted it together. On one end of the ladder, it has a U shaped piece. The roof rack didn’t have anywhere to hang from. I thought about modifying the ladder but instead, added a 50 mm X 25 mm rail across the back and two smaller 25 mm x 25 mm rails on the side. This means I can access the roof rack from both side and from the rear. To protect the car I bought 50 mm Neoprene from Clark Rubber as think as I could get it for the bottom of the ladder where it rests on the car. So far this has worked well.
Using this setup it makes accessing the roof, including getting on top easy and safe. Note the curve in the ladder while inconvenient for storage, ensures that there is enough room for you to place your feet on the rungs without rubbing against the body and scratching it. Very important. 🙂
With this setup, using the ladder involves releasing a couple of bungee cords and hanging the ladder vertically. To store, hang the ladder on the brackets horizontally and fit the bungee cords.
Gas Bottle Storage
If you’re new to 4WDing, you may or may not be aware of the dangers of carrying fuels inside the cabin of your vehicle. This is particularly relevant for petrol in jerry cans and gas bottles. So no matter what, the gas bottle was going to be stored on the roof rack. I looked at a number of options to store it including using brackets you see on caravans and custom designed items. All of them seemed clunky and over complicated.
This is where Rhino have a really good solution. They make a ratchet strap attachment specifically designed for use with their roof rack baskets. They are about $100 but given the importance of keeping the bottle safe I bought one. It’s made up of two parts. The base that provides the anchor point and the harness with the ratchet to tighten and secure the bottle.
At first, I just fitted this bracket to the mesh and used some aluminium flat bar to pack up the extra space so when I tightened the bolts it wouldn’t rattle. However, this put too much pressure on the aluminium mesh when 4WDing and slowly cracked it as can be seen if you look closely in the Bottom Underside image above. I believe there were two issues;
- The mesh is slightly curved from being stood on meaning that the bottle could vibrate a little.
- Their were only three pieces of mesh (as per photo) that were taking the strain.
To fix this I took the roof rack off the car, had it rewelded and then added a piece of aluminium checker plate on to. The checker plate is then welded around the edges and middle to distribute the load across more of the roof rack. I made this modification three years ago and so far there is no sign of the cracking reoccuring. The plate provides a much more stable base to anchor the gas bottle to as well.
Next time i pack the car I’ll get a photo of the gas bottle mounted using the strap.
Storing Gear (Dry and Clean)
It’s all well and good having a roof rack but how do you store all your bits and pieces up there securely. Clothes are often the bulkiest items but also light – how do you keep them dry and clean. The answer is roof rack travel bags. If you don’t have these already then I would highly recommend them.
I came across these by accident when looking at second hand roof racks. The brand he had was Bushranger Bushpak. I looked into buying a new one but they were expensive at around $390. So I ended up buying his second hand one for $50. As I started packing the car I realised I needed another one (and it would fit on the roof rack). Fortunately, BCF started to make their own XTM branded version. They are the same size but the quality of the material is not the same. With a bit of luck, I managed to grab the XTM one for $80 on special.
How do they perform? In a word – fantastic. I’ve been on a number of trips where we’ve driven through rain, even really heavy rain and then pull up at camp and your chairs, clothes etc are all dry – not even a hint of being wet.
I’ve had these for four years now and been on a number of trips and the Bushpak and XTM bag are still working well and there is no sign of replacing either one.
Now these bags are designed to travel in one direction. Only 3 sides have a zipper. You face the side without the zipper facing forward so the wind doesn’t blow water under the flap and in through the zips. However, I’ve found that you can put the bag sideways with the zip facing the direction of travel and so long as you have the flap down, water still doesn’t get in. Making sure the bags is packed full helps with this as it naturally wants to fold down. When the bag is empty, the flap will lay more horizontal encouraging water to enter.
I found this trick when I left the bags on the roof overnight empty. It didn’t rain, but the dew that settled on the bags ran over the edge and in through the zip. It was an easy fix but now I take the bags off the roof rack when empty, fold them up and leave them in front of our tent.
The two bags weigh in at 5 Kg’s so they do reduce the amount of gear you can put on your roof. But I don’t use ratchet straps to secure the gear that goes in them because the securing straps are part of the bag. If you balance this out with 2 straps per bag the variance would be about 1 Kg (and it won’t get wet or dusty). In my opinion well worth it.
Next time I go on a trip I’ll take a photo of these bags to provide some idea regarding the amount of gear you can fit in.
Awning (Side and Rear)