July the last day of June: that means it’s our 2-month houseaversary. Yay for not paying rent! Guess what we got ourselves to celebrate?
Yes, we used Jabba’s head to cover our license plate. Yes, she’s a total snaggle-tooth. And yes, we finally got those kayaks we’ve been daydreaming about! If you look closely you’ll notice that the roof rack is totally homemade.
Here’s the deal: we drive a 13-year-old VW Passat station wagon (don’t be jealous, it ain’t easy being glamorous). It has only side rails and those aren’t enough to install the 2-kayak roof rack that the store was selling. In order to make this work, we’d have to go to a VW dealership and order the correct rails, install them, then come back to buy the kayaks and kayak rack. Only we couldn’t really do that — the store had just sold out of the only roof rack that could have worked with our car. And the kayak sale would be over so we have to pay full price — oh the horror!
Instead, we drove straight to Lowe’s and picked up supplies for a reusable and removable car rack that’s sturdy enough to haul our kayaks cross-country if we wanted. We could also use it for hauling lumber and other renovation supplies that don’t normally fit inside our wagon.
We found out later that our total cost for the front and back rails and two-kayak rack would have been well over $250. Our homemade carrier cost us $100. Here’s how we did it.
Quick caveats: This is what worked for us and our old VW YuppieMobile. It may not work for your car. You may have to modify the design. You may hurt yourself or someone else or damage your car if you decide to do this. Whatever you do, we take no responsibility and it’s all on you. In other words: do try this at home if you want, but you can’t sue us if something goes wrong.
I threw together a couple of diagrams of what we did.
This explains the different washers and nuts we paired together.
Think IKEA’s hiring diagram illustrators? Because I had way too much fun with that.
Here’s a list of what we picked up at Lowe’s:
- 1x6x8 treated lumber (for making decks and other outdoor stuff) x2
- Stainless steel U-bolts x4
- 6″ corner braces x4
- 18oz Gorilla Glue
- 1x6x1/2 wall tube insulation (black insulation for pipes) x2
- Hex lag screws x12
- 3/8×6 Eye bolt x4
- 5/16×2.5″ Carriage bolt x12
- 5/16″ Vinyl tubing x2 (We didn’t need much so we got an off-cut piece so it cost us only $0.54)
- 5/16″ Wing nuts x12
- 5/16″ Lock washers x12
- 5/16″ Flat washers x24
Grand total: $94.79
And, finally, here’s the build:
Bradley started out by taking measurements of the car. Front to back, side to side, rail to rail.
Next, he cut the 1x6x8 lumber down to size. Every car is different, so we’re not going to get into the exact numbers. These pieces are going to be the front and back rails that attach to the side rails. The kayaks will sit on them. They need to be long enough to go from one side rail to the other and have a little bit hanging over each edge.
Bradley used a handsaw to cut the wood because it would take him longer to set up the table saw than just cut the wood by hand. He’s also really, really precise with the handsaw. I don’t know how he does it, but he can make a straight cut just by eyeballing it. And, surely enough, he had the wood cut to size in about 2 minutes.
After that, he drew lines where the side rails will sit — this is where the U-bolts will be. He also measured exactly down the center, which is where the the vertical bar will be:
He used the corner braces to mount the vertical bar to the wood rail. This makes an upside-down T. We’re going to call it a T-bar for simplicity’s sake:
A washer, a lock washer and a wingnut hold each carriage bolt in place.
He mounted an eye-bolt on top of the vertical bar. After that, he unscrewed everything and took the T-bar apart. He had mostly put it together to get the holes drilled in the right places. There’s one more step before it can be assembled, and that’s to add padding to the wood rails:
The kayaks will sit right on top of the wood rails, so we wanted to make them soft and cushy. We flattened the wall tube insulation and cut it to the exact length of our wood rails. Then we used Gorilla Glue to attach the insulation to the wood:
While our glue dried, we padded our U-bolts. We threaded the U-bolts through the vinyl tubing and cut the tubing to size.
The U-bolts will attach the wood rails to our side rails. The vinyl tubing will (hopefully!) act as padding and keep the side rail paint from scratching too much.
Once the Gorilla Glue dried, Bradley re-assembled the T-bars and mounted them to the car. This part was super simple.
The U-bolt goes under the side rail and through the wood bars:
A washer, a lock washer and a nut hold the U-bolt snugly in place.
One end of the strap hooks into the eye-hook on the vertical bar:
It wraps around the kayak and hooks on the eye-hook on the wood bar:
The straps are tightened and the excess straps are securely wrapped and tucked so they’re not flapping around:
In the picture above, we have our wing nuts facing down. (They’re the little silver butterfly looking things under the wood.) Bradley recommends installing them the opposite way — wing nuts facing up — for easier removal. We initially installed them facing down because we were worried they would scratch our kayaks, but they were totally clear. Getting them unscrewed was a huge pain in the butt, though. So next time, we’re going wing nuts up.
Some other stuff we did to trick our our car rack:
- The vertical bar is removable for when we need to bring home something flat.
- The eye-hooks on the wood rail can be moved closer in or further out to accommodate smaller or larger stuff. (We drilled a row of extra holes spaced 3″ apart.)
- We haven’t done this yet (and we may be too lazy to ever do it), but a little spray paint might make the car rack seem a little less Mad Max. We’re seriously considering mounting a cow skull to the front grill and embracing the crazy-neighbor look, though.